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Story Maps:

How to Write a GREAT Screenplay


by Daniel P. Calvisi

ACT FOU R SCR EEN PLAYS


ii

Copyr i ght © Dani el P. Cal vi si 2012

P ubl i shed by Ac t Four Sc r eenpl ays


Redondo Beac h CA 90277
www. a ctfo u rscreen p l a y s. co m

Al l r i ghts r es er ved. No par t of thi s book m ay be r epr oduced


i n any form or by any m eans wi thout perm i ssi on i n wri ti ng
fr om the publ i sher , exc ept for the i nc l usi on of br i ef
quotati ons i n a r evi ew.

L i br ar y of Congr ess Catal ogi ng -i n-P ubli cati on Data has been
appl i ed for .

I SBN-10: 0-983 6266- 0-X

I SBN-13: 978-0-9 836 266- 0- 2

Fi r st U. S. Pr i nt E di ti on 201 2

Cover Desi gn: Soni a Fi or e


iii

To all of the aspiring s creenwriter s o ut the re

who dream of turning their nigh t j ob

into their day j ob.


iv

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Dani el P. Cal vi si i s a pr ofessi onal Stor y Anal yst and
scr eenwr i ter wi th over 15 year s of exper i ence focusi ng ful l -
ti m e on the c r aft and busi ness of sc r eenpl ays.

Hi s em pl oyer s have i nc l uded Mi r am ax Fi lm s, Di mensi on


Fi l m s, Oscar -wi nni ng di r ec tor Jonathan Demm e and
Twenti eth Centu r y Fox—he has eval uated wr i tten
subm i ssi ons for the exec uti ves who devel oped the fi lm s
Ch i ca go , Sp y Ki d s, Cho co l a t, Li mi tl ess, Screa m, T h e Wed di n g
Si n g er, Th e Ga me, On e Fi n e Da y and Ul ee's Go ld .

Dani el has wri tten sc r eenpl ays on assi gnm ent and coached
hundr eds of pr i vate wr i ter s to better under stand the
pr i nci pl es of gr eat scr eenwr i ti ng and to i m pr ove thei r cr aft
on the wr i tten page . He has taught sc r eenwri ti ng and stor y
anal ysi s at the c ol l ege l evel , i nc l udi ng at the New School
Uni ver si ty i n New Yor k Ci ty.

Dani el has been publ i shed i n Scri p t m agazi ne and i s a


contr i butor to Now Wri te! Screen wri ti n g. He i s the P r esi dent
of The Wr i ter s Buil di ng, an excl usi ve networ ki ng gr oup and
onl i ne comm uni ty for pr ofessi onal sc r eenwr i ter s. Dani el l i ves
i n L os Angel es and he offer s fr ee downl oads, cl asses ,
publ i cati ons and c onsul ti ng ser vic es at
Ac t Fo u rSc reen p la ys .c o m .
v

INTRODUCTION
Thi s book i s the c ul mi nati on of m any year s of wor ki ng wi th
scr eenpl ays and sc r eenwr i ter s . R eadi ng, anal yz ing,
eval uati ng, studyi ng, teac hi ng and c oachi ng .

And, of cour se, wr i ti ng . But i t m ay i nter est you to know that


al though I get pai d to wr i te sc reenpl ays , I feel that the
actual wr i ti ng i s the sec ond m ost im por tant educati onal tool
for l ear ni ng t he c r aft. The fi r st i s wr i tten anal ysis of
scr eenpl ays and m ovi es, the good ones and the bad ones.

I l ear ned thi s on the job wor ki ng i n the m ovi e i ndustr y for
year s as a Stor y Anal yst for m any top studi os and pr oducti on
com pani es and fr om wor ki ng one -on-one wi th scr eenwr i ter s,
both am ateur and pr ofessi onal .

Over a per i od of year s, I devel oped the Stor y Map m ethod of


str uctur al anal ysi s, whi c h c an be used to constr uct a new
nar r ati ve or dec onstr uc t an exi sti ng one. I di scover ed the
i m por tance of not just hi t ti ng page poi nts, but usi ng what I
cal l Acti v e Sto ry tell i ng , whi c h i s m aki ng your scenes and your
char acter s’ ac ti ons advanc e the stor y and bri ng about change
whi l e m ai ntai ni ng a c ohesi on bui l t on theme and escal ati ng
confl i ct.

The pur pose of the book i s si m pl e: t o hel p you im pr ove your


cr aft and i ncr ease your odds of getti ng your scr ipt to i m press
a deci si on -m aker i n Holl ywood. That's i t.

Thi s m ethod i s not a guar antee of suc cess, or a way to


si destep the har d wor k of bui l di ng your cr aft and devel opi ng
your voi ce. I t’s a c om pr ehensi ve wor ki ng pr ocess that has
gui ded hundr eds of wr i ter s to c r aft their best wor k, and I ’m
exci ted and pr oud to br i ng i t to you.

Ther e ar e m any books on sc r eenwri ti ng. So why thi s one?


vi

 I t's fr om the per spec ti ve of the per son on the other


si de of the desk who eval uates your m ateri al . No
m atter where you’r e at i n your car eer or who you
know, you sti l l need to bl ow away the r eader , so I ’m
goi ng to show you the best and m ost focused way to
em ul ate the m any suc c essful scr i pts and m ovi es that
I ’ve studi ed for over two dec ades.

 My str uc tur e system appl ies to ever y genr e and the


beats ar e a l wa y s in th e sa me o rd er . Ther e i s no
m i xi ng and m atc hi ng, or der c hanges, or needl ess
categor i z i ng as wi th other system s. My m ethod is
str i pped down to th e pr ac ti c al essenti al s —l et’s leave
the theor y and the jour nal entr i es and the pats on the
back behi nd —I ’m pr epar i ng you for the m ar ket to get
past br utal r eader s l i ke m ysel f.

 Al l of the anal ysi s and gui del i nes i n thi s book are
based on the c ur r ent, m odel s pec screenpl ay i n
Hol l ywood. L ean, m ean and fast -paced, thi s i s not
your unc l e's sc r eenpl ay – thi s i s not a wi nki ng
hol dover fr om the “ Boom - Boom ” ‘80s and ‘9 0s ( you
know, when they wer e handi ng out spec deal s at
L AX?) . Thi s 100 -110 page c i nem ati c em oti on m achi ne
has a ver y c l ear and c l ean set of gui deli nes, qual i ti es
and standar ds , som e of whi c h can be br oken, but onl y
i f you’ve m aster ed them fi r st.

 Al l of the advi c e ( and the quotati ons, whi ch you'l l


fi nd i n the “ Fr om The Tr enc hes” si debar s ) com es fr om
m y di rec t experi enc e wi th wor ki ng pr ofessi onal s i n
the m ovi e i ndustr y. If I quote a sour ce ( other than
the gr eat Bi l l y Wi l der , R. I .P . ) , then i t's because I
per sonal l y spoke wi th them or w as i n the r oom when
they spoke. These ar e exc l usi ve bi ts of wi sdom I 've
g ather ed fr om li vi ng and wor ki ng i n L os Angel es and
New Yor k Ci ty.
vii

I ’m goi ng to str i p i t down.

I ’m goi ng to be tough on you.

I ’m goi ng to ask, “ Ar e you a real wri ter ?”

I 'm goi ng to show you m any exam ples fr om pr oduced


scr eenpl a ys wr i tten by top pr ofessi onal s. I ’m going to keep
up the pace and get to the poi nt , wi th al l the fat tr i mm ed
and focused onl y on the cru ci a l i nform ati on.

Just as I l i ke m y sc r i pts.

G ood L uck and Happy Wr i ti n g!

Dan Cal vi si
viii

CONTENTS
I. VI NCE VAUG HN I S DOI NG A SONG
WI TH THE BAND! 1
II. THE G RE AT SCREE NP L AY 2

TH E CON CEPT 11
III. THE BI G I DE A 12

TH E STR UCTUR E 19
I V. THE “ BASI C” STORY MAP 23
V. MORE ON THE BASIC STORY MAP
WI TH E XAMP LE S 39
VI . THE “ FUL L” STORY MAP 44
VI I . THE ME 73
VI I I. G E T EXTRE ME ! 85
I X. BI L L Y WIL DE R'S TIP S FOR WRI TERS 87
X. MORE ON THE BE AT SHE E T
WI TH E XAMP LE S 88

TH E WOR KSH EET 109


XI . THE TE MP L ATE FIL M 115

TH E M ECH AN ICS 116


XI I . THE SCE NE L I ST 117
XI I I. FORMAT – L I TTL E TRI CKS AND PE T P EE VE S 135
XI V. TOOL S OF THE TRADE 149
ix

TH E VOICE 164
XV. SUCK I N THE RE ADE R 165
XVI . DI AL OG UE 187
XVI I . CHARACTE R 201

TH E CAR EER 210


XVI I I. G O TO MARKE T, L I TTL E P I GG Y 213
XI X. ARE YOU A RE AL WRI TE R? 214
XX. G E TTI NG OUT THE RE 219
XXI . I NDI E VS. STUDI O 225
XXI I . YOUR FI RST SCRE E NP L AY 228

APP EN DIX: SAM PL E STOR Y M APS 232


1. Th e Ha n go v er ( Co med y ) 2009 234
2. Th e Wrestl er ( Dra ma ) 2008 239
3. Th e Da rk Kni g h t ( Acti o n /Co mi c Boo k) 2008 243
4. Ho w to L o se a G u y i n 10 Da y s ( Ro m Co m) 2003 250
5. Dra g Me To Hel l ( Ho rro r) 2009 255
6. As G o od As I t G ets ( Dra ma ti c Co medy) 1998 260
7. Su n set Bou l eva rd ( No i r Th ri l l er) 1950 264
Ackn o wl ed g men ts 270
Ma ke Yo u r Scri p t G RE AT! 271
I. VINCE VAUG HN I S DOI NG A SONG WIT H T HE BAND!

I attended the New Yor k pr em i er e of a fi lm star ri ng Vi nce


Vaughn. Im m edi atel y upon enter i ng the noi sy after -par ty, I
was tol d the buz z : Vi nc e Vaughn was goi ng to sing a song
wi th the band!

Who's the band? Nobody knew. What song wi l l he si ng?


Nobody knew. Does he know th e band? Nothi ng. Has he ever
sang or been i n a band? Nada.

I t di dn't m atter. Thi s was why ever yone, i ncl uding m e, was
sti cki ng ar ound thi s bor i ng par ty wi th no food and a cash
bar .

I di d a l ap, saw a few c el ebs, and I was r eady to go hom e.


But nay! I had to see Vi nc e Vaughn do a num ber wi th the
band.

TWO HOURS L ATE R ( on a weeknight, m i nd you) the band


i ntr oduces Mr . Vaughn and he bounds onstage, pi cks up a
m i c and gi ves a br o -hug to the l ead si nger . So they star t the
song that no one r ec ogniz es. . .Vi nc e Vau ghn's l yri cs ar e
uni ntel l i gi bl e. .. he doesn't do anythi ng funny and l ooks a bi t
sti ff, to be honest. . . and then the song ends and he
di sappear s bac kstage.

The l i ghts com e up and ever yone l ooks ar ound wi th an


expr essi on l i ke “ That's i t?”

The hal l cl ear ed out and ever yone went back to thei r l i ves,
havi ng l ost two hour s of sl eep, and the next day i t was al l
for gotten.

The Moral of the story: a big -name star can get the m to
show up, but if you really want them to re me mber your
movie, you need to give them a great st ory .

You must deliver...


2

II. THE GREAT SCREENPLAY

L et’s be cl ear .

You ar e not wr i ti ng a m aster pi ec e.

You ar e not wr i ti ng your per sonal jour ney thr ough l i fe.

You ar e not wr i ti ng a Best P i c tur e wi nner.

You ar e wr i ti ng a G RE AT sc r i pt i n a c omm er ci al l y pr oven


genr e that wil l i m press pr ofessi onal r eader s at the studi o
l evel i n the fi l m i ndustr y and establ i sh your car eer .

L et’s br eak that down.

Fi r stl y, your sc r eenpl ay c an’t just be good, or prom i si ng, or


i nter esti ng. I t m ust be G RE AT.

I t’s not enough to have a r eal l y cl ever i dea. E veryone i n


town has one of those ( and som e of them ar e downr i ght
br i l l i ant). And when any of these i dea -m aker s tel l s thei r i dea
to thei r fr i ends, thei r fr i ends say Wo w, th a t’s a rea l l y cl ev er
i d ea !

And i t m ay, i n fac t, be a cl ever i dea; even a g reat i dea.

But i t’s not a gr eat scri p t . At least, not yet.

I t’s just a gr eat c onc ept.

And that’s not enough to sel l .

Thousand s of pi ec es of wri ti ng ar e r egi ster ed each year wi th


the WG A r egi str y and hundr eds of sc r i pts pour into
Hol l ywood ever y week.

Hundr eds ever y week. That’s not even counti ng contests and
i nter net ser vi c es.
3

Your aver age studi o Reader i s gi ven fi ve scr i pts at a ti m e.


They get pai d the sam e fl at r ate for each scri pt. They stay up
l ate, r eadi ng unti l al l hour s of the ni ght to fi ni sh up those
fi ve scr i pts i n two days ( i n between their other job/s,
because you c an’t m ake a l i vi ng as a Reader) .

Most of what they r ead , about 90%, i s cr ap. Maybe m or e.

What they ar e r eall y l ooki ng for i s that one gr eat scr i pt that
stands out fr om the d r ec k i n the sl ush pi l e . The one to hook
them and get them i nter ested at 3 :00 a. m.

That scr i pt wi th the G RE AT openi ng page and the G RE AT fi r st


ten pages and the G RE AT tur n on page 2 7 that they di dn’t
see com i ng. And so on unti l that GRE AT cl im actic
confr ont ati on.

And to top i t al l off. .. i t’s i n the genr e and budget r ange that
thei r boss i s l ooki ng for .

Thi s i s the begi nni ng of a seri es of steps th at can l ead to


m eeti ngs and m or e m eeti ngs and m ore subm i ssions and
r ewr i tes and if the gods ar e sm il i ng one day: a paycheck for
the scr eenwr i ter .

Coul d happen. But i t won’t happen i f you don ’t have the


goods on the page. Unl e ss your unc l e i s a studi o head. Oh,
wai t, these days you want your unc l e to be the CE O of a toy
com pany, r i ght? Yeah, that woul d be sweet. But i f i t’s not
the case, h er e’s what you’r e goi ng to do.. .

You’r e goi ng to wr i te a gr eat sc r i pt that wi l l bl ow away that


fi r st r eader , be they an offic i al “ Stor y Anal yst” who wi l l
wr i te up a cover age r epor t. . . or an assi stant. . . or a Cr eati ve
E xecuti ve. .. or i nde pendent pr oduc er . .. or that assi stant
cam er am an you met at the c offee shop who worked on a fil m
wi th P hi ll i p Seym our Hoffm an and got to be reall y chumm y
wi th the Second A. D. who’s d efin i tel y P hi l ’s buddy and woul d
to ta l l y sl i p him a sc r i pt i f he thought i t was gr eat. But the
assi sta nt cam er am an has to r ead i t fi r st. Then the Second
A. D. has to r ead i t. Then P hi l ’s m anager ’s assi st a nt’s i nter n.
4

Then P hi l ’s m anager ’s assi stant. Then P hi l ’s m anager . And


then. . . the Osc ar -wi nner hi m sel f wi ll total l y r ead your scr i pt.
I f i t m akes i t that far up the l adder.

So how do you i nc rease your odds to im pr ess that m any


peopl e wi th your sc r eenpl ay?

To star t, y ou ’r e goi ng to wr i te i n a c om mer ci al l y pr oven


genr e. I suggest wri ti ng i n one of the stapl es – Thr i l l er ,
Hor r or , Com ed y, Ac ti on, Rom anti c Com edy, Dr am a. Ri ght
now, com edi es seem to be the m ost c onsi stent sel l er s, but
com edy, as they say, i s har der than dyi ng. You don’t have to
be a funny per son to wr i te a suc c essful com edy, you need
som ethi ng m uc h m or e di ffi c ul t: you need to be funny o n th e
p a g e.

A few year s ago Hor r or was all the r age and now, at l east at
the studi o l evel , i t’s bar r en . Who knows what wil l be sell i ng
l i ke hotcakes tom or r ow? No one does. So sti ck to a genr e
that you know and l ove. And don’t c hase whatever ’ s hot at
the box- offi c e, bec ause the i ndustr y i s al r eady one step
beyond that.

A taut Thr i l l er wi l l al wa y s be m ar k etable. A cl ever and funny


Rom Com can n ev er go wr ong. Sti c k to the stapl es and focus
on wr i ti ng a great sc r i pt i n your c hosen genr e.

Thi s app l i es even i f you have a c onnecti on to a Hol l ywood


pl ayer . Her e’s a shor t l i st of peopl e that cl ients of m i ne have
had connecti ons to ( m ost thr ough fam il y m em ber s) and wer e
pl anni ng to show thei r sc r eenpl ays :
 Jam es Cam er on
 Fr anc i s For d Coppol a
 Ashton Kutc her
 Jenni fer L opez
 Rod Stei ger
5

I tol d each of these wri ter s that thei r scr i pts needed m uch
m or e wor k. To date, I haven’t r ead about any of them sel l i ng
thei r scr i pts, even though I h ave no r eason to doubt that
they got thei r wor k i nto the offic es of these power pl ayer s.
The r eason i s th at thei r sc ri pts wer e not r eady. N o one, not
even your br other -i n-l aw who i s Jon Hamm ’s attor ney, wi l l
r i sk thei r own r eputati on and c ar eer to pass on or pur chase
sub-par m ater i al.

You m ay be the ul ti m ate gur u of sel f -pr om ot i on and


schm ooz i ng, but onc e you shake hands wi th the bi g boys, you
sti l l need to del i ver a gr eat sc r eenpl ay that wi l l i nspi r e them
to spend year s and m il l i ons to m ake i nto a gr eat fi lm .

Bel i eve i t or not, Hol l ywood r eader s do NOT want the sam e
ol ’ thi ng. The CE OS and the m ar keti ng depar tm ent m ay, but
the de vel opm ent depar tm ent does not. Or , if the com pany’s
devel opm ent depar tm ent has been gutted ( you know, “ the
econom y” ) then the few r em ai ni ng Cr eati ve E xecuti ves
cr amm ed i nto that dusty c ubic l e sti ll want som ethi ng NE W
and FRE SH wi th an undeni abl e HOOK. And they ar e the ones
who m ake car eer s. They want gr eat wri ters.

I once asked a Juni or Cr eati ve E xec uti ve, who i s now the
P r esi dent of P r oduc ti on of Col um bi a P i ctur es, what she was
l ooki ng for i n a sc ri pt a nd her answer was si m ple:
“ char acter .” She wanted to fi nd wr i ter s who wr ote gr eat
char acter s so she c oul d hir e them to add str ong char acter s
to thei r scr eenpl ays that wer e alr eady i n devel opm en t.

E ven i f they don’t buy your spec , they m ay hir e you to wr i t e


one of thei r open assi gnm ents or they m ay get you som e
m eeti ngs, or an agent. Thi s m ay, down the l i ne, i f you hang
i n ther e, l ead to a payc hec k. Coul d happen.

But I ’l l be honest, the odds ar e stac ked agai nst you. Ther e
ar e so m any fac tor s that go i nto a sc ri pt sal e, l i ke. . .

 Who you know

 Your r epr esentati on


6

 Tal ent attac hm ents

 Fi nanc i ng

 Your per sonal i ty and determ i nati on

 G etti ng i t to the r i ght peopl e

 Ti m i ng of your c onc ept and subject m atter

Som e of these ar e c om pl etel y out of your contr ol .

So what can you do to i nc r ease your odds i n the


m ar ketpl ace? You c an wor k on the one thi ng you have
contr ol over .

Th e qu alit y o f you r work.

Ther e’s sti l l no guar antee that your scr i pt wil l sel l . I n fact,
I ’ve r ead sever al sc r eenpl ays that di d sell . .. and I can safel y
say that m any of m y fri ends and c li ents have wr itten m uch
str onger scr i pts . Obvi ousl y, ther e wer e other factor s hel pi ng
these scr eenpl ays that m eant m or e than the qual i ty of the
m ater i al at the tim e of subm i ssi on.

So. . . good scr eenpl ays don’t al ways sel l .

Som e bad scr eenpl ays sel l.

I t’s a ver y tough busi ness to br eak i nto wi th a ton of


com peti ti on .

So why bother ? Why put your sel f thr ough i t?

Because i f you’r e l i ke m e, you ha v e to wr i te.

You have those voi c es i n your head.

You’ve pr obabl y tr i ed to wal k away fr o m thi s cr az y pur sui t at


som e poi nt i n t he past, m aybe m ore than once; b ut you just
can’t do i t. L i ke Mic hael Cor l eone, ever y tim e you tr y to get
away fr om your sc r eenpl ay, i t pul l s you back i n!
7

You know the odds, but you’r e goi ng to do i t anyway because


those voi ces won’t l eave you al one. Ri ght? I hope so,
because i t’s way too m uc h wor k to appr oach l i ghtl y and i t’s
fool har dy to thi nk you c an m ake a qui ck , easy buck at thi s
pur sui t.

So l et’s tr y to m ake i t as good as i t c an be, i n the styl e, for m


and for m at of the best m ovi es c omi ng out today, w i th the
exact str uctur e and pac i ng on the page that I know for
cer tai n al l i ndustr y reader s l ook for.

Know that the r ul es ar e di ffer ent for yo u than they ar e for


the bi g guys and gal s at the top. You have to wor k har de r for
a sm al l er chunk of a sm al l er pi e unti l you r each thei r l ofty
hei ghts. For get about c oll ec ti ng the big payday to wr i te the
re-b o o t of the rema ke of the Satur day m or ni ng car toon
based on the toy l i ne fr om the earl y 1960s that was i nspi r ed
by the hi t m o vi e fr om the m i d -1950s that was r eal l y just a
r etel l i ng of the c l assi c fol ktal e that desper atel y needs
updati ng for the Youtube gener ati on. They onl y gi ve those
jobs to the sam e batc h of hi gh -pr ofil e wri ter s i n town.

I n other wor ds, they alr ea dy have a bu nch of scri bes they
pay handsom el y to wr i te the sam e ol ’ schl ock . You have to
do better .

You have to gi ve them what they di dn’t know they needed.

I f you’r e ser i ous about your c r aft, and you’r e i n thi s for the
l ong haul , you’l l foc us on wr i ti ng the best sc r i pt you can, to
star t i m pr essi ng i ndustr y fol ks so you can get those m eeti ngs
and snag that r ep and sc r ape and c l aw your way towar d
actual l y m aki ng som e m oney at thi s nutso endeavor .

But i t has to get past that fi r st r eader i f i t’s goi ng anywher e.

I know, because I was a Seni or Stor y Anal yst who was gi ven
m ater i al fr om the top agents and pr oducer s wi th top actor s
attached. And i t wasn’t m y job to show defer ence to an
establ i shed pr o – I eval uated eac h sc r i pt on i ts own, as an
anonym ous pi ec e of wr i ti ng th at aspi r ed to be a m ovi e for
8

m y em pl oyer . I was ver y tough; i n fac t, I was once r efer r ed


to by a pr oduc er as “ That r eader that hates everythi ng. ”
( Whi ch wasn’t tr ue. By “ ever ythi ng ” he unwi tti ngl y meant
the m ul ti ple sc r i pts subm i tted by hi s com pany).

I ’ve r ead scr eenpl ays at ever y l evel of com petence and I ’ve
eval uated them for m ajor m ovi e c om pani es and I ’ve spent
m any year s wor ki ng wi th wr i ter s l i ke you to hel p shape your
m ater i al to m ake i t bl ow away pi c ky bastar ds l i ke m e.

And I ’m tel li ng you: i t c an’t j ust be “ good.” I t has to be


gr eat. Because al l that m atter s i s if that Rea der wants to
tur n the page at 3:00 a. m . That’s i t.

Your goal i s not to wr i te a sc r i pt li ke ever y other scr i pt i n


Hol l ywood or li ke the c ur r ent r ei gni ng box -offi ce cham p.
Your goal i s to i nc r ease your c hanc es of l aunching a
scr eenwr i ti ng c ar eer by fol l owi ng c er tai n establ ished nor m s,
pr ocedur es and tec hni ques that are used ever y day by
wor ki ng wri ter s i n the i ndustr y and to wr i te your butt off
unti l you’ve m aster ed these tec hni ques and pr oduced
som ethi ng that won’t just dr op thr ough the tr ansom but ki ck
the fr i ggi n’ door down . That’s i t.

You can spend year s wr i ti ng and pr oduci ng an avant -gar de


shor t fi l m that wi l l daz zl e fi l m festi val audiences i f that
m akes you happy. I f you enjoy bei ng cr eati ve i n a par ti cul ar
way, whatever your c hosen m edi um , then you shoul d do that
because i t keeps you happy and i t l ower s str ess l evel s. But i f
you’r e i nter ested i n wor ki ng as a c r eati ve pr ofessi onal i n the
m ovi e and tel evi si on i ndustr y, I suggest you study and
pr acti ce these tec hni ques. So what’s i n a tr ul y gr eat
scr eenpl ay? Her e’s a l i st of the m ajor attri butes. . .
9

TH E GR EAT SCR EEN PL AY ( i n no par ti c ul ar or der of


awesom eness) :
 Fantasti c CONCE P T

 COMME RCI AL appeal to a spec ifi c AUDI E NCE

 Str ong STORY E N G I NE S

 Fasci nati ng and l i keabl e P ROTAG ONI ST

 Uni que GOAL S

 ACTI VE DE CI SI ONS m ade by pr otagoni st

 E scal ati ng CONFL I CT and STAKE S

 Focused CONTROL L I NG THEME expr essed i n action

 Str ong Cl assi c al four -ac t STRUCTURE

 Fast P ACI NG

 Medi um L E NG TH ( 100 – 110 pages)

 G r eat OP E NI NG

 Str ong MI DPOI NT

 Ur gent tim e deadli ne: a “ CLOCK”

 G r eat, sati sfyi ng, i nevi tabl e CL IMAX

 P assi onate E XE CUTI ON wi th an effecti ve VOI CE

 L OW to mi d -r ange BUDG E T

 SP E CTACL E

E asy, huh? Jus t do al l of that and boom : a Cl assi c for the


ages. You’ve got Ri dl ey h ol di ng on l i ne thr ee.

Yes, your scr i pt i s so bad -ass you’ve got Ri dl ey ON HOL D.


10

Okay, you got m e: i t’s not qu i te that easy.

I n fact, each one of those c ategor ies i n the G r eat Scr eenpl ay
l i st r epr esents a great deal of study and pr acti ce. To tr ul y
under stan d eac h el ement star ts wi th the knowl edge and
m ethod outl i ned i n thi s book.

I t’s goi ng to be tough. I t’s goi ng to be r ough. But i t’s al so


goi ng to be exh i la ra ti ng .

Ready? G ood.

I m ean. . .G r eat!
11

THE CONCEPT
12

III. THE BIG IDEA

Your cl ever i dea i s not the on l y


thi ng that wi ll get you an opti on FROM THE
or sal e —you sti l l need top - TRENCHES:
qual i ty executi on —but i t m ay be
what gets your sc r i pt i n the door . GRAHAM YOST
I t’s okay to wr i te that mem oir
(Speed, Broken
about your sum m er wi th G r am Arrow, Band of
and G r am ps to get i t out of your Brothers,
system and l ear n the c r aft, but i f Justified)
you’r e l ooki ng to pr oduc e a m or e
com m er ci al spec sc r i pt, you want “Yo u 've g o t to b e
to com e up wi th a gr eat i dea that smart. Yo u can 't
r eal l y hooks som eone to thi nk , d el i ver o n si ze a n d
sco p e, so yo u
“ Now that’s a m ovi e I ’d pay to
n eed to d eli ver o n
see. ” Or even just , “ I need to
i n ten si ty. An d
r ead thi s to see how the wr i ter th at's w h at a fi l m
pul l s i t off.” l i ke T aken d o es. ”
I once attende d a sem i nar i n
whi ch a speaker sai d that you
shoul d onl y wr i te a sc r i pt that
you feel woul d appeal to at l east
one m i ll i on peopl e. I t was a good poi nt – if your concept
woul d onl y appeal to a ti ny fr i nge of an audience, then i t’s
pr obabl y not a c om m er c i al sc r i pt for the spec mar ket. Maybe
ski p i t and m ove on to a c onc ept wi th m or e br oad appeal , or
wr i te i t to pr oduc e as a sel f -fi nanc ed i ndi e fi lm ?

I hear the term “ The Bi g I dea” used m or e often these days


than the cl assi c term “ Hi gh Conc ept,” but they essen ti al l y
m ean the sam e thi ng: a stor y c onc ept that i s easi l y
under stood i n a few wor ds and i s undeni abl e i n its
com pel li ng cl ever ness.
13

The Bi g I dea i s. ..

 The fi r st and per haps the onl y thi ng that wi l l get your
scr i pt r ead i f you’r e a new and unpr oven wr i te r .

 A uni que take on a c omm er ci al l y pr oven genr e that no


one’s thought of yet .

 A new take on a uni ver sal them e or i dea that woul d


appeal to a br oad audi enc e ar ound the wor l d.

 Not just a str i ngi ng -together of fami l i ar el em ents


fr om other hi t m ovi es .

Wi th so m any fr anc hi se fi lm s and m ovi es based on pr evi ousl y


establ i shed m ater i al bei ng m ade, i t’s tougher now than ever
for you to sel l your ori gi nal spec sc r eenpl ay. But one thi ng
that hasn’t c hanged: the need for a Bi g I d ea !

Fr om Jeffr ey Katz enberg’s fam ous m em o fr om 1991:

“ In t he d izz yi ng w or l d of m ovi em aki ng, w e m ust not be


di st racted f rom o ne f undam enta l co nce pt: th e i dea i s
ki ng... If a m ovie be g i ns w it h a grea t, or ig i na l id ea, c ha nce s
are goo d it w i l l be succ essf ul, e ve n if it i s e xec ut ed o nl y
m argi na l l y w e l l. H ow e ve r if a f i lm begi ns w it h a f law ed
idea , it w i l l a lm ost certa i nl y f ai l, e ve n if it i s m ade w i t h “A ”
tale nt a nd m arketed to t he hi l t. ”

Com i ng fr om the studi o head who green -l i t P retty Wo man ,


Th e L i on Ki n g and Sh rek, I ’l l take that advi ce.

Katz enber g goes on to tal k about the ter m Hi gh Concept. . .

“’ H ig h C o ncept’ i s a usef ul , com ple x, t ho ug htf ul


enca p sulat io n of w hat w e sho uld al l be w ork i ng tow ard... It
em bel l ishe s t he co ncept t hat “t he i dea i s k i ng ” by a ssert i ng
that t he i dea t hat f orm s t he ba si s of a f i lm sho uld not o nl y
be o ne t hat i s com pe l l i ng b ut a l so o ne t ha t ca n be
comm unicated .

T he r ea l m ea ni ng of hig h co nc ept i s t hat i nge n uit y i s m ore


im porta nt t ha n prod uc t io n va l ue s. T hi s i s w hy w e sho ul d
14

const a nt l y be l ook i ng f or cr eat i ve so l ut io ns, no t f i na nc ia l


ones. ”

I al so l i ke the way i t’s defi ned by Jer r ol L eBar on, founder of


I nkti p. com :

“A hi g h co nce pt scr ipt sho uld ha ve a g reat t it l e, a stro ng


ho ok, a nd sho uld n' t ha ve a n o ver l y com p le x p l ot. In
addi t io n to t he se e lem ent s, if yo ur stor y ca nnot be
desc r ibed i n o ne short sim pl e se nte nce, it i s no t hi g h
conce pt.”

HOOK ME
Hi g h Co n cep t .. . Th e Bi g I d ea . .. whatever you cal l it, i t’s gotta
have a HOOK. A twi st on a fam il i ar or cl assi c
char acter / scenar i o.

Her e ar e thr ee r el ati vel y r ecent fi lm s that were sol d a s specs


or pi tches. E ac h one spor ts a ver y cl ear and dynam i c hook :

Armo red – When fi ve ar m ored guar ds r ob thei r own shi pm ent


of $8 m i ll i on and an i nnoc ent m an i s kil l ed, the rooki e i n the
bunch l ocks hi m sel f i n the arm or ed vehi cl e.. . wi th the m oney.

Th e Ha n go v er – A gr oup of guys wake up i n Vegas the


m or ni ng after their bac hel or par ty wi th no m emor y of the
ni ght befor e and the gr oom i s m i ssi ng.

No Stri n g s Atta ch ed ( Note: the scr i pt was or igi nal l y nam ed


F**kb u d di es , a ti tl e that ever yone i n town knew was not
r el easabl e but m ade sur e that ever yone i n town wanted to
r ead i t ! ) – A guy and a gi r l m ake a pact to use each other for
m eani ngl ess sex. . . until tr ue feel i ngs ar i se .

Take a l ook at John Hughes fi lm s for a bunch of fantasti c Bi g


I deas:

 Fi ve teens, al l str a nger s and fr om di ffer ent ci rcles,


spend a Satur day i n detenti on and bond as they battl e
thei r tyr anni c al sc hool pri nc i pal .
15

 A popul ar teenage ki d and hi s two fr i ends have the


ul ti m ate di tc h day fr om sc hool as they ar e stal ked by
the pr i nc i pal.

 Two teenage vi r gi ns c r eate a sexy wom an wi th thei r


com puter .

 A r ecentl y l ai d -off father m ust becom e a stay -at-


hom e dad whil e hi s wi fe joi ns the wor k force.

 Two str anger s get str anded dur i ng a bl iz z ar d and


m ust tr avel cr oss - c ountr y together by car to get hom e
for Chr i st m as.

 A young boy gets l eft behi nd by hi s fami l y and must


defend hi s house fr om two bur gl ar s.

Her e ar e som e Big I deas that we al l wi sh we could have


i nvented:

Sh a kesp ea re in Lo v e – A c om edi c “ re-wr i ti ng of hi stor y” i n


whi ch a young Wi l l i am Shakespear e i s i nspi r ed by hi s own
tor tur ed r om ance to wri te “ Rom eo and Jul i et ,” the m ost
fam ous fi cti onal r om anc e i n hi stor y.

Sl u md og Mi l li o na i re – A ki d who gr ew up i n extrem e pover ty


uses hi s m em or i es to answer the questi ons on the qui z show ,
“ Who Wants to Be A Mil l i ona i re?”

Mi n o ri ty Repo rt – The pol ic e offi c er who over sees the


depar tm ent that pr edi c ts futur e m ur der s m ust go on the r un
when the system pr edic ts he i s the next ki l l er .

Ra n so m – A father dec i des to offer the $1 m il l i on r ansom as


a bounty on the head of hi s s on’s ki dnapper s.

Th e Oth ers – A fam i l y pl agued by a haunted house tur n out


to be the ghosts haunti ng the real fam i l y that l i ves i n the
house.
16

E xtra ct – A guy stuc k i n a sexl ess m ar ri age hir es a young


gi gol o to seduc e hi s wi fe so he c an justi fy hi s own affa i r ,
gui l t-fr ee.

Her e ar e four high -c onc ept sc ri pts that sol d i n recent year s. . .

Swi n g l es – A “wi ngwom an” hel ps a guy pick up gi r l s i n bar s.

Bu ri ed – A m an i s bur i ed i n a c offi n wi th onl y hi s cel l phone.

Th e Da ys Befo re – A m an fr om the futur e keeps hoppi ng one


successi ve day i nto the past, desper ate to stop a vi ci ous r ace
of ti m e - tr avel i ng al i ens fr om wi pi ng out hum ani ty.

Al l i es Wi th Ben efi ts – The fem ale Pr esi dent of The Uni ted
States fal l s for her ol d c oll ege fl i ng, the new Pr im e Mi ni ster
of E ngl and.

PRE- EXISTING ELEMENTS AND ARCH ETYPES

Her e ar e som e m or e, but s ee i f you c an spot a patter n thi s


ti m e. ..

No tti n gh a m – A r e-i m agi ni ng of the Robi n Hood stor y tol d


fr om the per spec ti ve of the Sheri ff.

G o li a th – A r e-im agi ni ng of the Davi d and G ol i ath stor y as a n


acti on m ovi e that c r eates an expanded or i gi n of the gi ant
G ol i ath.

Th e Cu rse Of Med u sa – A r e -im agi ni ng of the m yth that


cr eates an expanded or i gi n stor y for Medusa the G or gon.

Sn o w Whi te And Th e Hu n tsma n – A r e -im agi ni ng of the stor y


of Snow Whi te i n whi c h the huntsm an sent to ki ll her
becom es her m entor.

Hyd e – A r e -im agi ni ng of the c l assi c stor y i n which an


al l egedl y r ehabi l i tated Dr . Jekyl l i s pul l ed out of pr i son to
hel p hunt a new m onster who seem s to be usi ng an i m pr oved
ver si on of the Hyde ser um .
17

Hol l ywood sur e l oves i ts r e -i m agi ni ngs, huh? They’r e al ways


l ooki ng for the new take on a cl assi c stor y, especi al l y when
i t’s i n the publ i c dom ai n l i ke m yths and fai r y tales. That
m eans they don’ t have to pay for the ri ghts.

The l esson her e i s that i t’s wi se to bui l d your concept fr om a


uni ver sal stor y – a m yth, fai r y tal e, hi stor i cal event, publ i c
fi gur e or pop c ul tur e arc hetype that i s known by m il l i ons.

Her e ar e thr ee dynam i c bi g i deas that hi nge on ver y


r ecogni z able el em ents. I ’m not sayi ng they’r e g rea t i deas—
to each hi s own —just that the hook s have a ver y hi gh
r ecogni ti on fac tor :

Ab ra h a m L i n co ln : Va mp i re Hun ter – When the mother of


futur e Uni ted States P resi dent Abr aham L i ncol n i s m ur dered
by a vam pir e, he begi ns a l i fel ong vendetta to r id the wor l d
of the hei nous c r eatures.

Ro u nd tab l e – Four m oder n -day kni ghts (i . e. , cel ebr i ti es, not
war r i or s) fi nd them sel ves c al l ed upon to save the pl anet
fr om an anci ent evi l for c e.

Co mi c Con – To save their bel oved nei ghbor hood com ic shop,
a Justi ce L eague of geeks m us t pl an and execute a dar i ng
hei st at Com i c -Con.

Execut ion -Dependent

Ther e ar e som e bi g i deas that ar e so quir ky and uni que, they


ar e sai d to be “ exec uti on -dependent.” I n other wor ds, i t’s a
gr eat i dea i f i t’s a gr eat sc r i pt, but a hor r i bl e i dea i f i t’s not.

For exam pl e :

Th e Bea v er – a m an wakes up wi th a beaver puppet fused


onto hi s hand and he begi ns to speak thr ough i t wi th a
Br i ti sh accent.

The scr eenpl ay for Th e Beav er i s qui te wel l -executed, but


consi der i ng the c onc ept i s ver y di ffi c ul t to comm uni cate
18

outsi de of the sc r eenpl ay , i t c oul d have been a di saster and


not sol d.

Char l i e Kaufm an ( Bein g Jo h n Mal ko vi ch , E tern a l Su n sh in e o f


th e Spo tl ess Mi nd , Sy n ecd o ch e, New Yo rk ) i s an exam pl e of a
wr i ter who c an deli ver som ethi ng wholl y ori gi nal and
downr i ght od d and have i t be c onsi der ed com mer ci al
because he’s a m ar quee nam e. For a new wr i ter , however ,
you don’t have a tr ac k r ec or d to l ean on and you just want to
get som eone to read your sc ri pt; thi s wi ll be m uch easi er if
ther e ar e some r ec ogni z abl e el em ents i n your l ogl i ne.
19

THE STRUCTURE
20

Definitio n of Story Maps

A Stor y Map i s a m ethod for str uc tur i ng a scr eenpl ay by


cr eati ng a si m pl e yet power ful outl i ne that contai ns the
bui l di ng bl oc ks of your c onc ept, c har acter s and pl ot: the
m ai n dr am ati c el ements and dr am ati c beats of the nar r ati ve
and the or der and desi r ed page r ange of those beats,
r egar dl ess of genr e.

95% of great m ovies foll ow the Story Map .

Honestl y, i f we’r e tal ki ng about c om mer ci al , wi de -r el ease


Hol l ywood m ovi es, I m i ght bum p that up to 100 %. I t’s r ar e to
fi nd one that doesn’t use a four ac t str uctur e with the
el em ents and pl ot beats desc r i bed bel ow.

Wi th that sai d, I ’d l i ke to i ssue a form al chal l enge: fi nd a


com m er ci al , narr ati ve featur e fil m to com e fr om a m ajor
studi o i n the past 10 year s that does n o t fol l ow the Stor y
Map. Em ai l m e your m ap for the fil m and I ’l l anal yz e i t; i f
you’r e r i ght, I ’l l pr i nt yo ur nam e and anal ysi s on m y bl og
( whi ch, as m any of you al r eady know, i s the equival ent of a
Kni ghthood i n the UK) . You m ay then bask i n the gl or y of
havi ng pr oved m e wr ong. I f you c an, that i s. Wi th that
gauntl et thr own, l et’s c onti nue.

I n the beat sheet of a Stor y Map, I defi ne each pl ot poi nt


down to the page . Bec ause that’s how the pr os do i t and
that’s exactl y what I was l ooki ng for as a r eader wor ki ng for
m ajor studi os and pr oduc ti on c om pani es. Bel i eve i t or not, i t
actual l y m atter ed to m e i f a sc r i pt’s I nci ti ng I ncident ( to be
defi ned soon) fel l on page 8 -10 r ather than 12 -13. I t m ade a
bi g di ffer enc e i n the pac i ng of the fi r st act , and i t showed
m e whether thi s was a wri ter wi th the di sci pl i ne to cut down
on “ setup” and suc k m e i n , or thi s was a wri ter who fai l ed to
r ecogni z e the urgenc y of a m ovi e narr ati ve and the i ntense
com peti ti on of the sc r i pt m ar ketpl ace. Wh ich wri ter woul d
you r ather be?
21

Form, Not Fo rmula

The Stor y Map i s not a for m ul a. I t i s a stor y str uctur e that i s


fol l owed by alm ost ever y popul ar Hol l ywood fi lm . I t does not
di ctate your c hoic es; i t onl y pr ovi des a fr am ewor k to hol d
your choi ces.

Thi s i s not a m ac hi ne for m aki ng “ c ooki e - cutter ” m ovi es;


unl ess you consi der Tra n sfo rmers, Si d ewa ys, Th e Ha ng o v er
and Fro z en Ri v er to be c ut fr om the sam e m ol d, because they
al l uti l iz e the Ful l Stor y Map.

E ven so, I know there wil l be doubter s out ther e.

I ’ve seen the m essage boar ds where an angr y, frustr ated


wr i ter i nevi tabl y bl am es the l ac k of i m agi nati on i n
Hol l ywood on str uc tur e par adigm s i n scr eenwri ting books. I
whol e -hear tedl y agr ee that the m ajor studi os and m any of
the i ndependents ar e putti ng way too m uch em phasi s on the
so-cal l ed “ fr anc hi se fi lm s” and pr e -exi sti ng source m ateri al
and not i nvesti ng enough i n or igi nal stor i es, but thi s has
nothi ng to do wi th a dear th of good wri ti ng or the r el i ance
on cl assi c str uc tur al form s. I t has to do wi th econom i cs and a
l ack of cr eat i ve vi si on at the m anagem ent l evel of cor por ate
m ovi e com pani es.

When usi ng the Stor y Map, t he sc r eenpl ay i s sti ll undeni abl y


your s, but i t now c om es wr apped i n the shi ny coati ng that
cover s pr etty m uc h al l m ajor studi o m ovi es and is r ecogni z ed
by ever y ag ent, m anager and pr oduc er i n the busi ness.

I n fact, I thi nk that i t shows mo re ski l l to wr i te a gr eat scri pt


wi thi n the confi nes of a cl assi c al l y str uctur e d, 110 page
for m at. You’r e not r e -i nventi ng the wheel , you’re bui l di ng
the best wheel that we’ve yet seen. Thi nk of i t like
ar chi tectur e – bui l di ng desi gns are l im i tless, but they al l
contai n wal l s, a r oof, an entr anc e and wi ndows. Cr afti ng a
bui l di ng that uses those nec essar y featur es doesn’t l i m i t
your desi gn, at al l . I t’s pr ec i sel y h o w the gi fted ar chi tects
thr oughout hi stor y have used those el em ents i n a new,
22

undeni abl y c r eati ve m anner that has di sti ngui shed geni uses
l i ke Fr ank Ll oyd Wr i ght, I. M. P ei and Fr ank G ehry.

But r i ght now, I guar antee you that ther e ar e sever al fil m
students ar ound the gl obe a ttem pti ng to cr eate a hybr i d
scr eenpl ay str uc tur e that c om bi nes standar d scri pt for m at
wi th the novel and poetr y . They’r e doi ng thi s befor e they
even under stand the fundam ental s of any of these for m s,
and they’r e wasti ng thei r ti m e.

Si m pl y put, i f you fol l ow the Stor y Map and execute an


acti ve stor y i n the pr oper page r anges, your scr ipt wi l l feel
l i ke a m oder n hi t m ovi e.
23

IV. THE “BASIC” STORY MA P

After year s of pr ofessi onal stor y anal ysi s, the St or y Map i s


the onl y m ethod of nar r ati ve c onstr ucti on and
deconstr ucti on that I use, and I bel i eve i t can find what i s
wor ki ng or n o t wor ki ng i n any for m ( scr eenpl ay, tel e pl ay,
novel , shor t stor y, etc . ) .

Have you ever had that exper i ence wher e you watch a fi lm or
r ead a stor y and som ethi ng i s “ wr ong ,” but you can’t put
your fi nger on i t? On the sur fac e, i t seem s to be wel l -
cr afted, but f or whatever r eason, you know the stor y took a
wr ong tur n or m ade a deci si on that di dn’t feel or gani c .

The stor y i s pr obabl y mi ssi ng one of the Basi c Stor y Map


el em ents, o r the el em ents d o not gener ate confli ct so the
dr am a i s not ther e. After al l , DRAMA = CONFL I CT, so we want
our Stor y Map to c r eate a c om busti bl e m i x.

The Basi c Stor y Map c om pi l es your m ai n dr am atic el em ents.


I n shor t, the Basi c Stor y Map outl i nes:

 The p r otagoni st

 The pr o tagoni st’s g oal s

 What keeps the pr otagoni st fr om r eachi ng the goal s

 What the stor y i s about

 How the pr otagoni st c hange s

 How the stor y ends

 How the stor y i s c aptur ed i n a si ngl e, dynam i c


sentenc e

Your enti r e narr ati ve fl ows fr om these bui l di ng bl ocks of


your stor y. Your m ai n thr oughli ne ( or stor y “ spine” ) usual l y
fl ows fr om your pr otagoni st’s pur sui t of hi s/her E xter nal
24

G oal . The openi ng and endi ng of your stor y and the ar c of


your pr otagoni st ar e often di c tated by your Them e. The
pr otagoni st’s di al ogue i s often i nfl uenced by thei r ski l l and
m i sbehavi or . The fasc i nati ng m yster y that the audi ence
hopes wi l l be sol ve d i s defi ned by the Centr al Dram ati c
Questi on. The l i st goes on.

The Basi c Stor y Map elem ents ar e vi tal and absol utel y cr uci al
to a n y stor y. Ofte n, a sc reenpl ay or fi lm does not wor k
because one or m or e of these vi tal el e ments i s m i ssi ng.

How m any tim es have we seen a br ai nl ess acti on or hor r or


m ovi e that just wasn’t a b ou t anythi ng? Ther e was not a cl ear
Them e to add c ohesi on to the var i ous set pi eces or
r esonance to the CG I sequenc es. How about a movi e wher e
the pr otagoni st i sn’t l i keabl e? Thi s c oul d be because they
have no I nter nal G oal to show the em oti onal si de of thei r
char acter . .. or m aybe their E xter nal G oal i s i nherentl y
i m m or al . .. or the antagoni st i s not di r ectl y i n confl i ct wi th
the pr otagoni st . E ver been si tti ng i n the theater, just wai ti ng
for the m ovi e to end? I t’s r ac i ng to the bi g cl im ax and you
just. . . don’t. . . c ar e. Thi s m ay be bec ause they al ready
answer ed the Centr al Dr am ati c Questi o n so there’s no
m yster y l eft to be sol ved.

To cr eate your Basi c Stor y Map, y ou m ust defi ne these


el em ents:

1) PROTAGON IST : The main chara cter ; age , o ccu pation ,


statu s
Skill : Wh at they ’re go od at

Misbehavior : A trait or quirk th at co nsisten tly


generates con flict
Flaw/Achil le s He el: Their weakness that cau ses
them to fail un til they are a ble to overcome it
25

2) EXTER NAL GOA L: The plo t goal/action goa l

3) I NTERNA L GOAL : The ch aracter g oal/emotional goal

4) MA IN DRA MATIC CO NFLICT : Wha t’s keepi ng them


from the goal/ the Antago ni st (villain)/ the major
problem

5) CONTROLLI NG THEM E : Wha t is this sto ry a bout? Wh at


are you saying? W hat idea is being explore d and
revealed?

6) CENTRA L DRAMATI C QU ESTION : The main question


the s tory seeks to answer/ the mys tery

7) ENDI NG: How the story comes to a climax an d the


resolution that follows

8) ARC : The cha nge your pr otago nist g oes th rough ( or


powerful realiza tion they come to) f r om s tar t to finish
of the s tory

I deal l y, these el em ents al l G E NE RATE CONFL I CT. No one


wants to wat c h a r om anc e wher ei n two l over s from the sam e
soci al cl ass m eet, fal l i n l ove, c our t one another wi th no
com pl i cati ons and get m ar r i ed. We want Ro meo & Ju l i et ,
wher e the two l o ver s c om e fr om war r i ng fami l i es. Or Ti tan i c,
wher e Rose i s weal thy and betr othed to a hor ri bl e m an i n
her own soci al c l ass but she fal l s i n l ove wi th Jack, a scr appy
vagabond wi th on l y 5 buc ks i n hi s poc ket. ( Oh, and the shi p
i s si nki ng so thei r dec i si ons l i ter al l y becom e a questi on of
l i fe and death.)

So thi nk about Confl i c t when you c onstr uct your m ai n


el em ents, and thi nk about what you want to say ( your
Them e) because you want these el ements to suppor t that
them e. Sl u mdo g Mi ll i on a i re i s about desti ny and fate, so the
stor y focuses on a near -i m possi bl e task: JAMAL , an
uneducated boy fr om the sl um s has a chance to wi n a m i l li on
26

dol l ar s on a quiz show an d wi n over a gi r l betr othed to a


m ur der ous gangster . S ee how he’s pul l ed between the two
wor l ds of hi s past and hi s futur e , pover ty and r iches? These
two pur sui ts ar e hi s E xter nal and I n ter nal G oal s.

What’ s standi ng i n Jam al ’s way? What’ s n o t standi ng i n hi s


way? I s i t hi s desti ny to wi n both the m oney and the gir l ?
Wel l , thi s i s Hol l ywood, so , um , yeah .

Br uce Wayne i s fac ed wi th an im possi bl e choi ce i n Th e Da rk


Kn i gh t. To stop the Joker fr om destr oyi ng G otham Ci ty, he
m ust ei ther ki l l hi m , whic h he has swor n not to do, or r eveal
hi s tr ue i denti ty as the Batm an, whi c h woul d destr oy Batm an
and r etur n G otham Ci ty to c r im i nal i nfestati on.

I n Ho w to L o se a Gu y i n 10 Da y s , a m agaz i ne colum ni st m ust


get a guy to dum p he r i n 10 days to m eet a deadl i ne. .. and
the guy m ust get her to fal l i n l ove wi th hi m i n 10 days to
wi n a l ucr ati ve ad ac c ount. Cl ear , opposi ng goals that
gener ate hi gh c onfl ic t.

I n Al i ce In Won d erl an d ( 2010) , Al i c e’s ski l l i s that she has a


wonder ful im agi nati on. Al l of the vil l ai ns i n the pi ece ar e
tr yi ng to har ness her i m agi nati on and subjugate her . Her
father , the onl y per son who enc our aged her im agi nati on,
di es and Al i ce bec om es a l one under dog i n search of her tr ue
sel f . I s she th e Al i c e fr om the pr ophec y ? She needs to deci de
at som e poi nt i n or der to r eali z e her desti ny. I n shor t, she
needs to take c ontr ol and gr ow up as thi s i s a com i ng -of-age
tal e – thi s i s r efl ec ted i n the r eal wor l d as she flees the
engagem ent c e r em ony that was thr ust upon her and then i n
the fantasy wor l d as she i s thr ust i nto the r ol e of savi or to
fi ght the ter r i bl e dr agon. As i n other “ pr ophecy/The O ne”
stor i es such as Th e Ma tri x , Un fo rg iv en and Sta r Wa rs E p i so d e
On e: Th e P h an to m Mena ce , her ar c i s to “ be come the m yth”
that has been for etol d about her. The seeds of thi s
tr ansfor m ati on m ust be i n the Basi c Stor y Map.

Her e’s a sam pl e fr om another stor y of a gi r l who needs to


gr ow up . ..
27

JUNO
Sc r eenpl ay wri tten by Di abl o Cody
101 pages

BASIC STORY MAP


PR OTAGON IST: JUNO MACG UFF, pr egnant teen gi r l

Skill: Sar c asti c

M isb eh a vior: Sm ar t m outh, bl eak outl ook

Flaw: Nai ve

EXTER N AL GOAL : To have the baby and gi ve i t to the L ori ngs.

IN TER N AL GOAL : To get together wi th P auli e.

M AIN DR AM ATIC CON FL ICT: Br en ( her step -m othe r ) and


Mar k L or i ng

TH EM E: Fi ndi ng and appr eci ati ng tr ue l ove

CEN TR AL DR AM ATIC QUESTION : Can Juno fi nd a happy hom e


for her bab y and get together wi th P aul ie?

TH E EN DIN G: Juno gi ves the baby to Vanessa L ori ng and gets


together wi th P aul i e.

AR C: Juno goes fr om a fri ghtened l oner to fi ndi ng tr ue l ove


wi th P aul i e.

