IFH 055: Michael Hauge – Writing a Screenplay That Sells

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You are in for a treat. This week’s guest, MICHAEL HAUGE has been one of Hollywood’s top script consultants, story experts, and authors for more than 30 years.

He coaches screenwriters, novelists, filmmakers, professional speakers, internet marketers, and corporate leaders, helping transform their stories and their audiences using the principles and methods of Hollywood’s most successful movies.

Michael has consulted on films starring – among many others – Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts, and Morgan Freeman, and has presented lectures and workshops to more than 70,000 participants worldwide.

He is the best-selling author of Writing Screenplays That Sell (now in its 20th Anniversary Edition) and Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds: The Guaranteed Way to Get Your Screenplay or Novel ReadAccording to Will Smith,

No one is better than Michael Hauge at finding what is most authentic in every moment of a story.” – Will Smith

After our interview with Michael Hauge and I decide to bring one of his best courses to the IFH Tribe. We called is Screenplay and Story Blueprint: The Hero’s Two Journeys

Alex Ferrari 1:20
So today guys, we have a awesome guest Michael Hague the legendary Michael Hague, Michael Hague has been around as a screenwriting analysts, and screenwriting guru for God the better part of a few decades now. And he wrote the book that's on pretty much every screenwriter shelves, writing screenplays that sell the Complete Guide to turning story concepts into movie and television deals. Michael's list of clients is pretty impressive. He's worked with every single major studio and television network around he has clients like Will Smith, who he helped work on I Am Legend, Hancock, The Karate Kid. And recently he's worked with a Columbia Pictures on the Masters of the Universe reboot, among many other projects he's been working on with the studio. So he is an amazing teacher, and story analysts, story script consultant, and I was I was trying to get him on the show for months. And we finally got him on and we asked him all the tough, tough, tough questions. I discovered Michael through a course that he put out years ago called the heroes two journeys, which he actually co authored with Chris volger, the author of writers journey, who is an another amazing guru, in the screenwriting field. And what we decided to do is Michael and I, and Chris wanted to bring the heroes two journeys to the indie film, hustle, audience, the tribe. So what we've decided to do is put it all together and package it into a new course called screenwriting and story blueprint, the heroes two journeys. This course is a must for any screenwriter, it is a wonderful course that really breaks down the story structure of the hero's journey, which Chris folder is famous for, and Michael's six stage plot structure, and they both go in it back to back kind of really breaking down these amazing story structures for filmmakers for screenplay screenwriters. And when I saw it, it just blew me away. And I've been a fan of Michael and Chris's ever since. So if you want to get a special deal on this new course, at the end of this podcast, I will be giving you guys a link to go to so you can get it for a lot cheaper than it's going to be retailing for. So without further ado, here is my interview with Michael Hague. Michael man, thank you so much for being on the indie film hustle podcast. I really appreciate you taking the time.

Michael Hague 3:59
Oh, my pleasure. I'm looking forward to it.

Alex Ferrari 4:01
So um, tell me, how did you get started in the crazy film business?

Michael Hague 4:07
Crazy business? Um, well, basically, I grew up in Oregon, and I had moved back there after getting a master's in education. And I taught school for three years, but I'd always dreamed of working in the film business, having no idea what that would involve or anything about it. But I just always loved movies. And I figured it's time if I'm going to give this a try. I better get a gun. So I sort of jumped on the turnip truck and went down to Hollywood and move there, discovered a small film school that I started going to and took a variety of classes. And one of those was in what was formerly known as story analysis, which is just the term for being a reader in Hollywood, meaning you read scripts for agents or producers or studios. And you write a synopsis of each script and then you give your comment where you tell them this is terrible. You don't want anything to do. This, so then you give it to them. So they don't have to take the time to read a lot of bad scripts mostly. But it's an entry level job. And after I learned how to do that I, I sort of cold called about 100 different agencies and finally found one that gave me a shot and I became their reader, and then moved over to being the reader for one of their clients who is a producer, he made me his head of development, that's just the next run up, which means I'm now working full time reading scripts for him and working with writers and finding story ideas and so on. And it sort of went from there. Then I worked for a couple other producers. And that led to me on the side teaching at UCLA extension, teaching screenwriting, out of that grew a weekend seminar that I ended up taking over around the world. And out of that grew my book and my consultation business. And that's pretty much where I am now I still consult with writers and filmmakers and storytellers and lecture about screenwriting.

Alex Ferrari 6:01
Very cool, very cool in your book, your book, writing, writing the screenplay that sells writing screenplays that sell Yes, that one's now the 20th anniversary. Yeah, it's it's

Michael Hague 6:11
past that now we get a new edition, the 2020 year mark. And I think that was a couple years ago. So it's gone to 22 years since the first edition came out. And since then, I wrote another book on pitching called selling your story in 60 seconds, and other products and so on. But those two books are the mainstay.

