07.30.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Screenplay Meta-Structure or “the way into the story”

You know who your story is about and what it’s about and why you’re telling the story…but HOW are you going to tell it?

Think about the general way that you’re going to tell the story before you start to lay out the scene list. What’s your way into this story?

E.T. was crafted to be told from the perspective of a young boy, Elliot. We pretty much only see what he sees, know what he knows. The film even employs low angles to give the audience the perspective of a child.

The Usual Suspects is literally told to us by Kevin Spacey’s character, who spins a long-winded tale meant to answer the question “Who is Keyser Soze?” The answer is not revealed until the climax when we learn that he is Keyser Soze.

Citizen Kane uses the framing device of a reporter’s investigation, thus motivating a trip through the life of Charles Foster Kane, all in answer to the question “What is Rosebud?”

Slumdog Millionaire uses the questions in the quiz show as catalysts for flashbacks that show us Jamal’s journey from the slums to his lower-class job as a Chai server to his chance to win a million dollars on TV — these scenes show us how he gathered the information to answer the question at hand, a deft use of Cause & Effect. The quiz show becomes the spine of the story, providing the foundation for Jamal’s pursuit of his external and internal goals, which are, put simply, the money and the girl. It’s interesting to note that these two goals represent Jamal’s two worlds: the upper class world of money and the lower class world of danger and desperation.

These examples were the screenwriters’ chosen perspectives and central engines for the story. They could have chosen 100 other devices with which to tell these particular stories, but they chose these narrative devices, probably because they best exemplified the key elements in their Basic Story Map, like Goals, Theme and Arc.

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07.30.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Just write the BEST SCRIPT you’re capable of writing

Working, professional Reader Carson Reeves runs a site named “Script Shadow” – if you haven’t checked it out, you should do so now.

Script Shadow consistently publishes detailed reviews of spec scripts that have recently sold in Hollywood.  Carson reads and reviews the Black List finalists (in which most of the top scoring scripts have been optioned, sold and/or put into production by the time of publication) and any spec that’s hot and garnered a six to seven figure sale or a greenlight. He also runs small contests (with the prize of a published review from him, not cash, which I like) and publishes articles about what goes into a great screenplay.

I’d like to highlight a particular post from May 2010, titled “Why Bad Scripts Sell and Why It Shouldn’t Matter To You,” which has a lot to say about bad scripts but what I love the most about it are the conclusions drawn about GOOD scripts. From the article…

So now you know Hollywood’s dirty little secret. Bad scripts do sell! But here’s the thing about all of the above examples: THEY DON’T APPLY TO YOU. You don’t have agents or managers or the luxury of pitching movies over lunch to people who can actually make them. The ONLY thing you have…is your screenplay. And that’s why YOUR screenplay DOES have to be great.

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07.29.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

A great screenplay query letter – my thoughts

I always suggest opening with a compliment — the “kill ‘em with kindness” approach — that way you don’t just sound like you want something from them but you’re here to contribute something to their obviously stellar output. Plus, everyone likes a little ego stroke, especially in Hollywood.

Open the letter by congratulating them on the success of their latest film and tell them how much you love one of their smaller, critically-acclaimed films. They will appreciate you noticing one of their lesser-known, more artistic efforts. I also suggest doing some research and pointing out an obscure fact about them and their work that could only have been known by someone who took the time to do their homework.

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07.26.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Inktip Pitch Summit

Dear Screenwriters,

I have been an Inktip member for years and I recommend it to every screenwriter I meet, coach or collaborate with. I know several writers who have found success by listing their scripts on Inktip.

In fact, Inktip is the only site outside of my own that I’ve ever endorsed for the simple reason that they have an incredible track record when it comes to getting films made.

I am proud to be selected by Inktip as one of their approved Consultants for the first annual Inktip Pitch Summit.

It’s the only pitch event that I’ve ever been involved with.

read more

07.25.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser on what he looks for in a script

After emerging from my sub-basement cryo-chamber as my alter-ego Telematic Dan, I covered the red carpet premiere of Mad Men Season 4 in Hollywood, CA at the Mann Chinese Theater 6 (in the same complex as the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre).

For a round-up of the night, go here.

One moment that stuck out was when I asked actor Vincent Kartheiser (who plays advertising accounts man Peter Campbell on Mad Men) about what he looks for in a screenplay… his first response was…

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07.21.2010 Screenwriting Blog 1 Comment

The Harsh Truth: Cutting Scenes in your Screenplay

Dear Screenwriter,

you gotta be willing to kill your puppies.

