Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, June 23, 2014

Masters of Screenwriting: How A Great Story Resembles Great Sex

The Showtime series “Masters of Sex” dramatizes the groundbreaking studies in human sexuality conducted by Dr. William Masters (Michael Sheen) and his assistant, Virginia Johnson (Lizzy Caplan). The Masters and Johnson studies broke down human sexual response into four phases of a cycle: Excitement, Plateau, Climax and Resolution. Even if your story has nothing to do with sex, you can still follow the structure of this cycle to get a “rise” out of your audience.

Excitement: Get the Audience's Attention

According to Masters and Johnson, the signs of the “excitement” or “arousal” phase include a rise in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure. The sensory stimuli that trigger this phase can include a stolen glance, an enticing smile, a whispered word, or a favorite song, depending on the individual.

In a conventional three-act script, Act I of your script should include visual images, sound cues or dialog that attract the audience's interest and get them excited for the story you want to tell.

FRAT BOY drinks beer and laughs with a group of FRIENDS. The new fraternity pin on his jacket catches the light.

SORORITY GIRL enters and looks around.

Boy looks up and sees Girl across the room. Girl notices Boy and smiles at him. Boy smiles back and turns away.

Setup: Boy and Girl at a college party.
Inciting incident: Boy sees girl smile at him.
Debate: Does Boy ask Girl to dance or does he stick with his friends?

Plateau: Build the Tension

Rather than the “flat” image the word conveys, the “plateau” phase involves the increasing tension and anticipation of the sexual encounter. Once you've engaged and attracted the audience in Act I, you must use Act II to build the tension and push the audience to the brink of either release or frustration.

Friends encourage Boy to approach Girl. Boy takes tentative steps toward Girl.

Girl shuffles her feet, twirls her hair, suppresses a nervous giggle. DJ plays a SLOW SONG.

Boy reaches for Girl's hand. Girl looks down, then back up into his eyes, then takes his hand.

Boy leads her to the dance floor. They hold each other close as they dance together.

The tension builds as Boy debates whether or not to approach Girl. Girl also debates as to whether or not she wants to dance with Boy. Boy takes the initiative and Girl responds. They build a closeness that ramps up the tension between them and builds on what can happen later that evening.

Climax: Release the Tension

In the Masters and Johnson model, the climax phase releases the tension and creates a sense of euphoria. At some point in your script, the audience can't take another page of the building tension and wants a release. Act III serves as the payoff to all the tension that you've built up in the preceding acts.

Boy and Girl hold hands as they walk toward the front door. They step up to the porch and exchange nervous glances.

He unclips his fraternity pin and pins it to her collar. She smiles, gives him a quick kiss and enters the house.

The climaxes of your scripts need not be so literal in their interpretation of the word, but they must show that the old world has passed and a new status quo has taken hold.

Resolution: Take a Breather

After the climax, the participants enter the “resolution” or “afterglow” phase, in which the heart rate slows down and the blood pressure drops. The last few pages of your script should also allow the audience to take a breather, assess the situation and walk away with a sense of satisfaction.

An OLD WOMAN adjusts her black dress and hat in a mirror. She goes to the dresser and adjusts several framed photos of herself and an OLD MAN.

The photos include a retirement party for the Old Man, a college graduation with her, the Old Man and their SON, a five-year-old's birthday party, and a wedding photo of the Boy and Girl.

She picks up a small jewelry box and opens it. The fraternity pin catches the sunlight.

She removes the pin from the box, pins it to her dress and smiles.

Her son enters the room, wearing a black suit and a somber expression. He sees his mother and the pin on her dress. He gives her a curious look.

She smiles, pats him on the chest and leads him out of the room.
While your script doesn't have to be about sex, it does have to take the audience on the same journey of excitement, tension, climax and resolution. As with any good encounter, you want the reader to leave with a smile and a warm memory, not with a sense of regret and a “walk of shame”.

If you want a script leaves the reader with a smile, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. We give new and experienced screenwriters face-to-face or online consultations on their story ideas, outlines and finished scripts. You also check out out us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and support us on our Amazon store.

Monday, June 16, 2014

"Stone Cold" Screenwriting: Arrive. Raise Hell. Leave.

During the late 1990s and early 2000s, no one in the offbeat world of professional wrestling was a bigger star than “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Although his chief in-ring rival, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, became an international movie star, Austin was much more popular in his role as the anti-hero who beat up his boss, flipped off the crowd, and poured beer down his throat.

So what does pro wrestling (or “sports entertainment”) have do to with screenwriting? Among the numerous merchandise items designed for his character, Austin had a T-shirt printed with the motto: “Arrive. Raise Hell. Leave.” As a screenwriter, you would do well to keep that motto in mind when writing each scene.

