An Interview with Frank Hall Green
By Roadmap Top Tier Writer Jennifer D'Angelo Kircher
FRANK HALL GREEN
is a writer/director and producer/partner at Catch & Release Films
. His directorial debut feature, WILDLIKE
played nearly 200 film festivals and earned 100 festival awards. Produced by Green, Tandem Pictures and Killer Films, the Alaska-location-based film stars Ella Purnell, Bruce Greenwood, Brian Geraghty and Ann Dowd. Heralded in its reviews, WILDLIKE has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 100% and is currently available everywhere.
Frank and his partner, producer Tom Heller (FOXCATHER, MUD, 127 HOURS, PRECIOUS), operate Catch & Release Films, a fund and production company developing various film and TV projects.
Frank presently has his fingers in about 13 projects, and is married with two young girls, so I am very grateful that he was able to share some of his time with me and give us such in-depth and honest answers. I know you will enjoy reading what he has to say about writing, directing, producing and how to find your way in this business.
Jennifer D'Angelo Kircher: What came first with WILDLIKE? Was it that specific story that had been gnawing away at you and you had to get down, or was it the desire to write and direct your own film?
Frank Hall Green: What really came first with WILDLIKE was that I could not escape telling a story of an adventure in nature. Escaping into the wilderness, discovering something inside oneself, or isolating oneself and surrounding oneself with the outdoors was in my conscious and unconscious. But also I was intending to make a first feature, and I was determined to find a movie that would be effective as a cinematic calling card, and something that would be produce-able. So I knew a character would escape into the wilderness, and I arrived at Alaska as a location, knowing that we could make a powerfully visual movie with a relatively small budget, and it would be for me the best choice for my first feature. I wish the decision for movie #2 was as easy to arrive at!
JDK: Did you have a short or proof of concept film that you made before the feature that explored the same theme or subject matter?
FHG: I did not exactly shoot a proof of concept but I was concerned that by the time of completing the WILDLIKE screenplay I had directed many shorts yet had not been satisfied with any of them. I knew what tone, feeling, pacing and directing I wanted to bring to the screen for WILDLIKE, but I was not entirely sure I could direct the actors and capture the mood I wanted. So as a test, I wrote a short script and made a short film about a young couple having marital trouble on a backpacking trip. I was thrilled with the outcome and performances, and that gave me the confidence that I could translate the script to screen in my vision with WILDLIKE.
JDK: For WILDLIKE, specifically, how long did it take you to write the full- length feature script?
FHG: WILDLIKE was in my head since about 2008. Alaska was in my mind, and the idea of someone running away developed in my head and in short notes, usually in emails to myself, over months and months. By Spring 2009 I had compiled a mass of notes into an outline. Using a friend as a sounding board, I flushed out the outline a few hours here and there over weeks. Mostly I tried to find turns of events that felt realistic, not contrived and not overused. I constantly second-guessed myself. Then I sat down and wrote the first draft, probably in about 20 hours spread over a few days. This is typical for me. I often cringed at some of my own writing. So I immediately started repairing and rewriting scenes, of which they were many. I had a full script that I was happy with by 2010, after a trip to Alaska scouting actual locations and improving the script. We shot in 2012 and I rewrote all the way until the final day of shooting.
JDK: Any special writing schedule or patterns that worked for you?
FHG: Number one is having a deadline or a producer or someone or something to be accountable to. My process is to write down a kernel of an idea, vision, image, character, location, whatever. And then build on that as it comes to me. Over weeks or months (or years?) of doing this, I purposefully sit down and outline a brief story, step by step. Then I flush that out into greater detail. I expand on this skeleton, adding scenes, sometimes, dialogue, and making changes. Then I sit and hammer out a first draft - sometimes using a holding place for a scene I am struggling with. It’s a struggle to just get something down on paper and realize you can go back and perfect it. I have not used note cards to date, but I like the idea. I absolutely like having one individual to bounce ideas off of and allow them to read and review and help direct the process all the way through to a draft.
