Monday, April 27, 2020

Kevin James's YouTube Channel

This is some seriously funny stuff. Short films every week from Kevin James. My favorite so far is the I AM LEGEND SOUND GUY.  I have directed or produced hundreds of film and the sound guy (or gal) is the one person that can always hold up production. (And he (or she) better, because sound is more difficult to get right than the video or the lighting.) As starters here are two links.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Jim Caviezel and Daniel Brūhl Should Read - Exceptional Coverage

As Executive Producer and script editor, I've worked with screenwriter Rich Mauro for 5 years to perfect his script WHEN WE WERE GODS. Getting the structure right was easy. But the nuances took us years. Below are some of the exceptional comments from festivals and contests, including: The Austin Screenplay Awards, The Blacklist, and WeScreenplay.

Can someone ask Jim Caviezel and Daniel Brūhl to request a copy to read? Major roles for both. (Agents are ignoring us.)

Look Book Here


WHEN WE WERE GODS is a script dripping with personality. This is reflected in the unique characters, but also in the inventive action description evident from the humorous first line “Much of this is true.” The writer does a wonderful job of presenting the story in a very visual way, showing their own specific style in the description.

There’s often slight editorializing, humor, and colorful analogy that makes for entertaining moment-to-moment reading. Throw in varied language and syntax and the action was often as entertaining as the scintillating dialogue. The writer’s style is always present, but it doesn’t get distracting. The plot isn’t buried under unnecessary detail or overly literary language. The action still remains concise and clear, just a bit beyond rote fact delivery. Again, there’s personality.

I also like how the script works in a lot of conversations surrounding philosophy and religion. It’s never too preachy, yet the characters constantly have their ideologies tested in ways that often go beyond a straight conversation. Actions and plot points force characters’ backs against walls where words must be backed up with conviction and action.

Knowing early on what each character believes and seeing the differences in worldview clash is a real highlight of the script. It shapes the internal conflict and often leads to the more obvious physical challenges. It’s also presented in such a way that eschews melodrama. With the WWII backdrop, it can be tempting to rely on easy clichés or uninventive plot points. WHEN WE WERE GODS does well to forge its own path.

This script succeeds because of fantastic characters and solid structure. These two qualities make for the bedrock of any good script, but this narrative has a lot of other positives on top of this. Ever escalating tension, great moment-to-moment writing in the action description, impressive formatting – these all add up to give the impression of a very professional script.

I enjoyed my time with this story because it swings for the fences with interesting plot points, but gives us a reason to care about the action with nuanced characters. A good read from beginning to end.


WHEN WE WERE GODS is a very good script, with some truly beautiful and visionary moments. It’s a very powerful story that still somehow remains untold in cinema.

The script is emotionally charged and engaging which introduces something new to the conversation within the genre rather than relying upon themes that have been explored in previous films.  This adds a sense of urgency to the project and gives it potential to move forward as a viable film project.

If done well, this kind of movie could generate awards talk, although it will require the attachment of A-list actors, director, and producer in order to receive the requisite financing required to make it in the most meaningful manner possible.

With the right team in place and proper execution during production, this is a project that stands to attract interest on the festival circuit before landing on a premium cable network like HBO or a streaming service like Amazon given the prestige nature of the film.


Concept: TOP 1%
The concept is exceptionally luring. You've done a remarkable job. This script is almost cooked, and ready to be served and pitched.

Characters: TOP 3%
The central characters are historic figures. Roles like these are dream roles of every A-lister actor. Actors love to play historic, iconic figures. It is also an honor for the actors to be able to be a part of a big budget Holocaust film. You are going to attract big names just by tossing Hoss' name. It's going to be a casting treat. Multiple British/ American A-listers can play the role of Hoss.

Plot: TOP 4%. 
This film must be is ready to be pitched. Structurally, this script is quite strong. The dialogues are near-perfect.

Stan Williams, Executive Producer
248-344-4423 (ET)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Hollywood and Hygene

Maybe some of you saw this.  (see link below)

I will do this going forward.

Excellent article. I’m somewhat of a germaphobe. But I rarely thought of this.

This will impact budgets somewhat. Hygiene protocol will always be part of pre-production form now on. 


stan williams

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Creating Accurate Road Maps

I'm writing a story. It's a novel based on a screenplay based on a legend based on a ream of historical documents and letters. It's rich. It's about Early America and includes events like the New Orleans fire in 1788 and the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution that same year.

There's a sea voyage from New Orleans, to Philadelphia, and a covered wagon journey from York, PA to Charlestown, VA (now WV) and there is a dangerous ferry crossing at Harpers Ferry, MD when John Harper actually operated the ferry. The story is filled with political giants (Washington, Jefferson, Franklyn and the Carroll clan) and there are bigoted immigrants, religious zealots, and an unconventional slavery abolitionist.

This week I'm trying to write about the segment of the journey that takes place along 100 miles of frontier road from York to Charlestown. There's a covered farm wagon pulled by two huge conestoga horses named (Calvin and Luther), and two conestoga freight wagons pulled by two teams of four mules driven by teamsters (the predecessors of today's Teamsters).  Tied to the back of the various wagons are four smaller horses and a dairy cow.

There was research about covered wagons, farming, and money. Did you know the conestoga freight wagons were built to ford rivers and streams so the stuff inside stayed dry? This was four years before the 1792 U.S. Coinage Act, so there were some 12 different coinages in circulation all minted in different countries? The Spanish 2-escudo gold doubloon was the most popular.  And a Spanish piece-of-eight (of pirate lore) was used in trade. Very confusing when you wanted to buy something. I had to build am Excel conversion table to keep it all straight.

But what was the trip like from York to Charlestown like in early October 1788? There there many creeks to ford in early October. Did you know few traveled long distances in the spring because the roads were too muddy, and the summer was too hot. So most travel was done in the fall and winter.

