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A ton of useful information about screenwriting.
Updated: 12 min 12 sec ago

Texting in film and television

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:53

Craig and I may have taken umbrage at his video about comedy directors who aren’t Edgar Wright, but Tony Zhou’s newest video looking at how filmmakers handle texting and the internet on-screen is all good.


Zhou’s underlying point is that we still haven’t settled on conventions for showing texting or the internet. And that’s good! Filmmakers can and should experiment to see what works best for their needs.

In ten years, some of our choices will look quaint and foolish, but that’s the fun and challenge of making new things.

Secrets of Highland’s Dark Mode

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 16:09

When you’re writing a script in Highland, you can turn on Dark Mode (⌘D) to flip the colors in the edit view. So instead of this:

In Dark Mode, you get this:

Dark Mode is useful for writing at nighttime or in darker locations, when you don’t want to be staring at a bright screen. It can also be easier on your eyes.

But you’re not limited to white text on a black background. You can customize the colors to your heart’s content in Preferences.

Under Colors, click on any of the color swatches to bring up the color picker. Here you can set your choices for text, background, scene headings and notes, for both Normal and Dark Mode.

In the color picker, I often click the magnifying glass, which sets the color to anything I can click on screen. It’s a handy way to get exactly the color I want. (In the first version of this post, I called this an eyedropper instead of a magnifying glass, because in most image editing apps, the equivalent tool is an eyedropper. As a UI metaphor, which tool makes more sense? Discuss.)

Most days, this is the color scheme I use in Highland:

It’s pretty close to Ethan Schoonover’s Solarized Dark theme, and works particularly well with Highland’s default typeface (Highland Sans).

If you feel like going down the color theme rabbit hole, there are myriad options out there, most of which were originally designed for coders.1 The magnifying glass is usually the easiest way to try these different configurations. Just click on a theme’s color swatches in the website.2

Because Highland will let you pick any colors you want, we have to be smart about what color we use for selecting text. We’re generating the highlight color programmatically, using the following code:

CGFloat selectionAlpha = 0.2;

NSColor *invertedBackgroundColor = [NSColor colorByInvertingColor:backgroundColor];

[self.textView setSelectedTextAttributes:@{NSBackgroundColorAttributeName: [invertedBackgroundColor colorWithAlphaComponent:selectionAlpha], NSForegroundColorAttributeName: invertedBackgroundColor}];

In English, this means we’re setting the background color of the selection to the inverse of the normal background color, with the opacity knocked down to 20%. Meanwhile, the text color is set to the inverted normal background color. As a result, you’ll always be able to read highlighted text, no matter what colors you choose.

If you haven’t tried Dark Mode or customizing colors, give them a shot. They’re both small things, but they make working in Highland just a little more delightful.

As always, you can find Highland in the Mac App Store.

  1. In many ways, screenwriting resembles coding; you’re writing the plan for creating something else, using specific and esoteric terminology.
  2. We’re discussing whether to build editor themes into a future edition of Highland. If you have an opinion, let us know.

One-Star Amazon Reviews

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:19

I’ve been following the Twitter feed @AmznMovieRevws, which curates some of the most inane movie reviews on Amazon, particularly the one-star variety.

I was inspired to look up some for my own films.

In retrospect, we should have put a sticker the DVD warning people that it’s a not-for-real film.

Who’s the fellar from Berkley? That’s the central question of my new one-act play, “The Fellar from Berkley.” We’re trying to get Corey Stoll for the lead. Maybe Julia Stiles as the Slate reporter?

(Worth noting: Eight Seconds, the Luke Perry bull-riding movie, has better reviews than Go, earning five stars to Go’s four.)

Scriptnotes, Ep 157: Threshers, Mergers and the Top Two Boxes — Transcript

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 17:38

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Guten Tag and willkommen. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 157 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

I made a game time decision there. I was going to try to do the whole thing in German and I just couldn’t possibly do it. It was going to be brutal.

Craig: I decided just to do my name the normal way this time.

John: Yeah, which is good. That’s how Craig normally speaks. And so if you’re in one of those podcasting apps where you speed things up or slow things down, you might not be used to Craig’s normal voice. But that’s Craig’s normal voice.

Craig: Yeah. It was a little bit of a learning curve for me to speak this ridiculously quickly, but you had asked when we started.

John: Yeah. Well, because I’m a very fast talker. And it would have just been weird if you spoke the way you usually speak.

Craig: Have you ever listened to Dan Petrie, Jr. speak?

John: No, I haven’t.

Craig: So, I love Dan. He’s the greatest guy. For those of you who don’t know, he wrote Beverly Hills Cop. He also was the president of the Writers Guild multiple times.

John: Yes.

Craig: And awesome guy, but notoriously slow speaker, and with these incredibly long pauses known at the Petrie Pause. So, give me a simple thing to say and I’ll translate it into Petrie.

John: There is no toothpaste left in the tube.

Craig: Uh, there is…uh…No…toothpaste…uh…uh…left in…uh…the tube.

John: And you are throwing a little slice of Christopher Walken in there, too. That sense of like –

Craig: “Uh…’

John: That’s great.

Craig: Yeah, he’ll do it. Now, and imagine Dan Petrie running the board meeting, running the Writers Guild Board Meeting. They were long meetings.

John: Yes.

Craig: Uh…uh…[laughs]…uh….

John: Oh no. I would not have done well with that.

Craig: No, but you sound pretty good to me now. For those people who are wondering, you’ve been away. You were Germany and Austria, correct?

John: Both, yes.

Craig: So, sort of following the path of the Anschluss east, yes.

John: So, I’ve been back in Los Angeles for about 12 hours. I’m completely, wildly jet-lagged, but holding up okay. You have already been to Austria. You asked people on the podcast about a year ago maybe saying like, hey, I’m going to Austria, point me to cool things, and they did. And then I took some of the same recommendations and went back to Austria and Berlin, both of which I just highly, highly recommend.

Craig: Yes. I still haven’t been to Berlin, but Austria, quite beautiful. You’re just soaking in history everywhere you turn. It’s pretty remarkable. And then you also made it over to Salzburg.

John: Yes, and Salzburg was great. So, we did Berlin, Salzburg, drove across the country to Vienna, then flew back. And just loved it, great, the whole time threw.

Craig: Spectacular.

John: So last week was a rerun. This week we are back, real live, with a new show. And we have new things to talk about.

Craig: So much. So much to talk about.

John: Some suggestions from Twitter which we would have gotten to anyway, but thank you again for people who suggested topics on Twitter. We want to talk about True Detective and the accusations of plagiarism surrounding that. And really what does plagiarism even mean when you’re talking about a feature film or a television series.

Craig: Right.

John: We’re going to talk about test screenings, and dealing with test screenings, and a writer’s function in a test screening. We need to talk about the majors, and what we mean when we say the majors in terms of studios, because with talk of consolidation it’s a real question of what is a major in 2014.

And finally we’re going to talk about the Canadian “about.” There was a great article I found which was going to be my One Cool Thing, but I think it’s actually worth a bigger discussion. Sometimes we make fun of how Canadians pronounce “about,” but there’s a really great post that explains sort of why that word is that way and why we tend to miss hear what they’re actually saying.

Craig: Huh. All right. Well, I’m suspicious, but open minded.

John: But you’ll love it. So, let’s get started. First off is True Detective, which is a show we talked about on the podcast previously because we both loved it.

Craig: Love.

John: Loved that show. And so this last week accusations came out and they sort of existed before this but there was a blog post that sort of summarized all the accusations that Nic Pizzolatto who created True Detective, and specifically in the character of Rust Cohle, which Matthew McConaughey plays, that some of what is sort of iconic about things that Matthew McConaughey’s character says are derived from work by a writer named Thomas Ligotti who I don’t know from before. But a writer who writes in sort of the weird science fiction Lovecraftian sort of sense.

And so this original blog post, there will be a link to that, shows examples of dialogue and then the original text from Ligotti’s work that sometimes seem like paraphrasing or closely match.

Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s right. So, first things first, and just to be clear, this was sort of brought up — I guess this was initially brought up by a guy named Jon Padgett who is a — well, there’s two guys, Mike Davis who is writing for the Lovecraft E-Zine I guess, and then he was contacted by a guy named Jon Padgett who is the founder of the website Thomas Ligotti Online, which I suspect is about Thomas Ligotti.

John: It is about Thomas Ligotti.

Craig: And it’s not about Thomas Ligotti online.

John: No, it’s about the work, not about his online presence.

Craig: It’s not about what he does online.

John: Wouldn’t it be great if it were a meta site about Thomas Ligotti’s site.

Craig: Exactly.

John: That would be kind of great.

Craig: But then of course you probably reasonably be accused of plagiarism there. So, plagiarism, let’s first of all — I think you’re very smart to ask what does that even mean. And I know what I think it means. I’m kind of curious what you think it means.

John: So, to me plagiarism means trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own work. So, it’s intellectual dishonesty and trying to say that you created something that somebody else created. I think an important distinction we’re going to want to make at the start here is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement, because they can be — sometimes you can have both, but they’re not necessarily the same thing. Craig?

Craig: That’s right. Plagiarism isn’t a crime in the sense that copyright infringement is a crime. It’s against the law. There’s no law about plagiarism. Plagiarism to me has always been — I think your definition works very well. It’s a moral crime.

John: It’s an ethical crime.

Craig: Right. The difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement is a bit like the difference between harassing someone, being charged with harassment, or just being a jerk. It’s not nice to be a jerk, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve broken a law. Plagiarism may not life other works in such a specific way that it rises to the test of infringement, however we can say, look, you did in fact take so much without attribution and pass it off as your own that you are essentially committing a moral crime.

John: Yes.

Craig: The question at hand is that what Pizzolatto did?

John: And so it’s interesting when we talk about plagiarism, I think about it in generally two contexts: journalism and academia, sort of writing in those two fields. You can do plagiarism in other ways, too, but those are the two areas in which you sort of see plagiarism brought up. So, you’re writing a research paper, you did not properly footnote your sources. You paraphrase something without sort of giving it attribution.

In the case of journalism, there’s great cases. The Shattered Glass case, which is basically a guy who took a bunch of written material from other writers –

Craig: Actually, Shattered Glass, he invented things. That was his big problem, yeah.

John: That’s right. It was Jayson Blair who was the one who was fabricating stuff.

Craig: I think he also — his crime was fabulism, was just making stuff up that wasn’t true. Direct plagiarism, well, you know, Joe Biden sort of had this very infamous moment when he was first running for president way back when. That was essentially plagiarism. He stole a Neil Kinnock speech I believe.

John: And it’s become easier in some cases to detect plagiarism because we have software tools now that can look through and say like you actually copied these phrases from these things. And there’s — in the literary world you can also see things, like there’s several of these articles brought up this book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, and that was a book that was actually published and then it was revealed that giant chunks had come from other books and they pulled it off the shelves. It was a big scandal.

What I found so interesting about this accusation with plagiarism and True Detective is I’m not even sure what it means, or that you can even ascribe the same kind of test to a filmed piece of entertainment the way you could to a written report that is handed in or a news story that’s in the New York Times.

It feels weird how — basically your defense against plagiarism is generally that you’re attributing your sources. And so you’re saying like, “Said this person,” or you’re putting in a footnote or you’re sort of saying where that stuff came from.

Craig: Right.

John: Let’s say hypothetically Pizzolatto had used these things from Thomas Ligotti. How was he supposed to attribute those in a way that was meaningful, that gave credit to Ligotti?

Craig: Right. Okay, so correct in suggesting that plagiarism is a far more serious charge when you’re dealing with journalism. Even if you’re dealing with silly journalism. I mean, there was a recent uproar over a guy that wrote Buzz Feed Listicles, which are in the grand scheme of things completely insubstantial and insignificant. And yet he was plagiarizing. And they caught him. They caught him red-handed. And he plagiarized a lot.

And that is a more serious issue because journalism is purporting to express original, particularly original thoughts or commentary on things. We understand in entertainment there is to some extent when people say everything is a remix, we understand what that means. There are certain plots that get rehashed over and over. Drama gets rehashed over and over. We see the same kinds of characters. We know that movies sometimes seem just like other movies.

All of that is true. But, you ask an interesting question. What was he supposed to do? Before we talk about what he was supposed to do, let’s talk about what he did.

Because in this case I have to say I am uncomfortable with what he did. I am a little uncomfortable. Is it plagiarism? I don’t know. Because, again, very fuzzy term. But I’m a little uncomfortable and in a sense I’m uncomfortable because it’s not copyright infringement. When you see something that isn’t copyright infringement but looks a whole lot like something else, in and of itself that is a kind of evidence that there was a stealing, because there is a an attempt to cover ones tracks.

So, for instance, Pizzolatto writes through Rust Cohle, “There is no point. Nowhere to go. No one to see. Nothing to do. Nothing to be.”

Now, here are some lines from Ligotti: “Without the ever clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Nothing to be. And no one to know.”

Now, slightly different. [laughs] Ever so slightly different. Different enough, one supposes perhaps, to not be. But pretty damn close.

Now, let’s acknowledge that he’s, okay, so he’s gone ahead, he’s read that, it’s influenced him, and he’s now using that work to — Cohle is sort of channeling what this guy wrote. In and of itself you do that once or twice, I don’t even think that’s a problem at all. My concern is that there is an enormous — it seems like there’s an enormous reliance on one author’s expression over and over for one character and that character is so closely associated to you, the person who is borrowing, That’s the part that concerns me here.

John: So, Craig, I worry that you’re falling into some silent evidence issues here, because obviously these blog posts they’re citing all these examples of Rust Cohle’s speeches that involve elements of things he said. But for all we know, maybe he has 10,000 lines over the course of these eight episodes. That may be 1% of the lines he says are influenced by this. And there may be other, Nietzsche and other sot of writers who are also influencing, of reliance throughout those things, so you’re not seeing that.

Basically I’m saying if you saw the comprehensive list of every line of dialogue he said, and in cases where you could attribute it to being influenced by the writers of one of these other writers, I’m not even sure Ligotti would be in the top percentage of things that he’s saying, or at least the notable things that he’s saying.

Craig: Um, you might be right. You might be right. I think that there’s a difference between repackaging ideas though unique dialogue and repackaging ideas though non-unique dialogue. That’s the part that concerns me a little bit. And more to the point, through non-unique dialogue that isn’t in the public domain like Nietzsche, or Shakespeare, or the bible, but rather is the work of another author who has not only legal rights but more importantly to this case certain — just an inherent ethical right to his own work.

I am uncomfortable with this. I don’t think Nic Pizzolatto is a plagiarist, however, I think that he failed to appropriately acknowledge somebody that was a clear influence on a character for which Nic Pizzolatto up to this point has received total credit.

John: So, let’s say that you’re right, and let’s say that — it’s making you uncomfortable and you think that more attribution should be given, more credit should be given to this other writer. How would you do that? What would be ways that you could do that? If you were Pizzolatto, how would you reflect that?

Would it be something you’d put in the script? Is it something you say in interviews? What would you do?

Craig: Well, frankly, if I were — let’s put aside am I Pizzolatto. Let me say I’m a producer on this and I’m aware that the writer is being influenced to this extent by another writer’s work that is not in the public domain, I would suggest that you go and get the rights to that thing. That you cover your tracks there and that this person is fairly compensated and has the right to essentially be compensated for their contribution, which is seemingly a very real contribution from what I can read. That, to me, would be a fair thing.

If you don’t feel it rises to the test of that, then I just think as Pizzolatto had acknowledged, was it the Yellow King, that whole work, acknowledged it early on as an influence, he could have acknowledged this as an influence. I am concerned that he didn’t because maybe he was aware that some of this stuff had crossed the line from influence to kind of lifting.

John: Yes. I think that’s a lot of speculation. Because we don’t know all the interviews he did. We don’t know sort of when he talked about what things. All we know about what Pizzolatto said about Ligotti’s work and other things comes from there’s a Wall Street Journal interview where he talked at length about sort of Pizzolatto and this specific book and things like that.

But for all we know, he could have been talking about that during all the lead up into the debut of the show.

Craig: It doesn’t appear that that’s the case.

John: It doesn’t appear that that’s the case. But, again, we have no evidence that he has done it, but we have no evidence that he was trying to cover anything up. So, all we’re seeing is based on dates of when things got published, this is when he started talking about and started acknowledging that this was one of his influences in the piece.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I want to go back to a thing that was in the original blog post between Mike Davis and Jon Padgett. They were saying that — I should also stress that the original author, Thomas Ligotti, he’s not the person who seems to be upset about this. He’s not the person who is talking to the press about this. It’s really this online site that’s doing that.

They said, well, he should have gone to Ligotti and gotten his blessing or his permission, or sort of gotten his okay to do it. And that’s a weird thing to say when you’re giving charges of plagiarism because that’s never been a requirement of using work in terms of plagiarism. Plagiarism is about not attributing things. So, imagine if you were a journalist and you had to get permission to quote somebody. That would be ridiculous.

Craig: Oh, no. Quotes are a totally different deal. We don’t own the rights to what we say. If a reporter calls me and I say something to him, it’s not in fixed form. And so there is no right or anything there. They can attribute it to me and if I challenge them on it they can just say, no, I took my notes and you did it. And that happens all the time.

This is a published work and there are specific lines in fixed form that are unique expressions and they have been — again, I don’t think that this is, certainly it’s not copyright infringement, but there are moments where it feels… — Here’s the thing: look, I don’t think that Nic Pizzolatto is a plagiarist. I think that the — I don’t think the umbrage that they have taken here is appropriate for what has occurred.

However, Nic Pizzolatto received a ton of praise not only all of the non-Rust Cohle dialogue aspects of the show, which are brilliant, but also in part for Rust Cohle’s dramatic philosophy. His nihilistic philosophy. The tenets of the philosophy have existed long before Mr. Ligotti and Mr. Pizzolatto. But the phrasing of the philosophy at times is very much Ligotti’s and I think that maybe there is something a little unfair about doing something like that knowing full well that you’re getting credit for it while somebody else isn’t at all.

John: Yeah. Okay, a couple of ways to sort of pull this apart. Let’s talk about it from the writing perspective and look at things that if Pizzolatto had done it a certain way in the writing we might not have had these issues come up. It could have actually hurt the writing, but we could at least talk about it. One thing I think would never have worked would be some sort of footnote. So, their suggestion is like, oh, if you just footnoted things the way you would in a research paper that would show where it came from.

Well, that’s not helpful because –

Craig: No.

John: Obviously what we’re filming is not the actual text that’s written there on the page.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So that is not going to be a useful thing. Rust Cohle could have said, “Have you ever read the work of Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti would say….” It could be some more artful way of actually putting Ligotti’s name out there in the context of that dialogue.

Craig: I don’t think that’s required. I don’t want my character having to make citations like that.

John: I don’t want that to have to happen either.

Craig: But I do think that certainly in the press notes for the show, the easiest thing would have been to say a lot of this character was influenced by the following: Nietzsche….Schopenhauer…the work of Thomas Ligotti, just to say, “Hey, I’m not trying to pull a fast one here.” When Rust Cohle says, “I think about the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of non-existence into this meat, force a life into this thresher,” that is a very specific expression. I’m listening to them thinking who is the guy — who wrote that? Nic Pizzolatto? Who is this guy? That’s amazing. Except that somebody else before him wrote, “We are meat. Why should generations unborn be spared entry into the human thresher? Every one of us, haven been stolen from non-existence, are being readied for the meat grinder of existence.”

Well, you see what I’m saying?

John: Absolutely. I totally see what you’re saying. And I think I’m uncomfortable in the same ways. What I would challenge though in your suggestion of in the press notes he should have called out Ligotti, that’s after the fact and that’s actually something that’s not necessarily possible for every writer to do. Every writer doesn’t get the chance to sort of go through and do the press notes on things and say like, “This is where stuff comes from.”

Yeah, it doesn’t take away the plagiarism aspects of it, because the actual text is what is being accused.

Craig: Even if you don’t have access to press notes, or anything like that, you have — everybody now more than ever can go on record publicly in the widest forum possible and say, “Hey, this was something that influenced me. If you guys like the way Rust Cohle talks, check out this book by Thomas Ligotti.” Because it’s not all of it, but it’s clearly some of it. And I don’t like the fact that I think I’m appreciating the expression of one person when I’m actually appreciating the expression of another, or at least their combined expression. You know what I mean?

John: I do know what you mean. I think the other challenge we’re facing here with Ligotti is Ligotti is largely unknown to most people. And so because he was an obscure person that no one was familiar with his words ahead of time, nobody knew that he was being quoted. When you quote Shakespeare, when you quote Nietzsche, when you quote those things, that’s free. I mean, basically, not only is it public domain but people know what it is.

You can even — you can quote things from other movies that’s fine because everyone knows what the reference is.

Craig: Yeah.

John: My worry is that if we go too far down this path of sort of, the suggestion that you actually need to go get the rights to this underlying work, to Ligotti’s work in order to be able to make this Rust Cohle character, then we’re just going to be paralyzed and you can be paranoid that anything — any philosophy that a character speaks, wow, did someone else say that first?

I just worry that we’re going to get into the problem that rap ran into with sampling, or sort of –

Craig: Well, but hold on a second. Rap ran into that problem and then they had to solve it. Because it was a problem. And now people get paid. I mean, you can’t lift chunks of other people’s stuff and put it out there as our own and then expect that you don’t have to pay them.

John: But I think that’s a copyright infringement problem. You are literally taking a copyrighted material that you can clearly define, like I’m taking the actual audio of what you’re doing and reusing it. Versus the other musical example is like you can’t copyright a chord progression.

Craig: Right. That’s right.

John: A chord progression is a general statement of philosophy. And so I worry that you could draw the lines so narrowly that… — Listen, we can all, you know, we can have the full text of every movie ever spoken. So, I’ll bet in almost any movie you could find those lines of dialogue written in other movies. I just worry that it’s going to become paralyzing and that we’re not going to make bold choices because of worries about this kind of accusation after the fact.

Craig: It’s good to have –

John: I’m already a little nervous about that. You read a script that I wrote that I was clearly relying on this recognition of a certain cultural icon without being part of that cultural icon and that’s frustrating.