JDK: Fellow writers love to hear how others procrastinate or deal with writer’s block. Can you share any of your favorite or most popular ways to procrastinate writing? Do you get writer’s block, and if so, what do you do to overcome it?
FHG: If I can open the computer and open the document, or pull out a pen and pad, then I can write. Before that, I procrastinate by simply forgetting or telling myself I am not in the right space. A great lethargy overcomes me, as if I couldn’t possibly sit up and type at that moment! For me, a deadline and accountability is crucial. Beyond that, practicing the act of doing any kind of “no-pressure” writing when I do not want to write is how to exercise through procrastination. You must take the pressure off.
JDK: Whom did you ask to read your script and give you feedback in those early drafts? Can you estimate how many drafts of WILDLIKE you wrote?
FHG: I had a friend and screenwriter who agreed to regularly meet and talk about the story. He read first. Then I chose a few willing producers and writers to read and give notes. The feedback was hard to hear, made me angry, and concerned me that people did not understand what I wanted to put forward. But I kept redrafting and second guessing myself a lot. Probably 20-30 drafts over time. I think after draft 15, I started sharing the script for development.
JDK: Do you have any favorite resources for screenwriting? Any books or lessons you swear by?
FHG: I have read several books and workbooks and would like to read more but I swear by none. I am highly motivated and inspired by locations, images and other films. I travel and look through books and photos. Also, real life observation is crucial...sitting in public spaces and listening to dialogue, watching real pacing. Contacting people involved in the things that your characters are involved in provides fantastic perspective, details and ideas.
JDK: What screenwriting program do you use? And any particular reason why?
FHG: Final Draft. There was no other choice 10 years ago. Anything that is simple and easy is great. Handwritten notes and writing is best for thinking things through. I write a lot of scenes on my phone, in email. I have not found a great phone app yet.
JDK: Your main character in WILDLIKE is a teenage girl, who is healing from emotional and physical traumas. And you are a middle-aged man writing this story. Was that ever a stumbling block, either in getting the word on the page, or even in securing financing and getting people on board to make this film?
FHG: I was concerned about this from day one, from capturing the truth of this character, researching the role to claiming to be able to present the character. I was never questioned along the way, so it did not become an issue. I was fearful about it - but no one confirmed that fear - quite the opposite. Now, I realize this is a part of storytelling, and it is my job to understand and represent others. For writing, I tried to observe and read about teens everywhere I could, which was not easy. Mostly I tried to remember being 14.
JDK: How many scripts had you written before WILDLIKE? Features, shorts, TV, etc.? And since WILDLIKE, have you written any more original or adapted scripts, and can you elaborate on those?
FHG: I had written about 6 feature screenplays before WILDLIKE, only one or two into several drafts. It was very helpful to the process. I actually wrote a new screenplay while developing WILDLIKE, and considered switching projects briefly. I have begun two new original screenplays since WILDLIKE, slowly, and I cannot elaborate on them at this time.
JDK: I see that presently, you and your producing partner, Tom Heller, and your company, Catch & Release Films, are developing multiple projects that are based on books: BOY 21, A GATHERING OF SAINTS and GONZO GIRL. Is this by design, ie, are you seeking out published and tested material, rather than original screenplays?
FHG: I see myself as a producer and a filmmaker, and the two are quite separate. I have been producing and working in production since film school days around 2004. Alongside making WILDLIKE, I met Tom and we began co-producing a project. Then we talked about forming a development company to produce more significant independent films. So as a filmmaker, I am still interested in original material, but as a producer I prefer books and underlying material. However, as a director I am more open to adaptations. Catch & Release has been a fantastic learning experience and I know will be extremely helpful in launching my new project.
JDK: Did you and/or Tom option these books and then find writers to develop the scripts, or did writers who’d optioned the books come to you with their stories?
FHG: Typically, we find the books and stories first. Occasionally, material comes to us with writers or filmmakers attached, through reps or other producers or the writers themselves.
