Interview with screenwriter Michael Willliam Hogan

SHORT BIO OF THE WRITER: Michael William Hogan is a screenwriter whose unusual trinity of genre specialties includes comedy, faith-based and horror. He wasn’t always so twisted. For many years, Michael was a corporate executive-type. Until one day he woke up and realized that he was working for all the wrong reasons. And all the wrong people.

Alarmed but enlightened, Michael thought about checking himself into one of those outrageously expensive facilities in the hills above Malibu but discovered their practice didn’t include corporate executive-typectomies. Undeterred, he bought a tattered volume of Mid-Life Crisis Management for Dummies at a used bookstore in Brentwood only to then discover the chapter on transitioning from corporate hell to career heaven had been torn out. Left with only self-reliance, Michael managed to burrow into his own head, rewiring his grey matter to finally pursue what matters: faith, happiness, creativity, screenwriting.

In the time since—and somehow without the help of artificial intelligence or an MFA in Writing for Screen & Television—multiple short and feature scripts magically appeared on Michael’s hard drive. To-date, his scripts have garnered over 100 awards, including over two-dozen outright wins in competitions.

  • What is the first story you ever wrote?

You know how some moms keep EVERYTHING their kid ever draws, writes, drools on? Yeah? Well, my mom wasn’t like that. I won a school writing contest in the 5th grade but have no recollection as to what the story was about. I do remember a teacher implying I plagiarized some of it because I used the word “talon” and she didn’t think a 10-year-old should know that word.

  • Growing up, what movies or stories inspired your creative passion?

I grew up reading Jules Verne, Alfred Hitchcock, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King. The worlds they wrote of became my mental playgrounds. Popular narrative movies during my childhood (“Old Yeller”, “Swiss Family Robinson”, “Father Goose”, etc.) highly influenced my style and preference for analog storytelling versus fare requiring heavy CGI .

  • For an unknown writer, what is the best way to get their screenplay seen?

Print five-million copies and airdrop them over North Korea. That could be way easier than getting a spec script in front of the right person at the right time. Yes, it is that difficult. There are, of course, pitch festivals—most are virtual these days—but the odds are still not in the writers’ favor. I thought, maybe, screenwriting competitions might be a way to attract attention. I’ve garnered over 90 awards including 11 wins this year across multiple scripts; but have netted only one resultant inquiry from a producer. Did I mention it’s difficult?

  • What experiences from your life influence your characters?

Love, loss, rejection, adventure, risk-taking, failure, death, discrimination, abandonment.

  • Can you explain your character development process?

I begin with character sketches. Defining not just physical and psychological characteristics, but things like family background, wants, needs, fears, strengths, weaknesses, vulnerabilities, religious/spiritual beliefs and much more. These will dictate or serve as guidelines for how each primary character will react to or deal with events and situations within the story.

  • Do you write bios before you start writing?

If historical, occupational and/or other background is relevant to a character, those elements will be included in the character sketch.

  • How emotionally involved are you with the characters you create?

To write compelling, believable dialogue, you must become emotionally invested in each character. You must get inside each character’s head. Always. And emotional involvement is particularly important for subtext.

  • What are your thoughts on structure?

Quite standard. The three-act structure works fine for my writing style and the stories I tell. I rarely venture outside that box; the exceptions typically being short scripts.

  • Do you outline before you start writing?

Yes. For me, every new story idea first begins with a one-page summary. I build out from there into a full outline that typically includes character detail (from separate character sketches), inciting incident, story beats and, often, lines of dialogue that I will want to include in the script. It’s amazing how quickly the actual screenwriting process can go when starting from a good outline.

  • What is the most important aspect of building a great character?

Consistency. Everything I want or need to know about each character is usually detailed in the respective sketches. Then the characteristics, quirks or other things that make them unique, interesting and/or compelling are drawn on so that each character remains consistent to who they are throughout the script.