Who is Billy Mernit?
This beautiful man is an eclecticism of so many creative abilities and so much life history, I doubt I have the space to list them all. He’s a professional story analyst for Universal Studios (although, apparently, they forgot to ask for his feedback on The Break-Up).
You can hire him as your very own script consultant. In the last decade alone, he’s read nearly 4,000 screenplays. (Pfft! Slacker! Hehehe…)
Billy Mernit is also this country’s foremost Rom-Com expert. He’s the author of the wonderful book, Writing the Romantic Comedy. When you think of penning a Rom Com, you had better be familiar with Billy Mernit’s wisdom. He teaches half a dozen courses at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and was awarded 2001's Outstanding Screenwriting Instructor of the Year. You could attend one of his free writing workshops at UCLA during the ArtsDay LA event, I believe.
He has a novel ready-to-be-published called Making Up. You can read an excerpt here.
In the ‘70’s, he was Diane Keaton’s vocal coach for an album that regrettably, never came to fruition. He gave Carly Simon the line “clouds in my coffee” for her song, You’re So Vain.
Here’s something scandalous - in the ‘80’s, he published 20 Harlequin Romance Novels pretending to be a FEMALE novelist by the name of “Lee Williams” and also “Leigh Anne Williams.” Hehehe… That still makes me laugh. How can you not love that? You can read about his double life here and here.
Even more scandalous – he played one of the “Blondells” in the 1980 movie classic, Times Square. Hehehe… Of the three, he was, of course, the BEST BLONDELL.
Let’s see… What else? He was once a Teleprompter, Educational Research Assistant, and Keyboardist for Pink Lady.
OH! Get this. He’s also a SINGER-SONGWRITER. He even has a Greatest Hits CD!
Did I cover everything? Oh no, wait, how could I possibly forget? He is also the author of one of my favorite screenwriting blogs, Living the Romantic Comedy. I’m not an ardent comment-poster, but I’ve read his entire blog. I've been doing it since January. (It goes back to June ’05.) It’s addictive. I daresay, it should be required reading for all aspiring screenwriters. He has the most wonderful posts on subjects like Hemingway’s Iceberg Principle, the problem with most aspiring screenwriters, A Few Good Words, Cinematic Valentines, How Movie Is It, Cary Grant, and… well, I could go on and on.
(Personally, my favorite posts were “Buckets of Rain” Part 1 and 2.)
I love the man. I really do, but alas, I must move on to the subject at hand. Billy was so kind as to give us three simple examples of subtext in dialogue rich for our discussion.
Thanks so much, Billy.
In terms of dramatic writing, one could teach any number of courses or write a book on SUBTEXT alone, but since you're concentrating on dialogue...
Here's a few favorites because they're so wonderfully succinct. One of the all-time greats, in terms of just how much information, emotion, theme, and character, et al, can be packed into one word has got to be:
I'm thinking not of the first time it's uttered in Kane, but in the fantastic "let's tear up my errant wife's bedroom" scene in the back end of the movie, when Welles comes upon the snowglobe and utters the word to himself. I'd say if you ever want to explain "subtext in dialogue" to someone, refer them to this Mankiewicz & Welles classic.
More recently, I was blown away by the closing lines of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The Jim Carrey character and the Kate Winslett character are agreeing to give their relationship a shot -- fully understanding that the first time they went through it, they went through hell, and that they both in fact agreed that their romance was hopeless. But they decide, against all odds, to try again. What could be more mundane and seemingly simple than:
Yet when you see it on screen, having been through one profound, wild emotional ride with these two, it's devastating. I wept the first time. These days I still tear up even thinking about it!
Most recent one-worder I've seen is in the last big scene between Depp and Knightley in Pirates Pt. 2. So as not to be a spoiler, I can't go into details, but let's just note that there is a lot, a lot, a lot built into two syllables, when he looks at her and simply says:
Hope you can get some milage out of these.