LOGLIN E: A pr egnant teen m ust dec i de between gi vi ng her


baby to a n unstabl e yuppi e c oupl e or keep i ng i t wi th her
estr anged hi gh sc hool boyfri end.
28

I hi ghl y suggest you wri te down your Basi c Stor y Map and
have i t taped up besi de your c om puter ( or i n an open fi l e on
your com puter) for qui c k r efer enc e. I t m ay seem l i ke m any of
the above el em ents i n Jun o ar e si m pl e and obvi ous,
som ethi ng Di abl o Cody c oul d have easi l y kept i n m i nd as she
wr ote i t , but that ’s an assum pti on m ade a fter you’ve seen
the fi lm . For the wri ter wr i ti ng a sc r i pt for the fir st ti m e, or
even i n subsequent dr afts, i t c an onl y hel p to have a
constant r em i nder of the c ontr ol l i ng el em ents to execute the
best i nter pr etati on of the i ni ti al c onc ept.

For exam pl e, i f you’r e i n doubt as to the acti ons or di al ogue


of your pr otagoni st i n a gi ven sc ene, then go back to your
Them e and thei r E xter nal G oal. Ar e they expr essi ng the
them e by taki ng ac ti ons to pur sue their goal or is thi s scene
just fi l l e r ?

Bottom l i ne, y ou m ust defi ne your Basi c Stor y Map to wr i te a


FOCUSE D stor y. The goal i s a COHE SI VE stor y, wher e i n each
el em ent i s or gani c , gener ates c onfl ic t and advances the
stor y. We’l l l ook at m or e exam pl es of the Basi c Stor y Map i n
a bi t.

THE LOGLINE
The l ogl i ne i s the fi nal el em ent i n the Basi c Stor y Map. You
m ay cr eate your l ogl i ne befor e the other Basi c Stor y Map
el em ents or after . E i ther way, i t’s i nc r edi bl y im por tant.

Your l ogl i ne, essenti al l y your stor y i n appr oxim atel y 25


wor ds or l ess, showc a ses your uni que dr am ati c si tuati on,
your m ai n char ac ter and the c om pell i ng confl i ct that keeps
them fr om their goal.

Dr afti ng a str ong l ogli ne before you wr i te your scr eenpl ay


wi l l hel p you to “ fi nd” your stor y, especi al l y your
thr oughl i ne (m ai n l i ne of ac ti on, usual l y the pr otagoni st ’ s
pur sui t of thei r E xter nal G oal ) and your HOOK ( the uni que
twi st on the genr e or c l assi c ar c hetype that wi l l com pel
som eone to r ead the sc r i pt) .
29

A l ogl i ne i s al so used i n the i ndustr y for m ar keting pur poses


– to “ pi tch” your c om pl eted spec sc ri pt i n the hopes of
gai ni ng a submi ssi on r equest. I nstead of fi gur i ng out the
best l ogl i ne after you’r e done wi th the scri pt, you’r e goi ng
to BE GI N wi th c r afti ng a kic k -butt l ogli ne that sounds l i ke a
G RE AT STORY and a BI G I DE A that woul d gar ner r equests for
subm i ssi on .

By cr afti ng your l ogl i ne and showi ng i t to fri ends and tr usted


i ndustr y pr ofessi onal s for feedbac k befor e you star t wr i ti ng
scr i pt pages, you won’t fal l i nto the tr ap of spendi ng m onths
cr afti ng a scr eenpl ay that’s unfoc us ed, uncom mer ci al and
unwi el dy.

SEEDS OF TH E STOR Y

Fi r st and for em ost, the L ogli ne c om m uni cates the m ai n


“ stor y engi ne ” of the fi lm : what dri ves the nar r ati ve. E ach
act wi l l have i ts own speci fi c stor y engi ne, but your stor y
needs a m ai n th ro ug h li n e or sto ry sp in e to hol d it together
and on tr ack. For exam pl e. . .

A detective must find and capture a s erial killer.

A lovelorn woman must find a date for her si ster’s


wedding.

A child must escape a haunted house.

But that’s not enough. A gr eat l ogl i ne i s speci fic. A great


l ogl i ne captur es a fasc i nati ng m ai n c har acter i n onl y a few
wor ds.

The detec tive is a pe tite fe male trainee.

The lovelorn woman has written several books on ...love.

The child is blind.


30

A gr eat l ogl i ne showc ases a uni que HOOK: the speci al


el em ent/s that m ake your take on thi s m ater i al uni que. Thi nk
about what m akes your c onc ept. . .

 Rel evant to our ti m es

 A new take on a c l assi c stor y or pr oven genre

 A uni que and c ohesi ve m el di ng of fam il i ar el em ents

 A funny si tuati on

 An i m possi bl e yet c om pel li ng sce nari o

You m ay have hear d the term “ fam il i ar but di ffer ent. ” Thi s
can be an acc ur ate depic ti on of som e hi t m ovi es and a
hel pful term , but don’t fal l i nto the habi t of just pl ucki ng
el em ents fr om other m ovies i n a bi d to m ake your scr i pt
m or e “ comm er ci al .”

A g rea t i d ea i s c omm er ci al .

G rea t wri ti ng i s c om mer c i al .

A fresh h oo k i s c om m er c i al.

When I was wor ki ng as a r eader , I m ade a poi nt not to


appr oach a new sc ri pt l ooki ng for a r eason to say “ No. ” I was
l ooki ng for r easons to say “ Yes! ” I had to r ead so m uc h dr eck
that I was dyi ng to fi nd som ethi ng wi th a br il l i ant concept
and gr eat exec uti on. Th at’s why I l i ke to say. . .

CR AFT = CAR EER

The fi r st and m ost im por tant step to establ i shi ng a car eer i s
devel opi ng your sc r eenwr i ti ng cr aft. I n thi s age of pi tchfests ,
scr i pt contests and “ l ogl i ne bl ast ser vi ces” that convi nce a
l ot of new wr i ter s to star t m ar keti ng thei r wor k befor e i t’s
r eady, the one thi ng you c an tr ul y c ontr ol i s your cr aft, the
qual i ty of your wor k.
31

And as you pr ac ti c e your exec uti on on the page, your i deas


wi l l al so i m pr ove si nc e you wi l l be devel opi ng your abi l i ty to
choose the m ost dynam i c c onc ept out of a batch of i deas.

After al l , y ou don’t know i f those c ontacts you m ade at that


fi l m festi val wil l ac tual l y hel p your c ar eer. You never know
how l ong i t wi l l take an agent or exec uti ve to r ead your
scr i pt or if they’l l even bother to r etur n a r esponse. You
can’t pr edi ct how anyone wi l l r eac t to your m ater i al . Al l of
thi s i s com pl etel y out of your c ontr ol.

Al l you can do i s wr i te the best sc r i pt you can wr i te. And i t


al l begi ns wi th your l ogl i ne, whic h you want to leap out at
the Reader so they say “ Now tha t woul d m ake a gr eat m ovi e”
or “ Why di dn’t I thi nk of that?” Somethi ng l i ke . ..

An obsessive -compulsive, homophobic novelist mus t help


his gay a rtist neighbor in order to win over the single
mother he secre tly loves. [22 w ords]

A failed child psychologist must help a young boy who is


haunted by ghosts. [14 wor ds]

A washed -up boxer from South Philly gets a s hot at a


title fight against the heavywei ght champion of the
world. [21 words ]

A female FBI trainee must enlist the aid of a brilliant,


imprisoned serial killer to catch another ser ial killer -at-
large. [21 word s]

I l i st the num ber of wor ds i n those sentences so you can see


how m any dr am ati c el eme nts you c an fi t i nto such a shor t
l i ne.

Som e of you m ay thi nk you need m or e wor ds to captur e your


stor y, or you don’t under stand the tr ue focus and pur pose of
the l ogl i ne so you wr i te a 3 -l i ne, 55-wor d l ogl i ne. I ’m sor r y
to br eak i t to thee, ki ndl y sc r een wr i ter , but nay, your scr i pt
i s n o t the r ar e sc r i pt that DE MANDS that m any wor ds! Sti ck
32

to 20-30 wor ds and you’l l soon fi nd out i f your concept i s


cl ear and conc i se.

And you’l l noti c e that I don’t gi ve away the endings i n these


l ogl i nes. I pr efer a l ogli ne that hooks m e i n wi th the pr omi se
of an i nter esti ng her o, a dr am ati c si tuati on i njected wi th
hi gh stakes and a m yster y that I want to see sol ved. I n shor t,
i t ma kes me wan t to rea d th e scri p t .

WHAT’S THE STORY?


The L ogl i ne’s goal i s to get som eone to r ead the scr i pt .
That’ s i t.

The L ogl i ne foc uses on the stor y , not on genr e, m ar keti ng or


box-offi ce.

A l ogl i ne i s NOT a tagli ne. A t agl i ne i s adver ti si ng copy used


to sel l a m ovi e, for exam pl e .. .

No one in space can hear you scream.

Truth has a soldier.

This summer , s tuff blows up.

You don’t want to tel l them how to sel l your m ovi e. You’r e
the wr i ter , you ar e no t the m ar keti ng depar tm ent. Towar d
thi s end, don’t m enti on other m ovi es i n your l ogl i ne; agai n,
sti ck to your stor y.

For the r ecor d, I thi nk i t’s okay to m enti on other fi lm s i n a


cover l etter but I ’d avoi d them i n a l ogl i ne. I t’s fi ne to
m enti on i n a c onver sati on or i n an em ail that your scr i pt’s
tone i s r emi ni sc ent of Cra sh , or i t c oul d be descr i bed as “ The
Si xth Sense m eets The Dar k Kni ght” i f a) your
descr i pti on/ m ovi e m ash- up m akes sense ( thi s exam pl e does
not) and b) you have al r eady c omm uni cated your com pel l i ng
l ogl i ne , whi ch wi ll show them the cr uci al detai l s of the stor y.
33

I f you’r e just star ti ng your scr eenpl ay, I woul d suggest you
cr aft a str ong l ogl i ne FI RST, m ake sur e i t pops, then bui l d
your stor y to r eflec t i t. And i f you’r e r ewr i ti ng a com pl eted
dr aft, then I suggest you al so cr aft a str onger l ogl i ne and
r ewr i te your stor y to fi t thi s l ogli ne. Thi s wi l l for ce you to
use an acti ve str uc tur e.

LET’S DO IT
Ther e i s m or e than one tem pl ate for a successful l ogli ne, but
I use the foll owi ng basi c c onstr uc ti on:

An engaging protagonist must s truggle against


tremendous odds to achieve his/her goal.

I n that sentenc e you have m any of the Basi c Stor y Map


el em ents: what m akes the m ai n c har acter uni que ( en ga gi n g
p ro ta go n i st ) , what i s for c i ng them to act and how they take
acti on ( mu st stru g g l e) , the m ai n dr am ati c confl ict they
str uggl e agai nst ( tremen do u s o d d s ) , and what they w ant
( g o al ) .

Agai n, you can dr aft your l ogli ne after you wri te your Basi c
Stor y Map or shape your Basi c Stor y Map to r eflect your
l ogl i ne. I t’s up to you.

Thi s constr uc ti on em phasi z es that your pr otagoni st i s taki ng


acti on – they are pushi ng the stor y for war d wi th thei r acti ve
str uggl e aga i nst esc al ati ng c onfl ic t. Your her o shoul d be the
subject of the sentenc e. You don’t want to cr aft a l ogl i ne i n
whi ch the subjec t i s an event, the vi ll ai n or your them e. For
exam pl e, her e’s som e hypotheti c al weak l ogli nes for m ovi es
wi th str ong c onc epts. . .

An alien invasion takes Earth by surprise and they mus t


fight back. (Independence Day?)

Darth Vader chases a band of adventurers led by Luke


Skywalker who wants to protect s ecret plans for the
Death Star from the evil Empire. (Star Wars? )
34

A story about wh at happens when a loser gets a


successful, beautiful woman pregnant. (Knocked Up?)

None of these l ogli nes ar e spec i fi c , ac ti vel y str uctur ed or tel l


us what i s uni que about the pr otagoni st . The fi rst two have
pr onoun -ver b agr eem ent pr obl em s so they ar e just pl ai n
confusi ng.

I t’s i m por tant to str uc tur e your l ogli ne ar ound an acti ve


pr otagoni st. Stor i es wi th passi ve pr otagoni sts, who do not
take acti on but r ather r eac t to exter nal confl i ct, ar e ver y
di ffi cul t to tel l suc c essful l y and often end up as unsati sfyi ng
exper i ence s for the r eader and audi ence. They ar e a fr equent
begi nner m i stake, m ost often c ontai n num er ous stor y
pr obl em s and they ar e not advi sed for the new wr i ter .

THE GENRE

I suggest that you list t he genre above your logline


so the othe r party is c lear on w hat kind of mov ie
this is. In many cases , a concept can be interpre ted
in diffe rent ways, so it he lps to k now t he genre as
you read the logline.
I t’s al ways best to er r on the si de of cl ar i ty – don’t assum e
they know or under stand anythi ng about y our stor y. I t’s not
al ways as cl ear as you m ay thi nk (whi ch i s why i t’s so
i m por tant to get objec ti ve opi ni ons on your l ogl ine as wel l
as your scr eenpl ay) .

For exam pl e, i f the ti tl e i s Cerea l Ki ll er , we’r e pretty sur e i t’s


a com edy. But if i t’s Seri a l Ki l l er, i t c oul d go m ulti pl e ways :

SE RI AL KI L LE R
Thrille r
When a r uthl ess ki l l er begi ns to m ur der peopl e in a sm al l
town, a paper boy r eal iz es the vi c ti m s ar e al l on hi s r oute and
he’s the onl y one who c an stop him .
35

SE RI AL KI L LE R
Come dy
When a r uthl ess ki l l er begi ns to m ur der peopl e in a sm al l
town, a paper boy r eal iz es the vi c ti m s ar e al l on hi s r oute and
he’s the onl y one who c an stop him !

I t’s not the best wor ded l ogli ne , but i t’s just an exam pl e of
how the sam e pi tc h c an be c onstr ued i n di fferent ways . The
fi r st one coul d be a thri l l er fr om the Coen b r other s, and the
second one c oul d be a sati r e fr om the Far r ell y br other s .
( E i ther way, i t’s appar ent that the fi lm m ust be di r ected by
si bl i ngs! )

SAMPLE BASIC STORY MAPS


Her e’s a sam pl e Basi c Stor y Map for the dr am atic com edy As
G o od a s i t G ets , whi c h uses the devi ce of the “ Fal se G oal ” as
thi s i s a pr otagoni st who doesn’t know w hat’s good for him ;
Mel vi n Udall ( Jac k Ni c hol son) does not r eali z e that he i s i n
fact on a ri ghteous path towar d im pr ovi ng hi s li fe. ( As
opposed to , say , a r evenge stor y li ke G l ad i a to r (see bel ow)
wher e Maxim us em bar ks on a r ighteous quest , a nd hi s
i ntenti ons ar e never questi oned. )

AS GOOD AS IT GETS
wr i tten by Mar k Andr us and Jam es L. Br ooks
B ASIC STOR Y M AP:

PR OTAGON IST: MEL VI N UDAL L , 50s, shut- i n weal thy novel i st


i n NYC

Skill: Hi s bi ti ng and ter ri bl e wi t


M isb eh a vior: r ac i st/sexi st/hom ophobi c/obse ssi v e -
com pul si ve
Ac h illes H eel : He has a soft hear t deep down

FALSE GOAL: To i sol ate hi m sel f


36

EXTER N AL GOAL : To bel i ttl e Si m on / To m ake fr iends w i th


hi m

IN TER N AL GOAL : To use Car ol / To wi n over Car ol as a


gi r l fr i end

( note: The sl ash i n the E xter nal and I nter nal G oal s
r epr esents the Mi dpoi nt, whi c h i n thi s case i s the tr ansi ti on
fr om Fal se G oal to Tr ue G oal. )

M AIN DR AM ATIC CON FL ICT: Mel vi n’s pessi m i sm

TH EM E: Don’t l et pessi mi sm r ul e you.

CEN TR AL DR AM ATIC QUESTION : Wi l l Mel vi n accept hi s gay


nei ghbor and get together wi th Car ol ? (I n essence, can he
achi eve hum an i ntim ac y? )

EN DIN G: Mel vi n offer s Sim on hi s hom e and takes hi s advi ce


to pur sue Car ol -- he goes to Car ol and they get together .

AR C: Mel vi n goes fr om i sol ati oni st jer k to fri end and l over ,
l ear ni ng that to r ec ei ve happi ness and suppor t he m ust fir st
gi ve of hi m sel f.

LOGLIN E: An obsessi ve -c om pul si ve, hom ophobi c novel i st


m ust hel p hi s gay ar ti st nei ghbor i n or der to wi n over the
si ngl e m other he sec retl y l oves.

Fr om the above, we c an see the foundati on of the g ener al


str uctur e of the stor y: Mel vi n c onsc i ousl y pushes towar d
i sol ati ng hi m sel f thr ough sel fi sh ac ti ons , whi l e unconsci ousl y
br i ngi ng hi m c l oser to ot her s.

Her e’s a sl i ghtl y m or e str ai ghtfor war d set of el em ents for


the per i od ac ti on r evenge pi c ture G l ad i a to r. Note how ther e
ar e two m ajor them es her e, both of which com e to fr ui ti on
i n the endi ng. Al so, Maxi m us does not go thr ough m uch
i nter nal ch ange i n the c our se of the stor y; thus, ther e i s a
huge exter nal c hange: he dies and Rom e i s r eturned to a
r epubl i c.
37

GLADIATOR
Sc r eenpl ay by Davi d Fr anz oni , John L ogan
and Wi l l i am Ni chol son
B ASIC STOR Y M AP

PR OTAGON IST : MAXI MUS , 40s, Rom an gener al , lovi ng father

Skill: G r eat war ri or

M isb eh a vior: Di sr espec t for pol i ti ci ans

Ac h illes H eel : I m pul si ve

EXTER N AL GOAL : To get r eveng e on Com m odus, the young


Caesar

IN TER N AL GOAL : To "go hom e"/ac hieve spi r i tual peace

TH EM ES: The afterl i fe ( l i vi ng wi th honor ) / Republ i c vs.


Autocr acy

M AIN DR AM ATIC CON FL ICT: Com m odus

EN DIN G: Maxi m us kil l s Comm odus i n a gl adi ator battl e


befor e he di es fr om bl ood l oss, asc endi ng to heaven. Rome i s
r estor ed to a r epubli c .

CEN TR AL DR AM ATIC QUESTION : Wi l l Maxi m us defeat


Com m odus and ac hi eve peac e i n hi s soul ?
AR C: Maxi m us goes fr om a c elebr ated Rom an gener al to a
sl ave to an honor abl e death, joi ni ng hi s fami l y in heaven.

LOGLIN E: When a Rom an gener al ’s fami l y i s m urder ed and he


i s m ade a sl ave after a c oup, he m ust sur vi ve brutal gl adi ator
m atches i n or der to get r evenge on the young Em per or .

I n the com edy Th e Ha ng o v er , ther e ar e thr ee m ai n


char acter s, but m y c hoi c e for the P r otagoni st woul d be the
one who goes thr ough the m ost c hange: Stu, pl ayed by E d
Hel m s.
38

TH E H ANGOVER
Wr i tten by Jo n L ucas & Scott Moor e
B ASIC STOR Y M AP

PR OTAGON IST: STU, denti st

M isb eh a vior: Constantl y wor r i ed and al ways sees the


wor st

Skill: Ni c e guy

Flaw/ Ac h ill e s H eel: He's a wi m p

EXTER N AL GOAL : To fi nd Doug ( the gr oom )

IN TER N AL GOAL : To dum p hi s awful gi r l fr i end Me l i ssa

M AIN DR AM ATIC CON FL ICT : Thei r m em or y l oss and pr evi ous


ni ght’s anti cs

TH EM E: L oyal ty and Tr ue Fri endshi p

CEN TR AL DR AM ATIC QUESTION : Can the guys fi nd Doug i n


ti m e for the weddi ng , and c an Stu fi nd l ove?

EN DIN G : Stu br eaks up wi th Meli ssa at the weddi ng , and the


guys l ook at photos fr om the weekend.

AR C: Stu goes fr om a wi m py vi c tim to a take -char ge guy wi th


a pr om i si ng r om antic li fe.

LOGLIN E: A gr oup of fri ends wi th no m em or y of thei r sor di d


bachel or par ty m ust pi ec e together the events of the ni ght
to fi nd the m i ssi ng gr oom befor e the weddi ng the next day.
39

V. MORE ON THE BASIC STORY MAP WITH EXAMPLES

L et’s r evi ew the Basi c St or y Map el ements i n m or e detai l


wi th exam pl es fr om fi ve c l assi c fi lm s ; som e ar e obvi ous,
other s, unconventi onal .

1) PROTAGO NIST:
The m ai n char ac ter ; age, oc c upati on, status
Skill : What they’r e good at
I n d ia na Jon es ( Rai der s of the L ost Ar k) :
Ad v en tu rer a nd Arch a eo lo gi st
Wi l l Hun ti ng (G ood Wi ll Hunti ng) : Ma th g eni u s
Cl a ri ce Sta rl i ng ( The Sil ence of the L am bs) :
Detecti v e ski l l s
Fra n ki e Dun n ( Mi ll i on Dol l ar Baby) : Bo xin g
tra i n i ng
G reg Fo cker ( Meet The P ar ents) : Ki nd n ess
M isb eh a vior : A tr ai t or qui r k that consi stentl y
gener ates c onfl i c t
I n d ia na Jon es: I mp u l siv e
Wi l l Hun ti ng : Bad temp er
Cl a ri ce Sta rl i ng : I mpu l si v e a nd P eti te
Fra n ki e Dun n : Afra id to ta ke a ri sk
G reg Fo cker : L y i ng
Flaw/ Ac h ill es H eel : Thei r weakness that m akes them
fai l unti l they ar e abl e to over come i t
I n d ia na Jon es: A fra i d o f sna kes
Wi l l Hun ti ng : Fea r o f l eav i ng h i s ol d i d en ti ty
Cl a ri ce Sta rl i ng : Amb i tio n
Fra n ki e Dun n : Need s a d au g h ter to lo v e
40

G reg Fo cker : Need s to pl ea se h i s fa th er -i n -la w

2) EXT ERNAL G OAL:


The pl ot goal /ac ti on goal , often gener ates the mai n
thr oughl i ne or “ spi ne” of the stor y
I n d ia na Jon es: To reco v er th e a rk.
Wi l l Hun ti ng : To co mpl ete hi s req u i red t h era p y
sessi o n s.
Cl a ri ce Sta rl i ng : To ca tch Bu ffa l o Bi ll .
Fra n ki e Dun n : To tra i n a cha mp io n .
G reg Fo cker: To wi n o v er h i s fa th er - i n -la w,
Ja ck

3) INTER NAL GOA L:


The char acter goal /em oti onal goal ; often the l ove i nter est,
centr al r el ati onshi p or per sonal pr obl em that they m ust
over com e
I n d ia na Jon es: To su p po rt an d p ro tect Ma ri on .
Wi l l Hun ti ng : To b e ho n est wi th h i s gi rl fri en d ,
Sky l a r.
Cl a ri ce Sta rl i ng : To g et ou t of h er fa th er’s
sh a d o w.
Fra n ki e Dun n : To su p po rt an d p ro tect Ma gg i e .
G reg Fo cker: To p ro po se to P a m.

4) MAIN DRAMATI C C ON F LI CT:


What’ s keepi ng them fr om the goal / the Antagoni st ( vi l l ai n) /
the m ajor pr obl em
Rai der s of the L ost Ar k: Bel lo q /Th e Naz i ’s
G ood Wi l l Hunti ng: Sean , h i s th erap i st
The Si l enc e of the L am bs: Ha n ni b al L ecter
Mi l l i on Dol l ar Baby : Mag gi e
41

Meet The P ar ents: Ja ck

5) CONTRO LLING THEME :


What i s thi s stor y about? What ar e you sayi ng? What i dea i s
bei ng expl or ed and r eveal ed?
Rai der s of the L ost Ar k: Resp ect fo r th e
su p ern a tu ra l
G ood Wi l l Hunti ng: E mb ra ce you r tru e sel f
The Si l enc e of t he L am bs: Tra n sfo rma ti o n a nd
G en d er
Mi l l i on Dol l ar Baby: Seco nd Cha n ces
Meet The P ar ents: Tru st

6) CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTIO N:


The m ai n que sti on the stor y seeks to answer ; the centr al
m yster y ; often the sam e as the E xter nal G oal
Rai der s of the L ost Ar k: Ca n In d y reco v er th e
a rk fro m th e Na z i ’s?
G ood Wi l l Hunti ng: Wi l l Wi l l Hun ti ng emb ra ce
h i s g ifts a nd esca p e h i s d ea d -en d exi sten ce ?
The Si l enc e of the L am bs: Ca n Cl a ri ce co nv i n ce
L ecter to h el p h er ca tch Bu ffal o Bi ll ?
Mi l l i on Dol l ar Baby: Can Fra n ki e tra i n Mag g i e
i n to a cha mp io n ?
Me et The P ar ents: Wi l l G reg g ai n Ja ck’s tru st
a n d a sk Pa m to ma rry h i m?
42

7) END ING:
How the stor y c om es to a c l im ax and the r esol uti on that
fol l ows
Rai der s of the L ost Ar k: Th e a rk i s o p en ed a nd
I n d y cl o ses h i s ey es, ou t o f resp ec t fo r th e
su p ern a tu ra l po wer o f th e a rk, sa v i n g h i msel f
a n d Ma rio n .
G ood Wi l l Hunti ng: Wi l l l eav es to fi nd Skyla r
a n d sta rt a n ew li fe in Ca l i fo rn i a.
The Si l enc e of the L am bs: Cl a ri ce ca tch es
Bu ffal o Bi l l on h er o wn.
Mi l l i on Dol l ar Baby: Fra n ki e ma kes th e h ea rt -
wren ch i n g d eci si o n to ta ke Ma g gi e o ff li fe
su p p o rt.
Meet The P ar ents: G reg pa sses Ja ck’ s l i e -
d etecto r test a n d p ro po ses to Pa m.
8) AR C:
The change your pr otagoni st goes thr ough ( or power ful
r eal i z ati on they c ome to) fr om star t to fi ni sh of the stor y
I n d ia na Jon es: I n dy go es fro m a lo n e, jad ed
a th ei st to a l o vi ng bo y fri end a n d b eli ev er.
Wi l l Hun ti ng : Wi l l go es fro m an a ng ry, v i o l en t
g en i u s try in g h a rd to ma in ta in hi s th i ck,
emo ti o na l a rmo r to fo rg i vi ng hi msel f an d
mo v i ng o n wi th h i s li fe.
Cl a ri ce Sta rl i ng : Cla ri ce g o es fro m a tra in ee to
a Fed era l Ag en t .
Fra n ki e Dun n : Fra n ki e go es fro m a fai l ed
fa th er an d trai n er to a l o vi ng fa th er a nd
tra i n er ma ki ng th e u l ti ma te sa cri fi ce fo r h i s
a d op ted d au g h ter, Mag g i e.
G reg Fo cker: G reg go es fro m b ei ng su bo rd in a te
to Ja ck to b ei ng h i s resp ected so n -in -la w.
43

FROM THE TRENCHES :


THE SIXTH SENSE AND JOE ROTH
Back i n the day, I wr ote c over age on the submi ssi on dr aft of
Th e Si xth Sen se by M. Ni ght Shyam al an the night befor e i t
sol d i n a $3 mi l l i on + deal . I was ver y im pr essed wi th the
scr i pt, but i t was a str ange m i x of fami l y dr am a and gor y
hor r or . Thi s dr aft was al so too l ong, c omi ng i n at 126 pages.
My em pl oyer di dn't end up buyi n g i t, but thei r par ent
com pany, Di sney, headed by Joe Roth, di d.

My notes m ade two key suggest i ons. . .


 Tr i m ! Needs c utti ng, espec i al l y subpl ots l i ke the ol d
m an.
 Too gor y. Need s to fi nd the ri ght bal ance of horror
and dr am a.

The fi ni shed fi lm c am e i n at 100 mi nutes, the ol d m an


subpl ot was gone and the gor e was di al ed down. They had
i m pl em ented all of m y suggesti ons. ( They m ust have r ead m y
cover age , r i ght ? That’s the onl y expl anati on! )

Year s l ater , I m et Joe Roth, who gr eenl i t the fi lm . He


confi r m ed that they c hose to shoot the entir e spec dr aft,
r ather than tr im the sc r i pt befor e pr oducti on, but i t becam e
appar ent i n the edi ti ng r oom that c er tai n scenes needed to
go. They al so m ade i t m or e pal atabl e for a br oad aud i ence,
taki ng i t fr om an expec ted R r ati ng to a PG -13.

The m or al of the stor y i s twofol d:

1. List en t o yo u r read ers ! You c an’t i gnore ever y note


you get, espec i al l y when ther e’s a consensus.

2. Get it righ t t h e firs t t ime! What's not wor ki ng on the


page won't wor k l ater on the screen. Tr im i t now and
save m i l li ons! You c an keep i t l ean, m ean and focused
by uti l i zi ng the power ful tool known as. . .
44

VI. THE “FULL” STORY MA P

The Ful l Stor y Map i s the addi ti on of your pl ot to the Basi c


Stor y Map. You wi ll wri te four Stor y E ngi nes, 10 m ajor
“ beats” and a c om pl ete Sc ene L i st to fi ni sh the Ful l Stor y
Map i n pr epar ati on of wr i ti ng pr oper l y -for m atted sc r eenpl ay
pages.

The Ful l Stor y Map i s the c om pl ete m eta -str uctur e of your
scr eenpl ay and the i m por tanc e of i t c annot be
over em phasi z ed. I f Them e i s the WHY you tel l the stor y,
Str uctur e i s HOW you tel l i t. Str uc ture needs to be str ong,
and ther e i s a defi ni te benc hm ar k for i t.

About 95% of m ovi es fal l i nto a Cl assi cal Thr ee -Act


Restor ati ve Str uc tur e . I n ver y si m pl e term s, Beginni ng,
Mi ddl e, E nd, or Setup, Confl i c t, Resol uti on. These pr i nci pl es
wer e fir st wr i tten about by Ar i stotl e i n appr oxim atel y 350
B. C. , and they have stood the test of tim e. I won’t bother to
go i nto m or e detai l about the ori gi n of thi s dr amati c
str uctur e – ther e ar e other books that detai l this fasci nati ng
l i neage – al l that m atter s now i s that thi s i s undeni abl y the
accepted form used today i n m ost fi lm s. I t’s a pr oven,
effecti ve way to tel l a stor y , and al l of us unconsci ousl y l ook
for thi s str uc tur i ng i n the fi lm s and TV shows we watch.

Resto ra ti v e means that the stor y r eac hes a r estor ati on of


or der by the end of the tal e. An or der i s establ i shed at the
begi nni ng, that or der i s thr own i nto c haos, a str uggl e ensues
i n whi ch a per son m akes dec i si ons i n r esponse to confl i ct,
and eventual l y a new r estor ati on of or der i s establ i shed.

E ven after year s of study , I c an’t suc c i nctl y say wh y thi s


str uc tur e wor ks. I t just does. Ther e c an be no doubt i f you
just watch sever al c omm erc i al featur e fi l m s and com par e
thei r pl ot str uc tur e to the Full Stor y Map. I bel i eve you’r e
goi ng to fi nd that m ost of your favor i te m ovi es. .. e ver y top
box-offi ce wi nner. . . ever y Osc ar nomi nated fi lm ... m ost
i ndependent m ovi es wi th nam e ac tor s. . . yep, they al l have
45

the sam e basi c str uc tur e of stor y beats wi th an uncanni l y


si m i l ar pl acement i n the r unni ng tim e of the m ovi e.

Si nce thi s form i s so cl assi c and pr oven, i t stands to r eas on


that your scr eenpl ay shoul d refl ec t thi s str ucture .

I t i s i nter esti ng to note that even when a scr eenpl ay for a


pr oduced fi lm i s not wr i tten exac tl y to these page poi nts,
the r esul ti ng FIL M I S CUT to these exact speci fi cati ons
( substi tuti ng m i nutes for pages, usi ng the o n e pa g e = on e
mi n u te o f screen ti me r ul e) .

An exam pl e of wher e these signpost beats fal l i n a m ovie ( by


m i nutes) and i n a sc r i pt ( by pages) woul d be on
m i nute/page : 1, 10, 20 , 27, 40 , 45 , 55, 6 0, 75 , 8 7, 100 , 108.
I ’ve seen countl ess m ovi es and read c ountl ess scr i pts wi th
m ajor beats that fal l on or i n extr em el y cl ose r ange of these
m i nutes/pages.

I al r eady m enti oned the exam ple of how the screenpl ay for
Th e Si xth Sen se was c ut down by 30 pages/m i nutes. Ju n o i s
another exam pl e. The sc r i pt for Ju no that I r eference i n thi s
book was sent out to m em ber s of the Academ y for Oscar
consi der ati on – i t's c l ear that i t’s been tr imm ed to r efl ect
the fi lm , a s ther e ar e sever al m ar ker s i n the script for
“ Om i tted Scene,” m eani ng that the or i gi nal scri pt was
l onger . The “ fat” i n the sc r i pt was ei ther cut befor e
pr oducti on or was shot and l eft on the cutti ng room fl oor .

You m ay l ook at these exam pl es and ask “ So why can’t I


wr i te a l onger scr i pt as they’l l expec t to m ake cuts?” My
opi ni on i s that new wr i ter s c an’t affor d to over -wr i te. Your
scr i pt m ust be ti ght , and i t m ust feel exactl y li ke a m ovie
that coul d pl ay i n the theater s thi s weekend. That m eans a
l ean, 100 -11 0 page, fast - pac ed sam pl e of confi dent
stor ytel l i ng.
46

THREE ACTS = FOUR ACTS


Not to confu se you, but I separ ate the second act i nto two
par ts so i t ac tual l y bec om es a FOUR -ACT STRUCT URE .

The Mi dpoi nt beat ( dead c enter i n your scr i pt) i s so cr uci al


that i t separ ates the sec ond ac t i nto two di sti nct hal ves that
we’l l cal l Act Two -A and Ac t Two - B. You’ve pr obabl y hear d of
the dr eaded term “ Ac t Two pr obl em s,” or per haps you’ve
hear d the m axi m “ Ac t Two i s wher e scr eenwr i ters go to di e”
( I m i ght have m ade that one up, c an’t r em em ber) . Thi s i s
pr i m ari l y bec ause i t’s so l o n gg gg that i t’s easy to l ose
m om entum i f you don’t have str ong stor y engi nes and
si gnpost beats. I t’s m uc h easi er to wor k wi th i f you br eak i t
down i nto two hal ves.

L et’s l ook at the func ti ons and pr ogr essi on of the four basi c
acts fr om a bi g -pi c tur e per spec ti ve :

ACT ON E establ i shes th e or der , the pr otagoni st , the m ajor


them e and the pr otagoni st’s goal ( s) . A m ajor dr am ati c
confl i ct thr ows the or der i nto c haos and thr eatens the goal ,
and he/she m eets a dynam ic c har ac ter to escal ate confl i ct
and take them on a jour ney whic h appear s to hav e ser i ous
consequences. An unfor eseen event cr eates a tur n i n
di r ecti on on the pr otagoni st’s jour ney, and they m ust m ake a
deci si on i n the fac e of i nc reased stakes to em bar k on thi s
new jour ney . The antagoni st i s i ntr oduced.

ACT TWO-A: The pr otagoni st take s c ontr ol i n pur sui t of


hi s/her cl ear l y defi ned goal i n opposi ti on of the antagoni st,
acti ng agai nst c onfli c t. P r otagoni st m akes all i es and
over com e s tr i al s. A di saster oc c ur s and thi ngs star t to fal l
apar t and thei r pl an unr avel s as a new li ne of acti on i s
i ntr oduced that wi ll push them and us to the cl im ax of the
stor y.

ACT TWO-B : Mor e tri al s and tr i bul ati on as confl ict escal ates ,
the dr am ati c l andsc ape expands and the pr otagoni st
unl eashes a c am pai gn based on thei r sense of per sonal
47

power . But any suc c e ss i s shor t -l i ved and they hit bottom as
they ar e faced wi th the c onsequenc es of thei r deci si on m ade
at the end of Ac t One and the Antagoni st gai ns the upper
hand. The pr otagoni st m ust m ake a deci si on i n the face of
the hi ghest c onfl ic t yet. They gener all y deci de to r i sk al l to
achi eve thei r goal wi th a new pl an .

ACT TH R EE: The pr otagoni st for m ul ate s the m ethod of defeat


to wi n the fi nal str uggl e agai nst the antagoni st that sees the
conver gence of al l pl otl i nes and c har acter s i nto one exci ti ng
and unpr edi c t abl e c l im ax that i s the ul ti m ate expr essi on of
the them e . The pr otagoni st ac hi eves their goal( s) as
r esol uti on , and r estor ati on of a new or der , ar e reached.

These br oad str okes c an appl y to any genre of movi e.

Som eti m es the ac ts are easi l y i denti fi ed by L OCATI ON. For


exam pl e, i n Ba ck to th e Fu tu re , the second act finds Mar ty
McFl y stuck i n the 1950s. I n Sta r Wa rs L uke Skywal ker heads
off on an adventur e i nto spac e for ac t two. I n The Wi z a rd Of
Oz Dor othy jour neys i nto Oz for the second act, and the thi r d
act fi nds her i n the wi tc h’s dar k c astl e. Or i n Sp eed , the
thr ee Acts ar e basi c all y: bom b i n the buil di ng, bom b on the
bus, bom b on the subway. Si m ple. Keep i n m i nd that
str uctur e m ay be si m ple, but the stor y need not be.

Agai n, thi s i s not for m ul a; i t i s f orm . You can sti ll tel l a


uni que, fr esh stor y wi th dynami c c har acter s wi thi n thi s for m.
I t doesn’t m ean your stor y and c har ac ter s have to be
pr edi ctabl e, bec ause ul tim atel y i t i s your i ndi vi dual deci si ons
that m ake a gr eat stor y , not the form i n whi ch i t i s
pr esented.

I bel i eve str ongl y that you m ust know thi s bl uepr i nt befor e
you can m odi fy i t and exper im ent wi th i t, i n the sam e way
that you m ust under stand basi c engi neer i ng pr i nci pl es
befor e you can desi gn a m otor on an ad vanced com puter
desi gn system . A fam ous sc r eenwr i ti ng gur u tel ls us ther e
ar e thr ee basi c stor y form s for sc r eenpl ays: C l assi cal ,
Mi ni m ali st, and Anti -Str uc tur e. However , the l atter two ar e
48

not i ndependent of the Cl assi c al for m ; they m erel y mod i fy i t;


thus a scr eenwr i ter m ust l ear n and m a ster the Cl assi cal
desi gn befor e em bar ki ng on the other two vari ati ons.

Fr om bei ng audi enc e m em ber s for m ost of our lives, al l of us


have an i nher ent sense of thi s str uc tur e, whi ch is why, for
exam pl e, we natur al l y sense som ethi ng i s wr ong i f we’r e
watchi ng a m ovi e and the m ai n stor y has not been
i ntr oduced by the thi r ty m i nute m ar k. ( I t al so appl i es to
novel s, i n whi c h i f nothi ng m ajor happens by page 100 - 130,
we m ight feel the stor y i s m ovi ng too sl ow l y. )

STORY ENGINES
A Stor y E ngi ne i s a pl ot devi c e t hat dr i ves the stor y for a
cer tai n l ength of tim e. Som e m i ght c al l them “mi ni -m ovi es”
or “m i ni -goal s,” or you m ay just want to thi nk of a Stor y
E ngi ne as a L i ne of Ac ti on : a c har ac ter taki ng acti ve steps
towar d a goal .

I suggest you defi ne a cl ear Stor y E n gi ne for each of the four


acts so you and the r eader know wher e the story i s headed
as you cr eate expec tati ons – then i t’s your job as the wr i ter
to su b v ert those expec tati ons and sur pr i se the reader wi th
shocki ng tur ns. You’r e pl anti ng setups and detonati ng
payoffs.

I n the subm ar i ne thr il l er U-571, the Am er i can crew m ust


captur e the G erm an sub, pi l ot i t hom e when thei r own sub i s
destr oyed, then take out a G erm an super destr oyer ( wi th no
power and onl y one tor pedo) . These secti ons of the stor y ar e
ver y cl e ar l y del i neated and dr i ven by escal ati ng confl i ct.

Thi nk of your stor y i n four sec ti ons; then tr y to r educe each


secti on to one l i ne of ac ti on – li ke a “ mi ni -l ogl i ne” for each
act. The best way to defi ne a Stor y E ngi ne i s to answer the
questi on , “ What does the pr otagoni st have to do i n thi s
chapter of the stor y?”
49

Her e’s an exam pl e of a well -known fi lm i n four secti ons,


Al i en s:

 On e: RI P LE Y m ust joi n a pl atoon of gung -ho Mar ines


to i nvesti gate a deser ted c ol ony that m ay have been
attacked by the al i ens that a lm ost ki l l ed her .

 Two -A: Ri pl ey fi ghts al ongsi de the Mar i nes , and


pr otec ts the c hi l d NE WT fr om the ali ens as they ar e
sur r ounded and str anded on the pl anet.

 Two -B: As they take m or e c asual ti es, Ri pl ey str uggl es


to stay al i ve and get to the esc ape shi p , but Newt i s
captur ed . She deci des to r i sk her li fe to go back and
fi nd Newt .

 Th ree: Ri pl ey r esc ues Newt fr om the Al i en Queen’s


nest and m ust battl e the Al ien Queen on the l andi ng
pl atfor m , defeati ng her .

Noti ce how Ri pl ey i s i n defensi ve m ode unti l the end of Act


Two, when she dec i des to r i sk al l to m ount an offensi ve
agai nst the vi l l ai n. Thi s ac ti vel y pushes her and us i nto the
fi nal r ace to the c l im ax , whi c h bec om es the m ost sati sfyi ng
ki nd of endi ng f or the r eader and audi ence : a dir ect
confr ontati on betw een pr otagoni st and antagonist . Al so
noti ce how str ong, ac ti ve ver bs ar e used to descr i be her
acti ons: i n v esti g a te, fig h t, stru g g l es, ri sk h er l ife, fi n d ,
rescu es , b a ttl e . You don’t want the ac ti ons i n your Stor y
E ngi nes to be ver bs l i ke th in ks, d i scu sses, rep l i es. Show,
don’t Tel l !

One tendency i n defi ni ng an Ac t Two -B engi ne can be to


descr i be the “ hi tti ng bottom” wi thout defi ni ng the
pr otagoni st’s pur sui t of thei r goal to get ther e. For exam pl e,
i n Al i en s, the Ac t Two -B engi ne i s not “ Newt i s captur ed;”
i t’s what Ri pl ey m ust do befor e she fai l s and Newt i s
captur ed ( hi tti ng bottom at the end of Act Two) , because
thi s i s the l i ne of ac ti on that we foll ow as confl ict escal ates
and Ri pl ey’s for tunes go south.
50

We’l l l ook at the above engi nes for Al i en s fr om a di ffer ent


per specti ve i n the Them e c hapter .

Thi nk of a Stor y E ngi ne as the m ac hi ne behi nd your m ai n


char acter ’s quest – i t’s what gi ves m om entum and ur gency to
the stor y.

Tel evi si on gi ves us a cl ear way of l ooki ng at Story E ngi nes.


Ther e’s a pr ac ti c al r eason why ther e’s so m any cop shows ,
m edi cal shows and l egal shows : the wr i ter s ar e never star ved
for a stor y . I t’s al ways or gani c to i ntr oduce a new cr im e, a
new pati ent or a new tri al .

J. J. Abr am s c i tes the i nspi r ati on for hi s spy show Al i a s as a


joke he m ade to hi s fell ow wri ter s when they wer e str uggli ng
to com e up wi th stor i es for the c ol l ege student pr otagoni st
i n Fel i ci ty : Abr am s qui pped, “ Thi s woul d be a l ot easi er i f
Fel i ci ty was a super spy. ”

One can im agi ne that “ a dr am a about r el ati onships” i s


tougher to pl ot than “ a spy thr il l er about a nuclear bom b
hi jacked by a terr or i st. ” I n ei ther c ase, m ake i t easi er on
your sel f and m ore c om pel l i ng for the reader by defi ni ng a
m ai n thr ust for eac h ac t.

A Stor y E ngi ne c an al so ac t as a fr am i ng devi ce, l i ke


bookends, that fuel s the stor y or takes us i nto i t.

A fam ous exam pl e: Ci ti z en Kan e uses the fr am i ng devi ce of a


r epor ter ’s i nvesti gati on, thus m oti vati ng a tr i p thr ough the
l i fe of Char l es Foster Kane, al l i n answer to the questi on,
“ What i s Rosebud?”

I n the HBO dr am a Si x Feet Un d er , eac h epi sode opens wi th a


death. Th e cor pse i s br ought i nto the m or tuar y whi ch i s
owned and oper ated by our m ai n c har acter s, the Fi sher
fam i l y, and we ar e usher ed i nto their new set of per sonal
str uggl es.

Si x Feet Un d er l asted fi ve seasons – as the fi r st epi sode of


the ser i es opened wi th the death of the Fi sher fam i l y’s
51

patr i ar ch, they ended the ser i es wi th an i ncredibl e fl ash -


for war d m ontage of the dea ths of al l the m ai n char acter s. I t
m ade for bi tter -sweet bookends.

Her e ar e som e sam pl e engi nes :

The H angov er STORY EN G IN ES:

ACT 1: The guys go to L as Vegas and ki ck off the ni ght wi th a


toast.

ACT 2A : The guys fol l ow thei r i ni ti al c l ues to fi nd Doug.

ACT 2B: The guys m ust r etur n Mi ke Tyson's ti ger and br i ng


Mr . Chao hi s m oney to fi nd Doug.

ACT 3: The r ac e hom e, the weddi ng goes off wel l and Stu
dum ps Mel i ssa.

Gladiat or STOR Y EN G IN ES:

ACT 1: Maxi m us str uggl es to r eti r e fr om war and go hom e,


but Com m odus l eads a c oup and ki l l s hi s fam i l y.

ACT 2A : Maxi m us m ust sur vi ve sl aver y and gl ad iator battl es


i n Nor ther n Afr i c a.

ACT 2B: Maxi m us m ust sur vi ve i n Rom e, becom e a gr eat


gl adi ator ( "wi n the c r owd") and get cl ose to Com m odus .

ACT 3: Maxi m us m ust ki l l Comm odus .

As Good As It G et s STOR Y EN G IN ES:

ACT 1: Mel vi n attem pts to pr eser ve hi s i sol at ed wor l d but i s


chal l enged by hi s gay nei ghbor and hi s sassy wai tr ess.

ACT 2A : Mel vi n m ust take c ar e of Si m on's dog and get Car ol


back to wor k.

ACT 2B: Mel vi n m ust wi n Si m on and Car ol ’s tr ust as they


bond, l eavi ng hi m al one.
52

ACT 3: Mel vi n m ust tr ul y c ar e for Sim on and Carol to gai n


happi ness.

META-STRUCTURE OR “THE WAY INTO THE STORY”


I ’d suggest that you thi nk about the gener al way that you’r e
goi ng to tell the stor y befor e you star t to l ay out your beat
sheet and scene l i st. What’s your way i nto thi s sto r y? How
ar e you goi ng to appr oac h the wr i ti ng of your buddy -cop
acti on m ovi e so i t’s a fr esh take on thi s pr oven genr e r ather
than another ti r ed entr y ?

Up tel l s a stor y of an ol d m an who’s c l i ngi ng to the past . He


goes on a jour ney to r ec over hi s youth, bu t hi s tr ue mi ssi on
i s to hel p a boy who’s hel d bac k by hi s own per sonal hi stor y.
The vi l l ai n of the stor y i s a m an who was our protagoni st’ s
boyhood her o.

Th e Usu a l Su sp ects i s l i ter al l y tol d to us by Kevin Spacey’s


char acter , who spi ns a l ong -wi nded tal e m eant to answer the
questi on , “ Who i s Keyser Soz e?” The answer i s not r eveal ed
unti l the ver y end when we l ear n that h e i s Keyser Soz e.

Sl u md og Mi l li o na i re uses the questi ons i n the qui z show as


catal ysts for fl ashbac ks that show us the l i fe of Jam al , the
pr otagoni st , and how he gather ed the i nform ation to answer
the questi ons.

The pi l ot for the TV dr am a Son s o f An a rch y contai ns som e


ver y fami l i ar el em ents; i t’s Ha ml et i n a bi ker gang.

These exam pl es wer e the sc r eenwr i ter s’ “ way i n” to tell i ng


the stor y. Th ey c hose these nar r ati ve devi ces because they
best exem pl i fi ed the el em ents i n thei r Basi c Story Map.

Many m ovi es or TV shows begi n wi th the endi ng and the


scr eenwr i ter rev erse -en g i n eers the stor y fr om ther e. They
bui l d events that or ganic al l y l ead up to thi s cl imax.

The ger m of Li ttl e Mi ss Su n sh in e was that Michael Ar ndt was


watchi ng a chi l d beauty pageant , and he thought about what
53

woul d happen i f an awkwar d gi r l got up on stage and “ just


star ted ki cki ng ass. ” The r esul ti ng sc r i pt i s a ser ies of scenes
i n a cl assi cal str uc ture that push to the hi l ar i ous cl im ax that
fi nds young Ol i ve danc i ng to Ric k Jam es’ Su p erfrea k for her
entr y i n the tal ent c om peti ti on . .. and then her fam i l y joi ns
her on stage and they a ll star t danc i ng l i ke m aniacs.
I nci dental l y, thi s c li m ax al so r epr esents the ul tim ate fr ui ti on
of the them e, whic h i s “ we are al l fr eaks. ” The m ovi e i s al so
expl i ci tl y about co mp eti ti on , thus eac h char acter i s i n som e
way i nvol ved i n a c ontest to be the best i n thei r chosen
fi el d.

The pi l ot for the br il l i ant TV dr am a Ma d Men shows us Don


Dr aper , a Manhattan ad exec and dashi ng pl ayboy who
dr i nks, sm okes and m eets hi s gi rl fr iend for a noon -ti m e r om p
dur i ng hi s l unc h br eak. He fl i r ts wi th ever y woman and they
fl i r t back, whil e gossi pi ng about thi s l egendar y cocksm an.
The ver y l ast sc ene shows hi m pul l i ng up to hi s subur ban
hom e, wal ki ng i nto the house and sayi ng goodnight . . . to hi s
wi fe and ki ds.

Once you know your Meta -Str uc tur e —how you’r e goi ng to
begi n and end the stor y and the per specti ve that the
audi ence wi ll see i t fr om —you want to thi nk of your stor y as
a ser i es of. ..

LINES OF ACTION
A l i ne of acti on i s sim pl y a c har ac ter pur sui ng a goal . You
want to have m ul ti pl e l i nes of ac ti on to fl esh out your stor y
and your char ac ter s, at the l east, two, whi ch i dea l l y woul d
be the E xter nal and I nter nal G oal s of the pr otagoni st .

Noti ce i n the sam pl e Stor y Maps how I ’ve defi ned two
separ ate poi nts for som e of the si gnpost beats. For exam pl e,
you m i ght see the I nc i ti ng I nc i dent ( E xter nal) on page 8 and
the I nci ti ng I nci dent ( I nter nal ) on page 10. I t depends on the
stor y.
54

I t hel ps to categor i z e your li nes of ac ti on as the A, B or C


stor y so you c an pr i or i ti z e thei r page count i n the scr i pt.
E . g. ,

A stor y = P r otagoni st’s E xter nal li ne

B stor y = Pr otagoni st’s I nter nal l i ne

C stor y = Antagoni st’s or Dynam i c Char acter ’s l ine

For e xam pl e, i n Si d ewa y s, the thr ee l i nes of action ar e bui l t


on r el ati onshi ps :

A stor y = Mi les ( P aul G i am atti ) and Jack ( Thom as Haden


Chur ch)

B stor y = Mi l es and Maya ( Vi rgi ni a Madsen)

C stor y = Jack and Stephani e ( Sandr a Oh)

You m ay want to add subpl ots to m ake for som e dynam i c


payoffs and to add ar c s to your suppor ti ng char acter s. The
key i s to show these c har ac ter s pr ogr essi ng by taki ng acti on .

You m ay have a subpl ot shown i n fl ashback – i f so, the


fl ashbacks m ust advanc e the pr esent li ne of action, as wel l .
A fl ashback i s i nher entl y i nac ti ve si nc e i t takes pl ace i n the
past, so the way to m ake i t ac ti ve i s to m ake sure that i t i s
cr uci al and i t esc al ates the c onfl i c t and stakes. If a fl ashback
i s not c ausi ng c hange – ei ther an advancem ent of the
pr esent stor y l i ne or a new under standi ng of the pr esent
stor y l i ne – then i t i s n o t c r uci al and i t shoul d be cut.

As G o od As I t G et s i s a ni c e exam pl e of m ul ti pl e l i nes of
acti on – one c oul d l ook at i t as a m ul ti -pr otagoni st stor y,
si nce Jack Ni c hol son, Hel en Hunt and G r eg Ki nnear al l have
separ ate go al s and sour c es of c onfl ic t, al though i t i s sti l l
anchor ed wi th a ma i n pr otagoni st , Jac k Ni chol son’s Mel vi n
Udal l . Mel vi n needs to l ear n how to l ove whi l e Car ol nee ds
to hel p her si c k son and Si m on needs to get back the m oney
he l ost after he was attac ked and hospi tal i z ed.
55

I n L i ttl e Mi ss Sun sh i n e , there ar e sever al l i nes of acti on for


the fam i l y mem ber s: G r eg Ki nnear tr i es to sell his per sonal
devel opm ent system . P au l Dano tr i es to m ai ntain hi s vow of
si l ence so he c an r eal iz e hi s dr eam of becom i ng a fi ghter
pi l ot. Steve Car ell m ust get over the br eak -up that l ed to hi s
r ecent sui ci de attem pt. Toni Col l ette i s just tr ying to hol d
her fami l y together and li ttl e Abi gai l Br esl i n com petes to wi n
the ti tul ar chi l d beauty pageant. ( The hil ar i ous gr andfather ,
pl ayed by Al an Ar ki n , does not have an actual arc, but he
pr ovi de s a skewed “ voic e of r eason,” acts as com m entar y on
and a foi l to var i ous c har ac ter s and set s up the out r ageous
dance scene fi nal e. ) One c oul d m ake up a Ful l Stor y Map for
each one of these c har ac ter s or just defi ne their steps i n the
scene l i st; i t’s up to you.

I ’ve found i t hel pful at tim es to c onstr uct a l i near gr i d wi th


each char acter havi ng thei r own l i ne and noti ng thei r beats
al ong thei r l i nes, wi th eventual c onver gence i n Act Thr ee.

