2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 2)

Reflections on observations by Out of Sight and Minority Report screenwriter.

One of the panels I attended at the Austin Film Festival featured Scott Frank. Moderated by Craig Mazin, Frank — whose screenwriting credits include Dead Again, Little Man Tate, Malice, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Marley & Me, and Logan — delved deep into his creative and writing process. I thumbed my way through copious notes on my iPhone notes app. Over the next several days, I’ll do a series of reflections based on comments made by Frank during the talk.

Scott Frank


It has to come from character. I’m always going back to the people.
Why character?
It’s about what makes a person a person.
What do they want?
What do they fear?
It’s the low grade fever of what your characters are about.
What is it that speaks to me?
Is this a character I like?

These are my hastily typed takes on what Scott was saying, so perhaps more paraphrased than actual quotes. However, during his talk, it was abundantly clear how critically important Scott believes working with characters is to crafting a story. Indeed, the references above are scattered throughout his comments as he kept returning to the subject again and again.

Those of you who have followed my blog for any time know that I promote character based screenwriting. My mantra:

“Start with character. End with character. Find the story in-between.”

Based on what I heard in Scott’s comments, I feel safe in saying I think he aligns with this perspective.

So what’s the big deal of working with characters?

Characters are Plot.

Their wants, needs, fears, personal histories, backstories, and destinies — especially the Protagonist — emerge as the backbone of the story’s structure.

Characters are Theme.

Whatever thematic point of a story is, it’s invariably tied to the emotional and psychological journey of the Protagonist and other key characters.

Characters are Dialogue.

Scott hit on this point a few times in his talk. For example, he said, “If I can write dialogue, I can hear the characters, and I know I can continue process.” His comment reminded me of the response the great playwright August Wilson gave when asked how he wrote such great dialogue: “I don’t. They do.” The ‘they’ in question were his characters.

In sum, characters are STORY. Everything you need to know is right there inhabited within and by your characters.

It has to come from character. I’m always going back to the people.

Great advice. Always lean into your characters. Always go back to the people who exist within your story universe.

More tomorrow from the 2017 Austin Film Festival panel featuring Scott Frank.

Here is a teaser for Scott’s Netflix series ‘Godless’ which he wrote and directed. The series debuts this on November 22.

“It’s a fearful thing to love what death has touched. To love. To hope. To dream. To be. To lose. Your life is lived in me. To remember this brings painful joy. ‘Coz a human thing is love what death has touched.”

‘Godless’ website here.

Twitter: @scottfrank.