Screenplay Terminology

If you are looking for common screenwriting terms for the aspiring professional screenwriter…

See my Screenwriting Glossary HERE.

-Daniel Calvisi
http://actfourscreenplays.com/
copyright (c) Daniel Calvisi

Where are you at in the screenwriting process?

No matter if you’re just starting out or have written several scripts, I can help you to achieve your goals.

Good luck and happy writing!

-Dan

Dan’s 2-Minute Screenwriting School #1 – How Your Screenplay Should Look Industry Format Final Draft

Don’t print the title of the script on the card stock cover… it should go on the title page of the script. If you’re using Final Draft…define a title page so you don’t get the generic, default title page.

CALL TO ACTION:

Million Dollar Baby Screenplay

Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby

(2004; Screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on stories by F.X. Toole; Directed by Clint Eastwood)

Million Dollar Baby is an incredibly focused story. Screenwriter Paul Haggis achieves what I call “story cohesion” by making sure that every element logically flows from strong main dramatic elements while generating dramatic conflict.

The first level of focus is on a crucial element in the “Basic” portion of my outline method which is called Story Maps Screewriting: Theme.

The theme of Million Dollar Baby is “second chances.”

Every character is pursuing a second chance and the character construction, goals and plot beats reflect this. This pursuit is most often shown with active devices, i.e. visual devices as opposed to just being “told” in dialogue. A simple example of this would be the letters from Frankie’s estranged daughter, returned to him unopened, which set up his failure as a father in the past that he hopes to make up for when he gets his second chance to father Maggie. But Haggis knows the letters, although an elegant device, are a bit too simplistic on their own so he builds in active scenes to illustrate Frankie’s inner struggle (e.g., Frankie at church, Big Willie leaving him for another trainer, Scrap admonishing him for being too controlling when he was a fighter).

Let’s look first at the two main characters…

FRANKIE DUNN (Clint Eastwood): Second chance as a trainer and father.

  • Past: His daughter rejects his attempts to reconcile (the returned letters, unopened)
  • Present, negative: Big Willie, his number one fighter, leaves him for another trainer.
  • Present, positive: Maggie gives him a second chance as a trainer and father.

MAGGIE FITZGERALD (Hilary Swank): Second chance as a boxer and a daughter.

  • Past: Her father died when she was young.
  • Present, negative: Her mother rejects her gift of a house.
  • Present, positive: Frankie takes her under his wing and pledges to never leave her.

…and at two of the supporting characters…

SCRAP (Morgan Freeman): Second chance at being a boxer, or, retiring from boxing on a win.

  • Past: He was retired early with an eye injury. Wonders if he could have made it. (setup)
  • Present: He defeats Shawrelle (Anthony Mackie) in the ring to defend Danger. (payoff)

DANGER (Jay Baruchel): fulfillment as a real boxer.

  • Present: Danger is a supporting character meant to show contrast and color at the gym.

Danger is the boxer who only has the heart, but not the talent, whereas Shawrelle has the talent but no heart, and Maggie has BOTH.


So we see how the other boxers are written so as to highlight what makes Maggie special (again, using active, shown devices for character development and plot progression).

SPOILERS AHEAD — But if you’re serious about screenwriting you’re here to analyze movies not just watch them (nice guilt trip, huh?).

The story pushes Frankie and Maggie to a FINAL DECISION. The catalyst for this final decision is the big beat — the crippling of Maggie — which is initially shocking to any first-time audience member. But it is the perfect method to show how she has truly been fulfilled by her experience with Frankie — she got her second chance at a better life and she was satisfied by it — which forces Frankie to decide between his own selfish needs and the best wishes of his adopted daughter.

Frankie tells Maggie that he has plans for her when she gets out of the hospital. Maggie tells Frankie that she saw the world, she heard people chanting her name, she fought for the title. That’s enough. She is ready to die.