Alex Ferrari 6:33
I took I took your course the the heroes, two journeys, the the DVD course, I guess it was right. That's how I got familiar with your work. And I took that years ago, and it was wonderful. And now we're all we're all familiar with the hero's journey, but you talk extensively about the heroes two journeys. What do you mean by that?

Michael Hague 6:52
Well, to me the way the best way to break down a story or look at story is that there are actually two goals or two journeys, if you will, that the hero of the story takes what is a journey of accomplishment, the hero wants to cross some finish line wants to achieve some visible goal. And then they pursue that through the course of the story. It's a very visible thing that drives the action, it's what we see on the screen. So it might be stopping a serial killer, or an alien invasion or finding a buried treasure or winning the love of the girl or the guy or, or whatever, escaping from some bad situation. It's always something that when we hear that goal, we can envision what achieving it would look like. But underneath that, on most movies, not all some big action movies don't have this. But in most movies, there's a second journey that's under that it's an invisible journey. It's what I call a journey of transformation. And that second journey is one where the hero's conflict comes from within where they are battling or must overcome some long and deep seated fear. Usually that grows out of something in the past, and Intel, they can overcome that fear and find the courage to change, they're not going to achieve the visible goal. And so what I talk about is the way those two things intertwine that visible journey and then that inner journey of transformation.

Alex Ferrari 8:27
So it's kind of like the subtext of the characters development itself, kind of like the hidden the hidden part of of what he's trying to do. It's the characters arc. Got you and the thing and sometimes a character doesn't even know he has that arc until later in the story kind of develops it, I guess, kind of like us in life. We all have our, our inner journeys and our inner issues. And then we don't know that we even have them until later on in life, or things come to us to kind of expose these problems or these issues like oh, that's why you're so angry because you didn't go to that party when you were in third grade, or something along those lines.

Michael Hague 9:01
Yeah, it's usually it's usually not something you didn't do but something that was done or happened to you, that causes what I call the wound, it's that painful or traumatic event, or sometimes it's an ongoing situation, usually from adolescence doesn't have to be but a good example I like to use is goodwill hunting where he was abused by his father got a belt taken to him throughout his whole adolescence, apparently. So now that he's a grown up, he and he's falling in love. He wants to win the love of Skylar, and he does what he thinks he needs to do to do that, but he's never really going to achieve that goal unless he can overcome his fear of letting people see who he truly is of letting her in because he's afraid that he deserved that beating and he's a worthless person. Now he's not aware of that, as you said, this is this is hidden from ourselves. This is we develop this Emotional armor and it's such strong armor that we think that's who we really are. So it takes the course of the movie for the hero to recognize of this is what I'm really dealing with. And this is what I'm going to have to change about myself to accomplish that goal. And in that movie, that transformation is facilitated by Sean the Robin Williams character who helps him see that inner conflict, that identity that he's taken on and help him overcome it.

Alex Ferrari 10:27
And that's why at the end, well, spoiler alert, I got to go see about a girl.

Michael Hague 10:32
That's exactly

Alex Ferrari 10:33
he finally he finally figures it out and says, Hey, I'm gonna go. And I guess you know, as I've I keep reading screenplays and watching movies, and the best ones are those deep seated that when the character actually not not, doesn't beat the bad guy, but beats the bad guy within himself almost, you know, and kind of like, just like, that's why Good Will Hunting is such a wonderful film. And we Everyone's so, you know, what's the word identifies with? Well, because it's, you know, that the inner struggle, I think, is makes characters much more powerful than just the big strong guy that goes around, you know, beating up the bad guys in so many ways.

Michael Hague 11:13
I mean, precisely because, yeah, we may not have been beaten has not fallen in love. But we always believe that there's a part of us we can show to the world, we always believe there's a part of us that isn't worthy, or, or that shouldn't be revealed, or that we're terrified of connecting of someone else, and really being that vulnerable. So that's the universal experience. And then it's just particularized in the story, or in any good story that any screenplay that any of your listeners are writing, it's one of the key questions I always want a writer to ask about their script is what terrifies my hero. And I'm not talking about fear of heights or snow

Alex Ferrari 11:54
Or aliens. That's right right,

Michael Hague 11:57
What what is the emotional fear? What is the what is the wall that I refuse to cross over or break down, no matter how much I want this goal, because it's just too scary. And when a writer can figure out, this is what terrifies my hero, then they're going to get in touch with that inner conflict in that inner journey that the hero takes. And I just think it makes the story much richer, and as you say, much more universal.

