Skip to main content

Tom Hunley adapted and co-directed the short film, You’re Not Alone, which recently had its festival debut at the Southern Oasis Film Festival. We chatted about his writing process, how he initially became interested in writing screenplays, and what it’s like to go from the page to the screen.

Louisville Film Society: How long have you been writing screenplays? What initially drew you to writing for the screen?
Tom Hunley: After writing poems and the occasional academic essay for over three decades, I decided in Fall 2020 that I was ready for a new challenge. The MFA program at WKU, where I teach poetry writing, has a screenwriting track. While preparing to teach a class called Reading as a Writer, I was reading different books on screenwriting, looking for ones to assign. I settled on Save the Cat and Juno. While reading Save the Cat in preparation for that class, I took a nap and dreamed up the basis for my first feature-length script, a sports drama called Love-Forty about a forty-year-old single mother and former tennis champion who comes out of retirement to make a run at a major title. I was hoping it would be the Rocky of tennis movies, but it was my first script, so it’s flawed and I learned a lot from it before moving on to other attempts that I also learned from and abandoned (a rom-com set at a school of the arts and a tween dramedy about best friends turned rivals bitterly battling for first-chair flute in the school band).

What’s your writing process like? Are there any tools that are invaluable to you?
I read a lot of books on screenwriting. My favorites are Save the Cat by Blake Snyder (for outlining and brainstorming), The Screenwriter’s Bible by David Trottier (for drafting and formatting), and Your Screenplay Sucks: 100 Ways to Make it Great by William M. Akers (for revision).

You’re Not Alone is adapted from a book. What challenges did you come across in adapting a book into a screenplay?
Fiction is omnisensual, while screenwriters are limited to two senses, sight and sound. Also a feature-length screenplay is 10,000-15,000 words, rather than the 50,000+ words of a novel. I had to think of those things, plus budgetary concerns, while choosing what to include, what to transform, what to leave out.

Is there anything that was added in the screenplay that wasn’t in the book?
The script is really a work of fan fiction, featuring three key characters from Clint Margrave’s disturbing-yet-hilarious novel, Lying Bastard. Two of the five speaking characters, Genesis and Jennifer, are my own inventions. They interact with the novel’s protagonist, Berlin Saunders, in ways that I hope are in keeping with the tone of the novel.

What was the process of getting You’re Not Alone from the page to being filmed?
I reached out to Clint Margrave, asking for permission to write an adaptation of his novel. Receiving his blessing and encouragement, I annotated the heck out of my copy of his book. I then plotted out fifteen beats and put forty or fifty index cards on a bulletin board, per suggestions in screenwriting manuals, especially Save the Cat. I drafted a feature-length screenplay called Adjuncts and sought and received notes from screenwriting friends Tully Archer, Jon Meyers, and Scott Vajner – as well as producer Gill Holland, who has given me helpful notes on just about all of my scripts. Then I changed the focus from three main characters abused by the college adjunct system to one suicidal professor and shortened the script from 100 pages to twelve pages. After the script won a couple of contests, I queried a handful of producers, and I was very fortunate that Forerunner TV, Inc. bit on the script and made me an offer.

How was your experience with co-directing?
Chris “Booba” Young of Forerunner is the real director. He’s the one with all the technical expertise. He made me co-director because I know the story well and he thought I’d have helpful comments for the actors. I was happy to be on set, explaining my vision to the actors, and watching the cast and crew build on my ideas with creative touches of their own.

What’s been the most memorable aspect of taking this film from the page to the screen? Did you learn anything you didn’t know before?
Probably the table reading and the two days I spent on the set. It was wonderful to hear actors recite lines that I had written.

What advice or insights do you have for others who want to do what you do?
Not advice or insights, really, just encouragement. I’m having a blast making things, meeting other creative people, and collaborating with other artists. If you just have a toe in the water, dive in, the water’s wonderful!

What’s next for you when it comes to screenwriting? Any plans for a feature length film? Are you currently working on something different?
Forerunner has optioned Adjuncts, my feature-length adaptation of Lying Bastard by Clint Margrave. They’re using You’re Not Alone as a proof of concept to show potential investors. If they can raise the funds, the feature will be a go. I also applied for a grant application to make a short film based on two of my poems about my autistic son having meltdowns that strangers mistook for tantrums. I’ll find out in May about the grant, and if I get it, I hope to film in July.

If you’ve read screenplays before, do you have any favorites?
Shortly after I began trying to learn screenwriting, I read the screenplays of most of my favorite films. I’ve read and enjoyed pretty much all of The Coen Brothers and Judd Apatow. Aside from those, my favorite scripts are probably Juno by Diablo Cody and Little Miss Sunshine by Micael Arndt.

To explore Tom’s previous projects and what he’s currently working on check out his website here:

Elizabeth West

Elizabeth West is a film fanatic who loves deleted scenes and elaborate tracking shots. She is an alumna of the WKU Film program.