Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee's Tips for Writers

For someone who never wrote a produced screenplay, or directed a single scene, and only appeared in films through his famous cameos, the late Stan Lee made an undeniable impact on screenwriting as we know it today.

In his 2011 book, Stan Lee's How To Write Comics, Lee put forth several useful pieces of advice for writers in any format, and in any genre. In memory of his tremendous legacy to creative writing, this entry will present “Stan Lee's Top 10 Tips for Writers” from page 54 of his book (emphasis mine).

“1. Write about things you know. If you don't know, Google the stuff and start learning. Or else be so vague but no one can pin you down -- like when I dreamed up Bruce Banner becoming the Hulk do to a gamma bomb. I don't know any more about gamma bombs than I do about brain surgery, but I didn't try to explain how it worked. I just said that he became the Hulk because of gamma radiation. Hey, who can find fault with that? At least it sounds scientific. So, to summarize - be totally factual, or else be so vague that you can get away with knowing nothing about your subject. But whatever you do, don't try to fake it.

“2. When you’re reading a comic book, or watching a movie or TV show, don't just get caught up in the story and sit there like a couch potato. Try to analyze everything that's on the page or screen.

Why did the writer add that did a dialogue?
Was it more dramatic for the hero to say nothing in that particular scene?
Why didn't the writer introduce that important story element until 15 minutes into the film, or until 5 pages into the story?
Why did (or didn't) the writer have such an enigmatic ending?
Why, in that movie, was Act Three so much shorter than Act Two?
Why, in that comic book, did the writer use so many captions on pages 3 and 4 and no captions at all on the next six pages?
Why so many long shots or close-ups?
Would it have been more interesting the other way around?

You should be able to learn something new about writing every time you read a comic or watch a film -- if you remember to analyze everything you see.

“3.  Keep writing. I figure writing is like any other activity -- like swimming or jogging or sex. The more you do, the more you enjoy it, the easier it becomes, and the more you improve. If you find yourself getting bored writing, or tired of it, there's only one answer: Find another career.

“4. Write about things that interest you. If you write about subjects that for you, thinking that's what the market wants, you'll just end up writing boring pages. The more interested you are in your subject, the better chance you have of making the subject more interesting, too.

“5. Try to write at the same time every day. Writing can be a habit, like anything else. If you stick to a schedule, it makes it easier to turn pages out like a pro.

“6. Stop writing if you find yourself getting tired or bored. Take a nap or short walk to wake yourself up. You can only do your best writing when you're mentally alert and interested in what you're doing.

“7. When you finish with your script, proofread it carefully. Don't read it as if it's your baby and you love every word of it. Pretend you’re the world's toughest editor, looking for every fault you can find in story structure, dialogue, characterization, and motivation. Be as tough on yourself as humanly possible, because that's how your editor will be. And keep rewriting until your script is as good as you can possibly make it.

“8. In writing dialogue, try to give every character a different way of speaking. In any script, it's boring to have the characters all speaking the same way. Think of people you know -- how they speak, their verbal idiosyncrasies and mannerisms. Remember, nobody speaks exactly the same as anyone else. When listening to people conversing, train yourself to pick up all the subtle nuances of dialogue and use those varied nuances in your writing.

“9. Make your characters interesting. Sounds obvious, doesn't it? Well, failing to do that is one of the main reasons so many scripts are rejected. Reading a script is like visiting people - the people in the story. You wouldn't want to visit dull, colorless people, would you? You wouldn't want to spend time with bores. The characters you write about must be interesting, colorful, and unique in some special way. They must have problems we’ll care about -- and solutions to those problems that we can't wait to see.

“10. Don't get discouraged! Lots of really good, successful writers didn't make their first sale until long after they started writing. Of course, if you've been unable to sell anything for years and years and are now starving and homeless, you might start thinking of another vocation. but short of that, stay at it -- tomorrow may be your lucky day!”

Following these tips may not guarantee you a career as successful and as prolific as Stan Lee's, but it's all still sound advice, nonetheless.

