We’ve had a successful relaunch of the GITS Script Reading & Analysis series. I say relaunch because we have done this type of thing before. For the next month, I will be spotlighting previous movie scripts we have studied.
Today: Good Will Hunting (1997)
Written by Matt Damon & Ben Affleck
IMDb plot summary: Will Hunting, a janitor at M.I.T., has a gift for mathematics, but needs help from a psychologist to find direction in his life.
Links to the entire September 2011 series:
For my 7-part series on How to Read a Screenplay, go here.
Years ago, I came up with this mantra: Watch movies. Read scripts. Write pages. A link to my reflections on that here.
Cannot emphasize enough the importance of reading movie scripts.
Screenplay by Chris Morgan, characters by Gary Scott Thompson
Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his crew for the death of his brother.
Release Date: 3 April 2015 (USA)
Reading scripts. Absolutely critical to learn the craft of screenwriting. The focus of this weekly series is a deep structural and thematic analysis of each script we read. Our daily schedule:
Monday: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown
Tuesday: Major Plot Points
Thursday: Psychological Journey
Today: Scene-By-Scene Breakdown. Here is my take on this exercise from a previous series of posts — How To Read A Screenplay:
After a first pass, it’s time to crack open the script for a deeper analysis and you can do that by creating a scene-by-scene breakdown. It is precisely what it sounds like: A list of all the scenes in the script accompanied by a brief description of the events that transpire.
For purposes of this exercise, I have a slightly different take on scene. Here I am looking not just for individual scenes per se, but a scene or set of scenes that comprise one event or a continuous piece of action. Admittedly this is subjective and there is no right or wrong, the point is simply to break down the script into a series of parts which you then can use dig into the script’s structure and themes.
The value of this exercise:
* We pare down the story to its most constituent parts: Scenes.
* By doing this, we consciously explore the structure of the narrative.
* A scene-by-scene breakdown creates a foundation for even deeper analysis of the story.
This week: Frankenweenie. You may download the script — free and legal — here.
Screenplay by John August, 1984 screenplay by Leonard Ripps, original idea by Tim Burton
IMDb Plot Summary: Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.
Scene By Scene Breakdown
By Will King
P. 1: We are watching a film (title: MONSTERS FROM BEYOND!). It’s obviously an amateur production.
P. 1–2: We discover the film is a home movie. The filmmaker, Victor, runs a projector while his Mom and Dad watch. They casually comment on the film as they watch (“So that’s where my candlestick went.”).
P. 2–3: Back to the film, a toy pterodactyl attacks and toy soldiers defend the city to no avail. Suddenly comes the savior: Sparky the dog dressed as Sparkysaurus, who defeats the pterodactyl. As the troops and towns folk rejoice the projector suddenly jams, the film breaks, and movie night comes to a halt.
P. 3: Undaunted by the temporary setback, Victor, along with Sparky, climbs up to his attic workshop to repair the film and projectors. Mom and Dad discuss Victor’s lack of a social life.
P. 4: During credits we see Victor’s world in his workshop filled with inventions and movie sets. Sparky exercises on a dog-sized treadmill as Victor repairs the film. [Note: establish Victor’s inventiveness] He threads it into the projector and begins to watch again.
P. 4–5: Jump out to the larger world of New Holland, a town of cookie-cutter houses with its own iconic windmill on a nearby hill. A paperboy delivers the morning news; Dad leaves for work; Sparky retrieves the newspaper. Victor readies for school and takes Sparky out to the back yard.
P. 5: On the way, Victor meets the neighbor, grumpy Mr. Burgemeister, who is the mayor. Burgemeister claims Victor’s dog damaged his flowers. Victor promises to manage Sparky better. Burgemeister examines the newspaper, which headlines that he will kick off the Dutch Day celebration.
P. 6: As he reads, his niece Elsa leaves his house trying to avoid notice, but it doesn’t work. Burgemeister asks where her dog is and she assures him it’s safe, nowhere near his flowers. “How’s your song coming?” “Fine.” Satisfied, Burgemeister returns to admiring himself in the newspaper and Elsa heads for school.
