Beginner Scriptwriting Tips- Formatting

Hello my fem film makers!

I wanted to share with you a great tip to begin to understand HOW dialogue is constructed. Like essays, there is a particular structure to script writing that you must familiarize yourself.

How do you get started?

1.) Get to know the structure by searching google for any of your favourite movies or t.v. scripts.
Here’s an example from the movie, “Ten Things I Hate About You”

          WALTER STRATFORD, Kat and Bianca’s overly-protective father--an
          obstetrician--enters through the front door rifling through the mail.
                    (to Kat)
                    Hello Katarina.  Make anyone cry today?
                    Sadly, no.  But it's only four-thirty.

This is a great visual exercise to see the layout or format of the script, and also to study the use of dialogue.

A popular television series that writes sitcom comedy extremely well is Modern Family. I’ve started looking for who is behind the camera on these kind of successful and well funded television shows to get a feel of whose direction did the script flow through. This picture should give you a clue.
Yup.. It’s predominately men. There’s a lot of work to do and a lot of amazing evolving that will come naturally on and off screen from having women in positions of influence in media. But first, to become the fantastic female movers, shakers and influencers – We must know our craft!

Think of a shiny office at HBO, where someone is reviewing your script, you’ve only got one shot, one page to convince them (Most editors will not read on to the next page if you don’t capture them in the first). But, even before this, you don’t even make it onto the desk if you don’t have at least an attempt at formatting- So let’s brush up.

Want to be taken seriously? Get to know at least the Basics

The good news : Spacing is handled by screenwriting software and there really is no good reason to write a screenplay without using some sort of formatting software. Film adapts with technology. There is no longer a reason to sit in front of a type writer- Format technology does all the work for you. But here’s a quick overview. screenplay_format_smNow you may be saying, wait, formatting programs? Don’t those cost money? How is a  beginner script writing attemptress going to afford these costs- Relax, Celtx offers formatting programs for FREE. Mmmm, Freeee. 🙂 Download Celtx here

SOME BASICS : So the First thing to include is setting. Where are your characters? This can be a big decision when it comes to feasibility of a film. If you have the characters jumping all over in different locations, you know that you’ll have to actually go to a tonne of locations or build sets that match your location- which is expensive monetarily and energetically. This is where for beginner film makers especially the advice has always been- WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW.

Be realistic as far as what places you have access to. Write scenes that take place at locations you have access to– .. Do you live in a Urban Setting or Rural? Do you know someone with a beautiful house that is staged wonderfully? Do you know someone with a boat? a plane? Do you have access to cultural elements- festivals- art? Do you live by an abandoned building?  A breathe taking view? Okay, you get the idea. Take what you have in your life and build your story around that.

For More Complicated Formatting: When writing a scene that takes place in a general location where characters move between sub-locations, you don’t have to repeat the location or the time. Use this technique if the change in location occurs inside what would be considered a “scene”.

If you have a scene that takes place immediately afterward in the same location you can use “Later” in the time of day to denote the passage of time.

When using a proper name of a location in your scene heading be sure to enclose it in quotes. sceneheading-proper-name1

If a scene moves from interior to exterior, a new scene heading is required. The primary reason for this is it gives the production department a clue as to how to schedule the scene. The exception is when it’s suppose to be a tracking scene that follows the characters from inside to outside.

You can add additional details to the scene heading using a hyphen or [brackets]  after the time of day to designate things like [TRAVELING] for a car scene or [FLASHBACK] to denote it as a flashback. Another way to indicate a FLASHBACK is to place it on it’s own slugline before the Scene Heading. “Scene Heading”, “slug-line” – you’re already in the game with that terminology! 😉  This is useful if the Flashback covers several scenes. Make sure to add an END FLASHBACK when coming out of it. . These slug lines act as special indicators and are useful for inserting special shots or for drawing out an important visuals. An example I want to bring up specifically is with regards to slug lines to indicate a text message received on a phone using the slugline “ON SCREEN” – we use the “JOHN” to come out of this screen shot.


More Tips are available at However, keep in mind that the programs that are available today make it much easier than the play writes of the past- take advantage of technology! 🙂

Script Writing: The Musicality of Dialogue

The Art and Craft of Dialogue

“Writing good dialogue is art as well as craft,” says Stephen King. As craft, dialogue serves several functions in any scene. It plunges us into the moment. It reveals character. It moves the plot forward. As art, good dialogue has as much to do with the sound of music as the meaning of words.

But good dialogue isn’t simply putting words in your characters’ mouths and then adding “he said” or “she said”. Nor is it having characters conveniently dump background information into the story—with quote marks around the words. And what’s considered good dialogue today is a far cry from what even the most beloved writers of other eras produced. Readers in our hurried, distracted times will not sit through long, involved speeches, for example, and their inner ear will recognize “believable dialogue” even if they haven’t a clue what it is.

Like any craft, mastering good dialogue requires patience and practice, practice, practice. Like any art, no one can teach you, but we can point you in the right direction.

The illusion of speech

The first thing to remember is that good dialogue is all illusion. We want to suggestthe way people speak, not mimic it. Real speech is often rambling, hesitant, repetitious, and punctuated with “ums”, “ers”, “you knows”, and other meaningless filler. Out of fear or politeness, many people never say what they mean. Often, we’re so busy thinking of what to say next that we don’t even listen to the other person. Just as often, we may utter just about any remark to keep from looking dumb, discourteous, or disinterested. Then again, some people say one thing, and mean another. Other times, words fail us or the wrong ones burble out. It’s a miracle anyone communicates at all.