Maggie is a young woman who was left by the only man who ever loved her: her daddy. Frankie is an older man whose daughter left him. They give each other a second chance, the possibility of redemption. In the end, Frankie makes his final decision, the ultimate conflict: to decide to facilitate the death of his most beloved. In essence, to give up his chance at salvation for Maggie. For a man who’s been paying for his past sins for decades, it is this final, most painful act that redeems him as he succeeds at being the best father and trainer he can be.

-Daniel Calvisi
http://actfourscreenplays.com/
copyright (c) Daniel Calvisi

Where are you at in the screenwriting process?

No matter if you’re just starting out or have written several scripts, I can help you to achieve your goals.

Good luck and happy writing!

-Dan

http://actfourscreenplays.com/

Million Dollar Baby Script

Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby

Million Dollar Baby

(2004; Screenplay by Paul Haggis, based on stories by F.X. Toole; Directed by Clint Eastwood)

Million Dollar Baby is an incredibly focused story. Screenwriter Paul Haggis achieves what I call “story cohesion” by making sure that every element logically flows from strong main dramatic elements while generating dramatic conflict.

The first level of focus is on a crucial element in the “Basic” portion of my outline method which is called Story Maps Screewriting: Theme.

The theme of Million Dollar Baby is “second chances.”

Every character is pursuing a second chance and the character construction, goals and plot beats reflect this. This pursuit is most often shown with active devices, i.e. visual devices as opposed to just being “told” in dialogue. A simple example of this would be the letters from Frankie’s estranged daughter, returned to him unopened, which set up his failure as a father in the past that he hopes to make up for when he gets his second chance to father Maggie. But Haggis knows the letters, although an elegant device, are a bit too simplistic on their own so he builds in active scenes to illustrate Frankie’s inner struggle (e.g., Frankie at church, Big Willie leaving him for another trainer, Scrap admonishing him for being too controlling when he was a fighter).

Let’s look first at the two main characters…

FRANKIE DUNN (Clint Eastwood): Second chance as a trainer and father.

  • Past: His daughter rejects his attempts to reconcile (the returned letters, unopened)
  • Present, negative: Big Willie, his number one fighter, leaves him for another trainer.
  • Present, positive: Maggie gives him a second chance as a trainer and father.

MAGGIE FITZGERALD (Hilary Swank): Second chance as a boxer and a daughter.

  • Past: Her father died when she was young.
  • Present, negative: Her mother rejects her gift of a house.
  • Present, positive: Frankie takes her under his wing and pledges to never leave her.

…and at two of the supporting characters…

SCRAP (Morgan Freeman): Second chance at being a boxer, or, retiring from boxing on a win.

  • Past: He was retired early with an eye injury. Wonders if he could have made it. (setup)
  • Present: He defeats Shawrelle (Anthony Mackie) in the ring to defend Danger. (payoff)

DANGER (Jay Baruchel): fulfillment as a real boxer.

  • Present: Danger is a supporting character meant to show contrast and color at the gym.

Danger is the boxer who only has the heart, but not the talent, whereas Shawrelle has the talent but no heart, and Maggie has BOTH.


So we see how the other boxers are written so as to highlight what makes Maggie special (again, using active, shown devices for character development and plot progression).

SPOILERS AHEAD — But if you’re serious about screenwriting you’re here to analyze movies not just watch them (nice guilt trip, huh?).

The story pushes Frankie and Maggie to a FINAL DECISION. The catalyst for this final decision is the big beat — the crippling of Maggie — which is initially shocking to any first-time audience member. But it is the perfect method to show how she has truly been fulfilled by her experience with Frankie — she got her second chance at a better life and she was satisfied by it — which forces Frankie to decide between his own selfish needs and the best wishes of his adopted daughter.

Frankie tells Maggie that he has plans for her when she gets out of the hospital. Maggie tells Frankie that she saw the world, she heard people chanting her name, she fought for the title. That’s enough. She is ready to die.

