Exclusive David Simon Q&A (page 6)
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Exclusive David Simon Q&A Q: Who makes the conversations feel so real?  Is it on the page or do your actors make it happen?  Who writes or vets the street dialog?  [Sandy Sarro, Karen Neuman, Glen in Pennsylvania]

A: If you read the novels of Price, Pelecanos or Lehane, you will find that they are artists when it comes to the verisimilitude of human dialogue.  And if you get around to scanning either Homicide or The Corner in book form, you might consider that Ed Burns and myself have a good enough ear as well.  Writers listen.  The cadences of human conversation are their stock in trade, or they ought to be, if the writers are trying to capture the real.

Yes, the dialogue is on the page.  The Wire is not big on ad libs, as the plotting is too ornate and detailed to allow for such.  In the case of a few of those portraying our characters, for whom professional acting is a relatively new endeavor, we allow a certain leeway.  But even in those cases, there is a writer on set making sure that the specific intent of every line is being achieved.  And with the majority of the cast, comprised as it is of experienced actors, we want them to stay on book.  If an actor has an idea for an ad lib, he runs it by the writer on set for that episode and a decision is made on a line-by-line basis.  Sometimes an actor's idea for a phrase or sentence can enhance a script; just as often, such a change can prove problematic, and it is the writer, who is aware of the context of the dialogue and who is responsible for protecting the story, that makes the decision.  At least on this show that is how it works.

No one vets the "street" dialogue.  And if you read the prose work of the writing staff, it will become clear why no one needs to do so.

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