For anyone who has ever picked up a comic book, bought a ticket to a movie, or watched a Marvel TV show, we all owe a debt to Stan Lee. The best way that we can repay that debt is to follow his advice and create our own universes of amazing, spectacular, incredible characters.


If you're looking for help in creating your own universe of characters, Story Into Screenplay can help. We offer coverage reports, script consultation, and rewrite services for aspiring writers in all genres. you can reach us at storyintoscreenplayblog [at] gmail [dot] com, or you can message us through our Facebook page.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Screenwriting With the VOTE Method: Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)

The musical biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is based on the career of the groundbreaking British rock group Queen and its charismatic yet troubled lead singer, Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek). The script for Rhapsody, written by Anthony McCarten and based on a story by McCarten and co-writer Peter Morgan, traces the group's ascent from London pub regulars to the heights of musical stardom. 

In this post, we'll look at how McCarten created strong characters by examining the story through the lens of the VOTE Method. The point of this analysis is not to criticize the film or the real-life people depicted in it, but to show aspiring writers how they can create memorable characters in their own stories by applying the VOTE Method to contemporary films.

In this case, we'll look at how McCarten approached writing the character of Freddie Mercury, as well as that of Mercury's companion and manager, Paul Prenter (Allen Leech), who the script casts as the antagonist.


Freddie Mercury (protagonist)
Victory: Freddie's Victory is to be a rich and famous singer.

Obstacles: Many of Freddie's Obstacles come from his background: he's not a native Englishman (his co-workers target him with the slur “Paki”), his parents are conservative members of the Zoroastrian religion, and his noticeable overbite make him the target of teasing, even from his eventual bandmates, which exacerbate his shyness.

His internal issues at dealing with his sexuality also hinder him from pursuing his Victory, as well as hindering his relationship to his girlfriend, Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton). Later in the film, he must also deal with the Obstacle of his failing health as he reunites with his bandmates in time for the Live Aid concert.

Tactics: Freddie's main set of Tactics include combating his shyness by going “over the top” in nearly every aspect of his personal and professional life, from including “the operatic section” in the title song, to his reckless sexual behavior, to throwing lavish parties with all the “freaks” he can find to show up.

Energy: Freddie gets his Energy from his desire to live up to his father's expectations, which he summarizes by his saying of “Good thoughts, good words, good deeds,” which Freddie eventually fulfills when he agrees to do the Live Aid show.

Paul Prenter (antagonist)
Victory: Paul's Victory is to have an intimate relationship with Freddie.

Obstacles: Paul's Obstacles come from everyone else around Freddie: his bandmates, Mary, band manager John Reid (Aiden Gillen). In his mind, they all stand between him and Freddie.

Tactics: Paul's Tactics include convincing Freddie to go solo, to fire Reid, and to ignore the calls from Mary about taking part in Live Aid. He also keeps Freddie isolated from his friends and surrounded by "party guests" to keep him distracted.

Energy: Paul gets his Energy from his upbringing as (in his words), “a queer, Irish kid from Belfast”, an outsider on every front, so he craves the love and respect he believes he can get as Freddie's lover, both from Freddie and those who admire him.

In this case, Paul is not a direct Obstacle to Freddie accomplishing his Victory. However, he does stand in the way of Freddie's happiness by isolating him from the people who helped him achieve his Victory in the initial stages.

Paul wants Freddie to succeed, but on his terms and not Freddie's. Their conflict comes from them both wanting the same Victory (Freddie's success), but employing different Tactics to achieve it.

As a previous post about adapting true stories pointed out, a screenwriter's task in this situation is not to tell a TRUE story. Instead, it's to tell a GOOD story. British screenwriter McCarten (The Theory of EverythingDarkest Hour) has a wealth of experience with turning true stories into strong scripts. As to how close the film version of Mercury matches the real deal, that argument is for music historians to make.

As screenwriters, your task is to take the elements of the true story, including character traits, timing of events, and personality conflicts, and turn those into powerful characters and a compelling story. As a film, Bohemian Rhapsody accomplishes this task.

