Expert screenwriting tips by working screenwriters
Many non-pro screenwriters stumble when dealing with foreign languages.
They frequently include foreign languages in dialogue with translations - they shouldn't.
There are a number of techniques.
The use of parentheticals is an effective technique provided the screenplay only occasionally strays into foreign dialogue.
E.g.: (in French), (in Spanish) etc
Here's an example from the Bourne Ultimatum script by Tony Gilroy et al:
Bourne freezes POLICEMAN #2 with his gun and a look.
Give me your gun and radio.
Policeman #2's gun and radio skittle across the floor.
My argument is not with you.
Bourne smashes the radio and takes the gun.
The use of parentheticals is fine provided it's not excessive. The problem is non-pros tend to use them excessively which can be exceedingly distracting for readers. Overuse of parentheticals slows the read and can even sore it.
Butter is a fantastic script. The author Jason Micallef received a Nicholl Fellowship in 2008 for it, two years late the movie was released (starring Hugh Jackman, Olivia Wilde, Jennifer Garner et al). The script, particularly the dialogue sparkles.
But imagine every line of this dialogue exchange with parentheticals - it would eventually get wearing:
INT. THE PICKLER FAMILY HOME - LATER
Bob sits on the couch with his head down. He holds a BAG OF ICE on his crotch. Laura stands with her hands crossed.
She had tattoos, Bob. You know what that means, right? It means she has AIDS!
How long has this been going on?
Bob stands up.
It was just one time. And look,
you're not innocent in this whole-
You're sleeping on the couch tonight.
I sleep on the couch every night.
(pulling it back together)
If I were you I'd get a good night sleep. County is in a month so we have a lot of work to do.
Laura. It's over. I'm not entering County. Orval and I agreed -
We have to get the butter, sharpen the trowels. We should check the cooling unit to make sure29
Laura. Listen to me. I'm not competing this year.
I know... I am.
Bob falls back down on the couch.
I'm competing. I'll win county, and then take back what is rightfully ours. And you're going to help me. Good night.
Bob looks at her, dead-eyed.
Oh, and I need my beauty rest tonight, so don't be so goddamn loud when you jack-off.
And with that, Laura heads upstairs.
We've received many a non-pro screenplay that had long foreign language dialogue exchanges using parentheticals.
When a screenplay has a particularly foreign dialogue-heavy scene, many pros simply state this at the start of the scene:
All dialogue in Spanish.
Here's an example of this technique it in use:
INT. LIVING AREA
At least a hundred candles have been placed around the apartment. A dinner arrangement, together with flowers and more candles, await on the dining table.
Happy anniversary beautiful.
Wow baby, this is so amazing.
If a lot of scenes have foreign dialogue, some pros use:
All dialogue in italics is in Spanish.
An example of this in use:
Happy anniversary beautiful.
Intercom system CHIMES.
You expecting anyone?
John goes to the intercom, sees UNKNOWN (30s)--
Yes, what is it?
Note an exchange in English was about to take place, hence the non-use of italics in the last sentence.
The advantage of this technique is that
henceforth, any other scenes that use Spanish do not need to include 'All dialogue in italics is in Spanish', just use italics.
It makes for a fast, flowing read.
Some pro screenwriters have a preference for using brackets instead of italics. In the script they state:
All dialogue in brackets is in Cantonese.
(You're never gettin' outta here.)
Highly successful screenwriter Steven Knight used this technique effectively in Red Circle.
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