Craig: But it’s different. To me we know that parody and reference is acceptable. We even, I mean, everybody knows that Tarantino pastiches together god knows how many little bits and bobs from other movies he’s seen that maybe we haven’t seen. So, yes, he’s not the first person to have someone jab a needle into someone’s heart to revive them. But that to me, all that stuff is great and wonderful. And when Tarantino then says, “Oh yeah, that’s from this movie,” it’s not like he’s hiding it because it’s a movie. It exists and people know about it. And that’s all fine.

I don’t want to touch any of that. Nor do I want to suggest that you have to buy underlying properties because you’re expressing a similar philosophy or idea. I’m talking about what the — when you get down to brass tax, the specific arrangement of words. We are writers. That matters. And if you are specifically doing it with one person’s unread work that nobody knows about, and you’re pulling out repeatedly arrangements of words and then having your character say them in not exactly but just a little sideways, almost as if to say, “See, it’s not exactly the same.” That is concerning to me. And there has to be some line of concern, otherwise at some point people could just start lifting scenes, or lifting direct sentences. At some point there has to be something.

I guess my point is this: I’m not uncomfortable with Nic Pizzolatto did vis-‡-vis the work of Mr. Ligotti. I am uncomfortable with the silence that he maintained up until this point. And even now — now of course you can tell that he and HBO are in a legal defensive posture. But in a way I think there was information withheld because it was maybe a little inconvenient. And that’s the part that I’m uncomfortable with. And I’m happy to be wrong about this. Very happy to be wrong.

I hope that Ligotti comes out and says, “Hey, everyone relax. He called me. He loved my book. He loves my stuff. We had a conversation. I was like totally cool with him. Kind of building this character a little bit around some of the, you know, key phrases that I’ve used in my books to express this philosophy.” If that happens, I’m thrilled.

I don’t care about the business being restrained or any of that stuff. I more care about Thomas Ligotti and just making sure that he didn’t get kind of wronged in a moral way.

John: I get that as well. And so I think I’m uncomfortable with sort of how specific some of the sentences were in that comparison and when you bring up that thresher thing, yes, I think that’s a lesson for all writers to look at is like, wow, that’s a really great sentence and it’s not your sentence. And so the challenge is then to write your own sentence that is as great as that sentence and will be terrific.

And that truly is a challenge. I would also stress though that we have to always remember that writing a script and putting something up on the screen is a long process. It involves a lot of different people. So, even if you had the best of intention about sort of how you’re going to site, or sort of like how you’re going to include that author — my sort of ham-fisted example is sort of like how you have Rust Cohle say, “Thomas Ligotti, blah, blah, blah, blah,” through the process that stuff could drop away.

And so you could be facing a situation where in the edit something goes away that was kind of protecting you intellectually and morally and ethically about how you were using that preexisting work. And that can be a real challenge.

Craig: That can be a challenge. I will say, by the way, that if Pizzolatto had a Thomas Ligotti book on a shelf in Rust Cohle’s apartment, the debate is over. He’s acknowledged. I think what’s uncomfortable here is that it seemed like he was trying to maybe pull a fast one on us. That’s the part that makes me uncomfortable.

John: And I’m not willing to go there. I don’t think there was that intention.

Craig: I hope there wasn’t.

John: I think there wasn’t. So, we should say just for the record, this was as we’re recording this, the Pizzolatto statement that came out from HBO is quote, “Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author. Rather, these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.”

Craig: Yeah. A lawyer wrote that. He’s not writing that. That’s a lawyer.

John: That’s a lawyer.

Craig: That’s such a lawyer covering his butt now. I mean, I have a feeling that there’s a far more interesting defense but he’s not allowed to make it because now the lawyers are like, okay, shutting everything down. Too much money at stake here. And I get that.

John: You get that.

Craig: Yeah, totally. That’s the way you got to do it.

John: So, on the topic of lawyers, let’s talk about the merger that almost happened this last week, or the last month. There was the talk that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, which I just hate saying that, it just feels so wrong.

Craig: I know! They should have kept it 20th Century.

John: That Fox was going to try to buy Warner Bros, which I’m really glad didn’t happen. So, I wanted to talk sort of what it would have meant if that had happened, and sort of what we in the town talk about as the majors and why I kind of think it’s important that we keep a good high quality number of majors.

Craig, what was your feeling about the whole Fox/Warner thing?

Craig: Well, I was really surprised. Look, I don’t own large multinational conglomerates for a reason. I don’t know how they function. But it did seem to me that there was a strange overlap of stuff there that would be hard to reconcile.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They have two lots, for instance. They have two television production companies. Two film production companies. They have — it just seemed like an enormous amount of duplication. But, on the other hand I understand why they do these things. Essentially they become a mega studio. What I didn’t want to see was a continued streamlining of the business so that even fewer movies are made and even fewer writers are hired. That was the part obviously that was panicking everyone. I was amused by the WGA’s angry fist-waving only because it’s just — you know, sometimes there are missiles going off in the sky and ants are yelling at the missiles, like “go away missiles.” That’s not going to really do anything.

I mean, I understand why they do it. Just sometimes I giggle.

John: For people who don’t know what Craig is talking about, the Writers Guild did send out a letter to the membership from Billy Ray, Chip Johannessen…and who else was on the letter? Basically saying that the Writers Guild and specifically the Writers Guild PAC was very concerned about the possibility of this merger.

Craig: [laughs] Yeah.

John: And Craig is not a fan of the Writers Guild PAC.

Craig: Well, look, I just think that it’s — that’s right up there with a strongly worded letter from the United Nations. I just don’t see it having any impact. And frankly I was far — I mean, if I’m looking for somebody to root for in that circumstance it wasn’t the Writers Guild, it was Warner Bros, and specifically Jeff Bewkes who seemed totally disinterested in this. And the moves that Warner Bros made to essentially head off what could have turned into a hostile takeover.

John: Yeah. I think it felt really weird and wrong to me. And I didn’t quite understand why Murdoch wanted to do it. It felt like an acquisition for the sake of just “let’s make something even bigger,” and I didn’t see great things coming out of it.

Because you have to remember, and I should relate this back to on the blog two weeks ago I posted this really interesting organizational chart from Disney. I don’t know if you saw that, Craig.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But it was this historical organizational chart from Disney that showed way back in 1959 sort of how the whole studio was arranged and how these parts fed these parts and how it all fit together.

And you look at if Fox and Warner were to merge, there are just so many pieces that you don’t even think of. Like you don’t think that HBO and therefore Game of Thrones, that’s Warner’s. And so it’s not just you’re talking about the people who made the Batman movie, the people who make the X-Men movie are going to be in the same place. It’s like these huge networks that would be combined and I just don’t see how it could possibly have benefited honestly either studio or certainly not people trying to make quality shows.

Craig: I think that’s for sure. I think that Fox was looking, may have been looking at two big areas. One was the fact that Time Warner controls the delivery pipeline to homes. They own a very large and significant cable service that delivers content. That’s something that Fox itself doesn’t have.

John: Fox owns Direct TV, don’t they?

Craig: Oh, they do?

John: I thought they did. I may be completely confused.

Craig: I don’t know if that’s true.

John: I’ll look it up right now.

Craig: If that’s the case it would just solidify… — I mean, really what it comes down to I think is guys like Rupert Murdoch, they look at who the bigger conglomerate is and try and be as big as them. So, maybe he’s looking over at Charter or Comcast because he sees, okay, Universal and Comcast are teamed up. That’s a content creator and a content deliverer. And Warner Bros. Is a content creator and they’re a content deliverer. Fox, I don’t know, we’ll see what you turn up, but if they don’t have a delivery system in place that may have been the play he was making.

And the other studio I think he had his eye on was in fact Disney because Disney currently is three major studios, not one. They create all of their Disney branded content. Marvel, which at this point now is essentially as big a studio as any of these, I think, or at least it’s as big as something like New Regency. And then Pixar.

John: So, let’s do a run through of what we talk about when we talk about the majors. So, the majors in my listing would be, counting on my six fingers, is Fox, Warner, Sony, Universal, Disney, and Paramount.

Craig: That’s correct.

John: There’s other things we talk about kind of like majors, but they’re not their own independent majors, usually because they’re not distributing features. So, things like Legendary, New Regency, Alcon, MGM, Imagine, those are places that often are financing movies and they’re making movies, but they’re not like the full service deal. I can also be confusing because within these big majors there are many sub-labels. And so Craig was talking through Disney. So, Disney the labels you have — Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Disney Nature, Disney Animation, Pixar, now Lucas Film, Marvel –

Craig: Oh yeah, I forgot, Lucas Film, of course, the Star Wars thing, too. Geez.

John: And, hey, are you counting DreamWorks as a major or not major at this point?

Craig: Well, at this point they’re not, no.

John: Because they distribute through Disney now, through Disney and through Fox.

Craig: Look, Legendary distributes — they had been distributing through Warner Bros, now they distribute through Universal. New Regency distributes through Fox. Alcon distributes through Warner Bros. MGM distributes through Sony, I believe. Imagine is through Universal. All of these, if you’re distributing through somebody then you are essentially a mini or a specialty label I would argue. Yeah.

John: Yeah. So, and it’s interesting, I was doing some introspection as I was trying to list the major, I literally think of them geographically. I start in the southwest, toward the west and sort of move towards Burbank. So that’s why I’m sort of thinking through like my Sony sweep, so you don’t miss one along the way.

Craig: That’s right.

John: The only one that’s actually in Hollywood is Paramount. Everything else is on the fringes.

Craig: Yes. That’s why I try to work for Universal or Warner Bros because they’re the closest to my house. It’s great.

John: Less driving. I can walk to Paramount. But I never work there.

Craig: Paramount is only like 25 minutes from my house. But, why? Universal, Warner Bros, 15 minutes away. Disney — think they’ll let me write a Star Wars movie, [laughs], if I ask really nicely?

John: Everyone we know is writing a Star Wars movie except for you and me.

Craig: I know. What do you think if I called up and I said, “Look, here’s the thing. I want to write a Star Wars movie and I’ll be totally honest with you guys It’s not because I’m a huge Star Wars fan, it’s just that you’re so close. You’re so close to where I live.”

John: Except as we know from our friends who are working there, the Star Wars movies aren’t really being written at Disney. They’re being written up in San Francisco which is a lot further.

Craig: Well, I would ask for, you know.

John: Oh, you’d ask for Kathy Kennedy and everybody to come down?

Craig: Yeah.

John: That totally makes sense. Because they would do that for you, Craig.

Craig: I like that I’ve reduced my chances from 0.000001% to 0.00000001%.

John: Yes.

Craig: But, there is a finite chance.

John: Yeah. There’s always a chance.

Craig: Always a chance.

John: [laughs] So, I want there to be, I don’t want there to be any fewer majors. And I don’t want there to be fewer majors as a screenwriter who writes features, but especially as a TV writer. You compress these things down too much and it just becomes madness. So, you want there to be lots of people there to potentially buy your stuff and to put stuff out there.

Because even though sometimes if you’re writing a spec feature script, it’s one of these financiers that’s actually buying the script, so it’s a legendary or it’s an Alcon. They still have to go through a studio. And so if none of those studios are — if you don’t have two of those studios excited about doing it, then you’re going to have a hard time getting that movie made.

Craig: Everything would suffer. It may not be the case that Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line would suffer, but our experience here in Hollywood as writers would suffer. There’s been a lot of complaining about what we call vertical integration. I don’t know if vertical integration is the worst thing in the world. It’s hard for me to tell. I can’t tell.

I know that it was bad when syndication fees started getting reduced because of sweetheart deals, although syndication in and of itself is kind of going by the wayside. But I’m not sure that it’s been a bad thing for feature writers, at least. The fact that Disney owns ABC, I’m not sure that affects my life as a feature writer. But if they eliminated one of the six buyers, I mean, the six major buyers, oh, that would be disaster.

John: Bad.

Craig: Disaster.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I didn’t understand what would even be in it for Warner Bros other than I suppose some crazy offer to the shareholders, but it seems like they effectively rebuffed that whole situation.

John: Which is a good thing.

Craig: For us it is.

John: It is. Craig, you suggested a topic of test screenings. So, what should we talk about with test screenings?

Craig: Well, this is something that had come up through Twitter. Someone asked the question, “How do you guys deal with test screenings?” And I thought, oh my god, what a great question because it’s the worst and/or the best.

John: I love test screenings because they are so — you’re never more nervous than when a test screening starts.

Craig: It’s the worst. So, let me walk you folks who haven’t experienced this particular hell through the test screening process. The movie is now at a place where it is ready to show to a test audience, the purpose of which to allow the filmmakers and the producers to get a sense of how it’s working with the audience, what’s playing well, what isn’t, and what changes could be made. Does there need to be some additional photography, etc.

It also gives the studio a sense of how much potential there is in the movie, as if it does really well in test screenings they will begin to think about making a large marketing push and really supporting the movie. If it’s a disaster they’ll just quietly let it wallow out there and die.

So, the test screening process, those of you who don’t live in Los Angeles aren’t familiar with these people. Those who do are. They’re people who stand around movie theaters and approach people that are in the target audience for the movie and that’s predetermined. These people usually work for a company called NRG.

John: National Research Group.

Craig: There you go. And they say, hey, do you want to see a free movie? And it’ll either be a blind recruit, which is, “It’s a Rated-R comedy, sort of in the vein of The Hangover.” Or it’s a non-blind recruit. “It’s called Identity Thief and it stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. It’s a Rated-R comedy and it’s a road trip movie.”

Okay. So, depending, and then they get their audience, people show up. The movie is free for them.

John: Generally these screenings are held either on the studio lot but increasingly they rent out a theater — the rent out one of the houses in a big theater, so think a mall theater on like a Tuesday night.

Craig: It’s usually the case that you’re in a proper theater somewhere out there in a multiplex. They’ve given you a screen on a Tuesday or a Thursday or Wednesday, some off day. And in goes everyone and they all sit down. And then somebody gets up and says, “You’re one of the first audiences to see…” and they always let people know that it’s temp music and the sound may be off and the visual effects may not be done. And enjoy the movie.

And then people watch the movie and you, the filmmakers, and increasingly the writer is part of this group, sit somewhere in the back and watches people watching the movie. And when it’s done everybody fills out a form. And the form asks them all sorts of questions. Lots of questions. What was your favorite part? What was your least favorite part? What character did you like?

But the most — ultimately the thing that everybody concentrates on is a very simple question. Would you rate this movie Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor. Five, what we call five boxes. And when that’s all done there’s a focus group –

John: Oh, there’s another incredibly important field on that same form. Would you recommend this movie?

Craig: Right. Definitely, Maybe, Definitely Not. Yes, you’re right. That’s the other big metric.

Then, once everybody has filled out their forms they leave. The NRG folks have carefully, theoretically, selected 25 people usually to stay behind. And then they run a focus group. They ask them questions. What did you think of the movie, what did you like, how many of you rated it this, how many of you rated it that? And then they start letting people talk about what they liked and didn’t like and the filmmakers listen in on this.

John: So, those 25 people who are left behind, they bring those people down to the first two rows and then you as the filmmakers, you sort of sneak in and sit a couple rows behind so you can listen and actually hear what they’re saying. And it’s terrifying because someone will go off on a rant about some random thing and like why aren’t you shutting up that person. And the moderators, if they’re good, they will totally shut up that person and keep the conversation moving and flowing.

Craig: That’s right. [laughs] Sometimes they don’t do that and somebody kind of hijacks things. I was in a test screening once where Bob Weinstein actually yelled at one of the focus group people which was spectacular. I just thought that was amazing. Just yelled at a kid who was answering a question.

John: That’s awesome.

Craig: Yeah, like hey, not only do I yell at the directors, and the writers, and the actors, I’m now just yelling at random audience members. It was pretty great.

John: I like that he keeps it consistent. He doesn’t change it up. He’s one person. He’s himself at every moment.

Craig: It’s time to yell.

So, when the focus group is over, at that point the NRG people have done a fairly good job of very quickly tallying up all of the ratings for definitely recommend and for what we call the top two boxes — people that rated the movie either Excellent or Very Good. And those are considered the best indication of what people thought of the movie. And that’s when you get your number.

John: Yeah. You’re number is the sum of those top two boxes.

Craig: So let’s talk numbers. The norms, so that’s sort of, I guess, I don’t know if it’s the mean average or the median average, but the norm changes slightly depending on the genre. There are different norms for family movies. They’re usually higher. And then lower for Rated-R film and so on and so forth. But typically for the kinds of movies you and I have done, usually the norm is something like a 65. If you get a 65 you’re not in good shape. [laughs] The norm is bad.

John: Yes.

Craig: The norm is bad. It’s bad because it includes movies that were total disasters that got tens, you know. What you’re trying to get — here’s a very, very rough sense. If you’ve made a Rated-R comedy that is of the sort that might be a little polarizing, you’re looking to get an 80. If you can get an 80 you’re in pretty good shape. You get mid-80s, you’re in very good shape. You get mid-70s, you’re okay.

John: Below that you’re in trouble.

Craig: Below 70 you’ve really got problems. Low 70s, you’ve got some work to do. If you’ve made a family movie, a heartwarming family movie, you’re aiming for 90.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Like John Hancock — when John Lee Hancock tests a movie, I’m like, dude, you need a 98.

John: Yeah.

Craig: If you make The Blind Side, this heartwarming story of a family that saves this kid and then he just triumphs over adversity, you need a 98. If you get a 95 it’s like an F.

John: Yes. Because that 2% means like racists. Who’s not going to like that movie?

Craig: Yeah. Racists or just like super grumpy jerks, who just hate joy, and you get those sometimes. And sure enough that’s exactly what they did was, I think, a 98. Okay, so, that’s kind of what you’re going for.

But there are times when it doesn’t work out that way.

John: Absolutely that’s true. So, that number is ultimately your take-away from that thing. That’s the thing that people are going to remember. But you will also take away that giant stack of forms. And sometimes those are actually really helpful because when you have questions about what was actually confusing people, you can actually look through those forms and see what it is. And so in those forms they’ll list their favorite moments, their least favorite moments, things that confuse them, characters — you sort of get to rate them on a grid. That can be useful if you’re looking at the next cut, if you’re looking at doing additional photography.

It’s also useful for the marketing people because they get to know what people really love about the movie.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So, I should back up and say the function of the moderator, the person who is running that forum, I found it to be such an interesting job and there was always one guy who was always doing it for us, a guy named Andy Fiedler. And so when I made The Nines I was like I want that guy to be the moderator on The Nines.

So, we actually cast him as the guy who is doing the test screening of the pilot that is in part two of the movie. So, if you ever want to see what it’s like to be in a test screening, and what it’s like to be in that moment, we have that in The Nines. And it’s literally the guy who would do that test screening.

Craig: Nice back door promo there, by the way. Way to go. Nice job.

John: Certainly. Absolutely. I’m going to get $0.50 from people streaming that on Netflix right now.

Craig: You have fifty cents coming your way.

The stack of forms that you go through is interesting. Very famously when you go through the forms you will find some that sink your heart and you weep for humanity. I think it’s Scott Stuber has one framed on his wall. It’s a form. So, there’s like a lot of questions about the movie and someone has answered none of them. They’ve just written across the form in the pencil diagonally, “More boobs.”

John: I’ve never seen this thing, but as you were telling this story I knew exactly that it would say More Boobs. It would have to say More Boobs.

Craig: More Boobs. Which in a way is one of the more informative ones of those survey submissions.

John: Like a Weinstein Brother, that person was expressing his thought consistently and clearly. And that’s really — there’s something laudable about that.

Craig: Well, also, he’s given you a path to success.

John: Now, Craig, you do more comedy-comedies, so I’m curious whether you do this thing that Seth Rogan does where they videotape the audience and so they can see exactly where the laughs are.

Craig: Absolutely. So, that’s something that goes all the way about the ZAZ guys, I think, from they started doing it back in The Naked Gun days, you know, with like VCRs and stuff. But, yeah, we record the audience. I did it with David Zucker. I did it with Todd Phillips. And you can put them in, first of all, huge benefit to it is that it solves debates in the editing room. Because what inevitably happens is you’re sitting in the editing room, the producer is like that joke didn’t work and the writer is like, no, no, no, I totally remember that, it got a huge laugh. And the director is like I can’t — I think it got an okay laugh, but maybe it went on too long and went past the laugh.

Okay, the audience in two sizes in night vision is in the avid and you can play it simultaneous like screens side by side.

John: That’s great. That was my question, whether you sync to that. That’s brilliant.

Craig: Absolutely. And then you go, okay, it did get a laugh, you’re an idiot, but it did go too long. Like the laugh ends there. Let’s cut away. These are the things that help maintain pace because you’re guessing, you know, and look — usually our guesses are pretty good. You get to a place where you have decent instincts about these things, but nobody bats a thousand, so those things are useful.

The biggest use to me when it comes to test screenings for comedies is that you begin to feel the movie for the first time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s a strange thing to say that you’ve watched a movie, you wrote it, you shot it, you edit it, you edit it over and over and over and over, you put it together you show it to people, and then just sitting in that room it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time.

John: It’s 100% true. And I think as a writer what I’ve gotten so much out of test screenings and being there with the audience is I start to be able to see — not just see problems but find solutions because I’m there in real-time with an audience and feeling it the way they’re feeling it.

And so my function is often, if it’s not the movie that I’m directly sort of involved in cutting, I’m the person who sort of is synthesizing the mood and I’m writing up the most notes and sort of the biggest batch of notes about this cut and sort of what the reaction is. And I send that through to the producers and the director saying like here is what we think we can do. And sometimes it’s incredible specific stuff like I think we could lose this half of this phrase, or get to this shot quicker. And sometimes I can see that just watching a cut just on a screen, but seeing it there with an audience you really get a sense of like, okay, this is how it’s playing in front of real people.

Craig: Yeah. You begin to see things on two levels. You might sit there and go, “Oh my god, this scene is so long and boring. I never understood how long and boring it was until I became a member of the audience.” Or “oh my god, the ending doesn’t work. Or, “oh my god, we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

But then there are also these little moments that occur where after fine-tuning something in the editing room, you watch it with an audience and you go, wait — wait, wait, wait, that line, we should be looking at her when that line is said. We shouldn’t be looking at him. Little things. All that stuff comes out. I will say that the first test screening is perhaps the most harrowing, psychologically harrowing experience you can have in the entertainment business because you don’t know. You don’t know if you’re on your way to the gallows, or a parade, or a shrug.