Maggie is a young woman who was left by the only man who ever loved her: her daddy. Frankie is an older man whose daughter left him. They give each other a second chance, the possibility of redemption. In the end, Frankie makes his final decision, the ultimate conflict: to decide to facilitate the death of his most beloved. In essence, to give up his chance at salvation for Maggie. For a man who’s been paying for his past sins for decades, it is this final, most painful act that redeems him as he succeeds at being the best father and trainer he can be.

-Daniel Calvisi
http://actfourscreenplays.com/
copyright (c) Daniel Calvisi

Where are you at in the screenwriting process?

No matter if you’re just starting out or have written several scripts, I can help you to achieve your goals.

Good luck and happy writing!

-Dan

http://actfourscreenplays.com/

How To Submit A Screenplay

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

Choosing a Script Service or Screenplay Consultant Part II: The Three Main Types of Script Services You Can Hire

Scripts for your desk drawer or a major studio greenlight?

“Those Who Teach” Choosing a Screenwriting Coach

by Daniel Calvisi, professional Story Analyst (Miramax Films, Dimension Films, Twentieth Century Fox, New Line Cinema) and author of Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay

PART II: The three main types of screenplay coaches/consultants you can hire…

1) The Produced Screenwriter

A screenwriter who has sold scripts and had their work produced can give you great insights into the creative process and how to tailor your work for the market.  Their commercial instincts, stories from the trenches, and real-world experience from the writer’s side of the business are invaluable, but I have to stress that it’s also important that they have a good deal of experience as a coach/teacher.

If they don’t have the ability to assess your skill level or find the right words and examples to guide you to make progress, then their experience is not worth much.  Keep in mind that many screenwriters only know the biz from their side of the desk, which may or may not be what you need.  For example, you’ll hear screenwriters bitching about coverage and how it’s the scourge of the industry.  But coverage is a necessary evil and it’s here to stay, so I advise that you try to write your script with an eye toward blowing away the Reader who will be writing that coverage report.

I’ve also heard about screenwriters who try to make your script more like theirs.  They are essentially guiding you to rewrite your script how THEY would rewrite it, which is not helpful, especially if they’ve never worked in your genre.

Buyer beware.

The next type of script service is…
Read more

How to Write a GREAT Script! page 2

back to page one

In fact, each one of those categories in the Great Script list represents a great deal of study and practice. To truly understand each element is the first challenge and it takes time to get there. From there, the ability to implement each element on the page requires a strong focus, a raw instinct for story, a dedication to working hard over a long-term schedule and the helping hand of smart, experienced friends and mentors.

Even the pros have trouble pulling off all the elements of a great script. And even they need to show each draft to another reader as no writer, no matter their level, can be truly objective about their work.

I have so much to tell you about each one of the above elements that will help you look at movies and television in a new light.  Basically, I can hand you the keys to how the pros do it so that you can find out who exactly is behind the curtain pulling all the switches and turning the dials.

But wait!  There’s also those things you should not do.  And I have a list for that crap, too.

In fact, I have a bigger list that I’ve given my students for years, but here’s the majors, the dealbreakers…

Biggest mistakes (in no particular order of badness):

Lack of a clear theme
Passive protagonist
Story not actively moving forward
Lack of conflict
No “rootability” for your protagonist
No “clock”

Got it?  Good!

I mean…Great!

Because that’s the goal, right? To write a great one. I see no other way.

It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be rough. But it’s going to be exhilarating.

I’d love to help you get on your way, build your story with the strongest foundation possible and ultimately achieve your craft and career goals. If you’d like to work with me, please take a look at My Script Services and drop me a line.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!

Dan Calvisi

CHARACTER = ACTION:

Special Offer on Story Maps E-Books

Choosing a Script Service or Screenplay Consultant Part III: The Triple Threat

The Triple Threat: Industry Vet, Teacher and Coach

Due to the recent economy woes and all the layoffs in Hollywood, you’ll probably spot more new script services founded by recently downsized development and agency employees,.  Yes, they’ve worked in the industry, but have they taught and coached writers to improve their work?

