Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, August 31, 2015

Don't Just Write Your Screenplay. Hear It.

An issue with many writers is that we work in isolation. We imagine how it will sound on the screen in our minds. We dream that every word will fall “trippingly on the tongue” and move an audience to tears.

I recently attended auditions for a short script that I wrote. For the first time, I was able to see the process of how the actors and director work together to bring the script to life. Since this will be a volunteer project, the actors have to believe in the script to deliver the best performance.

The level of performance I saw in the first round of auditions blew me away. The actors studied the script. They came prepared. They focused on delivering a strong reading. They also came with questions on how the characters should react to each other. The entire experience was an eye-opener and showed how much everyone involved believed in the script.

Many rookie screenwriters ignore the fact that their dialogue is eventually meant to be spoken by actual human beings. When writers hear their dialogue spoken out loud, it can feel as beautiful and life-affirming as holding your newborn child in your arms. When the dialogue is bad or clunky, it can also feel as terrifying and awkward as when Victor Frankenstein's monster lurched to life.

Dialogue is a lot like music: its purpose is to be heard, not to be read. Nobody reads sheet music for fun, but everybody listens to music. Aspiring screenwriters, especially those making the transition from prose to script, must remember that dialogue should be like good music.

Since you can't play every instrument yourself, it's extremely valuable to get a band together for a run-through. The best recommendation I can give is to find a group of actors willing to read through your screenplay, including a separate reader for the stage directions and sluglines. When you listen to trained actors read through a script, even if it's a cold read, you can get a great feel for how your dialogue should sound.

If you don't have a group of trained actors available, get a group of friends and make a party out of it. You may have to spring for food and beverages (save the adult beverages for after the reading), but it'll be worth it to hear your dialogue spoken out loud. This type of social reading can also allow your friends to offer honest criticism of the script, rather than the pat “It's nice/I like it” answers they give to protect your feelings.

A live reading can answer numerous questions about your dialogue:

  • Is it too long? Are the actors running out of breath before they can finish a line?
  • Is it clear? Does the meaning you intended to convey come across?
  • Does it serve the story? Is it just filler before you get to the “good stuff”?
  • Does it reveal aspects of the character? Does it advance the character toward his/her goals in that scene?
  • Is it “on the nose”? Does it force characters to “tell” the audience the story, rather than show it through their actions?

Remember, the object of writing a script is not to write a script. The object of writing a script is to have it turned into a film that producers will make, actors will perform, and audiences will pay to see. If you hear your dialogue out loud and cringe at every word, go back and rewrite it with the above questions in mind.

For those writers who feel they need additional help with their dialogue, Story Into Screenplay now offers coverage reports. These reports look just like those from studio readers, including a logline and 1-2 page synopsis, and offer grades on:

  • Structure
  • Concept
  • Character Development
  • Dialogue
  • Entertainment Value
  • Story Logic
  • Action
  • First Impression
  • Spelling/Grammar
  • Format
  • Overall Impressions

For more information on how to get a coverage report for your script, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com. Please include the phrase “SIS Coverage Reports” in your email. You can also reach out through our Facebook and Twitter links.

You can also check out my recent interview on the Fountain of Youth Productions page. The interview was geared to promote the “Summer of Screenwriting” Program, which helps young screenwriters learn their craft.

For more adventures of a working screenwriter, check out Paul Zeidman's blog. He's a very talented Bay Area writer with lots of great stories.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Dare-Devil in the Details: How Small Items Can Reveal Big Things in Your Screenplay

As a lifelong comic book fan, I've collected thousands of comics over the years, including a long run of the Marvel series Daredevil. However, when it comes to the Daredevil Netflix series, I've been inexcusably late to the party. I've watched up to Episode 9 (“Speak of the Devil”) and every episode has shown tight writing, understated direction and subtle performances.

While Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock shows the deep-seated conflict between his duty to uphold the law and his need for justice outside it (“Wants vs. Needs"), the real show-stealer has been Vincent D'Onfrio as Wilson “Kingpin” Fisk. In Episode 8 (“Shadows in the Glass”), we get one of the best Marvel “origin stories” since Captain America: The First Avenger, but with a much darker tone.


The episode opens with Wilson Fisk waking from a nightmare and staring at the white painting he purchased from Vanessa (Ayelet Zurer). He goes through what seems like a normal routine – making an omelet, eating breakfast, selecting his suit, putting on his cufflinks.

When he checks his reflection in a mirror to see a pudgy boy covered in blood. While most writers would use this as a “jump scare”, the scene also serves as a “jumping off point” for Fisk's origin story.

Young Wilson (Cole Jensen) learns from his father (Domenick Lombardozzi) that the only emotion a “real man” should feel is rage. The senior Fisk campaigns for a seat on the City Council, while wearing the same cufflinks the adult Wilson was wearing in the opening scene.

