Gerald Hanks Filmography

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Screenwriting Advice: The One Word Your Logline MUST Have!

One of the topics I frequently see in screenwriting discussion groups revolves around rookie writers looking for feedback on their loglines.

The VOTE Method provides a clear formula that helps writers develop compelling loglines, but it doesn't quite go far enough.

In case you missed it, the original formula goes like this: 

[Protagonist] [uses Tactics] against [Obstacles] to [achieve Victory] so that they can [fulfill Emotional Need].

The "new and improved" formula contains a "special ingredient":

[Protagonist] must [achieve Victory] by [using Tactics] to [overcome Obstacles] so that they can [fulfill Emotional Need].

For instance, the revised logline for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse would look like this:

A teenager with spider-powers must save New York City by teaming up with heroes from alternate universes to defeat a squad of super-villains so that he can learn what it takes to be a hero.

This revised formula gives us a logline for Rocky that looks like this.

An underachieving boxer must last for fifteen rounds against the World Heavyweight Champion by using unconventional training methods so that he can win the love of a young woman.

For 1917, the logline would look like this:

Two young soldiers must deliver new orders to the front lines against enemy troops and air attacks by crossing miles of bombed-out territory so that they can save their fellow troops, including one soldier's brother.

So what's the difference between the "original recipe" and the "new flavor"?

The difference is a four-letter word:


Your story doesn't move forward because your protagonist "chooses" to pursue a Victory. 

Your story moves forward because your protagonist MUST pursue that Victory.

In the traditional "Hero's Journey" story structure, the "threshold" represents the point at which the protagonist MUST pursue their Victory. When they cross that threshold, they MUST try to overcome their Obstacles, apply their Tactics, and fulfill their Emotional Need.

In Act I, your protagonist may waffle and waver over whether to go after what they want, but they MUST pursue that Victory for the story to start. 

This aspect shows why "MUST" makes for a vital component in the logline. 

  • "MUST" shows the reader the Victory the protagonist has to pursue, as well as the Emotional Need that the protagonist MUST try to fulfill in that pursuit.
  • "MUST" signifies the urgency and drive behind the pursuit of the Victory. 
  • "MUST" tells the audience that the protagonist will do anything to achieve that Victory, no matter how dangerous, violent, illegal, unethical, or just plain stupid.

This logline formula can also help writers overcome "writer's block". Writer's block typically comes from the lack of a clear idea as to which direction the story should follow.

This logline formula gives the writer a clear direction for the character, so the issues that could block the writer's progress stem less from where the story is going, and more from how the protagonist will get to where they MUST go.

When you include MUST in your logline, you get your script one step closer to becoming a MUST read.


During this holiday season, Story Into Screenplay wants to give you a gift that will help your writing move forward in 2021 and beyond.

From now until until Christmas Eve, Story Into Screenplay will offer FREE logline reviews (limit one per response) for readers who use the formula described above.

You can submit your loglines through the form on this page. You can also send them in a direct message through the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page, or in an email with the subject "Logline Review" to storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com.

You can also take advantage of the "10 Pages for $10" script evaluation or schedule a one-on-one consulting session with a professional script reader by contacting Story Into Screenplay through any of the methods mentioned above. 

Keep writing! Good luck and have a great holiday season!

Monday, November 23, 2020

Toy Story: Screenwriting and Visualization

When I wrote about getting your best writing from your dumbest idea, I had to put my money where my mouth was. As I mentioned a few months ago, I bought some loose action figures from a local toy store and started working on a script.

I wrote a quick ten-page sample and sent it and the pitch deck to a friend who had produced some of my earlier short films. He encouraged me to expand the script to a full episode length (30 minutes) and update the pitch deck. 

One trick I've used as I've worked on the script involves having the "actors" (i.e. toys) on my desk. This trick helps me visualize each scene. Instead of trying to imagine how the scene should look, I can set it up on my desk and "play" through the scene as I write.

While playing with toys may sound ridiculous to those who imagine themselves as "serious" writers, just take a minute to think about the screenwriting process. 

(If you have a problem with playing with toys, take it up with this guy!) 

When you write a script, you're writing it with the end goal of having actors move how you want, say what you want, and deliver the performance that you want.

