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Creative Screenwriting: Dirty Dozen (1967) Deconstructed

   By: Kal Bishop

From our deconstruction of hundreds of Hollywood blockbusters....

The Hero's Journey is the template upon which the vast majority of successful stories and Hollywood blockbusters are based upon. In fact, ALL of the Hollywood movies we have deconstructed are based on this template.

Understanding this template is a priority for story or screenwriters.

The Hero's Journey:

a) Attempts to tap into unconscious expectations the audience has regarding what a story is and how it should be told.

b) Gives the writer more structural elements than simply three or four acts, plot points, mid point and so on.

c) Interpreted metaphorically, laterally and symbolically, allows an infinite number of varied stories to be created.

and more...

Sample Movie Deconstructed: Dirty Dozen (1967)

FADE IN: the First Threshold - a military prison; a hanging.

Introducing the Mentor : Lee Marvin (Major Reisman) watches the hanging and heads for the meeting.

Mentor 's Character and Back Story: The Colonel et al go over Reisman's record.

Heralds brings Call to Adventure: Reisman is told of project Amnesty.

Danger of the Journey developed: the Nazi conference in the Chateau; the place is fortified and guarded; the men will be risking their lives,

Foreshadow of the Atonement: referencing Colonel Breed.

Entering the First Threshold; meeting the strange creatures of the First Threshold: we meet the men by name, crime and sentence.

Threshold Guardian: Franco resists and Reisman puts him on the ground.

Meeting Allies in the Inner Cave : convincing the men in their cells; developing their characters and back stories and the relationship with the Mentor :

The Joker: Franco.

The Leader: Charles Bronson (Wladislaw).

The Shape Shifter: Telly Savalas (Maggot).

The Simpleton: the big man (Posey)

Developing the Mentor 's Ally: the Sergeant.

The Leaders Ally: Jefferson .

The Ally: Sergeant Bowry.

Conditions of the Journey: the men are told that if any of them try to escape, then they'll all be sent back to prison.

Conflict between Allies: Maggot and Jefferson fight.

Warning of the Physical Separation: the Sergeant thinks that the first chance they get, they'll attempt to shoot Reisman.

Physical Separation: on their way to the camp.

Entering the World of the Transformation: constructing the compound.

Tangible Representation of the Transformation: the state of the compound; no windows until they deserve them.

Foreshadow of the Final Conflict: listening to the radio and hearing about the War.

Developing characters: Franco talks to Pinkley (the Idiot); Wladislaw talks about the woman singing on the radio; Maggot doesn't like women.

Trial 1: Franco tries to escape.

Trial 2: climbing the rope.

Trial 3: Posey gets a knife.

Transformation Progressing: Reisman and the sergeant discuss the men's improvement.

Foreshadow of the turning of the Shape Shifter: Maggot discuses his religious views.

Warning of the Seizing of the Sword: the psychologist warns Reisman that the men are psychopaths.

Conflict on the Journey to the Sword: Franco throws one of the smaller men and Posey confronts him.

Resisting the Sword: Wladislaw is uncooperative.

Seizing the Sword: Franco wants hot water to shave; the men all line up; they are finally acting as a team.

New Name verifying their progress along the path of the Transformation: they get a new name: the Dirty Dozen.

Foreshadow of the Near Death Experience: Reisman warns the men of the coming trial with Breed.

Night Sea Journey: the men in the truck travel to Colonel Breed's territory; “the General” inspects the men.

Near Death Experience: Reisman insults Breed; Wladislaw gets beaten up.

Foreshadow of the Apotheosis: the men think it was the Major who had Wladislaw beaten up.

Reward: the men get female company, the whisky…the “graduation ball.”

Foreshadow of the Shape Shifter's turning: Maggot warns of the Major's coming damnation.

Atonement with the Father: Colonel Breed pushes his way into the compound; Reisman shoots at him etc…

Foreshadow of the Apotheosis: they see that the men who roughed up Wladislaw are with Breed.

Apotheosis: Reisman is on their side.

Ultimate Boon: all the men act in unison; Synergy.

Refusal of the Return: Reisman is admonished by a senior officer; his men will be sent back etc.

Rescue from Without: the competition to knock out Breed's HQ is the only way to save the men.

Magic Flight in the Wolves Clothing: the men change colours and make their way to Breed's HQ and take over.

Warnings, preparing and pushed into the Final Conflict: going over the Chateau invasion.

Crossing the Return Threshold: the flight to the Chateau, parachuting in and getting past the guards.

Master of the Two Worlds / Final Conflict: Blowing up the Chateau dressed as Nazis; Shape Shifter turns; resistance etc.

Freedom to Live: Reisman, Wladislaw and the Sergeant in hospital.

Learn more…

The Complete 188 stage Hero's Journey and other story structure templates can be found at

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Kal Bishop, MBA


You are free to reproduce this article as long as no changes are made and the author's name and site URL are retained.

Kal Bishop is a management consultant based in London, UK. His specialities include Knowledge Management and Creativity and Innovation Management. He has consulted in the visual media and software industries and for clients such as Toshiba and Transport for London. He has led Improv, creativity and innovation workshops, exhibited artwork in San Francisco, Los Angeles and London and written a number of screenplays. He is a passionate traveller. He can be reached at

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