Gerald Hanks Filmography

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Force Awakens vs. The Last Jedi: Do Characters Serve The Plot, or Vice Versa?

NOTE: This article will contains LOTS OF SPOILERS for The Last Jedi.

At the end of The Force Awakens, Rey (Daisy Ridley) finishes her quest to find Jedi Master Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and hand him his lightsaber. The music swells, and the audience awaits Luke's reaction to encountering his old weapon and, in many ways, his old life.

At the beginning of The Last Jedi, Luke takes the weapon from Rey, and casually tosses it over his shoulder like an old gum wrapper.

In The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) worships Darth Vader, even crafting a masked helmet to resemble his idol

In The Last Jedi, Ren smashes the helmet and shows his true (scarred) face throughout the rest of the film.

In so many moments, The Last Jedi takes many of the premises built in The Force Awakens, as well as those from many of the previous Star Wars films, and tosses them away as casually as Luke tossed away his “laser sword”.

The Last Jedi director Rian Johnson was the first director of a Star Wars film to also write the script since George Lucas did double duty with the “prequel” trilogy. Die-hard Star Wars fans panned the prequels, and have voiced their disapproval of The Last Jedi over The Force Awakens.

The crucial difference between Lucas' and Johnson's approaches stem from their approaches to plot vs. character. Lucas primarily used the characters as instruments for his plots, specifically his ideas on the “hero's journey” and conflicts between fathers and sons (or mentors and students). Johnson gives the characters more agency, making for a looser and less structured story.

While many fans may complain about the more chaotic nature of The Last Jedi over the films of the “classic” trilogy, writers should keep in mind that the ability to give characters agency and put them into conflict will be what drives your story.

At nearly every turn, Johnson gives both old and new characters power over their “destiny”, including the power to make some boneheaded mistakes.
  • The brave X-Wing pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) believes that there is a plot against the remnants of the Resistance, so he organizes a mutiny. He fails to realize his mistake until General Leia Organa Solo (Carrie Fisher) forces her way onto the bridge and shoots him with a stun blaster.
  • The revered hero Finn (John Boyega) attempts to desert the Resistance, until he gets caught by Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran).
  • Even the legendary Jedi Master Luke Skywalker makes mistakes. He lets his bitterness over both his own failures as a teacher and those of the Jedi Order throughout history prevent him from teaching Rey how to use her new-found powers.

The Last Jedi had a lot of fan expectations to meet. Fans wanted to see their heroes victorious, the villains vanquished, and their hopes fulfilled. Instead, they got a film in which the characters were more developed than in previous films (despite so many interwoven storylines), but those characters did not meet the fans' expectations.

Writers should always find a way to give their characters more power over their stories. When the plot serves the characters, the story is always fuller, more exciting, and more relatable. When the characters serve the plot, the story is flatter and the characters are puppets. The audience watches the strings, rather than the story itself.

If you have ideas or concepts and want to learn more about how to turn those ideas into marketable scripts, Story Into Screenplay can help. We work with aspiring screenwriters and show them how to create strong characters, develop well-crafted stories, and deliver marketable scripts that will get you noticed.

If you already have a script, Story Into Screenplay also offers script reading and critique services. We can read your script and deliver a detailed coverage report that analyzes your script's characterization, action, dialogue, pacing, and other aspects.

For more information, sample reports, and a rate sheet of our services, please contact us at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.

Good luck, and May The Force Be With You!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Most Important Class Any Writer Can Take

Rookie writers have asked me about the best books, classes, and seminars they can use to turn themselves into better writers. While I have a shelf full of books (soon to include my own current work in progress) and have attended numerous classes and seminars, I can attest that the one class that shaped my approach to writing was a class that had little to do with putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

The most important class a writer can take isn't a writing class at all.

It's an acting class.

“But I don't want to be an actor,” the Rookie says. “I want to be a writer. I want to sit in my lonely office and spin stories out of whole cloth, while keeping my interactions with other human beings to an absolute minimum.”

My argument is that, if you want to be a writer, you have to create characters than engage an audience. If you're going to be a screenwriter or a playwright, you have to create characters that actors can use to deliver performances that resonate with an audience.

While I'm far from the first writing blogger to push writers into taking acting classes, I've always maintained that plot, structure, theme, and message should be used as tools to deliver stories about characters. The VOTE Method I teach is adapted from an acting class I took in college, and I've used it ever since to help me be a better writer.