As a writer, your job is to turn all this to your own purposes. By understanding how real speech works—with its half-spoken phrases, false starts, interruptions, and misdirection–you can begin to play dialogue like an instrument. Sometimes your characters may speak without listening, with interesting possibilities for plot. Or maybe someone is enraged, her words saying one thing, but her tone revealing another. Or another character may barely know what he feels or means, and you might make him inarticulate on purpose. The results can be either comic or tragic. Either way, let your dialogue reveal character and advance the plot.

To develop an ear for the music of speech, one great exercise is to spend time paying close attention to other people’s conversations. Try to get a feel for the ebb and flow, the rhythm, the counterpoint of speech. There was a time I actually went around listening in on strangers in restaurants, on buses, and in other public places while I furiously and surreptitiously tried to scribble it down. In private, I reconstructed these bits as well as significant conversations from my own life, figuring out what to keep, what to leave out, and how to rearrange the lines for best effect. I was also interested in how dialogue reveals emotion, but that’s another discussion.

In one interview, Eudora Welty described often using overheard dialogue in her novels and stories. “Once you’re into a story everything seems to apply,” she said. “What you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you’re writing.” She went on to recall one hilarious exchange:

           “What? You never ate goat?” one person asked another.

           “Goat! Please don’t say you served goat at this reunion. I wasn’t told it wasgoat I was served,” the other person replied.

           “Well, you can do a whole lot of things with vinegar,” was the first person’s parting shot.

It seems you can do a whole lot of things with overheard dialogue, too.

Another fun exercise is to take some brief exchange you’ve overheard and spin it into dialogue, creating characters and drama out of whole cloth. Even if all you’ve got are a few lines of empty small talk, see if you can make it crackle with underlying emotion or conflict. Here’s a hopelessly boring example:

“Can I call you Phil?”


           “You can call me Vivian.”

           “Thanks, Mrs. Regan.”

Now, see what Raymond Chandler did with it in The Big Sleep:

She laughed suddenly and sharply and went halfway through the door, then turned her head to say coolly: “You’re as cold-blooded a beast as I ever met, Marlowe. Or can I call you Phil?”


           “You can call me Vivian.”

           “Thanks, Mrs. Regan.”

           “Oh go to hell, Marlowe.” She went on out and didn’t look back.

We can’t all be Raymond Chandler, but when you find a master of dialogue, learn from him.

Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags tell us who is speaking. They may seem mundane and mechanical, but they require just as much art and craft as any other aspect of dialogue. Often a tag simply identifies the speaker (“Mary said” or “he said”), but dialogue tags have artful purposes as well. Here are some things to think about when using them.

It’s best when dialogue tags are “invisible”. Readers barely notice the plain and unadorned “he said/she said”, so don’t run to your thesaurus looking for a hundred variations.  Novelist Elizabeth George calls said “a little miracle word. . . .The reader’s eye skips right over it. The brain takes in the name of the speaker, while the accompanying verb—provided it’s the verb said—simply gets discarded.” Used judiciously, a few other words like asked, answered, and replied are generally invisible as well.

As for all those fancier tag lines like snarl, moan, snap, hiss, wail, whine, whimper, shout, groan, sneer, growl, they have the opposite effect. “When the writing is really doing its job,” George says, “the reader will be aware that someone is shouting, snarling, thundering, moaning, or groaning. The scene will build up to it, so the writer doesn’t have to use any obvious words to indicate the manner in which the speaker is speaking.”

Some new writers write lines like: “You don’t have the nerve,” Bob goaded, or “This is the third time I’ve asked you,” she insinuated, or “Please don’t leave me,” Sambeguiled. Perhaps the writer means to show her creativity, but these tags are obtrusive. They also tell rather than show. If the speaker is goading another character, show it in his facial expression, the tone of his words, or some other action. If she nags, let her repeat herself. Or maybe she interrupts. Or maybe she tries to connect every topic back to her obsession. I once knew a woman who admired Castro and Cuba so much that she managed to link every conversation to one or the other. If you were talking about saving the rainforest, she would automatically loop back to palm trees in Cuba.

Have a look at some dialogue you’ve written. Are your tags invisible? Do the characters’ actions show what they are feeling rather than you trying to tell the reader through wordy dialogue tags? Does the dialogue itself reveal each character? Just remember that dialogue tags are important, but they’re stagehands, not the star of the show.

Using Beats

In actual speech, we communicate with actions as well as with words. Even though real-life dialogue is often disjointed or half-spoken, our facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, and other body language help signal what we mean. In writing, we portray this body language through “beats”.

Also called action tags, beats are one of the most useful techniques in writing. As the dialogue proceeds, beats keep the characters and the scene alive in the mind’s eye of the reader. They also help you subtly weave the character’s thoughts, feelings, and/or back-story into the action. What’s more, beats contribute to the music of speech because they let you control the pace of the dialogue to create excitement, suspense, and drama.

Here’s a for instance. Ellen suddenly gets up, walks to the door of her office, and closes it. Turning to Jim, she tells him that a certain file is missing. Jim reacts with a question or some comment. He might look puzzled or worried. Ellen tells him that she locked up the file the night before, but now it’s gone. Maybe Jim avoids looking at her or maybe he stares in shock. Ellen, meanwhile, is wondering if she can trust Jim, not sure how much more she can say.

Here’s the dialogue in stripped-down form:

“We’ve got a problem,” Ellen said.


           “The Leland file. I locked it up last night, but now it’s gone.”

           “Big deal,” Jim said. “Just print out another copy.”

            “Jim,” Ellen said, “it’s gone.”

This skinny version might do the job, but it feels flat and tends to distance the reader from the characters. As an experiment, let’s try adding a couple of beats:

Ellen walked to the door of her office and pulled it shut. “Jim,” she said, turning to him, “we’ve got a problem.”

