Tom Hanks is hands-down one of my favorite actors and I think I’m in good company when I say that. The guy is so dang likable. He’s handsome, but not in a pretty-boy Hollywood sort of way. He is funny but not in a “look at me tell jokes” sort of way. He is talented but not in an “I can cry on cue” sort of way. I like him because he comes across as someone I could enjoy a beer with. He is everyman.
Like Jimmy Stewart before him, Tom Hanks has built a career playing the everyman.
Money Pit – A new husband overwhelmed by a home in disrepair
Big - A kid who wants to be an adult
The Burbs – A suburban guy with suspicious neighbors
Turner & Hooch – A man and his dog
Joe vs. The Volcano – A guy who loathes his job and seeks adventure
A League of Their Own – An exasperated baseball coach
Sleepless in Seattle – A widower looking for companionship
Forest Gump – A endearing man with below average intelligence
Saving Private Ryan – A teacher from Pennsylvania
I could go on and it would be well worth it. A trip down Tom Hanks lane and you’ll be stopping to look in every window.
But I’ve noticed in recent years Hanks has been playing more and more “real” everyman: Richard Phillips (Captain Phillips), Walt Disney (Saving Mr. Banks), James B. Donovan (Bridge of Spies), Chesley Sullenberger (Sully). That’s four films in the past three years in which he has played a biographical character.
One could argue that Walt Disney is not an everyman, but when Tom Hanks plays him, Walt becomes one. He is a guy trying to keep a promise to his daughters, who tells stories about growing up in Missouri to make a point.
After seeing Sully this weekend, I pondered why an actor would choose to play so many biographical characters. Isn't it risky? Would it not limit the creative choices you have as an actor? I can only speculate. It could be as simple as Hanks wanting to make a movie with Clint Eastwood.
Or maybe it is because we lean forward when we hear a true story. When the everyman isn’t just a person, but that person. The story isn’t “What if” but “Here’s how.” We love stories about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. We love even more the stories of real people in extraordinary circumstances.
In each of the four biopic films Hanks played characters who, when the stakes were high, did their job to the best of their ability and because they did, they saved lives or in a way changed the world.
Isn’t that what we all want? We are all ordinary people who hope that when the moment comes we prove extraordinary. We want to be the everyman who is not everyman. We want to be like Tom Hanks.
This week I received the script evaluations from the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship for my submission The Resurrection of Dennis Munson. I wrote about my submission to the fellowship several weeks ago in a post call “The Best of the Noise.” Check it out if you haven’t had the chance yet.
It was really helpful to receive the readers' comments. Historically, I’d submit a work and I’d hear either a Yes - your script was judged good enough to advance - or No - Sorry, there was a lot of competition this year... Yes or No feedback isn't really helpful, so the reader evaluations are like gold.
The reader comments were not exhaustive evaluations of the script, instead, a brief three-paragraph summary of the reader’s impression of the script. Reader 1 was not keen on the story. Reader 1 said the script was “very well told on a craft level” but cutting between the fantasy world and the real world didn’t work and the fantasy portions should be minimized and the story focused on the real world storyline. I’ve come to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to like this script. Some people will get it and some people won’t. And that’s okay.
Reader 2 and Reader 3 were both very positive. They both commented on how imaginative and emotional the script was and complemented the world building of both the real and fantasy worlds. The most important comment came from Reader 3 who wrote that the piece works as a mainstream fantasy script. I wrote in a past post (see "When Your Great is Just Above Average") that many readers dismiss the script because they believe it is not mainstream enough to justify the production budget necessary to make this film. It is encouraging to find someone, even if they are anonymous, who sees the broad reaching potential of the story.
The Nicholl Fellowship reader comments were not the only news I received about my script this week. The Austin Film Festival told me the script advanced to the second round of their screenwriting competition – top 15%. It didn’t land in the top 1%, which would have made it a semi-finalist. I’m not surprised. It’s what I expected. Where between 2% and 15% the script landed, I don’t know.
I will be attending the Austin Film Festival next month, so this is all encouraging news and it gives me a bit of a confidence boost as I prepare to go to the festival and pitch the story.
