I heard Mike Nichols say in an interview somewhere that his first job is to “find out if it’s a fight, a seduction or a negotiation.” That has stuck with me as I write scenes. I’m posting it here mainly so I can come back and look at it anytime I want to be reminded. Does it resonate with you at all?
Q: So your improv is more behavioral than conversational?
A: Yes, you could say that. Words are very important. And people are funny about words. People say, ‘Oh god, there’s so much dialogue.’ But they don’t say that about a fight. A fight is a fight. You never say, ‘they’ve been talking and talking.’ You say, ‘Fuck! I thought he was going to hit her.’ So a fight isn’t dialogue. A seduction isn’t dialogue. A negotiation isn’t dialogue. Those are the three essential things that happen in a scene. They’re so deeply embedded that Aaron Sorkin says he can’t begin to write a scene until he knows what the essential conflict is. My job is first to find out if it’s a fight, a seduction or a negotiation. Then, to have that happen in the scene expressed by the actors and the camera and the editing. If you do it right, nobody will think about dialogue. All About Eve is probably the best example of that. You never think of it as just all talk because something exciting or dramatic or funny is always happening.”
~ from a 2006 online interview by Jeffrey Ressner in his “Working Man” column, Director’s Guild of America ~ full interview here