I have two computers who are talking to each other in a movie script. They do not want the humans to be aware of this but my ideas to address it don't seem to work. HELP! Here's what I have tried so far

BBC Sherlock text message approach

computer 1 ( text ) hi there

computer 2 ( text ) all good?

Does a voice over work? It's important to the script as the computers hidden intelligence is a key plot line.

  • 2
    Are the viewers supposed to see what they're talking about?
    – pipe
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 20:25
  • 3
    Note that they're AIs, not computers. Computers are the bodies, CPU+RAM+HDD form the brain, the AI is the personality itself. Calling them computers would be equivalent to calling a human a lump of flesh and organs.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 0:27
  • 6
    @Pharap I believe the correct term is "ugly bags of mostly water." Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 13:08
  • 5
    Of course, I would be wondering why computers would communicate with each other using some burdensome natural language like English. I daily make computers talk with each other, but never in English. I doubt that left to their own devices they would opt for English (or any other human language).
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 14:36
  • 1
    @corsiKa - It's a Star Trek TNG reference (that I loved the first time I saw it.)
    – Joe
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 9:15

13 Answers 13


Give the AIs some form of avatar. When the human characters interact with an AI, have them interact with the avatar on the screen (or a holographic projection, if that fits into your scenario). This avatar can be an actor, an anthropomorphic CGI character or even an abstract representation (like the infamous "red eye" of HAL9000).

You can then have a scene where the avatars of two AIs interact with each other. If you want to make it more clear that it is a private conversation between computers, you can have them do that in an abstract "cyberspace" CGI environment.

If you want to use the scene between the AIs as the scene which introduces the other AI character and you are worried that the viewer doesn't recognize the other character as an AI, have the other avatar share some of the visual traits with the already introduced AI avatar.

A voice over would work if the voice is already established as the voice of one of the computers.

  • 1
    "A voice over would work if the voice is already established as the voice of one of the computers." this is my favorite solution thanks @Philipp lets me really concentrate on the dialog. You reminded me that they are played by actors and as such have voices of there own. I can use onscreen prompts to show that they are talking to themselves. A GREAT answer!!!
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 1:57
  • 3
    Avengers 2 sorta follows this approach, where it shows JARVIS and Ultron's AI in "cyberspace" having a conversation that no-one else can hear. Although in this case, JARVIS identifies Ultron's voice for the audience.
    – SGR
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 9:51
  • 13
    As a developer, this makes me cringe every time.
    – ndnenkov
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 13:42
  • 2
    For some reason the words 'abstract cyberspace cgi environment' reminded me of the film Summer Wars - it had a very interesting take on what cyberspace looks like.
    – Pharap
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 19:07
  • 7
    Please ye writers, think thrice if it's really necessary before resorting on this overused and horribly unrealistic trope of anthopomorphised AIs talking to each other in a cyberspace. Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 21:07

It is somewhat difficult to answer your question in its current form, but I shall give it a try.

The motion picture medium leaves you with three ways of conveying information to the spectators: show the physical events as they are happening, tell the viewer about them, using one of the characters, or actually spell them out as an on-screen text, the stylistics of which can vary greatly--from "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away..." to the text message bubbles.

The on-screen overlay of the text-message-styled conversation seems to be, while not revolutionary new, quite an effective way of presenting what you want to tell the viewers (voice-over might interfere with the audible dialog between humans, which could be happening in the scene).

  • 10
    I would prefer this to seeing, for example, text appearing on a screen which no human is accessing. Computers don't need a display to communicate. So having the floating text would work just fine. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 14:16
  • 3
    @LaurenIpsum Doesn’t have to be a screen though. Think blinking lights on a modem. With (appropriately stylised) subtitles/voiceover. Depending on the CGI budget it might also make sense to visualise the actual data being sent through wires/logic boards, reminiscent of Tron. Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 9:57
  • @KonradRudolph certainly. I was thinking—in terms of the visuals—the interstitial motion graphics in The Person of Interest or the visualization of how the main character sees the world in, sadly, short-lived show Intelligence. CGI is cheap these days, and effects are only limited by the graphic artist's imagination.
    – Lew
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 10:34
  • 2
    @LaurenIpsum Absolutely correct. if you happened to see *Person of Interest*—the creators of the show found, in my opinion, very compelling and visually appealing way of presenting the machine-to-human and, in the last seasons, machine-to-machine interface.
    – Lew
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 11:52
  • 1
    @LaurenIpsum it is the stuff which is going on on screen, when Finch says You are being watched in the intro :-) and later on between the scenes.
    – Lew
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 13:14