P. 7–8: At school, Mr. Rzykruski, the new teacher (a dour, tall man with an vaguely Russian accent), greets the students. He explains their previous teacher had an accident. Edgar (E) pipes up: “He got hit by lightning.” Discussion about electricity. During the lecture we meet other students: Toshiaki, Bob, Nassor, and Weird Girl. Rzykruski says it’s rare for people to get struck. Toshiaki: “But it’s not rare…There’s a thunderstorm almost every night.” [Note: establish regularity of storms for later experiments.] The conversation devolves into various rumors and stories about the founding of the town.
P. 8–9: Back at home, Sparky plays with a ball in the yard. The ball rolls through a gap in the fence, then returns on its own a moment later. Sparky discovers a new neighbor dog, Persephone, who belongs to Elsa. They hit it off right away.
P. 9: Back in class, Rzykruski passes out permission forms for the upcoming science fair.
P. 10–11: Outside, Victor is approached by Weird Girl, who claims her cat (Mr. Whiskers) dreamed about
Victor and offers a letter “V”-shaped mound of cat poop as proof. In a series of short flashbacks she cites other students whose life events were predicted by Mr. Whiskers, preceded by cat poop mounds shaped like the letters of their first names. She warns that something big is about to happen in Victor’s life.
P. 11–12: Victor arrives at home and goes to greet Sparky in the yard. Just then E arrives and tries to convince Victor to be his partner in the science fair, but Victor prefers to work alone.
P. 12–13: At dinner Victor asks his parents to sign the permission slip, but his Dad wants to work a deal. Through convoluted logic he explains that he’ll sign the slip if Victor joins the baseball team. [Note: attempt to solve parental worries.]
P. 13–14: Victor stands with his Dad and Sparky at a baseball game. His Dad is the team coach. Victor, however, can’t concentrate as his attention is on the science fair. When he gets to bat, Sparky catches the pitch before Victor can swing. The Gym Teacher calls time out. Victor has to tie Sparky up.
P. 15–16: Elsa, Persephone and Weird Girl arrive to watch the game. Victor has trouble concentrating, returning to thoughts of Rzykruski. Victor misses pitches, but connects with the last one. Sparky works loose from his leash and chases the baseball out of the park and into the street. In a horrific accident, Sparky is killed by a passing car. [The Inciting Incident.]
P. 16: At the pet cemetery, Victor and his family bury Sparky, while at home Persephone can’t understand why her friend no longer wants to play ball.
P. 16–17: At home, Victor’s parents try to comfort him. Victor: “I don’t want him in my heart. I want him here, with me.” [Note: establish motive.] Mom: “I know. If we could bring him back, we would.” [Note: establish inspiration.] He finds no solace in his workshop. He arrives at school the next day, despondent.
P. 17–18: Victor doodles in class while Ryzkruski talks more about electricity and the body. He demonstrates how electricity animates dead frog muscles. Victor is suddenly very attentive. After class he rushes home.
P. 18–19: Victor arrives home, gathers lots of tools and gear from around the house and climbs back into his attic workshop.
P. 19: That night Victor sneaks into the pet cemetery and retrieves Sparky’s body.
P. 19: Victor returns home and sneaks Sparky’s corpse past his parents who are watching TV.
P. 19–20: In the attic, Victor repairs Sparky’s damaged body, adding two huge bolts on his neck. As a thunderstorm rages outside, he sends an umbrella with attached balloons aloft. It is noticed by Burgemeister next door. Sparky’s body is hoisted aloft on an ironing board while a mish-mash of homemade lab equipment hums.
P. 21: Lightning strikes! The current surges through Sparky, but in the end it seems to have failed. As Victor mourns his loss, suddenly Sparky comes to life. Dog and boy are reunited.
P. 22–23: Victor and Sparky asleep in the attic. Mom searches for him in his bedroom, then in the attic. Afraid to let his mother see Sparky alive, Victor hides Sparky under a bucket just as Mom enters. If he wants waffles for breakfast she needs her waffle iron back. As she reaches for it, the bucket moves all on its own. Victor claims it’s a robotic bucket, his science fair project. She leaves, and as Victor leaves he confines Sparky to the attic.