John: Because it’s honestly like a live performance. Anything can go wrong at any moment. You really have no sense of how people are going to respond 30 frames from now, and whether that joke is going to play or not play. And once you’ve seen the movie with an audience, you get a pretty good sense. Like you may have better audiences or wore audiences, but it’s going to be one movie. It’s the same movie the whole time through. Here you just don’t know.

And I would say it’s the second most nerve-wracking experience. For me as a writer, if I haven’t been in the editing room beforehand, seeing that first cu is incredibly difficult for me too. Just like, “Ooh, that doesn’t even make sense.”

Craig: Seeing the first cut is injurious to everybody. I mean, the director watches the assembly and vomits everything inside of her out. the writer watches the director’s cut and vomits everything inside of himself out. But, you also know — but, okay, I still have control over this before it is witnessed and I am humiliated. That’s the part that’s rough. And in comedy it’s particularly brutal because it’s like you’re showing up at open mic night and you’ve paid a $100 million ticket to get in and everything bombs.

So, I usually, when I go to a test screening I bring a very small — the smallest dosage of Xanax there is and I have it in my pocket. It’s basically like a cyanide capsule. And if around the 35th minute it seems like the boat is sinking, I’ll take the Xanax. I’ve only had to take it once, but knowing it’s there so that I don’t curl up and die. And then alternatively there’s the experience of the home run. And that’s just awesome.

John: That was Go. I mean, the first test screening it was a 91 and then we knew we were going to go back and reshoot some stuff so it was like we’re good.

Craig: It’s such a great feeling. I think the best test screening I’ve ever been to in my life was the first test screening for The Hangover Part II. It was — I can’t remember, I think we scored a 91 or a 92, which for a Rated-R comedy is really hard to do.

John: It’s great.

Craig: It’s just hard. I mean, a Rated-R comedy where there’s exposed penises and stuff. It’s just — some people are going to get angry. And it was a rock concert. It was the greatest. And then you are able to relax. You’re actually able to make the movie better than you would have otherwise because you’re calm, you’re not tense. People aren’t angry.

Boy, when it goes bad. Oof.

John: Yeah. It’s a dark day when it goes bad. Because with good news people are willing to open up the purse strings, willing to let you go and do things and you have power. If it goes badly, you’ve lost so much momentum and power.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: And they just get defensive and they start to –

Craig: They get defensive. And also the arguments become that much more difficult.

“So, what do we do to fix it?”

“Well, I think this is what we should do.”

“Really, do you? Guy that just made a movie that didn’t test well?”

“Oh, oh, I see how this is going to go.” Yeah.

David Zucker always said he never felt the need to sky dive because instead he goes to test screenings of his movies. It’s terrifying, but it’s very important. And it’s not the kind of thing where we sit there and custom tailor the movie in every way to the people in the audience. We don’t do that. It’s more for us to experience it with an audience.

John: The second Charlie’s Angels was not test screened and it shows.

Craig: Did they not test screen it because they knew?

John: No, I think it was just — they got into a weird protective state where they’re just like, “Oh, we know it’s really good and so we’re just going to do a little test screening just with like some friends.” They did sort of like a friends and family test screening. That can be valid, but you need to have I think a true –

Craig: Must. Believe me, I understand why you wouldn’t want to do it. And I can come up with 20 great reasons why you wouldn’t want to do it and they’re all lies to cover and protect from the misery of doing it.

John: I question whether Guardians of the Galaxy or most of the Marvel movies get real test screenings. I never see things leaking out about test screening that they’ve done. And yet they must be showing them to people so they know what’s working.

Craig: Well, it’s interesting. I was really surprised that things didn’t leak from — The Hangover Part II I thought, okay, stuff is going to leak. I mean, The Hangover was a huge movie. This is the sequel. Stuff is going to leak. Nope. People actually — because they say to people, don’t do it. And they don’t. They’ll go on twitter and say, “Just saw a screening of this. It was awesome.” They’ll do that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But they don’t seem to talk about it. Obviously the people that recruit, they become particularly good at who they don’t want to let in there, you know. There are certain types of people .They just look at them and like, “Blogger, get out.”

John: Blogger.

Craig: Blogger.

John: So that’s test screenings. A good topic and a good conversation on that. My last thing that I want to bring up was this great article I read by Gretchen McCulloch and she wrote for Grammar Girl which is a regular column. But Gretchen McCulloch is a linguistic anthropologist. She has a whole blog about language and how we use it. And she had this fascinating piece on About and Aboot and sort of the whole ways Canadians pronounce certain vowel sounds, but I think I brought it up on the show, too.

When I shot a pilot in Canada, I’ve done two different shows that were in Canada. I would have to be very mindful about actors who were going to be cast out of Canada because sometimes I would actually need to change their dialogue so they wouldn’t say certain words because it would immediately give them away, at least to me, that they were Canadian and that the show was not taking place in Washington, DC but was actually being shot in Toronto.

So, the word that we always sort of make fun of for Canadians is about, which we say that they are saying “Aboot.”

Craig: No, they’re not saying Aboot.

John: They’re not saying Aboot. What they’re doing is, and what Gretchen sort of charts out is that they’re actually — they have a different diphthong for “ou” sounds that are in front of unvoiced consonants. So, an interesting thing she brings up is so we live in a house. But if a housemate stayed with us, we would be housing them.

Craig: Right.

John: Or we would house them. That S becomes a Z sound in house. And if a Canadian were to pronounce those two words they would pronounce the first one, and I’m going to butcher this a little bit, house. They’d pronounce the second one, sorry, they’d pronounce the first one “hoose” and the second one house. I exaggerated it a little bit.

Craig: I don’t think. My impression of the Canadian is house. House. Are you going to your house.

John: I think you’re very close.

Craig: House.

John: Yes.

Craig: It’s about.

John: About. So, what it is, it’s called Canadian Lifting. And it’s a real term. Because it’s literally because they say, so “ou” is a diphthong anyway. Ou is two sounds blended together. In Canadian lifting the one that sounds sort of “ooh” like to us, they’re starting the vowel in a different place. And as they’re doing the diphthong, they’re starting the — the first sound is up higher and the tongue is literally lifted up higher to create a –

Craig: House. [laughs]

John: So, it’s actually just — there will be a link to it in the show notes. But I thought it was a really smart way of articulating something that I could sort of notice but I wasn’t quite sure –

Craig: What was going on there.

John: It’s so easy to over-apply it. I think that was actually one of the things, too. It’s so easy to think like, oh, every “ou” sound they’re going to do the “ooh” sound. But they’re not. It’s only on certain words and she actually articulates why it’s only certain words.

Craig: But can she explain why they’re constantly saying, “Hey buddy?” [laughs]

John: She can’t. She also can’t explain why in South Park their heads are two parked things that just bounce atop of each other. She’s not able to do that. It’s not magic.

But one of the other things she does do which I think is absolutely true is the reason why we in the US think they’re saying “aboot” and sort of mock them for it when they’re not saying that at all is because we just don’t have the diphthong that they’re actually using. And so our brains move it to the closest, nearest vowel that we have which is an “ooh” sound. So, they’re not really saying, “ooh,” but we don’t have a sound in our speech that is the sound that they’re making, and so that’s why we’re hearing it wrong because we don’t have that sound in our spoken language.

Craig: What’s so funny about the way I’m saying about? [laughs]

John: [laughs] That was good.

Craig: Thank you, buddy.

John: It’s time for One Cool Things. Do you have a One Cool Thing, Craig?

Craig: Ooh, One Cool Thing. Just out of curiosity, those guys are — they came up with the notion of, all right, so all the Canadians have flappy heads, which really they kind of retrofit to Ike, you know, because they decided that he was Canadian and he had a flat head.

But they all, not only do they — they’re calling people buddy, but they all sound like they’re from the 1920s. “Hey buddy.” There’s that old Hollywood way of talking. I don’t know. It’s very strange.

All right, so I was back east for a couple of weeks and I saw a couple of shows because you know me, Broadway Craig. I saw Violet, which is wonderful, starring the great, great Sutton Foster. Excellent Josh Henry. Very, very good show. And I also saw — but that’s a limited run, so that is a cool thing, but it’s not a cool thing that will be accessible after I think next week.

John: No, because I think actually tonight is the last night, as we’re recording this.

Craig: Yes, I believe it is tonight or maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow? I don’t know, buddy.

But the show I did see that I think is going to be around for awhile is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which was outstanding. Have you seen it?

John: I have not seen it. It was playing while we were doing Big Fish and people loved it. So, it seems madcap, and it’s still Jefferson — is it Jefferson Davis?

Craig: No, Jefferson Davis was the general in the Confederate Army. Yeah, I believe he was at Bull Run.

John: So he’s not a Broadway star?

Craig: No, no. He’s not even alive.

John: Well, I thought, I mean, they can just do — I don’t know. They can do magic.

Craig: Yeah, they might bring him back.

John: Because oftentimes on Broadway they’ll put a famous person in a role, like Tony Danza will be in Chicago, so Jefferson Davis could completely be. Oh, but it’s Jefferson Mays.

Craig: Jefferson Mays. Jefferson Davis may have an issue just with New York in general.

John: That’s true.

Craig: All of the freed slaves walking around may irk him. But Jefferson Mays is outstanding in the show. It’s a very funny show. Bryce Pinkham is also excellent, too.

It’s a strange thing. You want to say it’s a two-hander. It’s like a nine-hander, because Jefferson Mays plays eight different parts and Bryce Pinkham plays one. There’s just great performances throughout. It’s very, very funny. It’s based on this really, really old novel that was also the inspiration for the old movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, an old Alec Guinness film. But excellent, very entertaining, great time. If you are in the New York Tri-State area you should totally check it out. And if not, just wait, it’ll be on its way I’m sure to Chicago, LA, all over the place. It’s excellent.

John: Craig, when you were in New York in the past years did you get a chance to see One man, Two Guvnors, the James Corden?

Craig: No. And I heard that that was hysterical.

John: It was great. And so it reminds me of that because James Corden has to play multiple roles and the show is about the show as much as anything else. So it has that same sort of — it’s not really a musical, but it’s sort of a musical quality. I thought you’d enjoy it.

Craig: I probably would have. I probably would have.

John: You would have enjoyed it. But not it’s passed.

Craig: Now it’s passed.

John: My One Cool Thing is a book I read on my Kindle while I was traveling throughout Germany and Austria. It’s called How Jesus Became God, by Bart Ehrman, who is a historian who mostly focuses on New Testament and sort of early religion, early Christian religion stuff. And it was actually just fascinating because I had a general sense that Christianity in its very first century is not at all sort of like the Christianity we have today. And he does a really great job of looking at both the Gospel text and sort of the other texts that are sort of around that time and sort of demonstrate that the early apostles and sort of the early followers of Jesus did not perceive him at all in the same ways that we perceive him now.

And they did not perceive him necessarily as the son of God. They didn’t perceive him necessarily even as a divine being. But that sort of got retcon’d in over the years and centuries and over different rewritings of the stories. So, it was a fascinating book.

Craig: So they didn’t think that, for instance, Jesus could save you from a car crash or help you with your debt?

John: That was not a priority. Granted, there were not cars to crash. But a cart crash, perhaps.

Craig: Okay, so in terms of a cart crash, Jesus take the wheel.

John: Jesus could never really take the wheel because he was a person — there were wheels.

Craig: Right. So when Jesus was alive he could take the wheel.

John: He could take the reins.

Craig: He could take the reins. [laughs] Jesus take the reins. A very popular song in the year, what, 30.

John: In the year 30 it was all the talk.

What I found sort of most interesting about this, because I really come at this from I love Greek mythology and sort of classical mythology. And it’s interesting to look at — at the time the Christian religion is starting, there really were, sort of polytheistic religions were common. And even in monotheistic religions like Judaism at the time there were perceptions of divine beings who were not gods sort of all over the place. There were a lot more sort of angels coming in and doing stuff.

And so looking at sort of early Christianity from the background of those people at that time, it was not the uncommon for somebody to be semi-divine but not fully divine.

Craig: Right.

John: I just thought it was really interesting.

Craig: That is interesting. There’s a whole school of Jesus — my late father-in-law was really into this stuff. The Historical Jesus is a big book. I don’t know if you ever read that one. I think it’s by a guy named John Crossan. I may be messing this up completely, but it’s all really about, okay, what do we actually know? What’s real? What did he really say?

There’s this conference where the sort of Jesusologists get together and they kind of go through the bible and basically kind of like red line it. And they’re like, “Didn’t say that. Probably didn’t say that. Definitely said that.” Just based on the evidence. And apparently a lot of that stuff he didn’t say.

John: Even if you take as literal the Gospels, and the Gospels are the gospel truth, those were written way, way, way after his actual life. And so we don’t have the first person accounts we sort of think we do. And I think there’s a common perception that this is an account of exactly what happened at the time. It’s like, well, it’s not. This is a written down version of all the stories that were being talked about at the time. And some of those clearly relate to each other. But some of them really don’t relate to each other. When you see the contradictions between the Gospels, that’s because they’re multiple versions of the stories, just like there are multiple versions of the Superman mythos. It’s going to go different directions.

Craig: Oh yeah, I mean, look, people can’t remember emails they read 14 minutes ago. Now they’re going to put a bible together? Listen, you know where I’m on this. You know where I’m on this?

John: Where are you on this?

Craig: Oh, listen, man. [laughs] It’s just us. We’re just meat shoved through a thresher, or something, something. Something, something, something. Something. I got to go pick up some Ligotti and tell you what’s going on. But that’s what’s going on. That’s the story. There’s nothing but this, man.

John: Yeah. There’s nothing but this podcast.

Craig: God, I’ll tell you what. Honestly though, if I die — I’m going to die — when I die –

John: I’m not sure you’re going to die, Craig.

Craig: It’s possible. There could be the singularity. If I die, and I find myself up there in heaven, I am in so much trouble. Not for doing bad things, but the non-believing. Ooh.

John: Ooh, its’ so –

Craig: I’m going to have to tap dance my way out of that. I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to do it.

John: But here’s the situation though. Who’s to say that was the one religion you should have chosen when there is some other obscure religion that we’re not even paying attention to. Like, oh that was the one you were supposed to be doing. And none of us are doing it.

Craig: That’s right. Yeah, that was in the South Park Movie. Do you remember that?

John: Oh that’s true. Yeah.

Craig: When Kenny goes to heaven, and they send him to hell because he wasn’t the one religion, the right one. Do you remember what the right one was?

John: I don’t remember what it was.

Craig: Somebody goes, “Wait a second, we’re all different religions and we all got sent here. What’s the right religion?”

And one of the demons goes, “Uh, Mormonism. The answer was Mormonism.”

And everyone goes, “Ooh….”

John: “Ooh…”

Craig: “Ooh…I was so close.”

John: And like the Weinsteins, they are consistent in their Mormonism.

Craig: They love Mormons.

John: Yeah. They’re Coloradoans, that’s what it is.

Craig: I love Mormons, too.

John: Oh, God, I love them.

Craig: They’re nice people.

John: This was episode 157. That means there’s 156 back episodes of the show.

Craig: Oh my god, so many.

John: The most recent 20 are on iTunes, so please go to iTunes and subscribe and leave a comment because that helps iTunes know that we are a podcast that exists in the world.

If you want those previous episodes from 137 back to the dawn of time, those are on scriptnotes.net. And you can also subscribe there and for $1.99 a month get all those episodes. You can listen to them through your Android or your iPhone app. Look for the Scriptnotes app in the app store there.

Notes for today’s episode you can find at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. And that’s where you’ll find links to some of the things we talked about. You’ll also find a link to our USB drive that has all those back episodes, too. So, if you just want them all in one little convenient package you can get them there.

And I think that’s it.

Craig: You get to go to bed now.

John: Hooray! It’s 2pm and it’s time to curl up.

Craig: Yeah, all right, well happy recovery and I’ll see you next week.

John: Thanks. Bye.

Links:

No one cares about manufacturing costs

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 11:04

One of the most common refrains I’ve heard during the Amazon/Hachette tussle is that ebooks should cost less to buy because they cost less to make.

Question: Who cares about manufacturing costs?

Answer: Manufacturers. And that’s it.

Let’s say you’re buying a hammer. You don’t care that it costs Black & Decker $5.23 to manufacture it, package it, and ship it. All you want to know is how much you have to pay for it at Home Depot.

Does Home Depot care about the hammer’s manufacturing costs? Not really. They just buy hammers from Black & Decker and sell them to customers. If a shortage of steel causes Black & Decker’s per-hammer cost to increase 10%, does Home Depot care? No. Not at all.

Home Depot is a big company, so they’ll likely push Black & Decker to sell them hammers for less, so they can increase their margin.

That’s business.

Amazon is pushing Hachette to sell them ebooks for less, so they can make more money.

That’s business.

So let’s be clear: There’s nothing wrong with Amazon wanting Hachette to sell them ebooks for less. In their internal negotiations with Hachette, I’m sure Amazon brings up how much cheaper it must be for Hachette to manufacture ebooks than paper books.

But with astroturf campaigns like Readers United, Amazon is suddenly trying to make its customers care about manufacturing costs. Here’s what they write on the site:

With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

That last sentence pulls a clever trick by omitting the indirect object, thus confusing cost and price. Are we supposed to read the sentence as…

E-books can and should be less expensive for manufacturers. (cost)

or

E-books can and should be less expensive for readers. (price)

The first version is logical. Ebooks are almost certainly less expensive to make, although not necessarily as much as one would think.

But does it logically follow that ebooks can and should be priced lower for readers?

I agree with “can.” Anything can be priced lower. That’s a fact. The Kindle Fire tablet is priced lower than it would otherwise be because Amazon is willing to sell it at a loss.

But “should” doesn’t follow logically. “Should” is not a fact, it’s an opinion, and everyone is entitled to her own, particularly about price.

Amazon wants to sell ebooks profitably at $9.99. In order to do that, they need publishers to sell them the books at some number less than that. It’s the same negotiation Home Depot has with Black & Decker. Except that you don’t see Home Depot setting up websites that selectively quote George Orwell to make their point.

Remember, Amazon just wants to sell books. They truly don’t care how much they cost to make, and neither should we.

Threshers, Mergers and the Top Two Boxes

Tue, 08/12/2014 - 08:03

Craig and John discuss the accusations of plagiarism surrounding True Detective — and what plagiarism even means in the context of filmed entertainment. Movies don’t have footnotes, so how should screenwriters give attribution?

Next it’s time for a look at the major Hollywood studios, and what would happen if any of them were to merge, like Fox and Warners seemed poised to do. Following that, we take a look at the test screening process.

Finally, John wants to talk about the Canadian “about,” which isn’t “aboot,” and is a lot more complicated than you’d think.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Summer Re-run: Psychotherapy for Screenwriters

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig revisit one of their favorite episodes, in which they sit down with screenwriter-turned-psychotherapist Dennis Palumbo to discuss writer’s block, procrastination, partnerships and more. It’s a can’t-miss episode for aspiring writers and professionals alike.

LINKS:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

The transcript of the original episode can be found here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 155: Two Writers, One Script — Transcript

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 13:27

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 155 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today, we will talk about getting started on that first draft. We will talk about whether two writers make a better movie. We’ll answer a bunch of listener questions. But first we have some follow ups, so should we get into this?

Craig: Why not?

John: So, last week on the podcast, I believe it was last week, it could have been two weeks ago, I think I sort of off-handily mentioned that you were more likely to be struck by lightning than to sell a spec script. And a listen, John Gary, tweeted it back to me saying that in the last three years between 20 and 30 people have died from lightning while about 150 spec scripts have sold each of those years. So on that level, maybe, you are actually more likely to sell a spec script. But I had some issues with his methodology.

Craig: Oh.

John: Can you anticipate what those would be?

Craig: No, not off hand.

John: All right. So between 20 and 30 people were killed by lightning –

Craig: Oh.

John: But that’s necessarily killed. I mean, struck by lightning is bad –

Craig: No, no, no, yeah. No.

John: Even if you’re not dead.

Craig: Yeah, that’s right. No, struck by lightning just means struck by lightning. People do survive.

John: Yeah. Also, but as I did a little more research like the Wikipedia article on lightning strike is actually fascinating and I’ll put that in the show notes. But lightning strikes in the rest of the world are actually kind of a big deal, like a lot of people die from lightning strikes. And it’s because the number of people who die in the US has fallen tremendously over the last, you know, 50 years and especially in the last couple of years, it’s because of the urbanization.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: There’s fewer people living out in open areas where they are going to be hit by lightning.

Craig: Right.

John: But it still is a big deal in other places. So, he said, “People,” but really, he meant Americans.

Craig: Ah, I see. Well, I think that at the very least we can say that your chances of selling a spec screenplay are still slightly better than being hit by lightning.

John: Yeah, perhaps slightly better than being hit by lightning.

Craig: Yeah, perhaps slightly better. Boy.

John: Well, and here’s the other interesting thing is that being struck by lightning is a thing that just happens to you versus something that you’re aspiring to do.

Craig: Right.

John: And those are very different, one is an act of volition, one is just a thing that happens to you. So a second step that John Gary sent through, which I think is more applicable, he says, “You’re equally likely to play in the NFL last year as you are to work under a WGA contract in features.”

Craig: Wow. I mean, think about that. Not only –

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s remarkable because we think of that as being, you know, playing in the NFL as being this incredibly elite thing to do and it is.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And he’s not only comparing it to writers. He’s saying anyone who worked under a WGA contract in features, anyone. But then the idea that you, of course, most people, they don’t want to work once –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Any more than a football player wants to play one game or one season. So, I guess, this is the title of this podcast is Sorry Suckers, There is no Hope, is that what we’re doing today?

John: Yeah, I don’t know, just submit for questions from the field about what should we call this podcast.

Craig: [laughs] I think Sorry Suckers, There is No Hope has got to be at least the second best possible.

