Gerald Hanks Filmography

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.