Script-Com’s James. V. Hart to share HartChart, toolkit

By Tom Wood

He didn’t know it at the time, but the lessons that James V. Hart learned in the process of writing and re-writing his script for Bram Stoker’s Dracula are something he still sinks his teeth into even today.

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Screenwriter James V. Hart will attend a screening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at Full Moon Cineplex in Hermitage on Friday, June 21, followed by Hart’s master class at the Script-Com symposium on Saturday, June 22, at Lipscomb University. To attend both, plus receive a year-long membership in the Tennessee Screenwriting Association, the cost is $50. A mix-and-mingle buffet for Friday’s screening is $15 at the door. 

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola and shot for $40 million, Dracula was one of the biggest hits of 1992, grossing $82.5 million nationally and $215.8 million worldwide — the ninth-highest grossing film of that year.

Hart will be in Nashville on June 21-22 to headline the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s 2019 Script-Com Screenwriting Symposium. Events kick off Friday evening with an optional buffet/mix and mingle with Hart prior to a screening and discussion of his Dracula script at Full Moon Cineplex in Hermitage. Then on Saturday, Hart will be the featured speaker at an all-day symposium at Lipscomb University’s Shamblin Theater.

Besides Dracula, Hart’s credits include Hook (1991), Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), Muppet Treasure Island (1996), Contact (1997), Jack and the Beanstalk: The Real Story (2001), Tuck Everlasting (2002), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider—The Cradle of Life (2003), Sahara (2005), August Rush (2007), Epic (2013), the 2014 TV series Crossbones, and 2019’s The Hot Zone min-series on National Geographic.

A great body of work, to be sure, but it is his HartChart — which he describes as “a decoding ring that allows you to create a character-driven narrative as opposed to plot-driven” — which is having the greatest influence on the next generation of screenwriters.

The HartChart has been touted in writer’s film festival presentations for 20-plus years with hand-drawn charts. In 2015, developer Guy Goldstein approached Hart at the Austin Film Fest with the idea of the HartChart app and Toolkit to help writers map stories and characters. It will be a major part of the Master Class he’ll teach at Script-Com.

“It’s hard to keep a good vampire down, so we’ll be revisiting Dracula in Nashville,” Hart said. “I’ll be doing a Master Class on Dracula using the Toolkit and the HartChart, which actually the first movie I ever charted was Dracula. That’s when I first applied all the stuff that I teach.”

Hart describes the script problems raised by Coppola and the ensuing chaos of the Dracula post-production and screenings that led to the idea — necessity — of a HartChart. He compares the HartChart’s basic questions to the fundamentals of journalism — answering who, what, when, where, why and how — to tell a story.

“They’re altered a bit from the … the big five,” Hart said. “Mine started with Coppola when we were doing Dracula. I got a call from him during post-production. We had some disastrous previews and I got a call from him about three or four months before the release.

“Basically he said, ‘Get on a plane, get out here. I hate you, I hate the film, I hate the script, I hate the cast, I hate the studio, I hate everything about this movie. And I want to show it to you.’ I was like, ‘Okay, I can’t wait to see that’ because I’ve spent 15 years of my life on that project.”

Hart caught the next flight from New York to California and got right to work.

“Francis, he set me up in the Godfather screening room downstairs at Zoetrope, and didn’t even come down to say hello — just said, ‘call me when you finish watching the film.’ And I sat there for the next 2½ hours getting drunker and drunker and hating viewing,” Hart recalled. “Oh my god, this is terrible.’ And he called me and said, ‘you didn’t call me after the film,’ and I said, ‘I hate it too, I hate you too, this is horrible.’ ”

So they got busy looking at all the footage, the cuts, everything over the next two weeks.

“And we found that it wasn’t reshooting the scenes, it was pieces of narrative that we had either lost or ignored or forgotten or cut out because we didn’t think we needed it,” he said. “The footage showed us where our needs were — the fallouts, the holes — so we went through and we actually did a draft of the script based on the film that was edited. And (we) only went back and shot pieces; we didn’t shoot whole scenes or new scenes, we went in and filled in the narrative.

“And I kept saying to Francis, ‘there’s got to be a way to head this off at the pass, there’s got to be a way to catch this before we’re in the editing room.’ ”

After Dracula’s success, they talked about how to fix a script before it needed fixing.

“He said, ‘why don’t you start with these three questions?’ And he gave me questions that are basically journalism-based, but they’re about character. “And I went, ‘why the hell didn’t we do this before we wrote the script and shot the movie?’ They’re very simple, and I’ve expanded them into another eight to 10 questions over the years, and it’s where I start all my work. It’s basic journalism.

“But it’s about character—not so much about who, what, when, where, and why—but it’s what do you want, what do you need, what do you fear, what are you afraid of? What’s your goal? Why now? They’re basic journalism patterns, but they’re about character.

“We developed this over the past 20 years and now there’s an app called the HartChart which follows the heartbeat, the emotional journey of the characters as opposed to plot. And I use it every day. It’s been used all over the world and directors, writers, editors — the ones that are devoted to it swear by it. And I owe it all to Francis…thank you Francis.”