John: Easily a second choice candidate there.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: So, Craig, you and I both had similar weeks in some ways in that we both went off to start writing our first drafts which is so exciting.

Craig: It is exciting.

John: I hope it was exciting. Was it good for you?

Craig: [laughs] I’ve been waiting for you to ask that question for so long?

John: Yeah, 155 episodes.

Craig: Yes, at last. It was. It’s always hard to start and aside from the normal emotional stuff that goes along with starting, there is also an understanding that the first five pages are going to set in motion almost everything.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so, there’s really no chance you’re going to nail them the first time around, you know.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: The tone and the world and the rules and all that stuff is going to be there and the main characters and so on and so forth. So it’s okay to sort of say, hey, the job here is not to begin writing and furiously moving forward at a pace but rather to say beginning deserves to be honored to some extent.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And as a writer honoring the beginning, you must give yourself more time than you would to write the last ten pages.

John: I agree. So, as is often my habit, I went off and barricaded myself for a couple of days to start working. And so my tradition is I will go some place, often it’s Vegas but it can be anywhere applicable, and I will write by hand until I can no longer write by hand. And then I will come home and I will send those pages through to Stuart to type up but I won’t look at them until I’ve actually sort of cranked through as many pages as I can possibly generate. So in my two-day excursion in Vegas this last week I wrote 42 pages.

Craig: Good god.

John: Good god. But they were really good. And what was exciting about it for me was that I’d get up in the morning. Before I would order breakfast I’d have to write a scene. Before I would let myself go to the gym, I would have to write a scene. Before I would let myself, you know, do other things I would have to write a scene. And so by the time it was like 10 o’clock and I was working on my last scene of that night, I would go back and like, oh, yeah, I remember a couple of days ago I wrote that thing, like no, it wasn’t a couple of days ago, it was this morning I wrote that scene which was great.

Craig: Wow.

John: I’m so excited to sort of crank through some stuff on a project that I really wanted to write.

Craig: I obviously, we’ve gone through this before, I have such a different process than you do. So I go quite a bit slower and more deliberately. But the one thing that I found very useful this time out is typically when I’m writing something, I will, you know, like, you know, Jack Leska who works for me, I’ll show her the pages and we’ll discuss, or I’ll show them to my wife. But this time around I have Lindsey Doran, so it was great to be able to show Lindsey the first four or five pages and get, you know, really great feedback. It was sort of a, okay, you’re on track, yup, yup.

John: Yup.

Craig: This is what we wanted. Good.

John: Yup.

Craig: And so, you know, it’s much easier for me to get ahead of steam and build from there as long as I know that I’m driving down the right road. Because the worst thing in the world is to put the pedal to the metal and realize you’re heading the wrong way.

John: Well, I think the road is actually a very good metaphor because I wanted to talk about this in the context of sort of the map is not the territory because in both of these projects you and I had long conversations about sort of what the — not between each other — but with our respective people about what the movie was and sort of what was going to happen. So we came into these things with pretty good ideas I believe as sort of what the movie was and how stuff was going to happen. I had my sort of scene outline of like these are the scenes. But inevitably in every project I’ve ever written, once you’re actually in the middle of the scenes you recognize like, oh, that was a great plan but that’s not exactly — I’m discovering things that are quite different than what I had anticipated being here.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And sometimes that can be fantastic. There was a scene that I was certain that I needed until I had sort of skipped over it because I just didn’t feel like writing it and after skipping over it I realized like, oh, you know what, I did not need that scene at all because everything that was going to be accomplished in that scene I just took care of in one line of dialogue.

Craig: Exactly. Exactly. That’s the fun of this part, you know. So I had a very similar thing. I’m about to write this next bit where I knew that my main character was going to be taking care of some business and then at least conceptually in the story he was going to pick up the phone and call somebody to complain about something.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Then I realized, oh, I don’t actually need him to do that at all. He’s going to see that person two scenes later. He should complain to his face in front of other people.

John: Always better.

Craig: It’s more fun, you know. So it’s all this, that’s the normal thing, you know. Certainly, it’s a reasonable criticism people make that outlining can confine you and that’s only true if you let it.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: You know.

John: 100% true.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The other thing I’ve definitely found is that there is rhymes that occur between scenes that you cannot anticipate until you’ve actually written the scenes. And so, that bit of dialogue that is repeated from that scene to this next scene and everything has sort of changed because of, you know, in the intervening scenes, but it means something very different and you couldn’t have known that because you hadn’t written that line of dialogue in the first scene that is then paid off in the second scene.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Same with visual imagery, there is — I had a basic sense of this house that most of the story was going to be taking place in, but once I actually had to put people in that house and move them around that house I recognized that the layout of the house was quite a bit different than I had expected. And that literally by moving this bathroom as being adjacent to the bedroom to being across the hall, I was having a lot of new opportunities for sort of geographical suspense.

Craig: Right.

John: Just like that literally, that extra three feet of hallway was going to make things much more exciting for us. Down to the details of like how the doorknobs worked and that it was an old Victorian house.

Craig: As well it should. You’re doing it right. That means you’re doing it right –

John: Yeah.

Craig: As far as I’m concerned, you should be able to tell — I’ve always felt — years and years ago when I was doing my blog I wrote a blog article called You Can’t Just Walk into a Building.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: It’s never a building. What building? I want to be able, for everyone who reads the script, even if it’s not there, if they were to ask me I could tell them, no, no, here’s what it should be and here’s why.

John: Yup.

Craig: You’re doing it right. The great thing about outlining is that your outline is a bit like your mom or your dad. Good mom and good dad, not the terrible ones we all had. And so you get to play within the moments as you just described but if you then think, okay, well, the play, that was very creative and very interesting, but what am I supposed to, where do I go, what do we do? Oh, mom and dad are here to help ride my bike and get it straight again because that’s the outline.

That’s right. I’m now accountable. That’s right, I’m accountable to a structure. So there –

John: Exactly.

Craig: You have the structure and you have freedom, that’s when it all gets good.

John: Yeah, because definitely if I didn’t have the outline, if I didn’t know sort of what needed to happen next, I could very easily have these characters have conversations that would spiral on for another 40 pages.

Craig: Exactly.

John: And that is not what the story is. The story is about that next thing. Screenwriting is about what happens next. And so, I needed to know what that next was to get there. But the little detours along the way have been fascinating.

Again, like the map, you may be planning a cross country road trip and you will know sort of like these are the cities I need to hit because I promise I’m going to meet Aunt Katherine in Denver and then I’m going to talk to my cousin Phil in Boise. But you may discover interesting things along the way that you didn’t know were going to be there.

And the actual roads you’re taking to get from place to place may be different than what you had anticipated when you were looking at it in a very macro sense. That macro is sort of like the big map of America and that’s your sort of whiteboard, these are the big plot points.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: But when you’re actually in the details and sort of what it feels like on the road, it can be quite a different experience and that’s exciting.

Craig: Yeah, I always feel like good screenwriters are constantly shifting the zoom on their story.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: They’re constantly going in to from macro to micro, macro to micro, back and forth, back and forth. It’s a little bit, have you ever seen the way that they used to do hand-drawn animation which they don’t do anymore but, you know, so they have their three pages and they have a character sketch, and in the second page they do it but moving slightly in the third page, it’s moved a little bit more. And they flip with one hand through those three pages to make sure the movement is occurring.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s like that, you know. So you have to draw your little thing but then you have to back out. Is this all moving together?

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Oh, no wonder it’s harder to get into than the NFL. The NFL, if you’re enormous and you’re fast, it should work.

John: You’re set. Yeah.

Craig: It should work.

John: Yeah. If you’re enormous and you’re fast, you just focus on not getting hurt too quickly.

Craig: Right.

John: And then you’ll be okay.

Craig: You should theoretically be okay.

John: You should theoretically be okay.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, a listener had written in with a tweet about this Hollywood Reporter article which I thought was really fascinating and sort of, in many ways, kind of related to what we’re talking about, because, it’s about, oh, we’re going to, you know, here is the writer who’s going to write this project. But it’s that trend of hiring two writers to write the same movie.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, this is an article by Borys Kit in the most recent Hollywood Reporter magazine. And so the movies that they site are Tarzan and The Mummy which they decided to just hire two separate screenwriters, and in some cases teams of screenwriters, and set off and individually develop the two tracks of this project and then they’d figure out which one worked out best.

Craig: Mm.

John: Pros and cons, Craig Mazin?

Craig: Well, there is one big pro which probably would get overlooked by most and that is that this theoretically will add to the roster of writers being hired and paid to write on movies.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which I always take very seriously. You know, I don’t want to just scoff at that, it’s a big deal. I mean, you could argue that if all they do is take the writers that used to work in sequence and have that same number working in parallel it won’t, but I suspect that that’s not what’s going to happen.

John: No.

Craig: That, in fact, there will still be the same amount of sequential writing but maybe individually along the way some of the sequences will be doubled up. So that’s a good thing.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Cons, well, obviously, the big con is the fact that this is a big con. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: They’re fooling themselves and I think they’re fooling everybody if they think that what’s going to happen here is two writers are going to write two drafts and one of them is going to just, you know, chip away at this marbled block and create a wonderful torso, head and arms and the other one is going to make this beautiful butt and legs and it’s going to be a great statue. Simply not how it works.

And you could see them trying, like in the article, “Well, this person had great characters but this one a good story.” Uh, okay. Yeah, well, maybe –

John: As we talked about in the podcast, it’s impossible to separate those aspects apart. You can say that you enjoy the characters in this person’s script more than the characters in the other person’s script, but you can’t say like one person is good at a certain aspect of it.

Craig: No, especially if you’re going to, well, you enjoyed the characters from this draft, we’ll put them in the story in that draft. Well, I don’t like this mushed together. Yeah, because they’re not the same characters. They’re doing different things. They’re in a different situation.

We understand on some level, we know that we need a vision for a movie, a holistic vision of a movie, and you’re not going to get there by slamming two things together in that kind of hodge-podge way. People may ask — well, then why is it better that writers work in sequence? Frankly because usually what happens is somebody comes along and says, regardless of the sequence before me, “This is the vision. Yes, I may be borrowing from the prior scripts but I’m integrating it into one consistent vision.”

And if you don’t have that, if you think that really all you need to do is patchwork this stuff together and kick everybody out and then go shoot it, then you have discovered some new mushroom crack/heroine sauce and I urge you to market it.

John: Yeah. I think the fundamental challenge I have with the idea of like, oh, we’re going to patchwork these together is that you’re ultimately relying on, well, who’s going to do the patchwork work?

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And so in the case of some successful movies, that has been a producer, where it’s literally Laura Ziskin sitting with scissors in Richard Gere’s trailer getting the drafts of Pretty Woman to actually make sense.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There are of course going to be legends of that. And so sometimes you may have a brilliant producer who’s going to be able to see like, okay, this is how we can do that. But essentially is a writing job that you’re doing there is to put those two things together. Where I do think there’s a possibility for a not-terrible outcome is when you step back and don’t look at this as the goal of we’re going to patchwork these two things together, but just actually say like we don’t know what is the better movie to make.

Craig: That’s correct. Right.

John: And so in that case I think that’s actually perhaps a laudable goal because what’s happened is they’ve had several writers come in to pitch their take on what this property should be. It’s almost always an existing property, a book you’re adapting or, you know, a big title like The Mummy. And you’re like, I don’t know what’s going to work out best. And rather than assume that I know the best, I am going to say yes to both and then we’ll see which one of them comes out as the more promising movie. You can’t say that everybody wins because obviously one writer is not going to get his movie made, but in some cases, you know, those two writers got employment and they still had a shot in making a movie and actually got paid for that shot at making a movie.

Craig: Yeah, and to be fair the writer who doesn’t get her movie made was never going to get her movie made.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because if she had worked on her own and they didn’t want to make it they would have just gotten somebody else to start again. You know, I get, look, they have backed themselves into situations on some of these large movies or even small movies that are relying on an actor with limited availability where they have to hit a date. They have to hit a date. They need a time. It’s got to start here. They simply don’t have time to give somebody three months to be wrong.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So then, you know, I get it. Might as well just start shooting at multiple targets. Like I said, it’s going to generate more employment for feature writers. And in this environment, anything that generates more employment for feature writers is a good thing by me. I’m for it and as long as they don’t try and sit there and think, fool themselves into believing that they can Chinese menu column A and column B and make a movie out of that. As long as they can avoid that temptation, it’s probably not the end of the world.

John: It’s not the end of the world. So Stuart, who produces the podcast, he used to work in children’s television and not like little kids television but like sort of the Disney and Nickelodeon scale of sort of like Tween television.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And he was saying that back in the day they would have a general story area that they wanted, so they’re like we want a show about a karate school. And so what they do is they would commission a bunch of karate school things. They would shoot a bunch of pilots and they just like pick the one they liked the best. And in some ways, that’s not a terrible business model. If you’re pretty sure that a karate school show is the right kind of show to make, it was inexpensive enough for them to actually just like go all the way through the pilot and then look at the four pilots and pick the one that is like, turned out the best.

And this is a smaller version of that because obviously you’re not shooting two different movies and releasing only one of them.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The same idea.

Craig: That’s right. And I wonder if technologically it will become feasible one day to essentially get rid of the screenplay as the decision tool. Right now the screenplay is the decision tool of whether or not to make a motion picture film. Will we make it technologically to the place one day where the decision tool is the, I don’t how to call it, like the animatic version of the screenplay.

John: Yeah, I think that way down that path lies madness as well. Joseph Kahn had a tweet this last week about his frustration that people are treating previs as, basically directors are farming out the direction of the movie to previs.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And that’s a real worry where you’re essentially, in some ways it’s the same way we talked about having the outline for the movie versus the real, what the actual experience of writing the movie and writing those actual scenes, that previs kind of feels like the outline for the movie. It is that animatic form of it but with real people you may make different decisions, you want to make sure you’re not straight-jacketed into the bad version of things.

Craig: Yeah, well, I would imagine that in our new template that we were contemplating.

John: Yeah, do you have sequences rather than scenes?

Craig: Right, sequences rather than scenes but also a screenplay format that allowed for multimedia. That it would be actually quite useful if you had a moment or something. You know , sometimes you write something and you think, oh, this is hard to get across with text. My intention is hard to get across with text. I wonder if we’ll eventually get to a place where we could just sort of do it and just show people like this is what I mean by this shot and embed it right in the script so that decision making becomes easier and easier and your intention becomes clearer and clearer. But –

John: But I really question whether the decision making will become easier and easier or if the bar towards, if how high you have to go in order to get the green light becomes just this impossible thing where essentially like, “Oh, yeah, we like the script but now we need to see all the previs. Oh, okay, we like,” or actually they’re going to say first thing casting. “Now we need to cast. Now we need the previs.”

Craig: Right.

John: “Now we need to do.. — Basically make the whole movie for us.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: “Okay, now we’ll let you make the movie.” I worry that you are going to sort of cut the — in trying to make the smartest decisions, you’re going to just be pushing back decisions for as long as possible.

Craig: Well, you know, I don’t like it any more than you do, but I, something tells me that’s the general trend of things.

John: I think that is the general trend of things.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Although, you know, I will say that you look at some of the bolder choices that are happening in television where they are just like, okay, we’re going to shoot eight episodes. We’re not going to try to figure out everything ahead of time.

Craig: Right.

John: That’s a way. Granted, in many cases those eight episodes were scripted before they went to series but they were going to series which is a good thing.

Craig: Well, they, I mean, the cable model, the pay cable model is such that it doesn’t matter. I think that where they — they have the luxury of making decisions based on what would, what do they think from a marketing point of view will bring their network prestige and make it attractive to subscribers.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: They don’t have to worry about how many people show up and watch it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, as we pointed out, True Detective, not a ratings smash.

John: No.

Craig: But, you know, earned them, at least, either retained subscriptions or earned them additional subscriptions from the people that did love it. So they’re in a great decision space, you know. It’s funny to imagine what movies would be like if the deal were, hey, you don’t buy movie tickets anymore. You buy a pass for Universal Pictures.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So $100, you get to see as many Universal movies a year as you wanted, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Then, what kind of movies would they make? It would be fascinating, wouldn’t it?

John: It would be fascinating. I don’t think that model applies well to the theatrical experience, but it is still fascinating. I know that some theater chains have tried with that sort of like frequent moviegoer plans that were actually basically, all-you-can-eat movies, and this, you know, distributors, of course, were not enthusiastic about that.

Craig: No, it would have to be something that they would generate, and it would also have to be exclusive. In other words, it’s not like, well, you could buy a ticket to go see Harry Potter or you could be part of the Warner Bros. movie club.

It would be, no, do you want to see Harry Potter in the theater? You got to be a member of the movie club. [laughs] That’s it. It would be fascinating to see what would happen if the movie business left the pay-per-movie model and really went on move of a “you give us an amount of money a year, you get to see all the movies.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Big ones, the little ones, and we then are free to actually kind of be a little more brave.

John: I wonder if with the consent decree that prohibits studios from owning movie theaters, if studios could essentially cut a deal with an AMC or whatever else to basically four-wall, to sort of take over a screen and do it that way. It would be an interesting situation.

Craig: Well, the exhibitors wouldn’t… — It’s funny, either the exhibitors won’t do it or the distributors won’t do it, depending on who gets the money.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, if studios could actually own their own movie theatres, I actually think that we’d have better movies. I swear to you, I do. I think that, you know, like if there were Universal Theater and Warner Bros. Theater and Fox Theater, I think that they would work stuff out like that and it would actually end up being more like the HBO or Netflix model.

John: Yeah, I agree.

Craig: But instead –

John: Oh, instead.

Craig: Instead $30 popcorn.

John: Instead we have essentially a version of really the broadcast model where –

Craig: That’s right.

John: Even though there’s now tighter integration between the studios and the networks, theoretically there’s supposed to be separation between the two. And you’re programming to a mass audience and you’re competing over every little thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Maybe not ideal. So, wrapping up this idea of multiple writers on a feature film, on a given project. You and I know other situations, these situations, but other situations where ultimately there’s another writer who’s sort of fundamentally a daddy in charge.

Craig: Yes.

John: And the person who’s essentially who’s going to do the show-running aspect as if this were a TV show. This is the person who’s going to make the fundamental decisions about how this is going to work. And in some ways, I wonder if that is where we’re headed towards where some of the A-list screenwriters who are also good managers will be those folks who are shepherding those projects into existence even if other writers are doing some of the work on them. The same way Damon Lindelof came in and helped out on World War Z, or Drew Goddard I think also did writing on that. The same way J.J. Abrams will put writers together to work on projects. I wonder if that’s the model we’re headed towards.

Craig: Well, you see it happening a lot and there are certainly producers that straddle both worlds. Simon Kinberg is a writer and a producer –

John: Sure.

Craig: And he does both and it’s sometimes, I’m sure for him, the lines become blurred to the point of indistinguishability. There will always be a place for that. It would be, why it happens more and more in part, I think, is because there is a real lack of people that aren’t writers who understand how to help writers. There are very few people on the development side or the production side, producing, who believe anymore either through lip service or truly, you know, at their core that their job is to help the writer write a good movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So many of them really feel like their job is to play a game, a rigged game, so as to force the unlikely outcome of production.

John: Yup.

Craig: And that’s unfortunate. And that’s why so many of us are left there looking at a bunch of notes going, “What? How does this make any sense to what’s good?”

John: Yeah, I was talking with another writer about a set of notes she got and when they include the things they like, you know, we know that some of these notes are contradictory but we wanted to include them all so you know sort of where our heads were at. It was like how are you supposed to process that? So you have already admitted that your notes contradict themselves and yet I’m somehow supposed to implement these. So t hat’s going to great. This is going to make everyone happy.

Craig: You should just write, “We know some of these notes are contradictory but some of us are dicks and insisted that they go in there and you’ll just have to guess who is who.” [laughs]

John: Exactly.

Craig: Because that’s the truth. I mean, you know that’s the truth.

John: Yeah. And not only do you have to guess who is who, in guessing who and who you have to rank us in importance to figure out which ones are actually necessary to implement and which ones can be ignored. And also which ones of us will get fired before they’ll turn in their next draft and therefore it’ll all be irrelevant.

Craig: It’s such a mess, you know. It’s such a mess. It’s so, I guess, you know, I’m not a big fan of beating these people up but I would say if I could, if I could address them all. I would say, listen, you guys have inefficiencies built into your process the way that we have inefficiencies built into our process, but it sure would be nice if you would at least acknowledge the following. Regardless of whether you think we are wonderful artists or truly just human widgets, if you don’t help us do better, you’re going to end up also not doing better. It’s just from a sense a self-preservation, can’t you get your shit together?

John: A fundamental question that no one can ever answer.

Craig: Yeah, that’s why I don’t get invited to the big summit.

John: Yes.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Wouldn’t it be great if there were a summit?

Craig: It would be great.

John: If there were a summit where everyone got, oh, I guess they probably couldn’t because of anti-trust. But a summit where like, hey, let’s just figure out what we’re doing here. Let’s not make a bunch of the same movies and try to release them on the same weekend. But they can’t do that.

Craig: No, yeah.

John: Because of anti-trust.

Craig: Yeah, you have officially just committed a federal crime.

John: Yeah, nice.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We have a bunch of questions. And the first question comes from Mathew Chilelli who edits our podcast.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I figured he gets first question because he’s Mathew Chilelli.

Craig: Sure.

John: He says, “Two of my favorite books about the creative process are Stephen King’s On Writing and Sidney Lumet’s Making Movies, both are instructive but they also leave me excited about getting my hands dirty making something. Do either of you have books you turn to about writing or filmmaking that you would recommend? Books that are written by people you respect?”

And I came up short but I had two suggestions. Craig, do you have any books that you would go back to. I’ve read On Writing. I have not read Making Movies. Do you have any books?

Craig: I do but I’m going to save it for my One Cool Thing because it really is one of my favorite cool things.

John: All right. So the two I will recommend, one of which I have read all of and one of which I have only skimmed through but people love. So first off, Syd Field’s Screenplay. It’s that thing that we endlessly mock but if you have not read any other books on screenwriting, it’s the one you should read just because people talk about stuff that’s in Syd Field’s Screenplay, so you’ll at least know what the hell they’re saying when they talk about those plot points and things. You should read it, kind of understand it, and then like throw the book away and never refer back to it. But you should probably read it at least once.