If you use toys to represent your actors and your desk to represent the setting, you can create the scene that you want right in front of your eyes.

This trick can also help you "write visually", as you can describe the characters, the costumes, the setting, and the action that you create with the toys, while keeping the dialogue to a minimum.

Whether you're writing an epic superhero action series, or a small, intimate drama about a troubled family, action figures and accessories can serve as useful visual tools to help you develop your writing skills.

With the holiday season coming up, you won't even get funny looks from the store clerks (or delivery drivers) when you're a grown adult buying a bunch of action figures. They'll just assume the toys are Christmas gifts. They don't need to know that these toys are your "cast".

The bad news: Don't expect great performances from your action figures. Their range of expressions are limited and can come across as "wooden" (or at least "molded plastic").

The good news: Your efforts with plastic people will serve as extensive preparation for working in Hollywood!

One place where you won't work with plastic people is at Story Into Screenplay.

Story Into Screenplay offers script coverage reports, one-on-one consultation, and rewriting services. 

No matter what stage of the writing process you're in, no matter your experience level as a writer, Story Into Screenplay can help.

If you have a script and want a professional review from an experienced coverage writer, Story Into Screenplay's "10 Pages for $10" offer is still available through the holiday season.

For more information, you can email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, fill in the form on this page, or send a direct message through the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page.

Good luck! 

Stay well! 

Keep writing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Screenwriting and Fine Dining: Make the First Bite the Best

Have you ever eaten at a fine dining restaurant?

Have you taken the first bite of a dish, only to find that it tasted like hot garbage?

How did it feel when you took that first bite and knew that the food was bad?

Did you keep eating? Did you hope it would get better?

Did you finish your plate, even when the thought of another bite made you want to throw up?

Or did you stop eating? Did you send it back? Did you complain to the manager? 

Did the chef ever tell you, "it gets better as you go"?

Did you ever go back to that restaurant again?

Let's say you're a forgiving person and you give that restaurant another shot.

You order the same dish, in hopes that it'll be better this time.

You take that first bite.

Now it feels like a choir of angels singing on your tongue.

The first bite was so good, you took another bite. And another. And another.

You finish the entire dish without even realizing it.

Now look at your screenplay. 

How good is your first page?

Do you expect a reader to go through your poorly-written first page?

Do you want to tell the reader, "It gets better as you go"?

If you were reading it as an outsider, would you want to finish the page?

Is there anything on Page 1 that would make someone want to turn to Page 2?

If you want to impress producers, agents, and contest judges, you have to make Page 1 so compelling that they NEED to turn to Page 2.

Make that first bite the best. 


Now's your time to take advantage of the "House Special".

Most scripts succeed or fail on the strength of the first ten pages.

If you want a professional screenplay reader to evaluate your first ten pages, Story Into Screenplay can help.

Story Into Screenplay offers a "10 Pages for $10" special.

Get a professional evaluation on the first ten pages of your feature film screenplay or TV pilot script for only $10.

With every evaluation, you'll also receive a FREE sample chapter from the upcoming book, The VOTE Method: How To Create Strong Characters For Your Screenplay.

For more information, including a sample evaluation, email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line "10 Pages for $10 Special".

You can also fill in the form on this page or send a direct message through the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Dumbest Idea I've Ever Heard

In this time of isolation and limited social contact, some writers may find themselves with ample time, either to consider new projects or to take a new look at some old concepts.

At one time or another, anyone who has ever considered writing has had an idea that they looked at, thought about, turned over in their mind, and declared:

"That idea is too stupid!" 

"I could never write about something so ridiculous!" 

"No one would ever buy into it!"

This premise flips the concept behind the first post in this blog on its head.

So many rookie writers believe that the idea is what sells the story. While a "high concept" is a valuable part of any screenplay, it's not what makes or breaks the script.

As we've seen so many times in this blog, the most vital component of any script is characterization.

Strong characters can sell an audience on the silliest concepts.

Here are two loglines that would have gotten any writer laughed out of a producer's office a decade ago:

Logline #1: A band of space criminals, including a three-foot-tall talking raccoon with a gun fetish and an eight-foot-tall walking tree that repeats the same three words over and over, must stop a patriotic zealot from gaining control of a shiny purple rock.