When his father loses the election, he blames Wilson and his mother. He orders Wilson to stare at a blank white wall, which bears a close resemblance to the painting he bought from Vanessa. When his father assaults his mother, Wilson targets his father with that rage - and the hammer he used to nail his father's campaign signs.

(Random thought: If Pixar had tried to make Inside Out about Wilson Fisk, Joy, Sadness, Fear and Disgust would all be lying dead at Anger's feet. Marvel and Pixar are both owned by Disney, so does that leave the door open for a crossover?)

The details in the young Fisk story – the cufflinks, the hammer, the painting – all come full circle when Fisk's assistant Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) brings Vanessa in to calm him down after a meeting goes badly. Fisk explains his family history to Vanessa, including why he wears his father's cufflinks every day.

“I do it to show that I'm not my father,” he tells her. “I do it to show I'm not a monster.” This line goes back to characters not saying what they really mean ("Screenplay Subtext: Don't Say What You Mean") , as he knows that he's a monster but he's not ready to admit it.

Instead of running away from this “monster,” Vanessa embraces him and enables his transition from lurking in the shadows to basking in the New York limelight. She changes his wardrobe, including his cufflinks, and enables him to go public with his plans to transform Hell's Kitchen.

The writers also avoid the cliché of the “good girl” turning the “bad boy” into a “good man.” With Vanessa's encouragement, Fisk becomes even more dangerous, as his public appearances hamper the efforts of Matt, Foggy (Elden Henson), Karen (Deborah Ann Woll) and Ben (Vonde Curtis-Hall) to expose his criminal activities.

Screenwriters have such a limited time to tell an effective story. Every word should serve either to reveal an aspect of the character or to move the story forward. The Daredevil writers show how to accomplish both of those tasks in nearly every episode. Rookie writers can find ways to use images, props, or even favorite foods to achieve these goals.

Get a FREE Screenwriting Consultation

If you're dealing with a devil in your details, contact Story Into Screenplay for a FREE screenwriting consultation session. If you also book a paid session during the month of August, you will receive a 20 percent discount on all paid sessions.

You can contact Story Into Screenplay at StoryIntoScreenplayBlog(at)gmail(dot)com and enter “Loyal Reader Discount” in the subject line to find out more about this limited time offer. You can also check out our Facebook page for updates and links to other screenwriting resources.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Not A Fan: 4 Reasons Why Fantastic Four Failed

By now, you've probably seen the numerous negative reviews for the new Fantastic Four movie (here's my review at Indie Slate). Despite both its comic book pedigree and the talent surrounding the project, Fantastic Four will likely not win the weekend box office. Plans for a potential sequel in 2017 may be either delayed or scrapped entirely.

The critical “autopsy” on this ambitious but disappointing film has already begun, so let's examine some theories on the “cause of death.”


Lack of Clear Victory

As I wrote last week on Inside Out, characters that are emotionally thin can still make for compelling stories if they have clear goals and pursue them with all their heart. A major flaw in Fantastic Four is that the only character who expresses a clear goal is Dr. Franklin Storm (Reg E. Cathey).

The title characters either never express their goals or pursue them half-heartedly.

  • Reed (Miles Teller) says, “I just want to fix my friends,” but takes almost no action towards that goal other than running away.
  • Johnny (Michael B. Jordan) claims that he just wants to make enough money to get his car back, but he sticks around the project and needlessly exposes himself to the dangers of “Planet Zero”. 
  • Ben (Jamie Bell) should have the goal of returning to his normal life, but never expresses it. 
  • Victor's (Toby Kemmell) objectives are unclear, even when he becomes “Dr. Doom” and rules a new planet. He shows his jealousy of Reed and his desire for Sue, but never pursues the goals of either destroying Reed's reputation or winning Sue's affection.
  • Sue's (Kate Mara) motives are as invisible as the rest of her, both visually and emotionally.

Your script needs characters that have clear goals, as well as the desire to push through any obstacle to reach those goals. Without those goals, your characters will come across as dull, lifeless puppets, rather than strong individuals an audience wants to see succeed (or fail) based on their own efforts.

Lack of Strong Antagonist

Another problem with this film is the lack of a strong antagonist. For most of the film, the main antagonist is Dr. Allen (Tim Blake Nelson), who wants to use Ben, Sue and Johnny for the benefit of his Pentagon patrons.

Dr. Storm and Sue offer only lip service in resistance, while Ben and Johnny go along with being used as living weapons. Reed goes into hiding and fights off a squad of soldiers, but ends up captured rather easily by Ben.

The final fight scene wants to establish Victor, errr, I mean “DOOM!”, as the Big Bad. After he defeats each of the Quarrelsome Quartet individually, they come together as a team (just like Dr. “Obi-Wan” Storm told them they should) and put down their former colleague with relative ease.

Without a strong antagonist, the main characters have neither the reason nor the impetus to grow out of their comfort zones. They fail to grow and change, leaving them exactly where they started and leaving the audience wondering why they wasted their time watching.