Craig: Yeah, I think that’s reasonable.

John: The second is The War of Art which a zillion people have recommended and I’ve looked through parts of it. I haven’t read all of it. But it’s by Steven Pressfield. It’s a good look at sort of the creative process and why the creative process is hard and why it’s hard to make things and the struggle to do things. So those are maybe my two suggestions. Craig is saving his.

Craig: I’m saving mine. Because, listen, you know the way I’m with these One Cool Things. I’m scraping the barrel all the time.

John: What I will say in general for inspiration on like “I want to make a movie,” the things I found most useful, the very first book I read or read about screenwriting was the Steven Soderbergh’s guide, his diaries and script for Sex, Lies and Videotape. So it’s his production diary for that and you realize like, oh, you know what, it’s actually just really hard work. And you don’t know what you’re doing all the time but you’re aiming for something and you’re iterating until you’ve got to that thing that you want to make.

Craig: Right.

John: And so when I’ve read production diaries about work, that’s been the same thing. For writers, there’s two books I’ll put in the show notes. I’m interviewed in one of them but it’s — one is called The First Time I Got Paid For It, which is about sort of screenwriters’ first times getting stuff, actually getting their work produced.

Craig: Right.

John: And there’s another book which is also done in cooperation with the Writer’s Guild Foundation which I thought was great. So I will have links to those two in the show notes as well.

Craig: Great.

John: Great. Second question comes from Nathan Windley. “I’m in Berkeley California, currently studying political economics and planning to apply to The Peter Stark Program.” So, The Peter Stark Program is the film producing program, film and television producing program that I graduated from at USC and Stuart went there, and Matt Byrne before him and Chad and Dara. So lots of folks in our world on there.

Craig: Peter Stark is Tony Stark’s brother. So Tony Stark took the family money and created a, you know, obviously went into military technology and industrials, but Peter was more of the artistic one who started that school.

John: Yeah, so the complex is not quite as nice as Stark Tower.

Craig: Right.

John: But it has a similar kind of vibe to it. George Lucas helped out a little bit.

Craig: Yes.

John: “Although producing films and seeing a script come to life is extremely enjoyable, I do have a warm spot for cinematography. When I read that you also went to the Peter Stark program, I was curious to see how the skills you acquired as a producer could be translated to screenwriting. Essentially what I’m asking is why didn’t you enroll in the screenwriting program?”

Craig: Yeah, why John? Why?

John: Why didn’t I do it?

Craig: Why?

John: So just the back story on me. So I grew up in Boulder, Colorado. The only experience I had with movies was watching movies and reading Premiere Magazine. Do you remember Premiere Magazine?

Craig: Of course. It was quite glossy and showed up every month.

John: It was a great magazine just about movies and there was some moviemaking stuff in it but it really wasn’t for filmmakers. I didn’t know there was such a thing kind of as filmmaking in a meaningful way. And I only had a vague sense that there were screenwriters. And so, Premiere Magazine was one of the few places that’s sort would talk about Joe Eszterhas and like screenwriters, like legendary things.

I went to school in Des Moines, Iowa. I studied journalism. It was good. I got an advertising degree. It was good. I knew I didn’t want to actually do it. I applied to a summer program at Stanford doing documentary stuff. I learned how to shoot film. That was great. I found out there was a Peter Stark program. This is pre-Internet so I actually looked through a catalog. I applied to it and I got in.

The reason I went for Stark rather than a screenwriting program is I kind of didn’t know anything. And so, coming in blank, I didn’t want to assume that I was a good enough writer that I could become a screenwriter. But I knew enough about business and other things that I felt like if nothing else I’d be able to get some kind of job in the business doing stuff.

Stark ended up being a really great sort of across the board, you know, everything from shooting with a camera to labor negotiations to marketing. It’s a very good smorgasbord of movie information. So it ended up being exactly the right thing for me. Would do I Stark again versus a screenwriting program? Probably. And it’s just because I think there sometimes are limits to how much they can actually teach you about writing and knowing how the whole business as a whole works ended up being incredibly useful to me getting started in the business.

Craig: So I mean, it’s one of the few programs that exists in the world where you actually make legitimate connections. I laugh at how many times people will talk about networking.

“Oh, well, you know, Hollywood, you really have to network.” Well, here’s the problem; you can’t. I really believe that you can’t. There’s no networking. If you’re somebody who needs to network, the only people with whom you can network are other people who need to network, hence your network.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Not exactly what you were hoping for, was it? But the Stark program actually does have a legitimate network. There’s so many graduates of the program that obviously keep their eyes, I mean, you keep bringing people into work at your desk, then go on to run Hollywood as we can see.

So for that reason I think that the Stark program is very valuable. Has he gotten in? Oh, he’s planning to apply to it. Well, listen, you know.

John: Yeah. So Stark takes about 25 people a year.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, it’s –

Craig: It’s like a lightning strike.

John: Incredibly… — It is a lightning strike. It’s actually, that is actually probably genuinely a lightning strike.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So obviously I think if you get into the Stark program, hooray, congratulations.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Good for you.

Craig: Yeah. If anything takes 25 people a year and you get it, you should do it, even if you don’t want to, like, oh, we’re just doing 25 people that are going to go to Mars. You should just do it if they call you.

John: I agree.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Well, unless it’s like, you know, we’re giving 25 people poison. Then, no.

Craig: Well, no, that’s an execution. That’s just… — I’m saying something kind of that somebody would think is good.

John: Okay.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think that is overall good. In terms of networking, I will say that, and I’ve said this on previous podcasts, by far the most useful thing I got out of film school and particularly Stark program was I was in a group of a cohort of 25 people who were trying to do the same thing I was trying to do and we helped each other out a lot. We fought a lot. We threw chairs at each other, but we also helped each other out a lot.

And so, when I needed information about things, I could call these people because they were my friends. They weren’t my network. They were my friends.

Craig: Right.

John: I was helping, I was crewing on their short films, they were crewing on my short films and we could ask questions about is that person a good person or a bad person, is that person lying to me? We could ask those fundamental things because we were all going through it together. And any film program, any sort of program where you can be surrounded by people who really want to do the things you are wanting to do is going to be beneficial.

Craig: I concur.

John: All right. James writes, “After years of struggling, I’ve recently found a little success which has led the chance to do a few off the beaten path assignments, two for foreign production companies and one for a small non-guild US production company. In all three cases, I knew going in the scripts would not work.”

Craig: D’oh.

John: “The producers thought they had brilliant concepts but the ideas were not nearly as compelling as they thought and all their own sets of problems that I saw but they didn’t.”

Craig: D’oh.

John: “I took the jobs anyway because I needed the work and I did my best to fix them, but in all three cases they were unsatisfied with the scripts.”

Craig: Hmm.

John: “I’ve been offered another similar assignment to adapt a book that really shouldn’t be adapted or it has been changed so dramatically that it won’t be recognizable. My question is, should I take it anyway? I’m struggling financially and need the money but my worry is that I’m going to get a reputation as a bad writer because of all these bad scripts I’m turning in that I knew would be bad even before I started them. I assumed that when you get to a certain level of success you can turn these offers down but I’m not nearly there yet. “

Craig: Yeah. All right, very good question. This one –

John: Such a good question.

Craig: Excellent. And I think everybody, almost everybody confronts this on some level. So let’s break it down.

There’s a little bit of a silver lining here. When you talk about these people, you call them off the beaten path. So we have two foreign production companies.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And we have a small non-guild US production company. So they’re asking you to do stuff that you don’t think is very good and you’re doing it for a paycheck and then they say, “Oh, we don’t like this,” which makes sense assuming that you wrote something that is good and they don’t know what good is, it should work out that way. Great.

You’re worried that you’re going to get a reputation as a guy who writes bad things. Well no, what you’re getting a reputation for is as a guy who’s been working for terrible people who have dumb ideas. Now, if you were any other job in the business, I would warn you, I guess. I would warn you more than I’m about to warn you. But we are always able to write our way out of trouble.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: James, you’re struggling financially. You need the money. I would urge you, if it’s not going to take up a massive amount of time, to make a simple deal with yourself. I will do this job that is not going to be good and won’t do me any favors to make money. But I must write my own thing that is my, that reflects what I actually can do and who I am as a writer. You must do that.

If all you do is this stuff, then you are the bad writer. You only are what we can read. But if you can write something great, nobody will care. Nobody cared that Charlie Kaufman was a staff writer on Alf, you know. When he wrote something great, it was great.

John: I agree. So what is different about being a writer versus being an actor is if an actor takes some of these really, really horrible things, it’s almost like they’re doing porn. Like these are horrible things that are going to haunt them the rest of their lives.

Craig: Yeah.

John: In your case, these terrible movies, they’re not going to get made. So they were just terrible things you wrote that are going to like disappear onto a shelf. So they’re not going to hurt you as much as I think you worry they’re going to hurt you.

Where they are hurting you is they are taking your time away from writing things that are actually good. And it’s the things that are actually good that are going to help you along in your career. So, in some ways you have luxury problem that people are willing to pay you to write. That’s great. The challenge is that they’re paying you to write things you don’t really want to write. Maybe you take this job, if it’s not going to kill you, but I agree with Craig that you need to find the time and use that money smartly so you can write the stuff that’s actually good that can move you forward in your life.

The fact that people are willing to pay to write though is in some ways going to help you get an agent, help you get a manager. Help you get sort of work down the road because that agent and the manager is going to see like “Oh, this is a guy who actually can work for people. Who like people, you know, will hire him to do things.” Not every writer who’s coming out of film school really can say the same thing.

Craig: That’s right. And the other thing that we have as writers available to us that actors don’t is pseudonyms. So when you make your deals with these people, you should — one of the nice things about, one of the few nice things about working non-union or working union but getting paid less than I think $225,000 or $250,000 is that you can contractually demand a pseudonym.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I think that that’s — if they actually make the thing which probably they won’t. But yeah, you know, you got to pay your bills. Listen, we’re not going to tell you to starve but you must make this bargain with yourself. You have to say, “One for me, one for them.” You have to.

John: Yeah. I agree with you. And I will say, Craig and I both know many writers who were in your situation early in their careers and now they are the tip-top writers in Hollywood. And so the situation you find yourself in is not indicative of where you’re going to end up. And there’s many people who’ve written for those tiny little crappy production companies –

Craig: Sure.

John: Who’ve ultimately gone and done great stuff.

Craig: Look where James Cameron started. Roger –

John: Yeah, absolutely.

Craig: Made Piranha II.

John: Yes. And Piranha II hurt him tremendously. No one wanted to give him the money to make Terminator but he learned what he needed to learn and he got it made, so.

Craig: Somehow, it turned out okay for him, probably be okay for you.

John: Yeah. Matt writes, “I’m a newly graduated nurse who wants to write movies and be a nurse. When I read the Wiki pages of all my favorite filmmakers, they seem to be wholly committed to filmmaking. Granted they do have other interests but in terms of working they only seem to focus on filmmaking.

“Now making movies is astoundingly hard and time consuming. If I were given the chance to be a part of production in any way then I would obviously take the time off. But for now, my plan is to work three 12-hour shifts a week and have four days off just to focus on writing and movies and stuff. Do you know people who do stuff like that, like another job that they’re really passionate about and do filmmaking? Is that a thing? And how involved are screenwriters in the actual filmmaking part of it all?”

We’ll scratch out the last question, because that last part is — there’s a whole range of how involved people are.

Craig: That’s a whole other question. Let’s just talk about the other silly question.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So my favorite part of this is “when I read the Wiki pages of all my favorite filmmakers, they seem to be wholly committed to filmmaking.” They seem that way, like, it –

John: Maybe it feels that way.

Craig: It seems like Quentin Tarantino only really does movies and doesn’t also hold down a job preparing tax returns. You know, of course, of course they’re wholly committed to it because that’s their job. That’s what they do. I mean, do the surgeons at the hospital where you work also, I don’t know, spend three days out of the week doing stand-up or something. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. No.

John: Oh, they might though. You could totally envisioned that.

Craig: Really? You mean like –

John: Yeah, like –

Craig: No, stand-up, I’m don’t mean like open mic night. I mean, like you got to tour around. You got to drive around like Mike Birbiglia, you know, and show up to the Chuckle Hut in Topeka.

John: [Laughs]

Craig: I mean, no this is a career. This is not — it is a vocation. It’s a career, it’s a life. There is no way for you to calculate dividing your week into, what was it? Three 12-hour shifts. First of all, I don’t want a nurse on at hour 11 anyway, you know. I mean, come on, be –

John: Now, Craig, I have to stick up for Matt for here. What’s he’s describing is actually incredibly common though where you are working — you’re working 36 hours sort of all in a bunch and then you have four days off.

Craig: They make nurses work 12-hour shifts?

John: Yes. That’s entirely common. I have friends who are emergency room doctors who are the same –

Craig: Well, doctors, doctors I know that they do that. But nurses I didn’t know that they did 12-hour shifts. I mean, first of all, the whole thing about doctors and the way that residents get work like that is horrendous and it should change. It’s actually dangerous. I feel like medical professionals, by the way, I feel the same way about movies. Like I understand why they do it because they’re cheap but you know, you got people working 20 hours a day. That’s insane. It makes me nuts.

John: It’s dangerous.

Craig: It’s dangerous. Anyway, look, no. The answer that I’m going to give you is no. People don’t do that. You can’t do it. It’s not the way it works. You will be a so-so nurse and a really bad filmmaker. And I would much rather that you be a terrific filmmaker or, best of all, an awesome nurse. But this is not, you can’t…no.

John: I thoroughly disagree with Craig. Always fun like every tenth podcast to do that. .

Craig: Yay.

John: So I will say, like, I think as an aspiring screenwriter, what you’re describing with like 36 hours on intensely and then you’re spending the rest of your time writing, that’s good. And so, basically, you have a day job, which is these 36 hours as a nurse and then you are writing. And it’s okay to love your day job. I think it’s actually fine to love your day job.

But to then pretend that like, “And then I’m going to make a whole bunch of movies but I’m still going to keep my day job.” Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens when you become tremendously successful if you want to keep your day job. But there are novelists I know who do, who write really good books who also have another job because they love having another job where they’re around other people and they’re not these hermits who are in caves writing their books.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So that’s entirely possible. But I’ll say, why don’t you focus on writing really good stuff and getting stuff into production and then we’ll see how much you want to keep up your nursing career and how much you want to be writing full time.

Craig: Well, maybe I’m getting thrown off by the word filmmaking. Because you’re right. You can absolutely write in the evening after any job. You can write on the weekend with any job, you know. I believe that every screenwriter likely starts off working some sort of day job making money and then writing where their luxury time or free time is. But this guy is talking about filmmaking.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, I actually, I met the novelist Robin Cook last night. Robin Cook, you know, wrote Coma and many, many like 35 novels. And the whole time he’s been doing all that he’s also been an ophthalmologist, a practicing physician. And so I can see that. You know, so you go to your office. You do your thing and then you go home and you write.

But to make movies? I mean, you can’t make movie like, I guess, he says, if I were ever given the chance to be part of a production in any way then I’ll obviously take time off. I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe I just don’t understand the question.

John: Yeah. I think he is — here’s what I think he’s responding to. I think you and I on the podcast have often talked about as a screenwriter you can’t focus on like I’m going to write screenplays. You focus on I’m going to make movies. And so I think he’s trying to use the term filmmaking as a sense of like I want to not just have scripts. I want to make sure that these become good movies and that I’m really writing towards the movies and not just to stick 120 pages of screenplay in front of himself.

So, I get that. But I think it’s also, he doesn’t understand how all consuming it is to actually make a movie and that’s the reality.

Craig: I was talking to Scott Frank about, you know, when he started he was at UC Santa Barbara. And he was pre-med. But he really wanted to, he was fascinated by movies and he wanted to be a screenwriter and so he enrolled in a screenwriting class and he was talking to his professor. And the guy said, “Why are you pre-med? Why don’t you just do the screenwriting thing?”

And he said, “Well, you know, pre-med is kind of, it’s my fallback.” And the guy said, “If you’re in your 20s and you have a fallback, you’ll fall back.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, and I think there is some truth to that, you know, the safety net is a much safer net than no net.

John: Yup.

Craig: All right. Well –

John: No, I agree. So I wish him luck with his nursing and with his writing but I think you’re going to end up being, you’re going to do one of those things.

Craig: By the way, nursing is a noble and wonderful profession, so I hope –

John: I agree.

Craig: I hope he sticks with it.

John: All right. It’s time for One Cool Things and let’s let you start because you had a book suggestion for me.

Craig: Or something.

John: Or something.

Craig: So it is a book suggestion. It’s exactly a book suggestion and it was inspired by this question from Matthew, what would you recommend as a book. And, you know, most of them just make me nuts.

But there’s a funny little book that has been out of print forever. And in fact, it’s been out of print for so long that now, and it used to be that you — I found out about it about 10 years ago. My friend Peter Carlin handed me this old edition that he had of it. And they have gone and put the whole thing up on Cinephilia and Beyond, which is a website. It’s at cinearchive.org and we’ll put a link.

And they seem to be basically saying, “Hey, look, it’s been out of print forever. It was printed in ’71. It’s not coming back into print, so we’re putting it here and probably, it’s not technically public domain but we doubt anybody is going to challenge this.” And I think they’re right.

The book is called The Total Film-Maker. And it is written by this guy who directed some movies named Jerry Lewis.

John: Oh my gosh.

Craig: Jerry Lewis.

John: That Jerry Lewis?

Craig: Yes. Now, here’s the crazy thing about this. So Jerry, the book The Total Film-Maker, it was compiled from a course that Jerry Lewis taught at USC in ’71. And it was printed once in ’71 and then it’s been out of print ever since. And having read this 10 years ago, I can tell you, it is spectacular.

At times, there is only two kinds of advice in this book: the worst advice ever or the best advice ever.

John: [Laughs]

Craig: And you can tell, like you can tell the difference. But Jerry Lewis was an incredibly nuts and bolts filmmaker. You probably are familiar with the essential invention that Jerry Lewis provided the film industry, are you not?

John: I don’t know what it was, tell me?

Craig: The video tap.

John: Oh, that’s right.

Craig: Jerry Lewis invented the video tap. So for those of you who don’t know, when you’re shooting film, obviously, you can’t see, you know, what’s happening inside the film camera. Jerry Lewis came up with a way to essentially pull some of the light source off to a separate thing that converted that into video so that you can have monitor and see what the film camera could see.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which is revolutionary. So he was an incredibly nuts and bolts filmmaker and the book is full of just an enormous amount of practical stuff, really practical stuff. And while it may not necessarily be the most writing-oriented book, I can’t think of a better book to prepare you for what production is all about and what you’re writing toward.

There’s one bit of advice he had that I’ll never forget and I think about it every time I step onto a set. He said, “Actors will always presume that your mood is a result of them.”

John: Hmm.

Craig: And if you’re upset, frustrated, tense, all the things that can happen to you because of things that have nothing to do with them, the budget, the schedule or whatever. If you come to them and that’s in your face, they will assume that you are angry at them. And then they will react in a way. [laughs].

And I thought that was brilliant. Just brilliant. Even if it’s not true, I mean, maybe it’s just true about Jerry Lewis. I don’t know. But this book is like awesome and it’s now, I mean, this book which — and funny, Mike Birbiglia is mentioned in the article that links to the actual book because he himself has — has a copy of this. And apparently, if you wanted to try and buy one they’re about $500 a piece. But now that it’s free on this website, everyone should read this book. Everyone.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: My One Cool Thing is actually something that BJ Novak, had tweeted earlier this week. It’s a New York Times piece by Aimee Bender called What Writers Can Learn from Goodnight Moon.

Craig: Yes.

John: And so when I saw it, I thought, like oh, that’s going to be like a parody article because like it’s Goodnight Moon. It’s like it’s a kid’s book and I remember reading the kid’s book. But you actually look through Aimee Bender’s essay and it’s very, very smart because my husband hated reading Goodnight Moon. And I actually really loved reading it aloud because it’s one of those things where like it actually has like a fascinating rhythm to it. It’s like a really surprising rhythm to it.

And like the page turns are really built in to sort of how you say it aloud. And she talks about the structure of the book and how like there’s things that shouldn’t work like “Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, cow jumping over the moon.” It’s like what –

Craig: Right.

John: The same word. There’s a page of “Goodnight, nobody.”

Craig: Right.

John: Which is like so, so strange. So it’s a really, really odd book and yet it’s incredibly comforting. And it was clearly written with the intention that like you’re going to read this a bunch and we’re going to make it rewarding to read a bunch.

So it’s a very great essay on sort of not only why that book is so successful but sort of what you can take from that in terms of understanding expectation and structure and then pushing against it to create surprise.

Craig: I loved it, too. And it’s, by the way, no surprise that Berkeley Breathed ended his most recent run of Opus with essentially an ode to Goodnight Moon. I loved reading the story to my kids. And part of what I think is so brilliant about it is that the prose essentially mimics what the brain does as it falls asleep.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s detailed and then it starts to kind of come apart. It gets a little absurd, a little strange. The word count reduces down. Things that were there in the beginning very specifically are now recalled in weird dreamy bits and bobs. And then at last, it just lands like a feather.

John: Yup.

Craig: Just a gorgeous way of simulating an experience with text. Isn’t that something?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, that’s why, I think that’s why that book will be read forever. Forever.

John: Forever.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Great. Craig, another fun podcast.

Craig: Yes.

John: If you have a question for me or for Craig on Twitter, he’s @clmazin, I’m @johnaugust. Longer questions like the ones we answered today, you can write to ask@johnaugust.com. We have links in the show notes for most of the things we talked about. So you can find those at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes.

If you want any of back episodes of the show, you can get them through scriptnotes.net, so that’s all the way back to episode one you can find those. It’s a subscription. It’s $1.99 a month to go back through all those things. You can also get to those episodes through the Scripnotes app. So either for Android or for iOS.

If you’re on iTunes, click Subscribe so we know that you’re subscribing and leave us a comment because we love those.

