Gerald Hanks Filmography

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Interview with Pilar Alessandra, Author of "The Coffee Break Screenwriter"


Pilar Alessandra is the director of the instructional writing program On The Page,® host of the On the Page Podcast and a highly sought-after speaker and script consultant who’s trained writers at Disney, DreamWorks, ABC, the AFM and around the world. 

She is also the author of The Coffee Break Screenwriter and The Coffee Break Screenwriter Breaks the Rules

Pilar’s greatest accomplishment is the success of her students. They’ve worked on TV shows such as House of the Dragon, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Homeland, Dear White People, Grey’s Anatomy, Silicon Valley, and The Chi and have sold feature films and pitches to Netflix, Sony, Warner Bros. and other major studios. 

For more information about Pilar, her classes, consultations, book and podcast, go to www.onthepage.tv

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You mention in the book that you started as a “sandwich girl” who read a friend's script and your career took off from there.

For people who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell everyone how you got started in coaching screenwriters?

That's a bit of "spin" on my part to show writers how to logline the more interesting parts of their life. It took a bit longer, of course! But, yes, I was overeducated and underemployed when I started reading scripts for a friend. 

Those coverage samples turned into a job at Amblin, a senior story analyst position at DreamWorks, and inspired the writing tools that became the basis for my classes and books.


Since so many aspiring writers complain that they don't have time to write, can you talk about how this issue inspired you to write your book?

I came to realize that, for busier writers with jobs and kids, my class was a key part of their weekly writing time. So, after teaching a writing tool, I’d tell them they have ten minutes to try it out on their own story. 

I was shocked to see the high quality of work they turned out when they just had ten minutes of focused writing time. From that, the idea of “The Coffee Break Screenwriter” was born. 

Sometimes it’s not about finding the time; it’s about getting rid of the distractions and doing one focused thing.


One aspect that lets your book stand out involves how it allows the reader to sketch out the story as they read.

Most screenwriting books lecture the reader about character or structure and may have exercises at the end of each chapter, but your book lets the reader start working on vital aspects of their story almost immediately.

What led you to take this approach?

All of my classes are “learn while doing.” I’ve seen great results so the book is designed in the same way. I also encourage readers to skip over what isn’t working for them and keep moving on to what does. A screenplay or pilot will still be the end result.  

Many of the projects that your clients have worked on have topped the box office rankings and the TV ratings.

What do you feel is the biggest piece of advice that you've offered to your clients that has led to so many of them enjoying such successful careers?

Be open on the page and in person. Sometimes the story takes hold as you write. Sometimes a chance meeting opens doors. 


Another wonderful aspect of the book involves how you present each step of the writing process and break it down into steps that most writers can complete in ten minutes or less.

Do you see the tasks outlined here as more of a tool for writers to manage their time?

Or does it go deeper than that, such as giving writers the tools to overcome their excuses for not writing?

I'm hoping it's both. It also depends on the writer's needs when reading it. 

Some find freedom in cracking open the book at any point and getting something done on their script whether it's an outline, rewrite, or a pitch. Others like to go step-by-step until they're finished.


At the end of the book, you ask some of your students what they should do if they have only ten minutes to improve any aspect of their writing or their career.

If I turn these questions around on you:

What advice would you give writers on how they could use ten minutes to improve a scene?

What’s the key, emotional action line that shows what’s really going on in the scene? If it’s not there, write it. If there’s too much emotional noise, edit it.


What advice would you give writers on how they could use ten minutes to improve a sequence?

Try a "genre pass." Your sequence of scenes may be an effectively moving story, but is there also a major scare or laugh or romantic moment in there that leans into the genre, mood, or tone?


What advice would you give writers on how they could use ten minutes to improve their script?

Edit. Take ten minutes at a time to eliminate long set-ups in the scene or come in a little later into the dialogue. Try this ten minutes at a time in places where it’s needed and you’ll have a tighter, more readable script.


What advice would you give writers on how they could use ten minutes to improve their careers?

Take ten minutes to tell someone how much you value their work. It’s a start to a professional relationship that doesn’t begin with an ask.


In your career as a script consultant, you've worked with numerous writers to help them achieve some fantastic results.

For screenwriters looking for coaches or consultants, what advice would you give them on what to look for in a coach?

A good coach or consultant understands the intentions of your project and helps you meet them through story and execution. If they don’t seem to “get” your work, use a “comp” (a comparative project) to express the kind of show or feature you’re going for. If they still don’t understand your intention or just shoot it down, they may not be the right fit for you.

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Special Thanks to Pilar Alessandra for her time and to Ken Lee at Michael Wiese Productions for providing a review copy of The Coffee Break Screenwriter.

Story Into Screenplay offers script analysis and one-on-one consultations with clients in various stages of the screenwriting process.

For more information, fill in the form on this page or email storyintoscreenplayblog(at)gmail(dot)com.

You can also follow the Story Into Screenplay Facebook page to find more interviews, movie reviews, and screenwriting advice.

