How to Direct A Dialogue Scene

Shooting a dialogue scene can be a chalanging task. You need to make the text interesting even if it’s not. There are several techniques to use that will make that happen and I will explain them here.


A dialogue scene starts with the subtext

Before planning a dialogue scene, you need to understand the subtext of the scene. A Subtext is a content that is not said directly by the characters, but it exists in the observer perception of the scene. sometimes it’s in the observer’s subconscious and he even not aware of that.  The subtext of the scene should be drowned from the film’s premise.

All the great dialogue scenes show that, but here is a great example for a subtext in a scene. Look at the funny trick Woody Allen uses to show us what the characters are really thinking

Plan your shooting script

When shooting a dialogue scene you should plan the shooting script, so it will express the subtext of the scene and the dialogue in it. Read my post on types of camera shots to understand the psychology behind each shot.

The classic way to shoot a dialogue scene is to start with an establishing shot, to let the audience know where the characters are placed. Then you’ll need to break the scene into the shots you think are right for the scene.  A very popular shot on dialogue scene is Over The Shoulder because it shows us the character that talks and the reactions of the characters that’s listening. When shooting Over The Shoulder shots you might want to use the Depth of Feild technique. You want the focus to be on the talking character so the shoulder of the character that listens should be a bit blur and to take only one-third of the frame.

Here is a great scene that is built in a classic way

Quick tip

When the dialogue is important and you want the audience to focus on what the characters are saying, keep the shots simple as you can, while staying loyal to your story’s premise

Use inter-cuts

Think about the inter-cuts you want to add to the scene, if you want to give the editor maximum flexibility to work with. The inter-cuts can be Close-ups on the listening characters, their hands (if they’re doing something that is important to the scene), their eyes, objects on the set & etc. Of course, when using intercuts you should think how are they contribute to the scene and its subtext.

Use the master shot technique

The master scene technique is a method used by lots of directors. What you do is shooting the whole scene in wide angle from the start to the end and then you start shooting all the inter-cuts. This way if one of the cuts you shot didn’t go well, you can always come back to the master shot. I recommend reading my post on The master scene method to learn how to do it well.

Think about how you want to edit the dialogue scene

You should also think about the editing of the scene.  If it’s a quick paced editing then the shooting script should take it under consideration. If needed, consult with your video editor as to understand what he needs to get the kind of editing you are planning for the scene.

 plan which lenses you want to use

The lenses you’ll choose for the scene will affect the emotion the audience gets from the scenes. There are many types of lenses, and you need to consult with your cinematographer what he prefers. Many like to use the Zoom lenses because you can play with their focal lengths in different ways. They are great for documentary films and action scenes. Cannon has some pretty good zoom lenses.  The most popular lenses to shoot with are the prime lenses. They are very affordable compared to others and very sharp. They are also good to shoot in low light locations. Personally, I like to use the Rokinon Cine Lenses, but there are many others.

Make the dialogue scene entertaining

The planning of the shooting should also take into consideration the length of the scene and it’s atmosphere. For example, if we are shooting a long dialogue scene, then maybe we’ll want to move the camera during the dialogue. Moving the camera can be done handheld or with a steady cam or even with a dolly. another way is to shoot it all in one take without any camera movement. That’s a less interesting way to shoot, but sometimes it will fit better to the atmosphere of your scene.

Blocking for dialogue scene

Blocking is planning where the actors are going to be in the scene and their movements inside the scene. When blocking a dialogue scene, you need first to understand the subtext of the dialogue. For example, if the characters lines mean they are getting closer to each other, they can show it by walking towards each other. If one character fears the other, it can walk away. Making your characters stand and not move at all, can also have subtext meanings in it. When you plan the blocking you should use the mindset of a choreographer.  Think about all the elements in the scene and how you can use them to express the subtext of the dialogue.



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