Here’s a quick rule that is deceptively simple, very powerful and utterly crucial. This is a rule none of us can escape. This applies to every scene in your script:

If a SCENE does not:

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07.16.2010 Screenwriting Blog 1 Comment

Writing Comedy – Interview with Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. in FX channel's "Louie"

Louis C.K. in "Louie" on FX

I’ve hired a lot of writers… The more original, the more unique your stuff is, the better, I think, rather than trying to hit a certain place that’s going to get you employed.  That usually just makes you like everybody else.


Continuing my coverage of FX Networks programming, I took part in a conference call interview with comedy veteran Louis C.K. who is premiering his new 30-minute comedy show “Louie” tonight.

Louis had some great insights into comedy writing and, for my money, elucidated the problem with network television and why it’s been getting its ass kicked by cable television for the past decade. Louis C.K.’s credits include Late Night with Conan O’Brien, “TV Funhouse” on Saturday Night Live, Lucky Louie on HBO and the cult hit movie Pootie Tang.

FX NETWORK:  Louie

Premieres June 24, 2010/11:00 p.m. PDT

Dan Calvisi: You are listed as the only writer on IMDB.  I don’t know if I missed some press materials where it lists other writers, but if that’s the case, what exactly is your writing process for writing these episodes?

Louis C.K. I am the only writer.  That was a decision I made because I just wanted to write and make the show.  Writers’ rooms, they kind of gravitate towards a certain place.  There’s a need to perfect things in a writers’ room, and that can take a lot of fun out of a show sometimes.  It’s a struggle.  It depends on your personality.  Some people love working with a writing staff.  I had a great writing staff on Lucky Louie, but it sometimes felt like Congress or something.  It’s like if you’re the president and you have the ability to just fire Congress, life would get kind of fun all of a sudden. read more

07.15.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Book Review: Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters…

A while back, I was sent an advance copy of Tales from the Script: 50 Hollywood Screenwriters Share Their Stories and I can report that is a fantastic book that gives you the inside word from the best, most influential and most legendary screenwriters in the business. If you’re working on your first screenplay, have written 50, or you’re just a movie buff, this is an invaluable glimpse into a segment of the industry that is absolutely CRUCIAL but rarely explored in such detail.

From Mike Binder to Nora Ephron to Steven E. de Souza to John August to Paul Schrader to Mick Garris to Frank Darabont to Larry Cohen to Josh Friedman… there’s bound to be a writer in here that changed YOUR life with their words that were translated into film. So don’t just worship the actors and directors; work a little harder and learn about the scribes that the pretty people need but will never give their due credit.

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07.14.2010 Screenwriting Blog 1 Comment

Inception featurette continues the legacy of The Dark Knight – WATCH IT!

Can you press 3rd floor for me-aaaahhhhhh!

There’s a reason why that anti-gravity hallway effect in Inception looks so amazing.

It’s because that shit is real.

No CGI. It’s a giant rig that rotates 360 degrees and it must have cost a fortune. It’s another example of how and why Christopher Nolan is this generation’s James Cameron.

Like Cameron, Nolan insists on spending millions of the studio’s money on creating real, physical spectacles, sometimes for only a single shot.

This is why those aerial IMAX shots in The Dark Knight looked so amazing; those weren’t sets, they were real skyscrapers in Chicago and Hong Kong.

When we see Batman riding his batpod motorcycle…it’s real. They didn’t just hand off the scene to a bunch of animators.

batpod pic

A team of engineers spent months (and a batload of Warner Brothers’ cash) designing and building a new vehicle that a stuntman could actually drive.


Don't try this at home.

Let’s be clear: they invented a vehicle.  For..one scene?  Yes, for one scene (okay, two and a half scenes, geeks).

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07.13.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

The A-Team: please don’t call them if you’re in trouble

Because this A-Team does not help people in trouble.  They’re only out for revenge.

This A-Team did not serve time in the same military unit and then escape from a prison camp, thus bonding them together for life. In fact…

The B-team.

This A-Team doesn’t make any sense, whatsoever.

And it just got pitied like a fool by The Karate Kid, which made DOUBLE its gross in their mutual opening weekend.

At this time last year, “The Hangover” and “Up” were going gangbusters at the box-office — both ORIGINAL scripts.


But, wait, The Karate Kid is also a remake of a piece of campy 80s material. So why did it fare so much better?

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06.19.2010 How To Screenplay, Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Screenplay Structure

Would you like to learn how to write a screenplay from a professional screenwriter and Script Doctor who has worked for major movie studios and is based in Los Angeles, California, Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world?

I can give you the TOOLS — the professional screenwriting how to — to write a great movie screenplay or television script. My method is called Story Maps Screenwriting and it is the most simple, clear and effective roadmap to take you from your initial concept all the way to a polished draft that you can submit to agents, managers and producers in the movie industry in Hollywood. read more

06.07.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

How to write a GREAT script!

It ain’t easy, but if you strive for excellence and you put in the time, you just may write something that’s not just good but great.

I don’t see any other goal. You’re here to create a great movie that will stand the test of time. Seems obvious to me.

But…we all know those newbies who are only in it to write one screenplay and sell it for the “big money.”  Well, they can keep dreaming because this is a very unique, detailed, demanding, difficult and rewarding craft and it takes more than just one script to get it down.

It takes a strong commitment to being the best. Writing the best Thriller to blow away all Thrillers. The most hilarious, relevant Comedy. The most stirring Drama. The most kleenex-wetting Romance.

And here’s where it begins.  Right here, in this article.

Yes, it’s true, let there be no more speculation and no more confusion. Why?

I’ve got a list.

And everybody loves lists. (Don’t they?) read more

06.05.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

The Voice of the Screenwriter

Featuring examples from The Departed, Saving Private Ryan, Collateral, Munich, Lethal Weapon, As Good As It Gets, Forrest Gump, Casanova and The Chronicles of Narnia.


Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan

[note: some of the screenplay excerpts on this page have not been properly formatted for this blog, yet.  I'm working on it. -Dan]
There are three main categories of skill needed to write a screenplay: Structure, Characters and Voice. Dialogue may win Oscars and get many an established pro hired on assignment, but I believe it’s a distant fourth when it comes to a spec screenplay submitted by a NEW writer.

You’ve probably heard about the dreaded studio Readers who read only the dialogue in a script.  Well, that can happen, so I’d contend that it’s your job to make the reader WANT TO READ your description by seducing them with a compelling narrative voice that establishes TONE, PACING and EMOTION right off the bat, rather than just listing flat stage directions.  You need to grab them, shake them, and hold them.

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06.01.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Don’t Pay for Script Coverage!

Buyer Beware, fine screenwriters: DON’T PAY FOR SCRIPT COVERAGE!

I don’t offer script coverage as one of my consulting services; I prepare detailed story notes that identify narrative problems and offer specific suggestions on how to fix them. However, I wrote coverage on scripts and books for years as a professional movie studio Reader. So I’m very familiar with it. You will find a number of services online that offer screenplay coverage, but in my opinion it’s not the best thing to spend your money on. Here’s why…

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06.01.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Screenplay Coverage

Attention Screenwriters: Don’t pay for screenplay coverage!

I don’t offer script coverage as one of my consulting services; I prepare detailed story notes that identify narrative problems and offer specific suggestions on how to fix them. However, I wrote coverage on scripts and books for years as a professional movie studio Reader. So I’m very familiar with it. You will find a number of services online that offer screenplay coverage, but in my opinion it’s not the best thing to spend your money on. Here’s why…

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06.01.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

Inktip Discounts

If you are looking for someone who

combines expert analysis with incredible

credentials and experience, put

Daniel Calvisi in your

script analyst black book.”

Script Magazine.

Dear Screenwriters,

I have been an Inktip member for years and I recommend it to every screenwriter I meet, coach or collaborate with. I know several writers who have found success by listing their scripts on Inktip.

I have been one of Inktip’s approved Screenplay Consultants for years.

In fact, Inktip is the only site outside of my own that I’ve ever endorsed for the simple reason that they have an incredible track record when it comes to getting films made.

I am proud to be involved with Inktip as one of their approved Consultants for the first annual Inktip Pitch Summit. It’s the only pitch event that I’ve ever been involved with.

With that said, I love to work with Inktip screenwriters
because I know that they have made a
serious commitment to their careers.

Let me tell you a little bit about me
and the DISCOUNTS I can offer you.


The first reason I stand out from the ever-increasing pack of Script Consultants is that I have extensive experience in the movie industry as a Story Analyst with a list of past employers that includes MIRAMAX FILMS, TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX, NEW LINE CINEMA and the production company of director JONATHAN DEMME (The Silence of the Lambs, Beloved, The Manchurian Candidate).

I was an “A” List Reader. I worked for executives who developed and/or executive produced the films CHICAGO, ULEE’S GOLD, SPY KIDS, SCREAM 2 & 3, CHOCOLAT, THE GAME, VOLCANO, MIMIC, ONE FINE DAY, THE WEDDING SINGER and many others. I was given top-priority material, including the original spec draft of THE SIXTH SENSE and the source novel of THE DARK FIELDS (now a major movie starring Bradley Cooper and Robert DeNiro).