           Jim looked up from prying the lid off his Starbucks. “Yeah?”

           “The Leland file. I locked it up last night, but now it’s gone.”

           “Big deal.” Jim took a big gulp of coffee. “So print out another copy.”

            “Jim,” Ellen said, “it’s gone.”

           With the addition of a few beats, the scene begins to flesh out visually. As you give the reader a few details, he begins to fill in the rest. We don’t have to know every object in Ellen’s office, but we see that it offers privacy. Also, the deliberate way she walks to the door, shuts it, and then turns to Jim hints that she’s weighing everything she does or says. We don’t know a lot about Jim either, but he seems so addicted Starbucks that he can barely pay attention when someone is talking to him. Then again, maybe he uses the coffee as a sinister means of hiding his reaction when Ellen mentions the missing file.

For fun and practice, try playing with this same dialogue, adding beats to see what happens. The possibilities are endless, but keep the beats sparing. Too many will interrupt the action. Here’s another variation:

“We’ve got a problem,” Ellen said, watching Jim’s face.   

            “Yeah?” His look said nothing.

           “The Leland file. I locked it up last night, but now it’s gone.”

           Jim shrugged. “Big deal.  Just print out another copy.”

            “Jim,” Ellen said, “it’s gone.”

In some dialogue, of course, dialogue tags are enough and you won’t need any beats at all. A good approach is to write the dialogue first, then go back to see whether a beat or two might help suggest emotion, keep the scene vivid in the reader’s imagination, drop a hint, or add suspense by providing pauses to heighten the moment.

The valuable technique of beats is one of those where art and craft meet. Beats require a delicate touch, fine tuning, and an ear for the music of speech.

Lost in Space Syndrome

Though we want dialogue tags to be invisible, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t exist. I once edited a 200,000-word first novel by a writer who used not a single dialogue tag. Somewhere, somehow, he had gotten the notion that he should avoid them like the plague. Maybe this young writer considered it a tour de force to write a whole novel without a single attribution, but the humble dialogue tag has its place.

For example, dialogue makes a great opening hook, but only if you identify the speaker. I’ve seen many a new writer open a story or chapter with some dramatic line of speech, but without a clue who is speaking. I call this the Lost in Space Syndrome. The reader has no idea whether the dialogue is wafting down from God, floating over from a nearby TV or radio, or even some form of skywriting. As writers, we can easily imagine the scene, the characters, and the situation, but the reader can’t read our minds.

If it’s the main character speaking in your opener, let us know immediately in order to establish point of view. If it’s not the main character, it’s even more crucial to identify who’s who. As the writer, you know perfectly well who is speaking. To the reader, an unidentified speaker is simply a disembodied voice. Here’s an example:

“Where are we?”

           The sun was going down. The forest, so fresh and cool an hour before, was growing colder by the second. The chatter and warble of birds died away, and for a moment, nothing moved, nothing stirred.

We get the setting and we sense the mood, but what’s that ghostly question flapping in the breeze in line 1? If it’s the main character speaking, signal the reader immediately. The sooner we get inside his or her thoughts and feelings, the better. If it’s somebody talking to the main character, all the more must you signal that fact in order to establish point of view.

Here’s a revision that leaves no doubt that the speaker is also the main character. Through interior dialogue, dialogue tags, and beats, you can tell immediately that Carol is the protagonist and who else is present:

“Where are we?” Carol said, but John just kept on walking. With the sun going down, the forest was growing colder by the minute.

“John,” she said, a little louder this time, “are we lost?” Again he didn’t answer, and that scared her even more. The chatter and warble of birds died away, and for a moment, nothing moved, nothing stirred.

Now let’s take the same dialogue, but this time the first speaker is not the main character. Using the identical techniques of adding tags, interior dialogue, and beats, this time you can let the reader know that John is the main character and Carole is secondary, even though she speaks first:

“Where are we?” Carol said.

           John heard her, but just kept walking on ahead. The sun was going down, and the forest was growing colder by the second.

           “John, are we lost?” Her voice was louder this time.

           Again, he didn’t answer. Being lost was bad enough. He didn’t want a panicked woman on his hands, too.

           The chatter and warble of birds died away, and for a moment, nothing moved, nothing stirred.

           Now, try doing a couple of these yourself. I used a man and woman wandering in the woods, but it can be anything from two strangers in an elevator to long-lost lovers reunited by chance. Use a line of dialogue as a hook, but practice making sure the reader knows not only who is speaking the line but also whether he is the main character. Try writing first from the POV of the main character and then from the POV of a secondary character. Keep the exercise to only a few lines because these three, four, or five lines are where you’ll have to do all the work in a real story or chapter. Remember, you want to hook the reader, not leave her “lost in space”.

Beats as Dialogue Tags

Once into the scene, you don’t necessarily need a dialogue tag each time someone speaks—especially in longer exchanges. One dialogue tag after another tends to become leaden and will interrupt the back and forth rhythm. For example:

            “What do you mean?” Paul said.

           “You heard me,” Harriet said.

           “Am I supposed to read your mind?” Paul asked.

           “I didn’t say that,” Harriet said.

           “Are you going to tell me what’s going on or not?” Paul said.

This is another situation where beats–small actions in the midst of dialogue–come in handy. Here’s a revision substituting beats for some tags:

“What do you mean?” Paul said.

           Harriet looked away. “You heard me.”

           “Am I supposed to read your mind?” he asked.

           “I didn’t say that.”

He grabbed her by the arm. “Are you going to tell me what’s going on or not?”