Pacing Issues

The problems with pacing throughout Fantastic Four made it seem less like a roller-coaster ride and more like a long car trip. While many screenwriting teachers have criticized the simplistic screenplay structure taught in books like Save The Cat, at least it teaches writers how to pace their story elements.

To borrow a metaphor from a much better Miles Teller film, the first half was “dragging” and the second half was “rushing”. The use of a story framework, whether you call it a “Beat Sheet”, a “mini-movie” or a “seven-act structure”, can help you make sure that your story has a place for everything and everything at its pace.

Lazy Writing

For a screenplay with three credited writers (including the director and producer), as well as a reputed $120 million production budget, the story came across as lazy and half-finished.

  • On-the-nose dialogue: Too many instances to name, from Dr. Storm's speechifying about uniting humanity and saving the planet, to Reed's “pep talk” of “He's not stronger than all of us,” the script could definitely have used some more subtle dialogue.
  • Telling, not showing: Dr. Allen debriefs Ben on his last mission. Instead of showing the fight (as promised in the trailer), the characters talk about it. The “One Year Later” time skip shows them using their powers with ease, rather than showing them struggling to grow into their new abilities. 
  • Empty characters: A major hole in the script is Sue's weak characterization. The sum total of effort put into her character is that she listens to Portishead. She doesn't even get invited on the boys' inter-dimensional joyride; she only gets dosed with radiation by accident after trying to rescue them.

As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “Everyone in your life is either a blessin', or a lesson.” Screenwriters should take that same attitude toward movies. A movie like Inside Out is a true “blessin'” and shows how powerful a great script can be. Fantastic Four serves as a “lesson” by showing what not to do.

Loyal Reader Discount

Speaking of lessons, if you feel that you need lessons on how to develop your script, Story Into Screenplay is offering a FREE initial consultation sessions during August. The initial consultation will show you how to develop characters, create conflicts, and build story structures.

The standard rate for paid session is $50 per hour. However, if you book a paid session in August, your hourly rate will be only $40 per hour. Also, if you book in August, your rate will stay at $40 per hour no matter how many sessions you need. This offer expires September 1, so get in on it now!

Contact Story Into Screenplay

If you want to take advantage of this offer, email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com and enter “Loyal Reader Discount” in the subject line. You can also check out our Facebook page for updates, movie reviews and screenwriting advice.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Depth vs. Desire: Inside Out And Why Character Depth Is Overrated

Many rookie screenwriters, especially those making the transition from novels, believe that they need to give their characters emotional “depth.” They believe that giving characters complex and conflicting emotions is they key to creating a memorable and successful screenplay.

The new Pixar movie Inside Out knocks out that idea faster than Ronda Rousey does to her opponents. Each primary character portrays – literally- a single emotion. Although the animation is 3-D, the characters are emotionally one-dimensional. The script, written by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, shows that characters don't need a great deal of emotional depth if they have strong enough desires.

Emotion, Space and Time

One of the problems with investing a character in a screenplay with emotional depth comes from the limited space and time you have to tell your character's story. A standard feature screenplay should come in between 90 and 100 pages. Some readers and producers will check to see how long the script is before they even read it, so you don't have pages to waste on how the character feels about every aspect of her life. In only 94 minutes, Inside Out told a powerful story, with memorable characters and impactful moments, so make every line count.

Desire Reveals Emotion

When you instill a desire in a character, the nature of that desire will reveal the character's emotional depth, without the need for lengthy monologues or boring exposition. In Inside Out, Joy's main desire is to get back to HeadQuarters and take back control of Riley's emotions. Sadness' primary goal is to be part of the team, despite Joy's efforts to exclude her. Bing Bong, Riley's childhood imaginary friend, wants to reunite with Riley and pick up where their relationship left off.

Victory vs. Energy

In an earlier post, I discussed the VOTE outline.
  • V for Victory
  • O for Obstacles
  • T for Tactics
  • E for Energy

When it comes to finding a character's strongest desire, the Victory and Energy go hand-in-hand. The Victory is always a concrete goal or aspiration, while the Energy provides the emotional fuel that drives the pursuit of that Victory. For Joy, the Victory is to get back to HeadQuarters, while her need to keep Riley happy provides the Energy. For Sadness, the Victory is helping both her and Joy get back to HQ, with her need to feel relevant and contribute to Riley's emotional balance gives her Energy.

Pursuit Forces Change

The pursuit of any goal forces the character into changing their actions, beliefs and attitudes. If you've ever studied for a test, tried to lose weight, or attempted to overcome a crippling fear, you understand that the pursuit of those goals forces you to change. Sadness' desire to feel relevant causes her to reach out to the despondent Bing Bong, which helps her realize her potential for the first time. Joy's attempts to leave the Memory Dump, and the loss of Bing Bong, bring about her change from perpetually happy to strong and determined.