As a final thought and a testimony to the notion that a creative work is never really complete, I’m going back to rewrite a couple scenes. I haven’t touched the script in months, but one of the reader comments spurred an idea, a better idea.
The story can always get better.
Okay. I’m not really web famous, but I did get a taste of life as a “YouTuber” this week when I was asked to be in a GEM Sisters video.
I remember the day I met them. It was five years ago. My very good friends, MéLisa and Ryun, brought the girls into their home. They were young and shy and eager to be loved. I remember their adoption day - it was my birthday - I was at the LA County Courthouse when the judged pronounced my friends legal guardians, mom and dad. Since then I’ve celebrated birthdays, holidays, vacations, and life milestones with them. I take them to the movies and the zoo. They call me Uncle Nathan. When I try to explain my relationship to the girls, I simply say they’re my nieces.
To me, they are Giselle, Mercedes, and Evangeline. But to a growing number of young girls across the globe, they are The GEM Sisters. They started posting videos on YouTube about a year ago and have quickly become rising stars in the YouTube world. Three of their videos have over a million views. With 80K channel subscribers and growing they have connected with a passionate and enthusiastic audience.
I don’t understand YouTube. I mean I get it, sort of. I occasionally visit to watch a movie trailer or to see Carpool Karaoke or a Jimmy Fallon sketch. But when I hear people say that they will sit and watch YouTube videos all night, I think “huh?”
I write screenplays. I watch movies. I binge watch TV shows. I consume media like a long-term relationship. I’m very selective, but I’m committed until the end… unless you do something to break my trust (I'm looking at you Walking Dead, be careful). Small bursts of entertainment are not what I do, but it is what the younger generation does.
It has been fun to watch The GEM Sisters find their audience, create a brand, and grow in popularity. When they asked if I would act in their sketch I was hesitant. I found my comfortable place behind the camera in front of a keyboard. But I couldn’t say no to Giselle, Mercedes, and Evangeline. A smile and a please and what can I say... I'm web famous for a day.
It is fall festival season in small towns across America. This weekend my hometown, Kewanee, IL, is celebrating its claim as Hog Capital of the World with three days of flea markets, pork chops, carnivals, and parades. Other small towns will be sweeping streets to prepare for their pumpkin/cranberry/shrimp/barbeque/cheese/*INSERT EDIBLE OBJECT* festivals.
But food festivals aren’t the only parties in town. This weekend, the town of Willow Creek, California will celebrate Bigfoot Days. I’ve had Bigfoot on my mind after hearing about the festival on the radio this week. My interest was piqued so much that last night I watched one of my favorite childhood movies, Harry and the Hendersons, about a family that takes Bigfoot, affectionately named Harry, into their home after accidently striking it with their car while on a camping trip. Calamity ensues and in the end we learn that Bigfoot is not so scary after all. In fact, he’s a vegetarian!
Stories of the “wild man” originated in aboriginal and native folklores and have persisted over time with sightings of Bigfoot purported in every continental US state. Other cultures tell a similar tale. There is the Canadian Sasquatch, Nepal’s Yeti, Australia’s Yowie, China’s Yeren, Mongolia’s Almas, and Indonesia’s Orang Pendek.
The one consistent fact about Bigfoot is that there is no empirical scientific evidence the creature exists. I prefer it that way.
Stories of Bigfoot exist not because there are yet-to-be-discovered hairy bipedal nocturnal humanoids with an affinity for woman and candy bars roaming the earth. Bigfoot exists, and will always exist, because we need to believe there are still mysteries to encounter. We need the unknown.
Science says, “Show us a body.” I say, “Why ruin it with a body.”
I find it fascinating that the word “empirical”, which has come to mean “supported by scientific research,” is actually rooted in a word that carried the opposite meaning.
The word “empirical” is derived from the Latin empiricus, which is a transliteration of the Greek empiricos meaning experience or observation. Centuries ago it referred to a practitioner, usually a physician, who worked from experience, rather than formal training or scientific theory. The word came to mean “quack, imposter, or charlatan.” (Click here to learn more)
My experience is that the world is a more interesting place when we make room for Bigfoots. Bigfoot teaches us to stay curious, to chase the unknown, to believe in the possibility of the impossible.
That may make me an empirical quack. I’m okay with that.
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES