Document 203668

To all of t he aspiring screenw riters out there
who dream of turning t heir night job
into the ir day job.
Story Maps:
How to Write a GREAT Screenplay
by Daniel P. Calvisi
Copyright © Da niel P. Calvisi 2011
Published by A ct Fo ur S creenplays
Redondo Bea ch CA 902 77
Cover Design: Sonia Fiore
All rights reserved. No par t of this book may be repr odu ced in any form or
by any mea ns withou t pe rmission in wri ting f rom t he p ublisher, excep t for
the in clusion of brief q uo tation s in a review.
Library of Congress Cataloging -in-Publica tion Da ta h as bee n ap plied for.
ISBN: 9 78-0 -98 36 266 -1- 9
First U.S. Edition 2 011
Daniel P. Calvisi is a pr ofessional Story Analy st an d s creenwrite r with over
15 year s o f experien ce f ocusing full -time on the craf t a nd business of
His employers have in cluded Miramax Films, Dimension Films , director
Jonatha n Demme and Twen tieth Century Fox —he has evalua ted writte n
submissions f or the exe cu tives who develope d the films Chicago, Spy Kids,
Chocolat, Limitless , Scream, The Wedding Singer, The Game, One Fine Day
and Ulee's Gold .
Daniel has writte n o n assignmen t f or several independe nt pro ducer s an d
clients a nd has coa ched hu ndreds of private writers to better u nders tand
the p rinciples of grea t s creenwri ting and to i mprove their craft on the
written page . He ha s taught s creenwriting a n d story a nalysis at the college
level, including a t the New School University in New York City.
Daniel has also been p ublished in Script mag azine and is the Pre sident of
The Wri ters’ Building, an ex clusive ne tworki ng group and online communi ty
for p rofession al screenwriters. Daniel lives i n L os Angeles an d he of fers
classes, publica tions and his co nsulting se rvices a t :
http://actfo urscree
Scroll down to read Part 2 of
Chapter XV:
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
Melvin locks and unlocks and locks his door, counting
to five with each lock.
He turns the lights quickly on and off and on five
times and makes a straight -line towards his bathroom
where he turns on the hot water and opens the medicine
Scores of neatly stacked Neutrogena soaps. He unwraps
one -- begins to wash -- discards it -- goes through
the process two more times.
Nice details.
Here's the introdu ctio n of LT. DAN from Forrest Gump by Eric Ro th [Based on the
novel by Wins ton Gro om; Pa ramoun t Picture s] . Roth cho oses to use very little
descriptio n, letting the dialogue and actions speak fo r him...
Lieutenant DAN TAYLOR steps out of a tent. Shirtless,
he holds a roll of toilet paper in his hand.
You must be my F.N.G.'s.
Morning, sir!
Ho! Get you r hands down. Do not salute
me. There are goddamned snipers all
around this area who would love to
grease an officer. I'm Lieutenant
Dan Taylor. Welcome to Fourth Platoon.
Lt. Dan looks at Bubba.
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
What's wrong with your lips?
I was born with big gums, sir.
Yeah, well, you better tuck that in.
Gonna get that caught on a trip wire.
Where you boys from in the world?
Alabama, sir!
You twins?
Forrest and Bubba look at each other o ddly, they don't
get the joke.
No, we are not relations, sir.
Concise an d f unny , it works.
Here, the s creenwrite rs o f The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch
and the Wardrobe [Ann Peaco ck and Andrew Adamson an d Christopher
Markus & Step hen McFeely , Base d o n the bo ok by C.S. Lewis ; Wal t Disney
Pictures , Walden Media] manage to achieve a nice sense of w onder...
The Centaur stares at him, unmoving.
We...have come to see...Aslan.
The centaur says nothing.
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
Suddenly behind them all of the creatures kneel,
leaving the three Pevensies standing alone.
Peter blinks. Suddenly, LUCY GASPS.
Just below the tent flap ENORMOUS PAW.
The flap parts, and there in the shining sunlight
stands a
LION. He ga zes at them. His mane shimmers.
Lucy stares for a moment...then KNEELS. The Beavers
drop to all fours, bowing their heads.
Peter and Susan awkwardly go down on one knee.
Aslan addresses the CHILDREN in a BOOMING VOICE.
Welcome, Peter, Son of Ada m.
Welcome, Susan and Lucy, Daughters
of Eve.
Another. Comple tely differen t feel. F rom American History X , by David M cKenna
[New Line Cinema] ...
TIGHT ON DEREK VINYARD. The young man has a shaved
head, a trimmed goatee, and a SWASTIKA on his right
tit -- the center of the symbol crossed perfectly at
the nipple.
McKenna calls a man 's ches t a “ tit.” I t gives an edge, an inten sity, a s treet feel to
this yo ung man. An d yo u n otice he pu ts swa s tika in CAPS, be cause i t's such a
strong image and it immediately a n d d ramati cally intro duces the themes of whi te
supremacy and ha tred tha t will permea te th e sto ry. This demons tra tes the need
for yo u to...