If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations. For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Interview with Scott Martin, writer/director of “Big Kill”

Scott Martin has been a writer, director, actor, and producer of independent films since 2005. His new film, Big Kill, brings back the classic Western in an age of superheroes. The film stars Martin as Jake Logan, a gambler and gunfighter on the run from a Mexican general (Danny Trejo) and a gang of New Mexico cowboys.

Jake and his partner, Travis Parker (Clint Hummel) agree to guide Philadelphia accountant Jim Andrews (Christoph Sanders) to the town of Big Kill, Arizona, where Jim expects to meet his brother. When the trio arrives in town, they find themselves targeted by a power-hungry Preacher (Jason Patric) and the colorful gunfighter Johnny Kane (Lou Diamond Phillips).

Scott was kind enough to open up about his process for writing “Big Kill,” as well as the twelve-year process he took to get it made.

Thanks for letting me get a chance to talk to you. As your press agent might have mentioned, I write for an advice blog for screenwriters.

Yes, she did mention that. I was looking forward to talking to you. Not a lot of people want to talk about the screenwriting process, so it's nice to finally talk about it.

I got a chance to see the movie. It was really well done. It had that flavor of an old-school Western.

Thank you, that's what I was going for. I was going for a little bit older style and feel. I wanted the older feel while shooting with modern techniques. 

In this era of big-time superhero movies, what made you want to write a Western, of all things?

I've been a big fan of Westerns my whole life. It's probably my favorite genre. I love the feel of them. I've always wanted to make one.

How did you come up with the story for it?

I wanted to make it more like a buddy movie. I took some influence from movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and a lot from Silverado, but also from some from the ‘60s, like the Italian “Spaghetti Westerns” and the American Westerns of the time.

I wrote the screenplay about 12 years ago. Since then, I've gotten more experience as a writer and a filmmaker. When the opportunity arose to make this film, I jumped at it.

I wanted it to be a travel adventure, so you could follow these guys (Jake and Travis) on an adventure. When we get to the town, we settle into the meat of the story. This is where we get to meet these larger-than life-characters. We start telling a more classic-style Western at this point.

You definitely have some colorful characters, like “The Preacher”, Johnny Kane, and Felicia Stiletto. What was your approach to writing these characters?

When I write, I first come up with a basic story. As I break down the story more, I pull out the main characters and do full on bios of these people. I knew that I wanted these larger-than-life types of characters, that's why I named them “The Preacher and “The Mayor” and “Felicia Stiletto”.

I wanted them to have, and I almost hate to say this, but that “James Bond” feel to them. To me, Felicia Stiletto is my “Bond Girl”. That's why she has that name. She uses the stiletto as her weapon of choice, so that’s why I gave her that name.

I wanted Johnny Kane to be a sociopath. When he walks into a saloon, he's like a peacock. He just struts into the room, and I wanted that feel for him. The Preacher would be the more quiet one, and that's how they just came together.

You have a lot of memorable characters, and you also have a lot of action. When you were writing the action scenes, did you write it shot-for-shot? Did you write out every bit of action, or did you just sketch it out?

I was very specific. I guess there are different ways of doing it, but I write it how I see it. I write it as if I'm watching the movie. I don't want to get too long-winded, because no one wants to read that. It's a screenplay, not a book. However, I wanted it to be specific enough for, when people are reading it, they know what's going on.

When I wrote it, I wasn't planning on directing it. I was writing it strictly from a screenwriter standpoint, so I was very specific in the action sequences. The (midpoint) shootout was not written as specifically as the others, mainly because I didn't know where it was going to be shot. However, the scene with Johnny Kane and the Kid, I wrote that as being very specific. 

The shootout at the end, the final showdown, those (directions) were specific as well. I even wrote down, “Johnny Kane steps forward, then Jake steps forward, and the others take their positions. The fight has already begun before shots are fired.” They're all positioning themselves, so it was all written out. Even in the final shootout, with Jim and The Preacher, that was very specific.

And there was a nice twist on it (which I'm not going to spoil here). Overall, the script seems very well done. I know you said it took you 12 years to get this made. But how long did it take you to actually write the script?

