Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, April 28, 2014

Start Strong: Grab Readers With the First 5 Pages of Your Screenplay

Producers typically make only 500 feature films per year, and more of those every year come from established properties like TV shows, novels and comic books. Estimates for the number of spec screenplays written in the U.S. each year range from 50,000 to 100,000, so the odds are against your screenplay getting made into a feature film.

With so many producers receiving so many scripts, how do you get them to buy yours? Just like movie audiences can tell if a movie will be worth watching in the first five minutes, most screenplay readers determine if a screenplay is worth reading in the first three to five pages. You must answer five basic questions in the first five pages of your screenplay to keep the reader's interest.

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on

Where Are We? Establish Your Setting

The opening image of your screenplay must show the reader where and when the story takes place. You can put this in the opening slugline or scene description, but you must build on it during the first page. Your setting includes more than just a date and a place, but also the social, political, religious and economic conditions the characters face at the beginning of the story.

The Gothic horror film We Are What We Are starts in an isolated Appalachian town during a heavy rainstorm. Screenwriter Nick Damici and writer/director Jim Mickle use the setting to establish the dark and oppressive mood for the entire story and to draw the viewer into the creepy world of the Parker family and its “traditions”.

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on

Who Are You People? Build Your Characters

The first five pages of your screenplay also serve as the reader's first glimpse into the lives of your main characters. By Page 5, the reader should know the protagonist, the antagonist and the major supporting characters. While you don't want to tell their entire life histories in the first five pages, you want the reader to understand who these people are and their roles in your story.

Writer Ben Karlin and writer/director Stu Zicherman show the statuses of their main characters early in their script for the comedy A.C.O.D. The script opens with a married couple (Catherine O'Hara and Richard Jenkins) in a heated argument at their son Carter's (Adam Scott) eighth birthday party. The audience gets the immediate impression of Carter's unhappy childhood and his attempts to distance himself from this toxic family atmosphere.

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on

How Do I Know You? Form The Characters' Relationships

Not only should the first five pages of your screenplay introduce the characters to the audience, these pages should also establish how the characters relate to each other. The points emphasized in last week's post on the importance of conflict in every scene are even more vital in the opening scenes. These initial scenes show the audience the core conflict that will drive the rest of the story.

In 47 Ronin, writers Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini use their first five pages to show the relationships between “half-breed” Kai (Keanu Reeves) and the other characters. They show his loyalty to his master, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), his love for Asano's daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) and his rivalry with the samurai Oishii (Hiroyuki Sanada).

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on

What's Going On? Start the Action

When some writers take the time to establish the setting and characters in the first five pages, they often forget to start the action of the story. Readers will regard these pages as a pleasant introduction, but will quickly become impatient for more action. Your screenplay must move the story forward as soon as possible. You can start the action either immediately after introducing the characters and setting or allow the audience to learn about the characters as the action moves along.

In the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie Sabotage, the action starts with Breacher (Schwarzenegger) and his team raiding a drug kingpin's mansion. Screenwriters David Ayer and Skip Woods establish the setting and the relationships between the team members amidst the gunfire and explosions while keeping the action moving.

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on

Do I Want to Keep Reading? Engage the Reader

The goal of the first five pages of your screenplay is to make the reader want to get through the entire script. Producers and their script readers receive dozens of new scripts every day, so they don't have time to read a script that doesn't engage them until page 10 or 20. Your images, characters, conflicts and actions in the first five pages must be so compelling that the reader will not want to put your script down to answer the phone, eat lunch or go to the restroom.

The Jason Bateman comedy Bad Words starts with Guy Trilby (Bateman) sprinting out of an elementary school spelling bee with the trophy. Writer Andrew Dodge uses this opening to show how a ridiculous premise – a 40-year-old man competing in a kid's spelling bee – can make for a compelling story.

If you don't attract a reader's attention in the first five pages, whatever you do in the rest of the script doesn't matter. You can still save the best for last, but you must make a memorable first impression with your opening pages.

E-mail us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com to learn how to make your script stand out from the crowd. We specialize in developing ideas, characters and concepts into powerful and memorable stories. Also, remember to Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to get the newest updates.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Screenwriting Tips: 5 Reasons Every Scene Must Have Conflict

From Wikimedia Commons
One major trap that rookie screenwriters fall into involves including scenes that lack any conflict. These scenes may contain detailed dialogue, flowery descriptions, or overly specific exposition. As an experienced screenwriter, you understand that the objective of a script is not to show how beautifully you can write, but how efficiently you can tell your story. Regardless of if the conflict is “Man vs. Man”, “Man vs. Nature” or “Man vs. Himself”, conflict is the driving force behind every story.

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on Amazon

Reason #5: Reveal Character Motivations

“Adversity does not build character, it reveals it,” the old motivational maxim goes. The more conflict your characters encounter in pursuit of their goals, the more chances you have to reveal what those goals are and how far they will go to obtain them. As you raise the stakes through the story and place the characters in more desperate situations, the adversity and conflicts they face in every scene will show the audience more about that character's qualities.

In Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, writer/director David Lowery uses conflicts in nearly every scene to reveal the motivations of his main character, Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck). The conflicts shows Bob's Victories, Obstacles, Tactics and Energy with minimal dialogue and enough energy to earn a Grand Jury Prize nomination at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013.

Click Poster to Purchase
Blu-Ray on Amazon

Reason #4: Establish Character Relationships

You can also use conflict in every scene to establish the relationships between characters. The conflict you show in these relationships also serve as momentum to carry each character through their story arcs and show how those relationships evolve through the course of the script.

In Only God Forgives, writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn defines the character of Julian (Ryan Gosling) in his conflicts with his girlfriend Mai (Yayaying Rhatha Phongam), his mother Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) and police detective Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm).

Click Poster to Purchase
DVD on Amazon

Reason #3: Give Actors and Directors What They Need

When your script has conflict in every scene, the tasks involved in shooting each scene become much easier for the director and the actors. Directors will understand the objectives for each scene, while the actors will know how to play off each other and deliver better performances.

In the indie film Short Term 12, writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton uses the conflicts between Grace (Brie Larson), her boyfriend/co-worker Mason (John Gallagher, Jr.), and her charges in a foster care transition home to build an affecting story and strong but subtle performances.

Click Poster to Purchase
DVD on Amazon

Reason #2: Move the Story Forward

If there is an extreme example of a place where the saying “Time Is Money” is true, it's a film set. Every scene that does not carry the story forward constitutes a waste of time, money and effort on everyone involved. When you include conflict in every scene, you move the story toward its climax.

In the comedy In A World..., writer/director Lake Bell puts her character Carol into conflict her father (Fred Melamed), his protege (Ken Marino), her sister (Alexandra Holden) and brother-in-law (Rob Corddry), and nearly everyone else in the voice-over industry, while still keeping the story moving in a brisk and fun 93 minutes.

Click Poster to Purchase
DVD on Amazon

Reason #1: Give Audiences Reasons To Watch

In today's world of 500 cable TV channels, viral videos and streaming media, audiences have never had more choices. The best way to make them choose your story is to give them something to watch in every scene. If the story drags at any point, audiences will change to another channel, click another link or tweet a negative review.

The recent Scarlett Johannson film Under The Skin, with screenplay by Walter Campbell and directed by Jonathan Glazer, serves as a prime example of how NOT to maintain conflict in every scene, as it drags in too many places and cuts away quickly in others, leaving audiences confused, bored and frustrated.

If you haven't started writing your screenplay yet, you should attempt a scene-by-scene outline and determine the conflict in each scene. If you have a completed draft, read each scene, one at a time, and find the conflict. If the scene does not contain conflict, either find a way to establish conflict in that scene or cut it out.

From Wikimedia Commons
Remember, every conflict does not have to be a fistfight or shouting match. However, every conflict must push the main character either closer to or further from his goal. Whether your script is an action-packed thriller, a quirky comedy or a stark period drama, you want to take the audience on an emotional roller coaster. Conflicts give your scripts lots of ups, downs and loop-de-loops to make for an exciting ride.

If you want to learn how to bring conflict and tension your script, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. We specialize in developing ideas, characters and concepts into powerful and memorable stories. Also, remember to Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter to get the newest updates.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Selling Short: 5 Screenwriting Tips for Writing a Short Film

So you've spent months, or even years, working on your first feature-length screenplay. You've created outlines, developed character profiles, and broken down each scene. You've written and rewritten and polished and tweaked until your script has the shine of a new car and the sizzle of bacon on the stove.

The problem that you may have encountered in getting these scripts made into films often arises from forgetting the primary purpose of a screenplay. The script must serve as the blueprint for a film that an audience will go out and watch, not as a work of literature they will sit down and read. Even the lowest-budget feature screenplays require thousands of dollars, hundreds of hours and dozens of workers to assemble into a film.

However, you can hone your craft and build an audience by writing scripts for short films. Numerous short films use aspiring directors, up-and-coming actors and hard-working crew members to tell well-crafted stories in a wide range of genres. Here are some tips on how to approach writing your short film script.

Screenwriting Tip #1: Start With a Bang

Just like with a feature film, you want to start with a memorable opening image. The opening image serves to pull the audience into the world of the film while also establishing how that world works. In a feature film, you have more time to build the world and ease the audience into it. In a short film, the opening image has to pull the audience by the hand and establish time, location, character and situation all at once.

Screenwriting Tip #2: Keep It Simple, (Not) Stupid

Most short films operate on highly limited budgets, with very few locations, tight filming schedules and minimal special effects. You can still write a successful short film by using these limitations to your advantage, rather than viewing them as restraints on your creativity. A skilled writer can still tell a powerful story in ten minutes, without relying on exotic locales, extraneous effects, or an excessive budget.

Screenwriting Tip #3: Show, Don't Tell

Although many writing teachers have employed the phrase “show, don't tell” to the point of cliché, the idea behind it is an essential part of screenplay writing. In short films, you don't have time for characters to go off on long soliloquies or navel-gazing monologues while the audience waits for the next story beat. 

Instead, you should focus on how to get the characters to show their desires, fears and conflicts by using the least amount of dialogue possible. This approach makes your scripts shorter, the action more concise, and the tasks for the director and actors much easier.