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
Sometimes it's jus t one distin ctive wor d or p hrase that brings the zing.
In Collateral , Stua rt Beattie calls Vincen t's g un by its dealer n ame: PARA ORDNANCE. An unwieldy term to be s ure, mu ch mo re so than jus t "pistol" or
".45 ," bu t dis tinctive and memorable and it makes the writer sou nd like he really
knows wha t he's talking ab out. After the firs t couple times we read it, ou r eye
skips over i t a nd the tex t flows fas ter.
around a corner, clearing space. Fast. His Para Ordnance up.
Max and Annie running, now... Vincent sees vague
BOOM-BOOM! BOOM -BOOM! Gunshots punch through the
glass, inches from Max and Annie, collapsing walls
revealing Vincent against the LA-scape.
Blossoms of white flame: BOOM -BOOM...
Clearing space...collapsing walls...blossoms of white flame ...very nice w ord
William Monahan u ses the adjective "flash" s ev eral times in The Departed , to
denote the con tras t be tween the rich up per - crus t world that Colin (Ma tt Dam on)
aspires to a nd the filthy underbelly tha t he must cater to, as here on page 20...
A REALTOR switches on l ights. An empty, flash
apartment above
the Parisian rooftops of Beacon Hill. A view of the
More than you'd think a cop could afford.
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
On page 8 , Mona han comes up with a clever linguistic take on a gene ric tension
device as BILL Y ( Leona rdo DiCaprio ) takes th e police ex am...
A CLOCK TICKS, sweep hand coming around.
I love tha t "sweep han d" term . Never seen i t. And I like h ow he didn 't bo ther with
the CL OS E ON Billy's eyes, he jus t sh owed us BILL Y'S EYES, so naturally we view
this sh ot in our minds eye in Close Up. We d on't need the "direction ."
Here's a lus ty momen t from Casanova [Scree nplay by Je ff rey Hatcher and Kimberly
Simi; Tou chs tone Pictures] page 4 o f the pro duction draft...
My husband!
Casanova runs i nto a dark closet. The darkness becomes
the interior of a covered gondola.
We pull away and see the boat floating in a canal -legs sticking out from all sides from under the felze.
What in the name of Caravaggio is "felze?" I have no idea, bu t i t s ounds like
something they'd have in Veni ce in 17 97 , s o I'm on board with it.
Let's look at a quick moment from Wes Ande rson a nd Owen Wilson's
Rushmore [Tou chs tone Pictures] ...
Mr. Fischer holds up a hand mirror so Gordon can see
the back. Gordon nods.
Max come s in rolling a Japanese ten -speed at his side.
The p hrase "r olling a Japanese te n -speed at his side" adds so much more
color tha n fla t blo cking like "Max walks in wi th his bike," or leaving out the
bike with simply "Max ente rs." The referen ce to the Japa ne se ten-spee d
says, "this is a kid" and , "remember when yo u had a Fuji ten -s peed? " It's a
conne ctio n the author makes with you.
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
Max looks across the yard at MAGNUS BUCHAN, the burly
foreign-exchange student from Scotland. He is
seventeen. He has a straw i n his mouth, and he shoots
a small blowdart at a little kid's neck.
Half of Buchan's ear was blown off in a hunting
We never kn ow fr om wa tching the film how Buchan 's ea r be came deformed.
But in mentio ning it to the rea der in a line o f what amou nt s to commenta ry
(normally a "no- no ,") , the authors clue us in to this char acter's motivatio ns
and emo tional makeu p. We not o nly see him shoo ting a blowdar t a t a little
kid, b ut we n ow kn ow why he does this kind of thing. He's a n a ngry bully.
An interes ting one. A unique one. Not be cau se he s hoo ts a blow dart at a
helpless victim (although that' s certainly m o re interes ting than , say ,
punching a kid in the arm), bu t be cause half of his ear ( not his whole ear ,
half) was blown off in a hun ting a ccide nt.
Now, if one of us were to wri te that line, we may have written the ca use of
his deformity as an accident with fireworks. But tha t w ould h ave been
wrong. The “h unting acciden t” makes us picture a domineering fa ther , a
macho insecure fa ctor, maybe an a busive h o me —when we watch the film
we SEE B ucha n re presen ts these types of trai ts d ue to the actor 's
performan ce. Bu t on paper the a cto r is not p resent, so the wri ters
compensa te with compelling prose. The wor ds fill in f or the performa nce.
Unfortun ately, eve n the pros exhibit the ba d habit of explaining too much
in their prod uction draf ts, bu t we 'll let them slide because they may be
catering to the skimming habits o f all o f the execs, actors an d crew
members who will be reading this draf t.