Now let’s talk about longer stretches of dialogue. It’s true that dialogue should speak for itself, but if you’ve got two or more people speaking for 5, 6, 8 lines or more, the characters become indistinguishable. No matter how snappy the dialogue, the reader shouldn’t have to go back and figure out, line by line, who’s saying what. Any time the reader is confused, the spell is broken.

As an editor, instructor, and even just a plain old reader, I’ve seen this flaw in both published and unpublished writing.  Some writers may omit tags because they think the rapid-fire dialogue seems more real without interruptions. That might be true on stage, TV, or in a movie where we see the faces and bodies of the characters as well as hear their words. The printed page, however, is neither a stage nor a camera. The writer can picture every detail and nuance of the scene, but the reader can only do that if you first provide some information.

Even with witty banter or all-out argument, be sure to add some dialogue tags and/or beats here and there to keep the scene and the characters alive in the mind’s eye of the reader. Otherwise, we become Lost in Space.

Here’s an example from an unpublished story manuscript. A group of guests are gathered in a house in an isolated setting. As in the famous Agatha Christie story, there’s been a murder. Ernie is the main character. Nell has just discovered the body in the library. Ernie, Nolan, and Maggie are in the drawing room when Nell rushes in. After the first line, can you tell who’s speaking? Also, how can the characters magically transport themselves from one room to the next? The dialogue just runs right over it:

           “Oh my god!” Nell burst into the room.

           “Nell, what’s–“

           “Come quick!”

           “I was just talking to him five minutes ago.”

           “And now he’s–“

           “Maggie, don’t. Nolan, get Maggie out of here.”

           “I’m OK. It’s just–“

This excerpt has been disguised to protect the guilty, but it’s a real example. To rescue this scene, we can use beats, point of view, and interior dialogue to keep up the drama without hopelessly confusing (and thus losing) the reader:

           “Oh my god,” Nell said, bursting into the room.

           I jumped up. “Nell, what’s–“

           “Come quick!” Eyes wild, she ran out again.

           We rushed after her down the hall and into the library. Slumped in a chair before the fire was Larry. His shirt was bloody. I wanted to look away, but didn’t.

           “I was just talking to him,” Nolan said. “Five minutes ago.”

           “And now he’s–” Maggie walked over and picked up a book from the floor. It must have fallen from Larry’s hand.

           “Maggie, don’t,” I said. “Nolan, get Maggie out of here.”

           “I’m OK, Ernie. It’s just–“

My revision isn’t deathless prose, but it does show how beats and interior dialogue help identify multiple speakers without the need for a lot of dialogue tags or using a character’s name each time one character speaks to another. It also demonstrates how to use beats and the main character’s emotions and reactions to build tension. Sprinkled here and there, beats pace things out just enough to create some drama and suspense.

           One final word. It’s true that you will find long, untagged stretches of dialogue between two or more characters in even best-selling hard-boiled detective fiction or witty chick-lit, but that doesn’t make it a worthy practice.

Talking Heads Syndrome

Years ago, I once heard TV news readers referred to as “talking heads”, a humorous and apt description. While the camera shifts from one head to the other, we might as well be listening to the radio. The “talking heads” are just reading some script—they aren’t out there like Woodward and Bernstein, investigating, digging, and discovering.

Back then, I was editing several mass market novel lines, each with a massive and detailed back-story–events that occurred before the current story began. The writers were often new novelists who tried to solve the problem of back-story through the use of “talking heads”. The dialogue often degenerated to that of talking heads–recounting facts or information rather than revealing character. Sitting in his war room buried deep in the heart of a mountain, the king might say to a counselor: “I have ruled Emanon for thirty years. In all that time, the Norlanders have been attacking our borders. Our people have resisted valiantly, and thousands have died on both sides. Now the Norlanders are at the gates.”

The speech does fill in some background, but who talks like this—even in fantasy fiction? The reader knows that the words aren’t coming from the mind and heart of a believable character but from the writer.

Characters in fiction are as enmeshed in their experience as you or I. In conversation, we don’t stand around uttering background information. We get on with our lives, and so should your characters. The king and everyone with him know about the Thirty Years War. What they need is to solve the problem beating at their gates now. That’s what the reader wants, too. It’s the present story, not back-story, that he or she has come to read.

That means you keep the action moving forward, slipping in bits of background here and there. To do this, you’ll use realistic bits of spoken dialogue by any character in the scene and the main character’s interior dialogue.

            In the example of Emanon and Norland, what if a general bursts in on the king with a report of desperate battle just outside the walls? Hearing this, the king looks around at his counselors, seeing how the long years of war have aged them. In a flash, he realizes that his counselors are too cautious, while he has been too uncertain. For example:

The king was barely listening. He didn’t need a battle report to know where things stood. He stared at the map of his kingdom, once so vast and protected by mountains to the north and by the sea to the east and west. For years, the mountains had kept the Norlanders at bay, but no more.

“Enough!” He slammed his fist on the table. Maps went flying, flagons overturned, and his counselors just stared at him. Within the walls of his city, even deep in the mountain stronghold of his war room, the king saw that his counselors, like his people, were weary of war.

He would listen to no more talk. Talk would not save them.

And there’s your story. We’ve given the king both an external and an internal conflict. We’ve slipped in just enough back-story to involve the reader with his dilemma here and now. That’s your story, not what happened over the past 3 days or 3 months or 30 years.  If my example were a story’s opener, it would be enough to grab the reader’s attention, get him immediately involved with the main character, and fill in enough back-story that he could quickly jump in with both feet.

This scene also uses the “free, indirect” style of interior dialogue. Written in third-person past tense and in words the character might use when actually speaking, the free, indirect style keeps us inside the character’s mind and heart. We didn’t interrupt the action with quotation marks around the king’s thoughts, and we didn’t need tags like “he thought” or “he wondered”. Nor did we need a clunky point of view shift from “he” to “I” or even clunkier italics like, The king stared at the map. My counselors are weary, he thought.All they do is talk.