That’s about — oh, we also have a few more of the USB drives. So we now have all 150 of the first episodes are on those USB drives. We’ve actually been selling a lot of them, so people are catching up on back episodes.

Craig: Great. Awesome.

John: So that’s great. And Craig, I will talk to you again next week.

Craig: You’re darn right you will.

John: All right. See you.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Two Writers, One Script

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig look at the trend towards hiring two writers to work on separate drafts of the same project. Is it better to have writers in parallel than serially? Or does it end up with studios ordering off a Chinese menu: this scene, that character, that other set piece?

Both Craig and John just started new first drafts, so we talk about the difference between the Map and the Territory, and how outlines can’t always anticipate the discoveries made while writing.

Finally, we answer a bunch of listener questions ranging from the Peter Stark Program to loving your day job.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 154: Making Things Better by Making Things Worse — Transcript

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 16:25

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

How are you, Craig?

Craig: Um, I’m doing spectacularly well.

John: Good. You and I are both taking trips to go off and write projects, and so we’re recording this a week ahead of its launch. So, by the time this episode comes out, everything in Hollywood might have changed.

Craig: That’s right. But I feel like that’s the case normally. I mean, anytime we do a podcast there’s always at least a day or two.

John: Just a flag.

Craig: Everything can… — I mean, you know at some point we’re going to do a podcast and the world will end.

John: Mm-hmm. But the question is, if the world ends will Stuart still be around to push the little button that makes the podcast go up on the Internet?

Craig: Again, this is not scientific, but I’m going to say yes.

John: So, if a podcast goes out in the world and there’s no one to hear it, was it ever really podcasted?

Craig: Well, somebody will be out there. I do see Stuart covered in radiation burns, slowly crawling over the course of 24 hours, to finally push the button with a finger that is more bone than flesh. And then dying with a smile on his face. “I did my duty!”

John: It really is an inspiring moment. It’s sort of like The Postman, that sort of post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner delivering mail.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Except it’s Stuart Friedel, so it’s automatically 10% better.

Craig: That’s right. Everything is 10% better with Stuart.

John: Well, today on the podcast we’re going to talk about making things worse, and how making things worse for your characters is honestly the best way to get your story working in many cases.

We’re also going to talk about what I call the organization of narrative information, which is sort of how you structure your story so that people know the things they need to know when they need to know them. So, that’s our podcast today.

But first we need to tell people about Austin. So, you and I are both going back to the Austin Film Festival this year.

Craig: Going back.

John: We had a very fun time last year. We will have a fun time this year. We are going to do a live Scriptnotes show there with an audience and questions and things.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We might do a live Three Page Challenge. There will be other fun things. There will be drinking. So, it’ll be a good, fun time.

Craig: Will there be a dunking booth?

John: I have never seen a dunking booth, but that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a dunking booth.

Craig: Well, I’ll hold out hope.

John: Yes. There’s always hope.

So, Austin Film Festival this year is October 23 through the 26. If you register for it and you use the promo code Scriptnotes, all one word — Scriptnotes — they’ll give you $25 off your conference and producer’s badge. So, there’s a limited number of those Scriptnotes little special pass things, so if you know you’re going and you want to use that promo code, absolutely, why not use it? $25 saved.

Craig: That’s great. It’s getting a little, I mean, not only do we not ask you people for money. Now we’re just trying to give you money.

John: We’re basically just giving things away.

Craig: We’re just giving you money now. What is it — what do we got to do?

John: I don’t know what we’ve got to do. I think we need a stronger business sense or something.

Craig: Something. I mean, we’re not getting it from Stuart, that’s for sure.

John: Well, in many ways we are a classic startup though. We’re trying to get big and then we will figure out monetization later on.

Craig: Step one, start podcast. Step two, question mark. Step three, profit.

John: So, I will say in the monetization front, since we’ve ended this little side bar topic here, we make a little bit of money on the show. And how we make money is some people subscribe to the premium channel through scriptnotes.net. That gets you all the back episodes and occasional bonus content. That’s $2 a month and so once we split that with Libsyn who hosts us, it’s about $1 a month for each person who subscribes to that. And it’s not honestly a lot, but it helps pay for the transcripts, so we do transcripts for every episode. And it pays for Matthew who cuts things.

It doesn’t really pay for Stuart, but Stuart would be part of this enterprise anyway because Stuart is Stuart, he’s my assistant. So, it is useful. So, if you do want to support us in that way, we do really appreciate that, so that’s good.

Craig: When you say we make money, you mean we gross money. We have revenue but we don’t we actually profit.

John: Exactly. So, there’s money coming in the door to do that. Sometimes it works out enough money to actually pay for things. But, eh.

Craig: Cause you know it’s a big point of pride for me that this will always be a money-losing operation.

John: It will always be a money-losing podcast. Trust us on that.

Craig: Yes. We will never — we promise our shareholders that they will never, ever see a profit.

John: But I have asked Craig, like Craig used to have to write a check every once and awhile, because hosting was costing us so much. But we’ve taken care of those things, so we’ve made some smart business choices. But we’re sort of like one of those non-profits, like where you’re just trying to balance the books.

Craig: We’re like a church.

John: We’re like a church.

Craig: We’re like a church. And, John, you’re like our Jesus.

John: Thank you! And you are like the angry — are you the St. Augustine? Like are you the, who are you?

Craig: Oh, I like that. Yeah, I can see that. Actually, that does make sense. St. Augustine, I just wander off into the desert, super angry and shaking my fist. Although you could also suggest that perhaps I’m John and I’m having just whacked out schizophrenic hallucinations about hell and the beast and all the rest. That’s probably what I am.

Was that John in Revelations? I think it was, yeah.

John: Yeah, I think it was. Hmm, I’m not good at remembering Revelations. But I think it’s interesting that you picked both John and Augustine which would both be really good choices for me.

Craig: Wait a second. I think we, honestly, we just wrote the sequel to Angels and Demons. What was that — is it Dan Brown?

John: Dan Brown. Yeah, Dan Brown is listening to this podcast right now and he’s taking notes.

Craig: Somewhere Dan Brown is like that is a story I want to write with a lot of adverbs.

John: So, let’s give Dan Brown some helpful thoughts about creating a good movie narrative, because really essentially what he’s writing is books that will become movies starring Tom Hanks. So, let’s give him some help here.

Craig: Okay.

John: You’re going off to write your movie, I’m going off to write my movie. And so I’ve been working through some stuff on my movie this week and it was stuff we haven’t really talked about on the show. The movie I’m writing is a two-hander. And I should define a two-hander for people who don’t work in our weird little business.

A two-hander is a story with two important characters, where basically both characters are roughly equally important in the progress of the story. So, romantic comedies are generally two-handers, but really it applies to a lot of other kinds of movies, too. Lethal Weapon is a two-hander. The Sixth Sense is a two-hander. Identity Thief is a two-hander.

Craig: Yeah, you’ll see two-handers typically in the buddy cop genre, road trips, if you do a story that’s like a father/son kind of story, or you mentioned one that was also very common, like you see it all the time. There are certain genres that lend themselves to being two-handers, and others that don’t.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which is this one of yours? Can you say?

John: This is a drama I’ll see. A drama or a thriller. And thriller two-handers sometimes happens. Like The Bourne Identity is a single hero and that’s very common in thrillers, but there’s two-handers in thrillers you see pretty often as well.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, in a two-hander, generally each of the characters have something that he or she wants. And sometimes they have a shared goal, but they each have their own individual goals. And the work I’ve been doing this week has been each of these characters in my story has his or her own individual goal, and it’s been figuring out sort of which of those goals we sort of publicly state first and we sort of let them get started on achieving their thing.

Craig: Right.

John: I describe it honestly like a fuse. So, basically once a character has explicitly stated the thing they’re going off to try to do, you’re sort of lighting that fuse for that character. And then if you go off and do something else with the other character, or have to use your character to do something else to the other character’s plot line, you’re like, but wait, that fuse is already burning. Why are we doing this — you already said you’re going to do this. I want to see them do their thing.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: So, what I was juggling, it’s just sort of at the index card stage, or I’m just doing a little outline in WorkFlowy right now. It was figuring out which character’s storyline was really going to get precedence at the beginning of the story so we could basically get one of their things really going before I dealt with the other character explicitly stating what he was after.

Craig: Right. And sometimes that comes down to examining what is essential to the plot of your story. That will often give you a clue. One person’s story is more interconnected to the plot. They’re the ones that have to begin the adventure and then perhaps another person joins them.

So, for instance, you mention Sixth Sense. It begins with Bruce Willis. So, his want becomes — it lights the fuse in a sense.

John: But take a look at some of our movies. Like let’s take Stolen Identity right there.

Craig: Right. Identity Thiefy.

John: Identity Thiefy. So, we have to know that Bateman is going after Melissa McCarthy first. And he has to go on the road to get to her and actually has to find her before we should know anything about her agenda. Because if you had stopped and given us all sorts of her deal and her life we’d be like, wait, no, no, no, he’s not even met her yet. So, you had to start the story getting it from his side.

Craig: Yeah. And that was something that we ran around and around on. And where we ended up wasn’t exactly what I would have preferred, at least in the beginning, because I knew I wanted to see a hint of her in the beginning. I wanted to essentially show kind of a force of nature out there. And then indicate that she had stolen, she was using somebody else’s identity. And then I wanted to meet that person. And at that point I was happy to just stay with him.

And stay with him all the way through until he goes to find her. You know, in the battles that are fought sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

John: But I would say there’s a difference between meeting a character and like knowing who the character is and having them articulate that thing that is that they’re going for. And in Identity Thiefy, you pushed back her real — you pushed back her danger and sort of what’s at stake in her life until they’re actually together.

Craig: That’s right. Exactly.

John: So, she’s not in danger until they’re together, which I think is a crucial.

Craig: That’s right. Yeah.

John: A similar dynamic happens in Romancing the Stone. So, Kathleen Turner is going down to find her sister I believe who’s missing somewhere in South America. And we do not know that much about Michael Douglas until they meet and until they are together, because if we had done a lot of cross cutting between the two of them it would have really hurt her motivation for getting down there. It would have sort spoiled her perspective on getting down there.

Craig: And this is something that you’ll see all the time in romantic comedies, even though they are movies about relationships, one person has a crisis that pushes them out of their loveless comfort zone and into some kind of arrangement that they have to navigate with another human being, whether it’s While You Were Sleeping, She sits in the toll booth, or the ticket booth at a train station, somebody gets pushed in front of a train. She has to act.

And in Shrek, you know, the kingdom confiscates his beloved swamp. And he has to act. And then they meet these people and, so you’re right, and that’s why you look at the plot — unless, if you don’t know what the plot is, you just know what a relationship is, then it’s kind of wide open. But typically you’ll have some sense of what the hook of the movie is.

John: And so the movies I was talking about are really two-handers where it’s like Character A/Character B and you just have to pick which one you’re going to sort of go with first. But it can also happen in more complicated movies. So, Go, as an example, there’s three basic plotlines, there are three sort of protagonist plotlines. You have Ronna who is trying to make this very tiny drug deal. You have Simon who is trying to get laid in Vegas, and you have Adam and Zack sort of as a group character who are trying to get through their situation with Burke.

And when I wrote that first section with just Ronna and sort of her trying to pull off this tiny drug deal, it was nice and tight and clean because it was very clear like this scene led to this scene led to this scene led to this scene led to this scene. There’s a good sense of consequence of each person’s actions.

When I went back to make the full version of the movie, one of my first decisions was, well, am I going to just try to intercut these scenes between the different plotlines, and I recognized it just wasn’t going to work at all, because once I had started the fuse of Ronna trying to make this drug deal, anything that wasn’t about that was going to not work. And I was going to hurt all of the other storylines by trying to interweave them.

So, being able to keep those storylines separate and let them each be their own chapter let each of those stories actually be the best version of that story.

Craig: Yeah. It’s very hard to do a true, I don’t know how you would describe the kind of Altman or Tarantino approach, or Paul Thomas Anderson does it as well, where it’s almost, I guess it’s like an anthology where you’re following different stories that have similar weights to them and you’re moving in between them.

John: But I think Tarantino is actually a good counter example, though, because if you look at sort of — Tarantino does tend to clump all of those plotlines together. So, like everything that’s going to be about this one character and what they’re doing here is going to stay together as one chunk, rather than cutting back and forth between a lot of different perspectives on something.

Craig: Yeah. Yes. That is true. I mean, they all tend to turn around a story. But I’m thinking of for instance in Kill Bill Volume 1 when you take a break from the narrative of the movie that’s clearly being driven by The Bride and her desire for revenge, and you watch an animated presentation of the history, the origin of O-Ren Ishii.

John: Yes.

Craig: Which is fascinating. It doesn’t really impact what happens in the main narrative, but it is its own side narrative that’s amazing. And it’s a tough thing to pull off. It’s a style choice, but in this case I think when you look at Tarantino’s stuff you’ll see, well, all the side stories actually have very high stakes to them. They are often all about violence, and love, and these deep passions.

If you have a story like that in your framework, and the other ones are just not quite as commanding or as urgent, then yes, the audience will get fussy.

John: They will get fussy. And, again, I have not watched Kill Bill Volume 1 for years, but my recollection is we stay with Bride’s story for a period of time and obviously her journey of revenge is going to take over two movies to get to, so we don’t have the expectation that we’re going to get through all the way to her revenge before we see any of these other stories. But you have to take her a certain distance.

I’m trying to remember what her first obstacle is. I mean, at times she has to get out of the hospital, or she has to get one thing done. And so as long as we sort of know that she was going after one thing, and she got to that one thing, then we’re sort of fine with like, okay, she was trying to do this one thing, she accomplished that one thing, now we can move on, or at least we got her to a place where we understand where she’s at. It’s when you leave something as dot-dot-dot, as a frustrating dot-dot-dot that it gets to be frustrating for the reader, for the viewer.

Craig: Yeah. If you’re going to distract us from a story that you’ve asked us to care about, and that story has elements that demand our concern, if you want to distract us from that, go for it, but you then need to also give us something that will be equally as demanding of our attention and concern. Or we will get fussy.

John: Absolutely. So, when we had Aline on the show two weeks ago we talked through tone which I loved that conversation and it was really great that we talked about that topic. And it got me thinking about sort of the questions we ask about a movie. And those sort of fundamental questions are really the same questions that they taught us in journalism class. And I’m sure you know the fundamental questions you’re supposed to have in a news story. Do you remember what those were?

Craig: Who? What? Where? When? How? Why?

John: Exactly. So, the 5 Ws and 1 H. And those are the thing they teach in every Journalism 1 class and that every news story is supposed to be able to quickly answer those questions so that you could theoretically lop off the news story at any given paragraph and it would still make sense.

I looked it up on Wikipedia and it turns out those questions are actually much, much older. And so it was the rhetor Hermagoras of Temnos who came up with Quis, quid, quando, ubi, cur, quem ad modum, quibus adminiculis, which is who, what, when, where, why, in what way, and by what means. And so our conversation with Aline about tone I think was really those two halves, the in what way and by what means. It’s not what’s happening but what does it feel like? What is the sense of it?

And I think the conversation we’re having right now is really the when question.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Structure is really about when things happen and when you reveal certain information. And I get frustrated by screenwriting textbooks because they always talk about structure as when in the sense of like on this page you’re supposed to do this, and on this page you’re supposed to do this, and hitting these page counts, when really it’s so much more subtle than that. It’s when are you giving a piece of information to the audience so that they have — it’s how are you dolling out the information to the audience to get the best sense of what your story is.

Craig: I agree. The endless frustration with the screenwriting textbooks and the prima facie evidence that the people who write them aren’t really practitioners of the craft is that they typically make the mistake of thinking that plot is just about what, and what goes where when, I guess. As if these positions in linear time were there because they’re supposed to be there, because, it’s just a tautological way of thinking about structure.

Things that happened, the whats and the whens are connected to the why, I think. Everything is a choice. Yes, you can certainly see the patterns. Pulling patterns out of movies and saying, “Well, it does seem like typically the hero experiences a low point at the end of whatever we think of as Act 2.” Absolutely. Well noticed.

Here’s another observation: it does certainly appear that as we progress into the summer months that the day grows younger. Neither of those statements, the first statement about screenplays won’t help you write a screenplay. The second statement about the lengthening of days will not help you create a universe.

John: Nope.

Craig: It is just an observation. But why? Why? Why?

John: Yeah. When we had the episode about tone, which I thought was a great conversation, there were a couple tweets and a couple of questions that came into the account saying like, “Well how do I get better at tone?” And I was like that’s fundamentally a silly question. But you hear the same thing all the time about how do I get better at structure or how do I get better at character. And people try to answer these questions individually. And I think what I’d like to stress is the answer to all those questions is so deeply interconnected.

So, let’s take a look at those questions. Who. Who are the characters? Well, those characters are the people who are determining the what. They’re determining the plot. They’re determining what is actually going to happen in the course of your story. They’re usually affected by the where, by the locations that you’ve chosen, by the world in which your story is set.

Craig: Right.

John: The world in which your story is set, if it’s a revenge story set in Westeros versus a revenge story set on Wall Street, those are very different kinds of stories that affects the how in many ways. It affects whether you’re dealing with swords or some sort of stock selling revenge to get back at somebody, some sort of Trading Places kind of revenge.

Craig: Yeah. They’re also defined by the when.

John: Yes.

Craig: When do we meet them? What just happened to them? Why are we meeting them now?

John: Yes. Why did the movie decide to start right at this moment versus three days ago or 30 years later? And those are fundamental questions that are all interconnected. You can’t be good at one of those. You can’t say like, and you will hear people talk about like, “Oh, she’s really good at character stuff, but plot is not her strong point.”

Craig: Uh-huh. [laughs]

John: Or you’ll more hear about this about sort of beginning screenwriter people, but like, “I just need somebody who is good at structure. I’m really good at story, I’m just not really good at structure.” Well, that’s fundamentally a deep component of it.

Craig: Oh yeah. My favorite is, “He writes great dialogue, but the characters and the story…” Well what is the dialogue, what would be the purpose of that? That’s like a painter just throwing paint into the air. What?

No, this is what we do. No one has ever said to a sculptor, “Well, you know, what you’re really good at is curves. Not so good at the straight lines.” Nobody cares.

John: No. Now, is it absolutely — to me it’s absolutely true that you can read a script and say, “These are some aspects that were not working. And they weren’t working because of… I feel like you have the possibility of a good story here. But these are the things that are getting in the way.”

And then you might talk about some of the character issues that are getting in the way. You might talk about, “I think you’re setting this in a really boring location that’s not giving you the best potential.” But you can’t spray on a better location and suddenly everything is going to make — it’s not going to fix all the problems.

Craig: I totally agree. And similarly, you can’t wipe off something to reveal something great underneath. I’ve heard some people say, “Listen, it’s a really god script, it’s just that the dialogue isn’t very good.” So, if you just wipe that part off and then put new dialogue on top of this very good thing, but in fact, no, because what dialogue is is an expression of tone, of what the character wants, what the character is thinking. It is an expression of the relationship between two characters or three and how it is progressing.

No, there’s no such thing. Unfortunately, this is where the books that analyze these things analyze them as everyone analyzes everything. The idea is to take something that seems complicated and break it down into constituent pieces. And talk about how those constituent pieces all exist and then must be assembled like Lego bricks into this gestalt. But in fact while that is a useful thing for a beginner to do simply to understand what is roughly going on, it is very quickly useless to you. It is as useless to you writing an actual screenplay as, oh, I don’t know, fundamental arithmetic is useless to somebody who is trying to solve Fermat’s Last Theorem. You’re beyond that and that point. Way beyond that.

John: Yes. It’s a beginning math textbook talking about like these are the rules of how you add two numbers together, but then ignoring the actual execution of it. Basically, ignoring that you actually have to do that work, as if execution doesn’t matter. As long as you follow these simple steps and simple guideline, here is the net result.

Craig: Which is why these people make money. It’s the same, you know, how should I lose weight? Follow these steps. How should I get a boyfriend? Follow these steps. How can I get a better job? How can I win friends? How can I win influence? Follow these simple steps.

Nothing that is worth anything can be achieved through simple steps. It is the children in us that are looking for parents to give us instructions to follow. And we are all children looking for parents everywhere. In the end, however, in order to achieve anything of value you have to be your own parent and you have to be a grown up and you have to confront the messiness of it. And the messiness of screenwriting is this: the plot is the character, is the theme, is the dialogue, is the narrative, is the choices.

John: Is the location.

Craig: Is the location. The how is the what is the why is the when is the where is the how. Isn’t that awful, but that’s the way it is.

John: It’s just the worst.

Craig: It’s the worst.

John: I can’t believe you have taken something that was so simple and made it so complicated, Craig.

Craig: I’m a terrible person.

John: You’ve really been a huge disservice to screenwriters everywhere.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Because this is a thing that should be straightforward and you made it completely un-straightforward.

Craig: You know my favorite objection whenever I go on about these charlatans who take your money in exchange for nonsense, people will say, “Well, it’s easy for him to say because he works already.” Which is my favorite like, yeah, and how did that happen, through what? What, did I win a lottery or something?

And then the other one is, “He’s trying to keep us out by taking away the things that would give us the secrets that let us…” Oh, okay.

John: How dare you take their magic beans, Craig.

Craig: Yeah, there’s secrets. That’s it. It’s really just a secret. That’s like a lot of times when I’m in a restaurant I think, “I could make this food, I just need the secret.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Just need the secret.

John: Whenever I watch one of those home improvement shows, or especially if I watch the New Yankee Workshop, it’s like I could do what Norm Abram does. I just need that table saw and those spinning spindle things, the lave. God, if I had a lave there’s no end to what I could do.

Craig: That’s why my favorite thing to watch when I was a kid was Bob Ross.

John: Oh yeah, so good. Happy Little Clouds.

Craig: Happy Little Clouds. And I have no ability to illustrate, to draw or paint. None. I can see things in my head, but my brain connecting to my hand is incapable of reproducing anything that is true in terms of painting or drawing or anything like that. I’m just terrible.

So, I watched Bob Ross and what I always was struck by was that for awhile, oh, and there was another guy, even better than Bob Ross. There was a guy named Robbins, I believe. There was a show on PBS, it was a reading show, and while somebody read a children’s story –

John: Oh, I know exactly what you’re talking about, Craig.

