Gerald Hanks Filmography

Monday, April 27, 2020

Screenwriting Advice: Concept vs. Craft

Thousands of aspiring writers are taking advantage of the current crisis to work on their screenplay ideas.

They envision that, once the crisis has passed, content-hungry producers will gobble up their scripts in hopes of making the next big hit feature film or streaming series.

While developing a "high concept" for your story is important, developing your skills as a writer is crucial to having a successful career.

Since the vast majority of professional screenwriters (90+%) make their living from writing assignments, a grasp of the finer points of the screenwriting process is essential.

The best way to hone these skills is to practice writing scripts, even if those stories fall outside of the writer's comfort zone.

A great way to practice honing your skills is to write the best script possible based on a completely silly idea.

After all, if writers can get paid to create scripts about shark-filled tornadoes or with characters like a gun-toting raccoon and an eight-foot-tall walking tree, then anything is possible.

So here's a fun writing exercise that can help you sharpen your skills:

  • Come up with ten absolutely ridiculous ideas.
  • For each idea, create a protagonist, and antagonist, and a helper/love interest.
  • For each character, use the VOTE Method to define the character's motivations and desires.
  • For each protagonist, use the VOTE to create a logline.
  • Choose the three VOTE loglines that interest you the most.
  • Write a one-page synopsis or beat sheet based off of each logline.
  • Write your script based on the synopsis that interests you the most.

What do I mean by "ridiculous ideas"? Here are some examples:

The point isn't that these are brilliant examples of modern cinema.

The point is that scripts like these often turn writers from aspiring amateurs into paid professionals.

So, instead of stressing out about if your idea is "original" is original enough, or if your "high concept" is high enough, focus on developing your skills as a screenwriter.

You may decide to take these scripts into the marketplace, or you may decide to hide them in a drawer for decades.

This exercise will let you have fun with a preposterous idea, while you work on your craft and become a better writer.

If you can show that you can create a strong script out of a ridiculous concept, imagine what you can do with a good one!

Besides, who would want to make a movie about killer clowns from outer space anyway?


Whether you want to learn how to write a script on your own, or if you want to hire an experienced screenwriter to handle that task, Story Into Screenplay can help.

Some writers may feel hesitant to work on their projects during these stressful times.

On the contrary, now is the perfect time to develop that idea, hone that script, and work on that pitch.

When this crisis gets resolved, content providers will be looking for new voices, new projects, and new stories.

During this crisis, Story Into Screenplay is offering several tools that can help writers develop their skills and refine their ideas.

  • Feedback report on the first ten pages of your feature or TV pilot for US$10.
  • One hour of online or phone consultation with an experienced professional screenwriter FREE (US residents only).
  • The introductory chapter of "How To Use The VOTE Method": FREE (coming soon)

For more information, contact Story Into Screenplay by using the form on this page, by email at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or by sending a direct message through the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Screenwriting Advice: Writing vs. Pitching

One of the most useful online screenwriting resources I've found is the aptly-named ScreenwritingU.

This site offers numerous free webinars and conference calls that provide some basic tools for beginning writers.

Of course, they use these free webinars as an opportunity to sell their online classes, but you may find their methods valuable enough to fork over a pretty penny for those classes.

One of the free webinars they offered was titled "8 Steps to Selling Screenplays".

The key takeaway from this session may sound obvious, but it's also startling in the fact that so many writers miss this point.

The primary goal a screenwriter should have in mind is to find ways to make their script "marketable".

"Marketable" doesn't mean "a copycat of every hit movie of the last ten years".

"Marketable" means a high concept with roles that will attract A-list actors and sell tickets.

How do you create roles that Oscar-winning actors will want to play?

You create strong roles by applying the VOTE Method.

Since the VOTE Method is based on the training actors undergo to grasp their roles, it's also highly useful for writers looking to craft substantial roles.

When you create strong roles, talented, well-known actors will want to attach themselves to your project so that they can play those roles.

When they attach themselves to the project, it becomes much easier to sell and get made.

Here's another takeaway from the webinar:

Before you write your script, prepare your pitch.

I can already hear you asking:

"But how can I prepare my pitch before I even start my script?"

When you develop your pitch, including the logline, you focus your story on the essentials.

A strong pitch will help you refine your story and give you a clear destination between FADE IN and FADE OUT.

"But what makes a 'strong pitch'?"

According to SU, the pitch has less to do with the story than you might think.