Her e’s a l i near gr i d bui l t on a hypotheti cal stor y i n which the


E xter nal li ne i s l aunc hed i n the Openi ng, the I nter nal l i ne
begi ns at the I nci ti ng I nc i dent and the “ C” s tor y begi ns at
Str ong Movem ent For war d.
56

The di ps and peaks of the l i nes c an r epr esent escal ati ng


confl i ct, tur ns i n di r ec ti on or just ser ve as vi sual m ar ker s for
the si gnpost beats.

Note how the E xter nal and I nter nal li nes converge at the
Tr ue P oi nt of N o Retur n to c r eate one, dr i vi ng l ine to push to
the Cl i m ax, the poi nt at whi c h the c har acter dr i vi ng the “ C”
stor y catches up to them and joi ns i n the fi nal battl e.
( Conver gence at the end of Ac t Two i s al so a com m on
devi ce. )

Another exam pl e fr om tel evi si o n: the cl assi c si tcom Sei nfel d.


I n the best epi sodes, ther e ar e four separ ate l i nes of acti on,
al l l i nked to the goal s of the m ai n c har acter s. For exam pl e i n
“ The Fr ogger :”

 G eor ge m ust get the Fr ogger vi deo gam e out of the


pi z z a shop wi thout tur ni ng off th e power so as to
pr eser ve hi s hi gh sc or e.

 Kr am er m ust i nvesti gate the Ri ver si de P ar k ki ll er


known as “ The L opper ” so as to war n Jer r y how to
avoi d the ki l ler .

 Jer r y m ust dum p hi s new gi rl fr i end, the “ sentence


fi ni sher ,” bec ause she l i ves near the par k wher e The
L opper i s beheadi ng hi s vic ti m s, but she won’t let hi m
fi ni sh hi s br eak -up speec h.

 E l ai ne m ust r epl ace her boss’ vi ntage cake that cam e


fr om the c our t of Ki ng E dwar d VI wi th an
E ntenm an n’s c ake, hopi ng he won’t noti ce.

Newm an!
57

CLASSICAL FOUR-ACT STRUCTURE STEPS OR “STORY BEATS”


I t’s ti m e for that al l -im por tant “Beat She et” that al l the cool
ki ds ar e tal ki ng about.

Ther e i s a ver y c l ear and fam i li ar pl ot pr ogr essi on to m ost


scr eenpl ays that i s r ec ogniz ed and under stood by ever y
pr ofessi onal Reader i n the fil m i ndustr y. A new wr i ter m ust
str uctur e thei r scr i pt exac tl y to thi s tr i ed -and-true par adi gm
of Cl assi cal sc r eenpl ay str uc tur e. I t i s m y opi ni on that you
m ust fi r st m aster thi s str uc tur e befor e attem pting to subver t
i t. You m ust get i t ri ght down to the page. Reader s l ook for
thi s. The pr os use i t. I t i s undoubtedl y the “ i ndustr y
standar d. ”

You m ust bal anc e your stor y to the four acts. E ach act
r epr esents ro u g hl y 25% of the total length of your stor y ( I
say r oughl y bec ause as we wi l l see, the actua l l engths of
each act i n the m oder n, 110 -page sc r eenpl ay ar e not equal l y
25% as they m ay have been i n a Syd Fi el d -er a 120 pager . )
Her e ar e the four ac ts i n ver y br oad str okes:

ACT ON E: The Cr i si s & The Dec i si on

ACT TWO-A: P r otag oni st takes ac ti on

ACT TWO-B : Thi ngs fall apar t

ACT TH R EE: The Fi nal Str uggl e & The Resol uti on

Cl assi cal Four -Ac t Str uc tur e c an be br oken down i nt o ten


m ai n pl ot steps or b ea ts ( the 11th, E P I LOG UE , and two sub -
beats, COMBAT and ONE HOUR WAR, ar e opti onal ) . These
events for m the “ tent pol es” of your narr ati ve str uctur e. My
beat sheet i s based on a 110-page sc r eenpl ay, whi ch I
suggest as your tar get l ength; the c or respondi ng page
num ber s for eac h step ar e gi ven.

Note: Thi s i s n o t a c om pl ete sc ene li st ( you’l l get to that


after you com pi l e your Ful l Stor y Map and before you star t
wr i ti ng screenpl ay pages) , just the m ajor m om ents – the BIG
58

events – that dr i ve the stor y. I t i s ver y im por tant that these


pl ot poi nts oc c ur i n the pr oper page r ange.

I n thi s secti on, w e wil l l ook at eac h beat’s general


char acter i sti c s i n an or der ed l i st ; then I wi ll pr ovi de a m or e
focused l ook wi th exam pl es fr om well -known m ovi es.

ACT ONE:
1) OPEN IN G ( page 1-3) : E stabl i shes ORDE R ( the uni que wor l d
of the stor y) and the P ROTAG ONI ST and comm uni cates the
THE ME . ( I deal l y, i t c an al so establ i sh the pr otagoni st ’ s
G OAL S and i ntr oduc e the CE NTRAL DRAMATI C QUE STI ON, but
these can wai t unti l E nd of Ac t One at the l atest. )

2) IN CITIN G IN CIDEN T ( page 8-10) : The fi r st di stur bance to


the or der that sets the stor y i n m oti on. An event that br i ngs
about danger , CONFL I CT and c haos. I ntr oduces the MAI N
DRAMATI C CONFL I CT and m aybe the ANTAG ONI ST.

3) STR ON G M OVEM EN T FOR WAR D ( page 17-20) : The


pr otagoni st tr ul y takes thei r "fi r st st ep" on thei r “ cor e
jour ney ,” whether vol untar y or not. The pr otagoni st i s
i nspi r ed, swept away or gi ven a str ong push towar d thei r
E xter nal G oal . Thi s m ovem ent m ay c om e i n the for m of a
r evel ati on or the i ntr oduc ti on of the DYNAMI C CHARACTE R
or ME NTOR who bec kons our pr otagoni st on thi s jour ney.

4) EN D OF ACT ON E EVEN T/TUR N & DECISION ( page 25-30) :


An unfor eseen E VE NT c auses gr eat c onfli ct and a TURN i n
di r ecti on of the stor y ( usual l y, a tur n on the E xter nal l i ne of
acti on) , and the pr otagoni st m akes an acti ve DECI SI ON i n the
face of thi s c onfl i c t and c hooses a path, enter i ng a gateway –
the stor y i s pr opel l ed i nto Ac t Two i n a new di r ecti on and
ver y often a CHANGE I N L OCATI ON . The pr otagoni st
for m ul ates thei r fir st m ajor pl an of ac ti on that they wi l l
fol l ow for Ac t 2A. E xter nal G oal , I nter nal G oal , Centr al
Dr am ati c Questi on and the Ac t Two -A Stor y E ngine m ust be
establ i shed by end of Ac t One, i deal l y by page 30.
59

Rem em ber : TURN a n d DE CI SI ON.

Take note: A perfec t 3 0 page Ac t One is golden!

ACT TWO-A
5) FIR ST TR IAL /FIR ST CAS UAL TY ( page 38- 40) : The “ 40-
Mi nute Tr i al .” The fi r st m ajor obstac l e on the protagoni st 's
new jour ney. A ski rm i sh , for eshadowi n g a l ar ger battl e , that
r ai ses the stakes and r em i nds the pr otagoni st of the
consequences of thei r new c omm i tm ent . The “ casual ty ” m ay
be the death of an al l y or a fi gur at i ve death; the thr eat has
b eco me rea l .

Note: I n som e i nstanc es, thi s beat m ay be on l y a casual ty –


e. g. , a detecti ve di sc over s a sec ond dead body, whi ch now
m eans that the ki ll er i s a ser i al ki l l er . I n thi s case, i f the
pr otagoni st i s not ac ti ve, then the y m ust be active i n the
next sub -beat. . .

5A) COM B AT ( opti onal ) ( page 45) : The Fi r st Casual ty


gener ates a m or e dir ec t c onfr ontati on. I f the Tr ial
was a ski r m i sh, thi s i s a BATTL E , m or e per sonal and
wi th hi gher stakes.

6) M IDPOIN T ( page 50-55) : A DI SASTE R oc cur ri ng DE AD


CE NTE R i n your stor y that RAI SE S THE STAKE S, thr eatens the
goal , and P USHE S THE ACTI ON TO THE CL I MAX with new Stor y
E ngi ne( s) . Fal se goal s bec ome tr ue goal s. For eshadows the
cl i m ax and establ i shes a CL OCK, a ti m e deadl i ne, that
escal ates confl i c t and deepens c onsequences . ( Note: i f the
Mi dpoi nt i s seemi ngl y a happy m om ent, l i ke the fi r st ki ss
between two l over s, then i t m ust r epr esent a di saster i n the
l ar ger stor y by esc al ati ng c onfl i c t and setti ng up a futur e
sacr i fi ce and c onfr ontati on , e . g. , the two l over s ar e m arr i ed
to other peopl e, so thi s ki ss i s an i nevi tabl e ti cket to the
destr ucti on of one or both m arr i ages. )

6A) ON E H OUR WAR /TR IUM PH ( opti onal ) ( page 60) :


The one hour m ar k i s often a stapl e of a m ovi e’s
60

str uctur e and pr esent i n m any screenpl ays on or


ar ound page 60 . I som etim es thi nk of i t as a “Bi g
Boom ! ” ( Note: Thi s m ay ac t as the Mi dpoi nt but I
don’t suggest you wai t unti l page 60 as m oder n
scr i pts m ove faster and the r eader i s goi ng to star t
l ooki ng for your Mi dpoi nt ar ound page 5 0. )

ACT TWO-B
7) DECLAR ATION OF WAR /ASSUM PTI ON OF POW ER ( page
75) : The pr otagoni st exper i enc es a sur ge of str ength, r eal i z es
thei r TRUE P OWE R and they ei ther i ni ti ate a di rect attack on
the Antag oni st or they pr epar e /TRAI NS for the inevi tabl e
showdown .

8) EN D OF ACT TWO EVEN T/TUR N & DECISION ( page 85-90) :


Another m ajor , shoc ki ng EVE NT tur ns the stor y in a new
di r ecti on . The dr am ati c l andsc ape br oadens or "opens up,"
as the thr eat wor s ens and per haps takes a new for m and the
her o HI TS BOTTOM , feel i ng the dir e CONSE QUE NCE S of the i r
deci si on at the end of Ac t One ( note the l i nk between how
they deal t wi th the E nd of Ac t One’s E vent/Tur n and now) .
P l otl i nes CONVERGE to foc us the stor y and for ce the
pr otagoni st to m ake a NE W DE CI SI ON to "r i sk al l" to achi eve
hi s/her goal , pass thr ough a new gateway and propel
them sel ves and us i nto Ac t Thr ee. Thi s al so m ay si gnal
another m ajor CHANG E OF L OCATI ON , and i t establ i shes the
Act Thr ee Stor y E ngi ne to push to the Cl i m ax.

Note: Thi s m ay see the c ulm i nati on of one or two l i nes of


acti on, e . g. , the pr otagoni st m ay wi n over thei r love i nter est
her e to achi eve their I nter nal G oal , as l ong as the E xter nal
G oal i s sti l l i n jeopar dy for the fi nal act.

Agai n: TURN a nd DE CI SI ON.

Note: Ending your Act Two on page 90 is golden!


61

ACT THREE
9) TR UE POIN T OF N O R ETUR N ( page 98-100) : A deadl y
E SCAL ATI ON that c onc l usi vel y sets up the fi nal battl e;
r atchets the stakes and tensi on up another notch as the
thr eat takes on even m or e power , becom i ng seem i ngl y
i nsur m ountabl e . The pr otagoni st m akes a statem ent of
i ntenti on s and/or fi nds the antagoni st’ s Achi l l es Heel ,
for m ul ati ng the m ethod of defeat . Fr om thi s poin t on, ther e
tr ul y i s N O RE TURN! I f they di d not tr ul y r i sk ever ythi ng at
the E nd of Ac t T wo, then they m ust do so here. They go “ al l
i n,” so to speak.

10) CLIM AX ( page 105-110) : The FI NAL DI RE CT


CONFRONTATI ON between pr otagoni st and a ntagoni st that
br i ngs together al l pl ot thr eads whi l e r epr esenting the
ul ti m ate expr essi on of the them e and r esul ti ng in a NE W
RE STORATI ON OF ORDE R. ( Note : The pr otagoni st al m ost
al ways m ust ac t al one to del i ver the fi nal bl ow that wi l l
defeat the antagoni st and ac hi eve the exter nal goal . )

11) EPILOGU E ( opti onal ) : Shows the NE W ORDE R ( wi thout


exp l a in i ng i t) and the fi nal r esol uti on .

And that’s i t! The beaut y of these beats i s that they ar e


m or e speci fi c tha n any other tem pl ate I ’ve found, yet they
ar e br oad enough for you to have c om pl ete cr eati ve contr ol
of how to uti l iz e the str uc tur e and sati sfy the
char acter i sti c s.

BUILDING A BETTER HERO


I ’ve i ntenti onal l y nam ed these beats wi th ti tl es that do not
com m i t too m uc h to a c er tai n type or tone. For exam pl e, I ’ve
never l i ked c er tai n beats i n the Her o’s Jour ney such as
“ Appr oach to the I nm ost Cave” or “ The Seiz i ng of the
Swor d. ” Those desc r i pti ons c om e ac r oss as l im i ting to m e
and m ake m e thi nk onl y of Fantasy or Sci ence Ficti on,
cer tai nl y not a c ontem por ar y dr am a or wor kpl ace com edy. I n
other scr eenwr i ti ng books, I ’ve seen too -br oad ter m s l i ke
62

“ P i nch” to r epr esent what I c al l the Fi r st Tr i al /Fir st Casual ty


and the Decl ar ati on of War /Assum pti on of P ower .

I al so don’t see the need to di ffer enti ate between a n eed , a


g o al and a d esi re i f they al l m ean the sam e thi ng!

The Stor y Map beat sheet i s an em oti onal m ap that appl i es


to any type of m ovi e stor y – i t i s n o t a g enr e -speci fi c
tem pl ate.

As I ’ve sai d befor e, I don’t see the val ue i n m er e


categor i z ati on for the sake of i t. I t doesn’t hel p you to put
ever y char ac ter i nto a c ategor y, suc h as Tr i ckster , Her al d or
Thr eshol d G uar di an, unl ess these types ar e fi xed to a
speci fi c beat and page r ange i n whi c h thei r functi ons ar e
cr uci al .

THE POWER OF TWO


Keep i n m i nd that the pr otagoni st’s pur sui t of thei r E xter nal
and I nter nal goal s ar e two separ ate l i nes of action, thus , i t
m ay m ake sense for you to defi ne two beats at som e or al l of
the si gnpost posi ti ons on your beat s heet. See the Ju n o beat
sheet bel ow for an exam pl e of thi s techni que.

FIRST SAMPLE BEAT SHEET: JUNO


The pl ot str uc tur e of Jun o , wri tten by Di abl o Cod y, adher es
per fectl y to the beat sheet i n the Ful l Stor y Map. Note that
thi s m ap i s based on the scr eenpl ay, not the film . The
num ber s r epresent the page that the beat occurs ( i f ther e’s a
r ange gi ven, i t means the exec uti on of thi s pl ot m ovem ent
was spr ead over two pages) .

Take note how c l osel y the sc ri pt adher es to the Stor y Map


page r anges: Ac t One ends on page 30. .. Act Two ends on
90. . . and ther e ar e m ajor beats at 10, 20, 27 , 40, 55, 75, 8 7,
and 100.
63

Bel ow i s the beat sheet. As a r em i nder , her e are Juno’s


goal s:

EXTER N AL GOAL : To have the baby and gi ve i t to th e L ori ngs.

IN TER N AL GOAL : To get together wi th P auli e.

JUNO
Sc r eenpl ay wri tten by Di abl o Cody
101 pages

BEAT SHEET
( note: thi s i s not a c om pl ete sc ene l i st, onl y a li st of the
m ajor “ si gnpost” pl ot poi nts)

ACT ONE

1-4 – OPEN IN G : JUNO (E l l en P age) takes he r thi rd pr egnancy


test - i t sti l l says she's pr egnant.

9-10 – IN CITIN G IN CIDEN T: Juno tel l s P aul i e Bl eeker ( Mi chael


Cer a) she's pr egnant and she pl ans to get an abor ti on.

20 – STR ON G M OVEM EN T FOR WAR D: Juno fl ees the abor ti on


cl i ni c.

26 – EN D OF ACT ON E TUR N (EXTER N AL ): Juno tel l s her


father MAC ( J. K. Si mm ons) and stepm om BRE N (Al l i son
Janney) that she's pr egnant.

27 – EN D OF ACT ON E TUR N (IN TERN AL ): Juno tel l s them that


Bl eeker i s the father —they br eak out i n l aughter!

29 – EN D OF ACT ON E DECIS ION (EXTER N AL & INTER N AL) :


Juno agr ees to l et her Dad take her to m eet the L or i ngs, the
adopti ve coupl e she found i n the P enny Saver .

30 – ACT I ends.
64

ACT TWO- A

40 – FIR ST TR IAL /FIR ST CASUAL TY: Mar k ( Jason Batem an)


and Juno m ake a c onnec ti on over m usi c, dr awi ng Vanessa 's
( Jenni fer G ar ner ) c onc er n.

55 – M IDPOIN T: Vanessa wal ks i n on Mar k and Juno al one i n


the house ; Vanessa i s suspi c i ous , but she r el axes when she
sees the ul tr asound .

60 – WAR : Juno fights wi th her stepm om Br en when Br en


tel l s her not to vi si t Mar k, a m ar ri ed m an.

ACT TWO-B

75 – DOW/AOP (IN TER N AL ): Juno has a bi g fi ght wi th Bl eeker


because he's taki ng another gi rl to the pr om ; this i s the fi r st
ti m e she's ac tual l y showi ng that she has r eal feel i ngs for
hi m , but she won't adm i t i t.

77 – DOW/AOP ( EXTER N AL ): Angr y, Juno dr i ves back to


Mar k's house .

85 – EN D OF ACT TWO TUR N (EXTER N AL ): Mar k tel l s Vanessa


that he wants out of thei r m arr i age and the adopti on.

87 – EN D OF ACT TWO DECISION (EXT ER N AL ): Juno l eaves


note for Vanessa ( we don't know what's i n i t yet. )

88 – EN D OF ACT TWO TUR N (INTER N AL ): Juno goes to her


dad i n despai r about c ouples and l ove. He tell s her that the
one for her i s the guy who wi l l al ways l ove her ,
uncondi ti onal l y.

90 – EN D OF ACT TWO DECISION (IN TER N AL ): Juno r eal i zes


that P aul i e i s the on e - she l eaves to fi nd him .
65

ACT THRE E

94 – TR UE POIN T OF N O R ETUR N : Juno ki sses P aul i e and soon


after , at hom e, her water br eaks. Her dad r ushes her to the
hospi tal as P aul i e r uns i n hi s tr ac k m eet.

98 – CLIM AX (IN TER N AL ): P aul i e joi ns her at the hospi ta l


after she's gi ven bi r th; she c r i es i n hi s arm s, as they deal
wi th the l oss of the baby to g eth er.

99 – CLIM AX (EXTER N AL ): Vanessa c ar es for her baby at


hom e. She has fr am ed Juno's l etter whi ch says, "Vanessa – i f
you'r e sti l l i n, I 'm sti l l i n . Juno. "

100 - 101 EPIL OG UE: Juno and her offi ci al boyfr iend , P aul i e ,
who i s "total l y boss as far as boyfr i ends go," si ng a song
together .

You’l l note that the Ac t Thr ee beats fal l a bi t sooner than m y


par adi gm , due to the shor ter length of thi s scri pt ( 101 pages
vs. 110 pages i n the par adi gm ) . Thi s i s per fectl y acceptabl e,
al though I suggest you adher e to the par adi gm locati ons up
unti l r oughl y page 90 when Ac t Thr ee begi ns. As you’l l see
wi th a num ber of m oder n fi lm s, Ac t Thr ee can be qui te shor t:
i n Ju n o , i t’s onl y 1 0 pages.

Note: a m or e detai l ed m ap of Jun o i s avai l abl e in the


com pani on book, Sto ry Map s: Boo ster P a ck #1 .
66

SECOND SAMPLE BEAT SHEET: HUSTLE & FLOW


Hu stl e & Flo w , wr i tten and di r ec ted by Cr ai g Br ewer , i s a
gr i tty and i nspi ri ng m usi c dr am a that adheres ex actl y to the
Stor y Map.

Act One ends at m i nute 30. .. Ac t Two ends at 90.. . the m ajor
beats occur at 10, 20, 27 , 55, 75 , 87 , 100 and 10 7. S ound
fam i l i ar ?

Hu stl e & Flo w’s stor y i s foc used on one thr oughli ne ( m or e so
than Ju n o ) so I don’t see the need to br eak out E xter nal and
I nter nal beats .

HUSTLE & FLOW


I ndependent Musi c Dr am a
Wr i tten and Dir ected by Cr ai g Br ewer
110 m i nutes

BEAT SHEET
( note: thi s i s not a c om pl ete sc ene l i st)

ACT ONE

1 – OPEN IN G : DJay , a poor pim p and weed deal er i n


Mem phi s, gi ves one of hi s hustl es, a speech that he'l l
r efer ence thr oughout the stor y that states the them e: "W hat
do you want to do wi th your li fe?"

6 – ARNE L asks DJay to br i ng hi s best weed for fam ous


r apper Ski nny Bl ac k to hi s Jul y 4th par ty .

10 – IN CITIN G IN CIDEN T: Djay buys a keyboar d fr om a


cr ackhead, star ts pl ayi ng m usi c .

20 – STR ON G M OVEM EN T FOR WAR D: Djay watches hi s ol d


fr i end KE Y r ec or d a si nger i n c hur c h. Djay i s deepl y affected,
cr i es.
67

27 – EN D OF ACT ON E TUR N : Djay shows up at Key's hom e i n


the subur bs to r ec r ui t hi m for the band. Tensi on i s hi gh
because Djay has br ought two of hi s hos and Key's wi fe
Yvette i s a conser vati ve wom an.

28 – EN D OF ACT ON E DECIS ION : Djay pul l s out hi s keyboar d


to audi ti on hi s r aps for Key. Key joi ns i n.

30 – Key joi ns the c r ew, endi ng Ac t One.

ACT TWO- A

40 – FIR ST TR IAL : Djay and hi s c r ew r ecor d thei r fi r st song:


“ Whoop that Tr i c k . ”

45 – FIR ST CASUAL TY: A tr oubled Key tel l s Djay he needs the


m usi c to be suc c essful or he wi l l feel l i ke a fail ur e to hi s
wi fe.

46 – COM B AT: Djay fi ghts wi th L ex us, ki cks her and her baby
out of the house after she bel i ttl es him about his dr eam of
bei ng a r apper .

55 – M IDPOIN T: After a bi g fi ght wi th the guys, Djay r ecr ui ts


Shug to si ng on hi s song , “ I t’s Har d Out Her e for a P im p.”
Al though i t’s tense, they bond, l eadi ng to thei r inevi tabl e
uni on.

60 – TR IUM PH : The song tur ns out am az i ng and Shug i s


el ated.

ACT TWO-B

75 – DOW/AOP: Djay si ngs hi s fi nal song, “ Keep Hustl i n',” hi s


m ost per sonal and ac c om pl i shed yet, as he pr epar es to m eet
Ski nny Bl ack. He's r eady to m ake hi s fi nal m ove to captur e
hi s dr eam .

87 – EN D OF ACT TWO T UR N : Djay's fi r st attem pt to hustl e


Ski nny Bl ack fail s; he hi ts bottom .
68

88 – EN D OF ACT TWO D ECISION : Djay RI SKS AL L to confr ont


Ski nny Bl ack wi th an aggress i ve, br i l l i ant hustl e.

90 – I t wor ks. Djay hooks Ski nny Bl ac k, endi ng Act Two.

ACT THRE E

100 – TR UE POIN T OF N O R ETUR N : Djay gets i n a shootout


and i s chased out of the c l ub.

107 – CLIM AX: Djay’s song “ Whoop That Tr i ck” becom es a hi t


song!

110 – EPILOG U E: Two pr i son guar ds gi ve Djay thei r dem o


tape. He’s now the star that other s ar e tr yi ng to hustl e. He
says: "You know what they say? E ver ybody got to have a
dr eam . "

Note: a m or e detai l ed m ap of Hu stl e & Fl o w i s avai l abl e i n


the com pani on book, Sto ry Ma p s: Bo o ster P a ck #1 .
69

THIRD SAMPLE BEAT SHEET: UP


P i xar ’s Up i s a fi ne exam pl e of the m i ni -studi o’s abi l i ty to
pr oduce touc hi ng stor i es for br oad audi ences – they ar e
m aster s at cr eati ng the c oveted “ four quadr ant” fi lm s that
Hol l ywood sal i vates over , m eani ng they appeal to m al e and
fem al e ki ds and m ale and fem al e adul ts.

Al though Up has som e sti l ted di al ogue and cli ché m oments,
i t featur es som e fant asti c them ati c wor k, thr i l ling set pi eces
and power ful c har ac ter ar c s. Note: The l ength i s shor t – onl y
89 m i nutes – so the beats that fol l ow the Decl a ra ti o n o f
Wa r/As su mp ti o n o f P o wer occ ur sooner than wi th a l onger
scr i pt.

Up
Ani m ated Acti on -Com edy
Sc r eenpl ay by Bob P eter son & P ete Docter
89 Mi nutes

BEAT SHEET
( note: thi s i s not a c om pl ete sc ene l i st)

ACT ONE

1 – OPEN IN G : Montage of CARL and hi s wi fe E LL IE over the


year s. They l ost a baby.

10 – IN CITIN G IN CIDEN T: Car l buys ti c kets for P ar adi se Fal l s


and E l l ie di es befor e they c an go.

20 – STR ON G M OVEM EN T FOR WAR D: Car l l aunches hi s house


i nto the ai r , and di sc over s RUSSE L L i s hi s stowaway.

27 – EN D OF ACT ON E TUR N : Car l and Russel l hi t a danger ous


stor m .

30 – EN D OF ACT ON E DECIS ION : Car l gui des the house to a


cr ash l andi ng near P ar adi se Fal l s.
70

ACT TWO- A

40 – FIR ST TR IAL /FIR ST CASUAL TY : Car l gets tal ked i nto


taki ng KE VI N, the bi r d, and DUG , the dog, wi th them , whi ch
com pl i cates their jour ney to the fall s.

45 – COM B AT : They ar e hunted by the evi l dogs.

53–55 – M IDPOIN T : They m eet the fam ous adventur er


CHARL E S MUNTZ , Car l 's c hi l dhood her o, and l earn he i s evil
and has been hunti ng Kevi n for year s. Car l and Russel l m ust
save Kevi n and esc ape Muntz ’ di r igi bl e , pr otected by hi s dar k
ar m y of scar y dogs .

ACT TWO-B

60 – WAR : They r un for thei r l i ves!

75 – DECLAR ATION OF WAR /ASSUM PTI ON OF PO WER : Car l


thr ows hi s ol d possessi on s out of hi s house and takes fl i ght,
l eavi ng behi nd the ol d Car l and dec l ar i ng war on Muntz to
save hi s adopted c hi l d , Russel l , and Kevi n .

80 – EN D OF ACT TWO TUR N : Al l si des battl e. Car l vs. Muntz .


Dug vs. the Dober m an. Russel l vs. the dogs.

DECIS ION : Car l puts hi s pl an to defeat Muntz i nto ac ti on.

ACT THRE E

85 – TR UE POIN T OF N O R ETUR N : Carl clever l y defeats


Muntz . As Muntz fal l s to hi s death, Car l l oses the house i n
the cl ouds. Car l : "You know, i t's just a house. " He's deci ded
to l i ve i n thi s l ife, not i n the past .

86 – Kevi n, r evealed to be a gir l , gi ves bi r th to chi cks!

87 – CLIM AX: Car l and Russel l pil ot Muntz 's bl imp hom e, and
Car l stands i n as Russel l ’s father when Russel l r ecei ves hi s
Boy Scouts badge fo r "Assi sti ng the E l der l y . ” Car l gi ves him
“ E l li e’s Badge. ”
71

89 – EPILOGUE : Car l and R ussel l eat i ce cream and the fi nal


i m age shows the house on P ar adi se Fal l s. Car l 's dr eam has
been achi eved. The E nd.

Note: a m or e detai l ed m ap of Up i s avai l abl e i n the


com pani on book, Sto ry Map s: Boo ster P a ck #1 .
72

FROM THE TRENCHES:


JEFFREY REDDICK
(creator of the Final Destination franchise)

“Studios look at th eatrical these days


as mostly PR for the DVD release.”
P r i nts and Adver ti si ng c osts for a theatr i cal r el ease ar e so
expensi ve that i t’s sm ar ter to send m or e fi l m s str ai ght to
vi deo, even when they featur e m ajor star s. I n thi s sense,
theatr i cal r el ease i s the pi e i n the sky, so don't m ake i t your
onl y goal .

Th e Lesso n: Com par tm ental i ze your goal s i nto mor e


pr acti cal , shor ter -term m i l estones: get your script r ead by
deci si on -m aker s. . .wr i te a shor t f i lm and fi nd fi lm m aker s to
shoot i t. . . get a m eeti ng . .. a m anager . .. an opti on .. . get i n the
gui l d, etc.

These goal s c an happen i n di ffer ent or der s. There ar e no


har d and fast r ul es to how you get ther e. Make your own
path.
73

VII. THEME

We touched on them e a bi t e ar l ier when di scussi ng the Basi c


and Ful l Stor y Map, but i t shoul d be di scussed mor e at l ength
si nce i t i s suc h a power ful tool to hel p gi ve focus, cohesi on
and r esonanc e to your sc r eenpl ay.

Som e wr i ter s star t wi th Them e, devel opi ng the stor y fr om an


i dea or m or al that they wi sh to expl or e. Other s m ap out a
basi c stor y, l ook at i t and determ i ne what they're tr yi ng to
say or what them e these el em ents woul d m ost logi cal l y
expr ess.

Them e can be your way i nto a stor y. For exam ple, Danny
Boyl e and Sim on Beaufoy m ade two fi lm s based on r eal -l ife
scenar i os, Sl u md o g Mil l io n ai re and 127 Ho u rs – in both they
found the way i nto the stor y by expl ori ng a cor e them e and
desi gni ng scenes ar ound i t, som e tr ue to l i fe and other s
fi cti onal : “ desti ny ” i n Sl u mdo g Mi ll i on a i re and
“ per sever anc e ” i n 127 Hou rs.

Wi th Th e So ci al Netwo rk , Aar on Sor ki n l ooked at the l i fe of


Facebook founder Mar k Z uc ker berg and deci ded that he
woul d tel l a stor y about status – her e was a guy who was
constantl y tr yi ng to r ai se hi s status, to be seen as so m ethi ng
gr eater or cool er than he was. Sor ki n deci ded to i nject som e
i r ony i nto the stor y by por tr ayi ng the i nventor of a popul ar
soci al networ k as a soc i al l y awkwar d guy.

Si d ewa ys i s about agi ng on m any l evel s, the fir st one bei ng


the agi ng of wi ne. The o l der wi ne gets, the m or e i t im pr oves,
but onl y to a poi nt when i t peaks. I t m ust r each the pr oper
l evel of m atur i ty to r eali z e i ts tr ue power . Mi l es Raym ond i s
a fai l ed novel i st and fai l ed husband who has gi ven up on li fe.
Hi s buddy Jac k sti l l ac ts l i ke he ’s a fr at boy.

P l ea se Gi v e by wr i ter /di r ec tor Ni c ol e Hol ofcener i s al so


about agi ng. The stor y i s c onstr uc ted ar ound si tuati ons and
char acter s that al l have to do wi th agi ng, tim e and the
74

gener ati on gap. The c entr al husband and wi fe coupl e i n the


stor y i s wai ti ng for the ol d wom an next door to di e so they
can cl aim her c ondo. The ol d wom an’s gr anddaughter i s a 30 -
som ethi ng chanteuse who i s obsessed wi th the younger
wom an that her boyfr i end dum ped her for. The husband
m akes hi s m ove on her and they have an affai r. Meanwhi l e,
the coupl e’s young daughter i s deal i ng wi th the typi cal hi gh
school di l emm as of a teenage gi r l .

Al i en s i s a gr eat exam pl e of how the m eta -str uctur e of a


stor y i s com pl etel y der i ved fr om them e. Who woul d have
thought that a bad -ass m ovi e about space m ar i nes ver sus
al i en m onster s woul d ac tual l y be about fami l y? Her e’s a l ook
at the four ac ts expanded fr om our earl i er l ook (i n Stor y
E ngi nes) to showc ase the use of them e . . .

RI P LE Y i s an o rp h an , havi ng been the onl y sur vi vor of an


attack on h er c ol ony ( her adopted "fami l y") by deadl y al i en
m onster s. She i s ad op ted by a new fam i l y, al bei t a
dysfuncti onal one: a pl atoon of gung -ho Mar i nes. Thei r
m i ssi on i s to save the fam i l y m em ber s of another col ony on a
di stant m oon that m ay have been overr un by the al i ens. They
get to the deser ted c ol ony, fi ndi ng the onl y sur vi vor i s an
o rp h an , a l i ttl e gir l nam ed NE WT; Ri pl ey a do p ts thi s gi r l ,
becom i ng her sur r ogate m other.

Thei r fi r st fi r e fi ght leads to c asual ti es to the Mar i ne fami l y,


causi ng br eakup of m o r al e and sol i dar i ty. When thei r r escue
shi p cr ashes, the Mar i nes ar e str anded on thi s danger ous
col ony, bei ng attac ked fr om all si des by the horde of al i ens.

Ri pl ey str uggl es to stay al i ve and defend her step - chi l d. One


by one Ri pl ey's adopted fam i l y i s k i l led off, and Newt i s
captur ed, cer tai n to be ki l led. As thei r base cr um bl es ar ound
them and the esc ape shi p wai ts, Ri pl ey deci des to go back
and fi nd Newt .

Ri pl ey arm s her sel f for a one -wom an battl e against the


al i ens. Ri pley fi nds Newt i n an eg g c ontai ned i n the n est of
the m assi ve QUEE N MOTHER. Ri pl ey r escues Newt, bur ns the
75

nest and r uns fr om the Queen Mother to the escape cr aft.


They escape the pl anet, but the Queen Mother has stowed
away on the shi p and attac ks Ri pl ey on the l oading dock.
R i pl ey bat tl es the Queen Mother , m other agai nst m other , for
custody of the c hi l d. Ri pl ey tri um phs and saves Newt. The
fi nal im age i s of m other and c hi l d, sl eepi ng next to one
another , safe.

Th e Si l en ce o f th e L a mb s expl or es powerful them es of


tr ansfor m ati on and gend er , r efl ec ted i n the character s of
Cl ar i ce Star l i ng ( Jodi e Foster ) and Jam e G um b, aka “ Buffal o
Bi l l ” ( Ted Fi el d) . Jam e G um b has hatc hed a m ur der ous
schem e to tr ansfor m him sel f i nto a wom an, and Cl ar i ce i s
acti ng agai nst or der s to r i se above her tr ai nee sta tus and to
becom e a wom an who c an stand on her own, no l onger i n her
father 's shadow and no l onger the c ute l i ttl e gi r l i n the r oom
who's pl ayi ng feder al agent. ( H er peti te si z e i s conti nual l y
em phasi z ed as she i s forc ed to be i n r oom s ar ound tal l er ,
physi cal l y str onger m en. )

I n Tro p i c Th un d er , ever y c har ac ter i s l i vi ng wi th som e sor t of


fal se i denti ty. Ben Sti l l er fakes li ke he car es about soci al
causes when al l he c ar es about i s him sel f. Robert Downey, Jr .
l ooks and acts l i ke a bl ac k m an, stayi ng “ i n char acter ” even
when the camer as ar en’t r ol li ng. Jac k Bl ack tr i es to cover up
that he’s a dr ug addi c t. Ni c k Nol te has l i ed about hi s m il i tar y
ser vi ce and even fakes that he’s m i ssi ng a hand. The young
r apper tur ned ac tor i s sec retl y gay. The events of the stor y
push al l of these c har ac ter s to c ri si s poi nts where they m ust
over com e thei r fear of showi ng thei r tr ue sel ves to the
wor l d.

OPEN AND END ON THEME


Them e can i nfor m ever y sc ene i n your scr i pt, but when
you'r e wr i ti ng your i ni ti al Stor y Map, i t's m ost cr uc i al to
expr ess your Contr ol l i ng Them e i n your Openi ng and Cl i m ax.
( I r efer to i t as “c ontr ol l i ng” bec ause the them e can l i ter all y
contr ol your c har ac ter s’ ac ti ons and add cohesi on and
di r ecti on to the pl ot. When you’r e stuck as to how a
76

char acter m i ght ac t i n a sc ene, ask your sel f how they mi ght
best expr ess the them e. )

I n your openi ng 10 p ages, you want to expr ess your


Contr ol l i ng Them e . Tr y to c om e up wi th an i m age or
si tuati on that enc om passes the fi l m as a whol e – ei ther your
uni que dr am atic si tuati on, your c om pel l i ng m ai n char acter ,
or the overr i di ng I DE A that you ar e
expl or i ng/comm uni c ati ng.

The audi ence does not need to under stand your them e ri ght
away; i t can bec om e cl ear l ater . An exam pl e of thi s i s the
openi ng of Th e Da rk Kn i gh t . The Joker says “ I bel i eve
whatever doesn’t ki l l you, si m pl y m akes you…stranger . ” He’s
stati ng the them e: i f you terr or iz e peopl e wi th the thr eat of
death, they wi l l ac t i n c haotic , sel f -destr ucti ve ways.

The hand i n the wheat fi el d at the openi ng of G la d ia to r i s an


i m age th at we wil l l ater assoc i ate wi th Maxi m us ascendi ng to
heaven to joi n hi s fam i l y. But to expl ai n i t now, at the star t
of the nar r ati ve, woul d be to gi ve away that our her o i s
goi ng to di e i n the end. So the fil mm aker s l eave i t as a
com pel li ng, m yster i ous im a ge and m ove on. Now, just for
good m easur e, i n the fol l owi ng battl e scene i n Ger m ani a,
Maxi m us com es r i ght out and states the them e of the fil m
when he call s out a battl e c r y to hi s tr oops ( and the
audi ence) : "What we do i n thi s l i fe ec hoes i n eter ni ty! " T hi s
expr esses the them e of "the a fter l ife," or m or e speci fi cal l y,
m an's acti ons on E ar th and how they r efl ect hi s status i n the
after l i fe. Thi s them e wi l l be di sc ussed and expl or ed i n
di al ogue thr oughout the fi lm . ( Al so, just for good m easur e,
another key l i ne fr om the openi ng touches on the them es of
the afte r l i fe: "On m y c om m and, unl eash h ell . " Maxi m us
coul d have sai d “ Cr ush your enemi es,” but that woul dn’t
have been on them e. )

I n the openi ng of As Go od a s i t G ets , we see Jack Ni chol son


stuff hi s nei ghbor 's dog down the tr ash chute. Thi s i s a ver y
str ong, uni que, funny ac ti on that establ i shes hi s char acter ,
the them e ( pessi m i sm ) and hi s m ai n G oal : to push other s
77

away. We wi ll l ater r eal i z e thi s i s a “ Fal se G oal ,” but,


never thel ess , i t's what wi l l dr i ve the fi r st Act of the fi lm ; he
wi l l constantl y fi ght to i sol ate hi m sel f and m ai ntai n the
status quo of hi s own c r az y wor l d.

Mel vi n Udall ’s fi nal ac ti on, to ki ss Car ol , i s pr eceded by hi s


l i ne , “ I ’m gonna gr ab ya,” and he pul l s her i n for a ki ss. He
begi ns wi t h pushi ng, ends wi th pull i ng. Not bad.

Ra i n Man opens on Char li e Babbi t ( Tom Cr ui se) super vi si ng a


shi pm ent of L am bor ghi ni spor ts c ar s, a col d symbol of r aw
m ater i al i sm and status. I t cl oses wi th hi m putti ng hi s br other
Raym ond ( Dusti n Hoffm an) on a tr ai n, the ol dest for m of
tr anspor tati on we have, and pr om i si ng hi m that he’l l vi si t
soon. Char l i e has gone fr om gr eed to bel i ef i n fam i l y.

PREVALENT THEMES
Our popul ar fi lm s and tv shows tend to m i ne the sam e batch
of “ cl assi c” them es. I n fac t, m uc h of our cl a ssi c li ter atur e
and m ythol ogy expr esses the sam e pool of themes. The
r eason these stor i es have been enjoyed all over the wor l d
for centur i es i s thei r uni ver sal appeal , which one can say i s
the functi on of ar t: to expl or e, expl ai n and express the
hum an cond i ti on. I n Ar thur Mil l er ’s wor ds, “ to m ake us feel
l ess al one. ”

One of the m ost pr eval ent them es i n al l of li ter atur e and


ci nem a that i s sti l l wi l dl y popul ar was per haps best
expr essed by Jesus i n the New Testam ent:

What does it profit a man to gain the en tire world but


lose his soul?

Char l es Foster Kane. . . Sc r ooge. . .G or don G ekko. . .Br uce


Wayne. . . Char l i e Babbi t. .. Howar d Hughes. . .Mar k
Z ucker ber g. . . the l i st goes on -- Al l c har acter s i n fi l m s wher e
the spoi l s of thei r weal th wer e wei ghed agai nst the l oss of
thei r fami l y/fr iends/m or al c ore /heal th.
78

How m any tim es have we seen the stor y of the type -A


wor kahol i c who m ust c hoose between t he ir job and thei r
ki ds? ( Just onc e I 'd l i ke to see them c hoose the job! Just to
shake thi ngs up a bi t, ya know?)

Th e Si xth Sen se i s about “ fam i l y c omm uni cati on.” I t's


r efl ected i n all of the m ajor l i nes of acti on:

 Col e i s str uggl i ng to wor k up the cour age to tel l hi s


m other about hi s power s.

 Mal col m i s tr yi ng to get Col e to tr ust and open up to


hi m .

 Mal col m i s tr yi ng to get hi s wi fe to forgi ve hi m .

 The ghosts ar e tr yi ng to send m essages to Col e, but


he's too sc ar ed to r eal i ze that they need hi s help.

 Col e's gr andm other tel l s Col e the m essage for him to
pass on to hi s m other .

Thi s r esul ts i n Mal c olm and Col e shar i ng the sam e E xter na l
G oal whil e havi ng thei r own I nter nal G oal s:

Ext ern a l G o a l In t ern al Go al


Ma lc olm C r owe T o l e arn h o w t o u s e T o re c o n c il e wit h h is
( B ru c e W i l li s ) Co l e 's p o w e rs fo r wi f e A nn a.
good.

C ole S e a r T o l e arn h o w t o u s e T o t el l hi s mo t he r ab o u t
( H al e y J oe l Co l e 's p o w e rs fo r h i s p o we rs.
O s me n t ) good.

Ther e i s a tr i pl e cl i m ax i n Th e Si xth Sen se that br i ngs these


thr ee goal s to fr ui ti on thr ough var i ati ons on fami l y
com m unicati on :

1. Col e l ear ns to hel p the ghost of the l i ttl e gi rl by


del i ver i ng the vi deo tape, i nc ri m i nati ng the m other i n
the death of her daughter .
79

2. Col e tel l s hi s m other about hi s gi ft and del i ver s the


m essage fr om G r andm a.

3. Mal col m r eali z es he's dead and i s fi nal l y abl e to


whi sper to Anna whi l e she sl eeps, tel l i ng her he l oves
her .

Mor e com m on t hem es wi th sam pl e fi l m s .. .

Fam i l y Ti es: Th e Fi gh ter, Wa r o f th e Wo rl d s, Th e Bl i nd Sid e,


Wi n ter's Bo n e , Th e Go d fa th er

Fai th, Hope : Si g n s, Th e Bo o k o f E li , Th e Lo rd of th e Rin g s: Th e


Two To wers, Th e Sh a wsh an k Red emp ti on , Co n ta ct

Ti m e: Ca st Awa y , Th e Cu ri ou s Ca se o f Ben ja min Bu tto n

Second Chanc es: Mi l l i on Do l la r Bab y , Seab i scu i t, Ho o si ers

Soci al Status: Ti ta n i c, E y es Wi d e Sh u t , Ma tch P oin t

Fr i endshi p : Th e Bu cket L i st, Mean G i rl s, Th el ma & Lo u i se,


Sta n d By Me

Deal i ng wi th l oss: Mi no ri ty Repo rt, Th e Rab b i t Ho l e ,


I n cep ti on

I denti ty: Mi l k, Th e Bo u rn e Tri l o g y , Memen to , L i ttl e Mi ss


Su n sh in e, A Hi sto ry o f Vio l en ce , Bl ad e Ru nn er

The Natur e of L ove : Sh a kesp ea re i n L o v e , E mma , Ho w To L o se


a Gu y i n 10 Da y s

Si n and puni shm ent: No Co un try Fo r Ol d Men , Un fo rg i v en ,


Sl i n g Bla d e, Cri mes a nd Mi sd emea no rs, Th e G i rl wi th th e
Dra g o n Ta tto o

The Under dog bec om es a her o : Tra n sfo rmers, P a u l Bl a rt:


Ma l l Cop , Ra ta to u il l e, Ro cky , Th e Verd i ct

The Cost of G eni us: Sh i n e, Amad eu s, G oo d Wi l l Hu n ti ng


80

Revenge : Th e Pu ni sh er, Ta ken , P a y ba ck , Mu n i ch

The oppr essed r i se up: Av a ta r, Th e Ma tri x , Dan ces Wi th


Wo l v es, Bra v eh ea rt

“ B IG” TH EM ES

I 've noti ced that the bi gger the fi lm , the m or e br oad the
them e tends to be.

For exam pl e, the them e of I a m L eg en d i s “L i ght up the


dar kness. ”

That' s i t. L ight up th e dar kness.

The them e of Sh rek i s obvi ous: E m br ace your i nner ogr e.

I f you want to appeal to a bi l l i on peopl e all over the wor l d,


you shoul d pr obabl y keep i t pr etty sim pl e and uni ver sal .

But you occasi onal l y get a huge fi lm that tackl es a m ore


com pl ex i dea.

L et's use Th e Da rk Kni g h t , wri tten by Jonathan Nol an,


Chr i stopher Nol an and Davi d S. G oyer , as a case study, and
you can r ead the Ful l Stor y Map i n the Appendi x.

THE DARK KNIGHT


Th e Da rk Kni g h t i s an exper t exam pl e of buil di ng an acti ve
stor y ar ound a p ower ful , c ontr oll i ng Them e .

I n a m ovi e, espec i al l y a super her o ac ti on thr il l er, ther e m ust


be HI G H STAKE S wi th SE RI OUS CONSE QUE NCE S. Li fe or death.
L oyal ty or betr ayal. L ove or Duty.

I n Th e Da rk Kn ig h t , the sc r eenwr i ter s wi sel y push the stor y


to the extr em es of the c onfli c t . To fi nd those extr em es, I ’d
sur m i se that they began wi th Br uc e Wayne/Batman’s
char acter and m ythol ogy and used those el em ents to push
hi m i nto an im possi bl e si tuati on.
81

Her e ar e thr ee “ essenti al tr uths” of Br uce Wayne/Batm an:

1. Br uce Wayne has swor n to pr otect the people of


G otham Ci ty.

2. Br uce’s al ter -ego Batm an i s the onl y thi ng that can


pr otec t them .

3. Br uce’s one r ul e i s not to ki ll .

The scr eenwr i ter s wil l push Br uc e i nto a posi ti on wher e he


has onl y two opti ons:

 G i ve up hi s i denti ty as Bat m an and tur n him sel f i n to


the author i ti es, or . . .

 Ki l l The Joker .

I n other wor ds: an i m possi bl e c hoic e .

Thi s i s what gr eat dr am a i s buil t upon.

The gl ue that hol ds i t together i s the them e of The Dar k


Kni ght:

Desperation pushes men to ac t in self -destru ctive and


chaotic ways.

The wr i ter s use them e to cr eate Br uc e’s acti ons and the
tr i al s that he wil l fac e i n hi s fi ght to achi eve hi s goal . Thi s i s
why I cal l i t the “ c ontr ol l i ng” them e ; i t can be used to
essenti al l y di c tate a c har ac ter ’s ac ti ons and di a logue and
gui de the pl ot of the stor y. I t m ai ntai ns the cr uci al “ stor y
focus” needed to hol d a Reader ’s attenti on.

When i n doubt about wher e to take the pl ot and what to


m ake your char ac ter do…l ook for the answer i n your them e.

I im agi ne that the wr i ter s began by m aki ng a li st of extr em e


acti ons ( thi ngs that Br uc e Wayne woul d norm al ly never do)
that woul d expr ess thi s them e:
82

 Br uce puts fai th i n a poli ti c i an: Di str i ct Attor ney


Har vey Dent.

 Br uce ignor es the advic e of Jim G or don, Al fr ed,


Har vey Dent, L uc i us Fox an d Rachel and deci des to
gi ve up hi s i denti ty.

 Br uce tor tur es a suspec t i n an i nter r ogati on.

 Br uce steal s L uci us’ tec hnol ogy and uses i t to i nfr i nge
on the pr i vac y of al l of G otham ’s ci ti z ens, whom he
has swor n to pr otec t wi th honor.

 Br uce lets Batm an take the fal l for m ur der.

I t then becom es the sc r eenwr i ter s’ job to for ce Br uce i nto a


posi ti on wher e he woul d l ogi c al l y ( wi thi n the hei ghtened
“ wor l d” of a Batm an m ovi e) per form these acti ons. Si nce a
gr eat scr i pt foc uses on a pr otagoni st that dr i ves the stor y
wi th thei r ac ti ve dec i si ons, i t’s not har d to thi nk that the
above l i st of ac ti ons form ed the basi c spi ne of the pl ot, the
si gnpost stor y beats that m ake up the “ Ful l Story Map. ”

Thi s them e al so for c es other c har a c ter s to take ir r ati onal


acti on. For exam pl e:

 Har vey Dent tor tur es a par anoi d schi z ophr eni c for
i nfor m ati on.

 Ji m G or don fakes hi s own death, keepi ng the tr uth


fr om hi s fam il y.

And i t “ contr ol s” the goal of the Antagoni st, The Joker :

 The Joker hatc hes an i ntr i c ate ter r ori st pl ot based on


fear that pushes the m ob, Batm an and the ci vi l i ans of
G otham Ci ty to the poi nt of desper ati on.

Ul ti m atel y, the sc reenwr i ter s used thei r uni que them e to


constr uct an ac ti ve stor y wi th m ul ti pl e l i nes of acti on and a
83

l ar ge ensem bl e of c har ac ter s that fi l l s 2 hour s and 24


m i nutes of sc r een ti me.

I t al so seem s l i kel y that i t wa s a them e r el evant to the ti m es:


the post -9/11 “ War on Ter r or ” er a i n Am eri ca and abr oad.
The them e had u rg en cy . And i t took a wel l -known char acter
that we’ve seen por tr ayed i n sever al fi l m s i nto ne w dr am atic
ter r i tor y.

I n concl usi on , i f you know what your stor y i s abo u t – the


i dea you want to expl o re or wh a t y ou wa n t to say – then the
bl ank page wil l not seem so daunti ng.
84

FROM THE TRENCHES:


SCOTT ROSENBERG TAKES IT
TO THE EXTREME!
I went to an i nd ustr y event wi th a new busi ness car d. On the
back of the c ar d I had pr i nted the l ogl i ne for m y scr eenpl ay ,
a super natur al ac ti on thri l l er that I l i ke to descri be as
“ Fr ankenstei n m eets Pr edator ” as i t's about a troubl ed
sci enti st who l oses hi s wi fe to a m yster i ous Yeti -l i ke
cr eatur e. He bel ieves her to be dead, but year s later he
tr acks down the m onster 's l ai r and fi nds that she i s not onl y
al i ve, but she has bec om e the m ate of the cr eatur e. The
or i gi nal dr aft had a ver y extrem e way of showi ng thi s at the
end of Act Two tur n – the sc i enti st fi nds hi s wi fe and the
cr eatur e havi ng sex. But I c ut thi s as I fel t i t was too off -
putti ng and woul d ali enate r eader s and pr esent pr obl em s for
r ati ngs.

The actual beat was not evi dent i n the l ogl i ne when I showed
i t to Scott Rosenber g ( Arma g ed do n , Bea u ti fu l G irl s, Hi g h
Fi d el i ty, Go n e i n 60 Seco n d s ) – i t onl y sai d that he found the
wi fe al i ve . He took one l ook at i t and sai d. ..

“ What i f the guy gets there and the m onster i s f**ki ng hi s


wi fe?”

He had l ooked at the l ogl i ne and im medi atel y extr apol ated
the dr am ati c el em ents to thei r l ogic al extr em es.

I knew that I c oul dn’t hol d bac k. I needed to go back to m y


or i gi nal i dea.

On that note, i t’s ti m e to. ..


85

VIII. GET EXTREME!

I l ove i t when I see a m ovi e or r ead a scr i pt and the wr i t er i s


wi l l i ng to “go ther e,” to take the stor y to the extr em es of
the dr am ati c c onfl ic t. Not afr ai d to shock, offend or m ake
thei r audi enc e unc om for tabl e, but to be tr ue to the stor y
and the dr am ati c el em ents that they have bui l t.

I n Th e Han go v er , the guys tel l P hi l ( Br adl ey Cooper ) not to


l eave the baby i n the c ar al one and he argues, “ I cr acked the
wi ndow! ” Awful. . . but hi l ar i ous.

I n Mi ll i on Do l la r Bab y , Maggi e ( Hi l ar y Swank) i s not just hur t


but she i s par al yz ed fr om the nec k down. Her condi ti on
wor sens a nd she asks Fr anki e ( Cl i nt E astwood) to euthani z e
her . Ther e i s no l ast -m i nute save; he m ust end her l i fe to
al l ow hi s ar c to c om e to fr ui ti on.

I n Si d ewa ys, Jac k ( Thom as Hayden Chur ch) has al r eady had
one affai r and got hi s nose br oken i n 3 pl aces, but he sti l l
i nsi sts o n sl eepi ng wi th the wai tr ess, l eadi ng him to get
caught by her husband . I t gets wor se when Jack m akes Mi l es
( P aul G i am atti ) go bac k to the house to retr i eve hi s wal l et,
and Mi l es g ets c hased by the naked husband. Thi s r epr esents
the ul ti m ate test of Mil e s’ l oyal ty to hi s fri end.

