Screenwriter Michael Dunker on Writing “Amelia Earhart”

Michael Dunker, screenwriter

Born outside Chicago, Illinois, Michael graduated from Sycamore High School in 1999 and enlisted in the United States Air Force as a radio communicator deploying twice to the Middle East. After receiving an honorable discharge in 2003, Michael graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in psychology in 2007. Michael was a finalist at the New York Screenplay Competition, Scriptapalooza, Hollywood Screenplay Contest, Pasadena International Film Festival, Austin Screenplay Festival, World Series of Screenwriting, Creative World Awards, Glendale International Film Festival and the California Women’s Film Festival as well as a quarter-finalist at the Academy Nicholls Fellowship and the Universal Pictures Emerging Writers Fellowship.He currently works in the film industry as a set photographer.

NY Elite: Congratulations on being an ISC finalist. What does it mean for your work to be selected at the International Screenwriting Competition in New York?

Michael Dunker: Honored by this award. New York is the epicenter of creativity and style, so when you’re placing in these quality festivals, it means a lot. The ISC does a great job and I will continue to apply in the future just to be a part of their competition.

NY Elite: Can you tell us about the work that you participated with at ISC? What is the story about?

Michael Dunker: My script is called Amelia Earhart, which is a biographical tale about her final flight where she is shot down by the Japanese and held captive in the Marshall Islands until finally executed. The final act shows how U.S. Marines found key items, including her maps, visas, personal writings, and her plane, during World War II and how/why our government covered it up. This narrative has more validity than the official story told in 1937 and if produced, it would change history on one of the most badass Americans we’ve ever known.

NY Elite: Can you tell us yourself and your artistic talents?

Michael Dunker: I come from a small town in Northern Illinois and was always creative. But like most small towns in Northern Illinois, creativity isn’t always celebrated. There was art, music, theater, but it wasn’t a career path, especially when I was growing up. Once I got into the military, I really started writing. Poems, short stories, essays – nothing I’d show today – but it was a starting block for creative growth. I wrote my first script when I got to Michigan State and it sucked. I wrote another and it was even worse, but you don’t give up because eventually it doesn’t suck. Eventually, you’re a finalist at a film festival getting interviewed by a major publication, which isn’t bad for a kid from Northern Illinois. So don’t give up.

NY Elite: What scripts have you written so far?

Michael Dunker: I have written dozens of bad scripts, which is standard operating procedure for screenwriters. As of today, I have four features and one pilot in the festival circuit and this is the 12th festival selection for Amelia Earhart. Two other features, Capri and My Cold Dead Hands, were also awarded with semi-finalist laurels at the ISC this year.

NY Elite: Top 3 favorite projects that you have been involved in?

Michael Dunker: I worked on Spike Jones’s Where the Wild Things Are for a few days, which was pretty special. I also worked on Dos Equis “The Most Interesting Man in the World” campaign and had several lunches with the man himself who was always very kind. And I worked on a 2014 documentary called Cathedrals of Culture which we shot at the Sulk Institute in La Jolla with Robert Redford.

NY Elite: What type of scripts do you want to write in your career?

Michael Dunker: The ones that get produced.

NY Elite: As a writer, what is the most important aspect of building a character?

Michael Dunker: Belief systems. What does your character believe and how do they exhaust it in order to achieve their goals. This belief system is tied to how they address problems and react to conflict. By the third act, your character should adopt a new belief system, which is the arc, and use those tools to conquer the villain in the end and ride off into the sunset, a master of two worlds.

NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?

Michael Dunker: I am working on my second limited series pilot. I think it’s wise to have additional projects ready, especially with the advancement of streaming platforms. Once that’s finished, I’ll write a few romantic comedies. I feel we’re redefining relationships and gender roles in a post #metoo world, which means love is changing and I want to write about it. 

NY Elite: Do you express yourself creatively in any other ways?

Michael Dunker: I bake a mean chocolate chip cookie, which has taken me 24 years to perfect the recipe.  Also, I’m a set photographer on commercials and film, which always helps with the visualization of an idea. I’ve painted. I drew. I once played an instrument, but writing has always been my game. I’m fortunate to be honored here. It’s been a long journey. 

NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking/writing?

Michael Dunker: First, study the Hero’s Journey and how to create character arcs, then write. Writers write. It’s one of the only careers in the film business where you don’t need another crew member’s help. Second, getting your idea down on paper will help flesh it out and work through the suck. There’s no first drafts in Hollywood. Third, Sorkin always says “intention and obstacle” and he’s always right when he says it. Fourth, if there’s nothing at stake in your story, there’s nothing for the audience to care about. Lastly, it takes years for your taste to match your creativity. Give it time.

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