Posts

In praise of notecards

Beware paper cuts. And fun!

Anyone else use the old-fashioned, classic index cards to compile your scene list?

Sure, your screenwriting software has a super-cool 3D index card “mode” and you can drag-and-drop those shiny digital cards all you want and the edges will never fray and the ink will never smudge because there’s no edges and no ink.

But it’s just not the same. Read more

Story Maps: The Central Dramatic Question

We watched The Wizard of Oz over the weekend in one of its many post-Thanksgiving television airings and I couldn’t help but think “One classic holiday movie down, several more to go!”

My list of favs includes A Christmas Story, Die Hard, Christmas Vacation, Planes, Trains and Automobiles and the granddaddy of them all…It’s a Wonderful Life, the classic film directed by Frank Capra with a screenplay by six credited writers.

This reminded me of an old article of mine that was published in Script magazine way back in November 2002, so I decided to update it with some new analysis and Story Maps links… Read more

Amazon.com wants to buy your screenplay! But…

A thunderclap rocked the online screenwriter community yesterday when word came out that Amazon Studios hath been born: Amazon.com’s new “crowd-sourcing” filmmakers community site with a mandate to fund theatrical feature films by emerging, as-yet-undiscovered talent.

It looks like it’s basically TriggerStreet.com but with a ton of money behind it and more of a mandate to produce films, rather than just touting the potential that a diamond in the rough might be shown to a bonafide Hollywood star as he masticates his sushi lunch.

At least that’s how it sounds as of now, on Day One of this experiment. It’s definitely going to be interesting to follow this project. Methinks Amazon may have got in a bit over their head on this one, but they’re a billion dollar corporation so they must have a spreadsheet somewhere that calculates a sure-fire upside.

Essentially, Amazon has created the biggest screenplay contest of all time, considering the grand prize purse is $200,000 with the potential of a $400,000 production bonus.
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The Ticking Script…Building A Bomb

We’d all like to forget the bombs but they’re here to remind us of something important — the problems can almost always be found in the script. It’s easy to blame a bomb on the acting ‘talent’ of Ashton Kutcher or the further contributions to the art of cinema of director Paul W.S. Anderson, but sometimes the horror is in the shooting script or even the original spec.  Maybe the screenwriter was to blame, or maybe it was the producer that didn’t recognize the obvious structural issues or the director who only cared about their paycheck, but the point is: the script sucked and there was no way this movie was going to work.

Last summer, I led a reader training course in which we read several scripts that were in development or production in Hollywood. Since then, a few of those movies have been released and I can’t help but say: we saw it comin’!

Wes Craven, the horror legend behind A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, recently roared back to the big screen with a big ol’ thud when he delivered unto us My Soul to Take, which was based on his original screenplay named 25/8 (a.k.a. Bug. Note: When a movie goes through three titles, it’s probably not a good sign.).

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5 Things Wrong with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (the Swedish film)

I watched The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on Netflix Instant streaming (which is fantastic for spontaneously watching movies that you missed or never wanted to pay theater prices for) and I was underwhelmed. I have not read the book, so I can’t speak as to the faithfulness of the film adaptation, but I can say that as a stand-alone Thriller, I found it lacking on many fronts. A film should stand on its own as a cohesive and satisfying narrative and not ask the audience to fill in the gaps, no matter if it was adapted from any kind of popular source material or it’s part one in a trilogy.

I’m a big fan of the genre and I’m always on the look-out for the next Great Thriller. I’m hoping for a new twist on classic Thriller archetypes and story engines driven by a character that I can emotionally invest in such that when they’re in danger I feel true tension for them.  Think of Clarice Starling fumbling around in the dark, pistol out, as the serial killer Jame Gumb shadows her with the night-vision goggles. True terror.

Lisbeth Salander? You are no Clarice Starling. (Yes, Lisbeth is an interesting character; she’s the best thing about the film, but for me, she can’t make up for the many flaws in the story.)

If The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t based on a best-selling book and I read it as a spec, I would have sent it back to the slush pile. Here’s why…

5 things wrong with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (the Swedish movie):

(SPOILERS AHEAD)

1. Lisbeth and boys. Talk about repetition. Lisbeth Salander burns a guy alive in a flashback from her youth, ostensibly for revenge. Lisbeth tortures and rapes her probation officer, definitely for revenge after the bastard did the same to her. Lisbeth watches the serial killer burn in the overturned car…sweet revenge for all of those women he murdered.  And in the end, Lisbeth steals millions from the unseen tycoon Wennerstrom and starts a new life; revenge for falsely convicting her new lover, Mikael Blomkvist.

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Social Network script

Social Network Script

Four Advanced Screenwriting Techniques used in The Social Network

[Warning: Spoilers]

1) Angel and Devil.

The use of two supporting characters who push and pull the Protagonist between Good and Evil.

Social Network Script

In The Social Network, we’ve got Eduardo (Andrew Garfield), Mark Zuckerberg’s (Jesse Eisenberg) best friend from the dorm days and Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake), who sweeps in and tempts Mark into his world of nightclubs and high-rollers. Not coincidentally, Eduardo and Sean hate one another.

