Good Will Hunting is one of the finest screenplays of the 90s (a very strong decade in film) and it’s a great study in character and plot dynamics. There’s a new Good Will Hunting Story Map pdf online now that you should check out.
My talented student and friend, Robert Rich, has put together a fantastic site that showcases detailed analyses of popular films using my Story Maps method of narrative deconstruction. His latest analysis is of the Good Will Hunting script. The post begins by giving the history of the screenplay.
Originally setup at Castle Rock, Rob Reiner had Damon and Affleck focus on the relationship between Will and his therapist. Fleshing out Reiner’s suggestions with a little help from William Goldman, a dinner with Terrence Malick would give the film its ending. The original script depicted Will and Skylar leaving for California together, but it was Malick who suggested what we see today.
It continues with a Full Story Map, hitting all of the signpost beats.
I like how Robert goes into more detail at certain beats, touching on the emotional aspects of the film moreso than my breakdowns in my Story Maps books. For example, his take on Will Hunting’s Internal Declaration of War/Assumption of Power:
Assumption of Power (internal) — minute 82 — This might be the first time in his life anyone’s ever asked him about his abilities, let alone a woman. This is not, nor has it ever been a conversation with Chuckie. Sean wants to get to know Will, not the genius. And Lambeau’s more interested in the work than a personal relationship. Here, Skylar receives something from Will that’s honest and heart-felt. Perhaps a simple answer, but it’s more than he’s ever gave. That’s intimacy.
Ultimately, the film won two Oscars at the 1998 Academy Awards, with the original screenplay Oscar going to Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, beating out As Good As It Gets by Mark Andrus and James L. Brooks and Boogie Nights by Paul Thomas Anderson, among others. (By the way, what a year at the Oscars: Titanic, As Good As It Gets, Boogie Nights, Jackie Brown, Amistad, Donnie Brasco and L.A. Confidential!)
Structurally, I think the biggest triumph of the Good Will Hunting screenplay is that it juggles a lot of characters and lines of actions. Will has key relationships with Sean (Robin Williams), Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard) and Skylar (Minnie Driver). That’s a lot of character scenes to weave into a classic four-act structure.
But the most fascinating aspect of the script is that controversial rumor that William Goldman re-wrote it so extensively that the final draft hardly resembled Damon and Affleck’s original and it was Goldman’s work that made it a hit and won it the Oscar. This is a debate that I’m sure will rage for many years to come.
At this point, I urge you go to ScreenplayHowTo.com and check out the Good Will Hunting Screenplay Analysis and accompanying free pdf download of the Full Story Map! Big thanks to Richard for his hard work. Until next time, one word:
Good Luck and Happy Writing,
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