The elements the webinar listed in a pitch include:
  • Credibility. If you're trying to get someone to pay you thousands of dollars for a script, and spend millions more making it into a movie, then you have to show them that you know what you're doing.
    Examples of credibility can include experience as a writer, placement in contests, or expertise in the script's subject matter.
  • Genre. You're more likely to sell a comedy script, a drama script, or a thriller script than you are one script that tries to combine all three. Most producers, especially the smaller producers willing to work with rookie writers, focus on a specific genre.
    If you can deliver a script that fits their expectations for the genre, while crafting a unique story within those expectations, then you're ahead of the pack.
  • Title. Many writers avoid giving their scripts a title until the end. That's like waiting to name your baby until he or she graduates high school.
    Movies are a visual medium, and so is movie marketing. You have to imagine what that title will look like on a poster, in a trailer, or on a website. You can change it during the writing process, but you should at least come up with a working title for the pitch.
  • High concept. Most rookie writers don't understand what "high concept" means. The dictionary definition of "high concept" is "a simple and often striking idea or premise, as of a story or film, that lends itself to easy promotion and marketing".
    This is where your logline comes in. By following the VOTE Method formula for your logline, you can communicate your story's high concept quickly and clearly.
  • Short story summary. Many writers who get this far in the pitch process often blow their chances by over-talking. They spend too much time explaining all the details of the story, most of which don't matter and turn off the listener.
    You can summarize the character's journey by indicating the crucial story points, such as the inciting incident, the Act II turning point, the midpoint, the Act III turning point, and the climax. As the old show-biz saying goes, "Always leave them wanting more." 
As much as it may go against the introverted nature of most writers, your skills at selling your scripts have to match or exceed your skills at writing them.

When you learn to pitch your script and practice your pitch with whoever will listen, you'll develop more confidence in your story, which will also make you a better writer.

ScreenwritingU offers free webinars on a wide range of subjects. The SU email newsletter provides details on upcoming classes.


Some writers may feel hesitant to work on their projects during these stressful times.

On the contrary, now is the perfect time to develop that idea, hone that script, and work on that pitch.

When this crisis gets resolved, content providers will be looking for new voices, new projects, and new stories.

During this crisis, Story Into Screenplay is offering several tools that can help writers develop their skills and refine their ideas.
  • Feedback report on the first ten pages of your feature or TV pilot from an experienced screenplay contest judge for US$10.
  • One hour of online or phone consultation with an experienced professional screenwriter FREE (US residents only).
  • The introductory chapter of "How To Use The VOTE Method": FREE (coming soon)
Whether you want to learn how to write your own script, or if you want to hire an experienced screenwriter to craft your story into a marketable project, Story Into Screenplay can help.

For more information, contact Story Into Screenplay by using the form on this page, by email at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, or by sending a direct message through the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Your Screenplay Ideas: Original Vs. Unique

First off, I hope that you and yours are staying safe and healthy during this crisis.

If you're like a lot of writers, you're struggling with using this time to come up with an "original" idea for a script.

Some of you - from what I've seen from social media, too many of you - want to use this crisis as a jumping-off point for your script.

Others anticipate the flood of "pandemic scripts" coming out - most of them of poor to mediocre quality - and want to avoid writing on the subject altogether out of fear that your idea isn't "original" enough.

Whether you choose to write about this situation or steer clear of it entirely, the thing to remember is that what attracts readers to your script lies less in the concept and more in its execution.

If your script shows poor grammar, bad spelling, thin characters, and a nonsensical plot, then your "original" idea won't matter in the slightest.

If your script fails to show a proper understanding of screenplay format, story structure, or industry standards, then your "genius" concept will go to waste.

The best way to stand out among the herd of screenwriters is not to try to present an "original" idea.

If you go back to the first post in this blog, the idea of "originality" in screenwriting is highly overrated.

Instead of trying to be "original", writers should try to be "unique".

What's the difference?

The difference lies in presenting a story in a way that only you can tell it.

An incredibly vivid example comes from two different versions of the song "Hurt".

The Trent Reznor 1995 original comes across as a young man's lament while in the depths of depression and self-loathing.

The Johnny Cash 2002 cover uses the same melody and same lyrics (with one minor exception) and tells the story of an old man looking back on his life and facing his mortality.

After hearing Cash's version, Reznor commented, "That song isn’t mine any more."

Trent Reznor and Johnny Cash had distinctly different voices, different outlooks, and different ideas on music.

Both of them made "Hurt" a successful and memorable song.

But it was Johnny Cash's version that made a bigger impact on audiences, even by the original author's admission.

Here's an exercise: Instead of trying to work through your "original" idea, take your favorite public domain story and put your unique spin on it.

The point of this exercise is to learn the craft that goes into writing before delving into your "original" concepts and ideas.

Remember, West Side Story was a spin on Romeo and Juliet, and the film version won ten Oscars in 1962

The 1999 teen film Ten Things I Hate About You took The Taming of the Shrew and put it in a modern American high school.

Japanese director Akira Kurosawa moved Macbeth to medieval Japan and made Throne of Blood in 1957. He did the same thing in 1985 with King Lear and made Ran.

This list doesn't mean that you should shift your focus from telling your stories to retelling someone else's.

