Here’s the deal. I have a hobby called writing screenplays that no one will ever produce. I sit in front of a computer screen and type out fascinating plots, layered characters, amusing dialogue, and edge of your seat finales. Then I print out this labor of love. This stack of paper just waiting to become a realized film. And then I set in on a pile with the others and start the process again. It’s a lot of fun. I recommend it to no one.
So when I do see a screenplay that has navigated the stupendous maze of the studios and is available for public consumption on the screen, I am slightly irked when I see clichéd dialogue. Granted, some clichés are hard to avoid. I’ve read that, “Let’s get out of here,” is the most common line in films. I don’t know if this is true or not, but it’s not such a bad line. I’m sure everyone reading this has said, “Let’s get out of here,” at some point in their lives.
I’m not talking about characters saying, “I love you,” or “How you doing?” – if you try to make everyday conversation sound too unique it becomes ridiculous and you’re trying too hard. I’m talking about the lines that you only hear in movies…and way too many movies. Here are five of them. Listed in convenient numerical order.
1: “You messed with the wrong guy.” If I hear this again in a movie it better be followed by additional information. “You messed with the wrong guy…you should have messed with Stan, third door on the left.”
2: “I was born ready.” This seems pretty unlikely. The whole reason that babies are so dependent upon their parents is that they are not born ready. They pretty much need help with everything. So the only way this line of dialogue could ring true would be like this – “The time has come. Are you ready to bawl, drink from a bottle and fill this diaper like a champion?” “I was born ready.”
3. “Don’t you die on me!” (“Die on him…or her…anywhere but on me.”)
4: “Breathe, damnit!” Along with #3, this is the general response to impending death in movies – to shout commands at the person who is dying. If this worked, you’d think doctors would employ this strategy more often, “Stop dying. I said stop it. You, there, do not die. And don’t get sick. Stop coughing. Are you listening to me? Get better. Fight that virus…fight it, or else.”
5. “It’s a little too quiet.” This might be my favorite, because I can’t imagine anyone has ever said this in real life. Because, honestly, what the hell does it mean? In the real world, lack of noise is not an ominous sign. I don’t have pets and I live alone, so every time I walk into my apartment I encounter silence – it’s not scary. What would be scary is if there was noise coming from the back. Then I’d say, “It’s a little too loud,” and I would be running away to find a place that was more quiet.
So, how am I going to do it? How will I rid the silver screen of these overused lines? What can I do? I will continue to write screenplays where characters say things that haven’t been said before. All I need now is for you to think back on every person you’ve ever met. Do you know someone whose cousin works at Paramount? Did your first college roommate become an agent? Is your manicurist’s last name Spielberg? Let’s get on this people. Contact your contacts and let them know that I’ve got original screenplays for sale. Make some noise if you’re with me…hmmmm…it’s a little too quiet.