What Makes Dialogue Dance? Rhythm.

Our prediction: The winner of this weekend’s big bowl game will be the Coen Brothers. (What’s that? There are football teams playing? Who knew?)

Like you, we watch for the commercials, like this one:

That was really good. Why?

What makes the Coen brothers work unique? Well, it’s a combination of things—memorable characters, wide lenses, deep focus, camera placement, and rhythm. Serious rhythm. To get a sense of their rhythm, watch this again with the sound off. Count the beats. You could almost dance to it.

Here’s a full explanation of their techniques. If you have 7 minutes, it’s really interesting. Use it to impress your friends. We won’t tell. (Or you could just skip down to “What does all this have to do with audio?”)

What does all this have to do with audio?

Glad you asked. Plenty, when you’re Soundscapes. We’ve shown clients for years that mic placement and processing—like camera placement—can create a sense of either intimacy or distance. That’s why our first question about any dialogue script is “where are these people?”

But the level of intimacy is just one facet. The most important thing in dialogue—just like in a Coen brothers film—is rhythm. Especially if you’re doing comedy. Just listen to this spot for Advance Document Solutions.

It’s beautifully written. But when put into the hands of Tommy Sanders (who voiced both characters) and edited together rhythmically by Soundscapes’ David Greaves, it takes on a whole new life. Here’s another from that series:

Hear how the rhythm of the editing keeps the spot interesting? Of course, since one voice did all the characters, it was up to the Soundscapes editor to create the comic timing. But when you’re doing live dialogue, it’s more a question of talent direction than editing. Like in this spot for Ozone Action Days.

 

But how do you direct the rhythm?

Directing voice actors in a read like this requires that you spell out the beats throughout the script: where to take it easy, where to pause, where to begin building the tempo, when to use silence effectively—that’s all part of good talent direction.

We’ve been directing actors in comedy dialogue for nearly 40 years now. So next time you write a piece of humor—or anything else—send it to Soundscapes. Everyone here knows exactly how to make your script dance.

—Brent Walker