It doesn't mean that you should abandon your concepts and focus on been-there-done-that ideas.

It means that you should look for what makes your writing style unique in a world full of copycats.

You might find that, by trying to sing someone else's song, you can learn to find your true voice.

After all, even the Beatles started as a cover band.

If you need help in finding your voice, you can drop a note to Story Into Screenplay.

Story Into Screenplay can connect you with an experienced professional screenwriter, script consultant, convention speaker, and screenplay contest judge.

During the month of April, Story Into Screenplay is offering one hour of live screenplay consulting FREE!

To get your free hour of consulting, email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com or send a direct message through our Facebook page.

In the meantime, stay safe and keep writing!

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Screenwriting with the VOTE Method: The Banker

The Banker follows the efforts of a pair of African-American entrepreneurs in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) is a self-educated financial genius.

His partner, Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson) is a street-smart nightclub owner who finances Bernard's efforts.

The pair employ a young white man named Matt Steiner (Nicholas Hoult) as a front man to counter the institutional racism that runs rampant through the banking industry at the time.

The screenplay, written by Niceole R. Levy, George Nolfi, David Lewis Smith, and Stan Younger, was based on a true story about how Bernard Garrett used his financial acumen to build an African-American middle class in rural Texas during the early days of the civil rights movement.

In this post, we'll look at how the writers developed the fictionalized versions of these real-life moguls-turned-activists by applying the VOTE Method.

The object of this review is not to criticize the film itself, but to demonstrate to aspiring writers how they can build strong characters in their own stories by showing how the VOTE Method applied to contemporary films.

In this case, we'll look at how the writers developed the characters of Bernard, Joe, and Matt.

Bernard Garrett
Victory: Bernard wants to use his intellect to "make money like white people do".

Obstacles: The biggest Obstacle Bernard faces is the rampant institutional racism in the real estate and banking industries at the time. Bernard also lacks the capital to launch his career, and the racist institutions won't allow him to get the loans he needs.

Tactics: Bernard partners with Patrick Barker (Colm Meaney), an Irishman who has the public face and financial resources Bernard needs. Later, Bernard buys the bank in his Texas hometown and backs loans to African-American families and businesses.

Emotional Need: Bernard needs to know that his father is proud of him.

Joe Morris
Victory: Joe wants to strike it rich, while staying out of trouble.

Obstacles: Joe faces the same racism that Bernard does, and points it out to Bernard on numerous occasions. Joe also doesn't trust anyone, especially the white people with money. Joe also doesn't want to get involved in Bernard's schemes in Texas.

Tactics: Joe backs Bernard's efforts in California. In one scene, Joe dresses as a limo driver to eavesdrop on a conference among the bankers.

Emotional Need: Joe needs to prove that he can make money on his own, without drawing unwanted attention.

Matt Steiner
Victory: Matt wants to provide financial security for himself and his wife, Susie.

Obstacles: Matt has little education and no marketable skills. He struggles at math, which is a vital component of understanding financial deals.

Tactics: Matt joins Bernard's and Joe's scheme. He learns golf and memorizes the math he needs to impress the power players.

Emotional Need: Matt needs to prove that he is as skilled at the banking business as Bernard.

Some of the best stories happen when the writer has multiple characters working together toward the same Victories - in this case, seeking justice in an unjust system and getting rich in the process.

However, since they're different characters, they'll encounter different Obstacles, apply different Tactics, and have different Emotional Needs that they need to fulfill.

These differences will create the conflict that you need to enhance your characters, power your stories, and pull readers into your scripts.

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, fill in the form on this page, or send a message to our Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Screenwriting with the VOTE Method: Getting Emotional

One of the difficulties that rookie writers encounter when using the VOTE Method comes when they try to differentiate the character's Victory from the Emotion that drives them to pursue it.

In the original Rocky, Rocky states his Victory - to stay on his feet for fifteen rounds against heavyweight champion Apollo Creed.

The Emotion that drives him is his need to prove himself worthy of love and respect, especially from Adrian.

In 1917, Corporal Blake's Victory is to deliver the General's orders before the attack starts.

The Emotion that drives him is his need to save his brother from dying in a doomed attack.

Lists of Emotional Needs

If you're having trouble finding the Emotion that drives your character, several experts on human behavior have compiled lists from which you can choose the need that fits your character.

In 1943, psychologist A.H. Maslow introduced a "hierarchy of human needs" in his paper, "A Theory Of Human Motivation".

Maslow's Nine Needs, in decreasing order of importance, are:

  • Security
  • Autonomy
  • Attention
  • Emotional Connection
  • Community
  • Privacy
  • Sense of Self
  • Sense of Achievement
  • Meaning

Maslow's hierarchy breaks these and other needs into five categories, also in decreasing order of importance.