Both the italics and the POV shift reveal the writer’s hand at work rather than the character’s thoughts and feelings. To keep from breaking the spell, you want a seamless connection between the main character’s inner and outer worlds–just as in real life. The free, indirect style is the perfect way to pull that off.

Now, look at a story or novel chapter of your own. Have you plunged the reader into the main action or are your characters standing around speaking and thinking back-story?

Dialogue as Conflict

In life, most people prefer harmony to conflict, but when we sit down to read a story or a novel, we want drama, excitement, suspense. That means every scene must tighten the screws until the tension is unbearable. Two lovers murmuring sweet nothings is great in real life, but in fiction it lacks tension. Even in action writing, you need more than just characters shooting at each other and blowing things up. In life, a soldier is trained to obey without question. In fiction, what happens when the soldier suspects that his captain loves glory more than his men? Or what if the captain is a drunk or an addict? Or a traitor? Give us conflict, not good little soldiers.

Dialogue serves this purpose beautifully. It’s powerful stuff. Novelist Elizabeth Bowen said it was right up there with a fight, a murder, or lovemaking as the most “vigorous and visible interaction” characters can have. It’s happening now—the scene is alive. It’s unpredictable—creating suspense. It expresses character—what makes great fiction unforgettable.

“Speech is what characters do to each other,” Bowen points out.

In other words, dialogue is action. Not just any action, but conflict. Pick up a good novel or story at random and flip through to some dialogue. You’ll see immediately that it’s argumentative in some way. A couple of characters agreeing with each other or carrying on some other amicable conversation will put your reader instantly to sleep. Even when characters are friends, lovers, colleagues, or companions, give your dialogue an edge.

Sol Stein, novelist, editor, and teacher, advises that all fictional dialogue be either adversarial or interrogation, no matter how subtle. He calls this the Actors Studio Method of Writing. Every time the main character encounters someone, it must further the plot in some way, but that other character still has his own agenda. In making the dialogue combative, you don’t have to turn friends into enemies, but you will always create some form of tension. Give every character her own “script”, her own motives.

To see how this works, open any good story or novel at random to a page of dialogue. Even when you don’t really know the story or the scene, the dialogue will pull you in because it’s combative. Leafing through Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, I found great examples on almost every page. Here’s one small bit from “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”. Ginnie and Selena are riding home in a cab after playing tennis, when Ginnie suddenly says:

“Hey, Selena. . .”

“What?” asked Selena, who was busy feeling the floor of the cab with her hand. “I can’t find the cover to my racket!” she moaned.

Despite the warm May weather, both girls were wearing topcoats over their shorts.

“You put it in your pocket,” Ginnie said. “Hey, listen–”

“Oh, God! You saved my life!”

“Listen,” said Ginnie, who wanted no part of Selena’s gratitude.


Ginnie decided to come right out with it. The cab was nearly at Selena’s street. “I don’t feel like getting stuck with the whole cab fare again today,” she said. “I’m no millionaire, ya know.”

This snippet isn’t the end of the conversation or the scene, but it shows that good dialogue is a form of conflict even when the topic seems mundane and the characters are friends.

For fun, take two characters, give them conflicting motivations, and then put them into a scene. You can come up with your own, but here’s an example. Let’s start with a faithful, loving husband who has planned a special birthday surprise for his wife. He hasn’t said a word about her birthday, pretending to forget. The wife is now suspicious. When she finds unspecified charges on a credit card bill, she tries calling her husband at work. Unable to reach either him or his secretary, she decides they’re having an affair. Now the husband is late getting home because he stopped to pick up his gift from the jewelers. He’s still set on the birthday surprise, while the wife is determined to get proof of his cheating without tipping him off to her suspicions.

That’s the situation—the back-story. What happens when you put these two together in dialogue and let the sparks fly? Can you write dialogue for this scene, letting each character act out his/her private script without giving anything away? Let the dialogue and a few beats do all the work. Remember, though, that this isn’t about “head-hopping”, where you escape the hard work of writing good dialogue by hopping in and out of every character’s thoughts and feelings.

The innocent husband will be trying to maneuver his wife toward a lovely surprise. Playing detective, the wife tries to uncover her proof without tipping her hand. You’ll also want to keep in mind Bowen’s advice that, “Characters should be under rather than over articulate. What they intendto say should be more evident, more striking (because of its greater inner importance to the plot) than what they arrive at saying.”

This is just an exercise, of course, but it demonstrates how you would play dialogue every time you write it. When writing dialogue, let your characters confront one another. To create tension, put them at cross-purposes, with either overt or underlying confrontation. You’ve got only one protagonist and one point of view, but that doesn’t mean your secondary characters aren’t involved in their own desperate struggles with life.

Sol Stein puts it well: “Most of the time, tough, combative, adversarial dialogue is much more exciting than physical action.”

©2008 Donna Ippolito

Retrieved From

Rashida Jones takes us into the world of Miami’s amateur porn industry as the producer of the new documentary, “Hot Girls Wanted.”

Actress Rashida Jones sits down in an interview with Vice, sharing about her recent transition from infront of the screen to behind the camera- undertaking a new role as producer of a documentary film called Hot Girls Wanted.  It is a hard hitting and insightful sneak look inside Miami’s amateur porn industry.

The documentary film follows a handful of young girls on their experience getting into amateur porn. While incredibly insightful as far as understanding the workings and motivations of the actors involved,  it is also heartbreaking and at times hard to watch. The girls go into the industry thinking that it is their chance to become famous, but the reality they face is very different..


