WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM WATCHING ANDOR
Or The Art Of Writing Quality Dialogue in 2023
You have a team under your supervision, working on a project. Your team spent months on it but then something went wrong. Yet you were not aware because no one told you. And when you finally got wind of the magnitude of the shit storm that has just blown through your window, it is too late to do anything except deliver a good scolding to your team.
What do you say?
Do you say — You guys screw up?
Do you say — I am disappointed in you?
Or What were you thinking?
They are all perfectly acceptable responses. But I would recommend the following response.
You people are unbelievable. It took the combined ingredients of idiocy, ineptitude, and total disengagement for this farce to have reached the full apex of incredulous disaster.
The above is just one of many delectable and quotable dialogue from the series Andor.
Let’s reverse the situation.
Now you are the employee.
You have been working on a project for a boss for months. Working? Slaving is more accurate. You have been slaving overtime, putting in late hours in the office for so long that your skin has taken on a pasty hue from a lack of sunlight. Not only that but you have neglected self-hygiene for so long that your facial hair is now looking like a refugee nest for baby sparrows.
Then your boss calls you into his office.
Expresses his disappointment at your work progress and DARES to question your commitment.
He asks you –
What have you sacrificed?
What do you say?
Do you say — How DARE you question my sacrifice?
Or do you say this.
WHAT HAVE I SACRIFICED?
Calm. Kindness. Kinship. I’ve given up all chance at inner peace. I’ve made my mind a sunless space. I share my dreams with ghosts. I wake up every day to an equation I wrote 15 years ago from which there’s only one conclusion. I’m damned for what I do. My anger, my ego, my unwillingness to yield, my eagerness to fight, they have set me on a path from which there is no escape. What is my sacrifice? I’m condemned to use the tools of my enemy to defeat them. I burn my decency for someone else’s future. I burn my life to make a sunrise I know I’ll never see. And the ego that started this fight will never have a mirror or an audience or the light of gratitude. So, what do I sacrifice? Everything!!!
The lines above are from a monologue by the great actor Stellan Skarsgård who plays Luthen Rael, a recruiter of rebels, in Andor.
Andor, to me, was a revelation in quality dialogue, not something which I would normally associate with a Star Wars franchise. I did not jump on the cheer bandwagon when Star Wars announced its television spin-offs. I did not rave over The Mandalorian. I thought Baby Yoda was meme-worthy and a great piece of merchandise to sell to fans.
But I still did not hop on the cheer bandwagon.
Until this series called Andor happened.
What drew me to the series was the name of the showrunner — Tony Gilroy.
For those who aren’t familiar with him, he’s the writer responsible for the film franchise of The Bourne Identity. I’ve learnt much about action writing from reading his screenplays.
Tony is obsessed with pace. There is no fat in an action scene written by Gilroy. It is as if after he writes a draft of a scene, he would use a laser pen and slough off every layer of fat from each sentence. I recalled reading somewhere in an interview how he wrote one pivotal scene in the movie Michael Clayton, where he described an assassination. Two men break into a flat to murder an old man and make it look like suicide. It was written with such precision, that when you read and time the entire killing, as described in the script, it came very close to what was eventually shot on screen.
That is how precise Tony Gilroy writes.
All because he is obsessed with not letting any word get in the way of a smooth reading experience of the reader. So much so that in his Bourne Identity scripts, he does not even bother with sluglines.
Sluglines are conventions used by screenwriters to indicate where a scene is taking place. ‘INT” or “EXT” which stands for interior, or exterior. Tony feels that these get in the way of the reading experience.
For example, someone like me might write
INT. LIVING ROOM — DAY
Jason Bourne punches through a wall and into -
INT. BEDROOM — DAY
Jason rolls on the ground and jumps to his feet, hands gripping his GLOCK, firing off three rounds into the chest of the masked man.
Gilroy would write it (I imagine) like this -
JASON BOURNE punches through a wall and into –
THE BED ROOM
Where he rolls on the ground and jumps on his feet, hands gripping his GLOCK, firing off three rounds into the chest of the masked man.
Your mind follows the words while at the same time, plays the scene unfolding in your head, in one uninterrupted sequence. It is not an exercise that is done casually. It requires discipline to evaluate every word in your sentences. Whether you have chosen the right verb. Whether you have varied the length of your sentences to convey pace.
Tony Gilroy’s screenplays are movies in prose.
If you are a writer, trying to figure out how on earth do you write an action scene, but more importantly, how you can make dialogue leap off the page, look no further than the writing of Tony Gilroy.
Pay attention not just to your choice of words, but how many words you should leave in a sentence.
And watch Andor.
And finally, a big thank you for reading my first post of 2023 and I hope you will continue to do so for the rest of this year.
Happy new year!