Actions Create Depth

The most effective way to create emotional depth for your characters in such a limited space comes from having them take actions that push them well outside their comfort zones. The time-worn writing cliches of “show, don't tell” and “actions speak louder than words”, while annoying, are also highly useful. If you want to show the depths of a character's emotions, show how far they're willing to go (or how low they're willing to sink) to achieve their heart's desire.

Story Into Screenplay Loyal Reader Discount

If your heart's desire is to write a killer screenplay, you don't need to go to the same extreme lengths to which you'll push your characters. Just send an email to storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com with the subject “Loyal Reader Discount” for a FREE one-hour consulting session.

During this session, we will discuss your screenwriting background, education, accomplishments and goals. I'll share with you my approach to screenwriting, which focuses on creating memorable characters that producers will want to read, actors will want to portray, and audiences will want to see.

After your free session, you'll also qualify for continuing sessions at a 20 percent discount. The standard rate for screenwriting consulting sessions is $50 per hour, but new clients who sign up before August 31 can receive ongoing consulting sessions for $40 per hour. You MUST schedule a paid session before August 31 to qualify for the reduced rate.

Keep in Touch with Story Into Screenplay

You can also “Like” the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page, follow @storyintoscreen on Twitter, check out the YouTube channel as well as the soon-to-be-growing filmography.

If you want to read about the adventures of another working screenwriter, check out Paul Zeidman's blog at Maximum Z

Drop us a line at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com if you have any questions. You can also sign up for your FREE initial consulting session with the subject “Loyal Reader Discount”.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Story Into Screenplay Update: Surveys, Screenwriting and Savings

First off, I would like to thank everyone that took part in the Story Into Screenplay survey last month. I appreciate your input and will try to develop the blog and the overall web site into a useful and entertaining resource for screenwriters at all levels. I would also like to thank all of those who took advantage of the free one-hour consulting sessions. I appreciate your questions and I hope that you'll also take advantage of the discounted sessions available in August.

New Screenwriting Projects

A major reason why I haven't posted any blog entries recently has been that I've been working on several promising projects. I have a new project that was shot earlier this month and will be submitted to the upcoming Cinespace project I mentioned in a previous post. The project is scheduled to be turned in July 31 and will be eligible for screening at the Houston Cinema Arts Festival in November.

I'm also working closely with a Houston-area director and producer on a short sci-fi script. Casting auditions will take place this week, with shooting scheduled for September. Assuming that all of these projects come through, I'll have three short films based on my scripts completed by the end of 2015 to add to my filmography.

Summer of Screenwriting Opportunities

I've also had some meetings on some potential TV projects. I'm not yet at liberty to discuss the details, but these projects look like they could be fun and reach a wide audience. I will also have an interview posted on the Fountain of Youth “Summer Into Screenplay” program  for young screenwriters in August.

As you can see, it's been a busy summer already for me. However, as vacation season winds down, days get shorter, and kids go back to school, you may look back at your summer and see that you didn't accomplish as many of your screenwriting goals as you wanted. While the end of summer can be full of distractions, it can also offer some unique opportunities.

Story Into Screenplay Loyal Readers Program

Loyal Story Into Screenplay readers can qualify for both a FREE one-hour consulting session and a discount on continuing sessions. The normal price for one-on-one consulting sessions is $50 per hour. The Loyal Reader Discount entitles you to an initial FREE session and continuing sessions at $40 per hour, a 20 percent discount from the standard rate.

How to Qualify for the Loyal Reader Discount :
1. Are you reading this right now?
If you answer, “Yes,” congratulations! You qualify for the Loyal Reader Discount!

All you have to do is email your contact information and screenwriting goals to storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject “Loyal Reader Discount”. Houston-area Loyal Readers can schedule a face-to-face meeting. Loyal Readers outside the Houston area can schedule a phone consultation.

You must book your FREE consultation appointment by Saturday, August 15. Your FREE consultation will include:

  • Discussing your screenwriting education and experience.
  • Assessing your screenwriting goals
  • Finding your strengths and weaknesses as a screenwriter
  • Demonstrating my screenwriting strategies
  • Determining the best strategy for future screenwriting consultations

After the FREE consultation, you will be eligible to receive your first paid consultation session at the discounted rate. When you book your first paid consultation by Monday, August 31, all your subsequent consultation sessions will be at the discounted rate. Any initial paid consultations booked after August 31 will be at the full rate.

How to Receive the Loyal Reader Discount:

  1. Email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com.
  2. Enter “Loyal Reader Discount” in the subject line.
  3. Include your contact name, phone number, screenwriting goals and schedule availability in the message.

In the future, the Loyal Reader program will also include discounts on coverage reports, script analysis and much more. You can also sign up for our email list or Like us on Facebook to get the latest updates.