No More Meat Puppets
The biggest mistake most rookie writers make is that they view their stories the other way around. Characters are not mouthpieces. Actors are not meat puppets. Writers should not use them to deliver their sermons on the human condition. When a rookie writer takes this approach, the readers, the actors, and the audience will see through the writer's sanctimony and self-satisfaction.

The best way to avoid this “writer-first” mentality is for writers to put themselves in the actor's shoes. Scene work can also help writers understand the importance of every character in their work. Many rookie writers view the secondary characters as tools to serve their main character's story. When a you work through a scene playing a secondary character, you'll understand that failing to give these characters adequate substance gives the actor too little to do, which leads to a poor or disengaged performance.

Dispel Doubts About Dialogue
One of the major difficulties that rookie writers encounter comes from writing dialogue. They either try to make it sound “natural” or they use it to deliver exposition or “on the nose” observations. Acting classes can teach writers that each line of dialogue must serve one of two purposes:

1. Reveal an aspect of the character
2. Move the story forward

Whey you attempt to learn dialogue in an acting class, you can tell when the lines serve either or both of these purposes or when it sounds stiff or unnatural.

Conflict and Chaos
In real life, most of us try to avoid conflict. In writing, you should seek it out. When you take an acting class, you can see the power that conflict between characters has on creating a memorable scene. When you take part in a scene as an actor, you can feel what that character feels, what fuels their desires, what stands in their way, ans what they'll do to get what they want, all of which will make you a better writer.

Writers ARE Actors
A core requirement of your job as a writer is to deliver characters that will keep an audience riveted to the page, the stage, or the screen. The writing process is all about inhabiting those characters' lives, feeling their experiences, and bringing them to life.

In all of these senses, the writer must serve as an actor for every single character. When a writer understand the process by which an actor inhabits a character, the writer can apply that process into their own methods. From there, character arcs become tools by which the writer delivers a strong character for the actor to portray and a powerful experience for the audience to follow.

Get Help From Story Into Screenplay
If you have a script and you would like a professional-style coverage report, let Story Into Screenplay help. A former screenplay contest judge will evaluate your script and write up a report that will evaluate factors such as character, plot, action, dialogue, and much more.

For a sample report and a rate sheet, email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or send a direct message through the SIS Facebook page.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Screenwriting With The VOTE Method: Wonder Woman

The latest entry into the superhero movie genre, Warner Brothers' Wonder Woman, works so well on so many levels. Fans of the character get to see an iconic figure brought to life by Patty Jenkins' direction, Gal Gadot's performance, and Allen Heinberg's screenplay.

Those audience members who have never picked up a comic book will enjoy Diana's journey from a naïve new arrival into “Man's World” to a powerful source of inspiration for those around her. The supporting characters are also well-developed, despite the fact that the true antagonist remains a mystery until the climax.

One of the most appealing parts of superhero “origin stories” is how they fit into the VOTE template, and the story of Diana of Themyscira is no exception. Here's an illustration of how three of the major characters in Wonder Woman get their own VOTE:


Diana (Wonder Woman)
  • She wants to find and kill Ares.
  • She doesn't know where to look.
  • Her involvement with Steve Trevor and his missions both complements and compromises her own goals. 
  • Her innocence about how “Man's World” works leads her into dangerous situations.
  • She charges across “No Man's Land” into heavy machine gun fire.
  • She barges into high-level meetings and berates Allied leaders. 
  • She follows Steve when his mission works along with hers, then disregards or fights him when he gets in her way.
  • She needs to fulfill what she sees as her mission in life: to bring peace and understanding to the wider world.

Steve Trevor
  • He wants to stop Luttendorf and Dr. Poison from launching their new weapon.
  • Diana's headstrong tactics and naïvete compromise his mission as an undercover agent and his standing with his superiors.
  • His superior officer, Sir Patrick, orders him to stop his mission for fear of endangering the upcoming armistice. 
  • He's running out of time before the upcoming German gas attack.
  • He keeps Diana close so that he can prevent her from endangering his mission.
  • He disobeys orders and rounds up a ragtag crew to take out the gas factory.
  • He sneaks into Luttendorf's gala and attempts to seduce Dr. Poison.
  • He needs to fulfill his mission: stop the war and bring and end to the suffering.