Arrive (Late)

Many rookie screenwriters write their scenes as if they need to fill in every detail. Instead of having your character leave the house for work, your scene may show the character showering, brushing his teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, grabbing his keys and wallet, and heading out the door. Unless these actions reveal some specific aspect of your character or relate directly to your story, you should cut these extraneous activities and get to the meat of the scene as quickly as possible.

Raise Hell

In a previous post, we looked at the reasons you should add conflict in every scene. Conflict can serve one of two purposes: it either moves your story forward, or it reveals aspects of your characters. Conflict moves your story forward by showing the barriers between your protagonist and his goal. It also reveals important aspects of your characters by showing what your protagonist will do to overcome those barriers and achieve those goals. If your character doesn't “raise hell” to get through those barriers, your scene (and the entire story) will fail to capture the audience's attention.

Leave (Early)

In each scene, every one of your characters should have a goal in mind. Your character either achieves this “scene goal” or comes up short. In either case, your character should not take a lengthy period to discuss, analyze or recap what just happened. Your characters (and the audience) know what happened, so your best choice is to move on to the next scene. The following scene can involve either the next step in your character's arc, or a strategy session to develop a new plan where the previous one failed, but you need to get out of each scene and onto the next as quickly as possible.

Open Up a Can

In his interviews to promote an upcoming match, Austin often promised to “open up a can of whup-ass” on his opponents. Although he didn't always win every match, he kept his promise for giving an exciting and impactful performance every time. Shorter scenes also allow you to create emotionally powerful moments in your screenplays. With longer scenes, especially those that take their time getting to the point, you risk losing your audience before you can open up a can of emotional “whup-ass”.

Deliver a “Stone Cold” Stunner

While filmmakers are always on the lookout for strong stories, they also must keep an eye on the expenses involved in scouting, casting, setting up, shooting and editing each scene. Short scenes show producers that you can write an economical story, in terms of both time and money. When your scenes can convey the action of your story in short, powerful bursts, you're on your way to delivering a “stunner” of a script.

If you want a script that kicks ass, gimme a “Hell Yeah!” Or, you can contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. We provide face-to-face or online consultations for both new and experienced screenwriters. Whether you want to polish your script for contests, prepare it for agent meetings or hone your skills for pitch fests, we can help. You also check out out us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and support us on our Amazon store.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Short Timers: Writing Scripts Under a Deadline

Napoleon Hill, the 20th Century American author of motivational books like Think and Grow Rich and The Law of Success, once wrote, “a goal is a dream with a deadline.” Thousands of screenwriters have the goal of seeing their works on a big screen in front of a receptive audience, but too many of them either put off developing their scripts or over-edit their scripts (and themselves) to the breaking point. These writers preserve their “dreams” of becoming successful screenwriters at the expense of actually achieving those dreams.

Make a Film in 48 Hours?

For the past three years, I have had the privilege of working on the 48 Hour Film Project, a contest in which a team must write, rehearse, shoot, edit and deliver a short film in 48 hours. The project organizers give the team a genre, character name, occupation, prop and line of dialogue, all of which must be included in the final product. This year's result was "Dreamland Murders", a dark comedy of lust, betrayal and murder set in the Roaring Twenties.

Deadlines: Restriction or Resolution?

Many rookie screenwriters view deadlines as a restriction on their freedom of expression. However, professional screenwriters understand that dozens of jobs, thousands of man-hours and millions of dollars depend on them delivering the best story they can within a specific deadline. These writers practice their craft to the point that they can take the specific elements that a producer or director give them and turn those pieces into a complete picture.

Deadlines and Dollar Signs

Writers who can't write under a deadline are hobbyists, not professionals. Hobbyists can take their time and enjoy the writing process in their time away from their “day jobs”. For professional writers, writing is our “day job”. We need to write to pay the rent, keep the lights on and put food on the table. Most professional screenwriting contracts have deadlines that range from 8 to 12 weeks for first drafts and 4 to 6 weeks for revisions. Writers who consistently deliver on those deadlines often get more and better assignments, while those who can't deliver get left behind.

Find Writing Deadlines

Since many of you are not professionals (yet), you may need another source of motivation to force you to meet deadlines. With so many screenwriting contests, pitch fests, and film festivals available worldwide, writers certainly don't lack for either motivation or deadlines. If your script needs work, work on it as much as you can between now and the deadline. However, don't stress out if it doesn't meet your idea of perfection. As Lorne Michaels, long-time producer of “Saturday Night Live” told the Harvard Business Review, “Knowing the deadline is real. That focuses people’s thinking. We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30.”

If you need help in delivering your script under a deadline, contact us at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog [at] gmail [dot] com. We offer one-on-one consultations for rookie screenwriters and can prepare your script for contests, agent meetings or pitch fests. You also check out out us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and purchase products through our Amazon links.

Story Into Screenplay also has a new YouTube channel, where we recently posted recordings of comic book legend Stan Lee's appearance at Houston's Comicpalooza convention.