As I stressed in part one of this article, there’s no substitute for years of teaching and coaching writers.  My time on the job in the industry was only half of my training — teaching and guiding hundreds of writers was the second half.  I’ve learned so much from you writers and I’ve tried to use it to make me better at what I do.

Here’s an example. Years ago, a client stressed to me that I was being quite harsh.  My “tough love” approach was leaning too heavily on the tough and not enough on the love! So I took that lesson to heart and from that day forward, decided to communicate more positive feedback into my notes. I now always begin with what I liked about a script, before I get into what needs work.

I’m still going to be direct, honest and yes, tough, because I can guarantee you the industry will be ten times tougher, but I also understand that an artist needs to first hear good things about their work for them to be receptive to any criticism. When I show my own work to friends and colleagues, I say “Tell me something nice first.  Tell me what you liked before you get into what you didn’t like.”

And if they don’t, I force them to watch a Twilight marathon on a continuous loop until their head explodes.  But that’s just me.  Your “approach” may differ.

Key principles…

  • Buyer Beware

  • Know your Reader

  • Industry Vet AND Teacher

  • Coverage? Meh.

Does that help? I know there’s a lot of options out there on Ye Olde Internets so it helps to have some context and experience to guide you.

I wish you luck in finding the right coach. If I get the opportunity to work with you, then I look forward to helping you achieve your writing goals.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!

Sincerely,

Daniel Calvisi

Related: Don’t Pay for Script Coverage

Click to read excerpts

SPECIAL OFFER: Discount on my script services with mention of this article!

CALL TO ACTION:

Copyright

You can copyright your screenplay or novel with the U.S. Copyrights office in Washington, D.C. Download the proper forms at their website.

Coverage

Script Coverage/Screenplay Coverage is a 3-5 page report evaluating the quality and potential of a written submission to be a successful film for that particular production company. Final judgment is a Recommend, Consider, or Pass. Most scripts are given a Pass (at least 85% of all submissions). This can be for story or commercial reasons. Recommends are very rarely given; this is an extremely high grade and basically means the script is ready to shoot. Thus, a Consider is considered to be positive, and should make a writer very happy! There are many factors involved in passing this test. A script must not only be well-written but must also appeal to the company’s commercial and thematic sensibilities. For example, it could be a wonderful fresh romantic comedy, but if that producer or executive is not looking to make a romantic comedy, then they will Pass.

Disney’s Tangled re-imagines Grimm’s Fairy Tale Page 2

Back to Page One

Story Map beats for Rapunzel (original Grimm’s Fairy Tale, source material for Tangled):

Opening: A WIFE convinces her HUSBAND to steal the delicious rampion from the garden of the powerful WITCH that lives next door.

Inciting Incident: The Husband goes back for more rampion and he is caught by the Witch. She puts a curse on him — he must give her his first-born child. RAPUNZEL, a beautiful, golden-haired girl is born and given to the Witch.

Strong Movement Forward: When Rapunzel is 12, the Witch locks her in a cell at the top of a tower with no stairs or door, only a single window. Rapunzel’s only visitor is the Witch, who climbs up Rapunzel’s long hair to reach her cell and bring her food.

End of Act One TURN and DECISION: The PRINCE is riding by one day and he hears Rapunzel’s lonely singing coming from the top of the tower. He can’t find a way into the tower so he rides by every day listening to her song.

First Trial/First Casualty: The Prince observes the Witch call out “Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,” and climb up the hair. The Prince does the same, tricking Rapunzel and putting them both in danger.

Midpoint: They fall in love, get engaged and come up with a plan. The Prince will bring a piece of silk rope each time he visits, and over time Rapunzel will sew a ladder from the rope that she may climb down to escape.

Declaration of War: Just as the escape ladder is almost ready, The Witch learns of Rapunzel’s engagement to the Prince and she cuts off the girl’s hair and casts her into a desert.

End of Act Two TURN and DECISION: The Witch tricks the Prince into climbing up the cut hair to the top of the tower — she tells him Rapunzel is dead and he leaps from the tower in grief. He survives the fall but blinds himself on thorns.