General Erich Ludendorf
  • He wants to win the war for Germany with a final gas attack.
  • Dr. Poison's formula isn't ready yet.
  • Allied troops are closing in on his position.
  • The politicians and generals are in the process of negotiating for an armistice.
  • He orders a gas attack on a nearby village.
  • He takes Dr. Poison's “steroid gas” to boost his energy and strength.
  • He sets up a gas attack on the generals negotiating the armistice.
  • He needs to prove that he's right and the generals, politicians, and the Kaiser are wrong in seeking the armistice.
As an exercise, you can try to map the VOTE structure onto other characters in the film, including Hippolyta, Antiope, Ares, and Etta Candy. This exercise can show you the strengths of this simple system and how it can help you create strong, memorable characters in your scripts.

If you need help with your scripts, Story Into Screenplay offers a wide range of services. You can ask about our one-on-one consulting, script coverage reports, and script writing seminars.

Contact us at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or send a message through our Facebook page.

Good luck and keep writing!

Monday, May 22, 2017

Kill Basil Exposition

Last week, I had the privilege of speaking at the Comicpalooza Sci-Fi and Pop Culture Convention in Houston. I met a number of wonderfully talented writers, including C. Robert Cargill, the screenwriter for Marvel's Doctor Strange and the Sinister horror film series.

One of the things I encountered is that many writers, especially genre writers, attempt to sell their works based on their “high concept”. While the high concept makes for a great tool for pitching a script, it isn't the best place to start telling a story.

The biggest problem with a high concept is that it requires some explanation as to how the world works. In genre fiction, such as sci-fi and fantasy, the audience needs to understand how the technology works or the “rules of magic” in this setting. These scenes can require long stretches of exposition that can slow down your story and make the reader skim through these intricate details.

When you present these details in a novel, the reader will gloss over the pages until they get to the action. When you try in in a screenplay, the reader will toss the script and move on to the next package in the slush pile.


One of my favorite shows of all time, Star Trek: The Next Generation, was infamous for its conference room scenes filled with “techno-babble”. These scenes involved attempts to explain how the crew would apply 24th-Century technology to escape that week's threat to the U.S.S. Enterprise.

The Austin Powers movies even hung a lampshade on this tired trope with the character “Basil Exposition” (Michael York). Basil would explain the latest mission to Austin Powers,

With only a hundred pages (give or take a few) to tell your story in a feature-length script, you don't have time for techno-babble or Basil Exposition to explain your script's world. So how do you explain the rules of your world...without explaining the rules?

Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

One way to show how the rules work is to show what happens to your characters when they follow the rules.

  • What rewards do they receive for using your future-world's advanced technology according to the approved methods? 
  • What does it cost them to comply with the laws of magic in your fantasy setting? 

When you show the benefits and costs of following the rules, you get the reader to invest in both the characters and the rules of their world.

You can also use the flip side of that coin and show what happens when they break the rules. The most effective way to show the consequences is to place your characters in situations where they stand to lose something vital to them in either case.

For example, if your character follows the rules, a loved one dies. If they break the rules, the loved one lives, but the character faces a life-threatening punishment. When you make the stakes for breaking the rules high enough, the reader will sit on the edge of their seat waiting to find out which way they go.

Attitude Problem

Another way to draw the audience into the rules of your world is to show your character's attitudes toward those rules, especially if that character has a cynical or dismissive attitude toward those rules. While voice-over narration can be a sign of lazy writing in most cases, a few instances in classic modern films use it to great effect.

  • The classic “Rules” speech in Fight Club not only let Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) establish the rules of his underground club, it also reveals his attitudes toward the rules of the mundane world. 
  • The weary tone of Rick Deckard's (Harrison Ford) narration in Blade Runner gives the audience a backstory on the replicants, while also revealing his cynicism toward his job.

Rules Are Made To Be Broken

Readers, agents, producers, and actors all relate to characters before they relate to rules. You can get your audience to understand the rules by showing how they tie to the character's VOTE:

  • How do the rules help or prevent the character from achieving their Victory?
  • How do the rules create Obstacles that stand in the character's way?
  • How does the character break or manipulate the rules as part of their Tactics?
  • What Energy drives the character into conflict with the rules?

These tools can help you maintain the reader's interest, reveal aspects of your characters, and keep the story moving forward.