You can also check out the blog of Bay Area screenwriter Paul Zeidman at Maximum Z. I had the pleasure of chatting with Paul a few weeks ago. His blog offers some great insights into his own screenwriting efforts.

For my next entry, I'll discuss how the recent Pixar movie Inside Out shows that "emotional depth" is not always necessary for creating strong characters.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Screenplay Research: Why Should I Care?

"Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care." - Theodore Roosevelt

I've participated in some local short film contests, but this one has me more excited than most. NASA and the Houston Cinema Arts Society are putting together a short film contest called CineSpace. The contest is free to enter, but filmmakers must use NASA-provided stills and/or video clips for at least 10% of the film's running time. (Max. 15 minutes)

The contest has led me to research about the recent discoveries of potentially habitable planets. I've read about how radio waves propagate through space. I've learned about how a “superterran” planet can form around a red dwarf star.

Cool stuff, right? Unfortunately, my assignment isn't to write a scientific research paper. It's to write a film script. So how can I create a film with all of this cool stuff and still make it something that non-science nerds will want to see?


Coming off of Comicpalooza, one of the things that I've learned is that the major attraction that draws fans into properties is their relationship with the characters. People don't enter cosplay contests dressed as “exploration” or “wonder” or “science.” They dress as Doctor Who, Batman or Cheetara (thanks Juniper) because they relate to the characters. If the CineSpace project is going to succeed, it needs to have characters that elicit emotional investments from the audience.


Once the audience invests in the character's well-being, your job as a writer is to knock that character off his comfortable perch and into a different world than he has ever known. Some of the terms for this story beat include “catalyst,” an “inciting incident” or a “call to adventure.” For instance, if my main character in my CineScape project is an alien, the catalyst can be that he has crash-landed on Earth in an attempt to escape his oppressive home planet.


Another thing I learned from the Comicpalooza convention is that people enjoyed dressing up as villains at least as much (if not more) than they wanted to portray heroes. For every Wonder Woman or Batgirl, there were ten Poison Ivies and Harley Quinns. The antagonist has to be stronger, more powerful, and more charismatic than the protagonist. The antagonist has to create the obstacles that the protagonist must overcome to reach his goals.


A major mistake that many rookie writers make, especially those in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, is that they get caught up in their “cool stuff.” When it comes to developing an interesting idea, a compelling concept is a necessity. When it comes time to write the story, the need for strong characters, conflicts and story points push the concept to the back of the line. From the example above, I have to get the audience to care about my escaped alien before I can point at the “cool stuff” about exoplanets.

Contact (Me)

If you need help with your screenplay, story or concept, you can reach me at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com. I offer face-to-face consulting for writers in the Houston area and Skype consultations for writers in other parts of the world. I also provide coverage reports which include breakdowns of your characters, story arcs and entertainment value of your existing scripts. You can also check out the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page and my Filmography, which includes links to my IMDB page and clips of the films I've written.

Thanks to all those who attended my Comicpalooza panels. I plan to attend similar panels at Space City Comic Con in July and Amazing Comic Con in September, as well as other Houston-area film industry events.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Adventures At Comicpalooza

While most of you outside of Houston may have been enjoying baseball games, barbecues and beautiful weather on Memorial Day Weekend, some of us put in some serious work before the sequel to Noah's Flood hit the (overflowing) Bayou City.

I attended the Comicpalooza sci-fi convention in Houston all weekend. No sunny skies or green lawns for me; just hard concrete and sub-zero air conditioning in Houston's George R. Brown Convention Center, followed by torrential rains and insect infestations at home.


I spent my Friday walking the enormous convention floor. I visited dozens of tables talking with novelists, publishers, and comic book creators on how to adapt their works into screenplays. Many of these writers have concepts that can launch new film franchises. My job is to help them realize that potential by adapting their work to the screenplay format.


Early Saturday morning, I delivered a talk titled “Turn Your Story Into A Screenplay.” For a talk that started at 10am on a Saturday, in a room situated at the far end of the convention center, with little advance publicity aside from Facebook group posts, I was pleasantly surprised by both the number and enthusiasm of the attendees. A few of them stopped me during the convention and commented on how they felt the presentation helped them differentiate between novel writing and screenwriting.

Saturday afternoon, I spoke on the panel, “How to Get an Audience for Your Movie or Web Series” with filmmakers Chuck Norfolk (Haunted Trailer), Joe Grisaffi (Dead of Knight), Judith B. Shields (Frankenstein's Monster) and Paul Bright (Long Term Parking), as well as best-selling author Rachel Caine (Morganville). I also attended panels with Houston-area filmmakers Michelle Mower (Preacher's Daughter), Carlos Tovar (More Than Human) and Mel House (Psychic Experiment).


