Fast Screenplay Dictation
It was a time when new technology was disrupting the movie industry. Can you imagine?
Right – exactly like today, but a hundred years ago.
Movies with sound had just been introduced. One-by-one, all the studios stopped making silent films. By the time the last big silent film was made in 1936, every studio and creator in Hollywood was experimenting with sound. This new technology – recording voice – even touched the writing process…
The story goes that in 1934, Director Howard Hawks bought the rights to two short stories by his friend, novelist William Faulkner. Faulkner was floundering in Hollywood at the time, writing treatments and spec scripts, but falling behind on his deadlines. He was so late with his pages that he was about to be fired from his second studio gig. Howard Hawks found out about Faulkner’s problem and devised a brilliant solution.
Hawks “borrowed” a Marconi Machine from the BBC and brought this massive reel-to-reel tape recorder to an office at MGM.
Over a long weekend, Hawks kept Faulkner’s voice lubricated and kept the raconteur talking. The mission was for Faulkner to act-out all the dialogue which he hadn’t written into his tight, little short stories. Thinking like a Director, Howard Hawks read a bit of narrative action from Faulkner’s story into the Marconi machine to set the scene, and then Faulkner performed the missing dialogue. Faulkner spoke as all the characters in each scene. Soon, Faulkner was doing both – dictating the action lines and creating new dialogue, donning the voices of the different characters in his mind’s eye. Hawks kept Faulkner to a tight Hollywood outline and the two worked their way through both scripts.
Legend has it, on Monday, a stenographer typed up all the audio tapes. Then those pages were reformatted by script assistants. Satisfied with the drafts, Hawks’ producers at the studio cut a check to Faulkner, thus keeping him afloat. From 1934 to 1954, Faulkner worked on around 50 films.
Over the years, many writers in Hollywood have used some version of this trick to crank out a fast first draft. Billy Wilder and Iz Diamond used to tape-record their jokey banter around the office – some of which made its way into their masterpieces. Writers for both stage and screen often used the Hawks Method to capture the rhythms of natural speech when doing a dialogue pass. Arthur Miller did it for the stage.
The problem of course has always been transcribing and reformatting. We are in the 21st Century! Our tools are better than they’ve ever been. Yet, the tedious task of reformatting a block of transcribed text has kept today’s screenwriting trapped in the past, like dust inside a Smith-Corona typewriter.
Enter: First Draft. With speech-to-text technology, customized by-and-for screenwriters, we are tomorrow’s secret weapon…
…simply an update of yesterday’s secret weapon.