When, as visual storytellers, we approach a script or a new scene, we could start by thinking about what the characters are saying.
Yet, the most powerful moments in visual storytelling are often the unspoken ones. For this reason, I think that as storytellers we should focus more on what is behind those lines of dialogue rather than the line themselves. And when there is nothing behind them, if they are just words that sound good… maybe they shouldn’t be in the film at all.
Sometimes the dialogue becomes a burden on the scene, unnecessary, and the scene would be so much more powerful with just the right acting and camera choices. I am thinking of a moment in one of my favorite films, “The Departed”, when Matt Damon, the antagonist, calls Di Caprio’s number from the phone of the dead Police Chief. [https://bit.ly/2MV3Flb]
As soon as Demon opens the flip phone, the scene goes quiet, the music stops, and the whole exchange is just acting and reacting without dialogue. Di Caprio shows all the depth of his character emotions, from the initial pain of knowing that the only man who could save him is gone to the perplexity of seeing a restricted call on the phone to which only the dead man used to reach out, to the distrust for the silence coming from the other side of the phone, to the frantic actions knowing that whoever killed the Police Chief might be after him.
Can you imagine if this scene was played with dialogue? Maybe with Matt Damon talking to himself before making the call, or Di Caprio saying something before answering? Instead, we get this great scene where all the emotions and tension are created in silence. An uncomfortable, yet meaningful silence.
However, I am not arguing that we should create quiet moments in movies all the time. Unspoken communication is not just silence. We can have the characters delivering dialogue about something completely unrelated to what the scene is really about while conveying the real message through their actions.
I am just saying that we should remind ourselves to look at those script pages and critically ask “Can I give more depth to this dialogue through non-verbal communication? Can I take out these lines and convey this information or feeling in other ways?”
“Am I aware of the power of the unspoken communication?”