Alex Ferrari 12:25
Now, besides goodwill hunting, can you throw one more example out of another one? That that kind of grasp that?

Michael Hague 12:31
Yeah, if you give me too, I could throw out 100. Let me go through a few in Rain Man, his wound was his brother died his No, his brother was taken away, his mother died, his father abandoned him. So now his belief is that anybody I get close to is going to disappear. Now again, I want to emphasize it's not conscious. It's not like if you said to Charlie Babbitt, well, you know, what are you afraid of, and he'd say that he's completely oblivious to it because it's become so much a part of who he is or how he sees himself. But his belief is anybody I get close to will disappear. So his terror is of getting close to anybody. And then he meets this brother, and his reaction to his brother is not to embrace him and say, Oh, well, I've got a brother, it's to just exploit the guy and terrify this brother, because all he really wants at the beginning is his inheritance. But in the course of the journey, what he does is he finds the courage step by step, and gradually to connect with the brother, and comes to realize, even if I get close to this guy, he's not going to disappear. I don't need to be afraid of that consciously or subconsciously. And that's his art. That's his growth. And when he does that, in that case, it's not that he achieves the goal it's he becomes mature enough to let go of that goal and give up on that inheritance and find a better goal, which is to help his brother

Alex Ferrari 13:58
And the brilliance about that specific movie is that Dustin Hoffman's character? He can't be hurt by what Tom Cruise's character is doing to him because he has autistic so he like all these things that like kind of the braiding that he does I guess he doesn't get affected by it so even more so it's kind of like looking in the mirror almost with with Tom Cruise's character like he can't. Can't can't hurt him.

Michael Hague 14:25
Well, yeah, I don't know. I wouldn't agree with that. Because here's the thing is he can hurt Raymond by frightening him so badly. You're right. You're right. You're equipped to deal with the world. Right? here's, here's the parallel I see. It's a care it's a story about a character who has to learn to feel by being with someone who is incapable of expressing emotion up incapable of connecting with another person physiologically, and so but through that character, the the Tom Cruise character, Charlie Babbitt learns to it express his feelings and connect with another person in a way the brother who taught him that is incapable of doing.

Alex Ferrari 15:07
Excellent point. Excellent. But now what are what are the elements of a great scene scene?

Michael Hague 15:15
A great scene? Well, I think, first of all, it has to have the the key foundation elements that any overall story has. And that is it has to be built on character, desire and conflict. In other words, in a good scene, not just the hero of the story are the main character in the scene, but everyone in that scene must want something. And then the, let's say the scene is involves the hero of the story, and he's the one that's driving this movie or driving this goal that moves us along with the story, then whatever it is he wants, or whatever it is, the other characters want. By and large, there must be something standing in their way, there has to be some conflict to be overcome. Primarily because your goal is a screenwriter, your number one goal is a storyteller of any kind. Because I work with internet marketers, and I work with public speakers, and I work with novelists and so on, the goal of any storyteller has to be to elicit emotion and emotion grows out of conflict, not desire. Desire doesn't really isn't really emotionally involving that just is the engine that drives the story. It's the obstacles the character has to overcome, that make the story involving and actually make a story sound commercial as far as that goes. So within each scene, you want to say, okay, who what, how does this scene relate to my hero and that hero's outer journey? How does this move the hero closer to his goal, or create more obstacles to it? And then what does every character in this scene want? And then, if possible, what you want to do is take some of those characters if and put them in opposition. So they want opposing things, that's what's going to create greater conflict in the scene. Sometimes the scene is not about characters in conflict with each other, but teaming together to face some other obstacles, some force of nature, some villain that's on the way, or some, some opponent that has to be overcome, but it's always about what is that conflict? What is that conflict going to be? And then the last thing I would say that's absolutely essential to every scene is you must create anticipation. You want to end every scene with the reader anticipating, okay, what's going to happen next? You want to create a question, okay, now I see where this particular sequence ended, I see where the hero is. Now there's somewhere that they weren't at the beginning. But now what are they going to do about x? Now? What's the next step they're going to take? Or Now how are they going to face this villain that I just saw a scene where the villains planning to kill them, or whatever it might be. So you always want to force your reader to turn the page or to move to the next scene, and try and guess what's going to happen.

Alex Ferrari 18:08
Now, Michael, when you're saying conflict, and obviously conflict is an integral part of every great movie and every great scene. I've heard from a lot of different gurus, teachers, instructors, analysts on story that the one story that really never had the main character didn't have conflict was Forrest Gump. Now, I'm not sure if that's true or not, there's conflict all around him, but he personally never had it. It. Can you explain to me whether that's true or not? Or what your take on that is?

Michael Hague 18:36
I must confess My take is that just sounds bizarre to me. I could not see that he has conflict. Let's take the name through what what is his main desire in that entire movie?