I write pretty quickly, but I do a lot of pre-writing before I start the script. Every scene, I break down into a paragraph, until I come up with about a six-page or 8-page treatment, and then I write the movie out. 

If I remember correctly, it took about 2 to 3 weeks (for the first draft), then I did a couple of rewrites for sure. And then it sat for over a decade. About two months before we started pre-production, I did some cleanup on it, just kind of updated it a little bit, but not much. I pretty much stuck true to the original script.

You said that you didn't intend to direct it originally, but you end up directing and acting it anyway. How are you able to keep all the roles separate between writer, director, and actor?

It can be challenging. The writing and directing kind of go hand-in-hand. There were times I would do a rewrite right there on set. I would just sit down with pen and paper and write something. Again, I write as I see the movie, so those parts just go well together.

As far as the acting side, my character, Jake, didn't have the biggest story arc. He's kind of a curmudgeon. He doesn't always want to fight, but he's the best fighter. If I had to play the role of Jim, he had a bigger character arc, and that would have been more difficult.

Since you've written a bunch of scripts, and you've had several films made, what advice would you give aspiring screenwriters?

One of the best pieces of advice I was given early in my career was this: Once you start writing a screenplay, don't stop. Do not stop, don't go back, don't start editing or changing scenes. Make sure you get to the end. Otherwise, you may never finish it.

Every script I write, I always get to a scene that I know has to go there, but I don't know what it'll be yet. I know who's in it and all those things, so instead of stopping my progress, I'll write in all caps, “THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO GO HERE IN THIS SCENE, THIS IS WHAT'S GOING TO HAPPEN”, and I'll move on. The best piece of advice I can give is, “Keep moving.”

Anyone who's been writing, especially if you're new to it, at some point in writing, you'll think your script is the worst script ever written. You'll think that nobody would ever want to read this. You won't think this is any good in any way shape or form. 

Don't believe yourself. Keep going. There's a reason you're writing it, so believe in that reason. Trust that reason, and keep going.

Big Kill opens October 19. 

Thanks to Scott Martin and Melissa Smith at Allied Integrated Marketing

If you need help with your script, contact Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message through our Facebook page.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Screenwriting with the VOTE Method: The Hate U Give (2018)

The new film The Hate U Give is based on the 2017 young adult novel by Angie Thomas. The screenplay by veteran writer Audrey Wells (Shall We Dance?, Under the Tuscan Sun) effectively shows how the lead character, Starr Carter (Amandla Stenberg), attempts to keep the two worlds in which she lives separate, but also how circumstances beyond her control bring those worlds into conflict.

In this post, we'll look at how the writer creates strong characters by examining the story through the lens of the VOTE Method. The point of this analysis is not to criticize the film or its messages, but to show aspiring writers how they can create memorable characters in their own stories by using the VOTE Method, as well as how it can be applied to contemporary films.


Starr Carter (protagonist)
Victory: Starr's Victory is to keep as much separation from her African-American, lower-middle-class home life separate from the white, upper-class world of her private school.

Obstacles: Her primary Obstacles come from people on both sides of her life. At home, she must deal with her ex-drug dealer father Maverick (Russell Hornsby), her overprotective mother Lisa (Regina Hall), and her friend Kenya (Dominique Fishback). At school, she tries to deal with her friend and teammate Hailey (Sabrina Carpenter) and her boyfriend Chris (K.J. Apa).

The biggest Obstacle occurs when her childhood friend Khalil (Algee Smith) is shot by a white police officer as he was giving her a ride home from a party. Starr's neighborhood erupts in protests, led by an activist attorney (Issa Rae) who urges Starr to come forward as a witness to the shooting.

Tactics: Her primary set of Tactics come from the creation of a second persona, which she calls “Starr Version 2”. In a voice-over at school, she describes how “Starr 2.0” never uses slang and avoids confrontation to keep from being seen as “ghetto”.

After the news reports on the shooting and the subsequent protests, Starr tells her school friends that she doesn't know Khalil.

Energy: Starr gets her Energy from her desire to satisfy her mother's dream of her going to college and getting out of the “hood”.