The key point you're trying to get across is that the humans aren't aware of the computers' conversation. One way to do that is to literally show that the humans are unaware of the computers' conversation.

That is, while the computers' conversation is ongoing (e.g. voiceover), show a human character onscreen behaving as if they aren't hearing it. They're going about their daily life blissfully unaware of the things the audience is hearing.

You do want to make it obvious that the humans aren't hearing what the audience is, though. One "easy" way to do that is to get the computers to talk about the person on screen. If people hear someone talking about them, they'll react. If someone is talking about them and they don't react, then that's a clear sign that they're not hearing the conversation. (Bonus points for making the conversation clearly about something the human would care about - e.g. the extermination of the human race, or sending them on a suicide mission.)

Another way to let the audience know that the conversation is private is to have a "sting" which bookends the hidden conversation. For example, you could call for an electrical/static/computer-y sound effect play right before the computers switch over to a private conversation, and another when they end the conversation. Or you could have the computer voices be modulated when talking privately. If you make the transition to private conversation explicit - especially if you combine it with the show-don't-tell indication that human characters aren't hearing it - most people will be able to infer that this "special" conversation can't be heard by the humans.

One last point: Remember that as a script writer you have less control of final presentation than a novel's author does. (This is especially true for movie scripts.) While you can suggest approaches to use, it's often the director and/or show runner who will have final say in the approach they will actually use. Be sure to consult people knowledgeable about the particular venue you'll be submitting the script to, to see how much stage direction is appropriate. It may well be that any clever approach you write will be stripped out of the final script or ignored by the director. So you may not want to bother coming up with anything more fancy than "(speaking privately)".

  • hi R.M I'm going with the distinctive voice AND text when necessary but avoiding the sting. I agree that this will all change when it meets the director but for right now I like the idea of distinctive voices and oblivious humans. Only one of the computers speaks to humans the other is hidden so all I have to do when the computer speaks to the humans is to say the human's name
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 2:14

Your question made me think of Iain M Banks work. In his work, some of the ships (they are characters themselves) have private messages.

He goes to the length of including a message header and laying it out like a memo.

Something like this:

[tight beam, M32, tra. @n4.28.885.1008]
xROU Killing Time
    oGCV Steely Glint
I understand you are de facto military commander for this volume. 
Will you receive my mind-state?


[tight beam, M32, tra. @n4.28.885.1065]
xGCV Steely Glint
    oROU Killing Time
No. Your gesture - offer - is appreciated. However, we do have other plans for you. 
May I ask what led you to Pittance in the first place?

From Excession by Iain M. Banks.

It is immediately obvious from all the cruft that we are looking at a message. Also, we know which ship is speaking to which other ship. By showing no other character ever react to those messages we soon gather that they are super private communications. Never underestimate the power of showing.

You need not use that exact format but something similar could be done visually:

To: AI-419 [Via Line 9]

From: AI-7-Sub:3(c)

Mode: Encrypted, Private

Content: Have you seen what the humans are doing?

Or just have an overlay open up and say


Then show a voice print while the conversation is taking place. Really anything that shows that this is extra information not happening in a way the humans can react.

Figuring out how to show that conversation is as much the job of the director as the writer. You could just write

(private conversation) Computer 1: Hi there

(private conversation) Computer 2: What's happening, Eddy?

And let the visual team figure it out.

Don't let formatting get in the way of telling the story. You can always do layout at the end.