  • Physiological
  • Safety
  • Love and belonging
  • Esteem
  • Self-actualization

Motivational speaker Tony Robbins listed six core human needs:

  • Certainty
  • Variety
  • Significance
  • Connection
  • Contribution
  • Growth

The deeper the Emotional need, the deeper the connection to the audience will be.

Audiences can relate to a character in search of food or water on a more immediate level than one looking for intellectual insight.

Victory vs Emotion

Here are some ways that you can find the difference between your characters Victory and their Emotional need.

  • The Victory is unique and personal. The Emotion is universal.
  • The Victory is the "what" of the story. The Emotion is the "why".
  • The Victory is the destination. The Emotion is the fuel for the journey.
  • The Victory shows the audience what they can expect to see. The Emotion shows the audience what they can expect to feel.

Since these needs are universal, they can apply to any type of character - any nationality, any gender, any species, from any time, any planet, or any mythical realm.

Delivering On Emotion

Your primary mission as a storyteller is not to deliver a message.
It is not to present a point of view.
It's not to teach or preach.

Your main Victory is to provoke an emotional response in your audience.

When you find the Emotional needs of your characters, you'll find the emotions you want to provoke in your audience.

Contact Story Into Screenplay

If you need help with character development, plot structure, or any other aspect of screenwriting, contact Story Into Screenplay.

Story Into Screenplay offers one-on-one consultations, coverage reports, script writing and rewriting services, and professional screenwriting advice.

You can reach us by filling in the email form on this page, by sending a direct message through our Facebook page, or by emailing us directly at storyintoscreenplayblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Post-Oscars Advice for Screenwriters: Embrace The Suck

Many aspiring screenwriters watched last night's Academy Award ceremonies.

They imagined themselves standing on that stage, in front of hundreds of industry leaders and millions of viewers around the world.

They dreamt of thanking the Academy, their agent, their family, and their writer's group as they held the Little Gold Man.

For nearly everyone reading this, and for Your Humble Author, watching and dreaming will be as close as they ever get to that moment.

When the ceremony ends and the after-party winds down, these dreamers must face the harsh light of reality.

When the dreamers realize that they'll never achieve those levels of fame and fortune, they'll start making excuses.

"I don't write scripts for 'Hollywood'."

"All they want are comic book movies and brainless big-budget action scripts. My intimate little family drama doesn't stand a chance of getting made."

"Success in screenwriting is about who you know, not what you know."

All of these excuses show an unwillingness to engage in the work that a real career requires.

Not a dream. Not a fantasy. Not a lottery ticket. A career.

If you want to achieve "success" in any field, especially screenwriting, you need to remember this:

"Success" starts with "Suck".

Your ideas will suck.

Your characters will suck.

Your scripts will suck.

Your first drafts will absolutely suck.

The amount of rejection you'll encounter will definitely suck.

The only way to achieve "success" is to embrace the "suck".

If you've been applying the VOTE Method to your scripts, you know that your characters must persevere through numerous Obstacles and apply different Tactics to achieve their Victory and fulfill their Emotional need.

(Victory. Obstacles. Tactics. Emotion. Get it?)

Why should it be any different for you as a writer?

If you want to lose weight, you have to learn to embrace "rabbit food" and early morning workouts, both of which suck.

If you want to stop bad habits, such as smoking or excessive drinking, you have to learn to embrace the cravings for those things and ride through them, which can truly suck.

If you really want to be a screenwriter, you have to embrace the putrid first draft, the thin-as-water characters, the inane dialogue, and the nonsensical plot machinations and work to improve them.

Let's face it. Rewriting sucks. It's not nearly as fun as the first draft, when you get to discover your story, your world, and your characters.

As much as it sucks, rewriting is also a vital part of creating a story that engages an audience other than yourself.

The "suck" of rewriting lets you see your story with fresh eyes. It lets you learn how to create more tension, how to drive the story forward, and how to make your characters more engaging to the reader.

When you have your heart set on achieving a goal, one action you can take to make the process easier is to seek out professional help.

If you want to lose weight, you can work with your doctor, a personal trainer, and a nutritionist.

If you want to quit bad habits, you can work with a professional counselor who can give you advice on how to manage your cravings.

If you want to make more money, you can work with a financial professional on how to save, invest, and channel your income.

If you want to write a professional-level screenplay, you can work with a professional writer to coach you through the process.

At Story Into Screenplay, we offer professional script consulting, script coverage reports, screenplay adaptations, and more.

We'll work with you to develop a script that has the main element that agents, actors, and audiences look for: strong, powerful characters with clear motivations and high-stakes conflicts.

While we can't guarantee you an Oscar, we can help to make your road to "success" suck less.

You can contact Story Into Screenplay by using the form on this page, or by emailing StoryIntoScreenplayBlog[at]gmail[dot]com.

You can also send a direct message through our Facebook page.

Let's get your script in Oscar shape!