Sunday was mostly “Fanboy Day,” as I took photos of the cars, costumes and celebrities around the convention floor. I also had a chat with writer Peter David. Peter has written for comics (Incredible Hulk), film (Oblivion), TV (Babylon 5), and animation (Young Justice). He has also written a series of Star Trek tie-in novels and co-wrote the autobiography of the late James “Scotty” Doohan.

We discussed some of the differences between writing for animation and writing a live-action spec script. While camera directions are typically a no-no in live action scripts, an animation script reads like a blend of a spec and shooting script.

Sunday evening was the screening and award ceremony for “The ZONE,” a Houston-based sci-fi film contest. Contestants were required to write, shoot, edit and add VFX for a short film in seven days' time. Despite the short time frame, several films showed tremendous imagination and technical prowess.

The film I wrote, Breathe Easy, was nominated for two awards. Cara Cochran, our lead actress, won the contest's Best Actress Award. Cara has worked on two other films I wrote, Curveball (2013) and Dreamland Murders (2014). Her work on my scripts has served as both confirmation and challenge: it confirms that I can write strong scripts, but it also challenges me to provide her with memorable roles.


I spent Monday at a screening for Curveball and browsing the dealer's room. (Pro Tip #1: The final day at a convention is when you can get the best deals on merchandise.) I chatted with fantasy author Raymond E. Feist as he signed some of my books. He told me about how his stepfather, Felix Feist, was a writer/director in film and television for more than 30 years.

Although popular media portrays the major comic conventions as showcases for blockbuster movies, they can also be a useful networking tool for your screenwriting efforts. If you live near a major city and can attend a convention, I highly recommend it.

(Pro Tip #2: Don't try to slip a business card under Stan Lee's hotel room door before he leaves town. Hotel security really frowns that kind of behavior. I was just hoping he'd pass it on to Kevin Feige so I can get a taste of that sweet, sweet Marvel money!)

If you need help with your idea, concept, or script, please send your information to storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com. You can also check out our Facebook page and my filmography listing.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Adapting to Adaptations

If you want to call yourself a screenwriter, you owe it to yourself to see the film Adaptation. Yes, Nic Cage is his usual unhinged self as real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Being John Malkovich, Synecdoche, New York) and his mythical twin brother, wannabe-writer Donald. Yes, Brian Cox delivers an affecting performance as screenwriting guru Robert McKee. However, the real genius to this film is that it shows the trouble that screenwriters can get into when adapting work from another medium into a feature screenplay.

Some media forms, such as comic books and TV shows, already have a visual component that makes the process much easier. Other forms, such as epic fantasy or sweeping space opera, force screenwriters to leave some of the best bits off the script. Non-fiction works, including memoirs and historical accounts, can force the writer to choose between factual accuracy and screenplay structure.

With the growing market for screenplay adaptations, rookie writers should pay attention to the pitfalls that can stop their progress before they start. If you're called on to do a screenplay adaptation of an existing work, here are some things to keep in mind.

Characters Come First

As with any story, whether it's your first spec script or a work-for-hire adaptation, the wants and needs of the characters must be first and foremost in your mind. If the source material gives you what you need to define those wants and needs, then the adaptation process becomes much easier. If the source gives you only names, dates, places and events, you will need to flesh out the characters from what you have available. Movies need actors. Actors want roles. Your script has to give them those roles.

Conflict Drives Story

When the source material for an adaptation gives you convincing, conflicting and convicted characters, your screenwriting efforts can feel like a walk in the park on a spring day. When the source's characters fail to establish a conflict, or when the source material has no apparent conflict, the writing process can feel like a walk through hell in gasoline underwear. The burden falls on you to give the characters goals to reach, obstacles to overcome and conflicts to drive their pursuit of those goals.

Condense As Needed

How many times have you heard fans of a piece of source material complain, “I really HATE that the movie left out XXX from the book/comic/video game/TV show!” The next time you hear this complaint, ask them to do some math: how else do you expect to condense all that source material down to a 110-page screenplay? Don't be afraid to drop characters, condense personalities, shorten time frames or rearrange events to make your adaptation work as a stand-alone screenplay.

Core Elements Attract Fans

On the other hand, you should be familiar with the elements that attracted fans to the original source material. If you have Bruce Wayne drive the Batmobile to visit his still-living parents, you've missed a major core element of that character. *cough-ManofSteel-cough*

You don't need to include every possible piece of “fan service” in your adaptation, but a few shout-outs will earn you both the good will of the hardcore fans and admiration from the producers and authors that you recognize what made the source material work.

If you do an adaptation of another writer's material, remember that an adaptation is just that. You are adapting the material for a different medium. The screenwriter, the original author and the fans of the source material must understand that an adaptation is not a translation.

The biological definition of “adaptation” is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.” Your job in writing a screenplay adaptation is to make the source material better suited for a different environment.

If you want to know more about how to write adaptations of other source material, get in touch with us at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com or on the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page. Houston-area residents are eligible for in-person one-on-one screenplay consultations. Writers outside the Houston area can also receive coverage services, online critiques and telephone or Skype consultations.