Logline #2: A hip-hop Broadway musical explores the life of the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Strong characters can help writers put a new spin on an old story.

Here are two possible loglines for two highly different stories:

Logline #1: A teenage boy on a desert planet discovers that he has mental superpowers, joins a ragtag band of rebels, and overthrows an evil empire.

Logline #2: A teenage boy on a desert planet discovers that he has mental superpowers, joins a ragtag band of rebels, and overthrows an evil empire.

No idea is so brilliant that it doesn't need strong characters.

No idea is so dumb that it can't work with strong characters.

If you're stuck on what to do with your writing efforts, consider these two options:

Option #1: Take the dumbest idea you've ever had. Make it work by creating a set of characters (protagonist, antagonist, supporting characters) using the VOTE Method and start from there.

Option #2: Take the premise of the dumbest movie you've ever seen. Make it work with completely different characters by creating a set of characters (protagonist, antagonist, supporting characters) using the VOTE Method and start from there.

For myself, I'm taking Option #1 and creating a series of shorts based on a bunch of old action figures I found at a local toy store

I even created a "pitch deck", as if I was going to pitch it to producers instead of using it as a way to learn how to shoot and edit video for myself.

If you're still stuck, or if you want help developing your ideas, contact Story Into Screenplay. 

Story Into Screenplay offers script coverage reports, one-on-one consultation, and rewriting services. 

No matter what stage of the writing process you're in, no matter your experience level as a writer, Story Into Screenplay can help.

If you have a script and want a professional review from an experienced coverage writer, Story Into Screenplay's "10 Pages for $10" offer is still available for a limited time.

For more information, you can email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com, or send a direct message through the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page.

Good luck! 

Stay well! 

Keep writing!

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Top 10 Pet Peeves of a Professional Script Reader

One of the steps an aspiring screenwriter should go through on the way to improving their skills is to submit their script for a coverage report.

As a coverage reader for Coverfly, the Austin Film Festival, and for private clients, as well as a former screenplay contest judge, I've read hundreds of spec scripts in nearly every genre.

In many cases, I can judge the quality of a script before I even start reading it. In others, it may take five or ten pages. Within the first fifteen pages, I can tell whether a script will be a fun read or a test of mental endurance.

Here are the Top 10 Pet Peeves of a Professional Script Reader:

Scripts Over 120 Pages

If I get a feature script that's more than 110 pages, I start to feel dread.

If it's over 120, I cringe. 

If it's over 130, I know I'm in for a long haul. 

If you can't tell your story in under 120 pages, you need either to cut it down before submitting it or stretch it out into a longer form, such as a novel or TV series.

Poor Formatting

Spec screenplays have a very specific format. If you think that the format "restricts your creativity", then you should look at another form of storytelling. 

A lack of proper formatting shows that you don't want to play by the rules. 

When you get on the level of a Tarantino or Apatow, you can afford to thumb your nose at the rules.

When you're Joe Nobody with only one script under your belt, you play by the rules or you don't get to play at all.

This also goes for rules regarding ALL CAPS, bold type, or italics. Spec scripts should have exciting stories, but the type should be as plain as possible.

Poor Spelling and Grammar

If you want to market yourself as a writer, you have to show an understanding of proper writing techniques. 

When you submit a script with spelling and grammar errors, it tells me as a reader that you didn't care enough about the script to take the time to have it proofread. If you didn't care about it that much, then why should I?

Also, spellcheck is not the be-all/end-all of proofreading. If I see one more "you're/your" or "their/there/they're" mistake in a script, I won't need a quarantine haircut, because I'll pull all my hair out.

Long Stretches of Dialogue or Description

Spec screenplays are visual blueprints of the story. 

When I see a column of continuous dialogue that fills half a page or more, I want to take a hacksaw to my monitor and chop it down to size. 

When I see a paragraph of flowery description, I want to trade the hacksaw for a chainsaw.

White space is your friend. Break up the dialogue and description into bite-sized pieces rather than king-sized chunks.

Personality Traits in Character Introductions

"John is a smart, hip, cool dude."  "Mary is a beautiful, devious femme fatale." "Mr. Moneybags is an evil, cruel sadist."

