Script Files

American Snake Pit

Based on a true story about an experimental project at Willowbrook, the worst asylum in American History, a young doctor with his own issues helps a group of psychiatric patients discarded by society move into an unfriendly town that wants them out—or dead; the doctor, along with the staff and patients, use their unique abilities to gain respect and make the impossible happen.
(Winner of 32 film festival awards.)

In the spirit of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Awakenings, and Girl Interrupted comes American Snake Pit.

We open on Dr. Dan working with intellectually challenged individuals. His wife leaves him, stating he puts his career before her. He moves into a sleazy motel until his colleague Suzie tells him about a job opening.

Dr. Dan sits in a group interview to be the new manager of Walden House - a group home for intellectually challenged individuals. He gets the job, and on his first day, he meets Sophia. She communicates in grunts and attacks Dr. Dan brutally. Taimi, a staff member, saves him from Sophia. Taimi shows Dr. Dan around town and the home - she introduces him to the other patients - Albert, Mike, Meredith, etc. All have unusual conditions, but also hidden talents they've never used.

Dr. Dan is called in for a meeting with Mayor Billings. Here, Billings informs Dr. Dan and Taimi that the home must comply with the fire code to be granted permission as a residence. The patients and staff all must be outside within two minutes of the alarm - no exceptions. The fire chief, and group home's neighbor, Willy, arrives to confirm this.

Dr. Dan begins getting the patients ready for the first drill. He also meets new patients such as Benny. He hires Gwennie; a no-nonsense inappropriately dressed secretary, and Harold, a cook, on parole for attempted murder. Somehow, the home begins to feel like a family.

The first fire drill is a mess. The patients didn't prepare for the strobe lights only for the blaring alarms. Dr. Dan feels in over his head. The second drill goes much better, and the patients eventually complete their exit under two minutes, but Willy and Billings are determined to get these people out of their town. The chief reports a false number - over two and a half minutes.

Taimi tears into Dr. Dan about missing too many details about the patients. Dr. Dan receives some advice from his professor. And when Willy's curious son, Jeffrey starts a real fire - the patients all react accordingly and exit the building within the time limit - which is recorded by the assistant fire chief. The town sees the mayor and fire chief for who they really are and grants the Walden House residents the right to stay.

Young Doctor Dan is a stuck-in-graduate school, some-day-would-be psychologist with a failing marriage and dead-end job. Desperate to change his place in the world, he takes a job at Walden House. This group home recently took on violent patients from the notorious Willowbrook, the worst asylum in American history. Doctor Dan attends an employment seminar and discovers he’s the only one applying for the job. He accepts the offer with no clue what awaits him.

On his very first day, he is bloodied by one of the Willowbrook patients. He is also questioned by the head staff person who can see instantly how green Dr. Dan is—and why he was chosen the job.

The slimy Mayor and his brother-in-law Fire Chief have designs on the majestic old convent that is Walden House. Their plans are to fill their pockets by turning the old convent into a high-end bed and breakfast. To do that they need the “retards” out. The scheme involves forcing deeply-disturbed patients to do something impossible— clear the building during a fire drill in just TWO minutes! If they don’t pass the fire drill, there will be no City certification. No City certification, the group home closes. The group home closes, they go back to the death trap that is Willowbrook.

Doctor Dan attempts to band together a group of patients including-- a Lurch-like seven-foot giant who loses it each time he hears the fire alarm; an eater of light bulbs; another hyper-sexed eater of butter sticks; a former-convict for a cook; a sexy Cockney secretary; and a fellow who fouls jackets as a sign of affection. This group can’t get out of the building in two days, let alone two minutes—yet Doctor Dan must make it happen.

The Fire Chief, tortured by the memory of a fatal car crash near Walden House, does everything he can to make them fail. After Doctor Dan and his patients come close on the second attempt, the Fire Chief attempts to seal the deal by posing a relative inside the hospital as a worker and having him set a small fire in the kitchen—which spreads too fast. Smoke rises in the blaze, alarms ring out-- this becomes much more than just passing a fire test. The patients now need to flee the burning building to save their very lives.

American Snake Pit is a dramatic comedy in the vein of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The true story aspect makes this the first movie of its kind concerning the treatment of psychologically-disturbed patients coming from the infamous Willowbrook Institute, a hell on earth Bobby Kennedy called a “snake pit” in 1965. The movie is a heart-warming and surprisingly funny story of patients not just surviving, but flourishing for the first time in their lives, proving the resilience and hope of the human spirit.

  • Dan Tomasulo
    See award list
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  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Language:
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  • Student Project:
  • Art of Brooklyn Film Festival
    Brooklyn, NY
    June 4, 2017
  • Grove Film Festival
    Jersey City, NJ
    June 11, 2017
  • New York Film And TV
    NYC, NY
    July 24, 2017
  • Diverse Voices (We Screenplay)
    June 11, 2017
  • Adapted Screenplay Contest

    August 1, 2017
    Official selection
  • Toronto Nollywood International Film Festival
    Toronto, CA
    July 20, 2017
    Finalist (still in the running for grand prize as of Aug 3)
  • Page International

    August 1, 2017
    Quarter- finalist (still in the running for grand prize as of August 3
  • Cinema New York City
    Cinema New York City
    August 3, 2017
    Pre-selected (still in the running for grand prize)>
  • Colorado International Film Festival
    August 16, 2017
    Honorable Mention
  • WNY Fame- Winner First Place Comedy / Drama September, 2017
    New York
    September 23, 2017
    Winner First Place Comedy / Drama
  • Sutter Creek-
    August 17, 2017
    Official selection
  • Hollywood Hills Screenplay Competition
    Hollywood Hills California
    September 1, 2017
    Top Finalist
  • Writer’s Digest 2017 screenplay contest

    August 25, 2017
    Honorable Mention
  • Awareness Film Festival
    September 1, 2017
  • Toronto International Independent Film Festival
    Toronto, CA
    September 14, 2017
    Pre-selected (still in the running for grand prize)>
  • American Filmatic Arts Awards
    NY, NY
    September 19, 2017
    Winner First Place Historical Drama
  • New York Screenplay Contest
    NYC, NY
    September 30, 2017
    Top Finalist
  • Atlantic City Cinefest
    Atlantic City, NJ
    October 4, 2017
    Second Place Dramatic Feature
  • • Filmatic Screenplay Award
    NYC, NY
    October 1, 2017
    Top Finalist (Historical Drama)
  • Wildsound (Table Read Contest)
    August 11, 2022
    First Place Feature
Writer Biography - Dan Tomasulo

Honored by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers on the issue of depression Dan is a core faculty member at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI), Teachers College, Columbia University, and holds a Ph.D. in psychology, MFA in writing, and Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. He authors the daily column, Ask the Therapist, for, and developed the Dare to be Happy experiential workshops for Kripalu. His award-winning memoir, American Snake Pit was released in 2018, and his next book, Learned Hopefulness, will be published in 2020.

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