ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Art of Words: Quotability

Updated on July 9, 2014

FADE IN:

Amongst several other projects, I am punching up a comedy screenplay. I have two agendas:

1. Make it funny.

2. Make it quotable.

Quotability is an underappreciated, and too often ignored, component in most screenplays. I believe quotable characters should be a top priority for all scripts, to help the stories achieve their main goal - successful "afterlife". The fact is, many movies wouldn't even have an afterlife if it weren't for their quotable lines.

Every film catagory has its "titans" who define the genre. And more often than not, those titans have some measure of recognizable quotability. Let's look at some examples. I bet you know which movies they're from:

1. "May the force be with you."

2. "I'll be back."

3. "We're gonna need a bigger boat."

4. "You talkin' to me?"

5. "We're not in Kansas, anymore."

6. "Rosebud."

7. "Here's lookin' at you, kid."

8. "I coulda been a contender."

9. "I'll make them an offer they can't refuse."

10. "You can't handle the truth!"

11. "She's my sister. She's my daughter."

12. "Go ahead. Make my day."

13. "I am serious. And don't call me Shirley."

14. "How am I funny?"

15. "Life is like a box of chocolates."

16. "There's no crying in baseball."

17. "Get busy livin', or get busy dyin'."

18. "Show me the money."

19. "I see dead people."

20. "Heeeere's Johnny!"

21. "Every man dies. Not every man truly lives."

22. "Why so serious?"

23. "Say 'hello' to my little friend!"

24. "Yo, Adrianne!"

25. "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn."

These quotes have helped each movie etch a permenant place in film history. True that most of the films are classics, or highly respected, and would probably endure without being quotable. But there's no denying that the power of quotability has given the films an even greater presence in the public conscious. This is a position well known to the Bond films. What would that series be without our hero stating "Bond. James Bond" in each film? It wouldn't be the same experience for the audience. And that is (or should be) the ultimate goal for every cinematic endeavor: letting the audience feel they have a special relationship with the material.

Film quotes answer key:

1. Star Wars

2. The Terminator

3. Jaws

4. Taxi Driver

5. The Wizard Of Oz

6. Citizen Kane

7. Casablanca

8. On The Waterfront

9. The Godfather

10. A Few Good Men

11. China Town

12. Sudden Impact

13. Airplane

14. Goodfellas

15. Forrest Gump

16. A League Of Their Own

17. The Shawshank Redemption

18. Jerry Maguire

19. The Sixth Sense

20. The Shining

21. Braveheart

22. The Dark Knight

23. Scarface

24. Rocky

25. Gone With the Wind

Your Story's Quest For Eternal Life

Social media has provided a powerful arena for filmmakers to attract and maintain their audience. Every studio has a Facebook page, a Twitter presence, a LinkedIn profile, and so on. Studios and production companies understand the power of these environments; that social networks are perfect platforms for films and TV shows to live on long after they've left theaters, or been sent on to syndication glory.

Story is always the primary element in any script. Character is the next primary, and quotability is a definite character attribute. But making quotable characters isn't as easy as it sounds. If the "quotable" line is too cheesy or doesn't quite reflect the situation your character(s) is in, then it will fall flat (unless that's the intent, for comedic effect). This can be the pitfall for catchphrases, as well. If it doesn't relate, the audience won't equate. The key is to make the phrase relevent and (if possible) universal, so fans can use the phrase freely in whatever environment they're in (I've heard "We need a bigger boat" used in more social situations than I can count). Quotable lines used by fans, either on social media or other avenues, means more exposure for the source material - your story.

When Robert De Niro's character Travis Bickle famously uttered "You talkin' to me?" in Taxi Driver, the speech wasn't in the original script. He made it up while rehersing the scene. And since Mr. De Niro just happens to be brilliant, he created a movie moment that will live forever. In fact, when Taxi Driver was first released it wasn't a hit. But when people started quoting the famous speech, more people went to see the movie to understand the context. That's the power of quotability: raising the public's curiosity and drawing in more audience. There have been many films where a famous line was made up on the spot, like Bogart's "Here's looking at you, kid" from Casablanca. That creativity is part of the collaborative nature of filmmaking, and is necessary for any film to succeed. But if you get your story ahead of the curve with strong characters and good quotability, your chances for cinematic eternity improve greatly.

What Is A Story's "Afterlife"?