Let Story Into Screenplay Help You With Your Story

If you need help in explaining the rules of your story world in ways that will grab a reader's attention, let Story Into Screenplay help you. We offer coverage reports, script notes, and one-on-one consulting services. We also offer seminars for writers' groups, both online and in person.

For more information, contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com. You can also keep up with Story Into Screenplay through our Facebook page.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What Do Moonlight's Oscar Wins Mean For Aspiring Screenwriters?

FULL DISCLOSURE: I have not yet seen Moonlight. The only Best Picture nominees I saw were Lion and La La Land, two wonderful films, but I will try to see Moonlight at the earliest opportunity and post a VOTE breakdown when I get the chance.

Putting aside the blunder during the Best Picture award presentation, the multiple Oscar wins (including for Best Adapted Screenplay) for Moonlight carries some serious meanings for aspiring screenwriters.

The success of this film during awards season shows how so many rookie writers ask themselves the wrong questions. In too many cases, writers new to the craft ask themselves, “Is this hot in the marketplace?” or “Will this sell to a big studio?” or “Will this get me an agent?”

As a screenwriter, the questions you ask yourself as you write your story should revolve more around the story and less around the marketing hype that propels the Hollywood machine. In fact, every part of this script and its process sets itself up in direct opposition to the “conventional wisdom” of the marketplace.

  • The script tracks Chiron through three periods of his life (early teens, mid-teens, early twenties), rather than limiting the scope to a few days or weeks.
  • The main character is a “double minority” (African-American and homosexual), not exactly a “hot seller” in the traditional sense.
  • The script is based on an unknown, unpublished, unproduced play written by a drama student, with no “pre-sold” audience who would be familiar with the material and rush out to buy tickets.
  • Co-writer/director Barry Jenkins had only one other feature-length screenplay credit, 2008's Medicine for Melancholy.
  • Jenkins and co-writer/playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney were based in Miami, more than two thousand miles away from the Hollywood establishment.

So how does this little film, with a largely unknown cast and a budget of under $2 million, beat out the betting favorite (La La Land), the redemption story (Hacksaw Ridge), the big-budget sci-fi epic (Arrival) and the gritty modern western (Hell or High Water)?

In the immortal words of Alfred Hitchcock (who never won an Oscar in his long and illustrious career), “To make a great film, you need three things: the script, the script, and the script.”

Tell your story. Tell it as well as you possibly can. Don't let trends or money or “the market” tell you what you should write. The only one who can tell your story is you, so you'd better get to it.

If you need help in telling your story, Story Into Screenplay is here for you. We offer coverage reports, script doctoring services, and one-on-one script consultations. To find out more, drop us a line at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or send a message through our Facebook page.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Screenwriting With the VOTE Method: Super Bowl LI Commercials

For those of you who don't know, Story Into Screenplay based out of Houston, Texas.

For those of you who don't follow pro football, or life in general, Houston hosted Super Bowl LI, along with a number of events that catered to prominent members of the entertainment industry in conjunction with the game itself.

While some writers may view such events as opportunities to network with celebrities, pitch script ideas, and get some "face time" with industry bigwigs in a festive atmosphere, I avoided the Hollywood hype train as it rolled into town.

Like most Houstonians, I treated the Super Bowl like the occasional hurricane that blows through town, forces residents to hunker down, and leaves tons of garbage lying around in its wake, which explains why this post comes a week after the Big Game.

However, like millions of other viewers, I watched the commercials that accompanied the broadcast with an increased level of scrutiny.

Some aspiring screenwriters make the mistake of looking down on commercials as “beneath them” on a creative level.

As a veteran writer of several short films on very short deadlines, I can tell you that it often takes more skill to tell a coherent story that covers a minute or less than it does for one that takes over two hours.

Here are some examples of how the VOTE method can be applied to characters in the most viewed commercials of the year:

Melissa McCarthy for the Kia Niro hybrid SUV:
V: Melissa wants to take part in environmental protection causes.
O: She has to deal with angry whalers, lumberjacks, and fragile ice caps.
T: She drives her “Eco-Hybrid” SUV from location to location.
E: She needs to feel like her actions are making a difference.

John Malkovich for SquareSpace
V: John wants to get the domain name for his website.
O: Another user, also named “John Malkovich”, has his domain name.
T: He writes emails, makes phone calls, and badgers the domain name holder.
E: He needs to recover the domain name, as it represents a part of his core (online) identity.