I needed to construct a map for the journey, so I could name the towns (if they were around back then). And what about water crossings, and mountains? Was there a road that avoided the mountains, like through a pass?

I tired using Google Maps, which you see below. The problem with Google Maps is that the route you want to trace will only follow existing roads today. And it's hard to see elevations on Google. So, I looked up the cities and towns along the way. Most had elevations listed...but they weren't for the roads, but for hill peaks and airports. This was useful, but there was no real contour information that covered wagons might encounter.
I then found two free resources that were much better than Google Maps. The first was It provided a lot of information and I was able to see where the common roads found their way around hills and between mountain peaks.  See below for Harpers Ferry You can easily read the topographical lines and elevations and where the roads (today) are. There are also labels and the location of actual buildings (at the time of the map's creation).
But the cleanest is at
This is the United States Geological Survey site for the Advanced Map Viewer. The ease of zooming in and moving around, and other tools here, is amazing.
There are numerous tools, too, for measuring things, like distances, where you can make your own path. You're not forced to use the existing streets, but you can with little effort. Here's an example.

There are a host of tools at the top that allow you to measure square miles (BTW 1 sq. mile = 640 Acres.) the tool bar allows you to create layers, legends, add data, see elevation profiles, and paint on the map to print out or download.

There are dozens of other features at including historical maps of cities. It's all worth checking out and bookmarking in your browser.

Friday, March 20, 2020


  • Writer-Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Stars: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie and many others in minor roles.
No spoilers.

A friend of The Moral Premise blog wrote and asked:
“I watched Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the other day. I found it to be an interesting sermon on fame, relevance, meaning in life, and identity. However, I am troubled to pinpoint a specific moral premise. Any thought on this title? It felt like it was the work of a brilliant director who couldn’t quite articulate what he was trying to say.”
I wrote back:
“Why can’t I just enjoy a movie? Must I work? Geez! I have no idea what the MP is. I guess I’ll have to think about it.”
So, I did…think about it.

I enjoyed Quintin’s “Untitled 9th" as it was originally flagged. (Sounds like the title of a Symphony by a  classical composer). Production notes claim the first cut was over four hours. Someone finally got down to 161 minutes, which is 61 pages longer than you want to write your first feature. But when you're Tarantino, so the saying goes, you can get a budget for the Yellow Pages.

I was attracted to these characters and enjoyed their stories. Thus, OUATIH proves again to me that depth of characters and their relationship to the audience is directly related to length. Not any length, but a good length, and one typically longer than 100 or even 120 pages.

Let’s look at a few bullet points of the characters for a clue about what the Moral Premise might be.

Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) wants to resurrect his flagging career.
  • Why is his career flagging? Probably due to neglect and alcohol.
  • His very loyal friend and stunt-double, Cliff Booth, is honest and encouraging, “You’re fucking Rick Dalton.”
  • But Rick is not disciplined and lets this less-than-stellar-name take its toll.
  • MOMENT OF GRACE: On the set of his latest job, as the Heavy who will be killed at the end of the story (it seems this is his characters' reoccurring fate) he twice forgets his lines. That upsets him. He knows a professional is expected to show up early and know his lines.
  • He turns his life around, and the next day he nails a performance in one take. He’s rewarded by the director fawning over him (but he doesn’t take the director’s praise seriously). Yet when his co-start, 8-year old Trudi Fraser tells him, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen,” Rick tears up, realizing that integrity wins the day—not only his integrity for knowing his lines, but Trudi's for her honesty. This scene also diminishes the director's integrity, whom we think would fawn over any actor, even if the lines were screwed up. 
  • As the story continues, Rick perseveres and accepts who he is and doesn't worry about who he isn't.
  • And at the end of the movie Rick gets his long-hoped for opportunity.
Cliff Booth (Pitt) takes a backseat to his friend, Rick as his double and stuntman.
  • Cliff is comfortable in his supporting role.
  • He seeks to be a loyal friend to all he meets, if they have an ounce of integrity.
  • He is not anxious for his career. He doesn’t want to be a star. He likes to work and he’s good at it.
  • Rick goes to bat for Cliff and gets him a job as his stunt double on his latest gig. Cliff is happy about it, he's humble, and appreciative of the opportunity.
  • Cliff has little respect for bravado that often comes with stardom. Bruce Lee is portrayed as a man who is prideful and arrogant. With humility Cliff destroys Lee, but also gets fired off the set. He is disappointed but accepts his fate and happily goes back to his fall-back job as a handyman.
  • MOMENT OF GRACE: A curb-side hippie girl who he’s flirted with on occasion hitches a ride with him to where she’s living with a bunch of other girls at the Spahn ranch. On the way she offers Cliff a blow job. He makes no effort to take her up on the offer (which probably involved some latent effort at blackmail). But he is interested in what’s going on at Spahn ranch and with his old friend (from 8 years ago) George Spahn, where Cliff had worked as a stuntman.
  • At the Spahn ranch he risks his life and Rick’s beautiful Cadillac by checking in on George who has gone blind and has clearly been manipulated by the Manson Family. He demands integrity of the head young woman in charge of the girls, and of one of the hippie men.
  • This sense of being himself, not trying to be someone he’s not, and sacrificing his safety for his past friend (George), expecting nothing in return, in the end, saves the life of Rick and his new wife. Cliff's character in this regard further catapults Rick’s career and thus Cliff’s on-going work as Rick’s double.
  • Cliff's last name "booth" implies he's running the projector in the booth, and not on the screen out in front. Yet, he's absolutely necessary for the star to been seen and known. 

