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So I'm writing a screenplay and I'm not sure if I can hide my character's name. Do I have to say it in the screenplay but just mention that we don't get their name until later. I've heard I should just use a nickname, but when their "name" is revealed it already comes as a nickname.

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    You can definitely do this! There are plenty of screenplays I've read that use "Angry Juror #1" or "Murderer" or other descriptions in lieu of actual names. Often times it's because they are hiding a twist reveal, i.e. saying "Killer" instead of spoiling the killer's actual name. – Sciborg Sep 21 at 23:32
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    One case of this is with the character Slartibartfast in the original radio scripts for The Hitch-Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy, in which Douglas Adams was teasing the typist about having to keep typing this extraordinary name. That's why, when Arthur asks him early in the scene, he says “My name is not important.”, and no-one says his name until later on. – gidds Sep 22 at 8:47
  • I like the idea of a play where everybody is 'unknown person 1', '... 2', etc. until they introduce themselves, and are thereafter referred to by their name – Strawberry Sep 22 at 16:16
  • In Nisio Isin's Zaregoto Series, the main character is called referred to as "I" and other characters call him by several nicknames such as "Ii-chan". As far as I've read, his real name has never been revealed to the readers, and many of the characters don't really know his real name either. It's definitely possible to hide even the MC's name and only refer to them using nicknames and pronouns. – John Zhau Sep 23 at 4:49
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    Does this answer your question? Screenplay dialogue tags for unintroduced characters – Kevin Sep 23 at 15:16
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A screenplay is written primarily for the production crew, not for the audience. So you don't have to be afraid of spoiling any plot points by using the real name of the character even though the audience isn't supposed to know it yet.

Switching the name of a character mid-script would be confusing for the production crew. It would just lead to misconceptions about how many actors need to be cast, who needs to learn which lines and who needs to be present for which scene.

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    Is there never a case where a ScreenPlay would be given to someone to review? Someone who was interested in the quality and general feeling of the piece of work, and thus who spoilers would be relevant to? – TKoL Sep 22 at 15:45
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    @TKoL Anyone who reviews screenplays in a professional capacity would read them like a director. They should be able to tell how it would work out on stage and in production and judge the screenplay accordingly. – Philipp Sep 22 at 16:12
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    @TKoL Not when you do this for a living. Then you can appreciate the craftsmanship which went into a good plot twist even if you knew about it beforehand. – Philipp Sep 22 at 16:28
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    @TKoL: The whole thing is ruined anyway. Plays are meant to be performed, not read. You will not get the real experience just reading it, but if you're smart and experienced, you should be able to tell if it will be any good. – Kevin Sep 23 at 7:05
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    @TKoL Unlike what average movie-goers think nowadays, the quality of a screenplay does not depend on the number of plot twists it has. A professional writer will be able to judge, and won't need any sort of explanation. If you give it to a random friend to read it, it doesn't matter either because he won't really read it, just pretend, so don't worry. – Pablo Biedma Sep 24 at 9:45
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You have several options at your disposal:

You could use a descriptive name: main character, maid, angry customer. Not all characters need names. While it's a bit unusual to refer that way to long-lived characters (often they do have a name), if you are using this approach with other characters, that could go unnoticed.

You could use the initials to refer to the character.

If this screenplay is already assigned to some actors, you could use the names of the people who will be playing them.

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A solution I've seen is as follows: When the character's first introduced they use the alias.

Bob enters the library. Standing at a bookshelf is a LIBRARIAN, filing
some books.
    
                             BOB
                        Do you have any books?
    
                             LIBRARIAN
                        Shh.         

then, later, they're re-introduced with both names:

Bob enters the library, followed by the two thugs, each armed with a heavy
cudgel. The Librarian is at the central desk, and Bob walks swiftly to it
and joins her.
    
                                  BOB
                        You need to get out of here. 
                        Those two are dangerous.
    
                                  LIBRARIAN
                        I'll be better able to help you 
                        if you just come behind the desk.
    
He moves behind the desk, to see the Librarian is holding a Detonics 
ScoreMaster in her lap.
    
                                 BOB
                        What? Who the hell are you?
    
                                 LIBRARIAN
                        Susie.
    
                                 BOB
                        Can you use that thing?
    
                                 SUSIE (formerly LIBRARIAN)
                        Sure.
    
Susie stands up and shoots the two thugs in one swift and easy move.

And from then on you use the second name.

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    I hope that the persons responsible for casting the LIBRARIAN read through the whole script to know that they better pick a female – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 23 at 19:15
  • @HagenvonEitzen Have it your way. If I find the right person for a role who conveys the themes and messages necessary, there is nothing wrong with making necessary modifications to the script. – corsiKa Sep 24 at 1:55
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    @HagenvonEitzen If you just called her Susie, you'd have to read the script anyways to know she is a librarian. So when casting, if you don't read the script, you'd have the same problem in both scenarios. In conclusion: It's always good to read the script. hahaha – Pablo Biedma Sep 24 at 9:40
1

I think this depends on the exact scenario.

Is this like Clint Eastwood's character in Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy", where we just never learn his name, even though he's got friends that seem to know it? If so, you would coin a reference to this character for use in the screenplay and credits. "The Doctor" would be in this mode.

Is it that one of the named characters has speaking parts while masked, or hidden? Your cast will need to know which actor plays this part, so you'll need to tell them up-front who this is, even if you label their lines as "masked woman" or "man's voice from the darkness". But you could probably label their lines differently while they're speaking anonymously, to keep the secret from people who are privy to only part of the script.

Is it that the character is completely unknown until some big reveal, like Deep Throat or QAnon, and they have no un-masked role until that point? You could perhaps use their code name prior to the reveal, and then a combination after:

QAnon (from darkness): It is time you learn who I am!
Reporter: Reveal yourself!
QAnon/Noam Chomsky (steps into light): It is I!

All: (Gasp) Shouldn't it be It is me?
QAnon/Noam Chomsky: Trust me on that.

But again your upfront cast list will need to make it clear that one actor is to play both parts.

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1

It's not out of the question to hide identity in the screenplay. In the script for Pygmalion all the principal characters are preset, but referred to by generic names: GENTLEMAN, NOTE-TAKER, FLOWER GIRL, MOTHER, DAUGHTER, and the script only refers to them by their names in scene 2 - Colonel Pickering, Henry Higgins, Eliza Doolittle, Mrs Eynsford Hill, Clara Eynsford Hill.

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Yes of course you can, there are multiple ways to do it. My favourite example is in one of the most famous movies of Max Ophuls: "Madame De..."

Even in the title of the movie, the character name of the leading actress is incomplete. It's hidden throughout the whole movie.

Every time a character is about to pronounce her name, something happens (horse-drawn carriage passing nearby, a train about to leave...) Every time her name could be read somewhere, the remaining part is incomplete due to a series of coincidences.

This element contributes a lot to the storyline of this particular movie which is in my opinion the best example and I'd recommend you to watch it.

In this case, in the screenplay, you could just say Madame De... Or use whatever name you want, but keep it constant, because the screenplay is for the production crew not for the audience. So if you want to hide the name to the audience you can do it by changing what's written in the actual script. The naming of the character is only relevant for production.

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    if it's NEVER revealed though, isn't likely in the script just as Madame D anyway? That's effectively the character's name, not revealing the rest is just a gimmick (especially if it is never revealed ever) – NKCampbell Sep 23 at 19:05
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    The key in the example is that everybody apparently knows the name and has no intent to keep it secret - and yet the audience never finds out – Hagen von Eitzen Sep 23 at 19:20

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