How To Write A Screenplay

Would you like to learn how to write a screenplay from a working Los Angeles-based Script Doctor with industry experience that includes major movie studios like Miramax and Fox? Is your goal to gain the skills to compete in the top markets in the movie and television industry in Los Angeles, California, Hollywood, the entertainment capital of the world?

I can give you the roadmap and the skills — 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 Screenplay

Do you want to learn how to write a screenplay from a professional Script Doctor and screenwriter 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 CRAFT, the TOOLS and the METHOD — 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 focused, clear and effective roadmap to take you from your initial idea all the way to a polished draft that you can submit to managers, agents and producers in the movie industry in Hollywood. Read more

Three Shades Of The Romance Film


My take on the success of this film is that it was Casablanca for gay men. It’s a classical period “doomed” romance in a unique milieu that had never been presented in this way, at least not in a wide release with major movie stars. Put simply: its time had come. This was great writing about two people in quiet desperation (actually, four people), one of whom is a man so beset by guilt and fear and held to a code of ethics formed in his youth that he absolutely CANNOT allow himself to be with the person he truly loves the most.

I don’t think the ‘shock factor’ had as much to do with the phenomenon as the press would have had us believe. And for some viewers who didn’t “get it,” they complained that not much happened. But this film is not so much about actions — it focuses on theme, character and inner conflicts. Subtext is a huge factor in this story, and the writers (Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana adapting Annie Proulx) use it to create great depth from what seems to be a narrow-focus story. Read more

Dan’s 2-Minute Screenwriting School #2 – The Big Idea! Supercharge Your Screenplay!

The Big Idea has replaced the term “high concept”… they essentially mean the same thing.  The big idea is the first and maybe the only thing that will get your script read if you’re a new, unproven writer…the big idea is not just a stringing together of familiar elements from other hit movies, as many newbie writers think.

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
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!


How to Write a GREAT Script! page 2

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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


Special Offer on Story Maps E-Books

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

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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

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