Sharon Tate is portrayed as a young actress who innocently wants to enjoy her new career.
  • She is innocent and faithful.
  • She even questions the “dirty pictures” theater down the street from a legit theater, an optional career that she has rejected for it has little integrity.
  • She humbly enjoys a private moment watching herself on screen at a local theater in a bit part with Dean Martin. She quietly enjoys the audience’s laughter at her prat fall. She’s not proud or haughty. There's an innocent integrity about her.
  • Her generosity to Rick at end of movie reinforces her integrity and we believe she will be successful for something other than her good looks.

Arrogance and haughtiness are consistently discredited in the story. Earlier we saw how Bruce Lee is treated for his swagger. But the “nail in the coffin” occurs when Tex Watson shows up in Act 3 with his Manson Family accomplices, and we witness how:
  • Undeserved arrogance is met with swift justice.
In these and many smaller ways the following moral premise(s) are illustrated, although it helps to know that Charles Manson (from whom Tex Watson took orders) was an undeserving, wannabe musician who was rejected by Hollywood.
A swaggering hip leads to destruction; but
Pursuit of excellence leads to possibilities.
Arrogance undeserved leads to swift justice; but
Humble integrity leads to eventual opportunity.

Borders and Quarantines, the Essence of Successful Stories


    Stories we love are about the reoccurring cosmic battle between order and chaos. They are about how (1) we fall off the serpentine border between the two extremes, how (2) we quarantine ourselves in one or the other, and then (3) how we get back our balance and live on the edge between them.

    Thus, stories that engage us are about:

    A Conflict of Values

    Life out of Balance

    The Dragon and Its Gold

    The Decent and Indecent

    An Elephant in the Room

    The Threshold into Act Two

    Obstacles that Escalate Tension

    A Protagonist's Impossible Dream

    Our Greatest Desire and Greatest Fear.

    As storytellers our current state of quarantine over fears of COVID-19 is wonderfully illustrative of the crux of all good storytelling—the Moral Premise, where characters are motivated by vice and virtue to tear down (or build up) borders or establish (or break down) quarantines. 

    Storytellers should be aware that the internal conflict of values (i.e. borders & quarantines) between characters is made external through the physical conflict seen and heard on screen. What the story is really about is the internal conflict of what external borders to erect or tear down, and what quarantines to enforce or break out of.

    Likewise, COVID-19, while essentially invisible, creates visible effects upon our body's normal biology. And that effective conflict extends to our homes, our communities, and our countries.


    Remember when Trump was demanding walls, borders, and travel bans? Many citizens objected. They believed America was a country of immigrants and great diversity. (For the sake of illustration, I'm sidestepping the "legal" vs. "illegal" equivocation). America had values that didn't discriminate. There was a way we should do things, and we needed to stay true to the practices that made us a great nation. etc. etc. At the same time there were political battles about socialism, the organizational principle of subsidiarity, and government handouts. Notice that both sides in that conflict of values had barriers going both ways. Both sides wanted to quarantine the others.

    Then, suddenly, COVID-19 changed everything, on both sides. What Trump tried unilaterally (walls, and travel bans) now governors and mayors are demanding. What Trump fought against (socialism and government handouts) now he champions.  (Why write fiction when real life is more dramatic?)

    In those real-life stories there are internal and external conflicts, and there are character arcs and situation outcomes that resulted. Both sides were involved in a fight for (or against) borders and for (or against) quarantines.

    Some years ago, just after the Sundance Film Festival, I was with a few other writers and story gurus as the guest of an actor-producer at one of those large vacation rentals in the mountains above Park City, Utah.  We spent days breaking a story down on colorful four-by-six index cards taped to a glass door wall around which we sat trying to figure out how to tell the story in subtext. We were stumped about how we should show the story and not just tell it. We had worked all day and it was now 10:30 at night with no apparent solution. We gave up and went to our respective rooms for the night. The next morning, our host (the actor-producer) came down to breakfast beaming ear-to-ear. He had figured out a solution. Referring to the protagonist, our host said, "He gives a speech!"  And then he proceeded to act out the speech, which explained explicitly (presumably to the audience) what subtext couldn't. Of course! It was perfect! It worked! We had crossed a threshold, a barrier, we were no longer "quarantined" in our little subtext rooms. What we had fought against, we were suddenly for. 
    ALL STORIES ARE THIS WAY...even stories about creating stories.

    In Once Up a Time in Hollywood, washed-up actor Rick Dalton feels quarantined. He's always playing the heavy who gets killed in Act 3. His career is fading. One day he realizes he's living next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. But there's a wall and a big iron gate that keeps him out. Then tragedy strikes (through the kindness of producer, Tarantino's, revisionist history) and Rick finds the wall/iron gate opening for him (music cue) as if by magic, and he's released from his "quarantine."

    In Knives Out, the Thrombey family is quarantined in deceased Harlan Thrombey's mansion until Benoit Blanc can knock down enough walls and barriers to find the murderer. Meanwhile Marta Cabrera, Harlan's personal assistant and nurse, is psychologically quarantined thinking she killed the novelist as she hides behind a "porous wall" of deceit (and vomit).

    In Elizabeth (the Shekhar Kapur directed Cate Blanchett's vehicles), the Queen is continually quarantined by her throne and responsibilities, as multiple figures of court and France attempt to tear down her walls or the walls around England.

    In Midway, U.S. military characters battle the walls erected by Japan's Imperial Navy in the Pacific by self-quarantining their lives in doomed dive bombers and ships to build a wall around their country and keep the Imperial Army out of America.

    In a sense, EVERYTHING is about walls, barriers and quarantines.


    The Dao Ying/Yang symbol illustrates several things about the conflict in stories and arcs of characters. Ironically, the ancient symbol visually represents one of the 2001: A Space Odyssey themes from Friedrich Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra—that of eternal reoccurrence. To the Daoist it is a symbol of the oneness of the cosmos. In a simple way the Ying/Yang symbolizes the eternally rotating day and night, and how the earth (and our lives) forever rotates between light and dark, good and evil. That is true not just physically, but psychologically.