Screenwriting Tip #4: Be Quick, But Don't Rush

On the other side of the coin, many first-time writers of short scripts attempt to tell the story as quickly as possible. The downside to this approach is that they rush through the action and skip through too many story beats. You should find the quickest method to establish each point in the story, without skipping over any essential information the audience needs to understand the characters.

Screenwriting Tip #5: What Happens Next?

You should end the script at a point where the action during the film has changed the character and has the audience asking, “What happens next?” In too many instances, short film screenwriters don't know how to create a memorable ending. Since short films frequently don't allow for noticeable character arcs, writers often get frustrated and reach a stopping point in the story.

Since making short films is typically much easier and cheaper than the same process for features, writing for short films often can establish your reputation as a screenwriter more so than writing and submitting unproduced feature screenplays. Many young directors and actors actively seek out talented writers to help them develop their ideas into scripts, which they can use to launch their own careers. 

Producers, studio executives and agents can make the time to watch a ten-minute short film on YouTube or another video sharing site, where they would not clear two hours out of their schedule to read your feature-length script. Short films also show the powers-that-be that other talented people have invested time, money and effort into bringing your ideas to life, which can influence them to follow suit.

If you want to learn how to create a compelling short script with dynamic characters, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook. We can work with you in turning your concepts and ideas into dynamic screenplays that can get the attention of agents, managers and producers.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Screenwriting Tips: How to Create Dramatic Tension With VOTE

If you read last week's post, you learned how to create dynamic characters with Victories, Obstacles, Tactics and Energy. This week, you'll see how to use these character traits to build dramatic tension in each scene. “Dramatic tension” can apply to over-the-top comedies and quiet character pieces as much as it does to intense family dramas and slam-bang action pieces. This tension keeps the story moving and keeps the reader's eyes riveted to the page.

Establishing Dramatic Tension

When you've established two strong characters and set them against each other, their encounters should result in an emotional explosion. The meeting can turn into a high-energy fist fight or a tense screaming match. Characters can communicate in whispered promises or veiled threats. You can establish this conflict by examining the VOTE sheets for each character and seeing both the obvious differences and the subtle shades in their approaches to their aspects of the story.

Click Poster to
Purchase on Amazon

Dramatic Tension: Victories

Your script may call for the most obvious source of dramatic tension, which comes from characters with two different conflicting victories they must achieve. The mathematical term “zero-sum game” refers to a game in which one side has to lose for the other side to win. Characters locked in a zero-sum game are in direct conflict: if A achieves his victory, B fails in his; if B wins, A loses. In the first Rocky film, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) wants to go the distance, but he must outlast hard-punching heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers). Apollo wants to put on a show, but Rocky stands in his way.

Click Poster to
Purchase on Amazon

Dramatic Tension: Obstacles

While your characters may want to achieve the same victory, they could also encounter different obstacles in their paths. In Ain't Them Bodies Saints, Bob (Casey Affleck) and Ruth (Rooney Mara) want to bring their family back together after Bob escapes from prison. Bob must avoid the authorities who want to send him back to prison, while Ruth must deal with her growing attraction to Deputy Wheeler (Ben Foster). When they finally come together, the relief of their reunion does not wash away their conflict.

Click Poster to
Purchase on Amazon

Dramatic Tension: Tactics

You can also create tension between characters when they each have the same victory and encounter the same obstacles, but they use different tactics. In the X-Men films, both Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Eric “Magneto” Lensherr (Ian McKellen) share the victory of protecting mutants and the obstacles of violence and discrimination they've encountered. The two lifelong friends take radically different tactics: Xavier promotes the causes of peace and coexistence, while Magneto wants to subjugate humanity and place mutants above ordinary humans.

Click Poster to
Purchase on Amazon

Dramatic Tension: Energy

Your characters can agree on nearly every facet of their drive toward their respective victories, but they can still have conflict stemming from the different energy sources that drive them down those paths. In the comedy The Internship, Billy (Vince Vaughan) and Nick (Owen Wilson) have the same victory of being selected for the Google internship. They have the same obstacles: advanced age, lack of maturity and complete ignorance of technology. They use the same tactics to build their team and achieve their goals. While Billy's energy comes from a drive to win, Nick's evolves into an effort to prove his worth  to Dana (Rose Byrne).

Click Poster to
Purchase on Amazon

Dramatic Tension in Every Scene

You should remember that, while maintaining dramatic tension during the whole script is an admirable goal, you must not forget to include some tension in every scene. A scene with dramatic tension moves the story forward, while one without tension sits like a speed bump in the road. The use of dramatic tension is especially important in scenes requiring exposition.

In The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belmont (Leonardo DiCaprio) explains the technical aspects of his stock scam to the audience. His brokers do their deals in one room as federal investigators pore over his records in another. The contrast between the wild brokers and the stoic Feds creates enough tension to make the audience sit still long enough for a lesson in securities fraud.

If you want to learn how to create stories with dramatic tension, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. You can also follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook. We can work with you in turning your concepts and ideas into dynamic screenplays that can get the attention of agents, managers and producers.