I see scr i pts al l the tim e wher e the wr i ter i s unwi l l i ng to go


al l the way – one of the big r easons for thi s i s that they
consi der the pr otagoni st to be them sel ves. They can't have
thei r her o l i e, c heat or steal bec au se i t's som ethi ng that
they woul dn't do i n real li fe ( or at l east they l i ke to thi nk
they woul dn't ) . They al so r efr ai n fr om havi ng som ethi ng
ter r i bl e happen to thei r pr otagoni st ( r ape, par alysi s,
castr ati on, the l i st goes on, peopl e) because i t scar es them
to thi nk of thi s happeni ng to them. But thi s i s a stor y and
your pr otagoni st i s a dr am ati c c onstr ucti on, n o t you.
86

Besi des, your l i fe i s bor i ng. Tr ust m e, i t woul d not m ake a


good m ovi e. At the l east, you'd need to m ake up a l ot of
stuff .

So be pr epar ed to be tr ue to your stor y.. . to “go ther e ” . .. to


take the stor y to the natur al extr em es of the confl i ct. G o for
i t.

Why? Because not onl y does Dr am a = Confl ict, but Hol l ywood
i s fi l l ed wi th thousands of bor ed wor ker s r eadi ng the sam e
ol d pl ot tur ns and stor y m e c hani c s -- pul l the seat out fr om
under them and they’l l l ove you for i t.
87

IX. BILLY W ILDER'S TIPS FOR WRITERS 1

When I fir st watc hed Sun set Bou l eva rd ( 1950) at hom e on
DVD, I imm edi atel y notic ed that Bi l l y Wi l der had str uctur ed
hi s fi l m exactl y to the Stor y Ma p par adi gm ( Ful l Stor y Map i n
the Appendi x) .

As you pr epar e to str uc tur e your own nar r ati ve, her e's som e
sti l l -r el evant advic e fr om the l ate, gr eat m aster .. .

1. The au di enc e i s fi c kl e.
2. G r ab 'em by the thr oat and don't l et go.
3. Devel op a c l ean l i ne of ac ti on for your l eadi ng char acter.
4. Know wher e you'r e goi ng.
5. The m or e subtl e and el egant you ar e i n hi di ng your pl ot
poi nts, the better you ar e as a wr i ter.
6. I f you have a pr obl em wi th the thi r d act, the real pr obl em
i s the fi r st ac t.
7. A ti p fr om L ubi tsc h: L et the audi ence add up two pl us two.
They'l l l ove you for i t.
8. I n doi ng voi c e -over s, be c ar eful not to descr i be what the
audi ence al r eady sees. Add to what they ar e seei ng.
9. The event that oc c ur s at the sec ond -act cur tain tr i gger s
the end of the m ovi e.
10. The thi r d ac t m ust bui l d, bui l d, buil d i n tempo and acti on
unti l the l ast event, and then –
11. – that's i t. Don't hang ar ound.

1. Fro m C on v e r s at io n s W it h W i ld e r b y Came ro n Cro we c o p yri g h t ©


1999 Came ro n Cro w e .
88

X. MORE ON THE BEAT SH EET W ITH EXAMPLES

L et’s r evi ew the Beat Sheet wi th some dr am ati c sam pl e beats


fr om wel l -known fi l m s. I n eac h l i st, I tr y to ci te exam pl es
fr om m ul ti ple genr es and al so defi ne a “cl assi c” exam pl e of
the beat, whi c h means i t’s the per fec t em bodiment of al l o f
the speci al char ac ter i sti c s of that beat fr om a tim e -tested
fi l m.

1) OPENING (PAGE 1-3):


Sweet spot: page 1 -2

The fi r st page of your sc r eenpl ay i s the m ost cr uci al page


and the fi r st ten pages ar e the m ost c r uci al section. You
m ust open your sc r i pt wi th a c l ear , c onci se scene that i s easy
to r ead, uses pl enty of whi te spac e on the page and sucks i n
the r eader . Your openi ng sc ene/s shoul d featur e these key
char acter i sti c s :

 I t e stabl i shes the ORDE R ( the uni que wor l d of the


stor y) and the TONE ( the “ feel ” o f the scr i pt and
m ovi e) .

 I t expr esses the THE ME .

 I t usual l y i ntr oduc e s the CE NTRAL DRAMATI C


QUE STI ON , an over -r i di ng m yster y that wi ll not be
sol ved unti l the Mi dpoi nt, E nd of Act Two or the
E ndi ng of the sc r i pt. ( Note: The tr ue CDQ can be
i ntr o’d as l ate as E nd of Ac t One, but no l ater than
that. )

 I t pr obabl y i ntr oduc es the PROTAG ONI ST, our mai n


char ac ter /her o.

Classic Examp le – Ci tiz en Ka n e : Charl es Foster Kane utter s


"Rosebud" as he di es, l aunc hi ng our Centr al Dr am ati c
Questi on, "What i s Rosebud?"
89

Acti on – Gl a di a to r: The openi ng shot i s the hand gr az i ng the


wheat fi el d i n heaven , expr essi ng the them e of "the
after l i fe ." Thi s i s fol l owed by the battl e i n G ermani a,
establ i shi ng our her o as a gr eat fi ghter and one that
bel i eves, "What we do i n thi s l i fe ec h oes i n eterni ty! "

Com edy – Ci ty Sl i ckers : Mi tc h and hi s two best fr i ends r un


wi th the bul l s i n P am pl ona, Spa i n. Mi tch gets gor ed i n the
ass , causi ng hi m to vow that he wi l l never go on another
cr az y tri p agai n.

Dr am a – Th ere Wi l l B e Blo od : When Daniel P l ai nvi ew ’s l eg i s


shatter ed whi l e m i ni ng for gol d , he puts the gold nuggets i n
hi s shi r t and pushes hi m sel f acr o ss the deser t usi ng onl y hi s
good l eg, al l the way to the c l aim ant’s offi ce to col l ect hi s
m oney.

B AD EXAM PL E Su p erma n Retu rn s : The openi ng l aunche s the


i ni ti al Centr al Dr am ati c Questi on of the fi lm : “ Wher e di d
Super m an go for four year s?” E ventuall y, we ar e tol d that he
went back to the l oc ati on of hi s hom e pl anet of Kr ypton
based on a shaky sc i enti fi c l ead that ther e m ay have been
sur vi vor s. Huh? So what di d he do ther e and why di d i t take
hi m four year s? Thi s i s never answer ed.
90

2) INCITING INCIDENT (PAGE 8-10):


Sweet spot: page 10

The I nci ti ng I nc i dent i s t he fi r st di stur bance to the or der


that was establ i shed i n your Openi ng scene. Key
char acte r i sti c s:

 I t jum p -star ts the stor y i nto m oti on.

 I t br i ngs about danger , CONFL I CT and chaos.

 I t i ntr oduc es the MAI N DRAMATI C CONFL I CT and


m aybe the ANTAG ONI ST.

Classic Examp le – Kra mer Vs. Kra mer : Ted com es hom e l ate
fr om wor k and hi s wife Joanna wal ks out , l eavi ng hi m and
thei r young son.

Ti ta n i c: Jack wi ns the ti c ket on the shi p.

Th e Ma tri x : Neo meets Tr i ni ty, who tel l s him about the


Matr i x.

Sp i d erma n : P eter P ar ker i s bi t by the r adi oacti ve spi der .

Th e Ha n go v er : The guys dr i ve to Vegas.

Sa v i ng P ri v a te Ry a n : The r am p i s dr opped on the l andi ng


cr aft and Captai n Mil l er 's men ar e m owed down.

Wh en Ha rry Met Sa l ly : Har r y and Sal l y di sagr ee over Har r y's


theor y that m en and wom en c an't be fr i ends. She bets hi m
they can and wil l .

E ri n Bro cko vi ch : Er i n stor m s i nto E d's offi ce, the l awyer who
l ost her per sonal i njur y l awsui t c ase i n the openi ng, and
dem ands a job.
91

3) STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD (PAGE 17-20):


Sweet Spot: 18

The pr otagoni st tr ul y takes the "fir st step" on the i r “ cor e


jour ney,” the E xter nal l i ne of ac ti o n, even i f they don’t know
i t yet. Key char ac ter i sti c s:

 May be a c onsc i ous ac ti on by pr otagoni st or they m ay


be for c ed down a path. I f the I nci ti ng I nci dent was a
sl ap, thi s i s a push.

 Tr ue MOVEME NT on the i nevi tabl e m ai n l i ne of


acti on , m aybe i n the form of a r evel ati on.

 P er haps the i ntr oduc ti on of the DYNAMI C CHARACTE R


or ME NTOR who bec kons our pr otagoni st on thi s
jour ney.

 Must be goi ng for war d , not backwar d, so not


r epeti ti ve of anythi ng previ ous.

Classic Examp le – Th e Wi za rd Of Oz : Dor othy gets swept up


by the twi ster .

Up : Car l l ets l oose the bal l oons and l aunches hi s house i nto
the sky.

I n cep ti on : Sai to offer s Cobb the job of penetr ating hi s


com peti tor ’s m i nd.

Th e Wrestl er : Randy ac c epts the r em atch wi th the Ayatol l ah


and m eets Cassi dy, hi s l ove i nter e st.

Fro z en Riv er: Ray ( Meli ssa L eo) deci des to m ake her fi r st
sm uggl i ng r un to save her hom e.

Bl a ck Swan : Ni na gets the l ead r ol e i n Swan La ke.

Sta n d By Me : The ki ds take thei r fi r st step onto the tr ai n


tr acks, thei r "r oad" to fi nd the dead body.
92

G l ad i a to r: E m per or Mar c us Aur el i us asks Maxi mus to succeed


hi m as l eader of Rom e when he di es, and r etur n i t to a
dem ocr ati c r epubl ic .

FROM THE TRENCHES:


ELIJAH WOOD
(The Lord of the Rings, The Ice Storm,
Sin City)
“I’m at tr acted to gr eat c har acter s i n t he co n te xt
of a s cr ipt t hat is n’ t as i nter es ti n g , b ut I’m j ust
as i nt er ested i n b ei ng a p ar t of a n e ntir e p ie ce
t hat is br illi a nt e ve n if i t’s a sm all par t to p l ay i n
t hat e ntir e piece. I’m always j us t lo oki ng for
som et hi ng t hat I’ ve ne ver do ne a nd fe els uni q ue
a nd s pecial . And i t’s a lso j ust gu t, w ha t yo u
em otio nal ly co nnec t wit h, a nd t hat ca n be a
var ie ty o f t hi ng s.”
93

4) END OF ACT ONE TURN & DECISION (PAGE 25-30):


Sweet Sp o t : Tur n: 27 Deci si on : 29

A sur pr i si ng EVE NT c auses gr eat c onfl i ct and a TURN i n


di r ecti on of the stor y ( usual l y, a tur n on the E xter nal l i ne of
acti on) . The pr otagoni st m akes an ac ti ve DE CI SION ( i deall y, a
shown deci si on ) i n the fac e of thi s c onfl ict and enter s a
G ATE WAY—the stor y i s pr opel l ed i nto Act Two in a new,
unf or eseen di r ec ti on. Key c har ac teri sti cs:

 The pl ot takes a dr am ati c TURN i n di r ecti on, not just


a bum p i n the r oad!

 Stakes ar e hei ghtened and new, m or e seri ous


consequenc es ar i se.

 The pr otagoni st for m ul ates thei r fir st m ajor P L AN OF


ACTI ON that they wi l l fol l ow for Act 2A.

 I t m ay si gnal a L OCATI ON CHANG E , but i t mu st signal


NE W DRAMATI C TE RRI TORY.

 E xter nal and I nter nal G oal s, the Centr al Dr am atic


Questi on and the Ac t Two - A Stor y E ngi ne m ust be
establ i shed by the end of Ac t One, i deal l y by page 30.

Rem em ber : TU RN and DE CI SI ON. Ther e m ust be som ethi ng to


pr opel the pr otagoni st and us i n thi s new di r ection and i nto
Act Two. The pr otagoni st ’s dec i si on does not need to be
onscr een, i t c an be i m pli ed. ( For exam pl e, i n Ci ty Sl i ckers ,
Mi tch’s fr i ends ar e pushi ng hi m to go wi th them on the tr i p
to New Mexi c o for the c attl e r un – befor e he can answer , we
CUT TO an aer i al shot over the New Mexi co pl ains and we
know Mi tch m ade the dec i si on to go on the tri p. New
l ocati on and ne w dr am ati c ter ri tor y, exactl y 30 m i nutes i n. )

Rem em ber : 31 -33 pages for Ac t One i s acceptable, but a


per fect 30-page Ac t One i s gol den . Reader s wil l love you.
94

Classic Examp le – Th e Ma tri x : Neo m eets Mor pheus and i s


offer ed the bl ue pil l or the red pi ll . Neo chooses the r ed pi l l
and enter s the “r eal wo rl d,” a post -apocal ypti c E ar th r un by
m achi nes.

Th e Ha n go v er – The guys di sc over that the gr oom i s m i ssi ng


and deci de to fol l ow their exi sti ng c l ues to fi nd hi m .

Th e So ci a l Netwo rk : Mar k Z uc ker berg i s appr oached by the


Wi nkl evoss twi ns to bui l d a dati ng we bsi te, but he bl ows
them off and dec i des to m ake hi s own websi te, aski ng hi s
fr i end E duar do for star tup m oney.

Th e Da rk Kni g h t : Batm an m eets wi th Har vey Dent and Jam es


G or don about how to take down Mar oni ’s cr ew. Batm an vows
to extr i cate L ao out of Hong Ko ng to bri ng him back to
testi fy i n cour t agai nst Mar oni .

Th e Wrestl er : Randy the Ram i s thr own i nto a ri ng wi th


bar bed wi r e, br oken gl ass and an opponent wi th a stapl e
gun. He deci des to keep wr estl i ng even though he’s hur t,
l eadi ng to a hear t attac k.

As G o od As I t G ets : Mel vi n i s l eft wi th hi s nei ghbor 's dog. He


deci des to take good c ar e of i t, showi ng hi s fir st affecti on
for another li vi ng c r eatur e.

Ru sh mo re : Ms. Cr oss br i ngs a date to Max’s pl ay. Max thr ows


a fi t and announc es he's i n l ove wi th Ms. Cr oss .

Ti ta n i c: Rose and Jac k shar e a stol en ki ss.

G l ad i a to r: Com m odus, son of Mar c us Aur el i us, m ur der s hi s


father and m ar ks Maxi m us for death.

Sa v i ng P ri v a te Ry a n : Capt ai n Mi l ler i s gi ven the m i ssi on to go


behi nd enem y l i nes to br i ng bac k P ri vate Ryan. He acce pts.

Th e Wi z a rd Of Oz : Dor othy f oll ows the yell ow bri ck r oad.


95

Make sure to avoid:


 Repeti ti on – Your tur n and deci si on shoul d be
new, not just an extensi on of a pr evi ous beat.
Thi s i s not just a com pl i cati on, but a new
di r ec ti on.

 G oi ng Bac k – Don’t r etur n to a pr evi ous l ocati on


or pr evi ous dr am ati c ter r i tor y. Keep pushi ng
ahead—unl ess ther e i s gr eat change i n the ol d
l ocati on/si tuati on.
96

5) FIRST TRIAL/FIRST CASUALTY (PAGE 38- 40):


The fi r st m ajor obstac l e on the pr otagoni st 's new jour ney
and the consequenc es that fol l ow. The pr otagoni st fai l s and
pays a pr i ce. Key c har a c ter i sti c s:

 A ski r m i sh , for eshadowi ng a l ar ger battl e.

 A confr ontati on that r ai ses the stakes, m akes the


thr eat “ r eal” for the pr otagoni st .

 The pr otagoni st ’s fai l ur e l eaves a consequence


( “ casual ty” ) .

 The casual ty m ay be the death of an al l y or a


fi gur at i ve death ( e. g. , the l oss of i nnocence, a blow
to the ego, a shoc ki ng revel ati on) .

 Rei nfor c es that the her o i s now on an i nevi tabl e path,


wi th no tur ni ng bac k.

Classic Examp le – Sa vi ng P ri va te Rya n : The fi r st fi r efi ght on


thei r new m i ssi on ; one of the pl atoon i s ki ll ed.

G l ad i a to r: Maxi m us r ac es hom e to fi nd hi s fam i ly m ur der ed.

Th e Da rk Kni g h t : Batm an bri ngs bac k L ao, l eadi ng to the


convi cti on of Mar oni ’s c r ew, but the Joker unveil s hi s fi r st
m ur der vi ctim .

Meet Th e P a ren ts : Jac k gi ves G r eg a l i e -detector t est, whi ch


G r eg fai l s.

Si d ewa ys: Mi l es gets dr unk on the doubl e date , em bar r assi ng


hi m sel f .

5A) COM B AT (Pa ge 45): The Fi r st Casual ty generates a


m or e dir ec t c onfr ontati on her e. I f the Tr i al was a
ski r m i sh, thi s i s a BATTL E , m or e per sonal and with
hi gher st akes.

Si d ewa y s: Mi l es dr unk -di al s hi s ex - wi fe, confr onti ng


her about her new husband. She r ebukes hi m .
97

Th e Ma tri x : Neo begi ns hi s c om bat tr ai ni ng, spars


wi th Mor pheus.

Ra i n Man : Raym ond has a pani c attack i n the ai rpor t,


r efusi ng to get on a pl ane. Char l i e i s forced to dr i ve
hi m cr oss-c ountr y i n thei r father ’s r oadster .

Ro cky : Roc ky br i ngs Adr i an bac k to hi s apar tm ent. She


i ni ti al l y r esi sts, but he seduc es her .
98

6) MIDPOINT (PAGE 50-55):


Sweet Spot: page 55

A DI SASTE R oc c ur s DE AD CE NTE R i n your stor y and RAI SE S


THE STAKE S, thr eatens the goal , and P USHE S THE ACTI ON TO
THE CL I MAX wi th a new Stor y E ngi ne( s) . Key char acter i sti cs:

 Fal se goal s bec om e tr ue goal s.

 For eshadows and di r ec tl y c onnects to the cl im ax.

 G ener ates a new l i ne of ac ti on or two that wi l l


cul m i nate at the end of Ac t Two -B or the cl i m ax .

 E stabl i shes a ti c ki ng CL OCK —a ti m e deadl i ne that


escal ates c onfl i c t and i nc r eases tensi on.

 The beat i tsel f m ay be an em oti onal hi gh poi nt for


your pr otagoni st , but i t m ust hol d di r e consequences
and cr eate a l i ne of ac ti on/s that wi l l push them
towar d the i nevi tabl e c li m ac tic confr ontati on. (An
exam pl e of thi s woul d be a fi r st ki ss between two
l over s who ar e c omm i tted to other s, as i n Th e
No teb oo k or Ma tch P o in t ) .

Classic Examp le: Ba ck To Th e Fu tu re : Mar ty McFl y m ust get


hi s par ents bac k together at the “E nc hantm ent Under the
Sea” dance or he wil l di e. He m ust al so use the li ghtni ng bol t
that wi l l hi t the cl oc k tower to get back to the futur e. Both
of these goal s wi l l c li m ax on Satur day ni ght ( the ti cki ng
“ cl ock” ).

Ti ta n i c: the shi p str i kes the ic eber g.

Th e Ha n go v er : After a naked Asi an guy pops out of the tr unk


and beats them al l up wi th a c r owbar , Al an adm its that he
put r oofi es i n thei r dr i nks.
99

Up : Car l enter s the dar k dir i gi bl e of Char l es Muntz , Car l 's


chi l dhood her o and soon - to-be vi l l ai n.

Th e Wrestl er : Randy i s r ejec ted by hi s daughter.

Th e Wi z a rd Of Oz : The Wi z ar d or der s Dor othy and com pany


to br i ng back the br oom sti c k of the Wi cked Wi tch of the
E ast.

Th e Si xth Sen se : Col e's tr ue power to see the dead i s


r eveal ed. Al so, Col e's m other r ebukes hi m for movi ng
G r andm a's "bum blebee pendant," whi ch for eshadows hi s
I nter nal cl i m ax.

Ci ty Sl i ckers : Mi tc h i s forc ed by CURL Y to del i ver Nor m an the


cal f —thi s l aunc hes hi s l ove i nter est and for eshadows the
E xter nal cl i m a x when he saves Norm an fr om the r agi ng r i ver.

Su n set Bou l eva rd : Joe suc c um bs to Norm a Desmond’s


m ani pul ati ons and bec omes her l over .

Kra mer Vs. Kra mer : Just as Ted i s bondi ng wi th hi s son and
m aki ng si ngle father hood wor k, he gets fir ed fr om hi s job,
thr eateni ng hi s c ustody.

Ro cky : Rocky Bal boa r el uc tantl y agr ees to fi ght Apol l o Cr eed .
He i s m ade fun of by Cr eed i n the press confer ence and
adm i ts to Adr i an that thi s upset him .

I n cep ti on : The team c hooses a n i nter nati onal fl ight for the
m i ssi on.

Th e So ci a l Netwo rk : Mar k expands the si te to Yal e, Col um bi a


and Stanfor d to a ttr ac t Si l i c on Val l ey i nvestor s and he’s
r ebuked by hi s ex -gi r l fr i end.

Ra i d ers o f th e L o st Ark : I ndy fi nds the l ocati on of the ar k i n


the m ap r oom and r efuses to r esc ue Mar i on fr om the Naz i s
unti l he can save the ar k.
100

6A) ON E H OUR WAR /TR IUM PH (p age 60) (Op t ion al) :

Sweet Spot: page 60

The one hour m ar k i n a m ovi e, or page 60 i n a


scr eenpl ay, often br i ngs a dr am ati c m om ent that m ay
m ar k a di r ec t c onfr ontati on, the i ntr oducti on of a
m ajor c ha r ac ter or a r evel ati on. I t’s not r equi r ed i f
your Mi dpoi nt occ ur s i n the 50 -55 r ange. But i f you
use i t, i t m ust be BI G i n ter m s of heavy r am i ficati ons
on the P r otagoni st’s pur sui t of thei r goal s .

Th e So ci a l Netwo rk : Sean P ar ker fr om Napster


di scover s “ The Fac ebook ” on a gi rl ’s com puter .

I n cep ti on : Ar i adne m eets Mal i n Cobb’s subcons ci ous,


l eadi ng to a fr i ghteni ng c onfr ontati on.

Th e Wrestl er : Randy ki sse s Cas si dy ( sets up hi s fi nal


deci si on to c hoose wr estl i ng over l ove) .

Ra i d ers o f th e L o st Ark : I ndy and S al l ah open up the


Wel l of Soul s, fi ndi ng the ar k, but i t i s pr otected by
hundr eds of poi sonous snakes.
101

7) DECLARATION OF WAR/ASSUMPTION OF POWER (PAGE 75):


Sweet Spot: page 75

The pr otagoni st exper i enc es a sur ge of str ength, r eal iz es


thei r TRUE P OWE R an d ei ther i ni ti ates a dir ect attack on the
Antagoni st or pr epar es/TRAI NS for the i nevi table battl e. Key
c har acter i sti c s:

 Mom ent of per sonal power

 P r otagoni st “ fi ghts bac k” after the devastati on of the


Mi dpoi nt.

 P r otagoni st thr ows down the gauntl et, i ssui ng a


chal l enge to hi m sel f/her self or the enem y.

 P r otagoni st i s abl e to do som ethi ng or see som ethi ng


that they pr evi ousl y fail ed at or di d not under stand.

Classic Examp le –Th e Ka ra te Ki d : Mr . Mi yagi shows Dani el


L ar uso how he was ac tual l y l ear ni ng to punch an d ki ck when
he was pai nti ng the fenc e and sandi ng the fl oor . Dani el
r eal i z es hi s potenti al for power .

Classic Examp le – Ro cky : Roc ky punc hes the m eat, showi ng


tr ue confi denc e and str ength for the fi r st tim e.

Sp i d erma n : Spi der m an's fi r st dir ec t battl e wi th the G r een


G obl i n.

Up : Car l thr ows hi s ol d possessi ons out of the house,


decl ar i ng war on Muntz to r esc ue Russel l .

As G o od As I t G ets : Mel vi n agr ees to dr i ve Si m on and Car ol


to vi si t Si m on's par ents. He opens up for the fi r st ti m e about
hi s chi l dhood, attem pti ng to m ake a per sonal connecti on .

Si d ewa ys: Mi l es pul l s out of hi s funk, shower s and gets


dr essed up and goes to the r estaur ant wher e Maya wor ks,
deter m i ned to im pr ess her .
102

Meet Th e P a ren ts : Gr eg tr i um phantl y r etur ns Jack’s cat Ji nxy ,


wi nni ng over the e ntir e fam i l y.

Th e Ha n go v er : The guys wor k the bl ac kjack tabl es wi th Al an’s


am az i ng “ Rai nm an” ski ll s, wi nni ng the m oney to pay the
gangster to get the gr oom.

Ra i n ma n : Char l ie Babbi tt r eal iz es that he was the r eason


Raym ond was put i n an i nsti tuti on, so he d eci des to take
r esponsi bi l i ty for Raym ond as hi s br other.

Fro z en Riv er: Ray pul l s a gun on the Russi an sm uggl er ,


dem andi ng her paym ent i n ful l and standi ng up for two
hel pl ess Chi nese i m mi gr ants.

Th e Wrestl er : Randy ask s hi s daught er to have dinner ; she


ac cepts.
103

8) END OF ACT TWO TURN & DECISION (PAGE 85-90):


Sweet Sp o t – Tur n: 87 Dec i si on: 89

Another m ajor , shoc ki ng EVE NT tur n s the stor y in a new


di r ecti on , m ore danger ous than ever , for ci ng the pr otagoni st
to r i sk ever ythi ng on a new c our se of acti on. Ke y
char acter i sti c s:

 A shoc ki ng RE VE RSAL occ ur s, al ter i ng our or igi nal


per cepti on of an event, them e or char acter .

 The stor y "opens up " i nto NE W DRAMATI C TE RRITORY


and per haps a new LOCATI ON as the thr eat wor sens
and m aybe takes a new for m.

 The her o HI TS BOT TOM, feel i ng the dir e


CONSE QUE NCE S of thei r dec i si on at the end of Act
One.

 P l otl i nes CONVERGE to foc us the stor y and to


establ i sh the fi nal STORY E NG I NE to push to the
Cl i m ax.

 The pr otagoni st i s for c ed to m ake a NE W DE CI SION to


"r i sk al l " to ac hi eve hi s/ her goal , pr opell i ng us into
Act Thr ee.

Agai n: TURN and DE CI SI ON.

Classic Examp le – Al i en s: When Newt i s captur ed by the


al i ens, Ri pl ey deci des to r i sk her li fe to go back to fi nd her.

Sa v i ng P ri v a te Ry a n : They fi nd P r i vate Ryan, but he r ef uses


to l eave h i s pl atoon. Captai n Mi l l er deci des to rem ai n and
fi ght, devi si ng a pl an to defeat the enem y tanks.

Ti ta n i c: Rose ’s fam i l y pr oc ur es a li feboat but she deci des to


r i sk her li fe to go bac k and fi nd Jac k.
104

Th e Si l en ce o f th e L a mb s : Hanni bal t r icks Cl ar i ce i nto


r eveal i ng her c hi l dhood stor y of tr yi ng to save the l am b fr om
sl aughter . She i s left total l y al one and m ust fi ght on.

Bei n g Jo h n Ma l ko vi ch : Cr ai g dec i des to rem ai n insi de John


Mal kovi ch, m aki ng hi m i nto a hum an puppet. He tel l s
Mal kovi ch's agent that he i s l eavi ng acti ng to becom e a
puppeteer .

Ci ty Sl i ckers : The gr oup i s l eft i n the deser t wi th no gui des


and 200 head of c attl e. Mi tc h and fr i ends deci de to r i sk al l
and br i ng i n the c attl e them sel ves.

Th e Si xth Sen se : Col e i s gi ven the vi deotape by the dead g ir l


at the wake. He gi ves i t to the father —the vi deo i ncr im i nates
the m other .

Ro cky : After Adr i an m oves i n wi th him , Rocky trai ns har d for


the fi ght i n the fam ous tr ai ni ng m ontage.

Th e Ha n go v er : The guys fi nd the gr oom on the roof of the


hotel and dec i de t hey c an sti ll m ake the weddi ng i f they
dr i ve li ke m ani ac s.

Th e Wrestl er : When hi s daughter r ejects hi m for good, Randy


qui ts hi s job and dec i des to c om e out of r etir ement to
wr estl e the Ayatol l ah.

Th e I n cred i b l es : The fam i l y c om es together and fi ghts, i n


c ostum e, for the fir st ti m e as a team.

I Lo v e You , Ma n : P eter ( P aul Rudd) i s dum ped by hi s fi ancé


and he “ br eaks up” wi th Si dney ( Jason Segel ) .

No rth By No rth west : Car y G r ant dodges the pl ane i n thi s


fam ous sequenc e. The pl ane c r ashes, he steal s a car and
heads back to c onfr ont the enem y.
105

9) TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN (PAGE 100):


Sweet Spot: 100

An i ntense, hi gh -c onfl i c t m oment that concl usi vel y sets


up the fi nal battl e . A di sc over y or r evel ati on that m ar ks
that fr om thi s poi nt on, ther e tr ul y i s NO RE TURN! Key
char acter i sti c s:

 R atchets the stakes and tensi on up to i ts ul ti m ate


peak as the thr eat takes on even m or e power .

 Just when you thought i t c oul dn’t get any wor se. . . i t
gets wor se!

 The pr otagoni st m akes thei r fi nal statem ent of


i ntenti ons.

 The pr otagoni st for m ul ates the m ethod of defeat ,


fi ndi ng the Antagoni st’s Ac hi l l es Heel , which they wi l l
expl oi t to defeat them .

Classic Examp le – Ro cky : Roc ky dec i des that hi s goal wi ll not


be to knock out the c ham pi on, but to l ast the full 15 r ounds
wi th hi m , whic h no fi ghter has ever done.

Di e Ha rd : John Mc Cl ane’s wi fe Hol l y i s taken hostage and


John sees the duc t tape, for m ul ati ng hi s pl an.

Ju n o : Juno’s water br eaks. She’s havi ng the baby.

Z o d ia c: G r eysm i th ( Jake G yl l enhaal ) i s asked by hi s wi fe why


i s he thr owi ng awa y hi s li fe to pur sue the ki ll er . He says he
just has to l ook at hi m and m ake the m an know that he
knows hi s sec r et.

Th e Wrestl er: Randy c hoose s wr estl i ng over Cass i dy. He


gr abs the m ic r ophone and tel l s hi s fans that they ar e hi s tr ue
fam i l y.
106

Th e Si l en ce o f th e L a mb s: Hanni bal escapes pr i son and


Cl ar i ce vi si ts the hom e of the fir st m ur der ed gi r l, fi ndi ng
cl ues that br eak the c ase and wi ll l ead her to the l ai r of
ser i al ki ll er Buffal o Bi l l .

Al i en s: Ri pl ey bur ns the nest of the al i en queen , savi ng Newt


and r un ni ng bac k to the esc ape shi p .

As G o od As I t G ets : Mel vi n i nvi tes Sim on to stay wi th hi m


and asks hi s advi c e i n regar ds to Car ol .
107

10) CLIMAX (PAGE 105-110):


Sweet Spot: 106

The FI NAL DI RE CT CONFRON TATI ON between pr otagoni st and


antagoni st . Key c har ac teri s ti c s:

 Br i ngs together al l l i nes of ac ti on .

 I s sur pr i si ng , yet feel s I NE VI TABL E .

 Answer s the CE NTRAL DRAMATI C QUE STI ON .

 The pr otagoni st ACTS AL ONE ( or , at the l east, they


ar e the pri m ar y for c e i n a team ) to achi eve thei r goal .

 R epr esent s the ul ti m ate expr es si on of the theme .

 R esul ts i n a NE W RE STORATI ON OF ORDE R.

Ti ta n i c: Jack di es; Rose bl ows the whi stl e and i s r escued.

G l ad i a to r: Maxi m us ki ll s Com m odus i n the gl adi ator r i ng and


di es.

Th e Si xth Sen se : Col e tel l s hi s m other about hi s gi ft. Mal colm


r eal i z es h e's dead and r esol ves wi th hi s wi fe.

Ci ty Sl i ckers : Mi tc h r opes Norm an the cal f i n the r agi ng r i ver


and shows hi s wi fe and ki ds hi s new sm i l e.

Kra mer Vs. Kra mer : I n c our t, Ted for gi ves Joanna; Joanna
wi ns the case, but dec i des to gi ve Ted custody of thei r son.

Al i en s: Ri pl ey vs. the Al ien Queen, wom ano a wom ano!

Make sure to Avoid:


 Other char acter s savi ng the day for the her o.
 “ Deus E x Mac hi na” – an unm oti vated for ce or
i l l ogi c al event appear s and saves the day,
conveni entl y r em ovi ng the thr eat for the
pr otagoni st.
108

11) EPILOGUE (PAGE 110) (Optional):


Sweet Spot: As soon after the c l i m ax as possi bl e.

A fi nal scene wr aps up the stor y, showi ng us the NE W ORDE R


( wi thout exp l ai n in g i t) and l eavi ng us wi th th e pr oper tone
as we exi t the theater. Key c har ac teri sti cs:

 Shows the RE SOL UTI ON to the m ai n dr am ati c confl i ct ,


the answer to the CE NTRAL DRAMATI C QUE STI ON and
the FRUI TI ON of the pr otagoni st’s Ar c .

 BOOKE NDS the stor y as a payoff fr om the Opening.

Ti ta n i c: The el der l y Rose r eveal s to us she sti l l has the


di am ond neckl ac e. She c asts i t i nto the ocean.

Sa v i ng P ri v a te Ry a n : The ol d m an i n the cem etery i s r eveal ed


to be P ri vate Jam es Ryan. He honor s the sacr ifi ce of Captai n
Mi l l er and hi s pl atoon.

G l ad i a to r: The hand i n the wheat fi el d i s reveal ed as


Maxi m us’ as he asc ends to heaven to joi n hi s fam i l y.

Th e Ha n go v er : The photo m ontage of the bachelor par ty that


we never saw.

Th e Ma tri x : Neo i ssues a war ni ng to the evil A.I . and fl i es


off .

Sta r Wa rs: The m edal c er em ony. ( Hey, wher e's Chewbacca's


m edal ?! )

And that’s i t. P r etty c ool , huh? Hopeful l y, the r em i nder of


these scenes wi l l i nspi re you to watc h and stor y m ap these
gr eat m ovi es .

But befor e you do, I suggest you wri te out a Stor y Map of
your own, for a new sc r i pt or an exi sti ng one, usi ng the
wor ksheet bel ow. Don’t wor r y about getti ng i t rig h t on thi s
fi r st pass, just wr i te i t.
109

THE WORKSHEET
110

Fi l l i n the fol l owi ng STORY MAP WORKSHEE T wi th your m ai n


dr am ati c el em ents ( The “ Basi c Stor y Map” ) and your pl ot
str uctur e ( The “ Ful l Stor y Map” ) and tr y to m ake sur e each
el em ent contai ns the c har ac teri sti c s as descr i bed i n the
above pages.

BASIC STORY MAP:

The P r otagoni st:

Ski l l ( their greatest tal ent/power ) :

Fl aw ( thei r gr eatest weakness – the “ Achi l l es Heel ” ) :

Mi sbehavi or ( a tr ai t that c onsi stentl y gener ates


confl i c t; thi s m ay be the sam e as the Fl aw) :

E xter nal ( pl ot , ac ti on ) G oal :

I nter nal (char ac ter , em oti onal ) G oal :

The Mai n Dr am ati c Confl ic t:

The Them e:

The Centr al Dr am atic Questi on:

The E ndi ng:

The Ar c of C hange:
111

LOGLIN E:

FULL STORY MAP:


STOR Y EN GIN ES : one sentenc e ( just one! ) to descr i be the
pr otagoni st ’s m ajor goal /need or the m ajor pl ot m ovem ent
of each of the four “ Ac ts. ” (e. g. , Neo en ters Th e Ma tri x fo r
th e fi rst ti me an d mu st u se h i s n ewfo un d p o wer s to b a ttl e a n
Ag en t. )

ACT ONE :

ACT TWO -A :

ACT TWO -B:

ACT THRE E :
112

B EAT SH EET:

ACT ONE:

1) OPEN IN G ( P age 1-3) :

2) IN CITIN G IN CIDEN T ( P age 5-10) :

3) STR ON G M OVEM EN T FOR WAR D ( P age 17-20) :

4) EN D OF ACT ON E EVEN T/TUR N ( P age 25-30) :

DECIS IO N :
113

ACT TWO-A:

5) FIR ST TR IAL /FIR ST CASUAL TY ( P age 38- 40) :

5A) COM B AT ( P age 45) :

6) M IDPOIN T ( P age 50-55) :

6A) WAR /TR IUM PH (OP TI ONAL ) ( P age 60) :

ACT TWO-B:

7) DECLAR ATION OF WAR /ASSUM PTI ON OF POW ER


( P age 75) :

8) EN D OF ACT TWO EVEN T/TUR N (P age 85-90) :

DECIS ION :
114

ACT THREE:

9) TR UE POIN T OF N O R ETUR N ( P age 100) :

10) CLIM AX ( P age 105-110) :

11) EPILOGU E ( OP TI ONAL ) :

N OTES:
115

XI. THE TEMPLATE FILM

I bel i eve that that the pr ac ti c e of wri tten anal ysi s of fi lm s


and scr eenpl ays ( as opposed to jus t watchi ng and r eadi ng) i s
the best wa y to l ear n about sc r eenwr i ti ng.

To hel p devel op your str uc tur e ski l l s and your under standi ng
of the Stor y Map, I suggest you wr i te m aps for yo ur favor i te
fi l m s. Thi s can al so hel p you wi th a specifi c scr i pt. I am a bi g
pr oponent of basi ng the str uc tur e of your scr eenpl ay on an
exi sti ng m ovi e that shar es key attr i butes wi th your stor y.
Thi s i s a gr eat i dea for any sc r i pt, but i t’s especial l y hel pful
i n the earl y stages of your wr i ti ng.

Choose a tem pl ate fi lm avail abl e on vi deo ( and, i deal l y, one


wi th a scr i pt avail abl e for downl oad, al though the scr i pt i s
not as i m por tant as the m ovi e at thi s stage ) that shar es
genr e, them es, and el em ents of pl ot and char acter wi th your
or i gi nal scr eenpl ay. I t doesn’t have to m atch up per fectl y;
the connecti on i s your c hoi c e.

For exam pl e, i f you’r e wr i ti ng a stor y about a fam i l y of


super her oes, you shoul d m ap Th e In cred i b l es to see how
Br ad Bi r d separ ated hi s Ac ts, wher e he pl aced his si gnpost
beats and how they advanc ed the stor y thr ough acti ve m eans
whi l e devel opi ng hi s m ai n c har ac ter s and uni que vi l l ai n.

I f you’r e wri ti ng a spor ts fi l m , you m i ght want to l ook at m y


m ap of Ro cky and then m ap a m or e r ecent fi lm , such as
Wa rri o r or I nv i n ci bl e .

I had a student who c hose 21 G ra ms as her tem pl ate fi lm and


ended up adopti ng a sim i l ar non - l i near scene structur e —i t
tur ned out to be the per fec t way to tell her story.

Thi s exer ci se wi l l for c e you to thi nk about how the wr i ter


appr oached the stor y and sol ved pr oblem s, and you can
com par e i t to your own uni que Stor y Map.
116

THE MECHANICS
117

XII. THE SCENE LIST

Now that you have establ i shed the m ajor “ si gnpost”


m om ents of your stor y and befor e we m ove on to the actual
physi cal wr i ti ng of pr oper l y -form atted scr eenpl ay pages ,
l et’s tal k about the str uc tur e of your i ndi vi dual scenes.

Wi th the Ful l Stor y Map c om pl ete, we conti nue to


pr ogr essi vel y add m or e detail to fl esh out the stor y.

The next step i s to bui l d your c om pl ete Scene L ist, usi ng


your Ful l Stor y Map Beat Sheet as a tem pl ate. The ful l scene
l i st shoul d be i n the r ange of 40 -60 sc enes, dependi ng on the
com pl exi ty of your stor y. A tr ansi ti on, l i ke a char acter
dr i vi ng fr om one l oc ati on to another , i s not a scene, unl ess i t
has a beat that advanc es the stor y. Whi ch br i ngs us to one of
our m ost cr uci al G ol den Rul es. . .

I f a scen e d o es n o t. ..
a) Ad v an ce th e sto ry
b ) Reveal cru ci al ch ar acte r
o r. . .
c) Exp l o re th e T h eme
. . . CUT IT !!

The fi r st di r ec ti ve i s the m ost c r uc i al : a scene must advance


the stor y by br i ngi ng about som e sor t of change . I f i t does
not, i t can go.

As they say, a wr i ter m ust be abl e to “ dr own thei r puppi es. ”


You m ust be r uthl ess i n c utti ng sc enes, even i f i t's one of
your l i ttl e dar l i ngs that c ontai ns your favor i te l ine of
di al ogue i n the whol e sc r i pt. I f i t's not cr uci al , you gotta cut
i t!

Wi th that sai d, i t c an often gi ve your stor y som e extr a styl e


by havi ng one “ fun” sc ene that does not necessar i l y have to
118

be ther e but yet exem pl i fi es the


spi r i t of your m ovi e.

These qui r ky sc enes ar e often the


thi ng that the r eader rem em ber s
the m ost i n a sc r i pt. Som e i nspi r ed
exam pl es: FROM THE
TRENCHES:
 Fa rg o : Mar ge has l unc h wi th
her Asi an -Am er i c an D AVI D & J ANET
cl assm ate. PEO PL ES
(T w el ve Mo n keys,
 G o od fel la s : The “ What’s so Un fo rg i ven , Th e
funny about m e ?” sc ene. Pri so n er)
I h a d t h e p l ea s u r e o f
 Bo o gi e Nig h ts : The m usi c v i s it i n g Da vi d a n d
studi o sc enes. Di r k and Reed J a n et Peo p l es , a
r ecor d cl assi c songs l i ke s u c c es s f u l m ar r i ed
Feel , Feel , Feel My Hea t! wr i ti n g t eam , i n t h ei r
h om e i n t h e h il l s.
T h ey t o l d m e h o w
 An ch o rma n : P aul Rudd tri es t h ei r t h r ee- s t o r y
out hi s m ost exoti c c ol ogne , h o u s e h el p ed t h ei r
“ Sex P anther ,” on the l adi es wr i ti n g m et h o d : h i s
i n the news r oom , to o f f i c e wa s o n t h e
di sastr ous effec t. l o wer f l o o r, h er s o n
t h e t o p wi t h t h e
g r o u n d fl o o r a s “ a
One coul d ar gue that even these
b u f f er i n- b et we en . ”
scenes advanc e the stor y i n som e T h i s g a v e t h em j u st
way, but I ’m guessi ng that i f they t h e r i g h t am o u n t o f
wer e taken out we woul dn’t p h y s i c a l d i st a n c e s o
necessar i l y feel a gap i n the stor y. t h ey c o u l d m ai n t ai n
t h ei r o wn m en t a l
I suggest you keep i t to one f o c u s a n d m a k e t h ei r
i n d i vi d u a l
“ fl oater ” scene that doesn’t r eal l y
c o n t r i b ut i o n s t o t h ei r
advance the stor y, unl ess i t’s a c o l l a b o r at i o n s.
com edy, i n whic h c ase m or e m i ght
be wel com e , but they’d better be
heee-l ar i ous or they’l l just si t ther e
l i ke fr esh r oadki l l .
119

ACTIVE STORYTELLING
“ Acti ve Stor ytel li ng” i s m y term to descri be scr eenwr i ti ng
that consi stentl y advanc es the stor y, br i ngs about change,
escal ates confl i c t, r ai ses the stakes, shows char acter thr ough
acti on, sh o ws r ather than tell s and has an over all ci n em ati c
sense to i t ( i t “ feel s li ke a m ovi e” ) . I t’s no easy task, but
you’l l l ear n how to ac hi eve i t i f you wor k har d enough.

Acti ve Stor ytel l i ng shoul d be fi r st pr acti ced i n your scene


l i st. Check for sc enes that ar e m er el y i ntr oductions,
tr ansi ti ons, r epe ti ti ons, “ tal ki ng heads,” or “ r epor ts” to
char acter s of i nfor m ati on that WE alr eady know.

Her e's an exam pl e of an i nac ti ve, r epeti ti ve scene l i st for Act


One. . .

1. OP E NI NG : JOE , 40s, i s fi r ed fr om hi s accounti ng job.


2. Joe dr i nks al one at a bar. He tel l s the ba r tender he
just l ost hi s job.
3. Joe has di nner wi th hi s wi fe SAL L Y and hi s two KI DS.
He tel l s them he l ost hi s job. Hi s wi fe tel l s hi m he's
sl eepi ng on the c ouc h unti l he fi nds a new job.
4. At school the next day, hi s son tel l s hi s teacher that
hi s dad l ost hi s job.
5. Joe dr i ves to the unem pl oym ent offi ce.
6. Sal l y tal ks on the phone wi th her best fr i end.
7. I NCI TI NG I NCI DE NT: At the unem pl oym ent offi ce, Joe
i s tol d ther e's a job at the z oo.
8. Joe tel l s hi s DAD he l ost hi s job.
9. Joe star ts wor ki ng at the z oo, cl eani ng the l i on's
habi tat. As a pr ank, hi s c o -wor ker s shut the door and
l ock hi m i n wi th the l i ons. The li on cr eeps towar d
hi m ; at the l ast m i nute the c o -wor ker s open the door
and Joe r uns bac k i nsi de, havi ng peed hi s pants.
10. Joe sl eeps on the c ouc h.
120

11. STRONG MOVE ME NT FORWARD: The next day, Joe i s


cl eani ng the l i on habi tat agai n. When he's done, he
sees the l i on i s bl oc ki ng the exi t door . Joe puts hi s
hand out and c al m s the l i on. I t nuz z l es hi m . Hi s co -
wor ker s c an't bel i eve thei r eyes.
12. Joe tel l s hi s fam il y at di nner abo ut tami ng the l ion.
Onl y hi s daughter bel i eves hi m.
13. At school , hi s daughter tel l s her cl ass that her daddy
tam ed a li on. They l augh.
14. Sal l y tal ks to her best fr i end, l aughi ng about her
husband , the del usi onal l i on tam er.
15. Joe onc e agai n c alm s the l i on and ge ts i t to nuzzl e
agai nst hi m .
16. TURN: Joe c atc hes the eye of a TV P RODUCE R, who
offer s Joe a job as the star of hi s own r eali ty TV
ser i es, “ The L i on Whi sper er. ”
17. DE CI SI ON: Joe ac c epts the offer .

Ther e's a good stor y i n ther e but ther e's a l ot of fat to tr im ,


m ost notabl y, a l o t of “ tel l i ng” and not enough “s howi ng. ”
Noti ce the sc enes wi th c har ac ter s repor ti ng i nfor m ati on that
WE al r eady know, thus i t's r epeti ti ve. E ven if your char acter s
don't know a c er tai n thi ng yet, i t's usual l y a waste of tim e to
show them bei ng tol d the i nfor m ati on, so tr y to fi nd a way to
i m pl y they know i t or show them l ear ni ng i t i n a way that
does not r el y on di al ogue . O r , we m ay just assum e they know
i t.

Her e's an edi ted ver si on wi th c uts i n str i kethr ough and
changes i n bol d:
1. OP E NI NG : JOE i s fir ed fr om hi s accounti ng job.
2. Joe dr i nks al one at a bar. He tel l s the bar tender he
just l ost hi s job. H is c red it c a rd is d ec lin ed , so he
t ells t h e b a rt en d er h e’s go in g to an ATM and will
ret u rn s oo n , bu t h e ru n s a wa y. H e's hu miliat ed .
121

3. Joe has di nner wi th hi s wi fe SAL L Y and hi s two KI DS.


He tel l s them he l ost hi s job. Hi s wi fe glares at h im .
tel l s hi m he's sl eepi ng on the c ouch until he fi nds a
new job.
4. Joe sl eeps on the c ouc h.
5. At school the next day, hi s son tel l s hi s teacher
gran dp a (JOE’S DAD) that hi s dad l ost hi s job.
6. Joe dr i ves to the unem pl oym ent offi ce.
7. Sal l y tal ks on the phone wi th meet s h er b est frien d at
t h e ma ll. Th ey run int o a yo un g, SIN GLE GUY who
sh o ws in t eres t in Sa lly.
8. I NCI TI NG I NCI DE NT: At the unem pl oym ent offi ce, Joe
i s tol d the r e's a job at the z oo.
9. Joe tel l s hi s DAD he l ost hi s job.
10. Joe star ts wor ki ng at the z oo, cl eani ng the l i on's
habi tat. As a pr ank, hi s c o -wor ker s shut the door and
l ock hi m i n wi th the l i ons. The li on cr eeps towar d
hi m ; at the l ast m i nute the c o -wor ker s ope n the door
and Joe r uns bac k i nsi de, havi ng peed hi s pants.
11. Sally meet s th e Sin gle Gu y fo r co ffee.
12. Jo e's Da d s to ps by th e h ou s e an d sees Jo e in h is z oo
u n ifo rm. H e a s ks Jo e's s on if h e likes t h at h is dad d y
p ic ks up a n ima l c ra p fo r a livin g. Th e so n lau ghs. Jo e
b o ils bu t s a ys no th in g.
13. STRONG MOVE ME NT FORWARD: The next day, Joe i s
cl eani ng the l i on habi tat agai n. When he's done, he
sees the l i on i s bl oc ki ng the exi t door . Joe puts hi s
hand out and c al m s the l i on. I t nuz z l es hi m . Hi s co -
wor ker s c an't bel i eve t hei r eyes.
14. Joe tel l s hi s fam il y at di nner about tami ng the l ion.
Onl y hi s daughter bel i eves hi m.
15. At school , hi s daughter tel l s her cl ass that her daddy
tam ed a li on. They l augh.
122

16. Sal l y tal ks to her best fr i end, l aughi ng about her


husband the del usi onal l i on tamer .
17. Joe onc e agai n c alm s the l i on and gets i t to nuzzl e
agai nst hi m .
18. TURN: Joe rid es t h e lio n , c atc hi ng the eye of a TV
P RODUCE R, who offer s Joe a job as the star of his
own r eal i ty TV ser i es, “ The L i on Whi sper er .”
19. DE CI SI ON: Joe ac c epts the offer .

As you can see, I 've c ut stati c “ tal ki ng heads” scenes and


tr ansi ti ons, added beats that advanc e the stor y and fl eshed
out the stor y wi th a new c har ac ter , Si ngl e G uy, whi l e m aki ng
other char ac ter s m or e ac ti ve , l i ke Joe's Dad.

The m om ent wher e Joe sl eeps on th e couch i s a good


exam pl e of not needi ng an “I ntr o” to a scene and showi ng
over tel li ng. I n the fi r st ver si on, the wi fe tell s him he's
sl eepi ng on the c ouc h, but we don’t see him sl eepi ng on the
couch for sever al m or e sc enes . Ther e’s a del ay and the
payoff suppor ts our expec tati on r ather than subver ti ng i t,
thus no el em ent of sur pr i se.

I n the edi ted ver si on, we see the wi fe gl ar e at him and then
i m m edi atel y c ut to Joe sl eepi ng on the couch. I t's per fectl y
cl ear that she kic ked him out of bed as a r evenge fo r hi s
bei ng fir ed and ther e's no need for an i ntr oductor y
expl anati on.

I see thi s basi c c onstr uc ti on a l ot fr om newer wri ter s:

A. A char ac ter tel l s other c har ac ter s that he's goi ng to


do som ethi ng.

B. The char ac ter does that thi ng, exactl y as he explai ned
he wou l d.

C. The char ac ter repor ts bac k to the other char acter s


that he di d i t and they di sc uss i t.
123

Ar gh! Onl y sc ene B i s ac tual l y advanc i ng the stor y by


showi ng us a beat of ac ti on. A and C are unnecessar y and can
be cut.

Maki ng up a ful l sc ene l i st befor e you beg i n to wr i te pages


wi l l pr event you fr om m aki ng these er r or s and wasti ng ti m e
wr i ti ng a bunc h of i nac ti ve sc enes.

Som e wr i ter s c hoose to wr i te wi thout an outl i ne and just


fr ee -fl ow, but i n c ase you c an’t tel l , I ’m anti -free- fl ow! I
hi ghl y suggest that you d on't do that because scr eenpl ays
ar e al l about STRUCTURE . I f you wr i te an undi scipl i ned batch
of scenes, you'l l waste a L OT of tim e l ater cutti ng, tr i mm i ng
and r ewr i ti ng to gi ve i t str uc tur e. ( An excepti on to thi s m i ght
be i f your i nspi r ati on for a stor y i s a si ngl e, dynam i c scene
and you want to wr i te out that sc ene fi r st to “ fiel d -test” i t
befor e wor ki ng up a Stor y Map. )

VISUAL (“SHOWN”) DEVICES


L ook for vi sual ways to m ove the stor y, com m uni cate
char acter or pr ovi de exposi ti on.

One of m y favori te shown d evi c es c om es shor tl y after the


power ful D -Day i nvasi on i n Sa vi n g P ri va te Rya n , whi ch thr ew
us i nto battl e wi th no bac kgr ound on our pl atoon of sol di er s.
The battl e i s over , and we see Tom Si zem or e kneel on the
gr ound, pul l an em pty shoe pol i sh c an fr om hi s rucksack and
fi l l i t wi th di r t. He c aps the c an and we see i t’s label ed
“ Fr ance. ” Other c ans i n hi s bag ar e l abel ed “ E ngland” and
“ Afr i ca.”

I n a ver y si m ple way, we l ear n that thi s i s not an untested


pl atoon – these m en ar e war veter ans. Thi s i s cruci al
because thei r Captai n wil l soon si gn them up for what coul d
be a sui ci de m i ssi on. They ar e to ri sk thei r l i ves for a young
sol di er who has no t pr oven hi m sel f i n battl e; P r ivate Ryan i s
getti ng a fr ee r i de hom e bec ause he l ost hi s br other s i n the
war . Thi s m akes the m en i nc r easi ngl y bi tter as they conti nue
on thei r m i ssi on, whi c h devel ops the them e of sacr i fi ce.
124

L et’s say you need to tel l us about your pr otagoni st’s


chi l dhood. A kil l er m onol ogue c oul d be great, but m aybe you
coul d substi tute a few c ans of sh oe poli sh?

Fr om the scr eenpl ay for Ju n o [wri tten by Di abl o Cody; Fox


Sear chl i ght pic tur es, Mandate P i c tures], her e’s a ni ce vi sual
devi ce to show how Juno c hooses P aul i e as her boyfr i end:

Bleeker w alks d own to the e nd of th e


driveway and op ens th e latc h on t he mailbox.

At least one hu ndred contai ners o f ORANGE


TIC TACS come p ouring out i n an c ol orful
deluge. T hey sp ill ou t onto the d ri veway.