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Raiders of the Lost Ark Script

As any normal screenplay consultant would do, I decided to record some thoughts about the power of Story Mapping Raiders of the Lost Ark while driving on the 405 and 101 South to the first annual Inktip Pitch Summit in the Universal Hilton in Los Angeles.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Script

Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favorite film of all time but it took me years to understand that seemingly “soft” climax that finds Indiana Jones closing his eyes while the Ark of the Covenant does all the work for him in laying waste to the Nazis. Action heroes don’t just close their eyes and let biblical chick-demons take out the enemy, do they?

Purchase the E-Book series now at a special rate!

 

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Raiders of the Lost Ark Screenplay

Raiders of the Lost Ark Script

  • Major movie studio screenplay consultant and professional Script Doctor Dan Calvisi decided to drive and shoot at the same time on the topic of unlocking the structural secrets of the action-adventure classic Raiders of the Lost Ark

Hey guys,

I got inspired to deliver a message about the power of Story Maps while driving on the 405 and 101 South to the first annual Inktip Pitch Summit in the Universal Hilton in Los Angeles.

Raiders of the Lost Ark Script

Purchase the Story Maps E-Book series now!

I love Raiders of the Lost Ark — it’s one of my favorite movies of all time but it took me years to understand that seemingly “soft” climax that finds Indiana Jones closing his eyes while the Ark of the Covenant does all the work for him in laying waste to the Nazis. Action heroes don’t just close their eyes and let biblical chick-demons take out the enemy, do they?

Raiders of the Lost Ark Screenplay

It wasn’t until I created a Story Map for Raiders of the Lost Ark that I truly understood how the screenwriters pulled off this advanced technique. Please bear with me and don’t video and drive…

I encourage you to write Story Maps for your favorite films to unlock the structure and craftsmanship that makes them work so well.

You can learn more about my method and get my help to craft your own screenplay by purchasing my E-Book series.

Go To ——>Part Two: Why the shocking ending of The Sixth Sense really works!

Good luck and happy writing!

-Dan

Related: FREE Raiders of the Lost Ark Story Map sample download

Related: Learn more about Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay

Related: Learn more about Booster Pack #1 (which contains the Full Story Map for Raiders and 11 other hit movies)

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

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social network script

  • Write a GREAT SCRIPT in a supportive group environment from the comfort of your home with guidance from a PROFESSIONAL SCRIPT DOCTOR.

8 WEEKS of firm DEADLINES and FEEDBACK on each week’s assignment from myself and your peers, using the simple yet powerful Story Maps method used by 95% of commercial movies.

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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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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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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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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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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

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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M. Night Shyamalan: Method To The Madness

M. Night ShyamalanOriginally published in Script Magazine Online in 2005 in a slightly shorter form here.

Below is the full article…

M. Night Shyamalan is the modern master of the high-concept thriller. He is also a mad scientist.  A tinkerer.

With each new film, he’s gone back into his lab and concocted some new experiment in suspense storytelling.  This is a screenwriter who has mastered traditional narrative and gotten bored with it, so he’s decided to consistently take chances with the form.  From his sub-basement sanctum sanctorum, amidst the smoking beakers and jarred brains and that lightning-rod thingee, adjacent to the plasma screen playing non-stop Hitchcock films, he straps standard three-act structure down onto a slab of unforgiving granite and goes to work.  With The Village he shocks his most bold experiment into life.

Shyamalan has always enjoyed playing the puppetmaster of our emotions.  Don’t kid yourself — he may be fascinated with the retooling of narrative structure, but ultimately, he’s experimenting on us, the audience.  Like Hitchcock before him, Shyamalan is the Great Manipulator.  Manipulation is not a bad word to M. Night; rather, it’s his raison d’etre.  He loves it, gets off on playing us like a marionette.  And considering his four straight commercial successes (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs, The Village), it’s safe to say we keep coming back for more.

We want him in that lab.  We need him in that lab.

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Don’t suck…Suck in the Reader!

I worked for years as a professional Story Analyst, or “Reader” for major movie companies in New York City, reading and evaluating incoming screenplays and books for executives and producers who developed films like Chicago, Scream, The Game, The Faculty, Volcano, Beloved, Ulee’s Gold, and Chocolat.  Their production slates ran the gamut of genres and so did the material that I was handed.

And I realized that the common wisdom about your Act One being “Setup”…is crap.

Click to read excerpts

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Screenplay Help

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 Mentor



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

Don’t Give Up

It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room.  Life isn’t a support-system for art. It’s the other way around.

Stephen King: On Writing

Some time ago I was watching video of a live performance by the late blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. He was playing fiercely, passionately, covered in sweat, unaware of anything but his music. I watched and listened, and something dawned on me. This was no “ordinary” performance. It occurred to me that he wasn’t just playing his guitar — playing an original song he’d played a thousand times before.

He was channeling something. Read more