Panic Dialogue Edit

I may have mentioned that the editing room is where hope dies. A line I heard from writer Alec Berg. Yepper, it’s twue, it’s twue, it’s really twue. When you get to that nicely air conditioned room, you’ve shot the material and you’ve either got it or you don’t. All your great dreams for this script are now a reality. Sometimes a cold brutal reality. It’s never as good as you’d hoped… But, take heart… it’s never as bad as you fear.

And, in that editing room, there is nothing more horrible than facing your own mediocrity and the panic over trimming dialogue. When your movie is staring you down with the twin double-barrels of boredom aimed at your face, you will cut every speech, every line, all the way down to every unneeded breath between lines… Flop sweat is a great way to induce you to trim dialogue. When you are terrified blind, the unneeded dialogue leaps off the screen and tries to strangle you, muttering, “Why didn’t you cut me before?”

It doesn’t have to be that way. Cue FLASHBACK MUSIC…

Try to work yourself into the Panic Dialogue Edit mode during the script stage. Cut dialogue NOW! You can save yourself a ton of grief in the editing room if you put on your emerald green panic glasses NOW and cut all that dialogue that you’re going to cut later NOW.

If you are scared, it’s easy to trim dialogue. So, imagine you are awash in fear and panic and hack away — before you shoot, before you edit. If dialogue CAN go, it goes. It’s simple.

Here’s one example. A nebbishy college professor welcomes two burglars into his home. This was Draft B.

Ron pours a second drink, smiling the whole time.

I’m Ron, by the way. Welcome to my humble home. Excuse the mess, okay? Relax, relax. How has your day been?

He hands the brandy to Spike.

It’s top drawer brandy. Why skimp, I always say. Can’t have a drink with a fellow I can’t see. Why don’t you get those masks off and we’ll knock the chill right off.

He drinks.

Down the hatch!


By Draft H, it got shorter.


Ron pours a second drink, smiling the whole time.

I’m Ron, by the way. Relax, relax.

He hands the Scotch to Spike. Spike takes it, but handles it like a live grenade.

20 year old Scotch. Even on a professor’s salary, why skimp?


You may sneer at my Draft B, there from the comfort of your own living room. You may say to yourself, “That Akers guy, what does he know, the schmuck? I’ll never write that much crappy dialogue. I don’t have to pay attention to what he’s suggesting.”

AT YOUR PERIL, foolish one. At your peril.

All I have to say is “Panic now.” Because if you get to an editing room with your film (or you send it to an agent who passes!), you’ll wish you had heeded my simple little lesson.

If there is ANY way you can cut it, it’s history.



Filed under Rewriting, Screenwriting

7 responses to “Panic Dialogue Edit

  1. Melody Lopez

    In my opinion, without Draft B…you couldn’t have reached Draft H… the trick is…you worked it and massaged to get it to feel “real”…feel like something an actor would want to say; something that would get filmed; something that would not end up cut.

    This is a good point and if I may share another aspect of it.

    Shane Black advised an aspiring writer during AFF Oct. 2008 to “learn all aspects of film making- including acting, directing, etc.”

    So, I decided to take some acting classes to better inform my writing.

    By trying to act out other people’s words…I realized how every aspect of the screenplay “informs the forks” of the character.

    I hope that by digging deeper into myself and the characters I write, that I have made my writing feel more “real” AND feel more “true” to the character. MORE IMPORTANTLY that I’ve written words an actors would “WANT” to say.

    Chances are Draft B dialog would have been modified by the actor during filming. Draft H is so memorable and quick…its likely to have been memorized and really “explored” at a depth the actor would convey well on camera.

    I hope that makes sense.

  2. This is from a short film I just directed and we continued to cut stuff all the way along. Sort of amazing how stuff continued, even after I’d worked so hard to weed out useless material, to be cut during editing.

    It just seems to go. You realize how you don’t need it, and the fear of boredom is intense. At least it is with me.

    • Melody Lopez

      How short is the short? Just Curious.

      A fellow writer in my writers group learned from an Austin film festival insider that shorts that are just under 10 minutes (even if just 9:58 seconds) are more likely to get screened then if they are not… something to do with “programming”…

      At least you have it to cut… I know one writer/director said during a panel discussion (about his debut piece…a sleeper hit cause of Film Festival circuit)… that he didn’t have enough of some things that he really wished he had thought of getting more angles, etc…

      so… even if stuff drags… at least you have it to cut!!! Beats the opposite… no doubt you know that!

      Hope it comes out great!

      • The short will be about ten minutes including titles. Maybe just over. And, yeah, I agree about the festival length thing.

        There was some material I wish we’d gotten, but all in all, I’m happy, and that’s with NO music yet. In theory I’ll like it a lot with the score.

        You can see the short I did last year at:

  3. JBC

    Isn’t there something to shooting the extra dialogue & scenes even if you know they may get cut? Just to create the depth of character for the actor? Ive heard of this being done, perhaps not on purpose, but if the actors know and understand things, even if they don’t make the screen, can’t this make the film more interesting?

    Also it gives you extra “bonus” material for the 20th anniversay DVD release!

  4. elaine

    Trimming dialogue. I just watched a full length feature where the main character doesn’t speak a word. And it’s about fishing.

    It’ll never make the mainstream, but it’s pretty good.

    I can’t compete!!!

    (OK, I know you’re dying to know – ‘The Isle’ aka ‘Seom’ a Korean film from 2000).

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