Alex Ferrari 18:50
I would, that would be it getting Jenny getting Jenny.

Michael Hague 18:54
And Jenny keeps getting separated from him and he tries to get her and then she gets involved with others. And and it's, it seems like, always, always, it's let's get back to her. And whenever he encounters her, there's something standing between them. It's It's It's like a love story. But she gets involved with the protesters and the hippies in the late 60s, or whatever else it might be. So there's that. And then there's the fact that when he goes to Vietnam, the bombs are blasting all around him, and he's got to save, save the life of Captain Dave is in the movie, and more than a decade.

Alex Ferrari 19:40
I know, I know. Lieutenant Lieutenant, ohh god!

Michael Hague 19:44
Woody. I think maybe it's hard to recognize what his overall goal is, because it's a very, very episodic story very and because what happens is he seems to overcome the obstacles he faces fairly easily and then go on and have a big effect on other characters. But I would not definitely not say there's not conflict that there are obstacles for him to overcome, or that the audience is wondering how is he going to do this? or How is he going to be able to make money? Get You know, on for Bubba shrimp or whatever? Right? Right? He's trying to do so either either the answer, the short answer would be I don't know. I don't understand the question. Sir, answer would be there wrong. There's lots of obstacles for him to overcome in that movie.

Alex Ferrari 20:40
And now that you've explained it in that way, I completely, totally agree with you.

Michael Hague 20:46
And so on, Louis said, I'm thinking what about his mother and in fact, his mother's dying. I mean, he is able to overcome those obstacles, but so is the hero of any movie, they just go into something bigger. And I think the key is look at the relationship with Jenny.

Alex Ferrari 21:02
Yeah, exactly. And Jenny is his main goal. And it's that's it that's, and I think maybe it's because there's so much other stuff going on around him. And he's in every historical, you know, area, you know, he does so many different things, that you kind of lose track. Sometimes at the end of the day, of course, he just wants to be with Jenny, period.

Michael Hague 21:18
That's it. There's another there's another thing we should point out, too. That is the movies of biography. It's and biographies do not follow the same kind of structure that other films do. I usually say that the, I don't know if it's the most difficult to write, but the least commercial genre is a biography. And what I mean by a biography is the birth to death story of someone's life, or at least birth to, you know, as far along as Forrest Gump gets in that story, because let's take a movie, like the King's speech. The King's Speech is a true story about George the Third, the end, but it's not a biography, because we don't see him being born and his childhood and son, we learn of those things as backstory through dialogue. But it's basically a story about a guy who has a single goal, and that is he wants to give a speech without stuttering. Right? Okay. And his, the whole movie is about how is he going to be able to do that with the help lighten the load, until the speech becomes not just important to him, but important to the whole country because he's got to lead England into World War Two. So that's not my definition of biography. But if you take a movie, like Chaplin, Amelia Earhart, I guess that was called Emilia, I forget what the title was, or, or other movies like that. And notice Malcolm X. So generally speaking, are not do not do well at the box office, then what they do is they'll have an obstacle and then they'll overcome it and then obstacle and overcome it. And it's sort of like, Well, here are pieces strung together into this person's life. And the reason those are generally not commercial, I believe, is because audiences want a singular finish line that they're rooting for that hero to cross. And so that's why Forrest Gump adds the thread of Jenny that runs through that otherwise biography that is about one incident, or one goal after another. And if you take a movie like Braveheart, it's the same thing. The whole story of his life is toward one goal and that is freedom for Scotland. Or Gandhi is about freedom for from England for India. And those biographies are those true stories about real characters who have a singular goal that you can follow creates a much more familiar and stronger spine I believe, than just what you'd call life stories. And so I always recommend you find the one particular incident in the person's life where they had the biggest goal or the most compelling goal and make the story about that. And perhaps because of that, people are not recognizing this the conflict in in Forrest Gump the same way because they're forgetting it's a biography that's going to be segmented into one goal after another.

Alex Ferrari 24:21
Right and generally Our lives are not about one singular goal it's about multiple little goals. That's why

Michael Hague 24:27
that's why movies are better than real. Life is not properly structured.

Alex Ferrari 24:33
It's like my goal is to get to the supermarket and get what

Michael Hague 24:37
I like to say real life is shit happens and then you die and

Alex Ferrari 24:43
Not yet not generally not generally, like our goals now or like I need to go to the supermarket and get this. The crackers are out shoot.

Michael Hague 24:51
Like there's an obstacle,

Alex Ferrari 24:52
But not not not very exciting, though. Very exciting, but freedom from from England. That's that's a much more grandiose goal in life.