Craig: He would illustrate it, right? You remember that guy?

John: Absolutely. Because that’s actually where I learned sort of like forced perspective. Yes.

Craig: That guy, what always blew my mind about that guy was I had no idea what he was drawing for awhile. He would start making these lines, and curves, and shades, and shapes and I would think, well, this is just a mess. It’s a mishmash of nonsense. And then suddenly in a moment the image would appear. And it was just remarkable how integrated it all was to the point where — the way he broke it down, and was able to then construct it, what made no sense from a post-analysis way, none. You would have never thought to break it out.

And, by the way, I feel it’s the same thing. Like if people saw how you built something or I built something, they would say, “Well that’s not applicable to a book for other people. And then we would say, yeah, that’s right. It’s not. Go figure your own way out.

John: Well, it’s interesting you bring up these drawing examples, because you look at Bob Ross or this other perspective guy, or, you know, that simple like paint-by-numbers kind of thing, where draw from here, to here, to hear, the simple little instructions. You know, on some level it’s good if it’s getting somebody to actually sit down and do the work. I full commend that. And if it gets somebody who may actually have an aptitude for it to get started, and try it, and sort of keep working at it, then that’s not a bad thing necessarily.

But it’s when they’re selling you on the idea that all you have to do is exactly what I’m doing and you will be able to make great art, that’s incredibly unlikely.

Craig: Yeah. I agree. I found the guy by the way, just so you know. His name is John Robbins.

John: John Robbins. Very good. We’ll have a link –

Craig: It was called Cover to Cover and the Wishful Artist. Oh, god, so cool. Anyway.

John: Well, I do remember, I think he basically had like a big white board and he would just have a little marker and he would draw little things. And there would be little creatures coming out. It was great. I loved it.

Craig: Yeah, awesome.

John: This also reminds me of the conversation we were having about the — I think it was a New Yorker critic who was writing about how screenwriting is not really writing.

Craig: Eh.

John: Eh. Because if you were to try to tell someone like, “You can write a great American novel, just follow these simple steps.” Everyone would say, well that’s crazy. You can’t be Steinbeck. You can’t be Faulkner. There’s not a way you can reduce that to a simple pattern. Yet, we want to be able to do that for screenwriting because it seems like, well, it should be that way because I’ve seen a lot of movies. You can look at a script, it doesn’t seem that complicated. How challenging could it really be?

Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, this is where unfortunately the reason that these people exist and the reason they push this nonsense is because there is still a Gold Rush mentality about screenwriting.

John: That’s true.

Craig: You know, people still think that this is — the deal is that you’re going to sell you spec, make $4 million, hobnob with movie stars, marry an actress, and live happily ever after. And, no.

John: But I think we’ve also, helping the novelist, or what keeps people from going for that novelist dream so much is we’ve romanticized the idea of writing a novel as suffering.

Craig: Right.

John: And people don’t want to suffer. People just want to get it done and then like be a success. And we don’t have the idea that screenwriting is suffering. We have the idea that screenwriting is that lottery, like it was really so easy, I sat down, two weeks later, in 21 days I wrote my script. And then I sold it and now I’m a huge success and I have a pool.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that is the dream but that’s the image that is being put out there in the world for people who aspire to write movies. People who aspire to write novels, we’ve not given them that dream. We’ve given them the dream of misery, and heartache, and at the very best maybe you’re David Foster Wallace, but then you still kill yourself.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. It’s true that there is a certain economic benefit to screenwriting that maybe isn’t there for the vast majority of novels. Individual novels obviously will break through. But people think, well, you know, every year somebody goes and sells a thing and they make a thing. And that’s true, but then saying that you’re five times more likely to make money as a screenwriter than you are as a novelist — so?

They’re both really, really small probabilities. And the only way you’re going to succeed as a novelist or as a screenwriter is if you have some innate talent and you understand how to integrate these various things and that you… — If you start approaching this stuff in a workman like way with these books, you’ll never integrate. You’ll never understand. You won’t be honest. The material just won’t be honest and true. And, by the way, I’ve gone through it. You know, there have been times where I just felt like I’m just plotting through this. I’m painting by numbers. This isn’t honest.

And I’ve really been making an effort over the last few years to be as honest as I can, even at the risk of somebody saying, “Well, but you know, we wanted the fake thing. We didn’t want you…”

John: Or, “We expected. We expected what we expected and you didn’t give us what we expected and therefore we’re confused.”

Craig: Yeah, like cherry flavor when you’re a kid is red. It’s that red fake cherry flavor. And then occasionally you would run into somebody who is like, “No, no, no, this is made with real cherries.” And you think, ew, it’s so gross. They’re like, “No, this actually costs money and it’s far, far better.” But I wanted the fake thing. I understand that impulse, but I can’t do it anymore, so.

John: My mom was telling me that this summer in Colorado they’ve had a lot of hikers killed by lightning strikes, so there are these storms that will pick up in the mountains late in the afternoon and if you don’t get off the mountain by two in the afternoon there’s a really good chance that you’ll encounter a lightning storm. And so they’ve had several hikers killed already this summer.

I could look up the real statistics, but it’s actually entirely possible that you’re more likely to be killed by lighting than sell a spec script.

Craig: I would imagine there’s a whole rafter of things, dying of viral meningitis. I know, it just seems like there’s so many things that happen more frequently than selling a screenplay. You should write screenplays because you love writing screenplays. And not for any other reason because, you know, any energy that you slop out in expense of any other thing is wasted energy. You know, caring about breaking in and all the rest of that, you should — you could do that, I guess, when you’ve finished your writing for the day, but better to just concentrate on writing well.

John: I agree. The other topic I wanted to talk about today was making things worse. And it occurred to me because I’ve been catching up on other TV shows over the summer and as you watch one-hour dramas especially, but also half-hours, you recognize that while the one-hour form especially has gotten so good lately and so many wonderful things have happened, there’s a fundamental challenge in television is that you have to be able to create stories that can repeat themselves. You have to be able to create something that can duplicate itself, so that you can actually have multiple episodes.

And, yes, there may be an overall journey over the course of episodes, but you kind of cant burn down the house every week. You can’t make things as bad for the characters as you can in a movie.

Craig: Right.

John: And that may be actually one of the fundamental characteristics of a movie is that a movie is something that should theoretically be able to happen to these characters only once in their lives, versus a TV show which is theoretically going to be happening over the course of their lives, or over many years of their lives. So, it’s a very different nature of story.

And as I’ve read some scripts recently, I really approach them from the perspective of are the writers willing to make things as difficult as they can for their heroes, for their protagonists. And in many cases I think they’re sometimes too sympathetic to their characters.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: They don’t want their — they love their characters They don’t want them to suffer. But it’s only through making things awful for them that they’re going to actually be able to overcome the real challenges you want them to overcome.

Craig: That’s right. And it’s not necessarily true for real life. You know, it’s quite common that you grow and achieve without suffering. However, that’s not good drama. In good drama we require the suffering. We need the sacrifice. We need blood. Even if it’s all metaphorically done, if the character experiences something early in the movie or in the midpoint of the movie and is surviving and continuing forward then apparently you haven’t hit them hard enough. At some point they need to be disintegrated by you so that they can be reintegrated as something better.

And there are movies that take this to extremes. Mel Gibson tends to do those. He loves to, you know –

John: Yeah. I think it’s written in his contract he must be beaten at a certain point in each of his films. Tortured.

Craig: He must experience a Christ-like, what is the word, the — not the Passion, is it?

John: The passion play aspect of it all.

Craig: The bad experience. So, in Braveheart it’s not enough for him to be poor. It’s not enough for him to be oppressed. It’s not enough that his wife is killed. It’s not enough for him to suffer in battle. It’s not enough for him to even be betrayed by a friend. He must be tortured publicly and humiliated publicly. And sometimes, of course, those characters do die and in dying they are transformed and they succeed. But in all cases, it’s not enough to get them into a bunch of trouble and then have them work their way out of trouble. There is always, and Pixar also, masters of this.

Pixar will punch a character repeatedly, and some of them will be jabs, and some will be nice right hooks, but they’re saving the big one for the end. They’re saving it — like how much more of a beating can Rocky take? Oh, watch this. That’s what’s I think at the heart of a lot of their success is that they have no problem really hurting their heroes.

John: Well, it’s one thing to have the movie hurt the hero, so some external force hurting the hero, but it’s often much more rewarding that the hero’s own choice is a bad choice. And they’re suffering the consequences of their decisions. And that’s a thing I don’t see happening enough in many scripts is where the character has to make a choice, and that choice either by necessity is going to lead them down a darker path, or they think they have made a choice, an easy choice, that has consequences down the road.

Forcing your characters to take action, even when sometimes those actions are more dangerous or sort of more harmful than the normal thing would be.

Again, in real life, if you gave a character a choice they would probably choose to go home, or call the police, or just get out of the situation, which is a reasonable response. So, your challenge as a writer is to find ways to take away the option of those reasonable responses and force them to take bigger actions.

Craig: Right. And Shakespeare, for instance, would typically look to the characters themselves and their tragic flaw as the reason that they make the choice that perhaps you might not. And those choices would get everybody into trouble.

John: Yeah. So, in Aliens, Ripley has no desire to go back to that planet, but she reluctantly agrees. She has no desire to actually go down to the planet itself, but she reluctantly agrees. She doesn’t want to have to be in charge of anything, but she ends up having to step up and take charge of something. She ends up having a relationship with Newt. She’s trying to protect Newt and trying to just get the hell off the base.

The movie very cleverly keeps adding new escalations to things. But it’s ultimately Ripley’s choice to go after Newt that makes the end so incredibly dangerous for herself. It’s her finally sort of coming into her maternal rage that powers the last part of that movie.

The movie makes things worse for her, but she’s also making the movie worse for herself, and that’s when movies are working really well, that’s what can happen.

Craig: Yeah. I also think that there’s something wonderful that can happen as the product of a series of bad choices and bad things. Your character may make mistakes and may make bad choices and get themselves deeper and deeper into trouble. But what that sets you up for in the ending is the realization that they now know what the right thing is to do. And that thing is even harder to do than all of the other stuff they’ve been doing. And then they’re really — they’re really, that’s why endings to feel so much more final than the middle parts of things because we understand that they are now asked to do something that is because it is good for them and because it goes against the grain of who they’ve been all along. It is now the hardest and most painful choice.

John: Yes. They had the opportunity to get the thing they’ve always wanted and they’re going to have to maybe sometimes surrender that thing for what they know is the right thing.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And it can be challenging.

Craig: In fact, that’s oftentimes very clearly the difference between the protagonist and the antagonist. The antagonist will not change. They refuse to let go. They can’t, and that is their downfall. That in some ways is the purpose of stories is to entice us to be brave enough to change.

John: So, I want to take a look at some television shows because my thesis was that it doesn’t often happen in television shows because television shows have to be able to repeat themselves.

So, you look at a show like Homeland, which did you watch Homeland?

Craig: No, you know I watch two shows.

John: You watch two shows. So, Homeland is a spectacular show and it’s essentially a two-hander. There’s other characters, but the Carrie character is fantastic and the show does a brilliant job of making things as incredibly difficult for her. And in many ways does what I’m saying in terms of like continually escalating and forcing her to make choices that make things much, much worse for herself. And she’s constantly losing allies and things are melting away.

But it ultimately paints that show into a very challenging corner because you can only destroy everything a certain number of times before it just becomes kind of silly.

Craig: Right.

John: Another counter example is Game of Thrones, which you do watch, and Game of Thrones has the luxury of having so many characters that it can actually sort of make things much, much worse for a character and ultimately kill a character, or kill a lot of characters because there’s room in that world to keep killing characters.

Craig: Well, I will say, answer this question for me about Homeland. Do you think in watching Homeland that the people who created it and currently make it, do you think that they conceive of it as something that will go on as long as it can go on? Or is there a story that they have with an absolute ending and when they get to that ending they’re going to say, “We’re not making Homeland anymore, no matter what our ratings are.”

John: I assumed that was going to be the end of season two. And I have not watched season three. So, there is a plan to continue into now season four, but they’ve made some fundamental character changes. I don’t know what those are ultimately going to be.

Craig: Because I look at Game of Thrones which has an endpoint. It’s moving towards an end. Breaking Bad is an even better example because it’s shorter, so there are five seasons of Breaking Bad, I think, is that correct, five?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they played out as a long movie, a very long movie, and over the course of that long movie Walter White changes dramatically and irrevocably. There’s no kind of backing up the way, you know, in soap opera characters become evil, then they become good, then they become evil, and then they become good. That’s kind of the fun of it.

But in Breaking Bad there is a descent. It is a little bit like Heart of Darkness set in Albuquerque. Marlow goes down the river and is inexorably changed. And we watch those — so maybe that’s why, I mean, look, I love Breaking Bad for so many reasons, but I think as a television show I really appreciated it, but in a way by the way — I love The Sopranos, but The Sopranos was never laid out that way.

The Sopranos kind of just existed and did its stuff and then suddenly said, “Okay, we’ve got to bring this to an end,” so there was almost like a rush of changes that occurred. But not so Breaking Bad. It felt deliberate and like a very long movie.

John: Yeah. And I would say that many TV series, and many successful series are kind of all middle. And a given episode could happen anywhere in the order of the show and it basically feels the same. Possibly one of the reasons why a show like Heroes was a little bit frustrating is that a big super hero story doesn’t feel like it should all be middle. It’s meant to have beginnings, middles, and ends, and it just got to be weird that you were suddenly in the middle of this thing for so long.

Craig: Right.

John: I think our expectations of a super hero story is more a feature kind of expectation. Even in comic books they have those arcs and, yes, Heroes would try to have those little chapters or those little arcs, but it always just sort of felt like you were bound to what TV was supposed to be doing which is giving you the middle.

Craig: Yeah. And that’s why, for instance, I think it’s very smart what Nick Pizzolatto is doing with True Detective or what they do with American Horror Story. Okay, we’re going to do a season and we’ll do as many seasons as you give us, but each season is a story. So, we get to actually change people and have a beginning, middle, and an end.

This is a problem that sitcoms have because they are not designed to deliver story per se, they’re designed to deliver situations and laughs. They are literally defined as, you can call a situation comedy middle comedy. It’s second act comedy. And so what you’ll see in a long-running sitcom, take Friends for example. So, this one likes this one, but this one likes that one, but then they switch, but then they get married, but then they get divorced, but then somebody has a baby, then somebody does not have a baby.

It’s like you could see them just every year they’re like, “Well, let’s just go with this one and this one and make a new middle.” But you never get anywhere until at long last there’s some emotional farewell. But even those emotional farewells aren’t about story. They’re just about saying goodbye to people that we really liked hanging out with.

John: Absolutely. It’s like you were with them for five years of college and then now you’re done and you’re all doing your separate directions. So, you fell in love with the characters, but it was never about the journey that they had together.

Craig: By the way, that’s why I’m going to be an iconoclast here and say that my favorite final episode of a sitcom is Seinfeld’s last episode, which I know at the time was derided, but what I loved about it is it didn’t do — every other sitcom as far as I can tell, most of them, would turn into kind of a maudlin goodbye. And Seinfeld, [laughs], Seinfeld is great because it basically was like we’re now going to judge you. The series was not about hanging out with people that we now have to wistfully say goodbye to. The series was essentially we the audience are god, we’ve watched these people live on earth, and we will now judge them. And we judge them to be lacking.

John: Yes.

Craig: And they are now to spend the rest of eternity like the characters in Jean-Paul Sartre’s Huis Clos together. Together. In their own hell. How about that? How about that for fancy?

John: That is fancy. I’m trying to think of my favorite last episode of a sitcom. I don’t know that I necessarily have one.

Craig: They’re often forgettable.

John: They’re often forgettable. They’re often just like, you know, I remember Cheers ending, I remember Frasier ending, I remember liking all those characters but not feeling necessarily like, well, that was a transcendent episode of what they were supposed to be, partly because the nature of a sitcom is they’re designed to deliver laughs. They’re designed to deliver this situation. And then that situation is resolved and then you come back next week and you see the new situation. So, it’s a very different experience.

Craig: Yeah. Everybody loves the ending, that famous Newhart ending where it was all a dream and they bring back Suzanne Pleshette, and that was great because it was so clever, but –

John: It wasn’t part of the series. It wasn’t –

Craig: Yeah.

John: It didn’t have anything to do with that.

Craig: Yeah. It was clever.

John: Yeah, it was clever.

Craig: Usually those, it’s interesting how sitcoms try and become about story in their end. Suddenly they rush to grow up and become adults at the end of their series because they feel like that’s the only significance that those characters can actually have. And essentially they’re a movie that has been a second act for ten years and then five minutes of third act.

By then we don’t really care.

John: We’re done.

Craig: Yeah, we’re done.

John: Cool. All right. Well, let’s wrap this up. Do you have a One Cool Thing this week?

Craig: I do have a One Cool Thing this week. And my One Cool — well, I guess I have two now, because John Robbins is one of my Cool Things and we’ll find — I’m sure there’s some great videos and you can just watch how this guy makes an illustration out of a bunch of garbled up lines. Ah, what a genius.

John: I kind or remember him having like a number seven line. Like did he have names for the different lines he was doing?

Craig: I don’t know. I can’t remember that. I just remember that he had that very soft voice and a mustache and he was super ’70s out in a kind of like cool high all the time way. And he was just so talented.

My One Cool Thing this week, I’m taking a class at my son’s school, the headmaster has a summer great books class for adults who wanted to take it. And so I took it and it was great. And I read a short story that I had not read before that I thought was just amazing. And I’m a little embarrassed that I hadn’t read it before, because then when I did a little research, it’s sort of a seminal short story that I suppose I should read at some point. And it truly is short. It’s by an author named Delmore Schwartz who was something of a celebrated literary figure of the ’30s and ’40s. A poet and a short story author and editor. But by his own account never really was able to top his big debut which was this short story that he wrote when he was 23, I believe, called In Dreams Begin Responsibilities.

It’s a fantastically written short story about the terror of choice and of our own past, our present, and our future. Beautifully written and done. If you Google it you just might find a copy out there that you could read, although of course as content creators we always urge that you purchase it somehow responsibly. But it will take you ten minutes to read and probably the rest of your life to mull over. It’s really, really good.

John: That sounds terrific.

Craig: Yeah.

John: My One Cool Thing is a book I’m reading right now called The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David MacLean and has such a good setup. So, it’s a nonfiction. It’s a true story of this guy David MacLean who suddenly found himself in a train station in India with no idea of who he was. Complete amnesia in a way that is sort of what you think about in movies where someone literally has no sense of who they are at all.

So, he believes that he was a drug addict and that he may have hurt somebody and these people sort f take pity on him. He ends up in a mental institution in India, which doesn’t seem like an ideal place to end up in a mental institution.

Craig: No, not a good summer holiday.

John: And then ultimately the book sort of follows him trying to figure out who he is and sort of get his brain back together. So, I’m not spoiling anything to say that it’s based on a real thing that does happen, which is an allergic reaction to Lariam, which is a big malaria drug. And on a previous episode when we talked about Datura and like how no one should ever take Datura because it destroys your psyche, this was fascinating to me because where he was lacking most was a sense of inner narrative. He had no idea who he was because he had no story to sort of connect all these little bits and fragments of pieces.

Craig: Wow.

John: And so when he finally finds his family again he has all these photos that he’s in but he doesn’t know what they really mean, so he’s sort of artificially trying to force the memory, or he’s faking a memory for what these are so that it all makes sense to him. It’s a really well written story, and written in a very fragmented way that seems completely appropriate for the narrative.

Craig: That reminds me of that great line from Her. The past is a story we tell ourselves.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Just love that.

John: One of the things it brings up is that we have an expectation about memory that’s so strange and specific. So, like we sort of kind of remember what books we read, but you don’t really remember the details about the books we’ve read. There’s like a threshold about what we expect ourselves to remember or not remember. And it’s only when you dip below that threshold that everything just sort of falls apart.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Deep. We both got a little deep there.

John: We got a little deep there. So, a reminder for folks, we have a few of those USB drives left that have the first 150 episodes of Scriptnotes on them. So, if you are a newcomer to the podcast and want to catch up, it’s a chance to get all those episodes at once. So, you can go to store.johnaugust.com and you will see them there and you can order those if you want to.

Craig: 100 Quatloos on the Newcomer.

John: Yup.

Craig: Is that right? Is it 100 Quatloos on the Newcomer? Do you know what I’m talking about?

John: No, I don’t know what that is.

Craig: It’s from Star Trek, the good, the original Star Trek. I’m almost said the good Star Trek and then I realized I was going to start a huge fight because I like Star Trek: The Next Generation, too.

John: Is it in Mudd’s Tavern? What’s going on there?

Craig: No, I think it’s like the thing where they all have to fight each other like –

John: Gladiator style?

Craig: Yeah. Exactly. Quatloos.

John: All the best. And do they have the little neck things around them?

Craig: I think, is it 100 Quatloos, or 1,000? I don’t know. [laughs]

John: The exchange rates these days, it’s really so hard. To value the quatloo, it’s really tough.

Craig: I don’t know how many quatloos, yeah, like the dollar to quatloo exchange rate is probably way out of whack at this point.

John: It’s got to be crazy. I started watching the original Star Treks with my daughter on Netflix. And it’s really fascinating because they went back through and they cleaned up the visual effects, which do make the show look a lot better and less cheesy, but the cheesiness is actually an inherent part of how the whole thing works.

So, they can fix the visual effects, but you can still see like, oh wow, you shot this whole thing on just like three sets.

Craig: Oh, yeah, you can change the visual effects, but you can’t change the fact that sometimes like the set seems to be shaking a little bit. [laughs] Yeah, I mean, come on, don’t clean it up.

John: Just leave it.

Craig: No, you should leave it as it is. I don’t understand that.

John: Well, what they did is when the Enterprise is circling a planet, that looks much better now. So, that was a useful thing to cleanup.

Craig: I guess. I guess. I liked it. I think that’s part of the fun.

John: Well, if you have an opinion about Star Trek and its cleaned up visual effects, you can tweet at Craig or John. Craig’s Twitter handle is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.