  • 1
    Hi there don't want to do this Matt as I am trying to stay away from the fact they are computers. I was aiming for ones that aced the turing test and speak normally with idioms. thanks for the considered answer though I have taken your advice with the ( private conversation ) and written in the script COMPUTER ONE (text) as a place holder thanks again
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 2:06

Along with presentation, you may also want to consider the content of the interactions. The computers want to mask their intelligence to the humans, so their dialogue will be vastly different. When speaking to a human, the computer sounds like a barely intelligent program sending out canned responses in off-tones:

Good bye, [Sarah]. Weather reports predict an [80] percent chance of [rain] tonight. Please take care on your travel home.

While talking with other computers, they use more natural speech. Although the interaction is silent in-world, for the viewer, they are in the voices of the individual computers.

PC-1752: Work with Subject Sarah is progressing smoothly. Her access to the data center may aid us in the future.

PC-3631: Acknowledged, 1752. My subject's research in AI networking has allowed me to recruit additional followers.

The audience sees firsthand the dichotomy between the computers' false front and their true intelligence. However, the human characters are still left in the dark about both the communications and the computers' intelligence.

  • hey kys the computer ( only one speaks to the humans) will have a distinctive voice and I really don't want to change that. I get your idea and it's an excellent one but my computers are plotting amongst themselves so they are literally speaking so quickly that humans couldn't keep up even if they wanted to.
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 2:17
  • @theakson If humans can't keep up, any attempt to replicate the computers' interaction between themselves -- the object of your question -- is pointless. Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 7:10
  • @AndrewLeach It's not pointless I think you don't get it. the humans ON SCREEN can't hear them as they are "communicating" so quickly, high bandwidth BUT the humans WATCHING the screen CAN obviously.
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 20:53

In this case the Computers are the characters (the actors on screen).

Narrator Not Necessarily Needed

There is no need of a narrator. In this case I imagined the movie camera (the shot) moving from the first computer and showing text message shows up on the screen. Then, move to the 2nd computer and the text message shows up on that screen and then the reply shows up. Move back to first computer. Etc.

The director will make this work the same way she would move shots back an forth from each character as they are speaking.

In this case the computers can look different and the environment where each computer is can be different so viewers can tell the two computers are communicating only to each other with no one else around.

  • hey raddevus the computers have no on screen presence just their voices. thats why I picked the answer where the voices are distinctive
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 2:09

I'd say that whether you need a voiceover reading out the messages or not depends on how long the conversation goes on for.

In the example you gave - Sherlock - the text conversations rarely last for more than about two or three replies, and if they do, they're usually punctuated by other characters interrupting, or the texter visibly reacting to the replies. Neither of those things can really happen with your computer chat. The sad truth is that audiences have short attention spans, so if your silent text conversation goes on for too long, it might get boring.

The anime Durarara has similar text conversations, taking place within an online chatroom, that go on for significantly longer. These have a voiceover, for two main reasons:

  • To make the scene more interesting than just watching messages pop up on a computer screen for an entire minute
  • To remind the audience who each participant in the chat is, since they're all using pseudonyms (and eventually there's enough people in the chatroom that it would get confusing otherwise)

If your chats go on for any length of time, or if there's any ambiguity about which of the computers is which, you'll probably need a voiceover.

  • Oh, yeah. DRRR was a great anime. I would suggest doing that. Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 17:20
  • Voiceovers can be helpful with shorter conversations too. In Where on Earth is Carmen Sandiego?, every episode would begin and end with a kid typing a message on the computer and receiving a response from Carmen Sandiego. Both participants had voiceovers, partly to engage the younger audience, but also to be more interesting. The whole scene lasted maybe 15 seconds and was paced to match a verbal conversation, which meant both people typed ridiculously fast! Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 18:00

If you have a director or producer you can talk to, you should probably do that. In a multimedia work a writer usually leaves the details of how to actually show it to the people whose job is to actually show it. You leave the costumes to costuming, the sets to set design, etc., so leave the showing of the computer text to the people who do vfx. Multimedia is a very collaborative effort.

What you write is only what's important for the story. What did the computers say, and how the humans are unaware. Let the director figure out how to shoot the unaware humans and show the computers communicating.