These all hold until near the film's midpoint, when Starr sees the reactions on both sides to her friend's death. Her African-American friends and neighbors use the tragedy as a call to action, while the white kids at her school treat it as an excuse to cut class.

Victory: Starr's Victories are to see Khalil's killer brought to justice and to speak for her lost friend.

Obstacles: Starr's Obstacles come from both sides of the law. On one side, a justice system that is hesitant to indict a white police officer for shooting an unarmed young African-American man. On the other side, she has to face down King (Anthony Mackie), the leader of the neighborhood gang, who was using Khalil to sell his drug shipments.

At school, she must also deal with rising resentment among her white classmates, including Hailey, who maintain that the white officer was justified in the shooting, in spite of what Starr saw that night.

Tactics: Starr's Tactics include speaking out anonymously in the media, testifying before a grand jury, and joining in the protests against police brutality.

At school, she shows Hailey how a hairbrush can be mistaken for a weapon and forces her into the same position of fear and terror she felt that night.

Energy: Starr gets her Energy from her need to honor Khalil's memory and to see justice done for her friend, her family, and her neighborhood.

The Hate U Give shows how a protagonist can have an intense desire to achieve a Victory in the film's first half, then have it flipped in the second half. When your protagonist learns that they have been chasing the wrong desire halfway through your story, you can use that moment of revelation as a turning point for the character, as well as a dramatic hook for your audience.


If you need help with building strong characters for your script, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer script coverage reports, rewrite services, and one-on-one consultations. For a list of services and prices, please email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message to our Facebook page.


Gerald Hanks from Story Into Screenplay will be appearing at the Louisiana Comic Con in Lafayette, Louisiana, on Saturday, October 6, and Sunday, October 7.

Gerald will be presenting two panels:

Concept vs. Character: Where to Start With Your Comic Book, Novel, or Screenplay
Saturday, October 6th at 12:30PM

The Power of the VOTE: How to Create Strong Characters for Your Comic Book, Novel, or Screenplay
Sunday, October 7th at 1:30PM

Both panels will be in the Second Panel Room at the Cajundome Convention Center.

Get your advance tickets online or at the Cajundome box office today!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Raising the Stakes: Six Things No-Limit Texas Hold'em Poker Tournaments Can Teach You About Story Structure

Twenty years ago, the film Rounders brought the poker variation known as “no-limit Texas hold'em” to the wider public consciousness. The movie inspired thousands of home-game players to pursue the game, including a young Tennessee accountant named Chris Moneymaker, who achieved his own “Hollywood ending” by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker Main Event and launching the decade's “poker boom”.

If you've ever watched the TV coverage of no-limit hold'em poker tournaments, you've seen how dramatic some of the confrontations between players can be. If you watch closely, you can see how the action of these high-stakes tournaments can add intrigue and tension to your story.

Character Is As Character Does, Not As Character Says

One of the most dramatic aspects of TV poker tournaments is the tension that the players show as they must make a crucial decision. In most cases, the player will remain silent for minutes at a time while they deliberate whether to fold their hand, call the bet, or raise the stakes.

While such a long silent period in a screenplay may not always work, screenwriters should understand how to create tension from the situation, rather than from extensive dialogue. Since poker players are not allowed to tell the truth when asked about their cards during a hand, screenwriters should apply that rule and put their characters in positions that require them to lie and increase the tension in their scenes.

Keep The Audience In The Know

Another appealing aspect of TV poker tournaments is the “hole card cam”, which allows the TV viewers to see the cards each player holds. (NOTE: The "hole card cam" was invented by Henry Orenstein, a Polish immigrant and Holocaust survivor who also helped launch the "Transformers" toy line in the U.S.) While the audience is privy to this information, the other players aren't. This information allows the audience to recognize when a player is bluffing, or when they have the best hand, which keeps the viewer invested in watching the results.

While many rookie writers value the “twist” ending, this technique can come across as more of a way for the writer to show off, rather than a way to keep the audience engaged. The classic horror trope of showing the killer on one side of the door and the soon-to-be victim on the other has kept audiences engaged for decades. Not only is it not a sin to reveal information to the audience before the characters know, it can keep the audience riveted to see the character's reaction when they find out.

