The Art : Neighbours, a short film by Norman McLaren (1952) Since this film is 8 minutes long, our exercise will only prompt you to watch it once. We’ll also take advantage of the fact that this is a silent film to practice crafting some dialogue. One of the hardest things about writing dialogue is to make it sound natural. An important tip in that regard: people rarely talk explicitly about what they are literally doing or feeling, they circle. Just a quick heads up: there are some allusions to violence in the last two minutes of this film that, while not gory, may not be your cup of tea — skip that bit if you want! The Exercise: Watch the film (or a portion of it). No need to take notes, just try to keep a keen eye for details and, as always, your own emotional responses. In a page or two (about 5-10 minutes of writing), jot down what you just witnessed. When in doubt, keep it factual — describe the events: the gestures and facial expressions, the objects and colors. No need to look back at the film. You’re just making a record of how you saw it/ remember it. Review your first batch of writing, circling places or passages that stand out to you. What feelings do you think the characters are experiencing here — anger, passion, fear? Write those in the margin. Locate a passage in your writing that has a lot of these margin feelings happening. You may even want to re-watch that portion of the film. Then, go ahead and draft a little dialogue for the characters involved. No need to use quotation marks and dialogue tags (like the classic prose format: “Well that’s a mighty fine newspaper,” he said.) unless you want to. You can just make a new line each time a new person starts speaking.
Another tip: Try not to use dialogue to simply describe what’s happening in the film. Instead, try to reveal something the film cannot — some deeper aspect of your characters’ interiority — by how they say what they say. Is their language curt and formal, or do they sound drunk? There’s a big difference between “Top of the morning to you, neighbor! Can I offer you a pinch of this lovely Burley leaf for a bit of a shmokey smoke?” and “Morning Bob.”
Feeling experimental? Maybe the flower or fence posts get a voice, too!