Michael Hague 25:01
And then also, that's another good thing to point out that movies are not successful either artistically or commercially, because of the size of the goal. It's only the size of the conflict for the hero that makes a difference. So there's nothing inherently bigger or more important about freedom for England than there is surviving on Mars or goodwill hunting, falling in love with someone who's an inflatable sex doll, I'm giving away an answer to a later question. But it's, it's always what makes it seem impossible for the hero to accomplish this goal. So what that goal is, is only important in that it gives the story its forward thrust and gives the opportunity for those obstacles.

Alex Ferrari 25:54
Very well put very well put now. You know, I'm sure you've read a few scripts in your day. A couple, three, a couple, two or three? What are some of the common problems you see with first time screenwriters and like kind of first time scripts? Well,

Michael Hague 26:10
The number one problem, I think, overall is the writer has not given nearly enough thought to is this commercial. Yeah, it's the writer is assuming apparently, that because this story sounds intriguing to him or to her, or because it's something that happened to them that was fascinating, or because, you know, it makes for a good story around the dinner table. This is something that a million people are going to be willing to pay to see. And that just most of the time is not the case. And while I agree on an emotional level, or a psychological level, you want to write about what you know, what I think is more important is when you come up with a story idea, ask yourself, Is there any movie I can point to, that's made money in the last year or anything that is advertised in today's paper that's playing at the Regal cinema or the art glider whatever, that this is similar to that this is in the same genre that this is going to appeal to the mass audience in the same way. And I think that a lot more respect or attention needs to be paid to is this really something that's going to make money, because I'm assuming that anyone listening who's a screenwriter wants to be a writer, because you want to be heard your what your stories to be seen as films, and for a movie to get made is going to cost a lot of money, and somebody's got to put up that money, and they can't invest that money unless they think it's going to turn a profit. And because movies are expensive, unlike books, which you can publish for pretty cheaply. movies have to have a lot of people buying tickets or tuning in, if it's a TV show, or subscribing to Netflix, if it's that in order for that movie to turn a profit. And so you have to be able to build into that story or build that story on us. One that has a good possibility of making money. And I just feel like lots of writers are not thinking about that. They just it's like for their own edification. Right? Let's say that hurdle is passed. Let's say they found a high concept store or let's say they found a movie that is within a genre that's generally commercial, let's say then the key problems are more within the way the story is told one difficulty I see frequently and this is not limited to new writers. I encounter this with million dollar screenwriters, the story is just simply too complicated. Yeah. Another thing to remember about movies especially if you're pursuing a Hollywood career, if you're talking about pursuing a Hollywood financing a mainstream movie for this country, they're very simple. I mean, hollywood stories are built on very simple ideas. There is I would guess not a single movie playing in theaters right now that came out of Hollywood that I could not with three minutes of thought express the storyline in a single sentence, log lines and basically you know, it's it's simple. Now it doesn't mean the characters aren't layered. It doesn't mean the characters can't be complex. It doesn't mean that there are lots of obstacles to overcome. It's just at the level of story concept. You know what it isn't a group of reporters wants to find out the truth or report the truth about the sex scandal in the Catholic Church. A guy stranded on Mars wants to stay alive until he can be rescued in a year and a half. It's you name it

Alex Ferrari 29:59
Well be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Michael Hague 30:10
Whatever movie is out there, whatever is, is doing well or even getting made, it's based on a simple story. And then it's not about going off on a lot of tangents, or making that complicated. It's about keeping that straight through line, and then creating interesting and different and increasingly difficult obstacles for those characters to overcome. Now, the final thing, the last thing, and this is, in a way, the simplest, but it's just too many scripts I read are not professionally presented. It's like they're not properly formatted, which astonishes me because I've been around long enough that when I started, there were no, there was no such thing. There was barely computers, there were certainly no such thing as final draft or movie magic screenwriter, and you had to sort of set the margins on your typewriter and things like that. But now, all you got to do is invest in a formatting program, and you're pretty much home free, as far as that's concerned. And all you have to do is use spell checkers or get somebody who knows English to check it for spelling and grammar. And I see a lot of those errors in new scripts. And it's like, come on, spend 24 hours doing a little research or spend a buck to get the program. And you can make this look as good as any other script floating around Hollywood. So those three things, I think its simplicity, professionally presented, and most of all commercial.

Alex Ferrari 31:38
So Michael, you mentioned the term high concept. Can you explain to the audience what a high concept and low concept are?

