To be pompous… and, if I can’t be pompous here, then where can I be?…
If you fancy yourself as a wordsmith on stage or screen, my advice is to write as little dialogue as possible.
If your work of genius would work as well on radio as it would on stage or screen, then it needs visuals added.
Television is not radio.
Movies are not radio.
The stage is not radio.
That’s a big thing of mine.
If a script will work on radio, then it is probably a bad script for stage or TV/movie production.
So what do I know?
One Foot in the Grave, though, has loads of visual gags. There’s a gag where the phone rings and Victor, asleep on a chair, sleepy, reaches down and picks up a small dog.
The tortoise episode has visual gags aplenty. There are loads of surreal visuals in Grave which don’t rely on spoken words.
And, of course, allegedly the British public’s most beloved and memorable TV comedy sequence is not Ronnie Barker’s “four candles” routine nor John Cleese’s ‘dead parrot’ routine but the visual gag from Only Fools and Horses.
Just because something ain’t got spoken words doesn’t mean it ain’t a good piece of scripting.
Clint Eastwood says he told Sergio Leone to cut acres of his character’s dialogue out of the original script of A Fistful of Dollars. He told Sergio: “I can do those two lines of dialogue by just one look”.
The 2mins 40secs pre-credits opening of Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in The West is brilliantly scripted but has only three short, totally inconsequential lines of dialogue.
So write a stage or screen script.
Then go through it and try to cut out as many words as you can because, if you can, they are unnecessary.
Then go through it again and try to cut out as many of the necessary words as you can and replace them with something visual.
If words can be cut out and the point made visually, that’s miles better – though, if it’s for a stage performance, the people at the back have to see it. So subtle eye movements may be invisible.
And I get SO annoyed when performers sit or lie on the floor in venues bigger than the ones they are used to.
It may have worked in some room above a pub with an audience of 5 but it don’t feckin’ work when you are sitting in the audience at the back of a non-tiered room with even only three rows of people seated in front of you. If the performer’s head is below the heads of the people sitting in the front row then the odds are that even the person sitting in row 4 can’t see it clearly if at all.
End of pomposity. Raises eyebrow. Slaps forehead. Says nothing.