Remember the old writer's adage: "Show, Don't Tell"? 

Don't TELL me John is smart. SHOW him doing something smart.

Don't TELL me Mary is devious. SHOW her doing something devious.

Don't TELL me Mr. Moneybags is a sadist. SHOW him doing something sadistic.

The same goes for including character emotions in descriptions. 

"He feels sad. She's scared. He's overjoyed at the news."

Kill these with fire!


This pet peeve falls under the formatting category. A new slugline indicates a change in the scene, which implies a cut. The script doesn't need a "CUT TO" at that point. 

The same goes for "MATCH CUT" or "SMASH CUT" or "CROSS CUT" or any other editing cues.

"We See/Hear"

If the script conveys a visual cue, then the reader will pick up on that image. If it conveys a sound cue, the reader will pick up on that sound. "We see/hear" is both distracting and redundant.

Director/Producer Notes

If your script is so complex that you need to explain how it works to a producer or director, then you might want to look at simplifying the story. 

Most producers and directors disregard these notes and shoot the story based on the resources they have available, not based on the writer's demands.

Unless you're producing and shooting your script all by yourself, you don't get to "direct from the page".

Dialogue as Exposition

This trope is especially prevalent in science fiction and fantasy scripts, when the writer needs to explain how the world works. It also appears in other types of stories when a character needs to relate backstory to the audience, such as using a TV or radio report in the background to convey information.

This trope also serves as a prime example of the "long dialogue" issue. The writer uses a character to lecture to the others (and to the audience). This kind of dialogue is a drag to read, as it takes away any dramatic tension from the scene.

Dialect in Dialogue

Some writers want to get creative and write their dialogue in a dialect or accent. These attempts often make the dialogue unreadable. The same principle applies to dialogue in a language other than English. 

Some scripts try to use only the foreign language, while others try to include both English and the foreign language in the same dialogue block. The job of reading scripts in English is hard enough without needing to consult Google Translate or reading the same line twice in two different languages.

Now that you know about the problems that could hurt your score on a coverage report, I'll bet you want to know all about the solutions to these problems.

That's where Story Into Screenplay can help!

Story Into Screenplay offers coverage reports and script consultations, as well as writing, rewriting, and proofreading services.

You can see how Story Into Screenplay can work for you by taking advantage of this offer:

Get a professional evaluation of the first ten pages of your feature film or TV pilot script for only $10.

For more information, email Story Into Screenplay at storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject "10 Pages for $10 Special ''.

You can also send a direct message to the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page and mention the special.

To see a sample coverage report, check out this evaluation of the screenplay for "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse".

Don't "pass" up this opportunity. 

"Consider" this a chance to work with an experienced, professional screenwriter and script reader.

Be sure to "recommend" this and other articles to your screenwriting colleagues.

Good luck and keep writing!

Monday, July 6, 2020

Making Your Script Matter

As writers, especially in times of isolation, we tend to live inside our heads. We imagine how our stories will look to an audience. We visualize how the characters and events will play out on screen.

However, we often forget about the dozens of people, hundreds of hours, and millions of dollars needed to translate that vision from the page to the screen.

After watching the HBO documentary The Last Watch, about the making of the final season of Game of Thrones, writers can gain a new insight into the effort that it takes to make a feature film or TV series.

In the case of Game of Thrones, it took dozens of technicians, hundreds of extras, and millions of dollars to bring Season Eight to screens around the world.

When you watch that documentary, you'll see the effort that it takes to do something as simple as creating snowfall, or making sure a wig looks good and fits right, or working three months in a row exclusively at night.

Many of the talented and creative individuals who worked on that show also became fans of that show, either through the books or through their work on the set.

Your task as a writer is to create the kind of following that will drive actors, directors, camera operators, food vendors, drivers, and dozens of other people to sacrifice their physical well-being, their mental health, and their time with their families just to put your script on the screen.

If your script fails to inspire that level of devotion in everyone from the producer to the lead actor to the craft service workers, your words will never make it to the screen.

If you believe that your writing is "good enough" to make it in Hollywood and that the "evil gatekeepers" are locking you out of the opportunities you "deserve", you need to relieve yourself of that delusion right now.