Secondly, I have been focusing on screenwriting as a career for over 14 years (as a Screenwriter, Reader, Coach and Teacher) and I have helped to guide over 450 screenwriters since 1997. As you can see from my extensive website which lists all of my credentials, services and contains many blog posts, I am serious about the craft and business of screenwriting.

  • With all that said, I always offer DISCOUNTS AND SPECIAL OFFERS to INKTIP MEMBERS!

If you can forward me one of your Inktip member emails as proof, I can extend to you one of the following offers…

$100 off an 8-Week Private Online Screenwriting Course!

$50 off my Story Maps private class!

$45 off a Full Screenplay Consultation
or
$25 off Fastback Screenplay Notes!

To make it in this incredibly competitive business, your script can’t just be good, it must be great. So let’s make your script GREAT!

Sincerely,

Daniel Calvisi

To book your Consultation or ask a question… Email or call me.

Dan photo on YouTube

Where are you at in the screenwriting process?

To book your Consultation or ask a question… Email or call me.

  • To sign up for my Screenwriting Newsletter to get bi-weekly updates on new articles, interviews, tips, discounts and special offers…use the form on the left column HERE.
05.23.2010 Screenwriting Blog 1 Comment

Thank you for your Purchase!

Sixth Sense Script

Thank you very much for investing in your screenwriting career with my Story Maps method.

I look forward to working with you!

PLEASE NOTE: I will email you the E-Book (attached PDF coming from dan at actfourscreenplays.com) as soon as possible to the email address you entered with paypal.

Please bear with me as I may be away from my computer at this time. If you don’t hear from me within 24 hours, please email or call (310-849-1402).

If you have any questions or would like the pdf sent to a different email address, you can email me directly via any of the Contact forms on my site (on the left column of most pages).

I hope you enjoy the book and please remember that I always give discounts on all of my services to return clients.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!

-Dan

Daniel Calvisi

05.17.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

The Dark Knight Screenplay Analysis

Christian Bale as Batman - The Dark Knight

The Dark Knight is an expert example of building an active story around Theme, one of the main dramatic elements in the “Basic Story Map.”

  • Download the FULL STORY MAP FOR THE DARK NIGHT Here.

In a movie, especially a superhero action thriller, there must be HIGH STAKES with SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES. Life or death. Loyalty or betrayal. Love or Duty.

In The Dark Knight, the screenwriters wisely push the story to the extremes of the conflict. To find those extremes, they began with Bruce Wayne/Batman’s character and mythology and used those elements to push him into an impossible situation.

Here are three “essential truths” of Bruce Wayne/Batman:

  • Bruce Wayne has sworn to protect the people of Gotham City.
  • Bruce’s alter-ego Batman is the only thing that can protect them.
  • Bruce’s one rule is not to kill.

The screenwriters will push Bruce into a position where he has only two options:

  1. Give up his identity as Batman and turn himself in to the authorities, or
  2. Kill The Joker.

In other words: an impossible choice. This is what great drama is built upon.

Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight.

The glue that holds it together is Theme.

The Theme of The Dark Knight is “Desperation pushes men to act in self-destructive and chaotic ways.”

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05.14.2010 Screenwriting Blog No Comments

VIDEO Interview with Graham Yost… Justified, The Pacific, Band of Brothers, Speed, Broken Arrow

I sometimes cover openings in Hollywood.  I caught up with Graham Yost at the premiere of his TV drama series Justified which airs on the Fox’s FX Network and stars Timothy Olyphant and is based on original characters by Elmore Leonard.

Graham Yost is the series creator/Executive Producer of Justified and a veteran writer/director in film and television with an impressive list of credits that includes Band of Brothers, Boomtown, Raines and The Pacific and the feature films Speed, Broken Arrow and Mission to Mars. He won an Emmy for his work on the mini-series From the Earth to the Moon.

Related: Interview with Elmore Leonard and Graham Yost, creators of “Justified”

05.12.2010 Screenwriting Blog 8 Comments

Why I don’t do Coverage and why you don’t need it

I don’t offer script coverage as one of my consulting services; I prepare detailed story notes that identify narrative problems and offer specific suggestions on how to fix them. However, I wrote coverage on scripts and books for years as a professional movie studio Reader. So I’m very familiar with it. You will find a number of services online that offer screenplay coverage, but in my opinion it’s not the best thing to spend your money on. Here’s why…

read more