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!

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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

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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”.