Bleeker s miles.

I t’s al m ost al ways better to show, r ather than tel l . I n


Armo red , we never ful l y i nvest i n the pr otago ni st because
the el em ents that are i ntended to gai n our sym pathy, m ai nl y
that he’s an I r aq war her o and hi s house i s i n for ecl osur e,
ar e onl y com m uni c ated i n di al ogue. We don’t feel the
u rg en cy when we don’t see som ethi ng for our selves.

BALANCE
As you l ook at your sc ene l i st, you don't want 15 scenes i n
your Act One, four i n your Ac t Two and 12 i n your Act Thr ee
because thi s woul d be out of bal anc e wi th the cruci al
str uctur e of the Stor y Map. Rem em ber the page counts for
each of the four ac ts and tr y for yo ur scene li st to r efl ect
these l engths i n pr opor ti on :

Act One: 3 0 pages

Act Two -A: 2 5 pages

Act Two -B : 35 pages

Act Three : 2 0 pages


125

A good ear l y goal i s to have eac h of the four acts contai n


about the sam e num ber of sc enes. You m ay fi nd that your
Act One h as m ore than the other s si nce ther e i s m or e to
establ i sh. Thi s i s fi ne; j ust m ake sur e i t's not too out of
bal ance.

I t's al so com m on to adjust the Ful l Stor y Map beats as you


wr i te your sc ene l i st . For exam ple, to m ake your stor y m ove
qui cker , you m ay m ove your E nd of Act One Tur n at page 28
up to the Str ong Movem ent For war d sl ot at page 20, m ake
your Fi r st Tr i al /Fi r st Casual ty at page 40 i nto your new E nd
of Act One tur n at page 28 and m ove your page 45 “ Com bat”
i nto the Fi r st Tr i al /Fi r st Casual ty posi ti on at page 40. I often
m ake the suggesti on to “ m ove up your beats” to m y wr i ter s.
But m ake sur e that the new beats sati sfy the pr oper
char acter i sti c s as l ai d out i n the Ful l Stor y Map chapter .

Tr ust m e, i f c utti ng and ar r angi ng beats m akes your stor y


m ove qui cker , i t's al m ost al ways a good thi ng.

There's n othing a rea der li kes mo re than a


tight scr ipt –-

with a lo t of w hite s pace

that’s ea sy to breeze throu gh!


126

FROM THE TRENCHES:


LESLIE DIXON
(Mrs. Doubtfire, The Thomas Crown Affair,
Hairspray, Li mitle ss)
I cover ed the novel “ The Dar k Fi el ds” by Al an G lynn for
Mi r am ax Fil m s, and they pur c hased the r i ghts. The br i ll i ant
and gl am or ous L esli e Di xon was assi gned to wr i te the
adaptati on.

L ater , she wr ote m e: “I ma d e H a rvey (Wein st ein) a


p ro po sit ion : I’d d o t h e s c ript fo r s c a le if I h ad N O M EETIN GS
AN D N O EXECUTIV E IN PUT.”

She al so canni l y put i t i n her c ontr ac t that the rights woul d


r ever t to her i f they di dn’t m ake the fi l m , whi ch i s exactl y
what happened and she took the pr oject on her own as the
wr i ter /p r oduc er. She stuc k wi th i t thr ough year s of
devel opm ent and the m ovie opened at #1 as L i mi tl ess
star r i ng Br adl ey Cooper and Rober t DeNir o.

The Le ssons:

1. Don't give up!

2. If you want c reative contro l, get it in the co ntract!


127

SCENE WORK
Fi r stl y, fol l ow the gol den r ul e for sc ene l ength. . .

Start your scene as LATE as possible; end as SOON as


possible.

Thi s m eans c ut to the MI DDLE of the scene. Open on the


acti on al r eady i n pr ogr ess . Hopeful l y i t wi ll be clear .
Hopeful l y you won’t need to E XPL AI N anythi ng.

You don’t need en trances and exits, most of the time.

You don’t need to SET U P every scene , which I


call... FORECASTING.

I f we’r e goi ng to see your pr otagoni st at the gr ocer y stor e i n


the next scene, she doesn’t need to say “ I ’m going to the
gr ocer y stor e, to pic k up som e spi nac h and ri cotta cheese for
di nner toni ght.” Just CUT TO: THE G ROCERY STORE ! Thi s of
cour se r el ates to the al l - im por tant r ule of.. .

SHOW, don’t tell.

Now i f we know the Bad G uy pl anted a bom b i n the r i cotta


c heese secti on, then okay, m ay be i t’s cr uci al that she tel l US
wher e she’s goi ng to esc al ate the tensi on! But what ar e the
odds the Reader won’t c r i nge when you pul l out the ti r ed ol ’
“ expl osi ve Ri c otta” gag? Yeah, ever y br ai nl ess Hol l ywood
bl ockbuster has wor n that one out.

E ver hear d of the ol ’ “ If you di dn’t see them di e, they ai n’t


dead” r ul e? Ther e’s m any exam pl es of thi s r ul e, but one that
com es to mi nd i s Th e Neg o tia to r : They never showed the guy
that Sam Jackson gunned down, so when they r eveal he’s
al i ve and Sam Jac kson’s not ac tual l y a ki l l er , i t’s not a shock.
I knew fr om the getgo that he di dn’t r eall y shoot the guy.
( Th e Si xth Sen se i s ac tual l y the fli psi de of thi s r ul e: we di dn’t
see Br uce Wil l i s di e bec ause we woul d have known he i s
dead. )
128

Thi s i s al so an exam pl e of the n ext r ul e . ..

Be aware of the audience/Reader, especially what they


know, and do not repeat this information.

Don’t r epeat i nfo that WE ( the Reader /audi ence) know . A


good r eader r em em ber s ever y wor d.

Try to have a beginning, middle and end in your key


scenes (use of “threes,” like three acts ), and end on a
surprise.

Thi s doesn’ t di c tate l ength. Your c om plete scene wi th a


beg i nni ng -m i ddl e -end c oul d be one hal f of a page i n length.
And sur pr i se us wi th a c hange at the end of your scene. I t
doesn’t have to be a shoc ki ng r ever sal , just a change. G ood
scenes ar e about DI SCOVERY; we di sc over som ethi ng
unexpected, som ethi ng that subver ts our expectati ons, not
suppor ts our expec tati ons.

Thi nk of the i ntr oduc ti on of Jac k Spar r ow i n the fi r st P i ra tes


o f th e Ca ri bb ean f il m : we see him pr oudl y r i di ng the m ast,
per soni fyi ng a m ajesti c c aptai n of the high seas, unti l we
di scover that hi s shoddy boat i s si nki ng . He steps onto the
dock just as the shi p di sappear s under the water.

Try for a change in each scene. Always try to advance


the story .

Thi s i s wher e notec ar ds and sc ene l i sts com e i n handy; you


can r evi ew your sc enes i n outl i ne for m ahead of ti m e and
el i m i nate those that don’t offer anythi ng new or advance the
stor y.

Try for Three -Scene Sequences (another use of three s).

Thi s uti l i z es ca u se -an d -effect . We ar e shown one thi ng that


l eads to another , that l eads to another that offer s the
fr ui ti on of thi s m ovem ent. Thr ee sc enes whi ch al so for m a
begi nni ng -m i ddl e -end. Thi s al so for c es you to wri te l ogical
129

fol l ow-ups to your sc enes to establ i sh fl ow; th i s h a pp en s


whi ch for ces our her o to m ake th i s d eci si o n whi ch l eads to
th i s co n fron ta ti on , whi c h i s r esol ved i n thi s wa y. How you
pl ace those beats i n your thr ee sc enes i s up to you. E .g. , you
m ay have the her o m aki ng thei r dec i s i on at the end of the
fi r st scene, or m aybe you shoul d hol d i t unti l the second
scene. Or best of al l , a dec i si on i n eac h scene, to r eal l y show
char acter thr ough a c ti on. Up to you.

Un b rea kab l e by M. Ni ght Shyam al an i s an exam pl e of som e


ni ce thr ee -sc ene se quenc es. . .
1) Davi d Dunn r i des a tr ai n. When a pr etty woman si ts
next to hi m , he takes off hi s weddi ng r i ng and tri es to
tal k to her . She r ebuffs him .
2) Dunn wakes up i n a hospi tal , i s tol d he was the onl y
sur vi vor of the tr ai n wr ec k and i s unhar m ed.
3) D unn’s son and wi fe ar r i ve to take hi m hom e. He
doesn’t touc h hi s wi fe. They sl eep i n di ffer ent beds.

4) Dunn gets a m essage on hi s wi ndshi el d, as ki ng hi m i f


he’s ever been si c k.
5) Dunn asks hi s estr anged wi fe i f she r em em bers hi m
bei ng si ck; she doesn’t k now. Dunn l eaves a m essage wi th
hi s boss’ sec r etar y, aski ng i f he’s ever had a si ck day.
6) Dunn’s Boss gi ves hi m a r ai se, thi nki ng thi s was hi s
pl oy to r em i nd him that he never had a si ck day.

7) E l i jah tel l s Dunn, i n fr ont of Dunn’s boy Josep h, that


he bel i eves he i s a super her o.
8) Dunn thi nks he’s c r az y and tel l s him about bei ng
i njur ed i n a c ar c r ash when Dunn was i n col l ege.
9) Dunn goes hom e, c hec ks hi s pi stol and l ooks at som e
news cl i ppi ngs; the tr ai n c r ash wher e he was unscathed
i s juxtaposed wi t h the c l i ppi ng fr om the car cr ash that
i njur ed hi s knee and ended hi s footbal l car eer .
130

10) Dunn sc r eens a Str ange Man out of the l i ne at the


footbal l stadi um .
11) Dunn tel l s El i jah he saw the im age of a “ si lver gun
wi th a bl ac k gr i p. ” E l i jah tel l s him h e shoul d devel op thi s
i nsti nct, l i ke a super - power. Dunn thi nks he’s cr az y.
12) E l i jah foll ows the Str ange Man, sees that he has a
si l ver gun wi th a bl ac k gri p i n hi s bel t.

13) Dunn l i fts 350 l bs. i n fr ont of hi s l i ttle boy Joseph.


Joseph thi nks he has su per str ength.
14) Joseph gets i nto a fi ght at sc hool , tr yi ng to be a her o
l i ke hi s dad.
15) Joseph fi nds hi s dad’s gun and ai m s i t at him,
thi nki ng he’l l be abl e to r epel the bul let.

I ’m l eavi ng out m any detai l s for the sake of br evi ty, but thi s
i s the basi c sc ene pr ogr essi on of the fi r st hal f of the fi lm and
i t’s bu i l t on thr ee s. Shyam al an exper tl y advances m ul ti pl e
l i nes of acti on i n a si ngl e sc ene by c om pr essi ng acti on i nto
the sam e scene. For exam pl e, E l i jah sees the gun i n the
Str ange Man’s bel t bec aus e he’s fal l en down the stai r s,
whi ch br eaks hi s l egs. Thi s i njur y for c es him to m eet Audr ey,
Dunn’s wi fe, who i s a physi c al ther api st who wi l l be wor ki ng
wi th E li jah on hi s l egs. El i jah’s pr obi ng of i nformati on about
Dunn’s i njur y i n the c ar cr ash wi l l eve ntual l y l ead us to fi nd
out the tr uth: Dunn faked the knee i njur y, for l ove, so he
coul d be wi th Audr ey. Thi s pushes us cl oser to Dunn showi ng
to us that he i s, i ndeed, a super her o.

Thi s type of or gani c , yet sur pri si ng pr ogr essi on of scenes


uti l i z es possi bl y the m ost i m por tant techni que of al l :

Focus on SETUPS A ND PAYOFFS.

One coul d say that a scr eenpl ay i s m erel y Setups and


P ayoffs, nothi ng m or e; I woul dn’t di sagr ee. Often the
str ongest payoffs c om e i n the thi r d ac t and ar e set up i n the
131

fi r st act. Rem em ber how Chekhov sai d “ If ther e’s a gun on


the m antl e i n Ac t One, i t m ust be fir ed i n Act Thr ee! ”

The best use of thi s tec hni que rec al l s Bi l l y Wi l der ’s advi ce. . .

“ L et the Audi enc e put two and two together. They’l l thank
you for i t.”

A payoff i s al ways best when WE get to r ecognize i t, wi thout


i t bei ng expl ai ned to us. L i ke i n the end of Th e Bl a i r Wi tch
P ro ject when we see the ki d faci ng the wal l , we r ecal l that
qui ck stor y at the begi nni ng of the fi l m about the ki l l er who
m ade hi s victi m s face the wal l . I t’ s not expl ai ned to us, the
i m age i s enough. We r em em ber and m ake the connecti on.
Sam e goes for the c li m ax of Th e Sil en ce o f th e La mb s when
Cl ar i ce enter s the hom e of Jam e G um b and sees the m oth
l and on the c hair . We now know she real i z es she’s faci ng
Buffal o Bil l , the ser i al ki l ler she’s been tr acki ng for the
enti r e fil m. Her knowl edge has c aught up to ours.

At the Mi dpoi nt of Th e Go d fa th er , when Michael Cor l eone


fi nds the hi dden gun i n the bathr oom of the I talian
r estaur ant, we expec t hi m to c om e out of t he r oom bl asti ng,
just as hi s ol der br other Sonny tol d hi m to do (recal l Sonny’s
i nfam ous l i ne: “ I don’t want m y li ttl e br other com i ng out of
that bathr oom wi th just hi s di c k i n hi s hands. ” ) . But Mi chael
doesn’t do that. He si ts down at the tabl e wi th Capt.
McCl uskey , hi s tar get, and he wai ts. Thi s i ncreases tensi on
and com pl etel y subver ts our expec tati ons for this payoff, so
when he fi nall y pull s the gun, i t’s happened i n a way we
di dn’t expect and i t’s a ver y sati sfyi ng r el ease to the tensi on
of the scene . That’s good wr i ti ng.

I n Woody Al l en’s Ma tch Po in t , the pr otagoni st goes hunti ng


wi th a shotgun wi th hi s father -i n- l aw i n the fi r st hal f of the
stor y, and i n Ac t Thr ee he uses that shotgun for other
pur poses. Shades of Chekhov?
132

ESTABLISH “THE RULES!”

It’s in credibly impor tan t to esta blish the r ules of your


dramatic world as s oon as possible s o the re ader d oes
not get frus trated d ue to unanswere d q uesti ons. Clarity
is king.

This is es pecially tr ue in genre s tories – su pe rnatur al,


science fictio n, ho rror , e tc. We mus t kn ow w hat can and
can ’t be done.

For example , in the film Jumper it’s es tablish ed th at the


protago nist can only telepor t to place s that he’s seen,
either in perso n o r in a p hotograph.

In Inception , the re’s abo ut 75 6 rules that are explained


during the course of the movie. I cou nted.

In Ghostbusters , they ca n’t cross the s treams .

You get the idea.

Here are three ex amples of failure to esta blish rules:

E a gl e Eye : Onc e we know the wom an’s voi ce i s a com puter ,


not a r eal per son, al l l ogic goes ou t the wi ndow . We don’t
buy i t si nce we don’t know the “r ul es” of i t , and we have too
m any questi ons i n our head. Thi s ki nd of huge pul l -the-r ug -
out r ever sal m ust be ear ned i n ac ti ve ways or i t can backfi r e.

Th e Vi l la g e : Sam e her e – at the end of Act Two, w e l ear n the


m onster s ar en’t r eal , just c ostum es that the el der s wear to
scar e the youth i nto not l eavi ng the vi ll age; but one m i nute
l ater , our her oi ne i s bei ng stal ked by one of these m onster s
i n br oad dayl ight! I s she i n danger or not? We’r e confused as
to how to feel.
133

The r eveal i s that the m onster tur ns out to be the town


dum m y wear i ng one of the c ostum es, whi ch m akes sense
after the fact, but i t woul d have r eli eved a l ot of confusi on i f
we woul d have known thi s b efo re hi s attack so the tensi on
woul d ha ve r ightful l y c om e fr om her bei ng i n per i l , r ather
than confusi on on our par t.

Th e Ti me Tra v el er’s Wi fe : I n thi s fi l m about tim e tr avel , they


don’t establ i sh the r ul es of ti m e tr avel! I t’s never ful l y cl ear
what our ti me tr aveler c an and c an’t do, and wha t seem to
be r ul es ar e c ontr adi c ted. Whi l e watc hi ng thi s fil m , I was
constantl y “ i n m y head ” aski ng questi ons about h o w and wh y
thi ngs wer e happeni ng. I t m ade m e want to tr avel back i n
ti m e to pr event thi s m ovi e fr om bei ng m ade.

This same co ncep t is also t rue when esta blishing to ne.


Martin Scorsese has said that o ne o f the re a sons he
opened Goodfellas on the flash-f orward to the sce ne
where Joe Pes ci s tabs the guy in the trunk of their car
(which was no t how the original s cript began ) was to
establish tha t this was a bru tally violent mov ie so the
audience would be p repared for more violence to come .

A WRITING TIP
Her e's a hel pful r ul e that c an r eall y im pr ove your output. . .

Always finish the scene you've begun.

Or another way to put i t.. .

Always write at lea st one complete scene , ev ery time


you sit down to write.

Thi s r ul e wi ll forc e you to get i n the habi t of m aki ng r eal


pr ogr ess when you si t down to wr i te, as opposed to just
r eadi ng over your pr evi ous wr i ti ng and m aki ng edi tor i al
changes. When wr i ti ng your fi r st dr aft, you m ust keep
m ovi ng for war d. Wi th thi s standar d, you wi l l al ways be
134

m ovi ng for war d, even if i t's just a 1/2 page scene. I t m ay be


a shor t scene, but at l east i t's a new scene! Cr oss off another
bul l et poi nt on your sc ene l i st.

And when you'r e ti r ed and c r anky and don't feel l i ke wr i ti ng


and i t's not c om i ng, then thi s r ul e wi l l for ce you to wr ap i t
up qui ckl y, whi c h i s an exerc i se i n keepi ng your scenes shor t
and to the poi nt!

I t al so com es i n handy when you have a ver y ener geti c


wr i ti ng sessi on and you wri te two or thr ee scenes; then i f
you don't feel l i ke wri ti ng the next day, you can ski p that
day because you'r e ahead of sc hedul e! Or vi ce ver sa : i f you
m i ss a day then you shoul d hol d your sel f to wr i te at l east
two scenes today. I f you use th i s "a scene a day" r ul e then
you wi l l fi nd your sc r eenpl ay taki ng shape r ather qui ckl y.
135

XIII. FORMAT – LITTLE TRICKS AND PET PEEVES

Wr i ti ng i n cor rec t form at i s not as sim pl e as buyi ng a popul ar


scr e enwr i ti ng softwar e appl i c ati on. Your scr eenwr i ti ng
pr ogr am cann ot form at your sc ri pt c or rectl y i f yo u don't
under stand how to use c or r ec t for m at.

For thi s chapter , I ’l l assum e you know the basi cs of


scr eenpl ay form at; i f not, then feel fr ee to shoot m e an
em ai l and I c an send you a shor t pr i m er , or you can check
out one of the m any books and ar ti cl es out there on the
subject . Wi th that sai d, ther e ar e some key poi nts and
obser vati ons I ’d l i ke to m ake that I haven’t see n m enti oned
i n other sour c es .

The m ost i m por tant thi ng to r em em ber wi th form at i s to BE


CONSI STE NT. I f you c ap L OUD NOI SE S, then you m ust cap
ever y LOUD NOI SE .

Thi s m eans you m ust be detail -or i ented .

Som e of you just ar en't detai l -or i ented enough to spot ti ny


changes i n gr am m ar and for m at so your wr i ti ng tur ns out
sl oppy. Whi l e edi ti ng your sc r i pt, y ou mi ght not noti ce the
di ffer ence between these two sl ug l i nes/scene headi ngs. . .

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM - DAY

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM -- DAY

The fi r st uses one dash and the sec ond uses two dashes. Thi s
i s i m por tant, bec ause you c an dr i ve a r eader cr az y by
constantl y waver i ng between the two styl es.

I f your r esponse i s “ Who c ar es?” then you’r e going to have a


tough ti m e wi th sc r eenwr i ti ng. Capabl e scr eenw r i ter s noti ce
ever y l i ttl e detai l on the page. . . and so do r eaders. So be
consi stent, fer c hr i ssakes. And next ti m e you use that ter m ,
don't spel l i t “ For Chri st's Sakes ; ” spel l i t l i ke you di d the
fi r st ti m e!
136

GRAMMATICAL KISSES OF DEATH


I ’l l say thi s onl y onc e.

I f you can’t di ffer enti ate between


the fol l owi ng wor ds then I wi ll
FROM THE
m ake i t m y m i ssi on i n l i fe to hunt TRENCHES:
you down and put a bull et
thr ough your l aptop so you never T O NY MO SHER,
scre en w ri ter,
i nfl i ct thi s i gnor anc e upon m e or
d evel o p men t
anyone el se i n the wor l d.. . p ro fessi o n al
(fo rmerl y o f
 Your and You’r e
Sch rad er
Pro d u cti o n s,
 L ose and L oose
Sh o o tin g G al l ery
an d Mi ramax
 Thei r and Ther e and
F i l ms)
They’r e
“T h e mo re
 I t’s and i ts scri p ts yo u read ,
th e q u i cker
I ’m ser i ous. Don’t test m e.
yo u 're ab l e to
p i ck u p o n th e
w arn i n g sig n s
SLUG LINES/SCENE HEADINGS th at th i s scri p t i s
g o i ng to su ck.
INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM -
Mo re o ften th an
DAY
n o t, you can tel l
INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM -- b y th e en d o f th e
DAY fi rst p ag e
w h eth er o r n o t
I n the above sl ug l i nes, whi c h i s yo u 're i n go o d
cor r ect, one or two dashes? The h an d s. ”
answer i s both ar e c or r ec t, as
l ong as you onl y use one type
consi stentl y thr oughout the
scr i pt. That al so goes for the
per i od after the I NT or E XT.
137

These ar e al l c or r ec t, as l ong as you pi ck one and sti ck to


thi s sam e constr uc ti on for eac h sl ug l i ne.. .

INT CONFE RENCE ROOM - DAY

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM -- DAY

INT CONFE RENCE ROOM - - DAY

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM - DAY

You can even get fanc y and use a per i od i nstead of a dash, as
l ong as you do i t ever y ti m e, but for the r ecor d, I don't
advi se thi s as i t l ooks pr etenti ous. . .

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM. DAY

Speaki ng of sl ug li nes. . . to b o ld or not to bol d?

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM - DAY

I used to hate to see bol ded or und er l i ned sl ug li nes, unti l a


fr i end tol d m e he wor ke d wi th Sc ott Fr ank (Mi nori ty Rep o rt,
G et Sho rty ) and Sc ott Fr ank bol ded an d under l i ned hi s sl ug
l i nes so now m y fr i end bol ds and under li nes hi s own sl ug
l i nes, too.

Hey, i f Scott Fr ank does i t, then i t's good enough for m e.


But, i f you'r e goi ng to do i t, do i t ever y tim e.

INSIDE, OUTSIDE, LET'S CALL THE WHOLE THING OFF


One er r or that ir ks m e i s the addi ti on of I NSI DE after I NT. ,
whi ch i s r epeti ti ve. ( You guys know that I NT. m eans
I NTE RI OR and EXT. means E X TE RI OR, ri ght?) For som e r eason,
I see thi s err or a l ot.

For exam pl e.. .

INT. INSI DE OF LIVING ROOM - DAY

. . . shoul d be.. .
138

INT. LIVI NG ROO M - DA Y

. . . and. ..

EXT. OUTS IDE DR Y GOOD S STOR E – NI GH T

. . . shoul d be.. .

EXT. DRY GOODS STORE – NIGH T

USING A MASTER LOCATION


How you establ i sh a m aster l oc ati on, l i ke a house, and then
cut to a l ocati on wi thi n i t, l i ke the ki tchen, i s up to you. For
exam pl e, you c oul d use.. .

INT. MASO N HOME - LIV ING RO OM – D AY

or you coul d just use. ..

INT. LIVI NG ROO M – DA Y

. . . and then when you c ut to other r oom s i n the house you


can do a full sl ug.. .

INT. KITC HEN – DAY

. . . or a “ shor t sl ug” li ke. . .

INT. KITC HEN

. . . or just. . .

KITCHEN

. . . si nce we've al r eady establ i shed the m aster l ocati on of the


Mason hom e.

P i ck your conventi on, m ake sur e i t's c l ear and sti ck to i t –


the Reader wi l l c atc h on and won't even noti ce it after a
whi l e .
139

UNDERLINING AND ITALICS


Use under l i ni ng and i tali c s i n your descr i pti on and di al ogue
ver y r ar el y. Onl y use them when som ethi ng m ust be
em phasi z ed, and onl y if thi s wil l i nsur e the r eader ' s
under standi ng of thi s m om ent.

I used to be anti -i tal i c s bec ause they wer en't cl assi c


for m atti ng – sc r i pts used to be wr i tten on m anual
typewr i ter s, so the onl y way to em phasi z e a word was to put
i t i n CAP S, under l i ne i t or to use

whi te space.

And those shoul d sti l l be your m ai n m ethods of em phasi s , i n


m y hum bl e opi ni on ( wi th under l i ni ng bei ng the m ost r ar el y
used) , but the oc c asi onal i tal i ci z ed wor d i s fi ne. I t's not 1932
anym or e and ever ythi ng we r ead nowadays uses i tal i cs –
they'r e a par t of our wri tten voc abul ar y – so why not use
them i n your sc r eenpl ay ever y now and then?

Speaki ng of whi c h, another par t of our m oder n wr i ti ng i s the


use of onl y one spac e after a per i od and befor e the fol l owi ng
sentence. The standar d i n s c r eenpl ays used to be to doubl e -
space after a sentenc e .

Here’s on e line . Here ’s the next.

But i t’s okay now to onl y si ngl e spac e befor e that next l i ne
si nce we ar e so used to seei ng that done on a dai l y basi s i n
pr i nt ( i t al so has som ethi ng to do wi th uni form -si z ed
char acter s and Tr uetype fonts on your com puter, as a fr i end
tr i ed to expl ai n to me befor e I fel l asl eep ) .

Here’s an other line. Here’s the n ex t.

E i ther way wor ks fi ne for the r eader. I t’s your cal l .


140

FLASHBACKS
P er sonal l y, for fl ashbac k sc enes, I prefer to use thi s si m pl e
for m at. ..

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM – DAY (FLASH BA CK)

. . . then the r eader , li ke the audienc e, knows i mmedi atel y that


we'r e i n a fl ashbac k.

I f the audi enc e i s not m eant to know i t's a fl ashback at fi r st,


but eventual l y figur e i t out as the sc ene goes on ( a pr etty
com m on techni que these days , espec i al l y i n i ndie fi lm s ) ,
then l eave off the ( FL ASHBACK) .

Other ways you c an show a fl ashbac k m ight i nclude a ti tl e to


appear on the sc r een. . .

SUPER: 19 42

. . . or an asi de to the r eader i n the descr i pti on. ..

We're bac k in M r. Ste bbins' confe re nce room


but it's now 19 42 and the r oom is f illed
with pipe smoke .

. . . or just put the year i n the sl ug l i ne. . .

INT. CONF ERENCE ROOM – 1942 – DAY

Di abl o Cody uses the ( FL ASHBACK) and al so i tal ici z es the sl ug


l i ne and desc ri pti on i n Ju n o ( al so noti ce that for som e r eason
she doesn't put the V. O. for Voic eover i n par entheses. I 'm
not a fan of thi s tec hni que , but she's consi stent wi th i t so i t
i sn't an i ssue ) . . .
141

She hangs up th e phon e.

JUNO V.O.
I hate it when adults use t he ter m
"sexually activ e."

INT. HEAL TH CLA SS - D AY (FL ASHBAC K)

A HEALTH TEACHE R in s lo -mo puts a c ondom on


a banana.

JUNO V.O. (CONT 'D)


I guess B leeker hadn' t done it
before, a nd tha t's wh y he g ot tha t
look on h is fac e.

USING CUT TO'S


You don't n eed to use CUT TO: after each scene, because the
new sl ug l i ne i nfer s a c hange i n sc ene, but som e wr i ter s
choose to use i t. I f you do, then ( do I r eal l y need to say thi s
agai n?) just m ake sur e you AL WAYS use i t.

CUT TO:

P er sonal l y, I onl y use CUT TO: fo r a real l y dr am ati c


tr ansi ti on, l i ke a MATCH CUT, or i f i t wi l l be di fficul t for the
r eader to under stand the tr ansi ti on wi thout i t. I r ecomm end
agai nst usi ng i t after ever y sc ene as i t wi l l add m or e l ength
to your scr i pt . ( Who woul dn’t l i ke an extr a page of scr i pt?)
Al so, ther e wi l l be fewer di str ac ti ons to the pr ogr essi on of
the r eader 's eye down the page.
142

“BEAT OUT” YOUR DESCRIPTION


You m ust keep your desc r i pti on par agr aphs l ean. Thi nk of
descr i pti on i n ter m s of sh o win g u s th e mo vi e a s i t p la ys on
th e mo vi e screen i n o u r h ea d s , LI VE , i n shots but wi thout
usi ng cam er a r efer enc es. D on't desc r i be the shot as a
vi sual —show us the ac ti on i n a m anner that captur es the
feel i ng of i t.

Tr y to keep your desc ri pti on par agr aphs two to four l i nes
thi ck. Not two to f our sen ten ces, but two to four l i nes on the
page, m ar gi n to m ar gi n. For exam pl e, thi s woul d be a two
l i ne bl ock of desc r i pti on, even though i t’s one sentence:

Juno and Leah s lurp g iant s lushie s and sift


through a pile of Pen ny Sav ers.

Ther e shoul d be pl en ty of whi te spac e on ever y page, wi th a


ni ce bal ance of desc r i pti on and di al ogue. Here’s a sam pl e of
a page fr om Bl a ck Swan , wr i tten by Mar k Heym an, Andr es
Hei nz and John McL aughl i n [Fox Sear c hl i ght P i ctur es,
P hoeni x P i ctur es] . Squi nt your eyes and l ook at the page as a
whol e, noti ci ng the bal anc e of bl ac k and whi te.
143

Now, com par e the Bl a ck Swan page to thi s poor ly bal anced
exam pl e , wi th way too m uc h i nk , fr om thi s obscur e novel i st
nam ed Stephen Ki ng . Thi s i s a page fr om hi s own scr i pt
adaptati on of hi s no vel , Desp era ti on [Touchstone Tel evi si on]
( pl ease excuse the c r ooked sc an) :

Now those ar e som e Dar k T ower s of text! ( I ’l l be her e all


week, fol ks. )

DON'T “DIRECT”
Repeat after m e: I am the sc r eenwr i ter , not the di r ector .

Wr i ti ng ME DI UM SHOT i n your desc r i pti on m eans nothi ng.


How can I pi c tur e the sam e exac t m edi um shot as you? I t's
i m possi bl e to pai nt a pi c tur e wi th wor ds such that the r eader
144

wi l l see the exac t sam e i m age as the wr i ter . So don't bother ,


just tel l the stor y. Ac tual l y, just show the stor y.

A few cr uci al di r ec ti ons ar e okay. For exam pl e, if your


char acter i s r eadi ng a l etter and you need to show a cl ose -up
of the text on the l etter , you c oul d use a descr i pti on l i ke.. .

CLOSE ON LETTER : “I d on't l ove yo u anymore.”

The gener al r ul e i s that you shoul d onl y i ncl ude a di r ecti on i f


the audi ence woul d not be abl e to foll ow the stor y wi thout
i t. I f you have a sni per i n the wi ngs of a poli ti cal conventi on
and you need to show hi s tar get, you m ay need to use
som ethi ng l i ke. . .

POV RIFLE CROSS HAIRS: On P r esiden t


Dickinson !

The occasi onal ANG L E ON or P UL L BACK i s fi ne, but don’t go


nuts wi th a Z OOM I N HARD THROUG H TE LE -P HOTO L E NS!
Spar e us your di r ec tor i al vi si on and technical prowess ,
pl ease.

DON'T OVER-USE CAPS, PARENTHETICALS AND TRANSITIONS


Don't cap eac h c har ac ter 's nam e ever y tim e – som e pr o
wr i ter s do thi s but I fi nd i t annoyi ng to r ead, pl us i t can be
confusi ng when tr yi ng to rem em ber i f thi s i s the i ntr oducti on
of a new char ac ter or we've seen them befor e. I suggest you
onl y cap a char ac ter 's nam e i n desc r i pti on upon thei r fir st
appear ance on sc r een; thi s i s a MUST.

Don't i ncl ude a par entheti c al c ue li ke ( softl y) above ever y


di al ogue bl oc k and don't dr op a DI SSOL VE TO: or FADE OUT:
after ever y sc ene.

Don't use too m any var i ati ons on DAY or NIG HT.

You wi l l dri ve a r eader batty wi th too m any cues l i ke thi s :


145

EXT. CONC ERT HA LL – M OMENTS LATER

EXT. CONC ERT HA LL – S AME TI ME

EXT. CONC ERT HA LL – T HREE M INUTES H ENCE

EXT. CONC ERT HA LL – S EVERAL DAYS LA TER

EXT. CONC ERT HA LL – A UGUST 1 S T - TW ILIGHT

The occasi onal NE XT DAY or DUSK or MAG I C HOUR or E ARL Y


MORNI NG i s fi ne, but don't get too fancy – sti ck to DAY and
NI G HT 90% of the tim e.

USING CONTINUOUS
I see a l ot of c onfusi on wi th usi ng CONTI NUOUS. I t i s used
onl y i f a sequenc e c hanges to a new l ocati on wi th no br eak
i n the tim el i ne. E . g. ,

EXT. WARE HOUSE – DAY

The speed ing Ca maro h its th e ceme nt dock and


takes air ...

CRASHES i nto th e wall !

INT. WARE HOUSE – CONT INUOUS

The Camar o cras hes th rough the in te rior


wall, lan ding o n its wheels and S KI DDING to
a stop, o nly in ches f rom th e Rabb i, who is
bound to a chai r.

Another common u se of CONTINUOUS is whe n cr oss-


cutting be tween two loca tions th at need to occur a t the
same time, like if the firs t lo catio n is a r oom with
hostages tied to a ticking time b omb an d the seco nd
location is outside the b uilding where the he ro is
looking for a way in to save them be fore the bomb goes
off.
146

SCENE NUMBERS AND PAGE NUMBERS


Tur n off Scene Num ber s. Sc ene Num ber s ar e for sh o o tin g
scri p ts—you ar e wr i ti ng a sp ec, or subm i ssi on draft, that' s
m eant for the r eader , not the c ast and crew.

Make sur e your page num ber s ar e i n the upper ri ght hand
cor ner and ar e al so i n Cour i er 12 pt. l i ke the r est of your
scr i pt. Ther e shoul d al so be a peri od im m edi ately after the
num ber , l i ke thi s. . .

12.

Tur n off the page c ounter that shows how m any pages the
cur r ent scene has been r unni ng for . E. g. , don’t incl ude thi s
at the top of the page. . .

CONTINUED (4):

You don't want to r em i nd the r eader that a scene has been


goi ng on for four pages —that's a c ue to them that you m ay
be over wr i ti ng. And i t cr owds the page.

CHARACTER NAMES
I f you'r e consi stent wi th your form at and punctuati on, soon
the r eader won't even noti c e i t as thei r eye m oves qui cker
down the page. The same goes for CHARACTE R NAME S above
di al ogue; eve ntual l y, our eye ski ps over the name as we
qui ckl y r ecogni z e i t i n our per i pher al vi si on. For thi s r eason,
you don't want to nam e two c har ac ter s wi th the sam e fir st
i ni ti al , e. g. ,
DANA
Hey Danny , how' s it g oing?

DANNY
Good, Dan a, hey , gues s what I
learned t oday?
147

DANA
What?

DANNY
That our names are ve ry sim ilar
so in a t wo-per son di alogue scene
like this one, the re ader's eye
gets conf used a nd mix es us up.

DANA
Son of a b-!

-the read er's h ead EX PLODES !

You m i ght have the ur ge to gi ve a m ar ri ed couple or si bl i ngs


the sam e fir st i ni ti al i n their nam es, but I war n agai nst thi s.
I t m ay seem c ute to you that the tr i pl ets ar e nam ed CATE ,
CAI TL YN and CARY , but to a r eader , they wil l wi sh for thr ee
anvi l s to be dr opped on the thr ee ador abl e m op -tops of
those thr ee obnoxi ous c her ubs.

Thi s r ecal l s m y “Yo u’re no t J.R .R . To lkien ” R u le :

J.R.R. Tolkien can name two separate villains SARUMAN


and SAURON , which is a horrible idea , because he’s
J.R.R. Tolkien. You can’t because you’re not.

An adjunct to thi s i s m y “M ike Tea vee is t h e worst ch arac t er


n ame ever” Ru le, whi c h states as fol l ows:

Roald Dahl can name a character who watch es too much


television, MIKE TEAVEE, which is pretty muc h the
definition of on the nose , because he’s Roald Dahl. You
can’t because you’re not.

Whew. I t feel s good to get those off m y chest.

A fi nal , ser i ous ti p i n r egar ds to nam es: don’t bor e the


r eader wi th a c ast of sti ff “ whi tebr ead” nam es. If your
148

char acter s al l have nam es l i ke JOHN SMI TH, HE RB DUNCAN,


JI L L JOHNSON, and DONN A WHI TE , not onl y do thei r names
not say anythi ng about thei r c har ac ter but they tend to r un
together and i t’s har d to rem em ber them .

Whi ch hi tm an ar e you goi ng to r emem ber ? MI CHAE L or


BUTCHE R BOY?

Whi ch school teac her sti c ks out for you? MRS. JOHNSON or
MRS. SCHAUDE NFRE UDE ?

Now tha t we ’ve go t tho se ba sic tips out of th e way, let’s


go deeper into communica ting you r s tory on the p age.
149

XIV. TOOLS OF THE TRADE


(A. K. A. “ Yo u l o o k d ash i n g i n yo u r wh i te space , MR.
EL L I PS I S”)

Fi r st, l et's m eet som e fri ends.

Ther e's the dash - the doubl e dash -- the el li psi s. . . and the
par agr aph

br eak.

You can use these for m s of punc tuati on to control paci ng,
tone, and to m ake a sc ene feel l i ke a ser i es of shots or beats
as they woul d be shown i n a m ovi e. Her e's an exam pl e of the
doubl e d ash fr om the thr il l er Ea g l e E ye [Dr eam wor ks SKG ] :

RACHEL -- her h eart s kips a beat -- she


knows wha t's ab out to happe n -- b ut she
can't do it, pa ralyze d --

Her e's a secti on tha t uses dashes , under l i ni ng and “ beat,”


whi ch i s the sc reenwr i ti ng term for pa u se :

INT PENTA GON - THE VA ULT - CONTIN UO US

Callister leans sombe rly ag ainst th e table.


Never tho ught i t woul d come to th is ...

CALLISTER
What I'm about to tel l you can ne ve r
leave thi s room .
(beat)
Three day s ago we got what we
Thought w as iro n-clad i ntel from th e
Brits.
(beat)
And we ma de the hit.

Latesha a nd Sco tt, co mplete ly sho ck ed –


150

LATESHA
The White House said we wer en't
responsib le for –

CALLISTER
-- of cou rse th ey did . We g ot the
wrong guy . And Aria k new it .

You'l l noti ce the us e of the dashes i n the di al ogue to show


Cal l i ster i s cutti ng off L atesha. Thi s c an be used i n
descr i pti on or di al ogue to show an abr upt tr ansiti on —
per sonal l y I pr efer one dash r ather than two dashes for a
cut-off si nce i t feel s quic k -

FASTE R !

Her e's an exa m pl e fr om Cra sh by P aul Haggi s & Bobby


Mor esco [Bob Yar i P r oduc ti ons, L i ons G ate Fi l m s] wher e one
char acter cuts off another speaker i n the m i ddl e of a
questi on. . .

CAMERON
They were cops! They had gu ns!
Where do you th ink yo u're l iving,
with momm y and daddy in
Greenwich ?

CHRISTINE
--Go to h ell.

They i nser ted the doubl e dash --wi th no space after i t --


befor e the sec ond l i ne to r eal l y em phasi z e the rapi d -fi r e
r esponse.

I t's up to you how you'r e goi ng to use punctuation on the


page to m ake your reade r FEE L the m ovi e. Once you fi nd
151

your pr eferr ed styl e, sti c k wi th i t and be consi stent or you


wi l l dr i ve the r eader batty.

A note on the ell i psi s: i t c an i nc l ude spaces i f you'd l i ke, as


l ong as you pi c k one styl e and sti c k to i t. For exam pl e, you
can use. . . no spac es. You c an use.. . one space after the
el l i psi s. Or you c an use . .. two spac es, one before and one
after ( al though I thi nk thi s opti on takes up too m uch space
and l ooks awkwar d) . My l east favor i te opti on i s a space i n
between ever y per i od . . . l i k e that. I ’ve seen i t used, but I
fi nd i t annoyi ng, unl ess per haps i f i t wer e used to captur e
the pace of a sl ow -m oti on sc ene.

But however you type your el l i psi s, do NOT l et your softwar e


scru n ch i t!

You know what I mean, when the thr ee dots do …thi s?


I …hate…thi s! ! ! They shoul d. .. onl y. .. l ook l i ke thi s. . . cool ? The
scr unched el li psi s i s a sur e -fi re si gn that you'r e not usi ng a
scr eenwr i ti ng pac kage li ke Fi nal Dr aft but r ather a standar d
pr ogr am l i ke Mi c r osoft Wor d, and that m akes you l ook l i ke
an am ateur . You c an use Wor d or Cel tx or whatever you
want, as l ong as your for m at l ooks fl awl ess and you tur n off
that evi l scr unc hi ng opti on i n the “ Auto -Cor r ect” m enu.

SHOW, DON’T TELL


I can't teach you how to c hoose the best wor ds to descr i be
an acti on. Shoul d G er r y l eap or al i gh t ? Ar e Z oey's eyes co l d
or h a rd ? I s the fl oor m ade of fl a g sto n e or co n crete ?

I s one b etter than the other ? That's har d to say.

Does one evoke a tone or em oti on that's cl oser to your


i ntenti on for the sc ene? Yes. Rem em ber , your goal i s m ake
the Reader feel the sam e em oti on as they r ead the scr i pt as
the Audi ence wil l feel when they watch the m ovie.

But not ever y Reader wi l l agr ee. Di ffer ent r eader s wi l l r ead
your scr i pt i n di ffer ent ways.
152

E ver had a fri end tel l you that a m om ent i n your scr i pt i s
hi l ar i ous, when you m eant for i t to be sober i ng? Me, too. I t
sucks. ( B ut hey, at l east they'r e l aughi ng, whi ch m eans you
got a str ong em oti on out of them . )

A key i s to know when to br eak the r ul es. The biggest r ul e to


fol l ow i s Sh o w, Do n 't Tel l , keepi ng i n m i nd what the
audi ence wi ll see and hear i n the sc ene. Consi der the
openi ng of the novel Th e Bi g Sl eep , by Raym ond Chandl er . . .

I t was about el even o' cl ock i n t he m orni ng, m i d


Oct ober, wi t h t he sun not shi ni ng and a l ook of
hard wet rai n i n t he cl earness of t he f oot hi l l s. I
was weari ng m y powder - bl ue sui t , wi t h dark
bl ue shi rt , t i e and di spl ay handkerchi ef , bl ack
brogue s, bl ack wool socks wi t h dark bl ue
cl ocks on t hem . I was neat , cl ean shaved and
sober, and I di dn' t care who knew i t . I was
everyt hi ng t he wel l -dr essed p ri vat e det ect i ve
ought t o be. I was cal l i ng on f our m il l i on
dol l ars.

Fantasti c voi c e. But her e's what the audi ence sees i n the
m ovi e. ..

EXT. MANS ION – HOLLYW OOD HI LLS – DA Y

PHILIP MA RLOWE, 32, d ressed in a bl ue suit,


strides u p an e legant wa lkw ay tow ar d a
mansion w ith a view o f over cast L os Angeles
in the ba ckgrou nd.

Her e's what the newbi e sc reenwr i ter mi ght wr i te ,


“ expl ai ni ng” what we see wi th fl at wor d choi ces and for m s of
“ be” (i s, ar e) . ..

DETECTIVE PHILI P MARL OWE, a priva te


investiga tor in Los A ngeles in th e 1940's,
is in fro nt of a mans ion, s taring a t it in
an expens ive bl ue sui t and with a f edora.
The sky i s over cast a nd the groun d is wet.
153

Her e's what a m or e styl i sh sc r eenwr i ter m i ght wr i te. ..

PHILIP MA RLOWE, 32, s trides up th e elegant


flagstone walkw ay tow ard a magnif ic ent home.
His blue wool s uit co sts mu ch mor e than he
can affor d but he kno ws it looks go od and
looks can come in han dy whe n your b usiness
is troubl e.

His eyes scan t he man icured groun ds , the


giant fro nt doo r. He' s conf ide nt. .. but
always ca utious .

Her e's another take, uti l i z i ng a bi t m or e of “ di r ecti ng” but


not over l y so, i n m y hum bl e opi ni on , i f we wanted to be
fai thful to the sour c e m ateri al .. .

PHILIP MA RLOWE, 32, s tares at the


overwroug ht man sion i n fron t of h im . His
blue suit is sh arp an d he k nows i t.

We see QU ICK SH OTS of his o utfit --

Silk disp lay ha ndkerc hief, cuttin g at an


angle so precis e it c ould s et an in strument.

Black win gtips, polis hed to perfe ct ion.

The hat. Classi c 1940 s G -ma n fedo ra .

His eyes scan t he fro nt yar d, con fi dent yet


cautious, takin g in t he vin tage B en tley, the
ceramic S ambo a nd the prize -winni ng azaleas.

He remove s his hat an d appr oaches t he


monstrous front door.

Not bad, huh? But keep i n m i nd you don't want to use thi s
m uch styl e i n ever y sc ene, o ther wi se you'l l pad the scr i pt
and r i sk m i ssi ng your page tar gets for your si gnpost beats;
but i t's pr etty standar d to do a bi t of showi ng off i n the
i ntr oducti on of a key c har ac ter , and thi s m ay com e i n handy
154

as “ actor bai t” to attr ac t name tal ent that ca n't wai t to l i ve


up to thi s sexy c har ac ter snapshot.

You noti ced I used the devi c e of QUI CK SHOTS, whi ch i s a


shor thand that I fi nd wor ks wel l and tends to take up l ess
space than A SE RIE S OF SHOTS, al though the l atter i s
effecti ve for passages of ti m e sh own i n a m ontage of shots. . .

A SERIES OF SHO TS

1) Nick w alks o nto th e used car l ot , is


immediate ly app roache d by a laugh in g BALD
SALESMAN.

2) Nick s hakes hands with t he Bal d Salesman.


He notice s his hand i s now sweaty .

3) Nick d rives a shin y new KIA, p ap er s in


the windo w, dow n the road. A good -l ooking
CHICK smi les at him. He giv es him se lf a
thumbs up .

4) Nick d rives his Ki a into his d ri veway --


the engin e KICK S, smo ke ris es fro m the hood.

5) The Ki a is u p on b locks in the d riveway -


- Nick's shoes stick out fr om und er it. His
hand juts out, feelin g for a wren ch . His
teenage S ON, la ughing his a ss off , holds the
wrench in ches a way fr om Nic k's ha nd .

P oor Ni ck.

I t hel ps to thi nk of your desc ri pti on as beats of acti on wi thi n


a scene, and pac e out the shots as they woul d play on fi lm ,
usi ng whi te spac e, l i ne br eaks, and punctuati on.

But you don't just want to l i st shots. You want to say


som ethi ng . You want to m ake your r eader feel the way the
audi ence shoul d feel whi l e watc hi ng thi s m ovie. I t r eal l y i r ks
m e when I see a phr ase that means nothi ng, i t just sounds
good –
155

He lays h is hea d down and s leeps th e sleep


of the de ad.

But. . . the dead don't sl eep. They'r e dead. And the above i s a
cl i ché that I 've seen wri tten too m any ti mes, i n scr i pts and
books.

Most i m por tantl y , i t doesn't m ean anythi ng.

Another exam pl e, fr om Wi ll i am G ol dm an, no l ess, on page


one of hi s sc r eenpl ay Ab so lu te Po wer [Col um bi a P i ctur es] . ..

We'll fin d out more a bout h im as ti me goes


on, but t his is all y ou rea lly ha ve to know:
Luther Wh itney is the hero of thi s piece.

Hi s l i ttl e "heads - up" to the r eader i s com pl etel y extr aneous,


consi der i ng that the sc ene i s a wel l -wri tten openi ng that
SHOWS us L uther Whi tney. He just wasted two l ines on page
one, the m ost c r uc i al page i n the enti r e scr eenplay, by
tel l i ng us som ethi ng that he had al r eady shown us. I f thi s
wer e an unknown sc r eenwr i ter , i t woul d feel alm ost as i f the
wr i ter wasn't tr usti ng hi s own stor ytel l i ng.

But he can get away wi th i t bec ause he's Wi l l i am G ol dm an.


You'r e not, so don' t do that. Her e's another cli ché. . .

We'll cal l him JOE.

Who's we? Ar e we wr i ti ng thi s stor y or are yo u , the wr i ter ?


Nor m al l y, “ we” i s used to m ean the audi ence, so i s the
audi ence col lec ti vel y nam i ng him Joe? Ugh.

Thi s i s not the m ost gr ievous c r im e, and a conver sati onal


styl e of descr i pti on c an wor k wel l , but the poi nt i s cl ear :
cur b your tell i ng .

Her e's an asi de fr om Ju n o that feel s m uch m or e or gani c and


fun:
156

EXT. SUBU RBAN S TREETS - MOR NING

It is now WINTE R. The TRACK TEAM jo gs in


formation , leav ing tr acks i n the sn ow. T hose
bastards never stop r unning .

BE BOLD, BEAUTIFUL AND BRIEF


Bottom l i ne: your m ai n job i s to c aptur e a m om ent i n the
m ost power ful way wi th the l east am ount of words possi bl e.

Scr eenwr i ti ng i s about br evi ty. E c onom y of speech.

G ood scr eenwri ti ng i s el e gant.

Jam es Cam er on desc r i bed a shot of the sun gl i steni ng off the
sur face of the oc ean as “ Di am onds i n oil . ” That’ s el egance.

Thi nki ng of the big pi c tur e, you al r eady know that one page
of pr oper l y for m atted sc r eenpl ay equal s one m inute of
m ovi e scr een tim e, and that I suggest you pace your scr i pt
l i ke m oder n m ovi es ar e c ut. But you sti l l m ight h ave a
questi on i n the bac k of your m i nd .. .

What about all those deleted scenes on the D VDs?

Don’t they want us to wr i te m or e than they’l l need so they


have som eth i ng to c ut l ater i n the edi ti ng r oom ?

No.
157

You’r e a NE W wr i ter. You need to show total com m and of


your stor y and pac e i t l i ke a m oder n m ovi e. That’s why you
want to be speci fi c. For exam pl e,
you don’t wr i te. . .

Big actio n scen e goes


here.
FROM THE You need to cr aft ever y beat of
TRENCHES : that ki c k-ass acti on scene, usi ng
al l the textual tool s i n your
J. ST EPHEN ar senal to cr eate the tensi on and
MAUNDER pac i ng that the audi ence wil l feel
(Tiger Claws I, i n the theater . Caps, whi te space,
II, III, The dashes , el l i pses, under l i ni ng, l i ne
Veteran, br eaks, sl ug l i nes. . . the
c om bi nati o ns of these devices
Shadows in
ar e endl ess, just l i ke the
Paradise) possi bi l i ti es for a thri l l i ng m ovi e
“An yo n e can ac ti on sc ene.
p u n ch an d ki ck,
b u t gi ve o n e gu y CHARACTER INTRODUCTIONS
a b an an a an d th e
o th er a co at How you i ntr oduce your
h an g er an d you c har ac ter s i s cr uci al . Agai n, you
h ave an want to c aptur e thi s uni que
i n teresti n g fi g h t. per son or cr eatur e i n as few
Pu t a sp i n o n th e wor ds as possi bl e.
mu n d an e an d i t
b eco mes A c om m on m i stake i s the
memo rab l e. ” c ontr adi c tor y char acter
i ntr oduc ti on. . .

BIGGS has the e yes of a


genius bu t the
personali ty of a dolt .

Ser i ousl y? Whi l e thi s m ay seem l i ke an attr acti ve chal l enge


to an actor , i t's just pl ai n annoyi ng to the r eader . And I can't
158

i m agi n e an audi enc e ever sayi ng “ Wow, that guy acts l i ke an


i di ot but hi s eyes l ook so sm ar t,” c an you?

CHERIE ha s the legs o f a co llege ch eerleader


but coffe e brea th tha t woul d kill a charging
rhino at twenty paces .

Okay, that's ki nda funny i f thi s wer e a com e dy, but i t's sti l l a
l ot of tel l in g. To sh o w thi s, you woul d descr i be a sul tr y gal
who sl i nks i nto a bar i n a shor t ski r t, appr oaches the fi r st
l ucky gent she sees, says som ethi ng to hi m , to whi ch he
pr om ptl y cr i nges, gr abs hi s nose and r uns away (or passe s
out, i f thi s wer e a m ore si l l y m ovie. . . or tur ns and thr ows up
al l over the bar , i f thi s wer e a Sel tz er -Fr i edber g joi nt) .

Another m i stake i s the i ntr o wi th too m uch backstor y that


the audi ence c oul dn't possi bl y know. ..

JACE, 22, a mac hine s hop fo reman an d part-


time taxi dermis t who served two y ea rs in
Iraq but was di scharg ed for steal in g potato
skins fro m the mess h all, i s the ki nd of guy
who could kill and gu t a pi g but wo uld never
let a lad y open her o wn car door.

I need a shower .

Or the pr etenti ous/ “ sou l c aptur i ng” i ntr o. . .

JANIE is a forc e of p ower i n a wa st eland of


shattered dream s and small town d em entia.

Uh. . . yeah.

Her e's a ni ce c apturi ng of a c har ac ter wi thout bei ng


ostentati ous. . .

STEVE is the gu y who was al ways t oo small to


make the footba ll tea m but still tr ied out
four year s in a row.
159

Her e’s som e str ong c har ac ter i ntr oducti ons fr om pr oduced
scr i pts. Fr om Th e Bea v er by Kyl e Ki ll en . ..

WALTER, m id 40' s, vac ant, l ies in b ed fully


dressed i n a su it and tie.

Fr om Ki ck-Ass by Jane G ol dm an and Matthew Va ughan. . .

