R2R Interview: Gerald Hanks from Story Into Screenplay

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Gerald Hanks. I’m a screenwriter, script consultant, and coverage report writer for the Austin Film Festival and Coverfly. I’ve also been a screenplay contest judge and film critic for a major independent film magazine. I’ve had several award-winning shorts produced and has written five feature-length scripts, including two paid commissions from private clients. My feature-length script “Scaredy Cat” was a finalist in the National Lampoon Comedy Gold screenwriting contest. I’ve also moderated and served on panels at conventions such as Comicpalooza in Houston, Texas, and Louisiana Comic-Con in Lafayette, Louisiana.

2. How did you get involved in screenwriting and being a script reader?

I started in screenwriting several years ago when some friends told me they were interested in participating in the 48 Hour Film Project. The object is to write, shoot, edit, and deliver a short film (up to 7 minutes) in 48 hours, starting on Friday evening and ending on Sunday evening. I used these projects as portfolio pieces to land some gigs writing features for clients, including for a producer/director who had one of her films on the Lifetime network.

As far as becoming a script reader, I also worked with clients who were developing their own screenplays and used my experience writing under pressure to guide them through the process. When I had enough samples from these clients, I applied as a judge for a small film festival, which gave me enough samples and experience to apply as a reader for the Austin Film Festival and Coverfly.

3. What do you think is a screenwriter’s #1 job/responsibility is?

I think the #1 job of a screenwriter is the same as for any storyteller, and that is to provoke an emotional response in the reader. Whether it’s a novelist spinning an epic story, a songwriter singing a moving ballad, or a comedian on stage telling a joke, each type of story is designed around provoking an emotional response in the audience. Without that emotional response, all of the technical writing skills, all of the high concepts, and all of the efforts at delivering a message mean nothing.

4. Can you talk a little more about the idea of strong characters versus a strong idea. Why do strong characters win?

Before people relate to ideas and concepts, they relate to other people first. It goes back to the idea of provoking an emotional response. You can have the greatest idea in the world, but if the audience isn’t emotionally invested, they won’t listen and won’t care. If the audience has an emotional investment in the character, whether that emotion is positive or negative, they’ll have an emotional investment in how the story turns out.

5. Any pet peeves in scripts or scenes that are overused that would like to see stop?

Where do I start? I even wrote a blog post about it. The first thing I look at as a reader is page length. Feature-length spec scripts require such tight writing and have such a restrictive structure. Spec scripts shouldn’t be longer than 120 pages. If I see a script that’s over 130 pages, I know that it’s bloated and over-written before I read Page 1. One of the biggest pet peeves is poor grammar and formatting. If you can’t show that you can write at a competent technical level, then you’ve shown that you can’t write at a professional level. This includes spelling, grammar, and punctuation, so I always suggest that writers give their scripts a thorough proofreading, either with a professional reader or with specialty software like Grammarly, before sending a script to a reader.

6. What is something about your job that most people don’t know but that you wish they knew?

Scripts are a lot like music. They’re not meant to be read as much as they’re meant to be performed. Everybody loves listening to music, but almost nobody sits and reads sheet music for fun. One of my “tricks of the trade” is to use the “Read Out Loud” function on the Adobe PDF reader to listen to the script. This helps me feel the rhythm of the action and the dialogue. A great script flows like a symphony, while a poorly-written one sounds like a hyperactive child banging on the piano keys. One of the best tips I can offer to a screenwriter is to have someone read the script out loud to them, without the writer looking at the page. This trick helps them hear the “music” of the script. See this blog post.

7. Is there anything that you would like to include/talk about that I didn’t ask?

Most scripts succeed or fail within the first few pages. See this blog post. While a writer can take a few pages to develop a story in a novel, a screenplay doesn’t afford the writer that kind of luxury. If the screenplay doesn’t hook the reader in the first five pages, it won’t get anywhere. While I have to read entire scripts as part of my job, producers have hundreds of scripts they have to read every week to find their next hit movie. If the script doesn’t grab them by Page 5, they move on to the next one.

8. Name a favorite movie that you can watch over and over again?

“Office Space”. That movie changed my life! I was stuck in an IT job, much like Peter’s, but I chucked it all about 12 years ago to go into writing full-time. Mike Judge has to be one of the most under-rated comedic writers of all time. He’s the mind behind projects like “King of the Hill”, “Beavis and Butt-Head”, “Idiocracy”, and “Silicon Valley”. Not only does he deliver the laughs, he finds the absurdity in different aspects of life (office work, high school, politics, the tech sector) and shatters the illusions that sustain these ridiculous institutions.

9. Do you have a favorite science?

My undergraduate degree is in math and I went to graduate school for economics. I’ve always been a sci-fi nerd, so anything to do with space (astronomy, astrophysics) has always held my interest. Also, since I’m in Houston, I’m less than an hour away from the NASA Johnson Space Center, so I’ve seen the Saturn V rocket up close. Talk about HUGE!

10. Where can we find your blog?

My screenwriting blog “Story Into Screenplay” is one of the top 50 screenwriting blogs, according to Feedspot.com. I’m also working on a book based on the concepts from the blog. Visit Story Into Screenplay, fill in the email form, mention “Real2Reel”, and I’ll send them a free sample chapter.

[Credit: Lukas Blazek/Unsplash]

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