    Therefore, a good story, as explained by The Moral Premise principle, is a conflict between the light (a particular virtue, or strength) and the dark (a particular vice, or weakness). And if you're watching a successful television series, which is eternally caught in Act 2, the conflict between that vice and virtue continues every week for years. The Ying/Yang rotates as the light chases the dark's tail, and the dark chases the light's tail, all the while the dark has some goodness to it (the white dot), and the light contains some imperfection (the black dot). This is life. This is the cosmos. There is constantly this internal and external conflict that keeps life interesting.

    But there's something significant about walls and quarantine in this symbol of the cosmos. Jordan Peterson suggests that our best life is lived in the border between the light and the dark or to use his terms: between "perfect order" and "abysmal chaos."  To be quarantined inside perfect order (the white) there would be no innovation or human progress. Why? Because innovation and progress demand we take risks and step into the unknown, the chaos. And by experimenting with things unknown in the world of chaos we discover ways to enhance the order in our lives. Likewise, if we were to keep our lives absolutely pure, we risk getting a disease for which we have no antibodies....and we die. In that case our bodies have not built up knowledge of how to deal with chaos, which is dangerous. Vaccines introduce small amounts of the disease in our healthy bodies and teach our ordered lives to develop anti-bodies. 

    Stories are like that. In Act 1 our protagonist lives in the ordered-balanced-lighted world. Everything is supposedly fine. But something alien enters his life and throws it into chaos. To solve the chaos and rebalance this life, he has to enter the world of chaos, the unknown, the dark, Act 2, the Special World. While in Act 2 he learns about the problem firsthand. In Act 2 he returns to his village with the elixir in hand to solve the problem for the rest of humanity. In this way, our protagonist lives on the border between order and chaos. He straddles the wall. An effective protagonist is not quarantined on either side—although in the early pages of Act 1 he may be quarantined—and by entering Act 2 he breaks out and crosses the threshold. Recall the Moment of Grace in LIAR! LIAR! when cashless Fletcher Reede stands on the fence line between the car pound and his ex-wife, Audrey, who holds the check book, and he suddenly realizes (music cue), "I'm a bad father. I'm a bad father."  And Audrey says, "You're not a bad father when you stop 'quarantining' yourself with your lies and show up." (Okay so she didn't say that exactly.)  But you get the point.

    So, go quarantine yourself away and write that story. That's what I should be doing, but I'm writing this instead. I'm not sure which is the quarantine...writing or finding an excuse not to write.



    Monday, March 16, 2020

    Jordan Peterson and the Moral Premise

    I do not think Jordan Peterson has read or is even aware of the Moral Premise as a book. But of the concept and how application of the moral premise applies to life and to stories that connect with people he is an expert. In this interview (from 2018) he speaks to the connection of life and stories and the moral premise for about 2 minutes from about 24:00 to 26:40. 

    Tuesday, January 14, 2020

    How to Plot a Novel

    THE ABOVE INSTAGRAM POST (1/14/20) reveals why I haven't been blogging. I've written a number of books for corporations and a couple for myself, plus editing a few more, but I've never written a novel. About 10 years ago I started to think seriously about doing so with a screenplay I was researching. The traveling I was doing in a bid to research the story, provided fodder that turned out to be much more interesting as a novel. For the movie script I was limited by time and words, and the true historical story just got better the more I traveled and the more I researched related material and characters. (The genealogical sites like and were very helpful).

    I JOKE that when I have money I make a movie, and when I don't I write or edit a book. We're still trying to make a couple of movies. While I wait for one screenplay to gain some traction in L.A. (there are things a-foot) and while I wait for the last book to be printed in mass in China, and while the H U G E boat refit project is under winter wraps until late March....I dug out the novel effort, last worked on in 2013. Altogether, I've worked on it over 10 years of research, plotting, and writing. And every time I pick it up again, there's more juicy information or ideas to include.

    THE ABOVE 6 POINTS are obviously an oversimplification. One of the unlisted things in writing any story, that I always recommend to story clients, is to read lots of material like that which you're trying to write. In that stead, and for his novel project, Pam and I just finished reading out loud to each other Ken Follett's PILLARS OF THE EARTH. It was a great read. I felt myself getting emotionally involved with the characters, and even got a mild case of vertigo one night. None of that happens when I watch a movie. Movies are over so quickly. But Pillars, due to its length (about 400K words) can last for weeks on end, two hours every night. Reading and hearing Follett's cadence for words will help when I start revising and reading out loud my own work.

    The image above is actually the carded plot of the novel I'm working on. I've actually written about 50K words of it, but stopped to revisit the plot and fully card it out. Here are the steps I've taken over the last few years, weeks, and days:

    1. Researched the historical events. There area few books and dozens of articles and references in history books of the period.

    2. Used the Story Diamond to identify the 13 main plot points.

    3. Wrote 3 drafts of the movie screenplay.

    4. Got some good and some bad notes.

    5. Let it sit for a couple years as I went onto other projects.

    6. Took two road trips to research the actual events and my imagined events. One to New Orleans and Pittsburg, and a second trip to Maryland, West Virginia and eastern Pennsylvania. Both trips were immensely rewarding in terms of discovering ironic "true to history" material, which widened the story's scope—fodder I could not include in the screenplay without turning it into a mini-series.

    7. Poured over the hundreds of photographs and documents and books and interview transcripts collected on those two trips. I couldn't get myself to commit to a novel and there was no way all the juicy discoveries could be included in a screenplay. Frustrating.