Simply put, the "afterlife" of a story is why we write in the first place. It's that what we write has meaning and carries forward to future generations in the form of habitual re-viewing by a rabid fan base, celebrational re-releases, dvd's, books on our work, the public quoting our words ad nauseam, our story and characters having a constant presence on social media, and tilling the fertile land of merchandising and licensing.

Everyone hopes for an "afterlife" for their work, but we don't always know there will be one. When George Lucas finally made Star Wars (after being turned down by Universal, among others), 20th Century Fox wasn't completely sold on how well the film would do. It wasn't titled Episode IV, yet. It was a one-and-done project. Fox looked at the film as an expensive (for the time) kids movie with cool effects. In fact, Fox handed over the merchdising rights to Mr.Lucas as a sign of just how much faith they actually had in the property. It's safe to say that after five (soon to be six +) sequels and $4.5 billion in gross later, the "afterlife" of a certain industry-changing space saga worked out incredibly well for Mr. Lucas. His belief in his work, his unwavering vision, and his sheperding of all aspects of his story (including quotability) has culminated in a success few have dared to dream of.

We all have the opportunity to be game changers. But not everyone holds such lofty goals. Sometimes we just want to tell a nice story we can be proud of. It's an ambition every writer should have, regardless of scope and scale of our effort.

Epilogue

We don't always know what's quotable. That's the wild card. But I believe that it's better to take a shot at bolstering the longevity of the material, than playing it safe. This is a lesson we can learn from good comedy films.

A perfect example is from the early movie masters of quotability, the Marx Brothers. Take a look at Duck Soup. Almost the entire movie is quotable. Same goes for Animal Crackers, which contains the famous "One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas, I'll never know". There are other films such as the Hope and Crosby "Road" movies, Some Like It Hot, The Odd Couple, Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, Caddyshack, Airplane, the Naked Gun series, The Princess Bride, Austin Powers, There's Something About Mary, Anchorman, and many more. They're all great comedies, and all very quotable.

So take a chance and try to put some quotable lines in your script. If a line doesn't work, take it out. Simple. But if you know what your script is about, the quotability should be inherent. You just have to dig a little deeper, and find the magic.

These are just my opinions. Do with them what you will.

I hope this post has been helpful. Best of luck.

-------------------------------------------------------------

A few quotes:

It is not in the stars to hold our destiny, but in ourselves - William Shakespeare

If it's not on the page, it's not on the screen - Robert Evans

Story is the key to everything on screen - Richard Zanuck

Self-trust is the first secret to success - Ralph Waldo Emerson

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing - Walt Disney

It's not about one big opening weekend. It's about building a career that you can be proud of - George Clooney

The most incredible thing about my career is that I had one - Preston Sturges

----------------------------------------------------------------

Recommended links:

Writer's Guild Of America - www.wga.org - register your script!

Screenplay.com - www.screenplay.com - Movie Magic Screenwriter 6

The Writer's Store - www.writersstore.com - writing software, books, seminars, etc.

WordPlay - www.wordplayer.com - website of writers Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio

Zoetrope - www.zoetrope.com - Francis Ford Coppola's company website

Film Independent - www.filmindependent.org - for independent filmmakers/writers

JoBlo's Movie Scripts - http://www.joblo.com/moviescripts.php - film scripts

Simply Scripts - www.simplyscripts.com - library of produced and unproduced scripts

The Script Mentor - www.thescriptmentor.com - script mentoring and coverage

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Snackula profile imageAUTHOR

      Charlie Dalrymple 

      5 years ago

      Thanks for checking it out, Pat. Glad you liked the article.

    • profile image

      Patrick Farrell 

      5 years ago

      Hi Charlie,

      Good piece on quotable movie lines. It all comes down to well written and believable dialogue. The quote has to fit the character who is delivering it, as it does in all the examples you've listed.

    • Snackula profile imageAUTHOR

      Charlie Dalrymple 

      5 years ago

      Thanks, xstatic. I appreciate you taking the time to check it out.

    • xstatic profile image

      Jim Higgins 

      5 years ago from Eugene, Oregon

      This is extremely well-written and useful. The quotes are a great way to illustrate your points.

    • GEOFFREY RIOBA profile image

      GEOFFREY RIOBA 

      5 years ago from KISUMU - KENYA

      those words show the power of word , i like them

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)