Film Courage: You’ve talked [previously] about when you attend Tisch for Film and Television, what was the curriculum regarding writing at that time? If you were to take [those classes] today and teach there today, what would you add? What would you change? What would you keep the same?
Daniel Calvisi, movie studio reader, screenwriter and private screenplay consultant: Well, there wasn’t a ton of screenwriting when I was there. My favorite class was Screenplay Analysis, no shocker there. The first produced screenplay that I read was in that class. We read the SILENCE OF THE LAMBS which was a really great script. It was interesting because that script was exactly 120 pages and they always say one page equals one minute so it was exactly 120 minutes (2 hours) and that got me thinking Hhmm, how would this writer know that he was going to end exactly two hours in (120 pages in)? And then in the course of the class we learned about structure and how important structure was and that was structured exactly to end on page 120.
Film Courage: You said there weren’t too many classes on writing there? Of course the ones that were there, you loved.
Dan: At that time, yes.
Film Courage: How would you expand on it today? What would you add to the curriculum? Let’s say they invited you to come back as a teacher or professor?
Dan: Well, I think I would definitely emphasize television, the long form scripted television writing form. And I would probably emphasize low-budget filmmaking, writing something that could be shot on a low-budget.
Now films are being shot on iPhones and they’re getting released in theaters and they’re getting nominated for awards and winning awards. So I would go in and tell these kids they probably already know it but you can shoot a movie on anything, on any topic, on any type of equipment and if it’s good and has a great story, it could have an afterlife but it still has to have that great story.
So it doesn’t matter what technology you use. I would say learn about screenwriting and learn about structure and focus on the writing first.
Film Courage: In terms of the actual breakdown of writing a screenplay, what do you think you focus on more, structure or dialogue?
Dan: For students?
Film Courage: Yes, if you were to come back as a professor and have say with the curriculum.
Dan: I would most definitely focus on structure most. I think just flowing, short, tight storytelling. There is nothing better than a two-page scene that really advances the story and surprises us and brings up and turns direction and shows us an element of the character that we didn’t see coming. It’s all about surprise and subverting our expectations. That’s why it’s so important not to have clichés because the audience (the reader) doesn’t want to know what’s going to happen because it’s compelling if they’re surprised. So I would probably emphasize that, structure and surprising storytelling, not cliché storytelling.
Film Courage: So you went into the program thinking about the industry and knowing there were certain films that you wanted to write in a similar genre and voice. When you came out of the program, what did the real world show you? What was an eye-opener? What was a disappointment? What was more of an unplanned joyous discovery about the industry?
Dan: Well, it took me awhile to realize that working in the industry at a day job, you don’t have to be creative. They don’t want you to be creative unless you’re in a creative position. So I was so obsessed with selling a screenplay and directing my first film when I was in my early 20’s and I was doing my first day jobs as interns, as administrative assistant, as a reader and I was always looking for a way to impress the boss that they would…(Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
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