Example Development Notes: top-quality, constructive feedback on the DANCES WITH WOLVES script.
““The Western may be a genre that has come in and out of fashion over the years, but this is a story that transcends it and speaks to our humanity.” Extracts from a script report by our Director of World Wide Development Ian Kennedy from his initial work with us, based on the DANCES WITH WOLVES script. The script can be found in our Produced Scripts Archive and is hosted at The Daily Script.
TITLE: DANCES WITH WOLVES
AUTHOR: Michael Blake
PREPARED BY: Ian Kennedy
The Western may be a genre that has come in and out of fashion over the years, but this is a story that transcends it and speaks to our humanity. It explores a situation in which a white frontiersman comes to harmony with his neighbouring Sioux tribe and embraces their lifestyle, taking a Sioux wife who herself was born white and was taken in by the tribe when she was a child. Dunbar is given a Sioux name, and it is a measure of how seriously the script takes his transformation that it only refers to him by that name afterwards. But this harmony is shattered at the end of the story, when white forces return with brutal force and put an end to hopes of a rapprochement. After his tribesmen rescue him from his former army colleagues, ‘Dances With Wolves’ decides to leave the tribe forever with his wife, because his presence as a ‘traitor’ to the whites brings grave danger to the tribe. For all of them, we sense that the future is bleak.
…The story is an apology for the cruelty and devastation which white people brought to the plains, and a corrective to the many stories of the past which have treated such adventures as heroic and noble. Throughout, the script achieves memorable visuals that demonstrate and symbolise the characters’ journeys and the setting impressively.
The story has a strong and engaging structure, that shows the transition of Dunbar into Dances With Wolves in a well-staged progression, then throws his new world into chaos by bringing him into direct conflict with his former peers when they invade the Sioux territory which is now his home. The protagonist is first presented to us as a man ready to die, who rides on a suicide mission in front of enemy guns during a Civil War battle after being injured and hearing that he will lose his foot. After the war, he requests a posting to see the frontier “before it’s gone”, but when he arrives at his posting he finds that he is alone and the fort has been abandoned – the story’s inciting incident. These early passages among white society have a constant motif of illness and foulness, but in his new posting Dunbar is able to clean up the fort; he gets to bathe and shave and wash his clothes in a fresh river, and finds himself at peace in this new environment…
Dunbar immediately proves himself capable of heroic self-sacrifice in the battle at the beginning of the film, and remains our point of empathy throughout the script. Unlike his often filthy countrymen, he is happy to find peace amid natural surroundings and solitude, and his approach towards the Sioux is both brave and modern compared to his countrymen. This story, and his journey of self-recognition, represents an apology to the Sioux people for the damage done to them by the overwhelming majority of white invaders, but it is convincingly executed and never didactic. The sad parting of the characters at the end is an acknowledgement that relations between white people and the Sioux was never able to reach a happy conclusion.
The Sioux characters are not shown in as much depth as the protagonist, but their differences of opinion and their dialogue nonetheless individualizes them well and gives us a fascinating window into their values and culture, enabling us to empathize with them and their dilemmas as they face up to the white incursions and the decimation that will eventually come with it. The script gives us an excellent insight into their values and the symbolism of their relationship with the world, with nature and with one another. Dances With Wolves and Stands With A Fist have both come across from white culture to the Sioux, so it is appropriate that they come to fall in love, and also that they have to leave the Sioux behind at the end of the story. Tragically, this is not a world that can accept turncoats.
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