P. 24–27: Victor heads off for school while his mother cleans house. Upstairs in the attic, Mr. Whiskers appears in the window. A chase ensues in which Sparky and Mr. Whiskers tear up Burgemeister’s flower garden. [Note: establish animosity between Sparky and Mr. Whiskers that will figure in the final sequence.] Mr. Whiskers escapes. Sparky wanders to Bob’s house where he terrifies Bob’s Mother as a monstrous shadow. Afterword, Sparky wanders through the city park and eventually ends up at school where he’s discovered by E.
P. 27: Sparky heads home. He and Persephone get reacquainted. She licks one of his neck bolts, which shocks her, giving her poodle hair white stripes a la Bride of Frankenstein.
P. 27–28: Victor arrives home and heads up to the attic. At first no dog, then Sparky appears. He seems tired, so Victor plugs Sparky in to the wall to recharge him. His mother calls him downstairs.
P. 29–30: Victor comes downstairs to find E, who tells Victor that he knows about Sparky and he wants to learn what happened or he’ll expose what Victor has done. E: “Show and tell Victor: you show me and I won’t tell.” Victor relents and takes E up to the attic and explains how he brought Sparky to life.
P. 30–31: E goes to the pet store and buys a dead fish.
P. 31–32: E returns with his pet shop prize. He and Victor try to revive the dead fish. However, when the experiment is done the fish has disappeared. But wait! They discover that not only is the fish alive, but also invisible (except when shining a flashlight through the jar).
P. 32: As E leaves, Victor warns him that he must never tell anyone. E promises, with fingers crossed behind his back.
P. 32–34: Inside Bob’s garage, Bob and Toshiaki examine E’s water-filled jar in disbelief; however, they soon discover the invisible fish using a flashlight. Worried that E’s project is better than theirs, they usher him out and begin to plot how to improve their own. Toshiaki is inspired by a rocket poster on the wall.
P. 34: Next day, Victor again locks Sparky in the attic and heads for school.
P. 34–36: At school, Nassor confronts E about his invisible fish. E finally admits and allows Nassor to examine it, but Nassor finds nothing in the jar. E is confused. Nassor: “That trophy will be mine!”
P. 36–37: On the way home from school E catches up with Victor and explains his fish has disappeared. Maybe the effect is temporary. Victor rushes home to see if the same fate has befallen Sparky. He arrives home and momentarily can’t find Sparky, but is soon received to see his dog. They go to sleep.
P. 37–39: At Bob’s house, Bob and Toshiaki try out their new science fair project: a soda bottle rocket pack, with Bob as the crash test dummy. The test works for a moment. Toshiaki videos as Bob flies momentarily, then crashes, breaking his arm. [Note: establish Toshiaki’s video habit for later.] Bob’s mother: “What were you boys doing on the roof?” Boys: “Science!”
P. 39–41: That evening at the school Victor’s Mom and Dad attend a meeting. Bob (with arm in a cast) and his mother sit on stage. Burgemeister implies the children aren’t safe and proposes that Rzykruski must leave. Victor’s parents try to defend Rzukruski, who also speaks in his own behalf, but with great disdain for the audience. “To you, science is magic and witchcraft because you have such small minds.”
P. 41–43: Back at Burgemeister’s house, Elsa sits in the backyard practicing her singing for the upcoming Dutch Days pageant. At the same time, Victor lets Sparky out into his backyard. Victor and Elsa chat while Victor struggles to keep Sparky hidden. Elsa mistakes Sparky’s barking and howling for Victor’s way of mourning the loss of Sparky.
P. 43: Back at school the next day, the children discover that Rzykruski is gone, replaced by the Gym Teacher, who assures them that the science fair is still on, but she’ll be the judge.
P. 44–45: Victor races outside to meet Rzykruski and tries to discuss his experiments with Sparky and the fish without giving away the details. Victor: “Why did one work and one not work?” Rzykruski shows him that he loved one, while only wanting to get the other over with. Victor: “I was doing it for the wrong reason.“
P. 45–47: At the baseball field, Nassor, Bob and Toshiaki debate E’s invisible fish. E says it’s real because Victor did the same thing with Sparky. He realizes too late he’s broken his promise. The other boys challenge him to reveal the secret.