Around The Turn And Down The River

After each player receives their two hole cards and decides whether they want to stay in the hand, the dealer puts out three cards on the table, face-up, for each remaining player to use. These three cards are collectively known as “the flop”. After another round of betting, the dealer puts out a fourth card, called “the turn”. Another round of betting ensues, and the dealer puts out the fifth community card, called “the river”. The remaining players show their hands in a “showdown” at the end of the hand.

This structure bears a resemblance to the “three-act structure” often taught in most screenwriting classes. The character starts off with the hand they're dealt, and must make a decision to proceed with their journey. The character “flops” into a new situation at the start of Act II and encounters new allies (a strong hand) or new enemies (a weak hand). The story takes a “turn” at the midpoint of Act II, then the character takes a trip down a menacing “river” at the start of Act III, leading up to a “showdown” with the antagonist.

Standing Still Is Not An Option

In no-limit hold'em, two players are required to make minimum “blind” bets before the hand starts to ensure that at least some chips are already in the pot. In tournament play, the minimum bets increase at specific time increments. As the blinds go up, the player's holdings get relatively smaller, even if they maintain the same amount of chips. The increasing minimum bets force players with "short stacks" into desperate moves to stay alive.

In all types of fiction, but especially in screenwriting, stasis equals death, at least the death of the audience's interest. When the character chooses to stand still, the world will still move on around them—and, quite possibly, run over them. The writer must keep the character moving, either physically or emotionally or both, to keep the story going and to maintain the audience's interest.

Heads-Up To The Finish

When the final two players of the tournament remain, they face off in “heads-up” play. These final hands are often as much about will and skill as they are about cards and chips. The final two players may have clashed previously over the course of hours or days, but now it's for all the marbles.

Whether it's poker, boxing, MMA, or tennis, audiences love to see a great one-on-one matchup. The same appeal holds in screenplays. Whenever the writer can set up a climactic confrontation between the protagonist and the antagonist, whether that confrontation uses fists, guns, legal tactics, or emotional manipulation, the audience will want to see who wins.

All In

The most thrilling part of any no-limit poker hand is when one player bets all their chips on a single hand. If they win, they double up and stay in the tournament. If they lose, it's “Wait Til Next Year.” This moment comes when the player says two simple words: “All In”.

As a writer, you have to risk a lot to put your story on paper. You have to risk putting in long hours for little or no reward. You have to risk missing out on fun times with friends and family to work on your story. You have to risk feeling like your story isn't good enough for anyone to want to read or see.

Just like in poker, the only way to win at the screenwriting game is to go “All In”.

If you want your story to be a winner, Story Into Screenplay offers a wide range of script services, including coverage reports, rewrite services, and both live and online hourly consultations.

You can email Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message through the Facebook page.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Telling A True Story? Don't Let The Facts Get In The Way!

"It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." - Mark Twain

From Homer's Iliad, to Shakespeare's “history plays” to the recent spate of “based on a true story” movies like BlacKkKlansman, Bohemian Rhapsody, First Man, and White Boy Rick, authors and dramatists have found a wealth of story ideas in historical events. However, films and TV shows that have purported to tell “true stories” have been attacked for not always sticking to the facts.

The important factor that these critics fail to take into account is that the script writer's job is to tell an entertaining story, not to recite the actual events. To paraphrase Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy from Star Trek, “Dammit, Jim, I'm a screenwriter, not a historian!”

In recent months, I've worked with a few clients who have been developing scripts based on historical figures and events. While the stories they want to tell are compelling, these writers also risk being drawn down what's called the “research rabbit hole”. They get so intent on doing all the research and making sure their facts are correct, that they forget that their job is to TELL A STORY, not write a history paper.

The key to writing a successful historical screenplay is the same as that of writing a successful script out of pure imagination: create compelling characters, and place them into conflict. The VOTE Method can show you how to create strong characters in just a few lines, as well as how to create powerful conflicts between those characters.

