Deciding To Write A Screenplay Or TV Pilot by Daniel Calvisi
Film Courage: What’s the first step in writing a screenplay, either for television or feature film?
Daniel Calvisi: Well, I think it’s making sure that your concept can sustain a full feature film or a series. Now in TV it’s trickier here because you not only need to have a great pilot (which is one episode of your show) but you need to have a concept that can sustain a series for multiple seasons. So you need to have what a friend of mine called a playground (a dramatic playground) which is you create this very specific world and then you put these very interesting characters into it to play and bang against each other and have lots of dramatic conflict. If that idea is something that can sustain and run for awhile, maybe that’s a better idea for TV.
Whereas feature films have closed endings, so you are going to have an idea with a beginning, middle and end. And that’s pretty much that.
Film Courage: Okay. Let’s take the feature film scenario. So [what is] the first step in writing a screenplay for a feature film?
Daniel Calvisi: I would say story mapping it out. If you have a concept that you think is great and you’re passionate about it and you want to write it, write a story map (which is your basic outline). So it’s going to be for 8 to 12 major signpost beats and your 4 story engines and you’re going to define your core elements first (what I call the basic story map), which is your protagonist, their external and internal goal, the main dramatic conflict standing in the way of that goal that is going to generate all those obstacles that are really going to sustain the story. Your controlling theme which is your major meta theme that you are going to be exploring, and then a few other elements like your protagonist. You want to have your skill, their misbehavior (a misbehavior is a quirk or personality trait that consistently generates conflict) and then their achilles heel which is just that thing that could destroy them, could potentially destroy them. So once you have those core elements and then you have the major signpost beats of your outline, then you are ready to do a full scene outline and then jump in and write pages.
Film Courage: What is the first step in writing a screenplay for a TV series?
Daniel Calvisi: I would always say start the story as late as possible, enter the story as late as possible so you don’t have much set-up and so the story can get going right away.
Film Courage: Do you think sometimes new writers they overwrite and it’s too dense and they are giving us too much backstory?
Daniel Calvisi: Yeah…too much set-up. You don’t need that much set-up. Maybe you’re opening with a flash forward like in Breaking Bad. It’s like BOOM! – we are in this intense scene where there is this guy in his underwear driving an RV like a bat out of hell and he has a gas mask on. And he crashes the RV and in the script he (Brian Cranston) was called underwear man before we find out his character’s name was Walter White. But they just BOOM! dropped us right into the action and that is something that really grabs a reader.
Question for the Viewers: What are you writing right now? Movie or television?
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Paul Castro the original writer of the Warner Bros. hit movie, AUGUST RUSH.He is a produced, award winning screenwriter and world-renowned screenwriting professor. Success leaves clues and so do masterfully crafted screenplays that sell for millions of dollars.