P. 47–49: Back at Victor’s house, his Mom is baking. Her muffin tin is missing. She goes up to the attic to look for it. She discovers Sparky and screams, which brings Dad to the attic, then Victor. Sparky, frightened by all the commotion, leaps out of the window. Victor tries to follow but Dad stops him. They have a discussion about what’s happened. Victor: “You said yourself: if you could bring back Sparky, you would.” Dad: “Yes, but that was different, because we couldn’t! It’s easy to promise the impossible.” All agree to talk more after they find Sparky.
P. 49: The town has changed: the Dutch Day festival has begun. Sparky runs through the festival unnoticed by the crowds but frightened by every new thing he meets.
P. 49–50: Victor and his family search the yard for Sparky, then split up. As they head off, Nassor, Weird Girl, Toshiaki and E lurk nearby. They enter the house and go up to the attic workshop where Toshiaki decodes Victor’s process.
P. 50: Victor continues to search in vain.
P. 51: At the pet cemetery, Sparky finds a place to rest—next to his own grave.
P. 51–52: At the Dutch Day celebration, Victor’s parents continue to search for Sparky as the performance begins. Burgemeister introduces Elsa, costumed as a little Dutch girl, who sings the anthem she’s been practicing. Overhead, a storm builds.
P. 52–54: In a series of quick scenes, each of the students finds the creature they want to revive: Nassor his Colossus; Toshiaki, a turtle; E, a rat; for Bob, sea monkeys; and for Weird Girl, Mr. Whiskers provides a bat.
P. 54–55: Back at the ceremony, Elsa finishes her song. Burgemeister encourages the crowd to applaud, and just then lightning strikes. Each of the experiments receives a charge from the bolt.
P. 55: In Weird Girl’s room, her cat Mr. Whiskers (who had the bat in it’s mouth when the lightning struck) is transformed into a vampire cat. It flies away.
P. 55–56: At the school, E’s small rat has been transformed into a wererat that terrorizes the Gym Teacher.
P. 56: At the pet cemetery Nassor’s experiment produces a mummy hamster (huge mausoleum for a tiny creature).
P. 56: Toshiaki’s experiment produces a giant monster turtle reminiscent of the Japanese film monster turtle Gamera. The turtle is beckoned by the lights of the Dutch Day celebration and heads for town.
P. 56: Bob’s sea monkeys climb out of his backyard pool as monkey/shrimp warriors. Bob runs away screaming.
P. 57–58: Victor arrives at the pet cemetery and finds Sparky. Just as he’s about to leave he notices an open grave and mausoleum. Just then Bob arrives yelling that sea monkeys don’t look like what’s on the package. Toshiaki also arrives claiming a bigger problem, and Bob agrees. Victor now realizes this is all his fault and he has to do something. [Note: start act III: Victor changes from reacting to acting.]
P. 58–59: Back at the celebration, the giant turtle arrives just as Burgemeister is about to introduce the next event. The crowd flees, as does Burgemeister, who hides in a porta-potty. An army of sea monkeys appear from the toilet, trampling Burgemeister.
P. 59–60: The sea monkeys flood the town. Victor’s Mom and Dad hide in a phone booth as sea monkeys smash into the glass in a Hitchcockian frenzy. [Note: homage to The Birds.] The giant turtle arrives. Mom and Dad flee as it consumes the phone booth.
P. 60: The kids all begin to arrive at the festival. Nassor commands his mummy hamster to attack the giant turtle, but it’s squashed flat. Nassor gets tangled in a banner like a mummy and encased in a Russian nesting doll-painted sarcophagus.
P. 61–62: At the town square, a sea monkey eats popcorn and consequently explodes. Seeing this, Victor and Bob whip up a giant batch of popcorn and offer it to all the sea monkeys which explode as a result.
P. 62: E, Elsa and Persephone are threatened by the wererat. Victor and Sparky run to help. Sparky battles the wererat until it bites one of his bolts, which shocks the rat back to normal size.
