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Let’s talk about dialogue and words per minute

You want words? De Niro will give you words! Pic: Universal
1 minute read
You want words? De Niro will give you words! Pic: Universal

The arrival of text-based editing made us start to think about dialogue and how much of it editors have to wrestle with in the average movie.

So, you’re an editor, and you're trying to find a specific piece of dialogue the director’s after amidst a vast volume of material you have ingested for a movie project. According to data scientist Kaylin Pavlik’s excellent blog post looking at the subject, the average movie script has around 9000 words in it. Your project has probably shot a lot more than that though, so you're going to have scrub through a lot of material to get to where you want to go.

This is, of course, where text-based editing comes in and will save you enough time that you might even get out of the edit suite this side of dawn. Once you’ve transcribed everything, just enter the text and you’ll skip straight to it

But that’s just the start of it. 9000 words is the average, and there are movies out there with a lot more verbiage than that.

The winner of this particular award is Martin Scorcese’s Casino, which features a whopping 67,678 words across 178 minutes. That’s 380 words per minute. 

This is up at the sort of pace sports commentators normally speak at, while typical conversational English comes in at around 120 to 150 words per minute.

Much of the word count in Casino is down to the narration of Robert De Niro’s Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, and movies with narrators tend to amp up the word count. Crime is the most wordy genre, followed by the rapid fire dialogue of comedy, coming in at an average of 10,289 and 10,014 words each. Horror is the least wordy, only managing an average 6243 words of spoken dialogue per film, presumably to give the tension space to ramp up.

Ah ha, but horror movies also tend to have the shortest runtimes, you say. Oh ho, that’s not necessarily a correlation, says Kaylin, pointing to Titanic’s, er, titanic runtime of 203 minutes only managing to wrest 12,058 words out of its cast.

Now, just think how much time you’d have to spend scrubbing through all that to find some specific dialogue (though presumably, you could at least skip the first couple of hours of the movie if you’re just looking for ‘iceberg’). In short, text-based editing can save you a lot of time - especially if the writers are being paid by the word :-) 

Tags: Post & VFX Text-Based Editing