A CAR pul ls up and ou t clim bs hig hs chool


senior DA VID LI ZEWSKI . Not quite Na poleon
Dynamite, but n ot qui te Zac Efron e ither.

I n Wi l li am Monahan’s Osc ar -wi nni ng scr i pt for Th e Depa rted


[Based on I n ferna l Affa i rs ; War ner Br os. P i ctures] , he
chooses to cap ever y c har ac ter nam e i n descr i pti on, ever y
ti m e. I n thi s excer pt, we've al r eady m et Col i n and Bar r igan
but thi s i s the fir st appear anc e of Mr s Kennefi ck.

COLIN and BARRI GAN (w ho Col in has m oved to


plain clo thes) stand at the door, t alking,
or trying to ta lk, wi th a f earful M RS
KENNEFICK . MRS KENNEF ICK lo oks li ke she
starts dr inking whisk ey at 9 in t he morning.

Fr om Cra sh .. .

FARHAD, I ranian , 50s, looks at th e handgun


and turns to hi s daug hter D ORRI, 25 , who
wears a b lue su it and a bad mood.

That' s a b i t “ on the nose” but i t’s i n keepi ng wi th the styl e


of the scr i pt.

I t’s best to al so gi ve your c har ac ter s an acti on when we fir st


see them .

P hi l i n Th e Han go v er c oll ec ts m oney fr om hi s juni or hi gh


school students for thei r fi el d tri p an d pr om ptl y pockets i t
for hi s weekend i n Vegas.
160

Mi l es i n Si d ewa y s m oves hi s c ar , par ked at an angl e si nce he


was dr u nk the ni ght befor e, to l et the gar dener s par k at hi s
r un-down apar tm ent c om pl ex.

Max i n Ru sh mo re daydr eam s i n cl ass that he i s cel ebr ated by


hi s teacher and peer s i n hi s pr ep sc hool .

WRITING IN THE PRESENT TENSE A.K.A. STAYING IN THE


MOMENT
The scr eenpl ay needs to r ead l i ke a l i ve tr anscr ipt of what i s
pl ayi ng NOW on the m ovi e sc r een i n our mi nds. The m ost
si m pl e way to thi nk of i t i s that the scr i pt shows us what we
SE E and HE AR.

Now.

L i ve.

Ho w you show us what we see and hear i s up to you, and


what m akes up your or i gi na l voi c e.

Modi fi er s li ke th en , wh en , sud d enl y , ev en tu a ll y, u su a l l y ,


b efo re and after ar e not necessar y and wi l l often sti ck out to
the r eader . Tec hni c al l y, they'r e wr ong as they contr adi ct the
l i ve, “ r eal tim e” tense of a sc ri pt, but usi ng a few can
som eti m es wor k better than not usi ng them .

Joe skips down the si dewalk , a hu ge smile on


his kisse r. He eventu ally r eaches t he end of
the sidew alk, s teps o ff the curb an d then,
suddenly. ..

He's hit by a L EXUS t hat co mes ou t of


nowhere a fter s lammin g on i ts bra ke s, but
it's too late a nd Joe is se nt fly in g 25
feet.

That' s wor dy, fi l l ed wi th adver bs and the second sentence i s


passi ve.
161

Her e's what the audi enc e sees and one way to wr i te thi s
scene i n a m or e ec onom ic al fashi on. ..

Joe skips down the si dewalk , big sm ile on


his face. He st eps of f the curb a nd he's

SLAMMED b y a Le xus!

Ther e's sever al other var i ati ons you c oul d use, l ike a doubl e
dash or an el l i psi s after h e's -- or begi nni ng the second
sentence wi th Jo e or A L exu s. I n the above exampl e, the
second sentenc e begi ns wi th a ver b, SL AMME D rather than
the subject ( Joe or L exus) , but you'l l notice that SL AMME D i s
i n the past tense. I t sti l l r ead s okay, b ut SL AMS woul d be the
techni cal l y co rrect opti on, so l et's tr y that :

Joe skips down the si dewalk , big sm ile on


his face. He st eps of f the curb w it hout
looking – - out of now here a LEXUS a ppears --

SLAMS int o him!

Her e, I had to m enti on the L exus befor e the paragr aph br eak
i nto the second sentenc e to justi fy the SL AMS ver b.

G etti ng hi t by a c ar i s usual l y goi ng to necessi tate a BIG


ver b. I n other c ases, you c an go m or e subtl e and sti l l
com m unicate the ac ti on. I n fac t, you can even ski p over i t
and just i m pl y the ac ti on. For exam pl e. . .

Ben doesn 't not ice Ji m leav e.

Thi s r eads better than :

Jim walks off. Ben is looki ng the o ther way .

I t's not a huge di ffer enc e , but I 'd say the fi r st one i s m ore
el egant.

The key i s to use dynam ic wor d c hoi c e, especi ally acti ve


ver bs, al ong wi th a l ean sc ene li st , to achi eve the cr i tical
“ Acti ve Stor ytel li ng. ”
162

I t’s al so best to avoi d too m any pr esent pr ogr essi ve tense


ver bs ( the “ger und” for m s, or “ -i ng” ver bs) . Wa lks i s usual l y
m or e effecti ve than i s wal ki ng . When you don’t use the
ger und ver bs, i t’s al so easi er to avoi d those l az y for m s of
“ be:” the usage of i s, a re, th ere i s and th ere a re . You can
al ways wor k a bi t har der and.. .

USE STRONG VERBS!


Ver b choi ce i s a bi g par t of wr i ti ng effecti ve descr i pti on.
Al ong wi th avoi di ng fo rm s of “ be” and the pr ogressi ves, s tay
away fr om the dr eaded "goes" and "c om es. "

Keep i t second per son pr esent tense and use strong, uni que
ver bs that captur e tone, em oti on, and char acter .

Unfor tunatel y, I see a l ot of thi s i n descr i pti on :

Jack goes to th e side walk t o his ca r, goes


inside th e car.

Jack is i nside the ca r, beh ind th e wheel,


Shelly is comin g out of the house .

Yuck.

Rem em ber that thi s i s happeni ng NOW and i t m ust be cl ear


and i nter esti ng. "Ni c k i s al so i n the r oom " i s fr ustr ati ng to
the r eader ; wher e i s he i n the r oom ? What does hi s body
l anguage tel l us? What's he doi ng? What's the bl ocki ng of
the actor s i n thi s r oom ? I shoul d be abl e to SE E it.

Your descr i pti on shows us WHAT WE SE E and HOW TO FE E L –


how do I know the tone of the sc ene by Jack "goi ng" to the
car or the r efr i ger ator ? But i f Jac k "c har ges" hi s BMW, or
"shuffl e - steps gr ac eful l y" al ong the c atwal k. .. that gi ves som e
sense of em oti on and styl e, r ight?

What i f he "gr i ts hi s teeth" the whol e ti m e, or he's "sm i l i ng a


Cheshi r e cat gr i n" whil e perfor mi ng these acti ons? These
coul d be gr eat ways to r eveal c har ac ter and tone.
163

E ver y wor d c ounts, even a li ttl e ver b i n on e l i ttle descr i pti on


sentence. So take som e tim e to c om e up wi th that wor d,
m ake that ver b uni que, CR AFT ever y wor d i n the se ntence.

Thi s al l com es down to one of the m ost basi c l essons i n


scr eenwr i ti ng. . .

NE VE R WASTE WORDS! ! Whic h r em i nds m e of a cr uci al edi ct .


Say i t wi th m e and speak i t wi th r el i sh , ki nd scr eenwr i ter .. .

Be e l egant.
164

THE VOICE
165

XV. SUCK IN TH E READ ER

I f you pr acti c e your c r aft l ong enough, you’r e goi ng to


devel op your “ voi c e” on the page. Thi s voi ce can ( and
pr obabl y shoul d ) c hange som ewhat wi th each scr i pt you
wr i te, especi al l y when swi tc hi ng genr es, to captur e the
pr oper styl e and em oti on for the r eader , your substi tute
audi ence m em ber. Let’s expl or e thi s topi c i n m or e detai l
wi th m or e exam pl es fr om pr oduc ed screenpl ays.

Your voi ce com es out i n Di al ogue and Descr i pti on, but I
bel i eve that di al ogue i s not qui te as im por tant as str uctur e
and descr i pti on for sp ec sc r eenpl ays subm i tted by a NE W
wr i ter . Di al ogue m ay wi n Osc ar s for the bi g boys and get
m any an establ i shed pr o hi r ed on assi gnm ent, but for you, I
say keep i t as l ean as possi bl e. You sti l l want to wr i te
di sti ncti ve di al ogue for eac h c har ac ter , but you m ust avoi d
the constant tem ptati on to c omm uni c ate exposi ti on i n
di al ogue.

You've pr obabl y hear d about those i ndustr y types who r ead


onl y the di al ogue i n a sc r i pt. Wel l , that can happen, and i t
wi l l happen i f you bor e the r eader , so I 'd contend that i t's
your job to m ake the r eader WANT TO RE AD your descr i pti on
by seduci ng them wi th a c om pel l i ng nar r ati ve voi ce that
establ i shes TONE , P ACI NG and E MOTI ON ri ght off the bat,
r ather than just l i sti ng fl at stage dir ecti ons.

You need to suc k i n the r eader .

Thi s i s not a l i c ense to pac k eac h page wi th dense bl ocks of


text and r i ddl e them wi th l andm i nes o' wi t i n the for m of
sar casti c asi des, but r ather a c al l to not waste a si ngl e wor d,
whi l e consi deri ng how the audi enc e shoul d feel at thi s
m om ent i n the m ovi e.

I t al l com es down to wor d c hoic e. Thi s m ay seem obvi ous –


i sn't that what wr i ti ng i s, c hoosi ng the r i ght words? But too
166

m any of you have been tol d to vi ew your scr eenp l ays as


"bl uepr i nts" for fi lm s, when I thi nk you'd be better off
appr oachi ng i t as the "em ot i onal c i nem ati c tem pl ate" for a
fi l m. I t has to FE EL l i ke a m ovi e and i t has to feel RE AL. The
onl y way to do that i s to c hoose the per fect combi nati on of
wor ds.

Descr i pti on i s m or e than m ere bl oc ki ng cues. I t's tr ue that


the m ost i m por tant aspec t of desc r i pti on i s to show us what
we see and hear , and i t m ust be CL E AR above al l el se, but
the r eader does not want a shot l i st, they want two hands to
r each out of the m anusc r i pt, gr ab them by their sal l ow
cheeks and P UL L THE M KI CKI NG AND SCRE AMI NG I NTO THI S
MOV I E.

We'r e al l wr i ti ng spec sc r eenpl ays for a pr ofessional Stor y


Anal yst who r eads fl at, uni nspi r ed pr ose al l the ti m e. They'r e
wai ti ng for som ethi ng fr esh, som ethi ng wi th L I FE . They'r e
dyi ng to r ead wor k by a wr i ter who c an r eall y wri te , not just
str i ng t ogether sequenc es. As I menti oned earl i er , when I
was on the job, I al ways r em i nded m ysel f that I was l ooki ng
for r easons to say “ yes” r ather than r easons to say “ no. ”
Ther e’s a bi g di fferenc e there; i t’s r ooti ng for the wr i ter to
be good ( so you c an hel p som e qual i ty wr i ti ng go up the
l adder ) r ather than hopi ng they’r e bad ( so you can just get
thr ough the sc r i pt and be done wi th i t) . I bel ieve that
r eader s today ar e l ooki ng for the sam e thi ng.

You need to establ i sh r i ght off the bat that you ar e


confi dent l y taki ng the r eader to a specifi c wor l d whi ch onl y
yo u know i n thi s way, at thi s tim e, i n thi s m anner , wi th thi s
feel i ng. And the best way to do that i s wi th a uni que voi ce
on the page, i n desc ri pti on an d di al ogue, but fi rst we'r e
goi ng to focus on descr i pti on.
167

FROM THE TRENCHES:


LOUIS C.K.
(Louie, Late Night with Conan O’Brien,
Saturday Night Live )
“I’ ve hir ed a lo t o f wr iter s, a nd w he n I star t
r eadi ng a spec , w he n I o pe n up page o ne ,
“ R aym ond spec by J oey,” I t hi nk, “ I ca n’t r e ad
t his. It’s pai nf ul.” B eca use t her e’s so m a ny of
t hem o ut t her e t hey all l ook t he sam e. B ut w he n I
r ead [a n or igi nal scr ip t] a nd I w atc h t hi s per so n
de velo p a w hole gr o up of peop le a nd t ell a
stor y... t hat gi ve s yo u a m uc h bet ter s hot. T he
m or e or igi nal, t he m or e uniq ue yo ur s t uf f is, t he
better , r at her t ha n tr yi ng t o hi t a c er tai n pla ce
t hat’ s go i ng to get y o u em pl oyed , [w hi c h] us ually
j ust m akes yo u like e ver ybo dy els e.”

READING PRODUCED SCREENPLAYS


You shoul d r ead and anal yz e as m any scr eenpl ays as
possi bl e, to see the good and the bad. The m or e you r ead,
the m or e you detec t patter ns i n str uc tur e and you bui l d
m ental li sts of what wor ks and what doesn't.

I t c an be di ffic ul t to fi nd pr oduc ed sc r eenpl ays in thei r


or i gi nal for m at. I t 's i m por tant to note that m any publ i shed
scr i pts found i n bookstor es ar e not i n i ndustr y -standar d
168

for m at and m ost pr ofessi onal sc r eenpl ays to be found onl i ne


ar e pr oducti on dr afts , not spec subm i ssi on dr afts .
P r oducti on dr afts tend to r un m uc h l onger ( e. g. , 120+ pages)
than your aver age spec sc r i pt, c an be l i ttered with cam er a
and shot r efer enc es and the styl e i s often hei ghtened as
"actor -bai t" to attr ac t talent. Thi s i s just one of t he r easons
why i t’s so i m por tant to hunt down the actual drafts of
pr oduced scr eenpl ays and to show your wor k to your peer s
( and, i deal l y, al so to pr ofessi onal s who’ve wor ked i n the
i ndustr y) , to m ake sur e i t’s form atted and wri tten to fl ow as
a “ r eader ’s dr aft.”

[Note: I 'm goi ng to use exam pl es fr om sever al produced


scr eenpl ays i n thi s sec ti on , and i n each case I 've done m y
best to r epl i c ate exac tl y the text of the scr i pt as pr i nted.
Many of m y sam pl e scr i pts wer e r efer enced fr om har d
copi es, but i n the c a se of the downl oaded scr eenpl ays, I
cannot vouch for th e ac c ur ac y of the tr anscr i ption . ]

CAPTURING THE MOMENT


Shane Bl ack's L eth a l Wea po n scr eenpl ay [War ner Br os.
P i ctur es, Si l ver P i c tures] m ay be anc i ent hi stor y at thi s
poi nt, but at the ti m e i t had a hu ge i m pact on the i ndustr y,
and r i ghtful l y so. I t's dr i ppi ng wi th voi ce, has tons of
com m entar y and never l ets up, for better and for wor se. The
“ wor se” woul d be the asi des and c om mentar y i n descr i pti on,
whi ch ar e best to avoi d when you’r e a new wr i ter . I n the
"better " categor y, Bl ac k shows hi s penchant for nai l i ng the
TONE of a r oom wi th som e di sti nc ti ve l anguage on page 1. . .

PASTEL co lors. Window wall s . New wa ve


furniture tortu red in to wei rd sha pe s. It
looks lik e robo ts liv e here .

I l i ke the fur ni tur e bei n g "tor tur ed i nto wei r d shapes," but
for m e that "r obots" l i ne hi ts the bull ’s-eye. We i m m edi atel y
know thi s i s a c hi c , Holl ywood c ondo owned by peopl e wi th
too m uch m oney and z er o c om passi on for thei r fel l ow hum an
169

bei ngs. That's not nec essar i l y co mmen ta ry for me, that's ju st
good descr i pti on.

But a l i ttl e bi t l ater , he thr ows i n a li ne that feels


di sassoci ated fr om the i ntr oduc ti on of the Mar tin Ri ggs
char acter (Mel G i bson) .

Riggs smi les at him i nnocen tly. S tr okes the


collie's fur wi th one hand.

With the other, he re aches into a p aper sack


and produ ces, a spank ing ne w bott le of Jack
Daniels, possib ly the fines t drin k mankind
has yet p roduce d.

That Jack Dani el s l i ne feel s l i ke i t's tr yi ng too har d , doesn’t


i t? Now, i f I knew I was r eadi ng a Shane Bl ack scr ee npl ay,
si nce thi s type of asi de i s hi s c al li ng c ar d, I 'd throw hi m a
l i ttl e sl ack.

But not you. The unknown. The newbi e. You get no sl ack,
scr i be.

But you can do som ethi ng about i t. You r em em ber .

You can be el egant .. .

. . . whi ch by defi ni ti on m eans g ra cefu ll y con ci se an d si mpl e;


a d mi ra bl y su cci n ct .

Conci se, si m pl e, and suc c i nc t. Dam n, I l ove those wor ds.


Why? Because they so r ar el y descr i be what I r ead! But I
al ways want them to.

So that's your task.

Use as few wor ds as possi bl e.

But m ake them the BE ST wor ds.


170

Whi ch, I know, c an be c r i ppli ng to you pl aywr i ghts, novel i sts


and poets who ar e used to waxi ng on l i ke Mr. fr iggi n' Mi yagi
wi th hi s backyar d dec k over her e. But wel com e to
scr eenwr i ti ng. I t's a total l y di ffer ent ani m al. And i t thr i ves
on si m pl e, el egan t pr ose.

You MUST l ear n to c aptur e an enti r e m ood i n a si ngl e wor d


or shor t l i ne of di al ogue. I f you c an't, then per sonal l y I don't
thi nk you have any busi ness wr i ti ng scr eenpl ays.

Why?

Because of the Reader . Rem em ber that l ovel y gatekeeper of


a hum an be i ng? They, l i ke the aver age fil mgoer or channel
sur fer . . . don't. .. have. . . tim e. .. to. . . waste.

So keep i t shor t. And sweet. And use --

whi te space. I t's your fr i end.

And keep those desc r i pti on par agr aphs to 2 -4 l i nes thi ck.
And by gr eat Odi n's bear d m ake sur e i t's CL E AR. Show us
what we see and what we hear i n the m ost str aightfor war d,
cl ear way possi bl e. . . whil e sti l l c hoosi ng the best wor d i n the
enti r e E ngl i sh lexi c on. No bi ggee, r i ght?

Actual l y, i t i s. But to m ake you feel better , I 've pr epar ed


som e handy l i sts, whi c h ar e al ways fun and never dul l and
ar e m ost often l i ke havi ng a c ake and eati ng i t too. . .

TO DO --

 B e c lea r
 B e sp ec ific
 B e elega n t
 B e un iq u e ( wi thout bei ng too l i tera ry )
 Use st ron g, a c t ive verb s
 Cap t u re to n e
171

NOT TO DO --

 Do n 't exp la in
 Do n 't c o mment
 Do n 't u s e fo rms o f "b e" ( i s, a re )
 Do n 't u s e gen eric d es c ript io n s ( e.g. "He l ooks l ike the
Al l -Am er ic an c aptai n of the footbal l team . ")

So those ar e the r ul es. And yes, they'r e br oken al l the tim e,


som eti m es i n br i ll i ant ways, but m ostl y i n ham -handed ways.
Her e's an exam pl e of a ni ce br eak of the r ul es.

I n As G oo d a s i t G ets [Tr i star P i c tur es, Gr aci e Fi lm s] , wr i ter s


Mar k Andr us and Jam es L . Br ooks "dir ect" the shot and
com m ent al l over the pl ac e, but they m anage to beauti ful l y
captur e the fir st ki ss between ME L VI N ( Jack Ni chol son) and
CAROL ( Hel en Hunt) :

Carol mov es to the ch air ne xt to hi m... She


sits very close -- he tense s.

CAROL
Have you ever l et a r omanti c
moment ma ke you do so methin g you
know is s tupid?

MELVIN
Never.

CAROL
Here's th e trou ble wi th nev er.

TIGHT SHO T

for the k iss. T heir f aces a re clo se -- she


looks at him... She c loses her ey e s -- her
face movi ng tow ard hi m -- h e is w id e -eyed
and afrai d... H is fac e almo st mov es away --
172

in a shot this close it's a lmost fl ight...


But now h is hea d move s back and h e receives
her kiss. It is brief . Caro l smil es
encourage ment t o him and he rself. M elvin
can't bea r the pleasu re.

MELVIN
You don't owe m e that .

I f you l ean bac k and l ook at that bi g par agr aph as a whol e, i t
l ooks unwi el dy wi th al l the el l i pses and dashes, but when
you r ead i t.. . i t wor ks. And I c an't say why, or how they di d i t.

That' s for you to wonder . Have fun wi th that.

On the opposi te end of the em oti onal and genr e spectr um ,


her e's a br utal sc ene fr om the openi ng of an ea rl y dr aft of
Rober t Rodat's Sa v i ng P ri v a te Ry an [Dr eam wor ks SKG ,
P ar am ount Pi c tur es] that I found on the web. ..

THE LEAD LANDIN G CRAF T

The Motor man ho lds hi s cour se. Sh el ls


EXPLODE a round them. FLAMIN G OIL BU RNS on
the water . CANN ON FIR E SMAS HES in to the b ow.

THE MOTOR MAN IS RIPPE D TO B ITS

BLOOD AND FLESH showe r the men be hi nd him.


The MATE takes the co ntrols .

A YOUNG S OLDIER

His face covere d with the r emains o f the


motorman. Start s to l ose it . Begi ns to
shudder a nd wee p. His name is DEL AN CEY.

THE BOYS AROUND HIM

Do their best t o star e stra ight a he ad. But


the fear infect s them . It s tarts to spread.
173

A FIGURE

Pushes th rough the me n. Put s hims el f in


front of DeLanc ey.

The figur e is C APTAIN JOHN MILLER . Early


thirties. By fa r the oldest man o n the
craft. Re laxed, battl e -hard ened, po werful,
ignoring the he ll aro und th em. He s miles,
puts a ci gar in his m outh, strike s a match
on the fr ont of DeLan cey's helmet a nd lights
the cigar .

Rodat i mm edi atel y br i ngs us i nto thi s deadl y wor l d. He star ts


out wi th a ver y i ntense voi c e to r efl ec t the battle, cr eati ng
an i mm edi ate sense of dr ead and c haos wi th the shel l s
E XP LODI NG , c anon fi re, bur ni ng oi l , and the Motor m an bei ng
"RI P PE D TO BI TS. " He uses ver y spec i fic wor d choi ce and
gr amm ar . ..

His face covere d with the r emains o f t he


motorman. Start s to l ose it . Begi ns to
shudder a nd wee p. His name is DEL AN CEY.

Rodat avoi ds a c onventi onal ac ti ve sentence, such as


"DeL ancey, a 19 year ol d pri vate, begi ns to shake and cr y. "
That woul dn't be as i nter esti ng as the descr i pti on "Star ts to
l ose i t. Begi ns to shudder and weep. " whi ch i s shor ter and
thus r eads m or e i ntense l y. The i ntr oducti on of the m an's
nam e at the end of the par agr aph adds an edge as wel l . Then
we m eet the m en. ..

Do their best t o star e stra ight a he ad. But


the fear infect s them . It s tarts to spread.

Can "fear spr eadi ng" be shown or i s thi s a br eaki ng of the


r ul es, a tel l i ng of som ethi ng i nter nal ? I t's a bi t of both, but
i t wor ks, i n that we c an pi c tur e the fear as these boys al l
adopt ter r i fi ed l ooks on thei r fac es. I t's el e gant and
econom i cal , so he doesn't need to show us thr ee or four
speci fi c sol di er s and what they'r e doi ng ( e.g. , cryi ng,
knuckl es goi ng whi te on ri fl es, pr ayi ng, etc.) . He l ets us
174

pi ctur e i t i n our head as we wi l l , but he m anages to captur e


the TONE –fear a nd for ebodi ng. We've been dr opped wi th
these m en i nto a ni ghtm ar e. And i t's just begi nni ng –
som ethi ng's c om i ng and i t wi l l no doubt be deadl y.

NICE TO MEET ME
A FIGURE

Pushes th rough the me n. Put s hims el f in


front of DeLanc ey.

I n the above desc ri pti on, R odat c hooses to i ntr oduce Mi ll er


( Tom Hanks) fi r st as A FI GURE. Thi s m akes us pi ctur e hi s
back, assum i ng hi s fac e c an't be seen by the cam er a. And i t
gi ves a sense that he i s a dar k c har ac ter , to be fear ed;
m aybe he's i n c har ge of thi s m ess? Then when he s tr i kes hi s
m atch on DeL anc ey's hel m et and l ights up a ci gar i n the
m i dst of thi s hell i sh sc enar i o, we ar e shown hi s char acter
thr ough acti on: he's a seasoned, tough -as-nai l s veter an of
war who r efuses to suc c um b to fear .

Noti ce how he P uts hi m sel f i n fr on t of DeL ancey; he doesn't


"stand" i n fr ont of hi m or "address" hi m . Thi s i s a m an who
wi l l thr ow hi s body i n fr ont of a ny th in g , and thi s shows even
m or e i n the next sc ene as he enter s the fr ay and fi ghts wi th
r eckl ess abandon.

Her e's Stuar t Beatti e's i ntr oduc ti on of VI NCE NT ( Tom Cr ui se)
i n hi s scr eenpl ay Co ll a tera l [P ar am ount P i ctures], page 1. . .

FADE IN:

INT. BRAD LEY TE RMINAL - BLU RS - D AY

slide pas t in a 400mm lens. Then, e ntering a


plane of focus is VIN CENT. He wal ks towards
us...an a rrivin g pass enger.

Suit. Shi rt. Ti e. Sun glasse s and ex pensive


briefcase say " confid ent ex ecutiv e
175

traveler. " The suit's custo m -made b ut not


domestic.

His hair and sh ades a re cur rent, bu t it


would be diffic ult to descr ibe hi s
identifyi ng spe cifics ...gre y suit , white
shirt, me dium h eight. And t hat's th e idea...

The l i ttl e com m entar y bl ur b "And that's the i dea. . . " cl ues us
i nto the scenar i o, dr aws us i nto what seem s to be a r use, a
di sgui se of som e sor t. Som e gam e i s bei ng pl ayed. We don't
yet know i f i t's a funny or deadl y gam e, but we'll soon fi nd
out.

I especi al l y l i ke that the desc r i pti on and com m entar y ar e not


descr i bi ng anythi ng i nter nal ; i t's al l shown .

Unl i ke thi s exam pl e, whi c h unfor tunatel y com es fr om As


G o od a s i t G ets , and i f i t wer e i n a spec fr om a newbi e I 'd fi l e
i t under the NOT TO DO c ol um n. ..

MELVIN UD ALL

in the ha llway. .. Wel l past 50... u nliked,


unloved, unsett ling. A huge pain in the ass
to everyo ne he' s ever met. Right no w all his
considera ble ta lent a nd str ength is totally
focused o n sedu cing a tiny dog in to the
elevator door h e hold s open .

Thi s descr i pti on TE L L S us about thi s guy, i t E XP LAI NS hi m to


us. Whi ch mi ght be fi ne, i f he wer en't about to SHOW us he's
devoi d of l ove and a huge pai n i n the ass to everyone he
m eets, star ti ng wi th the detestabl e yet hi l ari ous act of
shovi ng that ti ny dog down the tr ash chute!

Next, we see hi m per form the fol l owi ng acti ons, whi ch I
woul d fi l e under the TO DO c ol um n. ..
176

INT. MELV IN'S A PARTME NT, BA THROOM - NIGHT

Melvin lo cks an d unlo cks an d lock s his door,


counting to fiv e with each lock.

He turns the li ghts q uickly on an d off and


on five t imes a nd mak es a s traigh t - line
towards h is bat hroom where he tur ns on the
hot water and o pens t he med icine ch est.

INT. MEDI CINE C HEST

Scores of neatl y stac ked Ne utroge na soaps.


He unwrap s one -- beg ins to wash -- discards
it -- goe s thro ugh th e proc ess tw o more
times.

Ni ce detai l s.

Her e's the i ntr oduc ti on of L T. DAN fr om Fo rrest G u mp by E r i c


Roth [Based on the novel by Wi nston G r oom ; P ar am ount
P i ctur es] . Roth c hooses to use ver y li ttl e descri pti on, l etti ng
the di al ogue and ac ti ons speak for him . ..

Lieutenan t DAN TAYLOR steps out o f a tent.


Shirtless , he h olds a roll of toi le t paper
in his ha nd.

LT. DAN
You must be my F.N.G. 's.

BUBBA AND FORRE ST


Morning, sir!

LT. DAN
Ho! Get y our ha nds do wn. Do not
salute me . Ther e are goddam ned
snipers a ll aro und th is are a who
would lov e to g rease an off icer.
177

I'm Lieut enant Dan Ta ylor.


Welcome t o Four th Pla toon.

Lt. Dan l ooks a t Bubb a.

LT. DAN
What's wr ong wi th you r lips ?

BUBBA
I was bor n with big g ums, s ir.

LT. DAN
Yeah, wel l, you bette r tuck that in .
Gonna get that caught on a trip
wire.
Where you boys from i n the world?

BUBBA & F ORREST


Alabama, sir!

LT. DAN
You twins ?

Forrest a nd Bub ba loo k at e ach ot he r oddl y,


they don' t get the jo ke.

FORREST
No, we ar e not relati ons, s ir.

Conci se and funny, i t wor ks.

Her e, the scr eenwr i ter s of Th e Ch ro ni cl es o f Na rn i a : Th e


L i o n , Th e Wi tch an d th e Wa rd rob e [Ann Peacock and Andr ew
Adam son and Chr i stopher Mar kus & Stephen M cFeel y, Based
on the book by C. S. L ewi s ; Wal t Di sney P i ctur es, Wal den
Medi a] m anage to ac hi eve a ni c e sense of wonder . . .
178

The Centa ur sta res at him, unmovi ng .

PETER
We...have come to see ...Asl an.

The centa ur say s noth ing.

Suddenly behind them all of th e c re atures


kneel, le aving the th ree Pe vensie s standing
alone.

Peter bli nks. S uddenl y, LUC Y GASP S.

Just belo w the tent f lap st eps... an ENORMOUS


PAW.

The flap parts, and t here i n the sh ining


sunlight stands a

FEARSOME, BEAUT IFUL, GOLDEN ...

LION. He gazes at the m. His mane sh immers.

Lucy star es for a mom ent... then K NE ELS. The


Beavers d rop to all f ours, bowing t heir
heads.

Peter and Susan awkwa rdly g o down o n one


knee.

Aslan add resses the C HILDRE N in a B OOMING


VOICE.

ASLAN
Welcome, Peter, Son o f Adam .
Welcome, Susan and Lu cy, Da ughter s
of Eve.

Another . Com pl etel y di fferent feel. Fr om Ameri ca n Hi sto ry X ,


by Davi d McKenna [New L i ne Ci nem a] .. .
179

TIGHT ON DEREK VINYAR D. The young m an has a


shaved he ad, a trimme d goat ee, an d a
SWASTIKA on his right tit - - the ce nter of
the symbo l cros sed pe rfectl y at t he nipple.

McKenna call s a m an's c hest a “ ti t. ” I t gi ves an edge, an


i ntensi ty, a street feel to thi s young m an. And you noti ce he
puts swasti ka i n CAP S, bec ause i t' s such a str ong i m age and
i t i mm edi atel y and dr am ati c al l y i ntr oduces the them es of
whi te supr em ac y and hatr ed that wi l l per meate the stor y.
Thi s dem onstr ates the need for you to. . .

BE SPECIFIC
Som eti m es i t's just one di sti nc ti ve wor d or phr ase that
br i ngs the zi ng.

I n Co ll a tera l , Stuar t Beatti e c al l s V i nc ent's gun by i ts deal er


nam e: P ARA-ORDNANCE . An unwi el dy term to be sur e, m uch
m or e so than just "pi stol " or ". 45," but di sti nctive and
m em or able and i t m akes the wr i ter sound l i ke he r eal l y
knows what he's tal ki ng about. After the fi r st coupl e ti m es
we r ead i t, our eye ski ps over i t and the text fl ows faster .

VINCENT A PPEARS

around a corner , clea ring s pace. Fa st. His


Para-Ordn ance u p.

Max and A nnie r unning , now. .. Vin ce nt sees


vague sha pes...

BOOM-BOOM ! BOOM -BOOM! Gunsh ots pu nc h through


the glass , inch es fro m Max and An ni e,
collapsin g wall s reve aling Vincen t against
the LA-sc ape.

Blossoms of whi te fla me: BO OM -BOO M. ..

Cl ea ri n g sp a ce. .. co l la p si ng wa l l s. .. b lo sso ms o f wh i te
fl a me. .. ver y ni c e wor d c hoi ce .
180

Wi l l i am Monahan uses the adjec ti ve "fl ash" sever al tim es i n


Th e Dep a rted , to denote the c ontr ast between the r i ch
upper -cr ust wor l d that Col i n ( Matt Dam on) aspi res to and the
fi l thy under bell y that he m ust c ater to, as her e on page 20. . .

INT. APAR TMENT ON BEA CON HI LL - T WI LIGHT

A REALTOR switc hes on light s. A n em pty,


flash apa rtment above

the Paris ian ro oftops of Be acon H il l. A view


of the Do me.

More than you'd think a cop could a fford.

On page 8, Monahan c omes up wi th a cl ever li ngui sti c take


on a gener ic tensi on devic e as BI L L Y (L eonar do Di Capr i o)
takes th e pol i c e exam. . .

A CLOCK T ICKS, sweep hand c oming ar ound.

BILLY'S E YES on it.

I l ove that "sweep hand" term . Never seen i t. And I li ke how


he di dn't bother wi th the CL OSE ON Bi l l y's eyes, he just
showed us BI L L Y'S E YE S, so natur al l y we vi ew this shot i n o ur
m i nds eye i n Cl ose Up. We don't need the "di r ecti on . "

Her e's a l usty m om ent fr om Ca san ov a [Scr eenplay by Je ffr ey


Hatcher and Kim ber l y Si mi ; Touc hstone P i ctur es] page 4 of
the pr oducti on dr aft.. .

DIFFERENT WOMAN
My husban d!

Casanova runs i nto a dark c loset. T he


darkness become s the interi or of a covered
gondola.

We pull a way an d see the bo at flo at ing in a


canal-- l egs st icking out f rom al l sides
from unde r the felze.
181

What i n the nam e of Car avaggi o i s "fel z e?" I have no i dea,


but i t sounds l i ke som et hi ng they'd have i n Venice i n 1797,
so I 'm on boar d wi th i t.

L et's l ook at a qui c k m om ent fr om Wes Ander son and Owen


Wi l son's Ru sh mo re [Touc hstone P i c tur es] . . .

Mr. Fisch er hol ds up a hand mirro r so Gordon


can see t he bac k. Gor don no ds.

Max comes in ro lling a Japa nese t en -speed at


his side.

The phr ase "r ol l i ng a Japanese ten -speed at hi s si de" adds so


m uch m or e c ol or than fl at bl oc ki ng li ke "Max wal ks i n wi th
hi s bi ke," or l eavi ng out the bi ke wi th si m pl y "Max enter s. "
The r efer enc e to the Japanese ten -spee d says, "thi s i s a ki d"
and, "r em em ber when you had a Fuji ten - speed?" I t's a
connecti on the author m akes wi th you.

Max looks acros s the yard a t MAGN US BUCHAN,


the burly forei gn-exc hange studen t from
Scotland. He is seven teen. He has a straw in
his mouth , and he sho ots a small bl owdart at
a little kid's neck.

Half of B uchan' s ear was bl own of f in a


hunting a cciden t.

We never know fr om watc hi ng the fi lm how Buchan's ear


becam e defor m ed. But i n m enti oni ng i t to the r eader i n a
l i ne of what am ounts to c omm enta r y ( nor m al l y a "no -no,") ,
the author s c l ue us i n to thi s c har ac ter 's m oti vati ons and
em oti onal m akeup. We not onl y see him shooti ng a bl owdar t
at a l i ttl e ki d, but we now know why he does this ki nd of
thi ng. He's an angr y bul l y. An i nter esti ng one. A uni qu e one.
Not because he shoots a bl owdar t at a hel pl ess vi cti m
( al though that's c er tai nl y m or e i nter esti ng than, say,
punchi ng a ki d i n the ar m) , but bec ause hal f of hi s ear ( not
hi s whol e ear , ha l f ) was bl own off i n a hunti ng acci dent.
182

Now, i f one of us wer e to wr i te that l i ne, we m ay have


wr i tten the c ause of hi s deform i ty as an acci dent wi th
fi r ewor ks. But that woul d have been wr ong. The “ hunti ng
acci dent” m akes us pi c tur e a domi neer i ng father, a m acho
i nsecur e factor , m aybe an abusi ve hom e —when we watch the
fi l m we SEE Buc han r epresents these types of tr ai ts due to
the actor 's per for m anc e. But on paper the actor i s not
pr esent, so the wr i ter s c om pensate wi th com pell i ng pr ose.
The wor ds fi l l i n for the per for m ance.

WE GET IT
Unfor tunatel y, even the pr os ex hi bi t the bad habi t of
expl ai ni ng too m uc h i n thei r pr oduc ti on dr afts, but we'l l l et
them sl i de bec ause they m ay be c ater i ng to the ski m m i ng
habi ts of al l of the exec s, ac tor s and c r ew mem ber s who wi ll
be r eadi ng thi s dr aft.

I n thi s excer pt fr om Col l a tera l , I 've bol ded the offendi ng li ne


for your r eadi ng pl easur e. . .

VINCENT + MAX

sit there , ridi ng the train . Soft ly :

MAX
We're alm ost at the n ext st op.

Vincent s miles faintl y. He leans hi s head


toward Ma x as i f conf erring a sec re t. In a
halting w hisper :

VINCENT
Hey, Max. .. A g uy get s on t he MTA
here in L A and dies.
(off Max' s look )
Think any body.. .will notice ?
183

MAX

looks int o Vinc ent's eyes. It mea ns "I'm


that guy" and " will a nybody notic e that
once...I was he re?"

VINCENT

leans bac k, gaz ing st raig ht ahead n ow.


Rocking g ently with t he mot ion of t he train.
And then Vincen t's no longe r rock in g. In
fact, Vin cent's no lo nger d oing a ny thing.
Ever.

We know what Vi nc ent m eans, and we get the cal l back to


the fi r st exchange between him and Max i n the openi n g
pages. No need to poi nt i t out. I t's especi al l y extr aneous,
consi der i ng thi s elegant m om ent on the l ast page of the
scr i pt, the l ast we'l l ever see of Vi nc ent the assassi n. . .

WE HOLD O N Vinc ent fo r awhi le. Ri di ng the


train by himsel f, his head forwar d as if
sleeping, alone in th e car.

Another d ead gu y on t he sub way... ri ding


somewhere .

I wi ll concede that c omm entar y often wor ks for hi stor i cal or


cul tur al l y com pli c ated pi ec es, to pr ovi de facts to the r eader.

For exam pl e, Stephen G aghan's Sy ri an a [War ner Br o s.


P i ctur es, P ar ti ci pant P r oduc ti ons] . ..

INT GROTT O - BE IRUT - DAY

An ancien t grot to whe re the early C hristians


used to h ide, b e disc overed , and ex ecuted. A
tourist a ttract ion, i t's a cool, va st, dimly
lit, subt errane an spa ce.

I 'l l l eave i t up to you to de ci de if that li ttl e hi stor y of the


gr otto ai ds the sc r i pt or not. I f one c onsi der s that the goal
wi th subm i ssi on was to fi nd a pr oduc er i nter ested i n the
184

Mi ddl e E ast, then I 'd war r ant i t was appr eci ated. But too
m any of these asi des woul d qui c kl y m ake the scri pt i nto a
hi stor y l esson, an exc use for an am ateur wr i ter to show off
thei r r esear c h.

Her e ar e a coupl e m or e exc er pts fr om Th e Depa rted , what I 'd


l abel good and bad.

Her e , Monahan toes the l i ne of expl anati on and showi ng. . .

YOUNG COS TELLO


Church wa nts yo u in y our pl ace.
Do this d on't d o that , knee l, sta nd ,
kneel, st and... I mean if yo u go f or
that sort of th ing...

YOUNG COL IN, th e rece nt alt ar boy , visibly


doesn't g o for that s ort of thing .

. . . and i t wor ks. But next, thi s par entheti cal i s i n di r e need of
a r ed pen !

COLIN
(not vain glorio us, bu t
innocentl y stre tching for
the idea)
You're in troub le if you're "only "
anything.

No t v ai ng l o rio u s ? I nn o cen tl y stretch i n g ? Wi l l these ter m s be


on the test, P r ofessor Aber c r om bie Yoshi hi r o ?

PACE YOURSELF
Ther e ar e di ffer ent m ethods for c aptur i ng those m om ents
when the pul se m ust r ac e. Her e's an exam ple of an acti on
sequence fr om Tony Kushner and Er i c Roth's scr eenpl ay
Mu n i ch [ Based on the Book “ Vengeance” by G eor ge Jonas.
185

Dr eam wor ks SKG , Uni ver sal P i c tur es] . I t's dynami c and i t
fl ows wel l , but wi th no CAP P I NG , i t c er tai nl y feel s di ffer ent
than a thr i l l er li ke Co l la tera l . Softer , per haps? Was thi s
i ntenti onal , si nc e Mun i ch i s a hi stor i c al dr am a?

Avner lea ns fur ther i n. He can ju st see the


foot of t he bed , and al -Chi r's le gs sliding
under the bedcl othes. He lo wers h im self back
to his ow n balc ony, g oes in his r oo m,
switches off th e ligh t.

A beat, a nd the n an e normou s expl os ion; the


wall Avne r's ro om sha res wi th al - Ch ir's is
pushed in and f alls o ver, i nt act, k nocking
Avner bac k onto his b ed.

The fan i n the ceilin g abov e is s he ared off


and falls , near ly hit ting A vner.

EXT. THE HOTEL OLYMPI C - NI GHT

Smoke and flame s expl ode fr om al - Ch ir's room


across hi s balc ony.

EXT. THE STREET IN FR ONT OF THE H OT EL


OLYMPIC - NIGHT

Glass and plast er and stone rain do wn on the


street, b ouncin g off a car in whi ch Steve
and Carl are si tting.

Seem s a bi t odd that they woul dn't c ap an "enorm ous expl osi on,"
doesn't i t? Ju st for the sake of r esearch, l et's l ook at another E ri c
R oth acti on sc ene, fr om Fo rrest G u mp. . .

Forrest l ooks u p as t he sun sudde nl y


appears. Forres t's pl atoon is att ac ked. A
bullet ki lls th e sold ier st anding n ext to
Forrest. Bombs explod e all around a s the
soldiers scramb le to the gr ound.
186

LT. DAN
Take cove r!

Forrest c rawls over a berm as bul le ts fly


overhead and ex plode all ar ound h im .

Yeah, I thi nk i t's safe to say that E r ic Roth doesn't l i ke CAP S. . . but
I 'm not goi ng to argue wi th the wri ter of Fo rrest G u mp , Th e In si d er
and Al i so we’l l c al l i t even.
187

XVI. DIALOGUE

As you can no doubt sur m i se by now wi th m y “ l ean and


m ean” phil osophy, I don't thi nk your char acter s need to tal k
l i ke they just stepped out of a Davi d Mam et or Quenti n
Tar anti no fi l m . A wri ter doesn't have to fi nd star tl i ngl y
or i gi nal voi ces that hav e never been hear d on fi lm befor e; as
l ong as ther e i s CONTRAST i n the voi c es so we can tel l them
apar t, you’l l do fi ne , and the m or e you wr i te, the str onger
your di al ogue wi l l bec ome.

Di al ogue i s best when i t’s kept shor t, to the point, wi th no


wasted wo r ds. Speaki ng of Tar anti no, her e’s one of m y
favor i te exchanges fr om P u lp Fi cti on [Mi r am ax Fi l m s] – Butch
the boxer ( Br uc e Wi ll i s) or der s c i gar ettes fr om a Bar tender :

BUTCH
Pack of R ed App les.

BARTENDER
Filters?

BUTCH
None.

Thi s punchy exc hange r epl aces what c oul d have been a fl at,
functi onal exc hange.

A cl assi c fr om As Go o d As I t G ets :

RECEPTION IST
How do yo u writ e wome n so w ell?

MELVIN
I take a man, a nd I r emove reason
and accou ntabil ity.
188

Her e’s one fr om Mi l li on Do l la r Bab y [screen p l ay b y Pa u l


Ha g g i s, ba sed o n sto ri es b y F. X. Too l e; Wa rn er Bro s. P i ctu res,
L a kesh o re En terta i n men t] :

MAGGIE
People sa y I’m pretty tough .

FRANKIE
Girly, to ugh ai n’t en ough.

And a gr eat one fr om P i ra tes o f th e Ca rib b ean : Th e Cu rse o f


th e Bla ck P ea rl [screen p l ay by Ted E l li o t & Terry Ro ssi o ;
screen sto ry b y T& T a nd Stua rt Bea tti e a nd Ja y Wo l p ert; Wa l t
Di sn ey Pi ctu res] :

NORRINGTO N
You are, withou t doub t, the worst
pirate I' ve eve r hear d of.

JACK SPAR ROW


But you h ave he ard of me.

I t’s gr eat ev er y now and then to have a dr am ati c SP E E CH by


your m ai n char ac ter ( som e wr i ter s c al l these “ actor bai t” ) ,
but tr y to keep them shor t and m ake sur e thi s per son’s r eal l y
got som ethi ng to say:
MAGGIE
Truth is, my br other’ s in
prison. M y sist er che ats on
welfare b y pret ending one o f
her babie s is s till a live.
My daddy’ s dead and m y mama
weighs 31 2 poun ds.
(MORE)
189

MAGGIE (C ONT.)
If I was thinki ng str aight, I’d
go back h ome, f ind a used
trailer, buy a deep f ryer a nd
some Oreo ’s. Pr oblem i s, th is is
the only thing I ever felt good
doin’.

A new wr i ter woul d do them sel ves wel l to keep it si m pl e and


focused. But, unfor tunatel y, too m any succum b to the dar k
si de and we get l ots of new wr i ter s that thi nk thei r di al ogue
i s uni que, sn appy, and expl odes off the page when i t's r eal l y
just an unm oti vated r i p -off of one of thei r favori te m ovi es. I
say u n mo ti va ted bec ause I often r ead char acter s i n scr i pts
who tal k l i ke m ul ti -c ul tur al , auti sti c savant pim ps. . . but
they'r e supposed to be sm al l -town ac countants and
housewi ves!

P er haps I 'm exagger ati ng a bi t, but the poi nt i s we m ust


bel i eve that these peopl e woul d speak li ke thi s, and you
m ust keep i t c onsi stent and tr uthful to the l ogi cal wor l d that
you have cr eated. Noti c e how ever yone i n P u lp Fi cti o n has a
ver y di sti ncti ve way of speaki ng, i n a way that no nor m al
per son woul d speak. I t’s a hi ghl y styl i z ed ‘wor l d’ that they
l i ve i n. Tar anti no keeps i t c onsi stent, so we buy i t.

Now i f hi s two dar k -sui ted hi tm en, Jul es and Vi ncent, wal ked
i nto, say, Ame ri ca n Bea u ty , som ethi ng woul d be a bi t ami ss.
Because thei r speec h woul d not be c onsi stent with the wor l d
of the char ac ter s i n Al an Bal l 's sc r i pt. But yet i n that fi l m ,
we bel i eve the teenager Ri c ky Fi tts speaks i n a poeti c styl e
because he's been establ i s hed as a wi thdr awn , ar ti sti c type
of char acter . I t m akes sense. He m ay not speak li ke any
teenage boy you know, but that's okay, because. . . MOVI E S
ARE NOT RE AL LI FE . P eopl e don't tal k i n m ovi es li ke they do
i n r eal l i fe—they c oul dn't —i t woul d pr ove tedi ous for an
audi ence. Al l the stops and star ts, the poi ntl ess
obser vati ons, the i nfor m ati on l eft out because th e other
190

per son al r eady knows i t ; thi s woul d c onfuse an audi ence. As


Hem i ngway sai d.. .

"Good dialogue is not real speech, it is the IL LUSION of


real sp eech."

We m ay thi nk the c har ac ter s i n a scr i pt tal k l i ke r eal peopl e


we know, but m aybe that's just us feel i ng r eal em oti on that
was sti r r ed i n us by the di al ogue. Whi ch i s a wonder ful thi ng
and your goal —to be abl e to m ake a r eader or viewer feel
the em ot i ons that your c har ac ter s ar e feeli ng.

E asi er sai d than done. But that's why we'r e her e. L et's l ook
at som e gui deli nes for di al ogue I 've l ai d out.

GOOD DIALOGUE:

a) Moves the stor y for war d .

b) R eveal s cr uc i al c har ac ter .

c) E xpl or es them e i n a uni que m anne r .

d) Feel s m oti vated .

e) Avoi ds c l i c hé phr ases.

M AN Y GOOD DIAL OG UE SCEN ES:

a) Have a begi nni ng, m i ddl e, and end .

b) P l ace c har ac ter s i n a l oc ati on of exter nal confl i ct


( e. g. , i n a taxi c ab, on l i ne at the del i) r ather than
just a stati c l oc ati on ( e. g. , si tti ng at a tabl e i n a
r estaur ant, on the phone) .

c ) Subver t our expec tati ons ( i .e. Take sur pr i si ng tur ns) .

d) E nd wi th a sur pr i si ng/hum or ous tur nabout .

e) Char ac ter s tal k a ro un d the subject, not di r ectl y to i t


( aka "on the nose" di al ogue) .
191

f) Char ac ter s show the m sel ves to us thr ough their


r eacti ons, they don't tel l us exactl y how they feel .

g ) Char ac ter s ac knowl edge and r eact to the subtext of


the sc ene.

The fi nal , and som eti m es best, thi ng a good di alogue scene
can do i s. . .

SET UP A MONEY LINE!


I l ove i t when a sc ene s ets up a m oney li ne and then del i ver s
on i t.

Thi nk of Jack Ni c hol son for i nspi r ati on:

 “ You c an't handl e the tr uth!”

 “ Her e’s Johnny! ”

 “ Wai t’l l they get a l oad of m e. ”

Her e’s a fam ous sc ene fr om As Go od As I t G ets . Car ol and


Mel vi n go on thei r fir st pr oper date, a nd Mel vi n unwi tti ngl y
i nsul ts her . She dem ands he pay her a com pl im ent ( note: the
bol d em phasi s i s mi ne) .. .

MELVIN
My compli ment i s that when you ca me
to my hou se tha t time and t old me
how you'd never -- we ll, yo u were
there, yo u know ... Th e next
morning I start ed tak ing th ese
pills.
192

CAROL
(a little confu sed)
I don't q uite g et how that' s a
complimen t for me.

Amazing t hat so methin g in M elvin ri ses to


the occas ion -- so th at he
uncharact eristi cally looks at her d irectly -
- then:

MELVIN
You make me wan t to b e a be tter
man.

Carol nev er exp ected the ki nd of pr aise


which wou ld so slip u nder h er gua rd . She
stumbles a bit -- fla ttered , mome nt arily
moved and his f or the takin g.

CAROL
That's ma ybe th e best compl iment
of my lif e.

MELVIN
Then I've reall y over shot h ere
'cause I was ai ming a t just enoug h
to keep y ou fro m walk ing ou t.

Carol lau ghs.

Hu stl e & Flo w i s about a wanna-be r apper pr epar i ng to


hustl e the one guy who m ade i t out of thei r poor town , a
successful r apper na m ed Ski nny Bl ac k – the bi g confr ontati on
com es at the end of Ac t Two, when DJay hooks Ski nny Bl ack
wi th a br il l i ant hustl e, c ulm i nati ng i n a sweet money l i ne.. .
193

D.Jay rem oves a n old casset te tap e and


slides it acros s the table to Ski nn y Black.

Skinny lo oks do wn to see hi s old un derground


tape. He colore d his own na me lik e a
graffiti tag. I t is o ver a decade o ld.
Skinny ca refull y pick s it u p and, t o the
wonder of all, remove s his shades .

SKINNY BL ACK
My underg round. Look, Tigga .
Slobs, lo ok at what t hi s ni gga
got.
(genuine)
I... can' t beli eve yo u got one
of these, man. I don' t got none
of these left.

D.JAY
(leans in for e ffect)
Skinny, y ou got thous ands o f
these in you. J ust co me bac k home .

Everyone is sil ent. T hey al l look t o Skinny


Black.

I n Ci ty Sl i ckers , P hi l ( Dani el Ster n) asks hi s fr i ends “ What’s


the best and wor st day of your l i fe?”

Mi tch ( Bi l l y Cr ystal ) says hi s fi r st Yankees gam e at age 7 and


the day hi s wi fe found a l um p i n her br east.

P hi l says hi s weddi ng day and ever y day si nce.

E d ( Br uno Ki r by) tell s the sad stor y of the day when he was
14 and hi s m other c aught hi s father c heati ng. E d ki cked hi s
father out and he bec am e the m an of the house.

The scene ends wi th thi s exc hange.. .


194

ED
I took ca re of my mot her an d
my sister from that d ay on.
That’s my best day.

PHIL
What was your w orst d ay?

ED
Same day.

Thi s i s a textbook “ button” – that perfect fi nal line to end a


scene i n styl e.

DIALOGUE SCENES CHART


I thi nk i t was P addy Chayefsky who sai d “ E ver ybody l oves a
good char t . ”

GOOD B AD

T he " Il l usio n Of R eal R eal S peec h


S peech"
S how i ng Tel l i ng

B egi nni ng, M idd le , E nd R am bli ng

B ui ld s to GOA L o f S ce ne S tatic; N o U r ge nc y

E sca lat i ng C o nf l ict Lack o f N ew C onf l ict

E xter na l C o nf l ict s ( l ocat io n, "Ta lk i ng H e ad s" ( sta tic ,


w eather, t im e,) seat ed)

Moti vated, Log ica l P oetry f or i ts ow n sake


195

GOOD B AD

U niq ue W ord C ho ice Gene r ic W ord C ho ice

Talk i ng "a ro und " t he D irect “R epor t i ng ” o n t he


Top ic Top ic

R eactio ns to e ve nt s D irect C om m ents abo ut


show n Off scree n e ve nt s

U si ng S ubte xt E xp la i ni ng S ub te xt

S urp r i se P redict ab le

W hat do the y w a nt f rom U nc lea r Goa l s


the ot he r?

W hat' s at S take? N o C onseq ue nce s

R evea l s U niq ue A dher e s to B a sic


C har acter C har acter iza ti o n ( st ock
f eature s)

BOGARTIN’ BUKOWSKI
Her e’s a scene fr om Si d ewa y s wi th som e nice detai l s. Jack,
the eter nal l y hopeful one, i s tr yi ng to cheer up hi s
depr essi ve fr i end Mi l es after Mil es’ book was r ejected.