Check it out here:


Ava DuVernay is incredible to say the least. Her latest success includes the movie Selma, staring Oprah Winfrey. DuVernay won the Best Director Prize for her second feature film Middle of Nowhere becoming the first African-American woman to win the award. For her work in Selma, DuVernay is the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award and is also the first black female director to have a film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture. Ava is a trailblazer to say the least and continues to break ground for Black women in the film and television industry. She sat down with Makers in a rare and informative interview that anyone interested in pursuing filmmaking should take note of.


 Watch the full interview here:

Ava began her career in the film industry as a publicist. She says being on sets, behind the scenes “demystified” the process for her in the interview she did for Makers. Coming across this interview, I knew I had to share it. As women interested in film, when a seriously talented and accredited filmmaker actually takes the time to share with us- we should listen up. 

So listen to this- when Ava was asked imagesabout the kind of advice she would give young women filmmakers looking to her for mentorship, she says plainly to decide-  “Are you done dreaming?” 


Another interview worth mentioning is her conversation with the insightful and articulate Melissa Harris Perry, as Ava shares about her role as a director on the film Selma. She says her being an African American Female informs how she tells stories. She speaks of the missing perspective of women in films of this genre as these pieces are typically made and directed by men. She sites the limited spotlight shone on the women of colour who engaged in the civil rights struggles of the 60’s and 70’s. Many women who were involved in the civil rights movement have been largely left out of previous films that cover this time period and subject matter. Ava felt it necessary to shift the portrayal of the story to included in these female characters and nuanced narrative.

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The insightful and articulate Melissa Harris Perry interview renowned Director, Ava Duvernay.
Watch Here :


Netflix is being called upon to stop funding the first of four feature productions paid for in a special agreement with the production company, “Happy Madison,” owned by Adam Sandler for it’s racism not only in content of the film Ridiculous Six, but also in creating an environment on set that was so toxic for the First Nation actors hired, that a dozen actors walked off set. They made effforts to voice their concern with members of the production team over racist characters, cultural appropriation and inaccuracy. The actors who walked off set cited racism as the reason for leaving.

Indian Country news source provided specific more detail examples of some of the racist and degrading character depictions as explained by the actors working. Links to these stories will be provided below. The examples of disrespect included “Native women’s names such as Beaver’s Breath and No Bra, an actress portraying an Apache woman squatting and urinating while smoking a peace pipe, and feathers inappropriately positioned on a teepee.” The link provided below is one man’s experience and further descriptions of various troubling content. His story explains the lead up to him walking off set after repeatedly trying to speak to Adam Sandler or be directed to those that are influential with regards to his concerns, but he was time and again dismissed with the explanation being the mantra of the white male privileged experience- It’s a joke.
Read more from his perspective here:

A dozen actors on the set were not laughing and actually walked off the set. One of these Navajo Nation tribal members was Loren Anthony, who is also the lead singer of the metal band Bloodline, and film student Allison Young.

“We were supposed to be Apache, but it was really stereotypical and we did not look Apache at all. We looked more like Comanche,” he said. “One thing that really offended a lot of people was that there was a female character called Beaver’s breath. One character says ‘Hey, Beaver’s Breath.’ And the Native woman says, ‘How did you know my name?'”

“They just treated us as if we should just be on the side. When we did speak with the main director, he was trying to say the disrespect was not intentional and this was a comedy.”

One women who also walked off is quoted say this:

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Here are just a few issues articulated by an indigenous community members:

  • The fact that this film was about Apaches yet the actors were Navajo is a problem.  So the film crew basically implicitly insinuated that Apaches can’t adequately portray themselves enough to be Apaches in this film.  If that isn’t a whole other level of twisted, I don’t know what is. And y’all went along with it. That in itself seemed like a yellow flag to me indicating a warning sign of what’s to come. Like a coyote crossing your path. *sips tea
  • The fact that Adam Sandler is a man of Jewish heritage, a culture with a history remarkably similar to Indigenous Americans.  We are both descendants of a Holocaust.  In fact, Hitler was inspired by the American government for its tactics used in the first Holocaust.  The one launched against Indigenous people in present day America. Why? Because the American government wanted our land.  The American government then hid this “dirty little secret” so well from the history books in American schools and around the world.  Maybe someone needs to send Adam and his film crew to have a chat with someone’s Rez grandma, she’ll set him straight.
  • The fact that there is a movie requiring Natives only because its about the past, like we don’t exist in present day movies.
  • *The fact that there was a “cultural consultant” who probably wasn’t even Apache.
  • *The fact that this cultural consultant got the costumes wrong. I mean if you’re going to call yourself legit, get your life together and at least get the tribe regalia right.  Dr. Keene might shake her head at me for this because the issue is more than getting it right, rather it’s about the fact that they are wearing costumes. All I’m saying is Google search images of Apache.  Nothing more to say.
  • *Then the audacity of the producer to get upset and frustrated when the Natives tried to enlighten this ignorant cat of the historically misuse of the wardrobes.  Get your life together sweetheart.
  • The fact that boundaries were violated.  Boundaries are set to keep people and parities safe and respected based on agreed upon conditions.  The terms in this contract were breached once the film crew violated and disregarded the boundaries.
  • The fact that the film crew ignorantly hid behind the film category of “comedy” to justify their disrespect of Native women and elders and a culture.  There are a lot of modern day comedy films that do not violate the boundaries of respecting another culture so that argument falls flat on its face.