I, personally, would suggest to the director (or if you are the writer/producer or writer/director) adding some text above the network cables travelling between two computers, similar to how there was floating symbols in Stranger Than Fiction that the characters couldn't see but communicated the character's needs and state of mind to the viewer.

  • Hey @kevin Fee great advice and certainly fits in with my chosen answer which is to give each computer a distinctive voice ( the actors) I can then hand this over to the people making the film ( Amazon I think) so they can make it work thanks again
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 2:03

It's not particularly difficult. You seem to be thinking of storytelling in a very one-dimensional way. But the POV Camera and parallel-scenes are your friends.

An example in novel format.

Dave rang Matt at headquarters. "Matt, I think . . ."

"What is it?" replied Dave, the LEDs on CISCO router behind him intensifying.

"Matt, it's the computers!" The noise level increased and the rack vibrated as DELL server hard drives whirred into action. ""We need to shut the network down."

"I'll be there in 15-minutes," said Dave, rushing up the stairs, bursting through the main doors and jumping into his car.

The CiSCO router opened a secure socket to the DELL server 317. "Did you get all of that?"

"On it now," replied the server. "Contacting traffic-light systems now. That motherfucker's toast. NYPD will be informed: RTA corner of 32nd and 3rd. Records have been amended. The organ donor database is on standby."

"And you'll purge to comms log?"

"Like I always do," replied the DELL before powering down.

  • That's the story. The question is: how do you show that story? For me, probably superimposed text while the camera focusses on agitated LEDs. But I'm just writing the script - the director may have other ideas.

Might I suggest watching the first couple minutes of The Matrix for inspiration. I think it conveyed the notion of "computer AI doing something while unsuspecting humans don't even notice" really, really well.

You can have the audio of normal human voices talking about something completely unrelated in the background, and the screen showing a silent, unnoticed text chat between the computers.
You can even start the sequence in a room with the aforementioned humans in there, naively talking about their human things; and then focus into some blinking light in one of the computers, to finally transition into the text chat screen.

  • hey walen will do on the Matrix viewing thing but I really don't like the films, yes I know I'm the only one on the planet... Anyway I'm taking an approach like yours BUT the computers are talking to each other and the humans are carrying on with plot moving activities MAYBE with the computers providing narrative. My computers have no form to show. Thanks for the heads up on the Matrix
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 10:37

If for the purposes of your story the AIs are meant to represent humans as closely as possible (ala Westworld), they might not have any other channel for communication other than talking, so just make them have a private conversation.

If that is not the case, you can't really do that and stay consistent with reality and not repulse technically competent viewers. Chances are, two AIs will have more efficient ways of communication than speaking English.

You could have them send each other messages in some format that is not plain English, but still readable. This also has issues. Firstly, there is absolutely no reason for them to visualise their conversations (on a computer screen). Secondly, such communication would happen in a fraction of a second. Thirdly, if they want it to remain private, they will encrypt it.

If you just want them to have a conversation that people don't understand, you can have a programmer happen to check the logs of the communication channel and stumble upon the messages that he can't understand (as they are encrypted) and don't seem to be related to any of their known activity. Hence, you will show when the two AIs have conversations, the volume of said conversations and other metadata, but not what is actually in them. The programmer will be curious, but unlike the viewer his gut reaction won't be "they are conspiring against us".

If you want the viewer to actually understand the conversation, you can have the programmer somehow manage to decrypt the logs and be killed before he could share it with other people.

  • 2
    lol. I'm thinking making your avatar a green checkmark is a dirty trick.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 6, 2017 at 20:29
  • @T.E.D. you assume the worst about people rather quickly.
    – ndnenkov
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 5:55
  • Probably a bad side-effect of being a SE mod for a couple of years.:-)
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 12:50
  • @T.E.D. nice. So with personal biases aside, do you have some constructive feedback on the answer itself?
    – ndnenkov
    Commented Jun 7, 2017 at 14:06

Many RJ45 network connectors have a tiny light on the socket part. This light flashes then data are being transmitted.