    8. Made another revision of the screenplay and pitched it a few time. No takers.

    9. Let it sit for a few years...went sailing, etc.

    10. About 8 years ago, I wrote a few chapters as a test of my novel writing skills. I wasn't satisfied. Put it aside again. Then, last month I read Dwight Swain's "Techniques of $elling Writers" and "Hit Lit" by James Hall (recommended by my friend The Other Chris Pratt)  Both books revealed that I was doing a lot of things right, and they gave me the courage to take the novel seriously. So,  I re-edited those early chapters and wrote a few more, read them to Pam, and we both liked them.

    11. But the original Story Diamond was not geared for a novel, but for the movie. And I also realized that the Diamond was not formatted (being in the diamond shape) to track subplots easily. For that I needed to horizontal surface. I have a vertically mounted 4'x8' Story Diamond on casters that I roll out for clients who come to my office for beating out a story. In that process we use a drawer full of colorful 3"x3" Post-Its. 

    Stored behind the Story-Diamond-on-casters are a couple pieces of 3/16" black Foamcor I use for small set lighting (or blocking the light).  I got them out and set them side-by-side on their sides behind my desk, and opened the drawer of Post-It's. Now, I was now able to break the story according to characters and subplots and keep each on its own colorful row. The picture on the left is 3/4 of the whole thing toward the end of the exercise. (I found the Post-It's stuck better once I dusted off the Foamcor.)

    But I was not going to be able to let this piece of Foamcor sit as a reference in the walkway behind my desk for the year it would take to write. And as more ideas came, I'd need to write out some detail notes that would not fit on the Post-It's. So I opened up Apple's Keynote, which I use for creating the slides for my workshops, and opened a new file that was 4,000 pixels (W) and 1,500 pixels (H) and recreated the Post-It plot board into Keynote. It took me a day to create the file you see here.

    Although I work on a Medium speed Mac Pro with two large displays (which I use to edit 2K and 4K video files) Keynote is not designed for such a large file. It claims to be only 451K (not big, really), but with this many cards and objects on a single large "slide" it requires some patience. The app only slowed down, however, toward the end. (I use Keynote as well (formatted vertically) for Story Diamond files.) Keynote is much better (on the Mac) for this sort of thing than anything else, including Power Point. Very easy to create, color and align objects, and change the size of both cards and text in them. [BTW: these are TEXT boxes filled with color, not rectangles with text overlaid in them. Thus, there is ONE object per card to manipulate, not two.]

    12. Once I got all the cards in place (along with a number of story notes (the cards with a lot of text on them), I grouped them with green rectangles to denote preliminary chapter groupings, with each card within a green rectangle being a scene or a sequel. The light pink near the top row are my SCENE GOALS, and the dark pink are the SCENE DISASTERS. The SEQUELS are not always individually carded but are implied by the contents. The blue is the antagonist, and the other colors are minor characters. The white boxes at the top represent most of the 13 traditional beats of a story, and the yellow boxes are dates—since this is a historical story that takes place over a 37 year period with both of the story taking place over just 4 years.

    13. I write long form projects in Scrivener, as I did the first draft of this project's screenplay (I finish up screenplays in Final Draft). I love Scrivener's flexibility for moving text blocks around. So I will use the old screenplay file for the novel. While I have about 50K already written of the first chapters, I will now populate the Scrivener folders/chapters with the chapters designated by the green rectangles in the Keynote Card file, and identify the doc-files/scenes within each Scrivener chapter by the individual cards in the Card Plot file.

    14. Finally, as I write in Scrivener on my right display, the Keynote card file will occupy my left screen, along with other writing aids like my favorite: Thus, I can keep updating the card plot as I write, and it allows me a bird's-eye view of the story, showing me how the scene I'm currently writing connects to the whole.



    Tuesday, November 26, 2019

    The Other Christopher Pratt Pod Cast

    For all you aspiring screenwriters out there, here's a treat. My friend "The Other" Chris Pratt was interviewed by The Script Lab about his audacious upbringing and life. There is a lot of wisdom in what he says about his effort to become a screenwriter....a Jedi Screenwriter. It's worth a listen (aside from a particular shout-out, which-has-nothing-to-do-with-why-I-pass-this-along...really.)

    Sunday, September 15, 2019

    Sabriya of Shanghai

    A Martial Arts Thriller

    The specially skilled and statuesque wife of a British diplomat to China risks revealing her past in the sex industry and scandalizing Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service when she launches a daring night-time rescue of her secret son from ruthless organ harvesters.

    Friday, September 13, 2019

    Stan Speaking at Michigan Workshop - Oct. 5 (Sat)

    On October 5 I'm speaking on The Moral Premise at 
    The Path of Consciousness Spiritual and Writing Conference and Retreat.  

    Talk Title: 
    How the Hero Finds Healing on the Journey
    For more information, and to register, visit - See our VIDEO at - Email: and Phone: 586-231-6175
    DESCRIPTION: In his one-hour workshop, Dr. Stan Williams will share with us the fundamental traits of all successful story telling that connect with film audiences and novel readers. These traits have everything to do with your hero’s journey of healing from weakness and vice, to strength and virtue. To some these are miracle remedies that through our characters provide mental, spiritual, and physical healing, not just to the characters we create, but also for the writer and the story consumer. You’ll learn about the importance of irony, struggle and conflict, and how we, along with our characters, can only heal ourselves by confronting and over coming conflict. Stan will also reveal to us the six story fundamentals or medicines the writer needs to internalize before even beginning to write. We’ll discover the five critical ingredients of a Log Line that cut through the thicket of the jungle and reveal the path we need to take as a writer, and that our hero must master. And most important to any holistic solution to our lives and to our character’s quest are how values drive action, and how the four ingredients of the moral premise statement will totally eliminate writers block, that illness that we all want to avoid.
    BIO: Dr. Stan Williams is a veteran filmmaker and storyteller, having worked with dozens of Hollywood writers and producers over the years. His best selling story structure book was published in 2006 by Michale Wiese Books—the Moral Premise: Harnessing Virtue and Vice for Box Office Success. The mainstream films he has consultant on have grossed over a billion dollars at the worldwide box office, for studios such as 20th Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and Disney. Most notably he has worked directly with Will Smith on over a dozen projects. Find him at and

    Pray, Dream, Write Your New Story

    Tuesday, August 27, 2019

    Story Diamond Notes

    The Story Diamond continues to hold me in awe as a story brainstorming tool.