EXT. BEAC H - DA Y

Two PELIC ANS so ar low over the wa te r. One of


them DIVE S, cra shing into t he wat er and
disappear ing fr om vie w.

Jack and Miles sit on the h ood of t he Saab,


gazing at the o cean, sharin g a bo tt le of
wine.
196

JACK
Just writ e anot her on e. You have
lots of i deas, right?

MILES
No, I'm f inishe d. I'm not a
writer. I 'm a m iddle - school
English t eacher . I'm going to
spend the rest of my life g rading
essays an d read ing th e work of
others. I t's ok ay. I like b ooks.
The world doesn 't giv e a sh it wha t
I have to say. I'm un necess ary.
(a dark laugh)
I'm so in signif icant, I can 't eve n
kill myse lf.

JACK
What's th at sup posed to mea n?

MILES
You know -- Hem ingway , Sext on,
Woolf, Pl ath, D elmore Schwa rtz.
You can't even kill y oursel f befo re
you've ev en pub lished .

JACK
What abou t that guy w ho wro te
Confedera cy of Dunces ? He
committed suici de bef ore he g ot
published , and look h ow fam ous he
is.
197

MILES
Thanks.

JACK
Don't giv e up. You're going to
make it.

MILES
Half my l ife is over, and I have
nothing t o show for i t. I'm a
thumbprin t on t he win dow of a
skyscrape r. I'm a smu dge of
excrement on a tissue surgi ng out
to sea wi th a m illion tons of raw
sewage.

JACK
See? Righ t ther e. Jus t what you
just said . That 's bea utiful . A
thumbprin t on a skysc raper. I
couldn't write that.

MILES
Neither c ould I . I th ink it 's
Bukowski.

Unable to respo nd, Ja ck loo ks up an d down


the beach .

JUNO WHAT I’M SAYIN’?


Her e’s a fun sc ene fr om Ju no wher e we r eall y get a sense of
the di ffer ent voi c es of the c har ac ter s.
198

INT. LORI NG HOU SE - L IVING ROOM - D AY

Mark and Vaness a ushe r Juno and M ac into the


austere, spacio us liv ing ro om. A wo man in a
business suit s its on the c ouch w it h a
briefcase in he r lap.

MARK
This is o ur att orney, Gerta Rauss .

JUNO
(in exagg erated , grow ling
German ac cent)
Geeeeerta Rauuu ss!

GERTA
(straight )
Nice to m eet yo u.

Mac seize s Mark 's han d and pumps it


heartily.

MAC
I'm Mac M acGuff , and this, of
course, i s my d aughte r Juno .

MARK
Like the city i n Alas ka?

JUNO
No.

MARK
Cool. Wel l, let 's sit down and ge t
to know e ach ot her a bit.
199

VANESSA
I'll get drinks . What would every on e
like? I'v e got Pelleg rino, Vitami n
Water...

JUNO
A Maker's Mark, pleas e. Up.

MAC
She's jok ing. J unebug has a
wonderful sense of hu mor, w hich i s
just one of her many geneti c gift s.

JUNO
I also ha ve goo d teet h. No
cavities. We fi nally got
fluoridat ed wat er in Dancin g Elk.

She bares them fright eningl y to d em onstrate.

Vanessa s tares, unfla ppable .

VOICE-OVER
I ’m not a fan.

I ’m not a fan bec ause i t’s r ar e that i t’s tr ul y cr uci al to the


r eader ’s under standi ng of the stor y, so i t’s often used as a
stor y cr utch to im par t exposi ti on .

I al so feel that i t’s m ost often l im p on the page. Wi thout


hear i ng the ac tor ’s voi c e del iver the nar r ati on, it just
doesn’t hol d m uc h power .

Tr y to i m agi ne these thr ee gr eat voi c e -over s wi thout the


i nfl ecti on of the ac tor s:
200

 Ray L i otta as Henr y Hi l l i n G oo d fell a s.

 Mor gan Fr eem an as Red i n Th e Sh a wsha n k


Red emp ti on .

 Sam E ll i ott as The Str anger i n Th e Bi g L ebo wski

I ’d ar gue that they woul d r ead fl at and excessi ve on the


page.

Bottom l i ne, i f you’r e g oi ng to use Voiceover , i t m ust be


speci fi c, vi tal and advanc e the stor y. Or just pl ain fun.

I encour age you to do som ethi ng di ffer ent wi th it. For


exam pl e, i n the m ovi e L i ttl e Ch il d ren , the Voi ceover i s
del i ver ed by the voic e ac tor that nar r ates al l those natur e
and hi stor y doc um entar i es on c abl e. Hi s di al ogue i s wr i tten
i n the styl e of an ethnogr aphi c pi ec e, treati ng the subjects i n
the stor y as i f they wer e anim al s on the savannah i n Afr ica.

I n Mi ll i on Do l la r Bab y , Morgan Fr eem an’s nar r ati on i m par ts a


cr uci al setup when he tel l s us about the fighter known as
The Bl ue Bear : “ She di dn’t know that coul d ki l l a per son. ”
Thi s m oti vates the punc h that she i nfl i cts on Maggi e,
br eaki ng her nec k.

I n Th ere Wi l l Be Blo od , Dani el P l ai nvi ew (Dani el Day L ewi s)


pi tches h i s oi l c om pany to the townsfol k who must appr ove
the dr i l li ng of a new wel l. Hi s speec h conti nues in voi ce -over
as we fl ash -for war d to see shots of the cam p that he wi ll
eventual l y bui l d. These shots show us that he’s l yi ng to the
townspeopl e. By c om pr essi ng ti me and usi ng a contr ast
between di al ogue and vi sual s, we’ve been shown cr uci al
char acter devel opm ent and advanc ed the stor y.
201

XVII. CHARACTER

No one can tell you exac tl y how to cr eate a compel l i ng


dr am ati c char ac ter that a r eader and audi ence wi l l i denti fy
wi th and car e about, nor c an they tel l you i f your scr eenpl ay
shoul d i ni ti al l y fl ow fr om that c har ac ter or fr om the pl ot,
but I can suggest cer tai n gui del i nes and char acter i sti cs that
m ay ai d you i n wr i ti ng c har ac ter s that feel r eal and fl eshed -
out for the 110 pages we wi l l spend wi th them .

The m ost i m por tant thi ng to heed:

CH AR ACTER = ACTION

G i ve your char ac ter s uni que ac ti ons and deci si ons. SHO W
thei r char acter , who they ar e, how they feel and how they
vi ew the worl d, thr ough their ac ti ons. Di al ogue is al so vi tal
to establ i shi ng a uni que c har ac ter , but acti ons ar e mo re
i m por tant.

Char acter , to m e , i s r ather si m pl e. Mor e often than not i t


shoul d be l ogi c al , m oti vated and c onsi stent. Most of the
ti m e i n a fi l m we don't have ti m e to c onti nual l y devel op new
f acets of a per son's c har ac ter , r eveali ng si des of them that
ar e com pl ex and c ontr adic tor y. I t's possi bl e, but i t's tough to
wor k i nto a tightl y pl otted stor y. Ther e’s onl y so m uch r oom
for gr owth, so I woul d suggest tar geti ng the si gnpost beats
for these m om ents of c hange i n your char acter s, especi al l y
wi th your Pr otagoni st, whose devel opm ent, or “ar c,” i s the
m ost i m por tant. ( By the way, i f you’r e wonderi ng whi ch of
your char acter s i s the tr ue P r otagoni st, i t’s usua l l y the one
who goes thr ough the m ost c han ge) .
202

FROM THE TRENCHES :


HANNAH MINGHELLA (Preside nt of
Production, Columbia Pict ures)
“Ch aract er . We’ r e al w ays l o o ki n g to h i re
w ri ters w h o can pu t g reat ch aracte rs i n to
o n e o f o u r cu rren t screen p l ays i n
d evel o p men t, i n al l g en re s. ”
T h e L esso n : Ev ery screenpl ay, reg ardl e ss of
genre or st yl e, nee d s m em orabl e charact er s .
St rong char act er ski l l s wi l l i ncrease yo ur wor t h
as a wri t er i n t he i ndu st ry, especi al l y wi t h op en
wri t i ng a ssi gnm ent s ( wh ere you are hi red t o
re wri t e a purcha sed scree npl ay).

Str ong, bel i evabl e m oti vati on for a c har acter ’s acti ons i s
cr uci al . We dem and str onger m oti vati on fr om a scr i pt than
fr om a fi lm . On fi l m , c ontr adi c ti ons ar e easi er to handl e
because you'r e seei ng thi s c hari sm ati c actor do these thi ngs
and ther e's no way to c hange i t. But a scri pt i s m al l eabl e;
you can al ways just c hange that li ttl e bi t that doesn't wor k
for you, so the wr i ter needs to wor k har der on ear ni ng those
beats.

Mi l es Raym ond i n Si d eway s i s r eall y steal i ng $800 fr om hi s


m other ’s soc k dr awe r ; Mr. Bl onde i n Reserv o i r Do g s r eall y i s
cutti ng the cop's ear off ; Wi l li am Wall ace i n Brav eh ea rt
203

r eal l y i s m aki ng l ove to the


Fr enc h pr i ncess even though l ess
than a year ago hi s bel oved wi fe
was m ur der ed by mi ni ons of the
FROM THE pr i nc ess' father -i n-l aw, the
TRENCHES : Br i ti sh Ki ng. I f we had r ead these
thi ngs on the page we mi ght have
Vince nt sai d "bal oney, he'd never do
Kartheise r that! " But we see these actor s on
(Peter Ca mpbell sc r een and we l i ke them , so we
pr etty m uch buy whatever they
on Mad Men)
do ( wi thi n r eason) .
At t he sea son f our But your scr i pt does not have the
prem i ere of t he
benefi t of m ovi e star s!
bri l li ant t el ev i si on
dram a Mad Men, I
I 'm not sayi ng don't m ake your
ask ed act or Vi ncent
c har ac ter s com pl ex or
Kart hei se r what he
c ontr adi c tor y i n any way; after
l ooks f or i n a great
scri pt . He sai d, al l , we as hum an bei ngs possess
“Ch aract er. I w an t c ontr adi c ti ons i n our char acter
to see a sto ry and fi l m shoul d r efl ect the hum an
ab o u t real c ondi ti on. Just keep i t focused
p eo p l e. ” and m oti vated, and r espect that
i t's har d to get a Reader to go
T h e L esso n : Act ors al ong wi th too m any tur ns i n a
are of t en T HE c har ac ter 's m oti vati on and
f act or t hat get s a essenti al m akeup. At your l evel , I
scri pt m ade i nt o a thi nk you shoul d al ways l ean
m ov i e. And wh at towar d focus and si m pli ci ty.
are act or s l ooki ng
f or? G reat ch arac- Most of what you need to
ters, ri p p ed fro m establ i sh your pr otagoni st can be
real l i fe, n o t o th er found i n your Basi c Stor y Map:
mo vi es.
Age, basi c physi cal descr i pti on,
oc c upati o n, E xter nal and I nter nal
G oal , Ski l l , and M i sbehavi or.
204

That' s i t! We don't need to know a c om pl ete backstor y on


any char acter i n your enti r e stor y. Whether you i ncl ude one
i s up to you, but I thi nk you'd pr obabl y be better off not
wor r yi ng about the detai l s of thei r l i fe hi stor y and focusi ng
on NOW. Thei r needs, goal s, and c onfl i ct s NOW.

SYMPATHY
Too m any fi lm s these days foc us on an anti -her o wi th ver y
few, i f any, r edeem i ng qual i ti es. I t’s okay to have a
pr otagoni st wi th a dar k si de, but i f they’r e ALL dar k, i t’s
goi ng to be tough for us to r oot for them . At the l east, they
need som e ki nd of a m or al c or e. Som e code of justi ce that
they adher e to.

Too often, I see fi lm s that r el y too m uch o n extrem e


m i nim al i sm – we’r e thr own i nto the stor y wi thout any
backgr ound on the m ai n c har ac ter , so we’r e l eft to str uggl e
to fi gur e out the cr uc i al Basi c Stor y Map el em ents.
( E xam pl es of pr otagoni sts that I found l acki ng are i n Ani ma l
Ki n gd o m, Syri an a and Mi cha el Cl a y to n . )

The thr ee m ost si m pl e ways to gai n our sym pathy for your
pr otagoni st:

 Show them doi ng the r ight thi ng , earl y on . I f they


hel p another hum an bei ng, or even an ani m al , i t
shows they have a hear t.

 G i ve them justi c e on thei r si de . They can b e choppi ng


off heads l eft and r i ght, but i f they’r e on a r i ghteous
quest, we’l l r oot for them.

 Make the bad guy wor se ! Sim pl e as that. I n Si d ewa ys,


Mi l es i s a pom pous, depr essi ve com pl ai ner , but Jack
i s a ti er -one asshol e so Mi l es i s the one we r oot for .
I n Ameri ca n Beau ty , the l ustful L ester fantasi z es
about a 16 year -ol d gir l . But hi s wi fe i s wor se: she’s
scr ewi ng the ki ng of r eal estate!
205

I n Th e In fo rman t , Matt Dam on’s pr otagoni st i s a dol t who i s


pl ayi ng ever yone. But the pr obl em i s, we never see the sm a r t
guy; we onl y see the doofus. Al so, we’r e never shown a
r eason to tr ust hi m , so the bi g r eveal doesn’t wor k; when we
fi nd out he’s been l yi ng about ever ythi ng, i t’s not that bi g of
a deal because we never thought he wa sn ’t l yi ng. I t coul d
have gone ei ther way , bec ause thi s guy was so freaki n’
wei r d! Unl i ke other fil m s , l i ke P ri ma l Fea r or The Usu a l
Su sp ects, Th e I n fo rma n t di dn’t establ i sh goal s and attr i butes
that pul l ed us i n the other di r ec ti on , so when they m oved i t
to the tr ue dir ec ti on i t di dn’t have the i m pact they i ntended.

Mor e Matt Dam on. ..

Som eti m es we just need m ore c ontext so we can fi gur e out


how to feel about a c har ac ter. I n Sy ri an a , Matt Dam on’s
char acter spends the fil m yel l i ng about the cor rodi ng
i nfr astr uctur e of Saudi Ar abi a. He’s OUTRAG E D about the
cor r odi ng i nfr astr uc tur e of Saudi Ar abi a ! But. .. ther e’s no
r eason for us to c ar e about the c orr odi ng i nfr astr uctur e of
Saudi Ar abi a bec ause i t’s never shown.

E ven m or e Matt Dam on.. .

We DO car e about hi s c har ac ter Jason Bour ne , because he’s


not onl y on a ri ghteous quest ( to fi nd out who he i s) but he
al so h a s in cred i b l e ski ll s . He’s an am azi ng bad -ass when i t
com es to m ar ti al ar ts and espi onage. Ther e’s that l evel of
wi sh ful fi ll m ent that gener ates an em oti onal connecti on wi th
those am az i ng fi gh ter s, l i ke L eoni das i n 300 or Lar a Cr oft i n
To mb Rai d er. Then there’s the “ geni us quoti ent,” whi ch can
i nstantl y gener ate r ooti ng i nter est i n pr otagoni sts l i ke John
Nash i n A Bea u ti fu l Min d , Mar k Z uc ker ber g i n The So ci a l
Netwo rk or Jul i a Chi l d i n Ju li e & Ju l ia . I f they’r e the best at
what they do, ther e’s a good c hanc e we’l l r oot for them ,
even i f they’r e a vi ll ai n li ke Hans Gr uber i n Di e Ha rd .

Or i f they’r e Matt Dam on. .. i n G oo d Wi l l Hu n tin g . What i s i t


wi th thi s guy?!
206

I n Qui l l s, I never r ooted for G eoffre y Rush’s Mar qui s de Sade


as he wr ote tr ashy novel s fr om hi s pr i son cell , pr eci sel y
because he wasn’t a good wr i ter – he wr ote tr ash! I t wasn’t
ur gent that thi s guy get out of jai l because hi s wor k wasn’t
ser vi ng any ser i ous pur pose; i t was sim pl y pabulum f or the
m asses. The fi l m was an i nter esti ng por tr ai t of the obsessi ve
ar ti st and i t wasn't afr ai d to push to extr em es , but I never
em oti onal l y c onnec ted wi th or r ooted for the protagoni st, so
the stor y di dn’t wor k for m e.

Speaki ng of c har ac ter s we hate


( and by “ we” I mean m e) , I c an’t
hel p but thi nk of Bab el , whi c h FROM THE
begs the questi on: w hat the
fr i ck are Br ad P i tt and Cate TRENCHES:
Bl anchett doi ng i n Mor occ o ?
Who ARE these peopl e and why PHILIP CHARLES
shoul d I car e about them ?! She MACKENZIE
gets shot and he’s str uggl i ng to (Actor/Director:
save her l i fe, whi c h i s sad and Dog Day
( sor t of) tense, but I never m ade Afternoon,
any ki nd of em oti onal Roseanne, Frasier,
connecti on wi th ei ther of them
Attention
so I fel t l i ke I was just wa tc hi ng
a bunch of hand - wri ngi ng by
Shoppers)
peopl e I don’t know.
“Actors want to see
complexity in their
SUPPORTING CHARACTERS characters on the
page. People are
I n the case of suppor ti ng
inconsistent and
char acter s, unl ess they have a contradictory, so why
str ong l i ne of ac ti on and an ar c shouldn’t dramatic
that m ust pay off, al l you r eal l y characters be?”
need i s to answer the
questi on. . . WHAT DO THE Y
WANT?

Okay, i t's al so hel pful to defi ne


a m i sbehavi or for your suppor ti ng c har acter s, but that m ay
fl ow r ight fr om their m ai n need or d esi r e, whi ch i s what they
207

want fr om thi s dr am ati c si tuati on. If al l they want i s cheese,


then that's pr etty m uc h their desi r e and thei r misbehavi or .
They'r e the "c heese guy." But enough about m y l i fe. ( Hey,
wher e's m y ri m shot?! )

L et’s m ake thi s a r ule. . .

If you know what a character wants in a scen e, you will


always know what they would do and say.

Thus. . .

You should always know what every character wants in


any scene.

Do you? I f your c har ac ter s are just si tti ng i n a coffee shop,


chatti ng away about thei r c ol l ege days, and thi s scene onl y
exi sts for you to establ i sh how they know each other and
they don't r eal l y WANT anythi ng fr om the other per son - then
guess what? I t c an pr obabl y be c ut. G i ve us stakes. You want
to avoi d any m ater i al that onl y exi sts to establ i sh, to set up,
to expl ai n, and to tr ansi ti on i nto another scene. Avoi d the
stati c "Tal ki ng Heads" sc enes and the char acter s TE L L I NG us
di r ectl y about them sel ves.

But m ost of al l , r em em ber the fir st tenet of ci nem ati c


char acter s. . .

SHOW CHARACTER THROUGH ACTION


We l ear n m uc h m or e about Mel vi n Udal l ( Jack Nichol son) i n
the openi ng of As G oo d As I t G ets when he stuffs hi s
nei ghbor 's dog down a tr ash c hute and goes through hi s
obsessi ve -com pul si ve r i tual s than i f we opened on hi m
del i ver i ng a two- page m onol ogue tel l i ng us hi s life stor y.

Butch ( Br uce Wi ll i s) i n P ul p Fi ctio n c hooses the sam ur ai


swor d as hi s weapon, even when sur r ounded by hundr eds of
weapons i n the pawn shop.
208

Maggi e Fi tz ger al d ( Hi l ar y Swank) i n Mi ll i on Do l lar Ba b y wor ks


as a wai tr ess; sh e wr aps a c ustom er ’s l eft -over por k chop i n
ti nfoi l , l i es to her boss that i t’s for her dog, then l ater we
see her eati ng i t for her di nner.

To use an ear l i er exam pl e, i n Th e G od fa th er , Mi chael


Cor l eone ( Al P ac i no) si ps hi s c appuc ci no befor e shooti ng hi s
tar get. Thi s not onl y buil ds tensi on but shows us the hi dden
str ength he possesse s that wi l l gi ve cr edi bil i ty to hi s
ascensi on to Don of the cr i me fami l y.

I n An ni e Ha ll , Woody Al l en’s neur oti c New Yor k er and fi sh -


out-of-water Al vy Si nger sneez es i nto the p i l e of cocai ne he’s
offer ed at a Holl ywood par ty.

I n Sei n fel d , Geor ge Costanz a and hi s fi ancé Susan ar e l ooki ng


at weddi ng i nvi tati on sam pl es i n a stati oner y stor e. The cl er k
tel l s them that the bi nder i s or ganiz ed wi th the m ost
expensi ve i n the fr ont and the l east expensi ve i n the back.
Wi thout m i ssi ng a beat. .. G eor ge tur ns to the back.

I n Ro cky , Roc ky Bal boa ( Syl vester Stal l one) shakes down a
gam bl er but c an’t br eak the guy’s thum bs l i ke his boss tol d
hi m to do. He’ s just too ni c e of a guy, and that’s why we l ove
hi m .
209

FROM THE TRENCHES:


MEETING ANTWONE FISHER
(Antwone Fisher, ATL )
I approa ched Antw one Fisher a t an ind ustry event an d
before I co uld say any thing, he s aid to me “Everybody
hates agents. But you need them. ”

It was a ni ce reminder th at even tho ugh yo u’re an artis t,


you need to a ccept and learn to deal with th e
necessities of the business side of y our art.

He also told me abou t several un -prod uced s pecs he s old


and assignmen ts he ’d worked , some wo rth m illions of
dollars, since he is a s ought- after writer eve n though he
only has a few pr odu ced credits. This highlighted how
there a re many scree nwriters th at are not kn own to the
public, bu t well -respe cted in the indus try a n d making
comfor table livings.
210

THE CAREER
211

FROM THE TRENCHES:


BLUFFING MY WAY INTO
A PHONE C ALL WITH
A MAJOR M ANAGER
I set up a coffee m eeti ng wi th a sc r eenwr i ter that I met
onl i ne, a guy who had a c oup l e m ovi es pr oduced by the Sci -Fi
Channel , at the tr endy Urth Ca ffe i n West Hol l ywood ( the
pl ace that I 've had the m ost c el ebr i ty si ghti ngs, i ncl udi ng
L i ndsey L ohan, Conan O'Br i en, Sar ah Si l verm an and Al ani s
Mor i ssette ) . L et’s say thi s wr i ter 's nam e was Ji m Sal i nger . I 'd
never met him i n per son so he em ai l ed m e a shor t
descr i pti on of hi s appear ance.

I was si tti ng on the pati o l ooki ng ar ound, wai ti ng. He was


l ate. I saw a guy who fi t the desc r i pti on and I appr oached,
sayi ng “ Ji m ?” He sai d “ yes” and we shook hands. After som e
sm al l tal k he l ooked c onfused and he sai d, “ I 'm Ji m Ca l ab ro ,”
and I r eal i z ed I had the wr ong guy so I apo l ogiz ed and we
went our separ ate ways. But.. . I r ec ogni z ed hi s nam e as a
wr i ter who had just m ade a spec sal e i n Va ri ety !

My guy never showed (m ental note: never call him back) , so I


went hom e, determ i ned to sal vage thi s day of networ ki ng,
and I l ooked up J i m Cal abr o's m anager , a r ep who had m ade
sever al sal es. I c al l ed the m anager 's offi ce and tol d hi s
assi sta nt, “ I 'm a sc r eenwri ter , I was tal ki ng to his cl i ent Ji m
Cal abr o outsi de Ur th Caffe and I wanted to tel l hi m about m y
spec. ” She put m e on hol d and wi thi n 15 seconds I was
pi tchi ng m y sc r i pt to the m anager ! I never would have got
hi m on the phone i f I was just another scr eenwr iter m aki ng a
col d cal l.

I had l egi tim i z ed m ysel f by dr oppi ng the ri ght nam e wi th the


r i ght set of c i r c um stanc es. I 'd li ke to poi nt out that,
techni cal l y, I wasn't l yi ng. He never asked for detai l s and I
di dn't offer them. I got i nto m y pi tc h as soon as I coul d.
212

Ul ti m atel y, he r ead m y sc r i pt and he passed. I didn't get


si gned, but I got m y sc ri pt i n the door , whi ch i s the fi r st
di r ecti ve of the aspi ri ng sc r eenwr i ter. You can't establ i sh a
car eer i f you don't get your sc ri pt r ead by the peopl e that
m atter : t he deci si on -m aker s.

Ther e ar e som e other key take -aways her e:

 You need to be wher e the ac ti on i s, m ost notabl y, L os


Angel es, bu t another bi g ci ty wi th a thr i vi ng fil m
com m uni ty c an al so wor k ( New Yor k, Austi n,
Vancouver , L ondon, etc . ) .

 You need to have c hutz pah ( guts) . Conquer your fear


and pi c k up the phone.

 At the end of the day, ther e ar e no r ules.

 Don't l i e, but be pr epar ed to get “ cr eati ve” when


necessar y.
213

XVIII. GO TO MARKET, LITTLE PIGG Y

As I ’ve sai d, m y m otto i s “ Cr aft = Car eer ,” whi ch m eans that


the fi r st and m ost i m por tant thi ng to establ i sh your car eer i s
that you devel op your wr i ti ng ski l l and pr oduce a gr eat
scr eenpl ay.

But that’s not the o n l y thi ng that wi l l get your foot i n the
door . Ther e ar e two si des to your c ar eer : ther e’s your wor k
and the m ar keti ng of your wor k. Mar keti ng i s a bi g
com m i tm ent and c hal l enge on i ts own. I t’s especi al l y tough
to m uster the ener gy, di sc i p li ne and per sever ance to m ar ket
your scr eenpl ay after you’ve spent m onths ( or year s) wr i ti ng
and pol i shi ng thi s opus! So you need to be i n i t for the l ong
haul .

But befor e we get to m ar keti ng spec i fi cs, i t’s ti m e to get


tough. I have a ser i ous questi on to ask you:
214

XIX. ARE YOU A REAL WRITER?

Thi s i s not a si l l y or obvi ous questi on. I ’ve read too m any
scr i pts by wr i ter s who just don’t have the basi c wr i ti ng ski ll s
to m ake a stor y wor k on the page or the di sci pline to put i n
the year s of wor k i t takes to devel op a pr ofessi onal l evel of
cr aft.

You don’t have to l i ke the ac tual pr oc ess of wr i ting – I ’ve


r ead countl ess i nter vi ews wi th pr ofessi onal wri ter s who say
they hate wr i ti ng! They l ove to h av e wri tten , to hol d that
com pl eted dr aft i n thei r hand, but the actual t ypi ng of the
pages – the wor k – i s l i ke pull i ng teeth.

I woul d am end that to say that I thi nk you don’t need to


enjoy the wr i ti ng al l the tim e, but you m ust enjoy i t so me of
the ti m e. For m e, and m any other wr i ter s, i t’s ver y di ffi cul t
to actual l y si t dow n i n fr ont of the c om puter and type scr i pt
pages. P r ocr asti nati on i s a huge tem ptati on. Why does i t
al ways seem l i ke the best tim e to c l ean the house i s when I
have to wr i te? Why do I just happen to com e up wi th m y
m ost br i l li ant Fac ebook statuses when I ’m on deadl i ne?

I t can be tor tur e to si t down and star t wr i ti ng, but once I


r eal l y get i n the z one – c om pl etel y focused on the wr i ti ng
such that ti m e has seem ed to stop and I ’m com pl etel y in th e
sto ry – then I ’m i n heaven. I l ove bei ng i n that head space, i n
fact, I n eed to do i t to r el i eve str ess and be happy, but i t’s a
pi sser to get up the c onfi denc e and c om for t level to begi n.

But that’s the gi g. You have to be abl e to do i t. Dedi cate the


ti m e to si t down and bang out pages. Spend hour s edi ti ng,
tweaki ng, pol i shi ng, pr oofi ng. Wr i te m any, m any dr afts. And
then when you’r e done wi th that sc r i pt. .. do i t all over agai n.
Star t a new one, and wr i te that one faster and better .

I f you can’t c omm i t to wr i ti ng at l east two spec scr i pts per


year for the next thr ee t o four year s, then you’r e not a r eal
wr i ter .
215

I f you can onl y wri te wi th a par tner or i n i deal cir cum stances,
you’r e not a r eal wr i ter.

I f you can’t wr i te i n your tim e off fr om your ful l -ti m e job,


and that m eans ni ghts and l unc h br eaks and weekends, then
you’r e not a r eal wr i ter.

The excuse “ I c an onl y wr i te when I ’ve shut out the wor l d” i s


just that: an exc use . I f you c an onl y wri te on r etr eat i n a l og -
cabi n, then I onl y hope you have a weal thy benefactor , or
you have a butt - l oad of vac ati on ti me saved up.

I t takes di sci pl i ne, an eye for detai l , a dedicati on to


excel l ence and a tal ent for wri tten c om m unication to be a
r eal wri ter . You need to be abl e to spel l and write
gr amm ati cal l y c or r ec t sentenc es. I t m ay sound like I ’m
poi nti ng out the obvi ous, but you’ d be sur pr i sed how m any
scr i pts I ’ve r ead wher e the wr i ter just di dn’t have the basi c
wr i ti ng ski ll s to tac kl e thi s for m.

I t star ts wi th your high sc hool E ngl i sh cour ses – di d you get


A’s and B’ s i n E ngli sh or di d you str uggle just to get a C+?
Thi s m ay be a good bar om eter for you to assess your wr i ti ng
acum en. ( L et’s just say I ’m hopi ng i t was A’s and B’s. )

Have you ever been si ngl ed out by a teacher for wr i ti ng an


excel l ent essay, ter m paper or shor t stor y? I hope so.

Do you str uggl e wi th the pr oper usage of your , you’r e, ther e,


they’r e, thei r , l ose and l oose? I rea l l y hope not (unl ess you
have a Tefl on -c oated l aptop) .

Do you see your sel f wr i ti ng m any sc r i pts or just thi s one? I f


the answer i s just one, then I c an assur e you that the ti m e
and effor t i t wi l l take to cr eate a gr eat scr eenplay that has
the potenti al to sel l wi l l far outstr i p your com mitm ent to the
pr oject. I t’s not wor th i t.

I ’m sor r y to say i t, but too m any of you just ar en’t wr i ter s.


You m ay have a c ool i dea for a m ovi e, or you’r e a ci nephi l e
or you’r e a gifted m ul ti -medi a ar ti st or a tal ented
216

photogr apher . But that doesn’t


m ean you’r e a good
com m unicator on th e pa g e .

Output i s a bi g par t of the job. I f


you r eal l y, r eall y str uggl e just to FROM THE
fi ni sh one dr aft, then you m ay
TRENCHES:
not be a r eal wr i ter . Not that i t’s
ea sy to wr i te a full dr aft; hec k, AARON SORKIN
i t’s tough to wr i te 100 pages of (The Social
anythi ng. But if your bi ggest Network, A Few
r oadbl ock i s c om pl eti ng a dr aft, Good Men)
then you’r e i n tr oubl e. The har sh
tr uth i s that you need to be abl e “For years, I was
to do that i f you'r e goi ng to wor k working on an
as a pr of essi onal wr i ter . antiquated word
processing program,
You m ay know those wr i ter s that which was fine for me
can bang out ( sub -par ) scr i pt but the writers’
after ( sub -par ) sc ri pt or assistants would
( unpubl i shed) novel after plead with me to let
( unpubl i shed) novel . You m ay them install Final Draft
adm i r e them for their output and on my computer. I’m a
wi sh you wer e so pr ol i fic . But the guy, I don’t like
r eason they c an do thi s i s change, so [I refused].
because they don't have an So they were brilliant,
they simply lied to me.
i nter nal edi tor. I n other wor ds,
They told me my new
they'r e just c r anki ng out pages computer ‘is not
wi thout car e about qual i ty. compatible with your
old software – it only
Wi th that sai d, I m ust add, n o recognizes Final
o n e h as t h e righ t to t ell you t o Draft.’”
st op writ in g.
The Lesson: Be open
to change, not just with
technology but with
trends, working methods
and collaborators.
217

I bel i eve that i f you enjoy i t,


you shoul d do i t. Ther e’s no
sham e i n bei ng a hobbyi st. But
i f you aspi r e to com pete at the
pr ofessi onal l evel you m ust
FROM THE know that i t’s a ver y di ffi cul t
TRENCHES : path you’ve chosen, and i t wi l l
take a l ot of di sci pl i ne and
ICE-T per sever ance. You have to be
passi onate about your cr aft and
(New Jack City,
c ar eer to push past fr ustr ati on
Law & Order: and r ejec ti on.
SVU)
When I was a I t shoul d al so be noted that you
teenager , I saw Ic e -T c an’t judge your abi l i ty or
at a m usi c festi val c ar eer on your fir st scr i pt.
gr eeti ng fans. I went Ni nety -ni ne per cent of wr i ter s
up to hi m and I asked do not sel l thei r fir st
“ Hey I ce, do you have sc r eenpl ay. But 100% of wr i ter s
any advi ce for a l ear n a trem endous am ount
young fi lm m aker ?” about the for m and form at of
Wi thout m i ssi ng a sc r eenwr i ti ng when they
beat, he sai d “Yea h ! c om pl ete thei r fi r st scr i pt. Once
TR Y, TR Y, DON 'T you’r e done wi th the fi r st dr aft
STOP, TR Y, TR Y, of your fir st scr i pt, I encour age
DON 'T STOP, TR Y, you to anal yz e, edi t, and r ewr i te
DON 'T STOP, DON 'T i t to get exper i ence wi th the
STOP! ” r ewr i ti ng pr ocess. I al so don’t
have a pr obl em wi th payi ng a
G r eat advi ce. I never c onsul tant to eval uate your fir st
for got i t. And her e I sc r i pt as they can hel p you to
am , just a few l oc ate your m ajor i ssues of
( cough) year s ol der c onc er n, and they wil l no doubt
than a teenager and take m onths and m aybe year s
sti l l tr yi ng. off your devel opm ent as a
sc r eenwr i ter . But you shoul d
sti l l c onsi der your sel f i n the
l ear ni n g stage.
218

So, wi th al l that sai d, i f you’r e sti l l r eadi ng and sti l l consi der
your sel f a r eal wr i ter ( what hubr i s hath ye!) , then her e are
som e thoughts on m ar keti ng. Keep i n m i nd these ar e just
suggesti ons, not l egal advi c e; I ’m not a l awyer , m anager or
agent, so use i t however you wi l l .
219

XX. GETTING OUT THERE

Networ ki ng – The unfor tunate tr uth about networ ki ng i s that


you need to gi ve them som ethi ng to get som ething. I f you go
i n just aski ng for hel p fr om an i ndustr y pr ofessi onal , you wi l l
have the whi ff of des per ati on that wi l l tur n them off. You
want to set up a tr ade, r ather than a chari ty case.

An assi stan t, devel opm ent exec , pr oducer , agent or m anager


i s not goi ng to waste tim e wi th you, and i n m ost cases, not
even take your c al l , unl ess you have som ethi ng they want – a
bi t of i nform ati on, a r efer r al fr om a m utual fr i end, som e ai r
of “ hotness,” a fantasti c l ogl i ne or an undeni able Bi g I dea.
The l atter two ar e al ways a tough sel l , though, because
ever yone r eads a l ogl i ne di ffer entl y – what l ooks to be a
defi ni te home r un wi th a br i ll i ant hook to you mi ght l ook
sti l ted and cl i c hé to them . You shoul d go i n knowi ng that i t's
goi ng to be a fi ght to get peopl e to r ead your mater i al and to
“ get i t” and see the potenti al i n i t to becom e a com m erci al
m ovi e.

The m yth t hat ever yone i n Holl ywood i s constantl y on the


l ookout for gr eat m ateri al and thus i s open to subm i ssi ons
fr om new scr eenwri ter s i s one that scr eenwr i ters l ove to
bel i eve i n, but i n m ost c ases, i t i s just that: a fantasy. Thi s i s
suppor ted by the m yth that the c ur rent Hol l ywood system i s
br oken, that the i ndustr y c an't func ti on wi thout new bl ood
and i s on the verge of c ol l apse as thei r budgets conti nue to
go up and attendanc e goes down. I see thi s al l the ti m e on
I nter net message boar ds: som e ar m c hair box -offi ce gur u
pr edi cti ng that the studi o system wi ll cr um bl e because
they'r e not i nvesti ng i n new m ater i al , but r ather i nvesti ng i n
r em akes, r eboots and adaptati ons.

The studi os ar e doi ng just fi ne. They woul dn't make these
m ovi es i f they di dn't tur n a pr ofi t . They'r e m aking bi l li ons.

They have a system i n pl ac e for sc r i pt devel opment. I f they


need a scr i pt, they don't post a quer y on Cr ai gsli st —they
220

pi ck up the phone and c al l the twenty agents they have on


speed-di al and ask for sc r i pts —and they have at l east twenty
specs i n thei r i n - box by end of day.

Wi th that sai d, why do they need yo u r scri pt, consi der i ng


you'r e an un -sol d, un -r epped wr i ter fr om the hinter l ands?

The answer i s: they don't.

I t's your job to c onvi nc e them that they do. I t’s your job to
fi nd the one dec i si on -m aker who wil l not onl y l isten but wi l l
tr ul y feel your pi tc h.

I t's not easy, but i t c an be done. Col d cal li ng can wor k.


Networ ki ng m ust be done.

So how do you networ k wi th i ndustr y pr os who won't take


your cal l ?

STATUS
I f you'r e star ti ng fr om sc r atc h, not knowi ng anyone i n the
i ndustr y, then star t wi th c ontac ts at your sam e status: your
fel l ow scr eenwr i ter s. Star t a wri ter 's gr oup i n your
hom etown, joi n gr oups and message boar ds onl i ne and swap
m ater i al . Agai n, you need to gi ve som ethi ng to get
som ethi ng. You c an't si t bac k, be passi ve, and expect peopl e
to hel p you. Wi th fel l ow wr i ter s, the way to bui ld
r el ati onshi ps i s to gi ve them notes. They wi l l r etur n notes i n
ki nd. Keep swappi ng notes wi th m or e and m or e wr i ter s and
you wi l l fi nd one s wi th si m il ar i nter ests, genr es of choi ce,
and goal s. I f you c ome ac r oss a l az y, undi sci pl i ned, or poor
wr i ter , then m ove on to the next one.

Attend festi val s and c onfer enc es, enter contests, post on
m essage boar ds, hang out i n c r eati ve center s and soon you'l l
have a networ k of har d -wor ki ng up -and-com i ng
scr eenwr i ter s wi th whi c h to shar e i nform ati on, contacts,
notes and suppor t. Fr om ther e, wor k your way up i n status.
221

The next ti er of status wi l l be the assi stants to t he deci si on -


m aker s.

Al ways be ni c e t o the assi stant and sel l them on your scr i pt


fi r st, so that they wi l l l et you i n the door wi th thei r boss.
They ar e the gatekeeper to the bi g guy or gal . The assi stant
i s l ooki ng to advanc e thei r c ar eer by fi ndi ng good m ater i al ,
so they shoul d have a veste d i nter est i n fi ndi ng new wr i ter s;
but i t doesn't m ean they wi l l. They ar e over wor ked and
under pai d and so they don't have the ti m e or the ener gy to
deal wi th ever y newbie wri ter that c al l s them up to pi tch a
l ogl i ne. Si nce 9 out of 10 of these wr i ter s sub m it sub -par
wor k, they've l ear ned their l esson and so they wi l l be m ore
guar ded when you c al l .

Ti m i ng i s key. If you m eet an exec at a confer ence, you need


to fol l ow up r i ght away so that your openi ng l i ne, “ I m et so -
and-so at the Austi n Confer enc e and I was tal ki ng to her
about m y m oder n Wester n spec ,” i s effecti ve because the
exec sti l l r em em ber s you. And i f thei r assi stant asks to take
a m essage, then you need to be per si stent and keep cal l i ng
back.

My fi r st boss after fi l m sc hool tol d m e a stor y about a fr i end


of hi s who kept c all i ng Jodi e Foster 's offi ce and l eavi ng
m essages wi th her assi stant. He was never put thr ough. He
kept cal l i ng, ever y day, over 50 tim es. One day, he got a cal l
fr om Jodi e Foster who sai d, si m pl y, “ Who ar e you and what
do you wan t?”

I don't know what happened after that but, hey, at l east he


got Jodi e Foster on the phone!

I 'm not tell i ng you to be c ome a stal ker. I ’m just str essi ng
that you need to be dogged i n your deter m i nation. I n fact, I
suggest you fol l ow thi s Car di nal Rul e.. .
222

KILL 'EM WITH KINDNESS (AND STROKE THEIR EGO)


Whenever I m ake a phone c al l or wr i te an em ai l or quer y
l etter , I al ways thank them pr ofusel y and com pl im ent them
on thei r wor k. I m enti on how i t woul d be an honor to get
thei r i nsi ght on m y wor k. I use wor d s l i ke “ experti se” and
“ pr ofessi onal . ” I l i ke to c om pl im ent them on thei r m ost
r ecent success/ m ost suc c essful box -offi ce hi t an d one of
thei r m or e obsc ur e, c ri ti c all y -adm ir ed ti tl es. They wi l l be
pr oud of that l i ttle i ndi e they m ade, even if i t tanked at the
box-offi ce, and they wi ll l ove to hear fr om a fan, especi al l y
one who noti c es a detail about i t that shows the l evel of
cr aft that went i nto the m aki ng of thi s fi ne fi lm .

Rem em ber , ever y devel opment pr ofessi onal not onl y wants
to pr oduce a box -offi ce h i t but they al so have thei r passi on
pr ojects that they hope to m ake som eday to validate thei r
vi si on and ar ti sti c sensi bi l i ti es ( and m aybe pi ck up an Oscar
or two, the ul tim ate ego str oke). I f you tr eat them li ke a
fi l mm aker that onl y m akes q u al i ty fi lm s a nd tel ls i mp o rta n t
stor i es, they wi l l l ove to hear i t. Most of them , not al l , ar e
ser i ous m ovi e fans who fol l ow their favori te director s and do
actual l y want to m ake a cl assi c fi lm som eday, not just G . I .
Jo e 3: Th e Rev eng e .

I al so suggest you m enti on fi lm s that ar e si m il ar i n tone,


styl e, genr e and/or tar get audi enc e, and they don't have to
be bi g hi ts, ei ther . I 've gotten a l ot of m i l eage out of
com par i ng m y super natur al thr il l er to Do n ni e Darko , even
though Da rko i s a l ow -budget c ul t hi t. Ther e ar e m any f ans
of Da rko out ther e, so when they see the oppor tuni ty to tel l
a si m i l ar stor y, they ar e i ntr i gued. I n fact, I 'd suggest you
avoi d com par i sons to the m onster bl ockbuster s because no
one i s goi ng to i nvest $200 m i ll i on i n your scri pt anyway
because you ar e an unpr oduced newbi e wi th no tal ent
attachm ents. You m ay have a super her o or fantasy scr i pt,
but ther e's no c om par i son to Th e Da rk Kn i gh t or Ha rry P o tter
as those fi l m s ar e m assi vel y budgeted wi th huge bui l t -i n
audi ences, so don't bother to m enti on them as you'l l sound
l i ke an am ateur .
223

And never , ever pr edi c t box -offic e per for m ance, e. g. , “ Thi s
fi l m i s sur e to gr oss at l east $150 m i l l i on and spawn two
sequel s. I n fac t, I have outl i nes for sequel s al r eady, whi ch I
can em ail you at any ti m e, just ask! ” Thes e peopl e sound l i ke
nutcases. Thi s br i ngs up a good poi nt:

You'r e not an exper t at the busi ness of m ovi e -maki ng.

I f anyone i s, they ar e. So don't tel l them how to do thei r job,


and sti ck to your job: the wr i ter . I f they tr ul y need you, then
they want to k now that you ar e a pr ofessi onal , dedi cated,
har d-wor ki ng wr i ter who c omes up wi th gr eat i deas and
tur ns them i nto gr eat sc r eenpl ays. That's what they need you
for , not to anal yz e l ast weekend's box -offi ce r etur ns, pr edi ct
the fi nanci al futur e of the busi ne ss or opi ne about di gi tal
di str i buti on. They al so want to know that you'r e a geni al ,
soci al per son who c an c ar r y a c onver sati on, so i f you com e
acr oss as an i m pati ent and cr i ti c al know -i t-al l , then they wi ll
avoi d you.

Do not say anythi ng negati ve or c r i t i ci z e cur rent m ovi es. Do


not say how c om edi es today ar e not funny and your scr i pt
wi l l fi nal l y m ake audi enc es l augh agai n (I 've seen thi s done
m any ti mes) . For all you angr y wr i ter s out ther e who thi nk
i t's your cal l i ng to r estor e gr eatness to a genre that i s
obvi ousl y not up to the heights of yester year , you shoul d
l ook at the box -offi c e to see how m uc h o th er p eo p l e ar e
enjoyi ng the c urr ent m ovi es i n that genr e.

DO YOUR RESEARCH
The m or e you networ k and read the tr ades , the easi er i t wi l l
be to tal k i n “ i ndustr y -speak” so you sound l i ke you know
what you’r e doi ng ( even i f you don’t) . You want to fi nd out
those cur r ent, spec i fi c ter m s and exam pl es that fol ks i n town
ar e usi ng i n thei r di sc ussi ons. For exam pl e, there’s usual l y a
few hot “ subgenr es,” spec i fi c ways of cl assi fyi ng m ovi es ,
whi ch ever yone’s buz zi ng about .
224

Her e ar e thr ee sam ple subgenr es -- c an you name a hi t m ovi e


fr om each one fr om the past 3 year s?

 E l evated horr or

 Hom e i nv asi on hor r or

 Found footage hor r or

You m ust keep up on what’s i n theater s, what’s hot at the


box-offi ce and what’s i n devel opm ent so you can tal k shop
wi th that power pl ayer ( and the under li ng that br i ngs them
thei r m acchi ato) . You don’t want to be one of those wr i ter s
who onl y r efer enc es m ovi es fr om the seventi es because
“ m ovi e s wer e just better bac k then. ” Yes, those wr i ter s m ay
be wor ki ng, but c hanc es ar e, i t’s at a Star bucks near you.
225

XXI. INDIE VS. STUDIO

An i m por tant deci si on you want to m ake i s whether you’r e


wr i ti ng a scr eenpl ay to br eak i nto the studi o l evel of wi de -
r el ease , com m er c i al m ovi es, or you’r e wr i ti ng mor e for the
i ndependent or “ ar t -house” fil m m ar ket.

A gr eat opti on today i s to


pr oduc e your own l ow -budget, or
“ no-budget” feature fil m wi th
hi gh-r esol uti on di gi tal
FROM THE equi pm ent. I f thi s i s your r oute,
i t m ay be a li t tl e bi t l ess
TRENCHES: i m por tant to im pr ess the reader
wi th your scr eenpl ay than i t
ROBERT woul d be i f you were subm i tti ng
ZEMECKIS to a m ajor agency or studi o ; but
(Forrest Gump, c onsi der that you’r e sti l l goi ng to
Cast Away, Back be showi ng your scri pt to m any
To The Future) pr ofessi onal s that wi l l be judgi ng
your abi l i ty to tel l a cohesi ve and
power ful stor y on the page; these
“Enter the industry r eader s wi l l i ncl ude i nvestor s,
at the level you exper i enc ed cr ew m em ber s and
want to work.” pr ofessi onal actor s and di r ector s.
So, unl ess you ’r e devel opi ng your
stor y fr om i m pr ovi sati ons wi th a
dedi c ated tr oupe of actor s,
you’r e sti l l goi ng to need a sol i d
sc r i pt.

I f I had to poi nt to one el em ent


that separ ates studi o fi l m s fr om i ndependent fi lm s, i t woul d
no l onger be the use of an anti -her o, i t woul d be the dar k or
am bi guous endi ng.

I n Th e Wrestl er , we don’t know i f Randy sur vi ves the bi g


m atch or di es i n the r i ng. Si d eway s ends wi th Mil es knocki ng
on Maya’s door – ther e i s hope but we don’t actual l y see
226

them em br ac e. Can you im agi ne Kate Hudson n ot ki ssi ng the


guy at the end of one of her m any Rom -Com s?

Bl a ck Swan ends wi th Ni na’s death. You get the idea.

Si nce m or e studi o fi lm s ar e dar k these days, som e i ndi e fil m s


di sti ngui sh them sel ves by bei ng rea l ly dar k. I n Befo re th e
Dev i l Kn o ws Yo u ’re Dea d , all of the m ai n char acter s ar e
despi cabl e. The younger br other ( E than Hawke) is sl ee pi ng
wi th hi s ol der br other ’s wi fe, whi l e the ol der brother ( P hil l i p
Seym our Hoffm an) i s havi ng an affair wi th a tr ansvesti te
hooker , whom he l ater ki ll s. Oh, and the m ai n plot? The
br other s m aster m i nd a r obber y of their own parents’ jewel r y
stor e, whi ch g ets botc hed when thei r m other i s shot! E ven
though i t featur es m ajor star s and was helm ed by a
l egendar y dir ec tor ( Si dney L um et) , thi s i s a fi lm that onl y
coul d have been m ade and r el eased outsi de the studi o
system .

I f you’r e goi ng the i ndi e r oute, m y advi ce i s to end on what


i s m ost tr ue to your stor y. Si nc e you’r e wr i ti ng for the
r eader , not for the VP of Mar keti ng, you wi ll impr ess them
wi th the m ost “ shoc ki ng yet i nevi tabl e” endi ng possi bl e. One
fi l m that di sappoi nted m e wi th i ts endi ng i s the power ful
Col d War dr am a Th e L iv es o f Oth ers . Ther e i s a cr ushi ng
m om ent when the wom an di es i n the arm s of her l over i n the
str eet. Thi s shoul d have been the Fade Out m oment, showi ng
the tr ue devastati on that the fasc i st r egi m e br ought to E ast
G erm any. But they tac ked on a feel -good epi l ogue that, to
m e, fel t extr aneous and l i ke an attem pt at m aking i t m or e
com m er ci al.

Rem em ber not to be afr ai d to G et E xtrem e! And, as


al ways. . . be elegant.

Or don’t. Bec ause that’s the tr ue i ndi e way! Be an unabashed


r ebel and don’t a pol ogiz e for i t.
227

Whi ch r em i nds m e of that questi on that i s asked ever y day


by buddi ng fil mm aker s who cr i nge at the type of gui del i nes
that I have put for th i n thi s book. You know the one. . .

But wh at abo ut Q uenti n Ta rant in o?

The answer i s si m pl e: You’r e no t Quenti n Tar anti no.


228

XXII. YOUR FIR ST SCREEN PLAY

Ther e's conventi onal wi sdom you shoul d foll ow, but whi ch
can be br oken i f you del i ver a gr eat scr i pt. But be pr epar ed
to accept that your fi r st attem pt i s not goi ng to be that
gr eat.

Most wr i ter s do not sel l the i r ver y fi r st scr eenplay. I t acts as


a l ear ni ng tool .

I sti l l suggest that you show your fir st scr i pt to other s and
that you r ewr i te i t a c oupl e tim es bec ause you wi l l l ear n a
l ot fr om thi s pr oc ess, but I don't thi nk you should go i nto i t
expecti ng for i t to be your br eakthr ough scr i pt that wi l l get
you an opti on, a r ep, som e m eeti ngs or a sal e. I t i s your
cr ash cour se i nto the c r aft and the di sci pli ne.

Wr i ter s wr i te. They don't just wr i te one scr i pt. They keep
wri ti n g . Not just to advanc e a c ar eer , but b ec ause they l ove
i t and ther e's an annoyi ng l i ttl e voi c e i nsi de them that won't
stop whi sper i ng. They have to wr i te.

I f you ar e a ser i ous wri ter , then you ar e i n i t for the l ong
haul .

The m edi a l oves to hai l the “ fir st ti m e wr i ter ” who just m ade
the bi g sal e, but ther e's no way that a wr i ter who sel l s a
scr i pt di dn't spend year s l ear n i ng and pr acti ci ng thei r cr aft.
Unl ess, per haps , they ar e r el ated to a bi g shot in the
i ndustr y. Ther e's a l ot of nepoti sm i n thi s busi ness, but
ther e's al so l i m i tless oppor tuni ti es for new voi ces because
thi s tr ul y i s a busi ness wi th no har d and fast r ules.

I r ecentl y r ead a r evi ew wher ei n the c ri ti c r eferred to the


scr eenwr i ter as a “ fir st -ti m e wr i ter. ” The tr uth is that thi s
was the wr i ter ’s fi r st tim e as a p ro du ced fea tu re fi l m wri ter,
but he had wor ked as a tel evi si on wr i ter for year s ( and
pr obabl y opti oned a few featur e spec s, as wel l ) . E ver yone
needs to pl y thei r tr ade.
229

Ther e ar e accepted gui del i nes and pr acti ces, and even
though ther e ar e pl enty of exam pl es of these bei ng br oken, I
sti l l suggest you adher e to them . The fir st thi ng you can do
i s study and l ear n to util i z e the str uc tur e and methods
detai l ed i n thi s book.

As for your wri ti ng pr oc ess and l ong -term pl an, I suggest you
tar get the goal of wri ti ng two spec s a year and that you
devel op your cr aft and wr i ti ng m ethod so that, once you
have your Ful l Stor y Map and sc ene l i st pol i shed, you can
wr i te a fi r st dr aft i n two to thr ee m onths or l ess. On your
fi r st pass, the ol d m axi m hol ds tr ue: Don't get i t r i ght, just
WRI TE I T. I n other wor ds, power thr ough i t unti l the end.
Don't tr y to get i t per fec t as you wri te ; you’l l have pl enty of
ti m e to hone i t i n l ater dr afts . Wr i ti ng i s r ewri ting, as they
say.

I t’s okay for your fir st sc r i pt to be a per sonal , “ low -concept”


stor y th at you feel you need to get off your chest.
E ventual l y, onc e you’r e m or e c om for table wi th the cr aft,
you’r e goi ng to want to devel op a scr i pt that’s m or e focused
on a Bi g I dea i n a c om mer c i all y pr oven genr e so you can
catch the eye of pr oduc er s and r eps. To hel p i ncr ease your
odds, I 'd suggest you avoi d:

L a rg e en sembl e pi eces wi th lo ts o f ch a ra cter s. They'r e not


onl y expensi ve to shoot , but they'r e di ffi cul t to str uctur e
and to r ead bec ause you'r e aski ng the r eader to r em em ber a
l ot of nam es.