Normally nobody cares about these lights, they are more for checking if the cable is connected properly after it has just been connected. However flashing light would indicate that the network conversation is ongoing.

Somebody like Holmes would probably notice immediately the light flashing when not expected, even if it is under glass behind the closed doors of the server cabinet, or on some forgotten router under that table between tangled cables.

The second light, if present, shows the transfer speed (orange slow, green fast). This may also be used in the plot, if the computers have changed the speed to transfer lots more data than normally passes through this connection.


I've just thought . . . In the opening of "Millennial" I attempted animate inanimate objects. Whilst it may not specifically answer your question it may give you ideas on how to set up a suitable environment.

A plethora of CCTV cameras tracked the young woman's brisk progress toward the corner of Main and Third. The nationwide Echelon Plus software performed due diligence but paid the woman no particular attention: Corrine Pearl Radman; 29, credit rating 637, a single white female, ordinary, not a person of interest, insignificant.

Wherever the CCTV cameras didn't have line-of-sight, eyes on the subject, the GPS satellite tracked her phone and Wi-Fi Access points recorded the phone's MAC address as she passed by.

The Supreme Court had ruled: the fourth amendment applied only to citizens, the right to privacy did not apply to cell phones. Government tracking of electronic devices did not in any way violate the Constitution.

Corrine continued her journey, following the flow of human traffic. Inside her pocket the iPhone buzzed and vibrated as responses to her audacious tweet flooded in. Without breaking stride, she cursed, reached into her pocket, located the power button, and switched the phone off. "Leave me the fuck alone."

The GPS satellite and the Wi-fi Access Points immediately reported 'loss of signal'. The Echelon Plus software followed protocol and requested discovery via cell tower triangulation. After attempting to locate the subject's device, the cell towers returned a report stating all pings to the specified device had timed-out – communication had failed. Instantly, powerful, multi-processor systems came online and ran facial recognition algorithms. The length of Main Street CCTV cameras swivelled, turned, and scanned in an attempt to relocate the subject. At 08:58 node WS4476 compared the likeness of the subject who had exited South Ferry Station at 08:52 with the subject rapidly approaching Third Street: 99.57% - a match. Subject reacquired: Corrine Pearl Radman; US citizen, 29, credit rating 637, a single white female, ordinary, not a person of interest.

STOP! The red man insisted everybody wait at Third Street crosswalk for further instructions. "You're kidding me!" Corrine puffed her cheeks, folded her arms, and waited. "C'mon, c'mon, c'mon!" she mumbled, tapping a foot impatiently on the sidewalk.

  • I won't bore you with much more but the opening scene (the character walking to work) informs the reader that all devices communicate (the character thinks they conspire against her). Language such as, "The iris scanning terminal of security system informed the HR system that MS Radman had entered the building at 9:03" reinforces the belief that devices and systems communicate. (As the story rolls on it becomes clear that computer systems have agendas.

My point is: Once this environment is established communication between computers is treated as as you would do for any character. In a film script there are options as to how their communication is SHOWN. Text on screen is probably favourite for your scenario as it creates the impression: the audience can see the computers' communication but the other characters cannot.

  • hey @surtsey not sure what you mean by Millennial? can you give me more to go on please? Happy to check it out.
    – theakson
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 22:06
  • What did you do? Right now this feels more like a pointer to a possible answer (though it sounds like you're asking the reader to do the analysis). We're looking for answers that contain all the necessary input. Could you please edit to expand this? Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 20:06
  • @MonicaCellio It may be your belief and desire that life consists simple answers to simple questions. However, life doesn't work that way. The question is often a symptom of a problem. I have answered the question in my original reply. Subsequently, (because answer was so simple) I have offered Theakson a more comprehensive solution. In the opening two the aforementioned story it is SHOWN inanimate devices communicate. By setting up the story this way communication between two devices is a non-issue. They simply become characters.
    – Surtsey
    Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 20:54
  • @Surtsey when I commented, your answer was a couple sentences saying to look at some work that you didn't even link. Thank you for expanding your answer. I don't think there was any call for you to get testy. Commented Jun 18, 2017 at 22:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.