It is clear after only three months in production, this film has already managed to produce painful results. These ideas should have never made it past the writing room. This is an important thing to note as film makers- the impact of your work, especially as white people in a eurocentric, western society where the effects of colonialism still continue. It is necessary to think very carefully if you are to at all undertake how you present a culture that is not your own. The lack of First Nation input and oversight around content concerning the representation of their community in this film, regardless if it is a comedy, needs to be met with repercussions and correction. Media representation of Aboriginal people can have an impact on native people personal, but your film then feeds into the narrative of continued racism against indigenous people.

The following are links to provide you with more insight into the actor activists who boycotted this film.

Read more at:
Read more at: 


First Nation filmmaker Colleen Cardinal talks about damaging effects of medias disrespectful representation of Indigenous women.

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Check out Here

And Here

A Call to Action. First Nations Film maker, Colleen Cardinal- Documenting Cultural Genocide


After six years of research, the Truth and Reconciliation reports were released in Ottawa this week by the Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair, Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).

Conferences were held from the first to the third of June, not nearly enough time it seems to address each momentous finding. Countless troubling accounts, statistics and very personal testimony was given by survivors as well as those who participated in administrating the schools. Witnesses and community members shared and spoke candidly about their understanding and experience of the impact of the residential school system on First Nations communities in Canada.

Canadian Residential Schools administered by the Church and supported by the Canadian Federal Government as a means of genocide to First Nations indigenous people in Canada.

Lasting one hundred and twenty-five years, residential schools were used as an instrument for the genocide of First Nations people in Canada. The story of residential schools is one of forcible extraction of First Nation children from their families and communities. Once removed from their family, they were isolated to the boarding schools funded by the Canadian government and administered by the Church representatives, both Catholic and Anglican, who taught them that their culture and way of life was inferior. The schools mark an attempt by the Canadian government to erase First Nations people, a dark time in history Justice Murray Sinclair states- a period of time where Canada clearly engaged in the practice of cultural genocide .

The TRC report indicated that the death rate at residential schools exceeds 50% though the exact number is not known, as those participating in the genocide did not choose to keep ready documents of it, but unmarked graves exist by the thousands at residential schools across Canada; a graveyard for a playground. A lump in your throat. I continue.

0104-missing-children-1At the schools, children were stripped of their name, they were assigned a number- just one of the many dehumanizing tools used on these children.

Isolation from familial ties was another; siblings would be kept apart, even parents who tried to see their children, remove them, or visit were not allowed to talk to their children.

Any cultural practices were punished severely. Speaking their language was strictly prohibited. Ancestral languages that exist today preserved by children lying awake at night whispering to themselves in their native language so as not to forget. Regular incidents of both physical and sexual abuse are recorded as well as rampant diseases do to conditions.

Local Input~ Photograph of a group of boys and staff St. Anne's Indian Residential School (Fort Albany, Ont.) originally created 1945 ---- Credit: Algoma University Archives
Local Input~ Photograph of a group of boys and staff St. Anne’s Indian Residential School (Fort Albany, Ont.) originally created 1945 —- Credit: Algoma University Archives

The legacy of these residential schools lasted more than a century, 125 years in fact, the last closing in ’96, these schools impacted four generations of First Nations communities and continue to shape Canada today. Justice Sinclair spoke at the University of Ottawa with regards to significance of multigenerational impact the residential schools had on First Nations communities- had the schools only lasted for some odd twenty or thirty years, he said,  these children may have been able to be taken back to their communities and rehabilitated through the support of community and spiritual leadership, but cultural genocide is designed as such, that the survivors lose touch with community, sense of self. Survivors of such gross violation express the impacts carrying this pain has had on their lives and relationships today. In his talk the day before the Truth and Reconciliation meeting, Justice Sinclair showed an example of a survivors testimony. I encourage you to listen to the whole talk here:

Dr. Pam Palmater, Mi’kmaq, First Nations lawyer, Idle No More activist and Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University. Twitter @Pam_Palmater

Support for First Nations communities is growing under the Idle No More movement. Mi’kmaq mother, leader, activist, lawyer, professor and Chair of Indigenous Studies at the Ryerson, Univeristy, Dr. Pam Palmater spoke to Democracy Now’s, Amy Goodman about the findings noting that it would be a mistake to think of residential schools are just something that happened before in history.

“There’s no more residential schools, but the policies we have today accomplish the same things,” explains Pam.

These objective continued to carried out through the child welfare system that continues to disproportionately remove First Nations children from their families at alarming rates. Today, First Nations youth represent half of the children in the child welfare systems.
First Nations have reported over 1,500 missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, Reports of racism in health care, lower life expectancy, higher rates of poverty, incarceration and suicide continue to effect First Nations communities across Canada. Corporate exploitation from oil companies subsidized by the government bring environmental racism and consistent failure to honour treaty rights.

Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper has made clear that First Nation’s women are not a priority and has even publicly denied any systemic nature to the continuity of violence facing Indigenous women.

In March, 2015, the United Nations formally declared that Canada government has not succeeded in its treatment of the First Nation people and called for a National Inquiry into the thousand missing and murdered First Nations women.

The United Nations Findings

The “well-being gap” between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people in Canada is not improving.

Treaty and aboriginal claims remain “persistently” unresolved.

Indigenous women and girls “remain vulnerable to abuse.

“There appear to be “high levels of distrust” among aboriginal people toward all levels of government.

While awareness in Ottawa is heightened, a call for action is clear.
READ The Truth and Reconciliation call for Action

Colleen Cardinal, First Nations, Cree documentary film maker, mother of Sage and Sister to #MMIW, creator of Hidden Generations. A documentary film exploring a personal and cultural history of cultural genocide.