One of the facets of a successful screenplay is the creation of a memorable antagonist. In some historical screenplays, the writer had to forgo historical accuracy to create an antagonist that could challenge their main character. In American Sniper, screenwriter Jason Hall created “The Butcher”, an enemy sniper to challenge American sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper). In A Beautiful Mind, writer Akiva Goldsman created the character Parcher (Ed Harris) to represent John Nash's (Russell Crowe) mental illness.

Just as with adaptations from other media, a writer who seeks to create a screenplay based on true events should not tie themselves down to those events, characters, and sequences if they don't fit the narrative. Changing the order of events, combining characters, or even making up characters out of whole cloth is totally permissible (within reason) when writing a historical screenplay.

Your job is to do enough research to establish the characters, get a feel for the events, and tell the story in the most compelling and entertaining way possible. After all, “Titanic” wasn't the most historically accurate film of all time, either, but that didn't stop it from making over $2.1 BILLION worldwide.

Now that's what I call “making history”!

If you need advice on how to make your historical screenplay resonate with audiences, contact Story Into Screenplay. We offer one-on-one consultations, coverage-style reports, and full script writing and re-writing services. You can reach us at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a message through our Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Concept vs. Character, or What a Talking Raccoon and a Walking Tree Taught Me About Screenwriting

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting on some panels at the Comicpalooza convention in Houston. I moderated a horror writing panel with a number of accomplished writers, including Joe  R. Lansdale. The next day, I was on a screenwriting panel with Joe's son, Keith. These two gentlemen provided a wealth of information and advice to aspiring screenwriters about the importance of characterization.

As I walked the convention floor, I also talked to a number of writers who were displaying their books. When I would talk to most of these writers, they would pitch their books based on the concept of their story world, rather than the struggles of their characters within those worlds. This pitching approached turned me off, as I'm sure it did to other convention-goers, based on the number of copies left on the authors' tables.

As I've said in previous posts, audiences fall in love with characters, not ideas. The biggest example of the importance of characters over concepts often come from the genres that are also the most in love with its concepts: sci-fi and fantasy.

The examples I use in my teaching and consulting work are the characters of Rocket Raccoon and Groot from Marvel Studios' Guardians of the Galaxy films. On paper, the concepts of these characters are so absurd as to be laughable.

  • A three-foot-tall talking raccoon with a gun fetish? 
  • An eight-foot-tall walking tree that says the same three words?

If any writer were to pitch these characters in almost any venue, be it film, novel, or TV series, they would likely be laughed out of the room.

So why did it work? Why do millions of people love these characters, even if they aren't always likable?

The main reason is that writer/director James Gunn treated Rocket and Groot like characters, and not like caricatures. In the first film, he showed Rocket's pain and anger at his transformation, which he hides behind his false bravado. He showed that Groot was a loyal friend and slow to anger, until he was pushed into action and made the choice to sacrifice himself to save his friends.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies the films of the DC Extended Universe, most notably “Batman v.Superman: Dawn of Justice”. On paper, these concepts are a no-brainer: take the most recognizable superheroes in the world, pit them against each other, and then put them against a foe so tough that they have to work together to defeat it.

Simple, right? So how could two award-winning writers in Chris Terrio (Argo) and David S. Goyer (Dark Knight Trilogy) get it so wrong? One of the points of failure in the story was that they failed to make the main characters relatable. Both heroes (and their alter egos) come across as aloof and disconnected from their world, and from the audience, despite their “maternal connection” to each other.

This infatuation with concept over characterization is a major reason why writers, especially writers of genre fiction, struggle to build and audience. As I wrote in my first post, no one cares about an “original idea” or “ground-breaking concept” until they care about the characters. Strong, well-developed characters can save a flimsy premise, but a great premise won't save flimsy characters.

If you need help in creating strong characters for your screenplay, novel, or comic book concept, contact us at Story Into Screenplay. Whether you have the seed of an idea, or a fully-completed feature-length script, Story Into Screenplay can help. We offer script consultation, coverage reports, and rewrite services to ensure that your screenplay is ready for the most discerning reader.

