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I am writing a screenplay for a TV show in which a character who will become important later in the series has a line of dialogue in the opening scene. However, he is offscreen and will not be physically introduced for another episode or two. For the dialogue, is it okay if I have him named as “VOICE” or “MAN” even though he is a main character? Or should I use his name for the dialogue, but not give a description in a slug line until he is visually introduced? It is inferred in the scene that the person he is talking to has no idea who he is, and for the benefit of the script reader, I would prefer to keep the mystery intact. Thank you!

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Screenplays are production documents.

Screenplays communicate things that are intended for production like who says what line, so casting agents, directors, and actors know who is present in the scene without second-guessing the author or discovering it episodes later. The producer/director/casting agent of the first episode may never read any of the later scripts.

If you want this to be a specific voice from a specific character played by a specific actor, the screenplay needs to be clear it's his line.

When you introduce a character who later has a name, use the character name from the start and always call them by their character name. If you have a speaking role that has no name they can be MAN IN OFFICE or WOMAN IN RESTAURANT – but keep it consistent throughout all scripts.

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If you want the reader to make the connection between the unannounced character's remark and his further introduction, you could probably define the character with a bit more certainty than just a MAN or VOICE, such as describing the MAN as tall, strong, sinister, of the VOICE as loud, hissing, crackling, or baritone, for example. Perhaps, use something that the character will be later known for. Other than that, it is totally up to you.

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    -1 As wetcircuit pointed out, a screenplay needs to communicate everything up-front because it's a technical document used in film production, not a complete story on its own. Your advice would work great in a novel, and it's the kind of thing that would be used in the finished movie, but the script itself needs to make who's who explicit at all times. – Kevin Apr 17 at 16:52
  • The requirements supplied by the OP said that it must remain a mystery who is who. The only way to satisfy that requirement was to not explicitly say that in the document. – SuperAl Apr 17 at 22:31
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    No, that's not the case at all. The way to satisfy that requirement is to not reveal who it is right away in the finished movie. But again, the script isn't written to be read casually. It's written to give directions while producing a film. There should never be mysteries in a technical production document like that. The actors and directors need to know who says each line, or they just can't film a coherent movie. – Kevin Apr 18 at 3:11
  • Have any references to prove your point? – SuperAl Apr 19 at 15:13

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