Hart says it’s a useful tool for writers at all stages of their career, even for those who are attempting to break into the business in the later stages of life.

“Listen, I’m not supposed to have a career right now at my age (he’s 72) but I still kind of have one,” Hart said with a laugh. “But the good news is there’s more buyers now than there ever were before for television. That’s where they have to hire writers at the same times every year because they need new content. And yes, they all say they’re looking for IP (intellectual property), but they’re also looking for young, unknown writers who have good ideas who can put stuff on the page, who can write character, and yet there is an appetite for new voices whether you’re young or old.”

Hart also recommended that budding screenwriters take advantage of other opportunities like attending festivals and entering contests. He mentioned the Blacklist, Screencraft, the International Screenwriters Association, and a few others.

“You have forums now that we didn’t have when I started out. You have these portals where writers are posting and putting up their material, and there actually are people in the business — 200, 300, 400 people in the business — who are paid to read everything … to canvas these contests at film festivals where awards are given. There are these platforms that didn’t exist when I started. And they’re being paid attention to. … And I would urge everybody there (in Nashville) to take advantage of that.”

Scroll down to order Script-Com tickets:

2019 Script-Com Tickets – Non TSA Members

Includes admission to June 21 screening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with screenwriter James V. Hart, all-day admission to June 22 Script-Com conference, plus one-year membership in Tennessee Screenwriting Association.

$50.00

2019 Script-Com Tickets – Current TSA Members

Discounted price for current TSA Members. Includes admission to June 21 screening of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with screenwriter James V. Hart and all-day June 22 Script-Com conference.

$40.00

TSA Challenge: Write a short Rom-Com

Rom-Coms are back in vogue at the movies, so we’re throwing down another screenwriting challenge in celebration of Valentine’s Day. Write a five-page or less romantic comedy script to celebrate the occasion. Bring copies of your script to our Feb. 13 meeting at Watkins where we’ll read them aloud. See you there!

NOTE: TSA meetings open to all. Challenge open to paid TSA members only. Update your membership here.

12 Days of Screenwriting Gifts: Day 12

So now that you’ve gotten some of the essential tools out of the way for the screenwriter in your life (see our previous entries in the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s highly practical 12 Days of Screenwriting Gifts), it’s time to round out the list with some other must-haves. The prior list of gifts, with the exception ink cartridges, were all pretty inexpensive and perfect as stocking stuffers. Today’s final gift selections can be a bit pricier on the gift-giving scale.

For starters, your screenwriter needs screenwriting software. Now, there are free versions you can use, such as Celtx or WriterDuet, which are perfectly fine for just getting started. But eventually your screenwriter will need a more savvy version. WriterDuet is proving to be increasingly popular among screenwriters who wish to collaborate on scripts. And, of course, the industry standard continues to be Final Draft.

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Once you’ve reached Fade Out on your screenplay, you’ll want to register it with the WGA or, more importantly, with the US Copyright Office. Check out their websites for all the details. They probably don’t offer gift cards, but you can always drop some cold hard cash on your screenwriter in a nice card or stocking.

Cash is also handy for screenwriters seeking script coverage/feedback from professional services, be it ScriptReaderPro or even the Nashville Film Fest.

Speaking of film fests, you can’t go wrong with a cash gift for contest entries. There are tons of them and the entry fees can range from under $50 to over $100, depending on which one and when you decide to enter.  Passes  to film festivals or conferences like Atlanta or Austin are also welcome gifts.

Finally, don’t forget to gift your screenwriter with an annual membership in the Tennessee Screenwriting Association. It’s super cheap at just $25 and provides your screenwriter with constructive feedback from fellow screenwriters, educational tips and tricks, friends and fellowship with other screenwriters and filmmakers. It may be the best $25 you’ll spend.

Whatever you choose, we hope you’ve enjoyed our list of highly practical screenwriting gifts and have a great holiday!

12 Days of Screenwriting Gift Ideas: Day 7

Now that you’ve got a stack of index cards on which to plot out your story beats, you need something on which to display them. That’s where our latest gift idea comes in, in our exclusive Tennessee Screenwriting Association 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas. Today’s idea:

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Bulletin Board

These come in a variety of sizes, but you’ll want one big enough to display your three acts. That could mean as many as sixty index cards, give or take. The cool thing about this is the ability to put up, take down or rearrange your cards as needed until you are satisfied with the story you are telling. The bottom line is, all your key scenes and pivotal moments are easy to view as you type your opus into your software program.

Like we promised when we started this list, all of our gift ideas are highly practical and useful to screenwriters. They may not be glamorous or have much of a wow factor to them, but they are essential tools to use.

