Conversations are some of the most common scenes in films, and when done well they can be extremely powerful. There are many ends that a conversation can fulfill; whether it’s a silent or loud confrontation, the revelation of a hidden intention, or a subtle manipulation, the potential of a conversation is limited only by the filmmakers. The great filmmakers use and play with the classic scheme of one character facing the other, applying their individual style to convey all sorts of processes, feelings and emotions.
The conversation is a place in which one can see how a filmmaker tackles film form, and how the conversation is written and blocked is an image of the filmmaker’s style. There are as many styles as filmmakers and while some of them are extremely complex with the mise-en-scene, other hold the actors in their position and let the actors and montage do their job.
It really is a matter of style, as there is no right way of shooting a conversation; there are some directors who stand out for the dramatic structure they give to their conversations, and others who prefer conversation to reveal their characters, and they stand out for the way in which the dialogues are written and the actors are directed.
All of the elements of film form are present in a conversation. Elements such blocking, montage, rhythm and framing, among many others, are used to fulfill the filmmaker’s intentions. Understanding conversations and their elements is a great way to understand film form.
Thus, here is a list of some of the filmmakers who handle conversations the best. We tried to have a wide variety of styles, as there are filmmakers who rely almost entirely on editing, and other who barely make a cut and prefer an approach that relies more in the blocking.
10. Woody Allen
Woody Allen’s style is extremely distinctive. His films consist almost entirely of dialogue, almost entirely delivered by him. He is constantly dealing with the lack of purpose in love and life, and with the hardships of relationships. These conversations do not create suspense nor a dramatic structure and yet they are compelling.
Whether he is making a monologue on his love for New York or complaining about another customer in the line for cinema, there is always something in these conversation that makes them interesting.
The conversation are so interesting because Allen is constantly conveying his view in the world and his existence through them. The enchantment is that he does not do it a sobering manner. Instead, he appears to be constantly making fun of himself. His uses the unique personality of his character to express how he feels about life, but without taking himself seriously.
9. Akira Kurosawa
If there was a filmmaker that was able to put into film form the greatly complex conversations written by William Shakespeare, it was Akira Kurosawa, and he proved it. Kurosawa is another filmmaker who was conscious of the power of putting the camera in one place or another in relation to the character, and with these elements he always made his conversations compelling and revealing. His films are works of extreme precision in which a dramatic structure is created through carefully picked elements.
Two of the greatest conversations by Kurosawa can been seen in the adaptation he did of “Macbeth”: “Throne of Blood.” This a film that deals on ambition, fear and guilt, which can be seen in these conversation. The first one is done in only three shots when two soldiers realize their destinies may end in their confrontation, and through the blocking of actor and camera, Kurosawa puts the object of their ambition in the center of them.
Another scene is where the ambitious general is convinced by his wife to commit treason. In this last scene, the commander is in front of the camera while his wife walks behind him, coming closer, and by this blocking Kurosawa manages to convey not only the structure of the scene but also the inner struggle the commander is going through.
8. Alfred Hitchcock
Some of the most powerful scenes of the films of the master of suspense were conversations. It is not by chance that David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson picked a conversation from “Shadow of a Doubt” to talk about how framing can make actions more expressive. But framing was only one of the tools of Alfred Hitchcock, since he was one of the directors who more profoundly understood the possibilities of film language.
In the conversations of Hitchcock’s films, he carefully manages information to keep the audience guessing who knows what is going to happen next. He uses framing to convey the perspective of his character and the emotional experience of the conversation. Also, he blocks his conversations in such a way that the dynamic of dominating and being dominated is made clear.
The knowledge of these tools allowed Hitchcock to be extremely precise and deliver conversations with layers that one discovers only after re-watching his films over and over again.
7. Charlie Kaufman
The director of “Synecdoche, New York” and “Anomalisa” started not as a director but as a screenwriter in films like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Adaptation.” His start as a screenwriter may be the reason why the most powerful trait in Charlie Kaufman’s cinema is the way in which it is written. Having worked with Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze, Kaufman has one of the most distinctive filmmaking styles, which relies heavily on conversations.
Kaufman constantly creates strange worlds where things such as memory removal or the construction of a miniature version of New York are possible. But this is not the main trait of Kaufman; instead it is how he reveals the vulnerability of his characters.
In all of his films, we see through the interaction of conversation that the characters reveal how they are suffering from loneliness or melancholy. This is what makes the dialogues so compelling and allow us to relate them to our most vulnerable side.
6. Richard Linklater
The films of Richard Linklater have been criticized for the lack of a consistent plot or the lack of a conflict that drives the scene. But this is due to Linklater’s films carrying a style that does not rely entirely on dramatic crafting. The conversations of the Linklater’s films are consistently focused on being a part of a dramatic structure, but instead, the conversations are (as the “Boyhood” title says) an episode of a life.
This means that the conversations are just there to show us how a character is. The appeal of these kinds of scenes are that they are crafted in an extremely organic manner. In these kinds of conversations, there’s no rush nor a great confrontation.
Instead there is another human being whom we can see develop and with whom we can relate. This approach to conversation has allowed Linklater to make films as special as the “Before” trilogy, which relies almost entirely on conversations and the interactions between two human beings.