    While it looks complicated, it's very simple and helpful in holding off writer's block, although it is no substitute for a well-formed and fell-fed imagination. 

    Below is the latest edition of the annotated Story Diamond Notes file. You can download this HERE as a PDF. but some may find this browser edition helpful.

    by Stanley D. Williams, Ph.D.
    Introduction to the Story Diamond

    The Barebones Diamond
    In 2008, I was given a copy of an early version of The Story Diamond while working on a story with Will Smith, Chris Vogler, and Marianne and Cormac Wibberly. With their permission

    Friday, August 23, 2019

    TAKEN (2008) Insanely Great Endings

    Please welcome (The Other) Chris Pratt to the Moral Premise Blog. Chris is a veteran screenwriter and writer manager in Los Angeles.  During recent discussions we had about structure, in particular about Taken (2008), Chris offered up Michael Arndt's Pandemonium post on Insanely Great Endings, and then offered to write this blog post applying Arndt's perspective to Taken... for which I was greatly appreciative. 

    Arndt's 100 page story map and his explanation of Insanely Great Endings fits nicely into the natural structure of story telling, so I tired to include his beats in the latest version of the story diamond. But I over did it—the Story Diamond is getting too off-putting with its apparent complexity; so look for future simplifications. But now on to Chris' insanely great post on Taken. — S.W.

    TAKEN'S Insanely Great Ending
    The Other Chris Pratt

    Screenwriter Michael Arndt created Insanely Great Endings as a deep dive to help us  understand the emotional resonance of our greatest cinematic experiences. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here. What follows for Taken assumes you understand Arndt's story concepts.

    Inspired by Stan Williams’ deep dive into Taken found here:

    The following is a Michael Arndt-style analysis using his Insanely Great Endings method to analyze the 2008 hit film TAKEN. Here's Arndt's 100 page story map which will help us. Click on it for larger version.

    CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - Michael Arndt's 100 page Story Map

    Arndt opens with the idea that there’s an organic logic of storytelling. A sort of ‘Who, what, when, where?’ 


    OPENING: In Taken, we begin with old home video footage of a little girl’s fifth birthday party. Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) wakes up to a table side picture of the same girl, now a teenager. He’s already missed her childhood. 

    ORDINARY WORLD: Daily Routine + introduce unresolved issue (could be an internal or external unresolved issue.) In a single scene, we establish the WORKING CLASS hero, his numerous trips to the electronics store to select the right gift for daughter Kim (Maggie Grace). Rich people don’t visit the store multiple times, they have stuff delivered. Most people don’t read the instruction manual over and over before purchasing electronics. In a single scene we get A) Careful, B) Thorough and C) Thrifty. We don't see his unresolved issue until the BIRTHDAY PARTY at a big frickin’ house. Bryan’s EX married very well. We learn he wasn’t there for his daughter growing up. We see her stepfather can give her anything/everything she wants. Bryan’s time has passed, has his window to be her father has closed? She’s 17 and ‘Not a little girl anymore.’

    THEN ONE DAY: 10% A bolt from the blue, lightning hits, changing sense of character’s self, who they are, and their sense of the future. Bryan’s friends, old CIA operatives, over BBQ and beers, we learn he was the best of the best and he’s not on the job anymore because he’s making a conscious choice to quit working and be closer to Kim. They pitch him on a job. He rejects the call, then accepts the call.

    THE JOB: Bryan protects the POP STAR from a security threat, rescuing the first of three daughter figures in the film.

    CALL TO ACTION: Kim is excited to join a friend on a trip to Paris, she asks her dad to let her go. He rejects the call to let Kim go to Europe is to let go of Kim, and he’s not ready to do that. Bryan then accepts the call, gives permission, and drives Kim to the airport. This is Bryan’s story. His arc. While he doesn’t go, he is still the active participant, crossing the threshold, he makes the decision to let her go.

    EMBARKS: 25% On the quest, has a long range goal and a short term quest. Bryan calls Kim as her friend is kidnapped, his daughter taken, his now famous speech, “I will look for you. I will find you. And I will kill you.” The only dialogue ever to appear on a movie poster. The pitch as a single line of script. Kudos to writers Kamen and Besson.

    MIDPOINT SETBACK: 50% Something happens around the middle, rug pulled out from under him, has to find a new way. The midpoint has Bryan tracking the trafficked women to a construction zone where workers line up to rape drugged out victims. He finds his daughter’s jacket but no Kim. The traffickers discover him, and he begins to burn it all down. Before it was a story about a man pursuing his daughter, now he’s declared war.

    NO RETURN: 75% No going back, trap door opens, total commitment. When he runs into a dead end, a name he doesn’t know, he turns to his contact in the French Government, Jean-Claude. Out of time, out of options, he shoots the man’s wife, threatening to kill her. No going back now.

    CLIMAX: 90% Achieves goal or fails to achieve goal. Tracking his recently sold daughter to a boat, Bryan infiltrates the boat and kills… everyone, pretty much kills everyone.


    While many a guru would say there are two sets of stakes, internal and external, Arndt argues, to great effect, there are actually three sets of stakes. Internal, external, and philosophical stakes. See the breakdown below: 

    What are the EXTERNAL STAKES in Taken? Save the girl. First, Bryan Mills makes the choice to save the POP STAR, while this isn’t his daughter, it is one of three daughter figures in the story. The bolt from the blue happens at the ten minute mark when Bryan is shaken from his complacent state of waiting for his daughter to return his love and becomes an active hero with the POP STAR. 

