By Ali Coad, Senior Editor
Michael Lucker is an Atlanta filmmaker who, it seems, never stops working. He has written and still writes many screenplays, he’s worked alongside big-name directors (cough, Steven Spielberg), works as a professor at the University of North Georgia, hosts weekend writing workshops with his own Screenwriting School, AND has recently released a new book on writing screenplays called “Crash! Boom! Bang! How To Write Action Movies”.
In addition to all of that, Michael is a dear friend of the Atlanta Film Festival, and I’ve had the good grace and pleasure of working with him for a handful of years. He works with ATLFF as an advisor and a screenplay mentor. 2017 has been a big one for Michael, and with the new release of his book, we expect it’ll only get better from here.
You’ve had quite the career, and if it’s alright with you, Michael, I’d like to start at the beginning. What’s the movie that made you fall in love with movies? When and how did movies become a central part of your life?
It started with “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I came stumbling out of the theater at Perimeter Mall that night thinking “Holy crap. How do I do that?” Which led me to want to become a stuntman. Which led me to break my wrist, jaw, rib, knee, arm, toe, finger and collarbone. Which led me to want to become a writer.
Will you walk us through your early career: school and the first few years after school?
I went to Chamblee High School where I learned to be rejected by girls. And to write. Which I did to try and impress the girls. So I wrote everything I could: songs, plays, poems, articles, speeches, commercials, movies and television. Sooner or later I figure it will pay off.
What was it like working with Steven Spielberg? What did you learn from that experience?
Everyone becomes better at what they do working for Steven. From craft services to cinematography. I was in charge of getting Steven whatever he needed. So I become an expert at bagels, teas and cars. I also learned a little about storytelling.
Atlanta is a burgeoning home for moviemakers of all types. Why do you think this is? I know the tax breaks are endlessly appealing, but what do you think Atlanta has that the more traditional movie-making cities (NYC, LA) don’t have?
Trees. We have lots of trees. Which is part of what brought me home here. I missed the green. And the people. And the music. And felt like I could breathe here. Thanks in part to the trees. They are also a crucial part of the diverse landscape that makes filming here so appealing to so many.
Having been involved with several film festivals, what do you think makes the Atlanta Film Festival unique?
They respect writers. They have a screenwriting competition. They fly in screenwriters. They have panels for screenwriters. They have awards for screenwriters. Every film festival in the world shines on directors, but few pay respect to the storytellers that give them all their spark. The Atlanta Film Festival does that in spades.
What do you notice about the up-and-coming writers, writers who are winning festivals and fighting for a foot in the door? What’s empowering about them? What are some common mistakes?
Overwriting. Aspiring writers tend to overwrite: story, action, dialogue, description. Writing movies is really simpler than it seems. And the best stories, time after time, are proven to be relatively simple. Those who do that well tend to rise to the top.
What makes a script good? What makes a script bad?
Have something to say and say it differently. Those are probably the two most important things to writing a good script. The antithesis is what makes them bad. Writers with no message veer off the road and get stuck in ditches. And no one likes to read what they already read.
You also are a professor of screenwriting at Emory University and University of North Georgia. You studied broadcasting and film at school. Do you think a film degree is necessary in order to work within film?
You can never learn too much. So why not go to film school where that is the focus? Those who say you don’t need to learn writing to write have never written. Those who say you don’t need to learn to grip to grip have never been on set. Or if they were, were probably thrown off. Of course, aspiring filmmakers should watch movies and read books and practice everything they watch and read, but most people will apply themselves more ardently with support, structure and guidance, which they will find in film schools. Along with, say, cameras.
What can someone expect to learn at your Screenwriting School?
Everything they need to get started to write a screenplay, in a weekend. We spend all day Saturday and Sunday together discussing the tricks of the trade. But the thing I find most gratifying is that attendees leave with, not only the knowhow to write a great script, but the belief they can succeed doing it.
Your schedule is packed. How do you find time to write? What are your writing habits and routines?
I like to write. More than anything. So doing it is never a chore for me. It’s fun. What has surprised me is that I enjoy teaching nearly as much. So as long as I’m writing or teaching I never feel like I’m working. I’m playing. And playing trumps all.
What inspired your book “Crash! Book! Bang! How To Write Action Movies”?
Admonishment. Every time I taught, students told me I should write a book. When I didn’t, I was admonished. So after years of abuse, I finally acquiesced. I figured if what I was teaching in my classes and workshops was helping so many people in Georgia, perhaps what I put in a book could help people everywhere else.
What can we expect to learn from your book? I know that in order to wholly absorb “Crash! Boom! Bang!,” we’d have to read it, but tease us a little bit. What are the top three things someone can expect to walk away with after having read your book?
The biggest compliment I received thus far about the book is you don’t have to be a writer of action films to benefit from it. The biggest criticism has been writers of action films want more about action to benefit from it. Which goes to show you, you can’t please all the people all the time. So don’t try. That’s lesson one. Lesson two: Never let perfection stand in the way of progress. And three: Someone has to write scripts. Why can’t it be you?
Where can we find your book?
Everywhere really. It’s on Amazon and Kindle, in Barnes & Noble and university bookstores, and on my Screenwriter School website. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have the renown Michael Wiese Productions (http://mwp.com) as my publisher and they know what they’re doing.
What project of yours are you most proud of?
The truth is some of my favorite scripts have not been made. About past lives influencing our present decisions. About the truth behind the Bermuda Triangle. About a conspiracy to destroy the cure for cancer. So that’s partly what keeps me driven. To tell stories that must be told. Of the stories that have been told, I think SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON stands out the most. It was incredibly challenging to tell an animated story for audiences of all ages without any dialogue. The fact it was nominated for an Academy Award and made $120 million dollars shows we were somewhat successful.
What are you working on now?
Recently I was hired to adapt two great autobiographical novels. THE RESCUE by Major Thomas Ross tells the story of his leading the largest rescue in the history of the special forces during Vietnam. QUICKSAND by Sarah Jones is a true story about a nice girl from a nice town who marries a nice man who turns out to be a bank robber. Next up I’m developing a television series with former FBI agent Dana Ridenour based on her incredible book BEHIND THE MASK, which takes us undercover into the world of environmental espionage. Hopefully one or more of them will be going into production soon.
What kind of advice would you offer to anyone to grow a career in film?
Get in the game. People hire people they know. And like. So get known. And be likable. We’re very fortunate that Hollywood has landed in our backyard. With more than sixty films and television series shooting here at any time, there’s no one to blame for you not getting in on it but yourself.
Anything you’d like to plug? Where can we follow you and your career?
I’m extremely proud of the film and media program Dr. Jeff Marker has created at UNG. For those considering studying film in college, I would encourage them to check it out here: https://ung.edu/communication-media-journalism/index.php.
For anyone else interested in screenwriting, join us for my weekend workshops at www.screenwriterschool.com.
For those near and far, my book is available on Amazon: http://www.screenwriterschool.com/book/.
And to keep up with my weekly tips, triumphs and travails, you can follow me on FB: https://www.facebook.com/ScreenwriterSchool/.