P. 63: The turtle monster is drawn to the lights of the Ferris wheel. Broken beer barrels flood the area with liquid. Toshiaki climbs to the top to film his experiment. The monster attacks and Toshiaki calls for help. The monster’s tail smashes a fuse box which gives Victor an idea. He throws a live electrical cable into the beer and the shock destroys the giant turtle.
P. 64: Persephone is kidnapped by the vampire cat. Elsa gives chase, dropping her candle-laden hat and wig. Victor hears Elsa’s cries and runs to help. Sparky follows but can’t keep up, so he grabs Elsa’s wig and goes another direction.
P. 64–65: Back at Town Square, the festival-goers gather, carrying torches since all the lights have gone out. Sparky arrives and shows them Elsa’s wig. Thinking Sparky has hurt Elsa, the crowd chases after him toward the old windmill. [Note: homage to every mob scene from Frankenstein remakes.]
P. 65–66: Victor arrives at the windmill. Inside he finds Elsa and Persephone threatened by the vampire cat. Outside, the unruly mob arrives. Burgemeister threatens Sparky and accidentally sets the windmill on fire.
P. 66–68: Elsa tries to escape by climbing onto the hub of the windmill blades. The cat attacks, Elsa falls, catches herself on one of the sails. Victor tosses a rope which allows her to swing to safety and land on top of Burgemeister.
P. 68: Sparky and the vampire cat continue to battle. Sparky jumps to safety in Victor’s arms. The vampire cat attacks Victor, causing them both to fall into the burning windmill. Victor’s parents try to rescue him but are stopped. “It’s too dangerous.” Sparky finds Victor and pulls him to safety from the burning structure.
P. 69: Just as all seems well, the vampire cat reappears and drags Sparky back into the burning windmill. The vampire cat is about to make its final deadly attack when burning rafters break from the ceiling, piercing the cat through its heart. Sparky turns to escape but is buried as the windmill collapses around him.
P. 69–70: Later, after the fire is out, Victor and his parents gather as a fireman brings Sparky’s lifeless body out of the rubble. Victor: “You said that I need to let him go…” Dad: “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about.”
P. 70–71: The crowd gathers their cars in a circle around Sparky’s body, wires connected from batteries to the dog’s body. All of the cars rev their engines, but to no avail. Victor: “It’s okay, boy. You don’t have to come back. You’ll always be in my heart.” In the midst of their grief, they hear a thumping: Sparky’s tail wagging. A moment later he’s awake, alive again as if arisen from a nap. Persephone pushes her way through the crowd and receives a electric nuzzle from Sparky.
Writing Exercise: I encourage you to read the script, but short of that, if you’ve seen the movie, go through this scene-by-scene breakdown. What stands out to you about it from a structural standpoint?
If you’d like a PDF of the Frankenweenie script scene-by-scene breakdown, go here.
Major kudos to Will King for doing this week’s breakdown.
Tomorrow: We zero in on the major plot points in Frankenweenie.
This series started here and we already have 20 volunteers to do scene-by-scene breakdowns of contemporary movie scripts.
American Hustle: Jon Raymond
Argo: Nora Barry
Barney’s Version: John M
Enough Said: Ali
Frankenwenie: Will King
Gravity: Matt Duriez
Hanna: John Arends
Moonrise Kingdom: iamdaniel
Short Term 12: Carolina Groppa
The Artist: Traci Nell Peterson
The Social Network: N D
The Way Way Back: Ricky
If you’d like to participate and do a scene-by-scene breakdown yourself, please indicate which script in comments. We are using scripts available on our site here.
For new volunteers and those who have already volunteered, but not sent me a breakdown yet, please do so as soon as possible Thanks!
Circling back to where we started, reading scripts is hugely important. Analyzing them even more so. If you want to work in Hollywood as a writer, you need to develop your critical analytical skills. This is one way to do that.
So seize this opportunity and join in the conversation!
I hope to see you in comments about this week’s script: Frankenweenie.
“Writing is easy. Being a writer is murder.”
— Joseph Dougherty
Andrew Paxton: We’ll tell my family about our engagement when I want and how I want. Now, ask me nicely.
Margaret Tate: Ask you nicely what?