JDK: If you and Tom option a book, article or life story, how do you go about finding the right writer for the script? I realize this is a lot to answer, considering you have multiple adaptations in the works, but can you elaborate on one, in particular, and how you found that screenwriter to adapt the script? Did you “test out” several writers?
FHG: For a project based on underlying material, that is already of certain repute, we seek a combination of the correct style, experience and credibility of the writer. Knowing we must attract financing, we work to create a package of exciting filmmakers, which includes the writer. We do not test them out, but we read lots of comps of all sorts of writers.
JDK: As a producer, what is it about making a film, based on a book, that is so appealing? Is it that the work already has an audience? Or that the story has proven it can make money? Or, that the “pitch” becomes so much easier in getting everyone else on board? Maybe it is simply the subject and themes of these particular stories that Catch & Release Films is drawn to and wants to share with audiences?
FHG: Frankly, I could argue that it is easier to make a film based on a book, but I realize it could be argued the other way around. As a filmmaker, I prefer original ideas. But as a producer, I like the idea of shepherding an existing story that is worthy of being told again, perhaps differently, and giving ongoing life to it. Remakes, like in theater, is a part of the culture of storytelling. The benefits of existing material are the audience you can build on, and a reputation of the work, and of course a roadmap for the story. All of that leads to easier packaging, pitch and appeal for creatives and financiers. For Catch & Release, the subject matters and stories are always ones that we feel are worthy of communicating to the community - not just entertainment.
JDK: The space for writers of original screenplays seems to be shrinking. Would you suggest to writers to option stories and life rights? Perhaps it is not enough to keep plugging away at telling their own, original stories, and they need to expand their portfolios with IP?
FHG: I would suggest that writers consider adapting material or writing from material in the public domain. There is no reason not to do this if one is trying to break into the industry. If one can afford to, optioning material oneself and writing the adaptation creates great value that gives one leverage with producers, filmmakers and partners.
JDK: Even with three films in development, I’m certain you have others, whether they be seeds or kernels at this point. Our readers would love to know just how many projects you typically juggle at one time, (as many of them are often writing multiple scripts at once while working out deals at all different stages on others…. )
FHG: Currently, Tom and I have 8 projects in development, of which 3 are in the scripting stage and 1 in the casting stage. I am independently producing 3 other projects, 2 completed and slated for release, and another that is in development. I also have a documentary TV series in development with a partner. All of that is as a producer. And then, I have my own screenplay. So I guess 13? I just try to keep everything moving, and I have partners for everything. For writing, I am focusing on ONE until a first draft, then, I will revisit others. I am always jotting notes for a few different ideas.
JDK: The audience at Roadmap Writers if full of 2 types of writers: writer-directors and the solo writers, who are not interested in directing. A) For those writer-directors out there, since you have the success and experience of making WILDLIKE, any parting words of advice you have for them?
FHG: Achieving your first feature will rest entirely on you: scripting, finding the money, completing the movie and marketing it. Get ready to be responsible for either driving everyone or doing it all yourself. Therefore, the more simple and less expensive it is, the better.
JDK: B) For the writers, who just want their stories told, but are not trying to direct, what advice, if different, would you leave them with?
FHG: I think breaking in, as a writer, is extremely difficult. I do not know how to make oneself and one’s screenplays stand out to agents or buyers - much less get read. Underlying material is not a bad idea. Writing on spec for other filmmakers might also provide opportunities. Relationships are far more valuable than the greatest screenplay, so I would cultivate relationships with people in the industry. I do believe if one continues to offer a valuable, affordable service, like writing or re-writing, then people will appreciate that and allow one to do more, for more compensation, but the relationship needs to exist also. I honestly wish I had the answer for screenwriters. I would certainly be weary and go in eyes open - and attempt to find the reality. I feel certain that producers, reps and companies do not read unsolicited work or work by unknown authors. One idea is to contact existing writers and interview them for how they began to get paid for their work.