Gerald Hanks Filmography

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.