You can reach us by email at storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send us a message on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Room, The Disaster Artist, and The Joy of Being Terrible

Theatrical Poster for
The Room

I realize I'm late to the party, but I recently had the “pleasure” of watching The Room in a double feature with The Disaster Artist, the adaptation of actor Greg Sestero's book about the making of the infamous film.

Since The Room came out and became a cult hit (in spite of itself), many screenwriters have asked, “How does a piece of garbage like that get made, when I can't even get anyone to look at my scripts?”

The answer is simple. The Room was nothing short of a vanity project for writer/director/producer/star Tommy Wiseau. He reportedly poured more than $6 million into the project in 2002, which comes out to nearly $8.5 million in 2018 dollars.

Aside from the amateurish acting, the inconsistent direction, and the excruciating love scenes, one of the hallmarks of The Room was its poor script. This attempt at a screenplay featured characters whose relationships were unclear, characters who appeared for the first time past the halfway point, and storylines that were picked up and dropped with no explanation.

If The Room was a train wreck, then The Disaster Artist shows how the engineer and the driver got together to drive the train straight off the rails. The film shows Tommy Wiseau (James Franco) as a modern-day Don Quixote, with Sestero (Dave Franco) as his Sancho Panza, both of them tilting at the windmill known as “Hollywood Stardom”.

Where The Room is excruciating to watch, The Disaster Artist is oddly inspiring. It shows how someone with no talent, no experience, and a complete unwillingness to work with others can succeed if they're stubborn enough. (Insert contemporary political reference here.)

In its own way, The Disaster Artist parallels one of the finest films of all time, and my personal favorite to use as a teaching tool: Rocky. In both films, a lead character with an unrecognizable accent attempts to reach the heights of their profession, assembles a rag-tag crew, and achieves their dreams, but not in the way that they had anticipated.

The success of Rocky, the cult status of The Room, and the Academy Award-nominated screenplay of The Disaster Artist shows that audiences love a great underdog story. The lesson to take away from the successes of these three films is simple: Don't be afraid to be terrible.

Your ideas suck. Your writing is unreadable. Your dialogue sounds like it's coming from an alien who's just recently learned the concept of social interaction. Your characters have the depth of wet tissue paper. Your story has the frenetic pace of a tranquilized sloth.

Your first draft will suck. Get used to it.

Your rewrites will feel like a never-ending root canal in your brain. Them's the breaks.

Every reader will find something new and different to hate about your script. Just accept it.

You will hate your script, your characters, and your life. You will become a miserable excuse for a human being.

How's that for motivation?

As the old workplace poster says, “You don't have to be crazy to work here, but it helps.”

As a writer, you have to be crazy just to get started. You have imaginary conversations in your head with people who don't exist. Not only that, you expect companies to pay millions of dollars and employ dozens of people to take your writing from the page to the screen. Then, you expect people to pay up to $15 a ticket to watch what you wrote. If that's not crazy, then what is?

Was Tommy Wiseau crazy? By nearly every objective measure, he was, to use the clinical terms, nuttier than a fruitcake. But did he succeed? He made his movie, his way, with his script. A decade and a half later, people are still watching it, talking about it, and (GASP!) blogging about it.

So enjoy writing your terrible script. Have fun pounding your pile of garbage into something resembling a usable screenplay. Make party hats out of those harsh coverage reports and form rejection letters.

Tell your story. Write your script. Get it made. Tilt at those windmills.

Because you're the only one who can.

If you need help in improving your “terrible” script, Story Into Screenplay can help. We offer script consultations, coverage reports, and expert advice on how to hone your screenplay. Contact us at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or send us a message on our Facebook page.

Gerald Hanks of Story Into Screenplay will be appearing at the Comicpalooza sci-fi convention again this year. The convention will be held at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, from Friday, May 25, to Sunday, May 27.

Gerald will be on two panels:

Saturday 5/26
1:30 - 2:30pm
Horror for the 21st Century: Film and Literature

Sunday 5/27
3:00 - 4:00pm
No Money, No Problem - Screenwriting for Low Budget Filmmaking

We'll be posting more details and panels as they become available.