Michael Hague 31:46
Yeah, well, I haven't really heard the term a low concept before but high concept gets bandied about a lot. And people have different definitions of it. But here's mine, a high concept idea is one that an audience will line up, or tune in to see the movie or the TV series, just based on what the logline is just based on what that movie is about. On a plot level. And high concept stories promise big conflict. And so a good example recently of a high concept movie that did very, very well was the Martian, because it's about a guy who's gets stranded on Mars, and now somehow has to survive, and face all of the elements on his foreign planet and stay alive long enough that the people on earth can send a spaceship to rescue him, let's say. So it sounds like the obstacles are going to be big. It's a genre kind of film, not just science fiction, but it's about someone needing to escape from a bad situation. Now, it comes with a stellar cast, and it got great reviews, and it's good to get nominated for Oscars, and so on. But a high concept does not depend on those things, high concepts or ideas that it doesn't matter who directed it, who's starring in it, what kind of reviews what kind of word of mouth or what kind of awards it gets. It's just the story idea. So jaws speed, those would be typical high concept kind of ideas. If a movie is much smaller, let's take another movie that's going to get a number of Oscar nominations. That was also one of my favorite movies this year called room. Okay, that's a story about a mother who's raised a child from birth in a nine foot by nine foot room, and the child's never seen the outside. So it's how would they what would happen in that situation? And then what would happen if they had the opportunity to go into the outside world? wonderful movie, but I don't think when you hear that story idea, you say yeah, I've got to see that. That sounds exciting. That sounds like an edgier seat suspense. So that movie was released slowly, you can usually tell when a movie is not as high a concept because the release powder will be just a few theaters, and then a little more a little more, because they want the word of mouth to build. Because movies that aren't high concept, low concept, as you, as you say, are dependent on criticism on reviews on word of mouth, on promotion and publicity on the stars that might be in that story. Now one last thing I want to say about high concept, it has absolutely nothing to do with artistic quality. You can have a high concept movie that's great. Martian is an example of that, in my opinion, you can have a high concept movie that is absolutely dreadful, and you can have a look low budget rd not high concept story. That's great. And you can have another one that's dreadful that we're not we're only talking about a commercial issue here.

Alex Ferrari 35:09
Got that makes perfect sense. Now do you have any tips on to screenwriters on how they can get their screen? screenplays actually read?

Michael Hague 35:21
Well, yeah, I wrote a whole book about it actually. So it's it's a tough question, because it's so big. There's so many different things that one can do and you consider, and in those two books we talked about, the book on pitching is all about how do you describe your story in 60 seconds, so that somebody want to read it. And writing screenplays that sell has a whole marketing section. But be that as it may, what I'd say most succinctly is, the smartest thing you can do. to market your script is to follow in the footsteps of those who've done it before. Okay. And the way you do that is you first of all, besides reading as much as you can interviews with screenwriters, especially newer ones, I mean, it's fine to hear the story of how William Goldman became a screenwriter, but it's got nothing to do with you. I mean, that was decades ago, and he's now hugely successful. Those are the, those are the screenwriters that usually get interviewed. But anytime you can see in a film magazine or on your podcast, if you interview someone who's new, but has managed to cross over and broken in, those are the people who have the stories about how they did it that are going to be most valuable. And you want to follow in their footsteps, meaning they might have entered contests, they might have gone to pitch March, they might have composed great cover letters or emails, what they have all done know there are two things they would all have in common one is they write, they write and they write and they write, I've never seen a successful screenwriter that didn't write regularly. That's not a marketing tool. It's just you got to keep writing, even while you're marketing one script to keep working on the other. And the other thing they did is network. And by that I mean they found situations where they could meet other people that could provide them with either more net more contacts or information on how to reach those people. And then beyond that, what you want to do is you want to target the people, you're going after some screenwriters who are trying to break in, they get that writer's guild list of all the agencies and they either limit themselves to the ones with asterisks. who say, well, we will look at unsolicited material, which is a mistake, because those are usually not very powerful agencies, or they send a mass email to everybody or they buy email lists and send it to everybody. And that just doesn't make sense, because 90% of the production companies in Hollywood are probably not going to be interested or be able to mount your particular script, what you want to do is look at movies that are similar, go to a website called the Internet Movie Database, find out who the producers of those movies are, and then contact the heads of development for those companies. Because if if whatever company produced the Martian, I mean, there's certainly scot free because that's really Scott directed it. But there are other companies involved, they obviously have been able to and are interested in bigger budget exciting action kinds of films, you probably wouldn't pursue those companies with room, that movie, I was just describing this very low budget, independent, small movie, and so on, you may if they've done other things like that, but figure out what movies yours is similar to and then go after the people who've made those movies before. And a couple of rules to as you're doing this. One is, as I said, you want to keep writing, you never want to stop writing just so you can market and the other is never wait for somebody else to keep moving forward. Don't send your script to somebody and even to say I'll get right back to you. Don't wait until they get right back to you before you start pursuing other people. Just always keep going after as many appropriate producers, agents, managers, or production companies as you can until you find the one that really is willing to make a deal with you.