Andrew Paxton: Ask me nicely to marry you… Margaret.
Margaret Tate: What does that mean?
Andrew Paxton: You heard me. On your knee.
Margaret Tate: [she kneels] Fine. Does this work for you?
Andrew Paxton: Oh, I like this. Yeah.
Margaret Tate: Here you go. Will you marry me?
Andrew Paxton: No. Say it like you mean it.
Margaret Tate: Andrew.
Andrew Paxton: Yes, Margaret.
Margaret Tate: Sweet Andrew.
Andrew Paxton: I’m listening.
Margaret Tate: Would you please, with cherries on top, marry me?
Andrew Paxton: Ok. I don’t appreciate the sarcasm, but I’ll do it. See you at the airport tomorrow.
— The Proposal (2009), written by Pete Chiarelli
The Daily Dialogue theme for the week: Proposal, suggested by Aamir Mirza. Today’s suggestion by uncgym44.
Trivia: Sandra Bullock plays a Canadian who wants to marry her assistant (Ryan Reynolds) in order to keep her Visa status in the U.S. and avoid deportation to Canada. In real life, Reynolds is from Canada and Bullock is American.
Dialogue On Dialogue: Nothing like a faux relationship to inspire a comedic proposal.
If you have a suggestion for this week’s theme, please post in comments.
Links to the week’s most notable posts:
New Line Cinema has preemptively scooped up spec script Road to Oz, written by hot rising talent Josh Golden.
Recently I interviewed Josh and learned how he had taken an interesting proactive approach to marketing “Road to Oz,” something from which all writers can learn.
Here are links to the five installments of the entire interview:
Part 1: “I had a terrific English teacher who knew I loved writing, and loved film, and she kind of came to me and was like, ‘You know, there are people that do this thing for a living. They write movies.’”
Part 2: “A big part of it was wanting to tell this story about this man that a lot of people really don’t know anything about. You’d be surprised how many people don’t even know the Oz books came before the movie.”
Part 3: “I knew that was the way in which I wanted to tell the story. I wanted the audience to see the world how Frank sees it and how Dorothy sees it, with the help of Frank.”
Part 4: ” I knew one of the first things he was going to see was the hot air balloon taking off into the stormy sky. I knew the way he was going to be welcomed to Aberdeen was going to be reflective of how Dorothy is welcomed into Munchkin Land when she arrives in Oz.”
Part 5: “I’m a big proponent of theme and character. That’s the place I usually start from. The concept, of course, has to be original. But if you have strong characters, the rest will follow.”
Josh is repped by ICM and Heretic Literary Management.
Tom Astle and Matt Ember adapting fantasy comedy “Goblins” for Walt Disney Pictures.
John August adapting “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” for CBS Films.
Adam Taylor Barker options action thriller spec script “Dig” to Vegas, Baby Productions.
Craig Borten adapting crime drama “The Hunt for El Chapo” for Universal Pictures.
David Callahan writing remake of action comedy “Jackpot” for Focus Features.
Sarah Cornwell adapting science fiction fantasy “Dragonriders of Pern” for Warner Bros. Pictures.
Kalen Egan and Travis Sentell adapting science fiction horror “The Crawlers” for Edward R. Pressman Film Corp.
James Graham writing remake of “1984” for Sony Pictures Entertainment.
Nick Hornby adapting comedy drama “I Would Only Rob Banks for My Family” for Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Dianne Houston adapting “Adé: A Love Story” for Bruce Cohen Productions, Maddonna attached to direct.
Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy adapting drama “Boston Strong” for Twentieth Century Fox.
Steve McQueen adapting British TV series “Widows” for New Regency.
Annie Mebane and Stephen Basilone writing drama comedy “Can’t Touch This” for Focus Features.
Terry Rossio rewriting action adventure “Yucatan” for Warner Bros.
Trevor Sands writing science fiction “Sligshot” for Gulfstream Pictures.
Nicholas Stoller writing untitled Tinker Bell adventure comedy for Twentieth Century Fox.
Peter Straughan adapting drama “The Goldfinch” for Warner Bros. Pictures.
Melisa Wallack adapting crime drama “American Pain” for Warner Bros. Pictures.