12 Days of Screenwriting Gift Ideas: Day 6

Welcome to Day Six of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas. Each day until Christmas we’ll feature another terrific and highly practical gift idea for the screenwriter in your life. On Day 1, we proposed ink cartridges. On Day 2, paper. And on Day 3, Red Pens and Highlighters. On Day 4, we suggested a trash can for your discarded pages. And on Day 5 we suggested you gift the screenwriter in your life with three-ring binders to hold their printed masterpiece.

We’ll be the first to admit that these may not seem like very exciting gifts to unwrap on Christmas Day, but remember, this is a “practical” gift list. In other words, this is stuff screenwriters really need. Not some mug or bookbag or T-shirt, which admittedly are much cooler gifts. No, these are more useful gifts.

So, with that in mind, let’s continue. Today’s suggestion is another essential must-have for screenwriters.

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Index Cards

Yes, index cards. Of course, you can plan your script on paper or you could use the “on screen” index cards in your screenwriting software, but there’s something to be said about using old-fashioned index cards to plan out the scenes in your script. You can even get index cards in a variety of colors to track different characters or subplots.

There’s just something about holding onto something tangible and realizing that “This is your story.” Your brainchild. It’s real.

12 Days of Screenwriting Gift Ideas: Day 5

Welcome to Day Five of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas. Each day until Christmas we’ll feature another terrific and highly practical gift idea for the screenwriter in your life. On Day 1, we proposed ink cartridges. On Day 2, paper. And on Day 3, Red Pens and Highlighters. On Day 4, we suggested a trash can for your discarded pages.

So, now that you’ve made all the changes to your pages to make your script the best it can be and now that you’ve got a fresh ink cartridge and a new ream of paper, go ahead a print out a copy. Not for the agents or managers or producers, for yourself! Nothing represents an accomplishment more than being able to see your finished work in a tangible form before you. So go ahead, print out your masterpiece, punch some holes in it, and place it in a glorious, new

Three-ring binder

Three-Ring Binder

Yes, that’s right. Today’s gift idea is a three-ring binder. Or several, if you’ve got several scripts. You can add a nice label to the edge and, voila, you have your own personal script library to display. You can even use the pockets in your binder for such things as your copyright registration or list of producers you’ve sent the script to. And, maybe one day, your option agreement. Neat. And, as with all gift ideas in this series, practical.

 

12 Days of Screenwriting Gift Ideas: Day 4

Welcome to Day Four of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas. Each day until Christmas we’ll feature another terrific and highly practical gift idea for the screenwriter in your life. On Day 1, we proposed ink cartridges. On Day 2, paper. And on Day 3, Red Pens and Highlighters.

After marking up your script and making the changes in your computer, you’ll either want to stuff your marked-up version away in a file drawer or discard it. If you choose the latter, may we suggest:

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A Trash Can

“What? Blasphemy,” you say. “I can’t throw away any of my writing. If I do, someone is bound to find it while rummaging in my trash and steal my ideas.” Yeah, right. Like that’s going to happen. Get over yourself. No one is going to pilfer your wadded-up pieces of paper and piece together a script from your mess. Besides, you’ve already registered it with the copyright office and you’ve already emailed it to yourself, right?

Still, if you’re that paranoid you could always shred your pages. In that case, ask for a trash can with cross shredder. Problem solved.

12 Days of Screenwriting Gift Ideas: Day 3

Welcome to Day Three of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas. Each day until Christmas we’ll feature another terrific and highly practical gift idea for the screenwriter in your life. On Day 1, we proposed ink cartidges. On Day 2, paper. So, without further ado, Gift 3:

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Red Pens and Highlighters

We hinted at this one yesterday. Yup, after you’ve printed out that glorious (ahem!) first draft of the script you’ve devoted your life to for the past several weeks or months, it’s time to tear it apart. Line by line. Scene by scene. No character, no line of dialogue is immune to the cursed red strikethrough! It’s time to, dare I say it, KILL YOUR DARLINGS! Eliminate the excess, trim the fat. Be merciless!

So, for all of that, you’ll need: Red Pens and Highlighters! 

Ask for them in your stocking! You’ll be glad you did.

Day 1: Ink cartridges

Day 2: Paper

12 Days of Screenwriting Gift Ideas: Day 2

Welcome to Day Two of the Tennessee Screenwriting Association’s 12 Days of Christmas Gift Ideas. Each day until Christmas we’ll feature another terrific and highly practical gift idea for the screenwriter in your life. Yesterday we proposed ink as our first gift, so today’s gift idea makes perfect sense:

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Paper!

You can’t use up your ink cartridges or toner if you don’t have paper. And you need paper to print out your scripts! Yes, you can read your scripts on your computer screen. A lot of people do, especially those intent on saving paper (planet!). But honestly, scripts, like books, just read better on paper. And, added bonus, you get to mark up your scripts with highlighters and red ink pens (but we’re getting ahead of ourselves as those are gifts for another day).

Get yourself a Staples or Office Depot/Office Max reward card and you could get exclusive savings offers and rebates on paper. Buy in bulk, even when you don’t need it, because you will need it someday. And hey, use that toggle setting on your computer to print on both sides. You’ll get twice as much from your paper that way.