Monday, February 28, 2022

Interview with Weiko Lin, author of “Crazy Screenwriting Secrets”

I recently had the opportunity to interview award-winning screenwriter and instructor Weiko Lin about his excellent book, Crazy Screenwriting Secrets: How to Capture a Global Audience.

Professor Lin has been a writer, director, producer, and is currently a tenured associate professor of screenwriting at Emerson College in Boston. 

He has also been a Fulbright Senior Specialist, received a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award, and placed in the finals of the Academy Nicholl Fellowship contest.

In this interview, he discusses how a young boy from Taiwan became a sought-after screenwriter, how stories once aimed at a niche audience have gained widespread acceptance, and how the best screenplays resemble a fine dining experience.

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For people who may not be familiar with your work, can you tell everyone how you got started in screenwriting and what inspired you to write the book?

I was born in Taiwan and immigrated to LA when I was 8. 

I graduated with a degree in English Creative Writing from UCLA. I continued at my alma mater in the MFA screenwriting program. I also received a Samuel Goldwyn Writing Award and was a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowship. That's how I got the managers I still work with today. 

Shortly after, I sold my first feature pitch and wrote projects for companies including the digital studios of Turner, Disney, Ivanhoe Pictures/SK Global (producer of "Crazy Rich Asians"), Don Mischer Productions, Wanda, and many more. 

I wrote the original story for and produced a Chinese language romance film titled "100 DAYS", which is now available on Amazon Prime. That film premiered at the Hawai'i International Film Festival and was released theatrically in Taiwan. 

The seed for this book came out of the accessibility of diverse content and our hunger to connect to stories that reflect the world we live in today. I hope this book can inspire more global and diverse creators.   


In the book, you compare the process of screenwriting to that of cooking. You compare a story outline to a recipe, the characters to ingredients, and the act structure to each course of a gourmet meal.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers on how to apply this approach when they write their scripts?

It's just another approach of beginning, middle, and end. I believe we consume stories like how we consume food. The key is narrative construction in movies should feel organic, not chaotic or random. 

Most fine dining restaurants have a specific way in which they present their food: appetizers, sides, drinks, and so on. Each one is designed to support the one main course. The desserts are often sweet and satisfying. Even the alcohol you pair with it would be a port. 

The movie experience should be just as satisfying to the audience as a fine meal is to the diner.


Speaking of approaches, another part of the book talks about the relationships between writers and agents, managers, and attorneys. One of the biggest questions that rookie writers ask is, “How do I get an agent or manager?”

For writers who don't live in LA or NY, what advice would you give these writers on how to approach getting representation?

Most importantly, make sure you have solid material ready to show: one strong feature sample and one strong TV sample that are similar in tone. You should also have one very personal sample that may not easily get made, but one in which the story comes from the most authentic, personal depth and perspective that only you can express. 

Competitions are a good way in – but you should be selective about which ones you spend your money and time on. These contests should be reputable and prominent competitions with past winners achieving results in attaining legitimate representation. 

Queries can be overwhelming, especially since managers and agents get a ton of them via emails. You should do some investigating and find assistants or newly promoted agents/managers with whom you might share a connection, such as going to the same university or coming from the same town. This common bond should ensure that the blind queries aren't so out of nowhere. 


Speaking of representation, you also mention how scripts that deal with different types of audiences have found success. You mention Brokeback Mountain, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Slumdog Millionaire, Moonlight, and a host of others.

How has the success of these films changed the opportunities available to aspiring writers from under-represented groups?

With streaming platforms and big box office success of typically underrepresented narratives and characters, there are more avenues to make movies with hyper-specific points of view. In these cases, a typical, expensive theatrical release might otherwise not be an option. These films used universal emotions to connect beyond a specific audience – they moved a mass audience. 


Since the latest edition of your book came out in 2019, a few things have changed since then. In your book, you mentioned Netflix and other streaming services. 

How do you think the growth of streaming services has changed the game for aspiring screenwriters?

Streaming services have certainly opened more opportunities to create content. There are more avenues for specific stories to be told that might have been challenging before with limited platforms. 

Even more so, if aspiring screenwriters know or are familiar with another language and culture, that might even create more mediums where your stories can live. 


Of course, one of the reasons that the streamers have found a bigger audience has been COVID-19 and the resulting lockdowns.

How do you think the COVID pandemic and the subsequent waves of openings and lockdowns have changed the market for new screenwriters?

I'm no expert on this, but audiences will always crave the theater-going experience. I know I do. But perhaps during this time where we had to consume content on streamers, the streamers have amassed a more accurate sense of what the audiences are watching. 


For screenwriters who are looking for coaches or consultants, what advice would you give them on what to look for in a coach?

The key is having the same taste. That goes a long way because then both of you are invested in bringing this story to life that you both hope to see. 

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You can pick up your copy of Crazy Screenwriting Secrets on Amazon or at Michael Wiese Productions.

