Gerald Hanks is a screenwriter and screenwriting consultant from Houston, Texas. The films he's written have been in several short film contests like the 48-Hour Film Project, Splatterfest Horror Film Contest, and the Zone sci-fi film race. He's optioned two feature scripts and sold several short script.
I've been doing some form of creative writing since I was a kid, but just recently got into writing for film. I was working on a novel, but I had a hard time finding a publisher, so I thought it would make for a good film. I found a group of filmmakers in Houston and discussed the project with them. They liked the script and saw that I knew the basics of storytelling, so they wanted me to help them with their projects. That's how I started with my first 48 Hour film, All That Glitters.
What is your pre-writing process? Do you plan a lot or jump right in to writing?
Since filming a movie requires so much effort from so many people, I take a lot of time in the outlining and planning stages. The planning helps me deliver the best script to the people who will bring it to life. I develop the characters to their fullest, including their favorite music, books and food. I also use a “Beat Sheet” to get a feel for the overall structure of the story. From there, I develop a scene-by-scene outline. The outline includes the setting, characters, action, conflict and emotional arc of each scene. With this outline, instead of writing a 100-page feature-length script, I'm just writing 40 scenes of 2 or 3 pages each.
What part of screenwriting do you find most difficult?
The first draft can be difficult. You want to get it right the first time, but it never is and never will be. For me, the most difficult part is the rewriting process. When I saw what garbage the first drafts of my earlier scripts were, I dreaded re-reading them. I had to learn that the first drafts are supposed to be garbage. The saying “writing is re-writing” is never more true than with screenplays!
What was the most rewarding moment of your career so far?
While the films based on my scripts have won several awards, the most rewarding moments for me are when audience members talk about how well the films turn out. I've had actors and directors tell me how much they like my scripts and how they want to work with me. The best reward is the respect of your peers.
Who are your favorite screenwriters? What are your favorite movie or TV scripts?
For dialogue, Quentin Tarantino is the master! For character and story structure, I have to go with John Lasseter and the Pixar crew. I just saw Inside Out and it was AMAZING! For story ideas and imagination, Christopher and Jonathan Nolan (Batman trilogy, Inception, Interstellar) are playing in a whole different league!
When coming up with an idea or writing a screenplay, how do you balance commercial viability (sticking to somewhat of a “formula”) with originality?
I don't think that writers need to compromise originality or creativity for commercial success. If your characters have strong desires and chase after them with all their hearts, the audience will respond, regardless of genre or formula. Look at Guardians of the Galaxy. Even though it's based on a Marvel comic book, you still had a talking raccoon and a walking tree as major characters. Based on “commercial viability”, it should have flopped, but audiences LOVED that movie! I still LOVE that movie! I'm of the opinion that James Gunn did a better Star Wars movie in his first try with Guardians than George Lucas did with all three prequels combined!
What challenges are there when writing for film that aren’t present when writing for other mediums— like a play or novel?
For rookie screenwriters, the biggest challenge lies in what NOT to include in your screenplay. Some writers like to include every detail of a character's appearance or a room's furniture. The writer has no control over what the director, producer, casting director, costume supervisor, or set designer will choose, so writers should only include the minimal details. Also, some rookie writers like to “over-direct” the actors in their scripts. Some do this by giving detailed instructions on facial expressions, body positioning and vocal inflections in the script. Others write about what the character is thinking or how they're feeling, rather than what they're doing. Simple rule: if the audience can't see it or hear it, don't write it.
What’s next for you? What projects or screenplays are you working on now?
I just finished a project for a short film contest called Cinespace. Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise) is one of the judges. I also just completed a script for a film that is currently in pre-production and is scheduled to start shooting in September. I've had some meetings about some potential TV shows, so I'm waiting to hear on those projects. I also offer screenwriting consultations and script analysis for aspiring writers. I do one-on-one consultations for Houston-area writers, as well as phone consultations for those outside the Houston area. I also post pieces to my blog, Story Into Screenplay. I post screenwriting advice, movie reviews, and updates on my latest projects.
What advice or tips would you give to aspiring screenwriters (especially young ones):
Develop your characters. Actors want strong characters that give them powerful and challenging roles to play. Audiences want to see those characters struggle, grow and change. Take as much time as possible to develop your characters and their relationships. The plot, theme, structure and everything else in your will follow from your characters' journeys. Also, don't stress too much over your first draft. Give yourself permission to write total garbage in your first draft. Finish the first draft, get it out of your system, then fix the problems in your rewrites. A good script takes a few drafts, and a great script takes many, many more. This also solves the problem of writer's block, as you don't have to worry about if it's going to be any good – because it won't, and that's perfectly OK!
You can find Gerald on IMDb, or connect on Facebook and Twitter @StoryIntoScreen. Check out his website, Story Into Screenplay, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.