If you are in the Houston area Memorial Day weekend, I will be giving a talk on Saturday, May 23, at 10am at the Comicpalooza convention. Learn how to “Turn Your Story Into a Screenplay” at this special presentation.

Also, my newest short film, Breathe Easy, will be screening at the convention. Screening times are Friday, May 22, at noon, Sunday, May 24, at noon, and Sunday, May 24, at 8pm. You can see posters, stills and news about the film on the Breathe Easy Facebook page

Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Write What You Know"? What If You Don't Know Anything?

One of the first pieces of advice any aspiring writer gets is “write what you know.” Despite the best intentions of the givers of such advice, “write what you know” can also be one of the most useless admonitions any writer can receive.

If every writer followed this advice, entire genres would cease to exist. No more spaceships or aliens. No more elves or wizards. No more spy-fi or superhero origins or sensitive coming-of-age tales set in Depression-era Mississippi.

Here are some alternatives to writing “what you know”:

Write Who You Know

The best stories come from the most powerful characters. These “powerful” characters don't need Hulk-sized muscles, but they need to take strong actions. Friends, family members, and co-workers can provide the seeds for memorable characters. If they have interesting stories to tell, use them as inspiration. If not, use their character traits as jumping-off points for your own stories. Don't be afraid to embellish, exaggerate, and expand their personality quirks into characters that audiences will want to see.

Write What You Desire

A major reason why so many people want to be writers is that the act of creating stories serves as a means of wish fulfillment. As a writer, you can act as “god” of your story universe. You get to right the wrongs, reward those you feel deserve recognition, and punish those whose acts have spurred your unholy wrath. You create the ultimate conflict between good and evil, whether that battle occurs in a small mining town or in a galaxy far, far away.

Write What You Fear

All of us have fears that haunt us. The monster in the closet, the bully at school, the abusive relative, or the long arm of the law can instill fear in the strongest heart. When you write a script about your fears, you give yourself the means to control those anxieties and use them to your advantage. You'll also create a script that has a universal appeal. Producers, agents, actors and audiences will feel that fear along with your protagonist, and will take solace in seeing how he (and you) overcome that fear.

Write What You Want To Know

If you've ever had a skill that you wanted to acquire, you can write a script based on your experience as a student. The transition from student to master carries a built-in character arc. This arc also has a wide appeal, since nearly everyone has been a student. The next time you take a cooking class, attend a marketing seminar, or engage in a a screenwriting consultation session (HINT!), you'll have material for your story.

If you want to learn more about how to move beyond what you know about screenwriting, contact Story Into Screenplay for coverage services, screenplay critiques, and one-on-one consultations. Please email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com for more details.

ATTENTION HOUSTON SCREENWRITERS: I will be giving a presentation at Comicpalooza, the Texas International Comic-Con, on Saturday, May 23. The topic is "Turn Your Story Into A Screenplay."

My latest sci-fi short film, “Breathe Easy,” will also be screening on Sunday, May 24, at 11:00am and 8:00pm.

I hope to see all of you there. Thanks.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Screenwriting Isn't Writing

In his 24-minute viral video "Wrestling Isn't Wrestling", writer/director/comic book nerd/pro wrestling fan Max Landis offers a masterful rebuttal to those non-fans of “sports entertainment” who criticize the genre for its lack of “reality”.

The video, a combination of epic fanboy rant and satirical takedown of a billion-dollar industry, uses beautiful women in place of the muscular grapplers, with Landis' funny and foul-mouthed narration serving as dialogue. The video also contains a number of celebrity cameos, including Seth Green, Macaulay Culkin, Josh Peck, Haley Joel Osment and David Arquette.

Missing the Point

Landis observes that critics of pro wrestling who say, “You know it's all fake, right?” miss the point. The point of a pro wrestling show is not to depict an actual athletic competition, but to use the format of an athletic competition to tell compelling stories with a fascinating and diverse cast of characters. While the members of a pro wrestling troupe are often exceptional athletes, most of them have no more qualifications to compete in “legitimate” wrestling tournaments than Sylvester Stallone did to step into the ring against Muhammad Ali in their respective primes.

So what does all this have to do with screenwriting?  It means that writers, readers and other arbiters of what makes “good writing” must understand that the purpose of screenwriting is not to provide “good writing.” The people who view screenwriting as an avenue for brilliant prose, sparkling dialogue and intricate plots are missing the point of  screenwriting, just as much as those who want to view pro wrestling through the lens of an authentic athletic contest.

Punting the Purple Prose

Writers attempting the transition from novels and short stories to screenplays often have are more difficult time than those jumping straight into screenwriting. Novelists see the page as a canvas on which they can paint “word pictures” that capture the reader's imagination. Many famous novelists can go on for pages of description involving a flower in field, a woman's beautiful figure, or a rivet on the hull of a submarine.