Alex Ferrari 39:28
So Michael, what was the lesson that took you the longest to learn in the film business?

Michael Hague 39:32
I don't know if this is what you're going for, because it's not really a lesson about screenwriting or even necessarily the business it's a little bigger than that. But the lesson that I wish I had learned sooner is that the best way the best path to take is to concentrate on the things that I loved and Repeatedly eliminate the parts of what I'm doing that I wasn't enjoying. In other words, focus on what I wanted, or what I loved and not what I thought other people thought I should be doing. Because for a long time, when I came to Hollywood, I was trying to sort of break in or move up the ladder, doing existing jobs or doing them the way other people did. I felt for a while I, I know I can teach this. But I should be a screenwriter, even though I didn't really have a desire to write scripts myself, I like working with other writers, or I should be getting a development job at a studio or I should be doing this or then when I became a consultant, there were things about it, I didn't like I didn't like writing synopses. And I didn't like actually writing much of anything. And so over the years, what I realized is I can just eliminate the things I didn't like. And it wouldn't, it would actually enhance my career. Because the more I limited that I didn't like doing, the more successful I became as a consultant and as a speaker, and so on. Until now, when I do consultations, it's what I love to do. Because I like interacting with writers, I like to feel like a collaborator, I like long sessions, not quick wins. I hate doing notes. I like sitting down with people in the industry and hashing through the projects. I like speaking to groups that have invited me to come but I don't like advertising my own seminars, and I don't do that anymore. And I think if there's a broader lesson from that for anyone, it's make sure that whatever path you're on to keep checking and say, Is this still bringing me joy? And if the answer is at all, no, or if part of it is not say, is there a way to adjust what I'm doing so I get more of the joy and less of the seemingly necessary pain to get there. Now it doesn't mean in the early stages of your career as a screenwriter, anything else there aren't dues to be paid and there isn't some grunt work you got to go through. But at a certain point, you're going to find that there are things you're doing that make it worthwhile and other things that you feel like you got to put up with and the more you can let go the put up with stuff and the more you can stay with the worthwhile stuff. I think in the long run, you'll certainly be happier and probably more successful.

Alex Ferrari 42:30
That entire answer should be on a T shirt.

Michael Hague 42:35
For fat people,

Alex Ferrari 42:36
I was about to say you're gonna have to have a very large base bumper sticker. So Michael, this is a question I always ask all of my my guests. What was the most underrated film you've ever seen?

Michael Hague 42:50
I we should tell people I was queued for this. You sent me this one in advance. Yes, think about it. And I probably wouldn't have been hard to come up with because I use this movie as an example all the time. It's a movie called Lars and the real girl. love that movie. And it may be wrong to say it was underrated because Nancy Oliver who wrote the script actually was nominated for an Oscar. So that's not underrated. And it got good reviews. But it didn't do business. I mean, very few people went to see it. And I consider it one of the great romantic comedies ever. I just love talking about this movie. And I think the reason very few people saw it is because the logline is it's about a guy who falls in love with a sex doll. So it sounds either simi or kind of distasteful or broad R rated comedy, none of which it is. I mean, it's one of the sweetest actually most spiritual kind of movies. It has just a great love story at its core. It's one I love to talk about. I've actually done lectures just about that movie. And this is a chance for me to recommend everyone who's listening find it and see it. It's called Lars and the real girl.

Alex Ferrari 44:05
Yeah, with Ryan Gosling. It's Yeah, he was awesome in that movie. It was a great, great film. I love that movie. So Michael, what are your top three films of all time?

Michael Hague 44:13
Okay, well, I want to tell your listeners just by way of excuse just like the last one, you warned me that this was going to be a question. Yes. And so I emailed you back and said, I don't want that.

Alex Ferrari 44:26
And I begged you to answer it.