    Who are the EXTERNAL STAKES antagonists? What scene introduces them? The kidnappers are the external antagonists, the scene introducing them takes place in the apartment, the moment they kidnap the girls. (You could argue the French Bureaucrat, Jean-Claude, is an external antagonist but he’s more of what John Truby would call a fake-ally opponent. He’s a philosophical antagonist for Bryan as explained below.)

    Who is the EXTERNAL Mentor? What scene introduces them? Bryan’s friend and former special ops colleague, Sam. He’s got the call to exposition scene where he tells Bryan the who, what, when, where of the kidnappers M.O. and sets the ticking clock of 96 hours before Kim disappears. Forever.

    What are your INTERNAL/EMOTIONAL STAKES? (Arndt says this could be parent child love, romantic love, self esteem, will my life matter, will I get out of here, will I even get a chance, call to greatness.) What scene introduces the EMOTIONAL stakes? Internally, this is a story about Bryan’s purpose. Will he connect with his daughter? Will his life matter now that his baby girl is all grown up? Can he let go? Is it better to keep his daughter protected and unaware of the world or let her experience it? On the way to the airport, Bryan describes his gov’t job as being ‘the preventer.’ Personally, this is a story about a father’s duty to protect his daughter vs. his paranoia and instinct for overprotectiveness. Should he prevent her from growing up by preventing her from harm? It starts with a ‘can he let her become a woman’ and ends with ‘sometimes you need your daddy’ which is genius. Split hairs. Have cake, eat too. 

    Who is the INTERNAL/EMOTIONAL STAKES antagonist and what scene introduces them? (Arndt says Star Wars has Uncle Owen on some: “Kid, don’t get too big for your britches, harvest is when I need you the most, it’s only one more season.”) Bryan’s emotional antagonist is his ex-wife. She reminds him he was good at missing out, he wasn’t there for his family. She’s right about that, but is he too late? 

    What scene introduces the EMOTIONAL mentor? (Star Wars has: “Kid I see something special in you.”) Taken has BBQ buddies. Bryan’s old team. The guys who know he’s the best of the best but “I hope she appreciates the fact you’ve given up your life to be closer to her?” For a BBQ beer scene with war buddies, that scene has a LOT of heart.

    Also, during the car ride to the airport, Bryan’s inner compass is telling him she’s too young to go to Europe, he’s fighting the voice of his ex-wife, his daughter’s will, but that voice inside keeps guiding him. Bryan’s conscious is his training. “Mom says your work made you paranoid.” “Made me aware…” You’re not paranoid when the world is out to kidnap and sell your daughter into sexual slavery. 

    What are the PHILOSOPHICAL STAKES? Those with money and power are just too strong, they will win out over justice. The philosophical antagonist is Jean-Claude, the French Bureaucrat. “That’s now how the world works.” When Bryan first arrives is Paris and seeks out his old friend, he’s told to go home. 

    What is your underdog value? Father knows best.

    What is your dominant value? Too late, she’s a grown woman.

    Who is your GLOBAL ANTAGONIST? What SCENE lays out the Global Antagonist Aria? In Star Wars, General Tarkin says “Fear will keep the local systems in line.” In Taken we don’t get a big speech from the antagonist, when Bryan takes the phone and give his “I will find you and I will kill you…” speech, we simply get two words: “Good Luck.”
    Whether a superhero or a dude with a problem, this dad has a way with phones.

    What SCENE lays out the PERSONAL ANTAGONIST ARIA? Han Solo’s “Kid, I’ve flown from one end of this galaxy to another…” This speech attacks Luke’s personal journey, a journey into a much larger world, a journey into the force. Bryan’s personal journey is to matter, to be the father his daughter needs. Ex-wife Lenore reminding him, “You can’t smother Kim or you’ll lose her for sure.” In effect, end the quest to matter, give up on becoming the father your daughter needs.

    List the DOMINANT vs. UNDERDOG GLOBAL values: The dominant global values are ruthless power wins, criminals take, can’t beat a corrupt system, might makes right, guns and power rule the day. The underdog values are freedom, justice, the American way. Dominant values are winning. “A few years ago there were twenty of them, now they have hundreds…” The police even get payoffs. Corruption, crime, drugs, kidnapping, slavery, the bad guys are winning.

    What SCENE lays out the GLOBAL MENTOR ARIA? Star Wars has Obi Wan saying; “You must deliver these droids to Alderaan.” Taken has Bryan’s friend Sam saying, “You have 96 hours before she’s gone. Forever.”

    What SCENE lays out the personal Mentor Aria? Obi Wan also says; “You must come with me and learn the ways of the force.” Bryan’s BBQ buddies ask if Kim understands he’s given up his work, his old life, to move and be closer to her, to be the father he’s always wanted to be. “You lose her to college next year.” “Still gives me a year.”

    List the dominant vs. underdog PERSONAL values: Dominant personal values; it’s too late, you missed out, she’s grown up, she doesn’t need her father, you missed your shot, you don’t matter, your life doesn’t matter. The underdog personal values; only you know what the world is capable of, you have skills bro, you see what others can’t, you do matter, you can be the father she needs. These are underdog values because the whole movie, people keep telling him, ‘Naw brah, let her go.”

    Structure TIP:
    Act 1 Antagonist Aria (dominant value) is “I will find you, I will kill you.” “Good luck.” Dominant value is the odds of finding kidnappers... normal people don’t have a chance, special set of skills or not.

    Structure TIP
    All is lost in Act 2, the ALLY chooses the dominant value, betrays the hero. The French Bureaucrat Jean-Claude is the fake-ally opponent who choses illegal payoffs over his friendship with Bryan. This is the setup/payoff Antagonist Philosophical Dominant Value, or money/power wins over justice. Han Solo’s betrayal, all is lost in Star Wars; “I’m not sticking around to help you face the death star, Kid.” Our all is lost betrayal is when Jean-Claude holds Bryan at gunpoint, “I’m taking you to the airport right now.” “What about my family?” 

    What are the two competing value systems at play in the PHILOSOPHICAL STAKES? Bryan believes in American justice. Preventing the big bad is how he sees himself. The world is full of big and bad, but he won’t buy in. “I reject your hypothesis.”

    Scene Breakdown Checklist:

    What is your opening image? Bryan’s dream; a 5 year old girl’s birthday party.

    What is the equilibrium for your world? Bryan was busy working for the gov’t, wasn’t there for his daughter. She’s grown.

    Is your character flawed or is your world flawed? The world is flawed. (Bryan doesn’t change.) [He's a hero. See Hero vs. Protagonist.]

    How is your character’s future fixed? He is trying to earn the right to be Kim’s father but because he was never there, she’s grown up without him. He’s moved to be near her but hasn’t really been invited into her life. So he waits. This is his fixed future.

    How is this the stable self image? Retired. Waiting. His skills got him all dressed up with no place to go.

    10% What is your bolt from the blue? Kim is invited to Paris.

    How does that incident change your character’s future? Accepting that she’s growing up, becoming a woman, leaving him… tough. 

    How does it change their sense of self? He realizes she doesn’t need him, she needs his signature on the permission slip.

    How is this the worst possible thing to happen to them? He’s moved to be near her. This is the opposite of what he came here to do. It’s game over, man. 

    Is there insult to injury? She lies to him about the trip, where she’s going, and why. Touring Europe to follow U2 instead of hitting museums in Paris. She doesn’t trust him enough to tell him the truth.

    25% What first act break? Phone call. “Special set of skills…”

    How does that mini-arc pay off at Act 2 all lost (problem A)? Act 2 he finds Marco, and kills him. Solves problem A.

    How does your character embark on the journey? Literally. He charters the jet and hops a round trip LAX to CDG.

    50% What is the midpoint setback? He finds Kim’s jacket but no Kim. The girl wearing it is drugged so he rescues her -- the second ‘daughter’ rescue.

    How is the midpoint setback a reversal? How does it change directions? Escalation. Instead of a detective asking questions, he’s kinda the punisher now. High speed chases and explosions. He’s on everybody’s radar.

    How does the midpoint reversal deepen the stakes? This won’t be a quiet extraction, he’s facing a criminal organization and he might have to burn it to the ground.

    CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - Michael Arndt's ACT 3 Breakdown

    75% All is lost? Dead end. He’s found Kim’s friend Amanda, dead. Kim isn’t there so he tortures bad guy MARCO but only gets a name. He can’t do jack with a name.

    How does this crisis force the stakes? Bryan has to go back to fake ally-opponent and confront him with his own corruption.

    How does it solve Problem A? Marco is dead. Bryan did find him and Bryan did kill him. Makes you wonder if the guy shouldn’t have wished him ‘good luck.’ 

    How does it force Problem B? Bryan gets a name, but with no way to track it he’s forced to turn to Jean-Claude. 

    How is the character headed toward a waterfall? He shoots Jean-Claude's wife to get the info. No return, as they say. Now he’s screwed with the French police, screwed with the underworld, burning everything as he goes leaves him without friends/allies. 

    List Act 3 external setbacks toward the ending? Rescued girl is passed out, arrives at the bad guys but can’t identify Marco, Kim’s friend is dead, no Kim, tortures Marco but gets a useless name, Jean-Claude is no help, shoots his wife, finds Kim but is captured before rescue, hanging from pipe he’s ordered killed, daughter is on a boat, leaving. 

    List Act 3 internal setbacks toward the ending? Bryan’s not there for her. Even when he finds the stash house with the girls, even when he kills the bad guys, he can’t find her, he can’t save her, he won’t matter in her life, once again, he’s not there when she needs him.

    What are the philosophical setbacks? More money, more guns, more power, the further he goes the greater the opposing forces. This isn’t some local Armenian mob, this is upper echelon society with deep pockets and resources. Up against more than nameless, faceless Albanian sex traffickers, these are nameless, faceless rich people too. He finds his daughter but someone buys her. He’s captured by better killers with more training. A rich Sheik with professional security has his daughter. Philosophically money and power are winning.

    CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE - Michael Arndt's Two Minute Climax Breakdown

    What is our Hero’s Kamikaze moment of commitment? Jumping onto the boat. 

    How does the Hero listen to the mentor? The inner voice that says… let’s do this.

    How does the hero choose the underdog value against their own self interest? He could die on that boat but to find Kim, to rescue her is worth the risk.

    How does choosing this APPEAR to be an external failure, an internal failure, and a philosophical failure? He hurts himself on the leap, limping through the next sequence, he gets shot by BIG BAD, he gets stabbed, he’s thrown through glass… (Note: Nice little callback here, the knife from the first daughter POP STAR rescue is mirrored by the final knife fight.)

    Leading to what moment of despair? Bursting into the room, the Sheik has his daughter at knife-point. Oh, no. He’s failed, he’s going to lose everything.

    What is the decisive act our hero chooses? BLAM. He fires, killing the man instantly.

    How does the ACT (not a speech) embrace the underdog values? Money and power did not win out over justice. The man says “We can negotiate-” BOOM, negotiation over.

    How does it lead to external success, internal success, and philosophical success? Externally, he’s rescued Kim, saved the girl. Internally, he is the father she needs, he matters, he is connecting with her and philosophically, American justice wins out over the money and power of a corrupt world. We go from total loss to total victory in the final sequence leading to an Insanely Great Ending.