When it comes to genocide, it could not be more understated that a simple apology will not suffice- action is called for. A result of this systemic racism is lack of representation of First Nations women in media. Which is why, as a women’s film collective, I would like to offer you an opportunity to support women who are still here resisting and educating through the art of film. First Nations documentary film maker, Colleen Cardinal is creating a film that exposes a legacy of genocide here in Canada, promoting understanding at such a crucial time in the political climate between here in North America between Canadian government and First Nations people. With over 1,500 indigenous women reported missing or murdered with no national inquiry, countless actionable suits First Nation families have taken up over foster care conditions and abuse, Colleen is one woman stepping up to the plate to tackle some of these current affairs.

Colleen was adopted during the sixties scoop and her sister and mother are both tragically missing and murdered First Nations women in Canada whose numbers reach a staggering and unaccounted 1,600 that go unaccounted for. Colleen not only undertakes one of the most important topics of our time, but allows the audience into her personal journey with her son, Sage in her new documentary film. Their film is a physical and spiritual journey as they travel from Ottawa to Edmonton visiting reservations, sharing stories of the past and providing a distinct opportunity to share an understanding essential for of all Canadians.

I caught up with Sag4082153_1428872352.44_funddescriptione at the Youth Services Bureau in conjunction with MASC, Sketch and the Trillium Foundation where Sage works with underprivileged kids in the Ottawa area as an Art Messenger.Sage and Colleen are working to raise awareness around the violence and systemic racism facing First Nations communities today through the documentary film,
“HiddenGenerations,” which explores the connection between the residential schools, the sixties scoop and current crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women.

Women in View provides annual reports and research on women’s advancement in the film and television industry here in Canada. The first chart I came across – said- everything.

First Nation women face even more barriers when it comes to achievement within the film and television industry. With so many voices lost, lets not miss another opportunity. Help support this First Nation’s documentary filmmaker. Take Action- Fund Colleen

Help support Colleen Cardinal – “Hidden Generation” Film.
Fund her film. Suggested donation $10.00.  
Check out her website and read more HERE: :

Woman to Watch: Lindsay Mackay, writer and director of feature film, Wet Bum

Lindsay MackaLindsay Mackay Picturey is making waves with her new feature film, Wet Bum. She is a Canadian born writer and director, currently living in Los Angeles, California. A graduate of the Directing program at the AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles, her thesis film Clear Blue won the esteemed College Television Award (the Student Emmy). Her work has screened at festivals worldwide, including TIFF, SXSW, AFI Fest, Palm Springs International ShortsFest, and Camerimage. MacKay has developed a feature-length version of Clear Blue called Wet Bum that is making splashes.

Check out the Lindsay Mackay’s feature- length debut,
Wet Bum:

If you’re interested in learning more, check out Women and Hollywood’s indie wire blog for full interview with Lindsay where she shares on her success with this film as well as which female film makers she is inspired by.

Sexual harassment of television personalities is becoming less of a laughing matter: Hydro One Fires Employee over Sexual Harassment

Yesterday, two big names on the Toronto business front took action to condemn sexist comments hurled at television news anchors.  A disturbing phrase, which has been shortened to “FHRITP” on media platforms to disguise the vulgarity for which it stands, was hurled at another female news anchor. “FHRITP” stands for the trend of shouting “F-ck her right in the p-ssy” at female news anchors while trying to conduct interviews. Undoubtably self evident, it is sexual harassment and painful to watch for any female professional who faces the challenge of sexism in their career.

On Sunday night, CityNEWS reporter, Shauna Hunt, the latest news woman to be heckled by a group of men- had enough.  While Shauna was conducting her post game interviews, a group of men began shouting sexually implicit comments into her microphone.  Shauna wasted no time in confronting these men and talking to them about why it is they find it acceptable to sexual harassment women.

You can see the whole interaction here:

As you can see, these men seem to find it a joke, but seem completely uninterested in the actual effect of this harassment. This is epitomizes sexual harassment as it is meant to dehumanize you, so when Shauna presents herself as a real person, ready to engage and tell them how this makes her feel- they begin to squirm and become defensive and actually suggest that she is the one who needs to lighten up. Harassers think women are there to be shouted at, objects to be oogled, made light of. It is privilege that allows these males to think that for some reason they should be able to say and do whatever they want without any kind of retort.

As women, we are constantly confronted with harassment on a daily basis, whilst trying to commute, walk, run, work…breathe.. for the fairer sex, this kind of sexual harassment makes most of us grimace with a wealth of personal understanding. Hanging out to shout derogatory remarks at a female professional is not cool, not funny, it’s not even creative. Unfortunately, our society is so embedded with male privilege that misogyny is a daily encounter. Sometimes it comes from ignorance due to privilege, others have deeply embedded misogyny. The way one can tell the difference between a mistake made out of privilege and a misogynist who does not value women as people can be seen in this video- instead of listening to her experience, they tell her she ought to feel something else. The men in this video aren’t interested in hearing the voice of a woman, her opinion, they just want to shout at her phrases they have the privilege of finding funny because they are not harassed in such a manner on a regular basis. And in any case, someone who doesn’t experience sexism, racism, ablism, etc is never an authority on the subject. The ability to remain unemotional to a subject matter is privilege in itself.

There is however an encouraging side to this post; it turns out there are a few major companies who took it upon themselves to send the message that the harassment of women is no laughing matter.Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) has banned the men responsible from future sporting events and Hydro One has actually fired one of the men who appeared in this interview. Hydro One spokesman had this to say about the dismissal, “Respect for all people is engrained in the code and our values.”

Todd Minerson, executive director of the White Ribbon Campaign, an organization of men working to end violence against women says, “I’m glad to see companies stepping up and taking this seriously. It’s a welcome change,”

While we appreciate this support from our allies, we want to give the most praise to Shauna Hunt of City News who had the courage and ability to stand up against this form of harassment on behalf of us all.