Michael Hague 44:28
We do this in every broadcast. And I said okay, what's what's my favorite movie? What was what was the question? my three favorite? Yeah, no, no specific order. So here's my answer. I was incapable of doing that. So here's what the answer I came up with the way the only way I could get even close was if I segmented them. Okay. Okay, so you're gonna have to put up with like nine titles here. Now. The first thing I thought is in terms of favorite movies, what are the three classic movies that I consider just absolutely great films that were very formative for me that maintain after all these years, they're still great movies. And the three I came up with were Casablanca. Still probably the greatest love story Hollywood has ever done. Psycho. Now, perhaps the scariest movie Hollywood has ever done. And Hitchcock's best, I think, unlike vertigo that most people regard and finally the Godfather, which if I had to pick the great hollywood movie, I would probably pick that one. So those are the three favorites in terms of these are great, great movies by any measure. I don't know how they could be improved. Then I thought, okay, the second set is what are three movies that are my favorites, because they meant a lot to me personally, as I was growing up, or as I was falling in love with movies. And the three I picked for that were number one. Bye bye, birdie. Because not not a great movie, although some great numbers but because it was a movie the first movie I remember having a crush on the star cuz Margo got on that treadmill, I was lost forever, that I saw repeatedly that I just loved and, and was just and that I remember going back to see multiple times. So I it's sort of beyond guilty pleasure to say apologetically say to me, the second one was Miracle on 34th Street. My favorite, I think, still probably the best Christmas movie much better than It's a Wonderful Life in my opinion. And that meant a lot to me, because I always love Christmas, but because at one point in my life, I was a department store Santa myself and I tried to model myself after Edmund gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street, so I'm cool. It's it's probably more information. Yeah, that's very, that's a very cool story. Okay, and the third one is A Fistful of Dollars. It's a movie, my favorite Western ever, although if you take that whole man with no name trilogy, it'd be hard to pick sir. But that was an important movie. To me, maybe this is more career as well as personal because it's, I saw it when I was just starting to take some film classes, they didn't have filmmaking at the University of Oregon when I went there, but they had like a film appreciation or a film studies class. And I was learning about all these big name directors, and I happen to see it. And I started noticing a lot going on in the movie underneath the plot, and I actually took notes and sort of compose this whole analysis of what was going on underneath. And that's what I think I really internalize the idea that there's the plot of a movie, and then there's all the layers underneath that can be added that are not, instead of an exciting, in this case, action filled Western or plot or superficial story, if you want to say that, but grow out of that, and are intertwined with that, to make it terrific. So that was the second group. And then the last group that was impossible was really probably what you're asking, and that is, what are my desert island movies, what are the movies that I could see again, and again and again. And the three I came up with, although with if you gave me another day, I'd probably come up with six different ones. One is Sleepless in Seattle, because it's probably still my favorite romantic comedy. It also meant a lot to my career, because it was the first movie I ever lectured about, in its totality at a at a seminar at a conference once. And as I was in the middle of the lecture, I noticed in the back of the room was Jeff arch who wrote it. And I thought, oh my god, I'm talking about his script. And afterwards, he came up and said, everything you said about that movie, it was what I wanted people to get. And we've been friends ever since. So that was cool. So I picked that the Bourne trilogy for action movies, the all three of the Bourne Identity born, you know, supremacy and so on. And, finally, Love Actually, we're talking about Christmas and romantic comedy. And one of my all time favorite writers, Richard Curtis, and I just think is a movie that I could see once a year and often do and still like it. So that's the best I could do with three.

Alex Ferrari 49:34
That was actually one of the best answers to that question we've had on the show,

Michael Hague 49:38
Because I cheated. I drew outside the love.

Alex Ferrari 49:43
Alright, so last question, Where can people find you?

Michael Hague 49:48
Actually, there's only one place people need to go to find out about my coaching about the products I've created, including my books and the heroes two journeys that you mentioned. And also read a lot of articles and Question and Answers I've done and that's to my website it's story mastery.com str y and then mastery with a Y on the end story mastery.com and if you go there there's a lot of things that you can link to and see that I think will sort of expand on some of the questions you asked me and other things about everything to do with the storytelling actually not just screenwriting.

Alex Ferrari 50:29
I will definitely put links to all put I'll put a link to that in the show notes Michael thank you so much for for being on the show we've thrown out a lot of great great nuggets so thank you.

Michael Hague 50:39
Oh good well thank you for having me it was an honor and great fun I enjoyed this a lot and if we do it again I'll come up with three different movies or nine different movies for you how's that

Alex Ferrari 50:49
Thank you so much. I really love talking to Michael it was it was it was a treat to really get to know Michael and now work with him a little bit putting this new course together the story and screenplay blueprint so as promised I'm going to give you guys the link to get the course which we retailing for $67 but you're going to get it for 25 bucks and it'll be 25 bucks for a little while so you have to hurry and get it quick before we before the sale runs out. But it is a launch so all you have to do is go to any film hustle.com Ford slash story blueprint that's indiefilmhustle.com/storyblueprint and that will give you guys directly a link to the course and 25 bucks so definitely check it out guys, I think you really will get a lot out of it. And all the links and things that we talked about in this episode are at the show notes at indiefilmhustle.com/053. As always, please head over to filmmakingpodcast.com that's filmmakingpodcast.com and leave us a honest review of the show. It really, really helps us out a lot and getting the word out and getting all this amazing, great information to other filmmakers who need to hear it. So as always, keep that hustle going. Keep that dream alive. I'll talk to you guys soon.

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