True Point of No Return: The Prince wanders blind, for years, as Rapunzel bears two twin children in exile.

Climax: The Prince hears her voice and reunites with Rapunzel and their two children. Her tears cure his blindness.

Epilogue: They return to the Prince’s kingdom and live “long and happily.”

Like many of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, it’s got some pretty dark moments.  There’s a lot of people dying “miserable deaths” in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Not exactly the stuff of Disney, huh?

You’ll notice, however, that Rapunzel is almost completely passive.  No wonder they’ve given her SUPER-HAIR in this movie!

The trailer suggests that the Prince is the protagonist of the movie, but we all know that Disney’s princess line generates billions of dollars so it would seem to behoove their bottom line to appoint Rapunzel as the character who drives the story with her active decisions. But what’s better for the story? We’ll see. (sound off in the Comments below)

The original fairy tale also says nothing of the fate of the Witch. (If anyone needs to die a miserable death, it’s that bitch.) We all know that if the villain goes unpunished in a movie, we tend to leave the theater unsatisfied, so I’m guessing they’ll make sure she gets hers.

I look forward to this new take on the classic tale.

Good Luck and Happy Writing!

-Dan Calvisi

Related: Story Maps

Where are you at in the screenwriting process?

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

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How To Write A Screen Play

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

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…

Read more

Screenplay Tips

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

Screenplay Consultation

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

Screenplay Consultants

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

Screenplay Consultant

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

Screenplay Analysis

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

How to Write a Script

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

Screenplay Coach



Do you want a screenplay analysis from a Script Doctor with major movie studio credentials?


Are you looking for a screenplay coach to give you the best script consultation you can get and to mentor you through the process of how to write screenplays?

I am a screenplay teacher and script doctor with over 14 years experience in the craft and business of screenplays. I have worked for major movie studios and I live in Los Angeles, California, Hollywood, the movie and TV capital of the world.

I can give you the TOOLS — a professional screenwriting consultation to blow away all other script services — to take your script to the next level. 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.

  • 95% of great movies follow the Story Map

Let’s look at a few examples from popular movies: The Matrix, a Science Fiction action thriller and As Good as it Gets, a Dramatic Comedy. Both movies are blockbuster hit films and employ strong Story Maps. They are very different stories in completely different genres, but employ the same storytelling structure.

As an example, I will highlight one of the unique beats found in my Story Maps structure.

The INCITING INCIDENT is an event of HIGH CONFLICT that…

  1. Upsets the established ORDER
  2. Ups the STAKES for the Protagonist
  3. Acts as a crucial CATALYST for the story.
  4. Occurs in the range of page 8 – 10 of the screenplay, or 8 – 10 minutes into the movie.

The Matrix

Exactly 10 minutes into the movie, NEO (Keanu Reeves) meets TRINITY (Carrie-Anne Moss), who tells Neo that the answer to the question “What is the Matrix?” will find him, but only if he wants it to. This introduces the LOVE INTEREST (Trinity), the THEME (Free Will vs. Destiny) and the main STORY ENGINE for Act One (Neo searches for “the Matrix.”).

As Good As It Gets

Exactly 10 minutes into the movie, MELVIN (Jack Nicholson) meets CAROL the waitress (Helen Hunt) for his daily meal. As they talk, Melvin makes a horrible remark about how her sick son will die just like the rest of us. This introduces Melvin’s LOVE INTEREST, the powerful CONFLICT between them (negative vs. positive), the THEME (Don’t let pessimism rule you) and Melvin’s central GOAL: to learn to love.

There are 9 other crucial story beats in the Story Maps structure,as well as 4 story engines and 9 main dramatic elements. These are the BUILDING BLOCKS of your story, and once you understand that I can teach you about proper screenplay format, how to write a screenplay treatment or synopsis and how to sell a screenplay.

Where are you at in the screenwriting process?

No matter if you’re just starting out or have written several scripts, I can help you achieve your goals.

Good luck and happy writing!

Dan Calvisi