Budweiser 2017 Super Bowl Commercial: “Born The Hard Way”
V: Adolphus Busch wants to create a German-style lager beer in America.
O: He faces dangers in his travels and prejudice from Americans opposed to immigration.
T: He travels by any means possible to get to St. Louis, a frontier town where he can make his own way.
E: He needs to achieve his dream in America, since he was denied his chance in his native Germany.

Audi 2017 Super Bowl Commercial: “Daughter”
V: The girl wants to win the soapbox derby race.
O: She faces treacherous road conditions and aggressive driving from the boys in the race.
T: She uses her driving tactics and her own aggression against the boys.
E: She needs to show the boys that she's just as good at soapbox derby racing as they are.

While you can think what you want about any socio-political statements these ads make, you should look at these ads as a writer and examine how they create memorable messages through strong characterization. After all, isn't that what we all want to accomplish as screenwriters?

If you need help with your screenplay, whether it's a 30-second commercial or an epic feature film, contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or through our Facebook page.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Screenwriting with the VOTE Method: La La Land

The film musical is a lost art. Most film musicals have been adaptations of Broadway shows and have met with varying degrees of success, from the multiple-Oscar winner Les Miserables, to the mediocre Tom Cruise vehicle Rock of Ages. However, original film musicals have been in short supply, especially in recent decades.

One of the issues surrounding the dearth of original film musicals stems from audience expectations of the characters. Audiences typically expect characters to react in realistic ways, even when they are in unrealistic surroundings. A film musical such as La La Land turns those expectations upside down, as evidence by both its Golden Globe wins and its impending Oscar buzz.

In this film, Mia (Emma Stone) is an aspiring actress battling confidence issues, while Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a struggling musician caught between his love of traditional jazz and the changing music scene. While both of these characters face realistic problems, the use of song and dance to communicate their issues gives the film a new way to convey character development to the audience.

Within this structure, at least in Damien Chazelle's script, the characters' only real antagonists are, in a sense, each other. Their conflicting dreams and their different means of reaching their goals threaten to drive a wedge between them.

Here's an example of how the VOTE method breaks down the character motivations.

Mia's VOTE would look like this:
V: She wants to be a successful actress.
O: After enduring several disastrous auditions, she lacks the confidence to continue pursuing her dreams.
T: She writes a one-woman show as a showcase for her talent.
E: She needs to prove to herself and her parents that her dreams of being an actress are more than just dreams.

Sebastian's VOTE would look like this:
V: He wants to launch his career as a jazz musician.
O: He lives for the glory days of jazz and refuses to recognize the changes in the modern music scene.
T: He joins a band with his friend Keith (John Legend) to make enough money to open his own jazz club.
E: He needs to prove to himself and his critics that his talents haven't been wasted on a dying art form.

You'll notice that love and relationships are not mentioned in their VOTE, nor are there any substantial antagonists standing in their way. In many romance films directed at teens, the pursuit of "true love" acts as the main victory, while a parent or authority figure often stands as the antagonist to the young couple's togetherness. (e.g. Romeo and Juliet)

In most adult romantic movies, the antagonist for each of the lovers is often the other half of the couple. In La La Land, Sebastian and Mia each struggle to find their own ways while trying to maintain their relationship. In a sense, the relationship itself acts as the antagonist, as their efforts to keep their love alive strain against their attempts to establish their careers.

The classic romantic story arc of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back” holds true for La La a point. The surprise ending (which I won't spoil here) puts a twist on that predictable formula, with some satisfying results for the audience. Each song from composer Justin Hurwitz illustrates the character's hopes, fears, and struggles, especially the climactic “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)”.

The key to the success of La La Land is that it conveys all the elements of the VOTE through the heightened reality of the movie musical. The songs serve the purpose of illustrating the character's desires, while the dance numbers act as a form of structured conflict that communicate the clashes between characters without words.

Regardless of if you're writing a stylized musical, a screwball comedy, an action blockbuster, or a serious drama, you have to invest time into developing your characters. All the beautiful songs and graceful dances in the world won't matter if you can't get the reader, the actor, or the audience to care about your characters. The VOTE method is a quick and easy way to give your characters the motivations, hurdles, and drive that will get your story noticed.

If you need help in developing the characters in your screenplay, novel, or TV pilot script, contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or send a message through our Facebook page.