Screenwriters must learn to use an economy of language that would make the ghosts of Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammett, and Raymond Chandler jealous. Writers of feature scripts must learn to tell a riveting story, within a very specific format, in 90 to 120 pages. This format leaves almost no room for purple prose, lengthy speeches or colorful descriptions.

Time Is Money

The standards for “brilliant writing” and “brilliant screenwriting” are as different as UFC is from WWE. Novels are meant to be read at leisure. A novel can require several hours to several days for a reader to finish. Novel readers seldom feel the need to rush through a book, no matter how much some chapters or sections may drag down the action.

Screenplays are less about creating a wonderful reading experience and more about outlining the viewer's experience. Techniques that create memorable moments in a novel can kill a screenplay. Screenwriters must keep in mind that the only people who routinely read screenplays are those who do so as part of their job, such as agents, producers, directors and actors.

Novels tell a story. Screenplays give directors, actors, and crew members the blueprint for a story. To paraphrase from the end of the Landis video, screenwriting is drama, screenwriting is action, screenwriting is a template for the most powerful means of storytelling.

The only thing screenwriting isn't – is writing.

Contact Story Into Screenplay

If you want to learn more about what screenwriting is (or isn't), contact us at Story Into Screenplay. We can teach you how to develop your characters, build your story arc and write a salable script. Contact us today at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or check us out on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TV, or Not TV? Screenwriting For TV Vs. Feature Films

With the rising costs of producing a feature film, studios are relying more on sequels, prequels, remakes and adaptations from other media. This trend has led to a reduction in the number of opportunities for selling a spec feature screenplay, especially for a newcomer.

However, the advent of streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Hulu and Netflix, plus the growth of both basic and premium cable channels, has created new growth opportunities for writers seeking to develop TV series.

If you're looking to translate your concepts from a feature film format to a TV series, here are some things to keep in mind.

More Control
A friend of mine who has written both novels and screenplays once told me, “Selling a novel is like seeing your child graduate from college. Selling a screenplay is like selling your child into slavery.” As a feature film writer, you're often subject to notes from producers, directors and even actors who can take your story into unexpected or unwelcome directions.

The lead writer in a TV series is known as a “showrunner,” which means that you run the show. Although you will still need to contend with notes from producers and networks, you largely control the show's creative direction.

Longer Story Arcs
Feature films typically have run times of two hours or less. The short run time limits the number of plot points, story twists and character-building opportunities you can put into your story.

A TV series gives you more room to develop longer story arcs and to create deeper character development. Audiences can either come back week after week to see how your characters grow, or “binge-watch” to see them develop over several episodes at once.

Planning Your Story
Despite the romantic notion of writers as “writing what they know” and “following their inspirations,” writing in any story form requires a plan. In feature film writing, the structures for outlines range from Syd Field's “three-act structure” to Blake Snyder's “15 Beats” to John Truby's “22 Steps”.

If planning a feature film script is important, creating a plan for a TV series is critical. As the showrunner, you must know the vital story elements for each episode. In most TV series, the showrunner depends on a staff of writers to create the individual episode scripts, so those writers rely on the showrunner's clarity of vision (in the form of the “story bible”) to script those episodes.

Room for Ensembles
Many beginning screenwriters envision creating “ensemble pieces” that tell epic stories. The concise nature of feature films rarely allow for stories that feature multiple characters, story arcs, and conflicts.

The longer seasons of a TV series allows you the chance to create story arcs for numerous characters. The development of more characters in your series gives you more opportunities to connect with your audience. For instance, the long-form storytelling in the HBO series “Game of Thrones” allows audiences to follow the storylines of Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, Arya Stark, or Tyrion Lannister.

Time Frame
One advantage that feature films offer is that they can be of nearly any length. Although most feature films run from 90 to 120 minutes, they can be slightly shorter or longer, as the story and the direction allow.

Episodic television, even through streaming services, places strict limits on the length of each script. A single-camera, half-hour comedy script must come in at 22 pages – not 20, not 25, and certainly not 30. You must keep this in mind as you script out each episode.

Feature Screenplay vs. Pilot Script
In a feature-length screenplay, you must introduce your characters, create your world, send your characters on their respective journeys, and bring them to their final destinations, all in 120 pages or less.

For your TV series, you start with a “pilot” script that establishes the characters, shows their relationships, and starts their story arcs, without the need for a definitive conclusion. Just as the old-time movie serials used “cliffhanger” endings to bring in an audience the next week, you can also use suspense at the end of the pilot script to attract a reader's interest in seeing more from your characters.

If you need help in developing your TV series concept, then you need Story Into Screenplay. We can teach you how to develop your characters, create your story bible and write a pilot script. Your script is your key to attracting agents who want to sell your idea, producers who want to buy it, and actors who want to be in it.

Contact us today at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or check us out on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.