You owe it to yourself, potential producers, directors, actors, and anyone whoever looks at the script to make it as powerful and affecting as it can be. The better your script is, the more talent and the higher quality of talent your project will attract, both in front of and behind the cameras.

Do you want the people who work on your movie to enjoy getting up in the morning and going to the set? Or do you want them to treat it like just another job?

Which option is going to result in a top-notch finished product? If you were working on your movie, how would you want to feel?

That's what I thought.

But how can you make sure that your script inspires that level of passion and dedication from the people who'll work on your set?

The answer comes down to two words:

Strong characters.

Actors want to play strong characters.

Directors want to tell stories with strong characters.

Audiences want to pay money to see strong characters, whether that money comes from a movie theater box office, a download purchase, or streaming subscription fees.

If you want to learn how to write strong characters for your script, Story Into Screenplay can help.

Story Into Screenplay offers coverage services, script rewriting services, one-on-one consultations, and more.

As an introductory offer, Story Into Screenplay will offer feedback on the first 10 pages of your feature film or TV pilot script for only $10.

Email storyintoscreenplayblog[at] or send a direct message to our Facebook page for more information. As a bonus, you will receive the introductory chapter to the upcoming book, The VOTE Method: How To Create Strong Characters.

When you're ready to create a script that will draw a devoted following, Story Into Screenplay will be ready to help.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Screenwriting Advice: Make Me Care About Your Story

Many aspiring writers, especially screenwriters, have a passionate need to tell their personal stories. 

They feel these stories so intensely because they lived through those events. 

The writer gets so emotionally invested in the story that they feel the need to tell it in the widest forum possible.

They spend months (or even years) writing their script about these deeply personal experiences, only to get nothing but silence in response. 

This lack of connection may make the writer wonder where the problem lies.

The problem doesn't lie in the details. 

Most writers of personal stories are so committed to getting their "true story" out there that they forget that the audience is less interested in the "true" part and much more invested in the "story" part.

The writer will say, "This really happened!" 

The audience will respond, "We don't care!"

The best way to get a wide audience to relate to a personal story is to find what makes that story relatable. 

That statement may sound like circular logic, but it's actually pretty simple.

Audiences relate to characters much more than they do ideas, events, or philosophies. 

The biggest hurdle that writers of personal stories encounter often lies less in their lack of writing skills and more in their lack of giving an audience a way to relate to their deeply personal experiences.

When you give an audience a relatable character undergoing a struggle, that audience will stay glued to the screen to see how that character gets through, over, or around that struggle.

In the telling of a deeply personal story, the writer may be tempted to create an avatar of themselves as the protagonist. 

They want the audience to relate to them (the writer) through the character, rather than relating to the character itself.

For those writers, professional readers will have some very bad news:

It's not about you

It's not about your deep personal trauma. 

It's not about you dealing with your insane family, either for comic or dramatic effect. 

It's not about what you lived through or how you lived through it. 

It's definitely not about your need for sympathy or recognition or a shoulder to cry on.

If you need to work through your personal trials and tribulations, seek professional help from a trained and licensed therapist.

If you need to work through your script to see if the story is relatable to an audience, seek professional help from an experienced screenplay evaluator. (#shamelessplug)

A screenplay is not supposed to be a memoir. A screenwriter is not supposed to be a historian. 

Your job as a screenwriter is not to tell a "true story". Your job is to tell an entertaining story.

The truth in a screenplay doesn't lie in how it relates every tiny incident that happened to the writer.

The truth of a story is based in how it conveys the emotional experience that those true events provoked.

Don't try to deliver precise factual truth. Deliver universal emotional truth.

For writers, emotional truth is the highest truth of all.

If you want professional feedback on your script, Story Into Screenplay can help.

You can get an evaluation from a reader who has been a screenplay contest judge for the American Black Film Festival and a coverage writer for the Austin Film Festival.

Get an evaluation on the first ten pages of your feature screenplay or TV pilot for only $10.

You'll also receive the introductory chapter to the upcoming book "The VOTE Method" FREE with your purchase.

For more details, you can email storyintoscreenplayblog[at]gmail[dot]com, fill out the form on this page, or send a direct message to the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page.

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!