Hu g e bu dg et mov i es. When a studi o gr eenli ghts an event


m ovi e, they hir e one of the top 25 pr oven box -offi ce hi t
wr i ter s i n town to wr i te i t; they don't just pi ck a Joe off the
str eet. Wi th that sai d, your bi g -budget scr i pt m ay contai n an
awesom e conc ept that wil l m ake t hem sal i vate, so i t's
possi bl e they m i ght opti on or buy your scr i pt and hi r e som e
establ i shed pr os to r ewr i te i t. But. . . a gr eat concept i s a
gr eat concept, and shoul d be abl e to fi t i nto a $10 or $20
m i l li on m ovi e as well as a $100 m il l i on m ovi e, so I enco ur age
you to l i mi t the need for CG I , c ar c hases and fam ous
230

bui l di ngs bl owi ng up. Why bl ow up the Whi te House when


you can bl ow up an outhouse? ( I thi nk Wi ll i am Gol dm an sai d
that. I coul d be wr ong . )

P eri o d p i eces. They'r e expensi ve to m ake, especial l y those


war epi cs that you newbi es l i ke to wri te.

L o ng scri p ts! You shoul d al r eady know that I hi ghl y suggest


you gun for 100 - 110 pages. E ven so, m any of you wi l l m ake
that begi nner m i stake of wr i ti ng ( and subm i tti ng! ) over 130
pages. To m ake m atter s wor se, you w i l l use ti ny m ar gi ns and
pr i nt on thi ck paper . I onc e had a sc reenwr i ti ng i nstr uctor
who sai d you shoul d c ut one -thi r d of your fi r st dr aft , no
questi ons asked , befor e you wr i te your second dr aft. Fol l ow
hi s advi ce.

I mp en etra b l e ti tl es. “ The Mal feasanc e of Aber crom bi e


Yoshi hi r o” i s not a good ti tl e. Sta r Wa rs i s. ( And the or i gi nal
ti tl e of G eor ge L uc as’ sc r eenpl ay was Th e Ad v entu res o f Lu ke
Sta rki l l er. Thank Yoda he took som eone’s advi ce and changed
i t. )

Do n ’t wri te ab ou t th e mo v i e i nd u stry an d do NOT ma ke y ou r


p ro ta go n i st a screen wri ter! P eopl e who wor k i n the i ndustr y
don’t want an outsi der ’s fanta sy take on how i t r uns.
Besi des, m ost m ovi es about m ovi es bom b.

CONCLUSION
I want you to know that I appl aud your cour age in tackl i ng
thi s chal l engi ng c r eati ve en deavor and I hope you fi nd m y
m ethods and advi c e to be hel pful to your cr aft. If you’r e
i nter ested i n lear ni ng m or e about Stor y Maps, wor ki ng wi th
m e, or you just want to say hi , please do not hesi tate to
shoot m e an em ai l vi a m y websi te at
www. actfour sc r e enpl ays. c om ( and ask about sp ec ial o ffers
an d d isco un t s for m y book r eader s on m y ser vices, cl asses
and publ i cati ons ) .
231

I encour age you to study the Ful l Stor y Maps that fol l ow and
thei r sour ce fi lm s and to m ap your own favor i te m ovi es. I
guar antee that you wi ll advanc e your under standi ng of thi s
exci ti ng cr aft.

I n cl osi ng, I l eave you wi th the wor ds that I speak to ever y


wr i ter I m eet.

Go od Lu c k and H a pp y Writ in g!

Dan Cal vi si
232

APPENDIX:
SAMPLE STORY MAPS
233

95% of Great Movies


follow the Story Map.
I f i nd i t tr em endousl y hel pful to l ook at pr oduced fi lm s and
note thei r el em ents i n a Stor y Map, cr eati ng a qui ck -
r efer ence “ li br ar y” of m aps to c om par e and contr ast. Thi s i s
the best way to under stand how the pr os do i t.

I encour age you to stor y m ap al l of your favor i te m ovi es.

Rem em ber , the Stor y Map i s a for m , not a for m ul a. I t does


not di ctate your c hoi c es —i t does not tell you what to wr i te —
i t onl y pr ovi des a fr am ewor k to hol d your choi ces. The
scr eenpl ay i s sti l l undeni abl y your s, but i t now com es
wr apped i n the shi ny c oati ng that i s r ecogni z ed by ever y
Agent, Manager , E xec uti ve and P r oducer i n the busi ness.

Bel ow ar e m aps for a wi de r ange of fil m s to use as r efer ence


tool s. Once you’ve studi ed these, feel fr ee to ask m e about
obtai ni ng m or e m aps of suc c essful m ovi es.

FULL STORY MAPS :


1. T h e Han g o ver (Co med y) 2009

2. T h e Wrestl er (D ram a) 200 8

3. T h e Dark Kn i g h t (Acti o n / Co mi c Bo o k) 2008

4. Ho w to L o se a Gu y i n 10 Days (Ro man ti c


Co med y) 2003

5. Drag Me T o Hel l (Ho rro r) 2009

6. As G o o d As I t G ets (Dra mati c Co med y) 1 99 8

7. Su n set Bo u l evard (No i r T h ril l er) 1950


234

Al though we have thr ee c entr al c har acter s i n The Ha n go v er ,


the “ m ai n” pr otagoni st i s Stu, pl ayed by E d Helm s, because
he i s the char ac ter who goes thr ough the m ost change.

The scr i pt i s a gr eat exam ple of a c om edy that offe r s


m ul ti pl e set pi ec es wi th esc al ati ng c onfl i ct, l ots of vi sual
devi ces and c l ever setups and payoffs.

THE HANGOVER (2009)


Written by Jon Lucas & Scott Moore
Directed by Todd Phillips
Running Time: 98 mins.

BASIC STORY MAP


PROTAGONIST: STU, 30s, dentist
Misbehavior: Constantly worried and always sees the worst
Skill: Nice guy
Flaw/Achilles Heel: He's a wimp
EXTERNAL GOAL: To find Doug
INTERNAL GOAL: To dump his awful girlfriend Melissa
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: Their memory loss and the previous night’s
antics
THEME: Loyalty and True Friendship
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Can the guys find Doug in time for the
wedding and can Stu find love?
ENDING: Stu breaks up with Melissa and the guys look at photos from the
weekend, vowing to delete them once they’re done.
ARC: Stu goes from a wimpy victim to a take-charge guy with a promising
romantic life.

LOGLINE
A group of friends with no memory of their sordid bachelor party must
piece together the events of the night to find the missing groom before the
wedding the next day.
235

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
ACT 1: The guys go to Las Vegas and kick off the night with a toast.
ACT 2A: The guys follow their initial clues to find Doug.
ACT 2B: The guys must return Mike Tyson's tiger and bring Mr. Chao his
money to get back Doug.
ACT 3: The wedding goes off well and Stu dumps Melissa.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)
ACT ONE
1-2 — OPENING (FLASHFORWARD): Preparations on wedding day; the
groom is missing. TRACY, the bride, gets a call from PHIL, who's in the
Nevada desert, looks beaten up. Phil tells Tracy they lost Doug, the groom.
The wedding is “not gonna happen.”
Central Dramatic Question: Will they miss the wedding and how did they
lose the groom?
3 – ALAN, the odd brother-in-law of DOUG, the groom, joins him for a tux
fitting. Alan is concerned that Doug's friends don't like him.

5 – Alan tells Doug he will never tell anyone what happens in Vegas.

6 – Doug promises his future father-in-law (Jeffrey Tambor) that he's the
only one that will drive his car.

6 – Meet Phil, junior high school teacher. He pockets the kids' field trip
money for his Vegas fund.

7 – STU lies to his controlling bitch girlfriend MELISSA that the guys are
going to Napa for a wine-tasting trip.

9-10 – INCITING INCIDENT: The guys start their journey by driving on the
highway to Vegas. Alan almost gets them hit by a truck! The problems have
already begun.
236

16 – They enter their huge suite (which Phil forced Stu to rent after
reminding him that Melissa cheated on him with a bartender on a cruise).

17 – Stu shows them the ring he'll propose to Melissa with – it was his
grandma's ring she kept since the holocaust. Phil warns Stu not to marry
her.

18 – They guys leave the room to hit the town.

20 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: On the roof of the hotel, the guys


toast with liquor from Alan.

23 – The next morning – the suite has been trashed. The guys wake up to
find a chicken, a tiger, and Stu has a missing tooth. They don't remember
anything.

27 – END OF ACT ONE TURN (EXTERNAL): Doug is missing! His cell phone
has been left behind.

28 – END OF ACT ONE TURN (INTERNAL): There's a baby in the closet! (This
will lead Stu to his love interest)

30 – DECISION: They start to gather clues to piece together the previous 12


hours and find Doug: receipts, a valet ticket, a hospital bracelet on Phil's
wrist.

ACT TWO-A
32 – Doug's mattress was thrown out the window of the hotel.

32 – The valet brings their car – it's a police sedan!

34 – They talk to the Doctor at the hospital who treated Phil last night. Phil
had Rufalin in his system, which explains the memory loss. They must have
all been drugged.

38 – At the Best Little Chapel, they look at Stu's wedding photos to a woman
who goes by the name “Jade.”

41 – FIRST TRIAL/FIRST CASUALTY: Asian gangsters pull up and try to kill


237

them, asking “Where is he?” They assume they are also looking for Doug.
The guys barely escape in the cop car.

42 – They find JADE, the stripper that Stu married. They give her back her
baby. She doesn't know where Doug went.

45 – COMBAT: COPS storm in, arrest the guys!

50 – Cops use the guys as test subjects for tasers and stun guns in a class
with kids. Stu gets shot in the neck, Phil in the nuts and Alan in the face.

53 – They locate the car, it looks fine. They're optimistic.

55 – MIDPOINT: A naked Asian guy jumps out of the trunk, hits them all
with a crowbar and runs off! Alan admits he put a drug in their drinks last
night. He thought it was Ecstasy but it turned out to be rufi's. They hit
bottom.

ACT TWO-B
58 – Mike Tyson is in their hotel suite. He came to get his tiger. The guys
must return it.

65-67 – Mike Tyson shows them their antics on his security cams; they know
Doug was alive as of 3:30 am so they are once again optimistic.

70-72 – CLOCK: MR. CHAO, the formerly naked guy and the head of the
Asian gang, gives them until dawn the next day to return the $80k of poker
chips they stole from him or he will kill Doug, who is hooded and gagged in
the backseat of his car!

74-76 – DECLARATION OF WAR/ASSUMPTION OF POWER: The “Rainman”


blackjack sequence; Alan and crew work a table and win $82,000.

79 – They make trade with gangsters in desert, the money for the hostage,
but he's not their Doug; it's Doug the drug dealer who sold Alan the pills.

81 – We catch up to the Opening Flash-Foward as Phil calls Tracy in desert.

83 – Alan figures it out, tackles Phil before he can tell Tracy they lost Doug.
238

84 – TURN (External): They find Doug on the roof of the hotel, sunburned
but still alive!

85 – All the flights are booked, they need to drive back to make the
wedding.

86 – TURN (Internal): Jade gives Stu his ring back. Stu asks her out on a date
for next weekend.

88 – DECISION: They leave for L.A. Phil drives like a maniac. Doug tells them
he found Mr. Chao's $80k in poker chips! They get a delivery of tuxes on the
highway and change clothes on the side of the road.

90 – They pull up, get there just in time!

ACT THREE
91 – TRUE PT. OF NO RETURN: Just as they are to be married, Doug vows to
never put Tracy through this again and she forgives him.

92 – Phil reunites with his wife and kid, showing he's a good guy, after all.

93 – CLIMAX (INTERNAL): Stu tells off Melissa in front of everyone and


breaks up with her.

95 – CLIMAX (EXTERNAL): Alan found Stu's camera with pictures. They all
agree to watch them once and then delete them, sealing their secret
forever.

96 – EPILOGUE: Wild photo montage.

98 – END
239

Th e Wrestl er i s a gr eat exam pl e of a focused, i nti m ate


char acter study set i n a wor l d that we’ d never seen
por tr ay ed on fil m wi th suc h ver i si m il i tude. An unfl i nchi ng
m oder n tr agedy, the sc r eenpl ay uses ver y l i ttl e subtext but
thi s styl e wor ks per fec tl y i n por tr ayi ng a fl am boyant
pr otagoni st who wear s hi s hear t, hi s m achi sm o and hi s
per sonal dem ons on hi s sl eeve. Ther e i s nothi ng subtl e about
Randy “ The Ram” Robi nson and the sc r i pt r efl ects that.

THE WRESTLER (2008)


Screenplay by Robert Siegel
Directed by Darren Aronofsky
Running Time: 105 mins.

BASIC STORY MAP

PROTAGONIST: Randy "The Ram" Robinson, 50's, washed-up wrestler.


Misbehavior: His ego
Skill: Wrestling
Flaw/Achilles Heel: Addicted to fame
EXTERNAL GOAL: To reclaim his wrestling glory
INTERNAL GOAL: To win over Cassidy and reconcile with his daughter
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: Himself
THEME: Pride goeth before the fall.
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Will Randy give up wrestling for good and
win the hearts of both his daughter and Cassidy?
ENDING: Randy rejects Cassidy for the glory of the wrestling ring.
ARC: Randy goes from a broken, washed-up wrestler to a man in search of
love, but ultimately gives up hope for the glory of the wrestling ring.

LOGLINE
A washed-up pro wrestler pursues a rematch bout to win back his fame but
it could cost him his girlfriend, his daughter and his life.
240

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
Act 1: Randy struggles just to pay his rent by competing in brutal wrestling
matches.
Act 2A: Randy suffers a heart attack and is forced to change his ways. He
falls for a stripper (Cassidy) who encourages him to reconcile with his
daughter.
Act 2B: Randy attempts to turn his life around but can't stop his destructive
ways and he decides to wrestle in the big rematch with the Ayatollah.
Act 3: Randy rejects all for the glory of the wrestling ring, going to his
certain death.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)

ACT ONE
1 – OPENING IMAGES: A glory days collage of Randy "The Ram" Robinson's
career over Quiet Riot's "Metal Health."

3 – OPENING: 20 years later…Randy's a washed-up wrestler, reduced to


performing in small-town school gyms.

5 – INCITING INCIDENT: Randy arrives at his trailer to find it's locked: rent's
not paid, so he must sleep in his van.

9 - At the grocery store, Randy asks his condescending boss for more hours.

13 – Wrestling match – Randy slices his forehead with a hidden razor blade
for dramatic effect. Bloody, he wins the match.

17 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD (External): EMT cleans up Randy


after match as the promoter pitches him on a rematch between Randy and
the Ayatollah. Randy accepts.

20 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD (Internal): Randy defends his favorite


stripper, Cassidy, from young men (they make fun of her age). Cassidy’s
241

angry at first, but gives Randy a lap dance. She listens to his stories, gives
affection, but there's a distance…after all, she's a stripper.

24 – Randy buys HGH from a pusher at the gym, injects and works out. Gets
hair dyed, tans -- costly maintenance.

28 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: Randy's new wrestling match includes a


dangerous escalation: barbed wire, broken glass and a staple gun.

29 – DECISION: Randy competes even though he's obviously being hurt.

ACT TWO-A
35-36 FIRST TRIAL/FIRST CASUALTY: Randy suffers a heart attack and
wakes up in a hospital. Doctor instructs him to stop using drugs and, most
importantly, give up wrestling: he could die.

40 – Randy pays his rent and his landlord unlocks the trailer.

45 – COMBAT: Randy asks Cassidy out. She says no, but she talks to him and
encourages him to see his daughter.

50 – Randy finds his daughter, Stephanie. He tells her about his heart attack
and she rejects him.

56 – Randy asks the boss for more work; gets a job at the deli counter.

58 – Cassidy allows Randy to call her by her real name (Pam) and helps him
pick out a coat for his daughter. After he asks her out for a beer, she tells
him she has a child and Randy gives her a gift: a Randy The Ram action
figure.

60 – MIDPOINT: Randy kisses Cassidy (This directly pushes to the climax


where Randy must choose between wrestling fame and love).
242

ACT TWO-B
63 – Randy works his new job at the deli counter and his name-tag reads
"Robin" -- his birth-name (he's decided to be himself, not play a role).

68-72 – Randy cancels his upcoming matches; officially retires. Randy


apologizes to Stephanie for leaving her.

75 – ASSUMPTION OF POWER: Randy dances with his daughter. He asks


her out to dinner and she accepts.

77 – Randy goes to strip club and gives Cassidy a thank you card. He wants a
relationship, but Cassidy, unable to separate him from a customer, rejects
the idea. Randy gets upset, offends her and leaves.

80-83 – Randy parties with his fellow wrestlers, does coke and has sex with
a girl at a bar. He misses the date with his daughter.

85 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: Randy goes to Stephanie's house and she
kicks him out of her life for good -- she can't deal with the pain.

89-90 – DECISION: Randy quits his supermarket job, calls the promoter and
agrees to do the Ayatollah rematch.

ACT THREE
91 – Montage of Randy getting ready for the rematch.

93 – Cassidy breaks up with Randy. Randy acts like it doesn't faze him and
invites her to the Ayatollah rematch.

95 – Cassidy quits the strip club.

97 – TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN: Randy chooses the crowd over Cassidy:


"You hear them? This is where I belong."

103-105 – CLIMAX: Randy feels pain in his chest, but continues. The
Ayatollah recognizes it and goes down, but Randy won't pin him. The crowd
chants "Ram Jam," Randy looks to the wings and finds Cassidy gone. Randy
climbs on the ropes...leaps...and we CUT TO BLACK.
243

The Dark Knight is an expert example of building an active story around


Theme and pushing the story to the extremes of the conflict. At 144
minutes, this is a long, complex story, so I’ve adjusted the page placements
in the latter half of the map.

THE DARK KNIGHT (2008)


Screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan
Story by Christopher Nolan & David S. Goyer
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Running Time: 144 minutes

BASIC STORY MAP

PROTAGONIST: BRUCE WAYNE/ BATMAN, 30s, crime fighter and billionaire


Skill: Physical strength and incredible technology
Misbehavior: Stubbornness; pure loner, will not accept help or
advice
Achilles Heel: His love for Rachel

EXTERNAL GOAL: To save Gotham City from destruction

INTERNAL GOAL: To be with Rachel / To preserve the hope of Gotham’s


people

MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: The Joker

THEME: Desperation and fear lead to destructive actions.

CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Can Bruce Wayne retire Batman and let
Harvey Dent clean up Gotham?

ENDING: Bruce Wayne decides to let Batman take the fall for Harvey Dent’s
murders to maintain Dent as a hero and save Gotham City.
244

ARC: Bruce Wayne goes from believing he can end all crime in Gotham City
as its hero to sacrificing Batman’s good name to save Gotham City from
destruction.

LOGLINE
Bruce Wayne struggles to position Harvey Dent as Gotham’s white knight as
the Joker terrorizes the city, forcing Bruce to either reveal his identity or to
kill The Joker to preserve the peace in Gotham City.

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
ACT 1: Bruce fights organized crime in Gotham City with the aid of District
Attorney Harvey Dent.
ACT 2A: Bruce puts away the mob, but must fight the new, more deadly
threat: The Joker. Bruce decides to turn himself in to protect innocent lives.

ACT 2B: Bruce’s use of force cannot stop the Joker, leading to Rachel’s death
and Harvey Dent becoming Two-Face.

ACT 3: Bruce must stop The Joker and Two-Face and make a final sacrifice to
preserve hope in the people of Gotham.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)

ACT ONE
1-5 – Opening sequence: a team of masked crooks robs a mob-owned bank.
A suicidal move. The “silent Robber” kills off the last member of the bank
heist crew.

6 – The silent Robber removes his mask: he is THE JOKER. He brilliantly


escapes in broad daylight with all of the money.

10 – INCITING INCIDENT, EXTERNAL “A” story (Batman saving Gotham


City): Batman catches The Scarecrow and key members of Maroni’s mob.
245

11 – INCITING INCIDENT, EXTERNAL “B” story (Batman vs. Joker): Batman


pledges to Police Lieutenant JIM GORDON that he will stop The Joker.

13 – INCITING INCIDENT, INTERNAL (Rachel, love story): RACHEL is dating


HARVEY DENT, the new District Attorney. Bruce is jealous.

13 – Alfred tries to get Bruce to accept his limits. Bruce replies “Batman has
no limits.” (Subtheme of Identity: Can Bruce live without Batman?)

18 – LUCIUS FOX, CEO of Wayne Enterprises (and Batman’s tech genius)


considers a business deal with MR. LAO, a possibly corrupt Chinese
businessman.

20 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD, “A” story: Bruce crashes Rachel and


Harvey’s date. Bruce is convinced Harvey is legit, offers to throw him a
fundraiser.
Key dialogue: Harvey: “You either die a hero or live to become the
villain.”
22 – Lao is working with Maroni’s mob crew; he has moved all their money
to Hong Kong, where he currently sits, protected from extradition.

23 - 25 – The Joker crashes the mob meeting, tells them he’s their only
chance at killing Batman. In exchange for him killing Batman, he wants half
of all their money. They put a bounty on his head.

27 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: Batman offers to bring Lao back from Hong
Kong so Dent can prosecute Lao and Maroni’s crew.

28 – DECISION: Bruce begins his plot to get Lao.

30 – Joker kills Gamble and starts to take over the mob.


246

ACT TWO-A:

38 – FIRST TRIAL: Bruce extricates Lao and drops him off at the Gotham
police station. Rachel interrogates him; she and Dent come up with a plan to
prosecute the entire mob.

40 – Gordon arrests Maroni’s entire crew. They are all prosecuted by Dent.

42 – FIRST CASUALTY: The Joker’s first public murder: he has killed the
copycat Batman vigilante (seen earlier); The Joker releases a chilling video
clip to the media.

43 – Joker’s threat: Batman must reveal his identity or Joker will kill more
people. Bruce dismisses the notion.

45 – COMBAT (Internal): Bruce’s penthouse fundraiser for Dent: “I believe in


Harvey Dent.” Bruce tells Rachel that he will retire as Batman since Harvey
Dent is Gotham’s true hero. She feels pressured.

47 –Gordon and his cops figure out that The Joker is targeting three victims:
Police Commissioner Loeb, the Judge and Harvey Dent.

48-49 – Harvey asks Rachel to marry him. She doesn’t have an answer yet.
Judge and Police Commissioner assassinated. Joker shows up at fundraiser.

52 – COMBAT (External): Batman fights Joker and his henchman. Joker


throws Rachel out window. Batman saves her.

56 – Joker’s next target: Mayor Garcia.

59 – Bruce’s technology finds a clue and he speeds to the funeral parade


site on his motorcycle.

62 – Joker attempts to shoot Mayor, hits Gordon, KILLING HIM.

67 – Dent goes over the line and tortures the henchman. Batman stops him.
Bruce decides to give up his identity, tells Harvey to hold a press
conference. Harvey objects.
247

69 – Rachel tells Bruce not to give in, but she will be with him if he goes
legit; they kiss.

70 – Bruce has Alfred burn all of Batman’s records. Alfred tells him not to
give up his identity, but he respects Bruce’s decision.

72 – MIDPOINT: Bruce is about to give himself in when Harvey steps in, says
he’s Batman. Harvey is arrested.

73 – MIDPOINT (Internal): Rachel gives Alfred a letter for Bruce for “when
the time is right.”

ACT TWO-B:

76 – Joker attacks convoy with Harvey Dent inside.

78 – Batman saves Harvey and chases The Joker on the BATPOD, his new
motorcycle that ejects from the Tumbler.

83 – Batman refuses to kill Joker, skids out. Gordon, ALIVE, catches The
Joker.

88 – DECLARATION OF WAR/ASSUMPTION OF POWER: Batman loses


control and begins to torture Joker by beating him. It doesn’t work. Joker
tells him that the people of Gotham will turn on themselves.

89 [Standard length Turn*] – Joker has Dent and Rachel. Batman must
choose whom to save.

90 [Standard length Decision*] – Batman chooses to save Rachel; Gordon


rushes to save Dent.
*Note: although this Act Two is longer than a “standard-length” feature film
and will not end until minute/page 106, it’s interesting to note that there is
still a Turn and Decision in the exact same range as in a standard-length
feature film, which is done to adhere to the audience’s expectations of
traditional pacing/structure.
248

96 – Rachel is killed. Dent’s face is burned. The Joker escapes from jail with
Lau.

97 – Batman at the ashes. Alfred reads Rachel’s letter: she said she was
marrying Harvey Dent.
Key Dialogue: Rachel V.O.: “I believe the day will come when Gotham no
longer needs Batman, but I don’t think the day will come when Bruce
Wayne doesn’t need Batman.”
98 – Bruce believes that Rachel was going to wait for him. Alfred refrains
from giving him the letter.

100 – Dent wakes up in hospital, goes mad. His coin has become scuffed on
one side.

103 – The Joker burns his money, completes his take-over of the mob and
readies his final assault on Gotham.

104 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: Joker calls in to the TV show with an
ultimatum: kill Reese (guy blackmailing Bruce Wayne) in 60 minutes or Joker
will blow up a hospital.

105 – DECISION: Bruce goes into action to protect Reese.

ACT THREE:

107-112 – Joker has infiltrated the hospital in disguise, visits Harvey and
begins to recruit him. Harvey becomes Two-Face. Bruce saves Reese. Joker
blows up Gotham General hospital, escapes once again.

113 – Joker’s threat: get out by nightfall or the city will burn.

117 – TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN – Lucius tells Batman the sonar is wrong;
“This is too much power for one man. Spying on 30 million people is not
part of my job description.” Lucius will help him one more time, then resign.
Bruce accepts his resignation.

119 – Prisoners and civilians are being evacuated on separate ferries.


249

120 – Ferries taken over by Joker’s plan; rigged to explode. Joker has given
each boat the detonator for the other boat.

122 – The two boats start to fight over detonating the bombs.

124 – Batman ignores Gordon’s orders and charges into Joker’s location to
take out his men and save the civilian hostages they are holding.

129 – Batman finds Joker. Joker gets upper hand, beating him with a lead
pipe.

130 – On both boats, a man volunteers to detonate the other boat.

132 – Joker holds Batman at bay, promises him the boats will explode when
one person pushes the button. They don’t; the Joker’s test of human nature
in the face of fear has failed.

133 – Batman apprehends The Joker. The Joker monologues, comparing


himself to Bruce, how they are both freaks, misunderstood by normal
society (subtheme of Identity). He reveals that Harvey Dent/Two-Face is his
back-up plan -- Harvey’s corruption will destroy the hope of Gotham’s
citizens.

139 – Batman saves Gordon’s family from Two-Face. Two-Face killed.

142 – CLIMAX (EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL): Bruce decides to take the fall for
Harvey’s killing spree. Dent will remain Gotham’s hero and Batman its
outlaw. Batman will let himself be hunted, once again a criminal, SAVING
GOTHAM CITY FROM DESTRUCTION.

143 - 144 – EPILOGUE: Gordon tells media about Harvey Dent being
Gotham’s knight, but we know he’s really talking about Batman. Alfred
burns the letter from Rachel. Lucius Fox resigns, destroys the sonar spy
system. Batman runs from police.
250

Ho w to L o se a G u y i n 10 Da y s qui c kl y devel ops a si m pl e,


cl ean thr oughli ne bui l t on two c har ac ter s wi th opposi ng
goal s—she m ust sc ar e hi m off and he m ust get her to fall i n
l ove wi th him —then uses c lever set pi eces to escal ate
confl i ct al ong the way.

HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS (2003)


Screenplay by Kristen Buckley & Brian Regan and Burr Steers
based on the book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long
Directed by Donald Petrie
Running Time: 110 mins.

BASIC STORY MAP

PROTAGONIST: ANDIE ANDERSON, 20s, magazine writer


Misbehavior: Competitive
Skill: Playing the “psycho girlfriend”
Flaw/Achilles Heel: Likes Ben’s family
EXTERNAL GOAL: To get Ben to dump her in 10 days
INTERNAL GOAL: To fall in love with Ben/To be a serious writer
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: BEN
THEME: Being truthful with your partner and yourself
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Can Andie scare away Ben in 10 days or
will she fall for him?
ENDING: Andie and Ben get together.
ARC: Andie goes from a cynical ambition to finding her soul mate.

LOGLINE
A magazine columnist must get a guy to dump her in 10 days to meet a
deadline while he must get her to fall in love with him to win a lucrative ad
account.
251

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
ACT 1: Andie must date a guy and scare him off while Ben must make a
woman fall for him. They meet and start their schemes, both in denial that
there is a spark.

ACT 2A: Andie does her best to make Ben run away, but he will not dump
her.

ACT 2B: Andie falls for Ben after meeting his family and she tries to get out
of writing the article but she’s stuck.

ACT 3: Andie and Ben find out the truth about their respective motivations
and have a big public fight. Andie writes the article as an apology and Ben
rushes after her and they make up.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)

ACT ONE
1 – OPENING: ANDIE ANDERSON is the “How To” girl at Composure
Magazine. She writes about situations that she lives, but what she REALLY
wants to do is write serious pieces like her story about bringing peace to
Tajikhistan. But this is not right for a fluffy women’s magazine. Andie has
two female coworkers who are her ALLIES.

5 – BEN needs to win the diamond account at his ad agency. He and his two
ALLIES, his co-worker buddies, must beat out the two Judy’s, who currently
have his boss’s eye.

10 – INCITING INCIDENT: Andie’s boss LANA shoots down her proposal to


write serious columns. Andie must write an article about what NOT to do
with guys. Lana dubs it “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” 10 days is Andie’s
deadline to go to press. She must find a guy fast and start dating him as the
girlfriend from hell, or she’ll never win Lana’s approval to write serious
articles.
252

12 – The Judy’s meet Andie and hear about her quest to drop a guy in 10
days.

17 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: Ben must make a woman fall in love


with him and take this woman to the big diamond party...in 10 days. Judy
sees Andie in the bar and chooses her, knowing she’s a lost cause for Ben.

20 – Ben picks up Andie -- both are enthusiastic to meet one another, for
their own secret and opposing reasons.

First Date – Andie tries to scare Ben and he’s trying to be romantic and
listen.

27 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: They KISS, and for a moment it seems like
both forget about their schemes. As the night ends, both think they have
the upper hand.

29 – DECISION: Andie’s scheme with the Knicks tickets works. Ben thinks it’s
his scheme.

ACT TWO-A
31 – Their second date, the Knicks game; Andie ruins the game for Ben.

39 -40 – FIRST STRIKE/FIRST CASUALTY: Andie takes him to a chick flick,


where Ben gets punched out. As Andie cradles him, there’s a SPARK there;
she likes him. Her plan is in jeopardy.

55 – MIDPOINT: Andie shows Ben her Family Album: pics of their future
children she made with Photoshop. Ben’s mother calls Andie at his
apartment, Andie bonds with her. New throughline: Andie joining Ben’s
family.

60 – WAR: Andie crashes Ben’s poker party. He explodes and breaks up


with her, but his allies convince him to patch it up or they’ll lose the ad
account. He suggests couples therapy.
253

ACT TWO-B
75 – DECLARATION OF WAR/ASSUMPTION OF POWER: The “Bullshit” card
game -- Andie fails at first but starts to beat Ben with the help of his family.
Family tells her she was the first person to beat Ben, and the first girl he
ever brought home.

80 – Andie expresses real feelings for Ben. His mom “really hugged” her,
she was touched.

82 – Andie and Ben make love. She has completely fallen for him.

86 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: Andie tries to get out of the article, but Lana
won’t let her off the hook. She has two days to finish it by deadline. She’s
stuck.

87 – DECISION: Andie decides to go ahead with the article.

ACT THREE
92 – At the diamond party, Ben’s Boss gives him and his allies the diamond
account.

94 – Guys tell Andie about Ben’s bet and Lana tells Ben about Andie’s
article. They both know the truth.

95 – Andie causes a scene on stage, calls Ben up for a song. Both fight in
song.

100 – TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN: They break up. Andie lost Ben and
broke her heart.

102 – Andie quits her job when her boss won’t let her write about politics.

105 – Ben is given Andie’s article by his Ally; Andie wrote that she made the
biggest mistake of her life. (note: Andie’s climactic action is to write this
article, but this action is largely offscreen, which is a flaw in the film, IMHO.)
254

106 – Ben realizes he loves her – he must catch her before she leaves for
Wash, D.C. for a new job. Ben chases after her cab on his motorcycle.

108 – CLIMAX: Ben catches Andie on the Brooklyn Bridge. She thinks she’s
doing the right thing and it’s the only way she can be a true writer – he calls
“Bullshit!” He knows she’s only running away. They kiss.

110 – END.
255

On the job as a reader, one of the most glowing coverage reports I ever
gave was to Sam and Ivan Raimi’s “The Curse.” It was a perfect fit for my
employer at the time, but for reasons unknown to me, the script didn’t get
set up.
The film took years to get made and it was ultimately renamed “Drag Me To
Hell.” The result is a tight horror story that never stops moving forward with
cleverly plotted set pieces and escalating conflict until a bold, BIG ENDING.
Sure, there’s a lot of disgusting goo and shameless shock cuts, but, you have
to admit, it’s a lot of fun, right?

Note how the length is short so the signpost beats after the Midpoint fall
earlier than they would with a 110 page script.

DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)


Written by Sam Raimi & Ivan Raimi
Directed by Sam Raimi
Running Time: 93 mins.

BASIC STORY MAP

PROTAGONIST: CHRISTINE, 20’s, farm girl turned loan officer


Misbehavior: Passive
Skill: Hidden strength (she’s a fighter when pushed)
Flaw/Achilles Heel: Dishonest
EXTERNAL GOAL: To escape the curse
INTERNAL GOAL: To get the promotion to Assistant Manager
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: Mrs. Ganush
THEME: Take responsibility for your actions
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: How will Christine survive the curse?
ENDING: Christine makes a fatal mistake and is dragged into hell!
ARC: Christine goes from a meek girl who blames her treatment of Mrs.
Ganush on her boss to a fighter who ultimately owns up to her mistake.
256

LOGLINE
A meek loan officer has three days to escape a gypsy curse that will damn
her to hell.

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
ACT 1: Christine tries to prove herself to her boss but she is cursed and
attacked by Mrs. Ganush.
ACT 2A: Christine fights against the Lamia’s attacks and struggles to rid
herself of the curse.
ACT 2B: Christine fails to win over Clay’s parents and the séance goes awry.
ACT 3: Christine must give the curse back to Mrs. Ganush but she makes an
error, sealing her fate.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)

ACT ONE
1-3 OPENING: Pasadena, 1969 – SHAUN SAN DENA, a young exorcist, fails
to protect a little boy from the curse of the Lamia. He is dragged into hell
and she vows, “We shall meet again.”

3-5 Creepy title sequence with woodcuts, we see book of spells, images of
possessions and demons. Rule: “3 days for the curse to develop.”

6 – At the bank where she works, CHRISTINE congratulates a nice couple on


a home loan. The Assistant Manager desk is empty.

7 – Her boss, MR. JACKS, tells her the Asst. Mgr. position is between her and
STU, the new guy who’s “able to make the tough choices.”

8 – Christine visits CLAY DALTON, her boyfriend. She found him a 1929
“liberty” quarter for his coin collection; he puts it in a white envelope.
257

9 – Christine overhears Clay talking to his mother on the speaker phone;


Mom doesn’t like Christine, the “girl from the farm.”

10 – INCITING INCIDENT: Gypsy woman, MRS. GANUSH, begs Christine to


give her another extension on her mortgage so she doesn’t lose her home.

13-16 – Christine rejects Mrs. Ganush, who begs on her knees, making a
scene in the bank. Mr. Jacks tells Chrstine she’s at the top of list for Asst.
Manager.

18-21 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: In the dark parking garage, Mrs.


Ganush ambushes Christine. They have a brutal fight and Christine shows
hidden strength, but Mrs. Ganush pulls a button off her coat, curses it,
saying “Lamia.”

28 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: Rham Jas, psychic fortune teller, reads
Christine’s palm and tells her she was cursed. Clay tries to convince
Christine that Rham is a con artist.

30 – DECISION: Christine trusts that Clay is right and stays at home alone
that night with his kitten.

ACT TWO-A
33 – Christine is attacked by the ghost of the Lamia, knocked down, gets a
split lip! She keeps it a secret from Clay so he doesn’t think she’s crazy.

40 – FIRST TRIAL/FIRST CASUALTY: At bank, Christine spews blood all over


her boss and Stu steals her file for the big loan she’s been working on.

41 – Christine visits home of Mrs. Ganush, which is filled with gypsy


revelers. Christine tries to tell Ganush’s niece that it was her boss’ decision
to throw out Mrs. Ganush, not hers.

44 – COMBAT: Christine doesn’t realize it’s a funeral—she backs into the


coffin holding the dead Mrs. Ganush and the body falls on top of Christine—
embalming fluid spills into Christine’s mouth!
258

44 – Rham Jas explains she’s been cursed by the Lamia, the black goat. The
rules: after three days, the Lamia will come for the cursed button and take
her to hell. Christine can’t sacrifice an animal to ward off the curse as Rham
suggests.

50 – MIDPOINT: After another attack from the Lamia, even worse this time,
Christine kills Clay’s kitten! Thinks the curse is lifted.

ACT TWO-B
52 – Christine meets Clay’s wealthy parents; his MOTHER is a major bitch.

58 – Christine’s hallucinations return; she coughs up a fly and freaks out.


Clay’s mother tells him not to go after her.

60 – WAR (External): Ram Jas tells Christine that her only hope is Shaun San
Dena, but it will cost $10,000. She has one day left before the Lamia comes
for her.

61 – WAR (Internal): Christine loses the assistant manager job to Stu


because her deal fell through.

64 – Clay comes to her aid: he paid Ram Jas the money for the exorcism.

66 – Christine meets the older Shaun San Dena (from the opening
flashback), ready to get her revenge on the Lamia.

68 – Set piece: the séance. Shaun San Dena explains the rules: she will make
the Lamia possess her, Christine must put Dena’s hand on the goat and
MILOS will slay the goat.

70 – DECLARATION OF WAR/ASSUMPTION OF POWER: Christine conquers


her fear and helps to summon the Lamia. The Lamia vows to take Christine
to hell.

75 –Lamia wreaks havoc, possesses Milos and almost kills Christine but she
evades him.
259

76 – Shaun casts the Lamia out of Milos and she dies.

78 – END OF ACT TWO TURN: It’s not over. The Lamia is still alive –
Christine must give the curse to another by giving them the button; Rham
Jas puts it in a white envelope.

DECISION: Christine will find a subject to curse.

ACT THREE
80 – Christine and Clay driving; Clay’s papers fall on the floor of the car over
the envelope.

84 – Christine tries to give Stu the envelope but can’t do it.

85 – TRUE PT. OF NO RETURN – Christine formulates the plan to give the


cursed button back to Mrs. Ganush; she digs up Ganush’s grave in the
pouring rain.

88-89 – CLIMAX (EXTERNAL): Christine shoves the envelope in corpse’s


mouth. The grave fills up with water, she’s knocked out, but escapes, alive.

90 – CLIMAX (INTERNAL): At home, safe. Mr. Jacks leaves message; he


caught Stu, fired him. Christine got the job!

91-93 – EPILOGUE: She meets Clay at Union Station to go on a romantic


getaway (he has an engagement ring in his pocket). She admits to Clay that
she made the decision to deny Mrs. Ganush’s loan. Clay pulls out her
button! It got mixed up with his liberty quarter, in similar white envelopes.
Christine is dragged to hell!
260

As Good As It Gets is just flat-out great screenwriting. It balances a large


ensemble of speaking roles with a rock-solid active structure, shows
character through action, and gives us some of the most wickedly delicious
dialogue of Jack Nicholson’s long career (a tall order). It’s not afraid to get
ugly, while being absolutely hilarious. It’s long, but it never drags. I
encourage you to watch it again if you haven’t seen it in a while.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997)


Story by Mark Andrus
Written by Mark Andrus & James L. Brooks
Directed by James L. Brooks
Running Time: 139 mins.

BASIC STORY MAP

PROTAGONIST: MELVIN UDALL: 50’s, shut-in, rich novelist in NYC


Misbehavior: Obsessive-Compulsive disorder
Skill: Good at helping people (once he finally does it)
Flaw/Achilles Heel: Lack of human compassion
FALSE GOAL: To isolate himself
EXTERNAL GOAL: To belittle Simon / Be a good friend to him
INTERNAL GOAL: To use Carol / Win over Carol as a girlfriend
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: Melvin’s pessimism
THEME: Don’t let pessimism rule you.
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: Can Melvin learn to love others?
ENDING: Melvin offers Simon his home and gets together with Carol.
ARC: Melvin goes from isolationist jerk to friend and lover, learning that to
receive happiness and support he must first give of himself.

LOGLINE
An obsessive-compulsive, homophobic novelist must help his gay artist
neighbor in order to win over the single mother he secretly loves.
261

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
ACT 1: Melvin's isolated world is challenged by his gay neighbor and his
sassy waitress.

ACT 2A: Melvin must take care of his neighbor's dog and get Carol back to
work. He must restore order to his once pristine world but events are
conspiring against him.

ACT 2B: Melvin must win Simon and Carol’s trust. They bond, leaving him
alone.

ACT 3: Melvin must commit to being more open, less selfish and to care for
Simon and Carol if he truly wants happiness.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)

ACT ONE
1 – OPENING: MELVIN UDALL stuffs his neighbor SIMON’S dog down the
trash chute. When Simon finds out it was Melvin, he tells him “Mr. Udall,
you don’t love anything.”
Central Dramatic Question: Can Melvin learn to love others?

9 – INCITING INCIDENT (EXTERNAL): Frank threatens Melvin to be nice to


Simon or he will hurt him.

10 – Intro: CAROL the waitress

13 – INCITING INCIDENT (INTERNAL): Melvin makes a terrible remark to


CAROL about her sick son.

22 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: Melvin asks Carol about her son, his
first gesture of interest in others.
262

27 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: After Simon is attacked, Frank leaves Simon's
dog Verdell with Melvin.

28 – DECISION: Melvin begrudgingly feeds the dog bacon to push it away,


but the dog likes it. Melvin begins to care for another living creature.

ACT TWO-A
35 – FIRST TRIAL / FIRST CASUALTY: The dog is taken away and Melvin is
devastated.

42 – Carol is not at work and Melvin gets kicked out of the restaurant by the
Manager.

45 – COMBAT: Melvin shows up at Carol’s door. She freaks out.

Melvin pays for his doctor to treat Carol’s son. Carol is initially reluctant to
accept the help but her mother convinces her to take it.

61 – MIDPOINT (EXTERNAL): Melvin tries to help Simon by showing him


how to win Verdell over with bacon. This fails and the dog prefers Melvin.

66 – MIDPOINT (INTERNAL): Carol tells Melvin “I’m not going to sleep with
you, ever.”

ACT TWO-B
76 – DECLARATION OF WAR / ASSUMPTION OF POWER: Melvin agrees to
drive Simon to Baltimore, as a way to win over Carol.
79 – Melvin uses Carol’s guilt to get her to go on trip with him and Simon.
85 – END OF ACT TWO TURN (EXTERNAL): The three go on a road-trip.
87 – END OF ACT TWO TURN (INTERNAL): Simon tells the personal story of
his father kicking him out.
90 – DECISION: Melvin tells his own sob story to try to make a connection
with them; it fails. They bond, he’s left out, hitting bottom.

ACT THREE
92 – Carol asks Melvin out on a date.
263

100 – TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN: Melvin: “You make me want to be a


better man.”
(Melvin takes a risk and reveals his interest to Carol)

102 – Carol kisses Melvin (her True Pt. of No Return).

104 – Melvin blows it by insulting her and admitting he wanted to use her;
she storms out.

107 – Simon sketches Carol, calls his parents and tells them he doesn’t need
their money and he wants to reconcile (Simon’s True Pt. of No Return).

121 – CLIMAX (EXTERNAL): Melvin lets Simon stay with him, and he turns
to Simon for help.

123 – Simon stands up to Melvin (his Climax). Tells Melvin to “go to her.”

125 – Melvin takes Simon’s advice and offers him his home to stay.

130 – CLIMAX (INTERNAL): Melvin appreciates and praises Carol. She finally
accepts him, warts and all. He grabs her (getting over his germaphobia) and
kisses her!

133 – FADE OUT. [No Epilogue]


264

Sunset Boulevard is the classic tale of a desperate screenwriter who gets


seduced by an insane silent movie star. (We’ve all been there, right?)

Cynical, thrilling, funny, satirical, ironic, the list of ways to describe this
masterpiece can go on. It delivers one of the great screen villains, Norma
Desmond, and one of the classic Film Noir protagonists, Joe Gillis. Notice
how Joe thinks he’s in control but the balance of power continues to shift in
Norma’s favor.

It’s dated at times, but its achievement remains the same: dark, economical
storytelling at its best.

SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950)


Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M. Marshman Jr.
Directed by Billy Wilder
Running Time: 110 minutes

BASIC STORY MAP


PROTAGONIST: JOE GILLIS, struggling screenwriter
Misbehavior: Cynical
Skill: Good writer
Flaw/Achilles Heel: Materialistic
EXTERNAL GOAL: To write the script for Norma Desmond to jump-start his
career
INTERNAL GOAL: To use Norma for money/ to be with Betty
MAIN DRAMATIC CONFLICT: Norma
THEME: Greed kills
CENTRAL DRAMATIC QUESTION: How does Joe end up dead in the pool?
ENDING: Joe rejects Betty and tries to leave the house but Norma shoots
him.
ARC: Joe goes from a penniless, desperate screenwriter to sacrificing his
dignity to sell out to Norma to a final attempt to escape, which ends in
tragedy.
265

LOGLINE
A desperate screenwriter gets seduced into the lavish home of a former
silent movie star and is made to cater to her whims at the cost of his soul.

FULL STORY MAP

STORY ENGINES
ACT 1: Joe strikes a deal with Norma Desmond out of desperation.

ACT 2A: Joe gets seduced by Norma into her lavish but delusional world.

ACT 2B: Joe slips out of the house to write with Betty and they kiss.

ACT 3: Joe tries to escape but is gunned down. Norma goes insane, finally
achieving what she believes is her comeback.

THE BEAT SHEET


(note: this is not a complete scene list)

ACT ONE
0-1:30 Opening Titles Sequence: JOE GILLIS narrates as we see police cars
with sirens on. A murder has been reported; an old time star is involved. He
will tell us the facts of the story so you don't have to read about it in the
tabloids.

2 – OPENING: Body in pool, shot three times. A movie writer. He always


wanted a pool. He got it, but the price turned out to be high. The dead body
is Joe.

3 – Joe is a struggling writer in his tiny studio apartment in Hollywood. Repo


men come to take his car, giving him until noon tomorrow to get the money
or he's in trouble.

6 – INCITING INCIDENT (INTERNAL): In a producer’s office at Paramount,


script reader BETTY SHAEFER walks in, trashing Joe’s script, not knowing he’s
in the room.
266

10 – Joe’s AGENT dumps him.

11 – INCITING INCIDENT (EXTERNAL): Joe is chased by the Repo Men in his


car. He pulls into a strange driveway off of Sunset to evade them.

12 – Joe is ready to give up and move back to Dayton, Ohio, when he’s
summoned by the voice of a WOMAN, mistaking him for someone else. The
stoic butler, MAX, lets him in.

15 – Joe meets NORMA DESMOND, former silent movie star. She wants him
to bury her dead chimp in a white coffin with a satin lining.

16 – Joe: “You're Norma Desmond. You were in silent movies, you used to
be big.” Norma: “I am big. It's the pictures that got small.”

20 – STRONG MOVEMENT FORWARD: Joe begins to read Norma’s


handwritten manuscript for Salome, her big return to the silver screen, as
MAX serves champagne and caviar and Norma watches him. It's awful, but
Joe comes up with a plan.

22 – Norma hires Joe to write it but he must stay the night to finish reading.

27 – END OF ACT ONE TURN: Joe wakes up in the morning to find all of his
belongings in the room, as if he were moving in.

28 – Norma has paid Joe’s back rent. He's pissed but she's got him over a
barrel; he needs the job.
29 – DECISION: He takes the job and starts writing in the mansion as Norma
hovers.

30 – Norma makes him re-insert a scene he threw out so she's in every


scene.

ACT TWO-A
32 – Time passes – they watch her movies on her private movie screen, play
cards with Buster Keaton and other silent movie stars. It’s like time stopped
in her mansion.
267

35-37 – Norma lavishes gifts upon Joe, like a tuxedo with tails for her
upcoming New Year's Eve party. He's becoming her pet.

38 – FIRST TRIAL: Joe is moved into the main house, into the room of
Norma’s former husbands.

39-40 – FIRST CASUALTY: Max points out there are no locks on the doors in
the house because Norma has attempted suicide in the past. He reveals that
he sends her fan letters, maintaining her fantasy that she is still a huge star.

43 – New Year's Eve party in the mansion; no other guests are coming; it’s
just them!

45 – COMBAT: Joe blows up, can't take it anymore; he has a life of his own!
She slaps him, runs to her room. He leaves.

47 – New Year's party at Artie Green's apartment. Betty Shaefer is Artie's


girlfriend.

50 – Betty likes one of Joe’s stories, wants to collaborate with him on a


script. They flirt, make a connection.

52 – Joe calls Max; Norma cut her wrists! Joe rushes back to the mansion.

55 – MIDPOINT (EXTERNAL): Norma threatens to attempt suicide again. Joe


is overcome with guilt. As midnight comes and Auld Lang Syne plays, Joe
goes to Norma and kisses her. They are now lovers.

59-60 MIDPOINT (INTERNAL) – Joe runs into Artie and Betty at Schwab's
Pharmacy. Betty has got interest from Sheldrake in the script; he refuses to
collaborate.

ACT TWO-B
64 – After Norma gets a call from Paramount, they drive onto the lot to see
Cecil B. DeMille.

69 – Norma gets mobbed by crew members on the set, feeding her ego and
delusion.
268

70 – DeMille finds out that Paramount is only interested in renting her car.
He doesn't have the heart to tell her.

74 – DECLARATION OF WAR: Joe comes up with a script idea for Betty that
she loves, but he still refuses to write it with her. She and Artie are engaged
but he’s out of town on a shoot.

76 – Norma goes through a grueling beauty regimen to get ready for her
big-screen comeback that she’s convinced will be directed by DeMille.

79 –ASSUMPTION OF POWER: Joe slips out to write with Betty at her office
at night.

80-82 – Betty finds his cigarette case signed by Norma. He lies. They almost
kiss.

85 – Max warns Joe not to hurt Norma. Max reveals that he was a former
director who discovered her when she was 16, and also her first husband!

87 – END OF ACT TWO TURN (EXTERNAL): Norma finds Joe's script and
seethes with jealousy when she sees Betty Schaefer's name on the title
page!

89 – END OF ACT TWO TURN (INTERNAL): Betty tells Joe that Artie wants
her to get married right away. She's no longer in love with Artie because
she's in love with Joe.

DECISION: They kiss.

ACT THREE
91 – Same night, Norma calls Betty to warn her about Joe.

92 – Joe grabs phone, tells Betty to come visit him at the house to discover
his secret.

94 – TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN (Internal): Betty arrives at the mansion.


Joe gives her the tour of the mansion, confessing his sordid situation.

98 – Betty asks him to leave with her; he refuses and she leaves, in tears.
269

99 – Joe packs to leave; he's going to start over back in Dayton, Ohio.

100 – TRUE POINT OF NO RETURN (External): Norma shows him her gun,
threatening suicide again.

101 – Joe tells her the truth about Paramount and Max’s phony fan letters.

102 – He tries to get her to wake up but she's lost her mind, babbling that
she's the greatest star in the world. She finally cracks, for good.

103 – CLIMAX: Norma shoots Joe three times. He falls in the pool.

104 – EPILOGUE: Back to Joe's narration, his body in the pool BOOKENDING
from the opening image – the cops arrive at the house.

107 – Norma, catatonic, walks out to see the press cameras. Max directs
Norma in a scene from Salome to get her to come downstairs.

109 – Norma, completely insane, moves toward the camera for her “Close-
up.”

110 – End
270

Acknowledg ments

Thank you to al l of m y students and c l i ents for your har d


wor k, i nspi r ati on, c our age and tr ust i n m e.

Speci al thanks to m y c r ac k r esear c her s, a. k. a. “ Stor y


Mapper s:” Jam es Rober t M ar ti n, Dusti n Tanner , Mar y
Sz m agaj, G uy Mc Doual l , Mi ke Mur phy and expert edi tor i al
assi sta nts , Ron Cal vi si and Br endan McCal l .

Thank you to al l of the tal ented and suppor ti ve wr i ter s who have
been i n and out of The Wr i ter s’ Buil di ng over the year s.

Thank you to al l of the pr ofessi onal s i n the enter tai nm ent


i ndustr y that I have wor ked for , wi th and l ear ned so m uch
fr om and to al l of the pr ofessi onal s m enti oned in the “ Fr om
The Tr enches” sec ti ons.

Bi g l ove to al l of the c ats that have wal ked acr oss m y


keyboar d over the year s as I c om pi l ed thi s m ater i al . You
know who you ar e!

For m y Mother for her undyi ng suppor t of m y creati ve si de


and for m y Father for hi s fi nanci al c ontri buti ons to m y at-
ti m es cr eati vel y sta r ved bank acc ount .

Fi nal l y , thi s book i s dedi c ated to m y Copy E di tor’s conti nued


pur sui t of her l i ter ar y dr eam s. May you wr i te happi l y, wr i te
wel l and be ful fi l l ed i n your c r eati ve endeavor s , Ms. Ni col e
Schl osser .
271

Dear Scr eenwr i ter s, young and ol d, new and exper i enced,
l ocal and abr oad:
We wi ll always need g reat stori es
and great w rite rs to w rit e the m.

I t doesn't m atter i f you m ake m oney at i t —if you E NJOY I T,


then DO I T.
I hope you can be a par t of thi s am az i ng tr adi ti on of
stor ytel l i ng i n i ts m ost power ful form : m ovi es, tel evi si on and
di gi tal m edi a.

As a pur chaser of thi s book, I am happy to extend to you


d isc ou n ts and s p ec ia l o ffers on m y c onsul tati on ser vi ces,
coachi ng, cl asses and other publ i c ati ons. On m y websi te, y ou
wi l l fi nd m or e c ol l ec ti ons of Stor y Maps ( "Booster P acks") ,
fr ee downl oads and m or e i nfor m ati on about how I can hel p
you to get your sc r eenpl ay i n "subm i ssi on r eady" shape.

Go od Lu c k and H a pp y Writ in g!

Dani el P. Cal vi si

Web s it e www. Ac tFour Sc r eenpl ays. com


B lo g www. ac tfour sc r eenpl ays. com /bl og
Yo u Tu b e www. yout ube. c om /ac tfour s cr eenpl ays
Fa c eb oo k www. fac ebook. c om /stor ym aps
Twit t er www. twi tter . c om /stor ym apsda n

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