In this excerp t f rom Collateral , I've bolded the offe nding line f or y our
reading pleasure...
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
sit there, riding the train. Softly:
We're almost at the next stop.
Vincent smiles faintly. He leans his head toward Max
as if conferring a secret. In a ha lting whisper:
Hey, Max... A guy gets on the MTA
here in LA and dies.
(off Max's look)
Think anybody...will notice?
looks into Vincent's eyes. It means "I'm that guy" and
"will anybody notice that once...I was here?"
leans back, gazing straight ahead now. Rocking gently
with the motion of the train. And then Vincent's no
longer rocking. In fact, Vincent's no longer doing
anything. Ever.
We know w hat Vince nt means, an d we get th e call ba ck to the firs t
exchange between him an d M a x in the ope ning pages. No need to poin t i t
out. I t's e specially extraneou s, considering this elegant momen t on the last
page of the script, the las t we 'll ever see of Vincent the ass assin...
WE HOLD ON Vincent for awhile. Riding the train by
himself, his head forward as if sleeping, alone in the
Another dead guy on the subway...riding somewhere.
I will conce de that commentary of ten works for his torical or cul turally
complicate d pie ces, to p rovide fa cts to the r eader.
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
For example , S tephe n Gagha n's Syriana [War ner Bro s. Pictures, Par ticipan t
An ancient grotto where the early Christians used to
hide, be discovered, and executed. A tourist
attraction, it's a cool, vast, dimly lit, subterranean
I'll leave it up to yo u to decide if that little h istory of the gr otto aids the
script or no t. If one co nsiders tha t the goal with submission was to find a
produ cer in teres ted in the Middle Eas t , then I'd war rant it was appre ciated.
But to o many of these asides would qu ickly make the scrip t in to a history
lesson, an ex cuse for an amate ur wri te r to s how o ff their rese arch.
Here are a couple mo re ex cerpts fr om The D eparted , wha t I'd label go od
and ba d.
Here, M onaha n toes the line of explana tion and sh owing...
Church wants you in your place.
Do this don't do that, kneel, stand,
kneel, stand...I mean if you go for
that sort of thing...
YOUNG COLIN, the recent altar boy, visibly doesn't go
for that sort of thing.
...and it work s. Bu t nex t, this pa renth etical is in dire need of a re d pe n !
(not vainglorious, but
innocently stretching for
the idea)
You're in trouble if you're "only"
Vainglorious ? Innocently stretching ? Will the se terms be on the tes t,
Professor Abercr ombie Yoshihiro ?
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
There a re differe nt meth ods for cap turing th ose momen ts whe n the pulse
must ra ce. Here's an example o f an a ction se quence from To ny Kus hner and
Eric R oth's screen play Munich [Base d o n the Book “Vengean ce” by Geo rge
Jonas. Dreamwo rks SKG , Universal Pictures ] . It's dy namic a nd it flows well,
but with no CAPPING, it ce rtainly feels differ ent than a thriller like
Collateral. Softer , perhaps ? Wa s this in tenti onal, since Munich is a
historical drama?
Avner leans further in. He can just see th e foot of
the bed, and al -Chir's legs sliding under the
bedclothes. He lowers himself back to his own balcony,
goes in his room, switches off the light.
A beat, and then an enormous explosion; the wall
Avner's room shares with al -Chir's is pushed in and
falls over, intact, knocking Avner back onto his bed.
The fan in the ceiling above is sheered off and falls,
nearly hitting Avner.
Smoke and flames explode from al -Chir's room across
his balcony.
Glass and plaster and stone rain down on the street,
bouncing off a car in which Steve and Carl are
Seems a bi t o dd tha t they wouldn 't cap an "e normous explosion ," d oesn' t it? Jus t
for the s ake o f resea rch , le t's look a t an o the r Eri c Ro th action sce ne, from Forrest
Sto ry Map s: Ho w to Wri te a G RE AT Screen p l a y Cal vi si
Forrest looks up as the sun suddenly appears.
Forrest's platoon is attacked. A bu llet kills the
soldier standing next to Forrest. Bombs expl ode all
around as the soldiers scramble to the ground.
Take cover!
Forrest crawls over a berm as bullets fly overhead and
explode all around him.
Yeah, I think i t's safe to say tha t Eric Ro th d oesn't like CAPS...but I'm n ot going to
argue with the writer of Forrest Gump, The I nsider and Ali so we ’ll call it even.
End Excerpt from
Story Maps: How to Write a GREAT Screenplay
by Daniel P. Calvisi
“ There i s a lot of g reat advic e he re…
Most i mportant, as I read Calvi si’ s Story Ma ps,
I was in spired to rethink my curr ent project .
And that’s what it’ s a ll about, right? ”
-Script Magazin e
Read more excer pts , get free downl oads and
purch ase the book at...
www.ActFourS creen .