Story Into Screenplay offers script evaluations and one-on-one consulting sessions from professional screenplay analyst and award-winning screenwriter Gerald Hanks.

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


Monday, January 3, 2022

Screenwriting with the VOTE Method: National Champion$

With the college football bowl season winding down and the CFP National Championship on the horizon, the new film National Champion$ examines the issues surrounding the "student-athlete" model and how it impacts the big-money world of college football.

NOTE: The purpose of this review does not involve evaluating the story, direction, or performances in the film.

Instead, the purpose involves illustrating how a screenplay by Adam Mervis (21 Bridges, The Last Days of Capitalism) could apply the VOTE Method as a tool for character development.

This post contains some MILD SPOILERS for the film.

PROTAGONISTS

LEMARCUS JAMES

LeMarcus James (Stephan James) must choose between playing in the college football national championship game or fighting for the rights of his fellow players.

Victory: What does he want?

LeMarcus wants to lead a player boycott of the College Football Championship Game to protest their unfair working conditions.

Obstacles: What stands between him and his Victory?

  • He could lose his final opportunity to win a national championship.
  • He risks his status as the #1 overall pick in the NFL Draft, which could net him millions of dollars.
  • The billion-dollar machinery of the NCAA and their member conferences come down on him.
  • A ruthless private investigator threatens to reveal dirt about his past.

Tactics: What actions does he take to overcome the Obstacles and gain his Victory?

  • He gives speeches to win over his teammates and his opponents.
  • He goes to the media and illustrates the inequities between the rich coaches and the poor players.
  • He hides from his coaches and moves to different hotels.
  • He confronts the investigator and his coach over their hypocrisy.

Emotion: What emotional need drives him to pursue his Victory?

LeMarcus needs to find a way to support Emmett Sunday, his best friend and teammate, who suffered a life-changing injury and will never make the pros.


EMMETT SUNDAY

LeMarcus's teammate and best friend Emmett Sunday (Alexander Ludwig) faces the end of his football career without any hopes of making it into the NFL.

Victory: What does he want?

Emmett wants to support his family after his college football career ends.

Obstacles: What stands between him and his Victory?

  • His numerous injuries prevent him from starting an NFL career.
  • His time spent in games and practices prevented him from getting a quality education.
  • His stand with LeMarcus could get him blacklisted for any future football jobs.

Tactics: What actions does he take to overcome the Obstacles and gain his Victory?

  • He supports LeMarcus in his efforts to improve the standing of college football players.
  • He helps LeMarcus develop his media strategies.
  • He hides LeMarcus's movements from their coaches.

Emotion: What emotional need drives him to pursue his Victory?

He needs to make a difference for the players who will come after him and experience the same hardships.


ANTAGONISTS

COACH JAMES LAZOR

Missouri Wolves head coach James Lazor (J.K. Simmons) has the opportunity to win his first National Championship – but only if his star QB shows up for the game.

Victory: What does he want?

Coach Lazor wants to find his star player and win the National Championship game.

Obstacles: What stands between him and his Victory?

  • LeMarcus keeps changing his location.
  • Several players join LeMarcus's strike.
  • His wife leaves him for a professor.
  • College football executives breathe down his neck to get LeMarcus on the field.

Tactics: What actions does he take to overcome the Obstacles and gain his Victory?

  • He sends his coaches on a manhunt to find his QB.
  • He gives an inspirational speech to his remaining players.
  • He gives a press conference to address LeMarcus's terms.

Emotion: What emotional need drives him to pursue his Victory?

He needs to win the championship to justify the long hours spent coaching and the loss of his marriage.


KATHERINE POE

Private investigator Katherine Poe (Uzo Aduba) works with the NCAA as a "fixer" to solve issues that the white male establishment wants to keep out of the public eye.

Victory: What does she want?

Katherine wants to find LeMarcus and save her job with the NCAA.

Obstacles: What stands between her and her Victory?

  • LeMarcus's public statements interfere with her subtle approach.
  • His frequent movements send her on a wild goose chase.
  • Her bosses underestimate her capabilities.

Tactics: What actions does she take to overcome the Obstacles and gain her Victory?

  • She exposes LeMarcus's drunken actions at a college party that led to a COVID outbreak on campus.
  • She threatens to expose his part in a bar fight that led to a man's death.
  • She tries to find his half-brother, who could expose more secrets about LeMarcus's past.

Emotion: What emotional need drives her to pursue the Victory?

She needs to prevent the threat that LeMarcus's strike presents to the non-revenue college sports that allowed her to get an education.

National Champion$ is now available on Prime Video, Google Play, the iTunes store, and most major on-demand platforms. 

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If you want to start the new year with a new (or improved) screenplay, Story Into Screenplay can help.

Story Into Screenplay offers script evaluations and one-on-one consulting sessions from professional screenplay analyst and award-winning screenwriter Gerald Hanks.

To start the new year off right, you can keep your resolution to write your best screenplay by getting an evaluation on your first ten pages for only $10. 

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

Let's make 2022 the year your script launches your career!