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INTERVIEW: Michael Hauge, Part 3

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting [1]Writer Unboxed had the honor recently of interviewing one of the motion-picture industry’s best advisors, Michael Hauge. Not only is Michael a consultant for most of the top film studios in Hollywood, he’s also a highly sought-after speaker and author with plenty to offer screenwriters and novelists alike. His new book, Selling your Story in Sixty Seconds [2], is bound to become a classic; Hauge’s previous book,Writing Screenplays That Sell, [2] is now in its thirtieth printing for HarperCollins, and is a definitive reference book for the film and television industries. His seminar with Chris Vogler (author of The Writer’s Journey [3]) called The Hero’s 2 Journeys [2], and is now available on DVD and CD through Michael’s website [4].

If you missed parts 1 and 2 of our interview with him, click HERE [5] and HERE [6] now to read them. Then come on back for the conclusion where we try to pin him down about how you’ll know a manuscript is ready to market…and when there’s more work to do!

Part 3: Interview with Michael Hauge

Q: You said that it’s very important to get your script or manuscript to professional caliber before you even think about pitching. How do you know when it’s ready? When everyone else says it is?

MH: Yep.

Q: Do you recommend you have a certain number of people tell you that it’s finished?

MH: Yep.

Q: Is there a magic number?

MH: Nope.

Q: Maybe something you feel in your gut?

MH: I don’t trust people’s guts when it comes to their own work, because they’re so eager to get their work out there that they’ll be blind to its weaknesses. So the number of positive responses you need from your support group depends on who those people are. If you belong to a writers’ group, or if you have friends who are knowledgeable about screenwriting or publishing, and if you know those people will be honest with you, I’d say you’ve got to get a positive response from at least five. However, if you’re working with a good script consultant, or a professional editor, you should be able to trust that person to know when something is ready to go.

But even then, with writers I’ve been coaching through the whole process, I still insist that we show the work to at least five knowledgeable people. I’ll help get it to people I know in the film business, just to get their feedback. Or sometimes I’ll have clients – the ones who have reached a high level of skill – swap critiques with each other. Because I know that after working extensively on a project, even I may get so close to it that I’ll miss spotting weaknesses or ways to improve it.

Q: What do you wish screenwriters or novelists would “get” about writing, and about the business?

MH: That they’re writing for a mass audience, and that means that their stories have to appeal to millions of people.

Q: What is the key to making your story an appealing one?

MH: My first book, Writing Screenplays That Sell [2], is all about just that. It’s just too big a question to answer in an interview. But I can say that I read lots of scripts and manuscripts where I can’t imagine why the writers think the average moviegoer is going to shell out 10 bucks to see it. No matter how fascinating a historical event, or a personal experience, or a genre-defying story is to you, you’ve got to ask, “Will this get butts in seats? Will this story be accessible, and compelling, and emotionally involving, and entertaining for millions or readers or moviegoers?”

A good clue to this is to ask what the story’s antecedents are. If you can’t find at least two or three recent, successful films similar in genre, style, theme, tone and budget, you need to think long and hard about whether it’s worth spending the next two years of your life writing and marketing it.

Q: Have movies shocked you because they were hits at the box office but didn’t fit what you believed would be popular?

MH: No, because I’m always right. And if there are, I’m not going to admit it!

Q: Have you ever mourned a screenplay that didn’t do well at box office?

MH: There are movies that I personally loved, and which seemed to meet the criteria for a great movie, but they just didn’t find an audience. A good example of that would be AKEELAH AND THE BEE [7]. I thought that was just a wonderful movie — probably my favorite so far this year, with a terrific screenplay by Doug Atchison. But it just didn’t do that well at the box office. Maybe people didn’t think spelling bees could be interesting, or maybe it wasn’t distributed exactly right, but it’s a movie everyone should see.

It was one of those movies that when I first saw it, I thought about all the people who say they don’t go to movies because they don’t like the language or the violence or the cynicism, and they want something that celebrates humanity and delivers good family values. But here’s a movie that has no violence and no profanity, and which certainly celebrates humanity, and is a family film in the very best sense of that phrase. So where are all those people who criticize Hollywood movies? Why aren’t they lining up to support a movie like this, so more of them will get made?!

There. That’s my little rant about Hollywood bashers.

Fortunately, the movie probably wasn’t very expensive to make, and it’s now available on video. So chances are it will end up making a profit.

Q:
We think there’s much that can be learned about writing a good story by reading a great screenplay. The pacing is there, the story unfolds, you have the emotional journey—it’s all there. Are there other things that we may not have thought about that connect the novelist and the screenwriter, the novel and the screenplay?

MH: To me, all story is built on a foundation of three basic elements; there are three legs to the stool that supports all story: hero/character, desire, and conflict. All story grows out of those three elements. There’s not a myth, not a fairy tale, not an opera, not a school play, not a movie, not a novel, not nothing that doesn’t grow out of those three core elements.

What I love to explore and point out is that these three elements in both novels and screenplays exist on two levels. It’s what I call the hero’s two journeys. In fact, I did a lecture with Chris Vogler, who wrote The Writer’s Journey [8], that we called The Hero’s 2 Journeys [2]. It’s out now on CD and DVD. What that title means is that first there is the desire that drives the plot: the hero wants to find the buried treasure or win true love or stop the Earth from being destroyed or stop the serial killer. And to accomplish that goal, the hero faces huge obstacles and has to find great physical courage in order to save the day.

But underneath that visible desire, there’s a whole other level of motivation and conflict – a journey of transformation. And that journey is also built on character desire and conflict, except that the desire is the desire we all have to feel fulfilled, to feel significant, to fully define ourselves, and the conflict that stands in the way of that is the hero’s own emotional fear or inner demons. So where the outer journey is one of achievement, the inner journey is about inner conflict, wounds of the past, and our own beliefs and fears. It’s a journey the characters need to go on in order to evolve and grow.

The thing that story does so powerfully is to unite those two journeys in this magical way, so that we can go to a movie or read a book and we become this character. Psychologically and emotionally, we are this hero, who not only can do all these things we could never do in real life, but who deep down finds the kind of emotional courage we all strive to find in our own lives. And I truly believe having that vicarious experience helps us to find untapped emotional courage and fulfillment in our own lives.

Q: What do you love the most about what you do?

MH: Two things—three things! One is that my workday is taken up entirely, in one form or another, with talking about stories and movies. In other words, I get to do what I love, have been doing since I was six years old, and I get paid for it.

The second is that I love speaking to groups of people; I love lecturing. I love that moment when you feel the energy in an entire roomful of people, and you feel that you’re experiencing something together, and celebrating the power of story.

And the third thing, I love working one on one with people, particularly during those moments when, either in coaching a person, or reading something they did that came out of the coaching process, and we both feel like, “Wow.” It’s that unique spark of creativity and power that grew out of their idea, and out of the work we did, and we’re both in awe of how the creative process can work.

Q: Uncovering magic?

MH: Yeah, that’s a great way to put it.

Thank you, Michael Hauge, for a delightful interview! We hope to see you here again sometime soon. Maybe a joint interview with Christopher Vogler? Hmmm…

About Therese Walsh [9]

Therese Walsh co-founded WU in 2006 and is the site's editorial director. She was the architect and 1st editor of WU's only book, Author in Progress [10], and orchestrates the WU UnConference. [11] Her second novel, The Moon Sisters [12], was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal and Book Riot; and her debut, The Last Will of Moira Leahy [13] was a Target Breakout Book. Sign up for her newsletter [14] to be among the first to learn about her new projects (or follow her on BookBub [15]). Learn more on her website [16].