If you have a longer question, you can write to ask@johnaugust.com, and we answer some of those questions on the air. If you are on iTunes at this moment and wish to subscribe, you click that subscribe button. That’s always great and handy. You can also leave us a comment.

If you’re listening to us through [Stitch] or one of those other apps, that’s awesome, go ahead and do that. But it’s also great if you subscribe through iTunes just because that way other people can find us, or at least leave us a note there. That’s great. If you would like to listen to all those back episodes, you can go to scriptnotes.net, or you can go to the iOS or Android app for Scriptnotes and you can subscribe to all of those back episodes. Always good and fun.

Our episodes are produced by Stuart Friedel. They’re edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro this week, and that’s it for our show.

Craig: Yeah. How many quatloos is the USB drive?

John: It is, I think, well, in American dollars I think it’s $20 or $19.

Craig: Okay. I see. In quatloos it’s like 0.0001 quatloos.

John: Yeah, I mean you have to use your special quatloo calculator thing because it really changes based on the –

Craig: Well, lately, too, god, the dollar is just being crushed. They say that you don’t want the quatloo to go too high.

John: Well, actually because then it really hurts your export market.

Craig: It does.

John: Then no one can actually afford to buy your domestic tribble grains. Sorry, the quatloo lately, it gets way too expensive.

Craig: It’s really bad.

John: Yeah, it’s really tough.

Craig: Quatloos.

John: Craig, have a wonderful writing vacation.

Craig: Thank you. You, too, John.

John: And we’ll talk next week.

Craig: Fantastic. Bye.

John: Thanks.

Links:

Disney’s corporate synergy, 1957 and today

Thu, 07/24/2014 - 16:16

I love this graphic from 1957 showing how the various elements of the Walt Disney company fit together.

You could make the same chart today.

Here is a partial list of the properties Disney owns in 2014:

Features:

  • Walt Disney Pictures
  • Touchstone Pictures
  • Disneynature
  • Disney Animation Studios
  • Pixar
  • Lucasfilm
  • Marvel
  • The Muppets
  • DreamWorks (distribution)

Music:

  • Walt Disney Records
  • Hollywood Records
  • Disney Music Publishing

Destinations:

  • Disneyland/Disneyworld worldwide
  • Disney Cruise Line
  • Disney Vacation Club

Theatrical Group:

  • Disney Theatrical Productions
  • Disney on Ice
  • Disney Live

Consumer Products:

  • Disney Store
  • Disney Baby
  • The Baby Einstein Company

Books:

  • Disney-Hyperion
  • Marvel Press

Broadcasting:

  • ABC Television Network
  • ABC Family Worldwide
  • Live Well Network
  • A+E Networks (50%)
  • Disney Channels Worldwide
  • Radio Disney
  • Disney Television Animation
  • ESPN Inc. (80%)
  • Hulu (32%)
  • A+E Networks (50%), includes Lifetime and History

Online/Interactive:

  • Disney Infinity
  • Disney.com
  • Maker Studio

Comics:

  • Marvel
  • Disney Comics

Almost every one of these items is a huge business just by itself. Which raises the question: If one were to make a new version of the 1957 chart, would Theatrical Films still deserve the central marquee spot?

Yes.

I’d argue that in 2014, film properties are probably still worth keeping near the middle of any Disney flowchart. The company makes money in many ways, but feature films are still the key drivers. You don’t get Cars merchandise without the movie.

The success of Frozen is an example of how Disney can capitalize on a hit film by using it in other divisions: Disneyland attractions, TV tie-ins (Once Upon a Time), music, books, merchandise, and possibly a Broadway musical.

As screenwriters, there are pros and cons to this kind of corporate synergy.

Giant corporations like Disney will keep making movies because it feeds the engine — and the better the movies, the bigger the multiplier in success. You can criticize individual films, but the juggernaut franchises have sprung from well-executed movies, and all of these movies began with screenwriters.

The challenge for screenwriters is that it’s increasingly difficult to get momentum on any movie that doesn’t seem to have the potential to work across divisions. An R-rated blockbuster like The Matrix can’t become a theme park ride, so why spend $100 million to make it?

Looking at the list of top-grossing R-rated movies, Warners and New Line made seven of the top 10. With talk that Fox may buy Warners, I wonder if they would still be making those movies post-merger.

Getting 2-Up preview in Highland

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 10:24

Over the weekend, we sold the most-ever copies of Highland, thanks largely to the Mac App Store’s “Explore Your Creativity” promotion.

With new users come new questions to the support desk, including this one I’m surprised never came up before:

Is there any way to see two pages side-by-side in the preview?

There is!

In the preview, right-click (or control-click) and you’ll get a menu letting you choose the layout. Highland defaults to “One Page Continuous,” but you can choose “Two Pages Continuous” to get a 2-up view.

You can find more answers and tips in Highland’s FAQ.

During the Mac App Store promotion, Highland is half-off, just $14.99.

Making Things Better by Making Things Worse

Tue, 07/22/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig talk structure and escalation. Structure is simply what happens when. Escalation is how things get tougher.

In features, characters are usually going on a journey that can only happen once, so you need to make sure that the events in your story are constantly challenging your heroes in new ways so they can continue to grow.

In television, you’re often telling stories in which the character themselves don’t change much, yet the sequence of events within the episode (and in the season) needs to feel like it’s pushing forward.

Along the way, we discuss Intro to Journalism’s Five W’s, and what people mean when they say a two-hander.

John and Craig are headed back to the Austin Film Festival again this year for a live show and other special events. Use the code SCRIPTNOTES to get $25 off our Conference and Producers Badges.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Impostor Syndrome, and unknown unknowns

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 16:08

On the podcast, Craig and I have discussed Impostor Syndrome, in which successful people secretly feel like frauds.

Apenwarr, who works for a major tech company, wonders if Impostor Syndrome is actually a good thing:

The people with Impostor Syndrome are the people who aren’t sure that a logical proof of their smartness is sufficient. They’re looking around them and finding something wrong, an intuitive sense that around here, logic does not always agree with reality, and the obviously right solution does not lead to obviously happy customers, and it’s unsettling because maybe smartness isn’t enough, and maybe if we don’t feel like we know what we’re doing, it’s because we don’t.

Impostor Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment. The people with the problem are the people who can’t hear that voice.

Scriptnotes, Ep 153: Selling without selling out — Transcript

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 16:55

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: Hello. My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

So, Craig, last night at 1:30 in the morning my phone rang.

Craig: Hmm.

John: So what do you do when your phone rings in the middle of the night?

Craig: Well, I have to answer this hypothetically because I turn all my ringers off at night. But if the ringer were on and it rang at 1:30, I would definitely answer the phone.

John: Yeah, because there’s never good news at that time of the night so you’re going to have to deal with it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Something is going to happen.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So the phone rings. It wasn’t my cell phone which is always downstairs. It was my house phone, so I pick it up and it is a wrong number.

Craig: Oh.

John: Or if it’s not a wrong number, because the guy on the other end sounded just as confused as I was. So it could have been somebody who actually just like was being a dick and just called two random numbers and connected them.

Craig: Oh, you can do that? Oh, when you put the phones together?

John: Yeah, or I think you use like three-way call to people.

Craig: Oh, that’s actually kind of brilliant. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: Kind of love that guy. [laughs]

John: A whole new kind of terrible pranking –

Craig: Right.

John: For awful people.

Craig: I like it.

John: So anyway, so it’s 1:30 in the morning. I’m wide awake suddenly now. And so my brain is sort of stewing and ruminating. But the best thing happened. So this product that I’ve been sort of thinking about for quite a long time and I haven’t really started writing because there was a thing that I couldn’t figure out about it, I suddenly figured it out like 1:30 in the morning.

Craig: That’s the way it works. Yeah.

John: Yeah. So I was up until 4:30 in the morning sort of actually –

Craig: Oh.

John: Working it all through.

Craig: Is this all a way for you to say that this is going to be a terrible podcast where you’re super sleepy?

John: No. I’ve had a lot of coffee. It’s going to be either one of those podcasts where I’m super sleepy or I’m a little bit too wired.

Craig: Oh, I like that.

John: So we’ll see how it all goes.

Craig: Very exciting.

John: But if three years from now you see a movie that I’ve written where one of the key plot points is she’s looking for her phone that she lost, that came from last night.

Craig: That was last night.

John: Everyone was part of the genesis of that moment.

Craig: You know that they say that generally speaking that we are at our most creative neurologically in the very beginning of the day when we wake up and at the very end when we’re going to bed. So there are days where I actually just wait, and then as I’m going to bed I’d start thinking then in that kind of weird middle-dreamy place. And it is amazing how often in that little place you will figure out things.

John: Yeah. That’s our liminal state between fully awake and asleep.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Today on the podcast we’re going to be answering a whole bunch of questions. People write in with questions, sometimes on Twitter we can get to them right away and we answer right when they send us their question. But sometimes people send in longer questions to ask@johnaugust.com. We have a whole bunch saved up and we are going to get through those today. So you’re ready, Craig?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Great. Well, let’s start with some follow up because one of them is from this guy James Topham who writes, “I hope you don’t mind, but as an alumnus of the Three Page Challenge, I thought I’d drop you a line to let you know how I’ve got on since your kind feedback.” His script was the one with the killer robots in the desert called Proving Ground and I kind of vaguely remember that. Do you remember that, Craig?

Craig: I don’t but I like everything that he said, so. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Exactly. I like that he likes us. So –

Craig: I like that he likes me. Yeah, so I’m going to say that it doesn’t matter if I remembered or not.

John: It’s true. “Last year the script went out to a number of producers in LA and here in the UK with your notes faithfully executed of course. I flew stateside for a week to do a whole series of generals and met some great people. Since then I’ve been talking with some producers here. And the last couple of weeks I have sold my first feature pitch.” Congratulations, James.

Craig: Excellent.

John: “It’s a micro-budget horror but on the slate of a great company but I want to say thank you for your direct feedback and for all the advice in the podcast for the last couple of years. For those of us remote from LA and support networks out there, the show provides such a resource to aid our understanding of the craft and gives me hope that there’s a slim chance of forging a career. So thank you.”

Craig: What a great — that’s fantastic. I mean, you know, the whole purpose of the Three Page Challenge was really just to help focus people on some of the very practical things that we deal with when we’re putting together a scene and so it was never really meant to be promotional in any way but I kind of love that that’s sort of what happened here. First of all, I love that we were right [laughs] because we really liked it apparently. And the company that he’s sold his pitch to is a very good company, it’s a top notch, A-list production company here in town.

So obviously, we’re brilliant, that’s really the point. I mean, I understand that James is proud of what’s happened to him but I think what he’s saying is, “Once again, John and Craig, you are brilliant.” [laughs]

John: [laughs] Well, let’s see if we can be brilliant today for other folks. So –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Here are some questions people wrote in with. We’ll get through as many of them as we can.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And we have to start with Lynette Oliver because how can we not start with Lynette Oliver.

Craig: Lynette, she’s my favorite.

John: Craig, why don’t you read Lynette’s question –

Craig: Absolutely.

John: Because she will like that.

Craig: Yes, she will.

Lynette writes, “Recently, Craig was part of a Twitter conversation that basically ended with the advice to write query letters to get representation or get your script to somebody rather than just relying on The Black List site, my preferred method before this conversation. I definitely want to do the proper research before querying. My question is how does one do that research? InkTip, IMDbPro, some other subscription service? I’m a good researcher and in this case I have no idea where to begin, what listings I can trust since everyone and their Hollywood insider dog wants to take money from people like me in exchange for ‘access.’”

What do you think, John?

John: So, I don’t know people who’ve gotten agents through or managers through query letters but I know it does happen. So what she’s really asking is, “How do you find it? Who is the person who you should even sort of bother sending out that email to, sending that, you know, reaching out to because who do you know who’s real and who’s not real.” I think, it’s, you know, paradoxically, there’s more, just better research than there ever was before, so you can actually just look stuff up on the Internet in ways that you couldn’t and you can see what people’s credits are. But there’s just so many names that it’s just kind of overwhelming. Craig, where would you start if you were Lynette?

Craig: Well, I’m a little confused because the question implies that I gave the advice to write query letters rather than just relying on The Black List site and maybe I did but if so I’m recanting it because I actually don’t really think much of query letters. I know that people are constantly talking about query letters. My whole problem with query letters is that they’re kind of self-selecting. The people that answer query letters are precisely the people that you don’t want answering your query letter.

The better people don’t answer query letters because they don’t have to and that’s what’s so good about The Black List is that it allows the better buyers and the more reputable and powerful buyers to access your material. That aside, you’re right. I mean, I assume that query letters must have worked at least once or twice or people would finally stop unless it’s some kind of cargo cult.

I don’t know anything about InkTip. I can’t imagine there’s much of a point in spending money on a subscription service other than, I mean, The Black List is the only one that I think actually has gotten results as far as I can tell, So…

John: Yeah. I mean, there’s probably some bias just in that we know, you know, we know Franklin, and we know people who have gone through The Black List and so therefore there is a confirmation bias that’s sort of inherent to that.

Craig: Sure.

John: Where it really comes down to is a push versus pull. And query letters are a way of like pushing your script out into the world and saying like, “Hey, please look at this thing.” And maybe that’s effective sometimes, but everyone I know who’s gotten agents or gotten managers it’s been a pull situation where that agent or manager has asked to read something because someone else has said, “This is really good,” or they found this through a competition, they somehow came up across this writer, this idea, and they wanted to read it. And most the people I know who’ve gotten representation recently, it’s been that situation.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: So, a writer who I was working with recently who I just had lunch with just last week, he did the more classic thing where he was working at a desk at an agency, was able to get himself on as a writer’s production assistant on a TV show and they noticed that he seemed good in competent.

Craig: Right.

John: And they asked to read his stuff and that got him started and that got him that whole process beginning. That’s much more typical than the sending out a query letter to the world.

Craig: I absolutely agree and let’s remind ourselves that these services, all of them, simply didn’t exist, say, I don’t know, 15 years ago or all the way back 19 years ago when you and I got started and somehow still people were discovered and hired.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So they are not necessarily. You know, I’ve always, you and I have been fairly consistent on this that what a lot of these services are doing is essentially charging you a fee for dipping your toe into the pool as opposed to jumping in.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And that is attractive for people who prefer that method. The problem of course is that it’s simply not as effective out of a general population. Of course, none of those general statistics apply to the outliers and, of course, it is the outliers that tend to do well no matter what the restrictions are. So, I don’t know if that answers the question but it’s certainly complicated and long-winded enough. I think, [laughs], I think I did that part right.

John: The only last sort of data point I’ll give is as I mentor to five writers who are sort of new WGA members. And one of them Jonathan Stokes, I don’t think will be upset to hear his name in the podcast to say that he wrote a ton of scripts and nobody would read them. And so he had this whole trunk full of scripts and then he finally wrote a script that someone through various means read and was like, “Oh, this is really good. You’re a good writer.” And that went on The Black List, like the list of best scripts.

Craig: Right.

John: And then he suddenly had this other trunk full of scripts and like they’ve all just sort of sold and been out there because he was a really good writer. It just took awhile for people to notice that he was a really good writer.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that’s the awesome part of it. Actually, more consistent to the real story of how these things happen then I wrote a query letter to exactly the right person who is looking for it and therefore said, “Yes, I will represent you.”

Craig: You know, that also brings another thing to mind that I think we’ve talked about before. Most of the services that are available are, I guess, sort of wide net averaging services, you know, so people will evaluate your script and give you a general rating.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: But, we don’t achieve success through general ratings. We are again about the outlier scores. So we’re about the Russian judge that gives you the 10 instead of the eight that everybody else got.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: That’s the person that’s going to buy your script. More importantly, in Hollywood typically what happens is people follow passion. So when one person gets very passionate about a certain screenwriter’s screenplay and people respect that person, they just presume they ought to be passionate about that writer as well.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, it’s all led by the outliers both on the talent side and on the acquisition side.

John: Yeah. What I don’t want this to sound like is a recipe for, well, just do nothing and somehow magically it’ll all come to be. You have to put your script out there in a way that people can find it and that people can talk about it and then discover that it’s good.

So, you know, there’s a middle ground between spending six hours a day sending out query letters and sticking everything in the trunk and then not letting anybody read it. We sort of really encourage people to let people, you know, have people read your scripts because that’s the only way people are going to find that you’re a good writer.

Craig: Absolutely. And sometimes I feel like the query letter thing becomes a job onto its self. You know, people send query letters, then they feel the need to send the follow-up query letters, and then the follow up to the follow ups and how long should I just wait before I follow up and it never ends.

John: It’s also weird that we call them query letters when they’ve got to be emails at this point.

Craig: Yeah, well, they’re emails and they’re not, what are they, what’s the question?

John: Yeah. “Hey, would you read my script?”

Craig: Right. They’re not query letters. They’re sales letters.

John: Yeah, to sound good.

Craig: By the way, that’s how everyone views them too. They’re basically spam. It’s sales spam.

John: Yeah, speaking of it. This last week we did a press release that we had to push out to the world for the new Bronson Watermarker and so I was writing and rewriting this press release and I just hated it so much because it was so incredibly boring.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: But it kind of needed to be boring because I could look and see like, well, what is the net result of this press releases on all the sites that end up running these press releases, and they’re kind of boring. And so I had to do kind of exactly what Lynette is describing which is like figuring out like, “Who was it worth reaching out too? What is right address? Do I find the person’s name that I can send this to so it’s not just going into a general tips ad or whatever line?” And that never really stops.

Craig: Yeah, no. It’s just, it’s too much.

John: It’s too much.

Craig: It’s too much.

John: Ryan from Singapore writes:

Craig: Yeah.

John: “I understand your writing process starts with cranking out a large number of pages very rapidly. How sloppy is too sloppy for a first draft? Do you force yourself not to think about it and go with your gut even if things don’t make total sense? What about refining what you’ve written? Is it something you only do once you completed the script start to finish?”

So there’s two kind of things that we’re talking about here. Some writers talk about the vomit draft which is sort of just like everything as fast as you can, get it down on the page. I don’t do that as much as I do barricade myself and handwrite something so I can go back and rewrite it. But in both cases, I think sloppiness is a fair question.

Craig, what is your barometer for sloppiness?

Craig: Yeah, well, I don’t do any of this. I don’t crank out a large number of pages very rapidly and I definitely try and write my first draft as if it was going to be shot.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: I know it’s not going to be shot but I should have said as if it were going to be shot.

John: Yeah. Subjunctive is your friend.

Craig: Subjunctive. I know it’s not going to be and I know that I am going to have to refine and refine and refine and rewrite and rewrite. Nonetheless, I am not writing something just to say, “Look at me, I made it to the end. I’m writing something that reads like a movie.”

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: It’s going to help and more than anything, first of all, it requires you to work harder which is important because that’s work you need to do. If you don’t do it now, you’re going to have to do it later, might as well try to do it now. I find it very difficult to write things that don’t, like he says, “Go with your gut even if things don’t make total sense.” Well, if they don’t make total sense then maybe there’s, A, a problem with your gut. Or, if your gut is correct and you just haven’t figured out the one part, unfortunately everything that’s built on top of that will suffer from the foundation not making sense.

You’ll start to lose some unity to the piece and I want the people that are reading it to be able to give me the best feedback possible which I think they can only do if it reads like a movie. So, I’m actually very careful about how, I mean, The Huntsman, by the way, that’s an example. So on The Huntsman, I wrote one draft and I wrote it as if they were going to shoot it and they’re going to… — Well, I mean, you know, they got Frank Darabont to do it, so if I had just done a sloppy draft, I think everybody would have said, “Now, can you do it for real?” You know?

John: Yeah. I can see Ryan’s point here in that sometimes perfectionism can be a trap. And so, you can go through and sort of diddle with every scene so carefully that it’s like pristine and precise that you never actually get the whole thing done. But I think I’m much more in your camp where I always write a scene, even if I’m handwriting a scene that I still have to type up, I write it as if what if I never get the chance to go back and fix it?

Craig: Right.

John: So I always write it as if this has to be able to be shot and I won’t let anything go in the script that doesn’t feel like it could be shot. All the time knowing that I’m going to go back and do another pass through there, things are going to be improved just by a second look at things.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I definitely write sort of for the final version of things. Where sloppy can be your good friend is if you’re just trying to figure stuff out about who the characters are, what they are, I’m a big fan of writing off the page and writing a bunch of scenes that you know are not going to be in the movie but just to get the characters talking.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Figure out what their voices are like. And that’s an absolutely fair and valid process. And that’s kind of a thing where just kind of being stream of consciousness can be a really smart move because you get to hear what those characters’ voices are, what the world is like, just it’s, you know, it’s just getting your mind in a more fluid place. That is totally valid. But when it comes time for your real scenes, don’t shove crappy scenes into your script because they’ll be there.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, ultimately this is our job is to write a movie and to write scenes that feel like scenes and have harmony and expression and theme and character and purpose and all that stuff. I mean that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. When I hear that people are doing vomit drafts or just chucking stuff down a page, I feel like they’re trying to figure out the plot through writing screenplay pages which is a terrible way of figuring out a plot anyway.

So, yeah, I, like you, I get to be as sloppy and as verbose as I want to be when I’m writing down notes and doing my index cards and redoing my index cards, all that stuff. But if you write your screenplay carefully, I guess is how I would say it, just sort of do it with attention and care and craft. I mean, I typically, you know, on a decent day I can write three pages. And while that may not seem like a lot to the vomit draft people, I’m sure it isn’t, in six weeks I will have a screenplay no matter what.

John: So there are days that I will do 17 pages, 21 pages early in the process. But those are good pages but those, and it’s also because I’m writing like 12 hours a day. I’m literally on sort of a lockdown just doing it –

Craig: Right.

John: And not out of a panic-fear situation but a genuine sort of mania and love for this thing that I’m doing. So honestly, my 1:30 in the morning phone call got this movie figured out in a way that I probably will go off and barricade myself and do some of those giant page days.

Craig: Right.

John: They’re not all going to be like that. And at the same time, like those pages I write will hopefully be really good. They’ll hopefully be the kinds of scenes I want to have in the final movie. They’re not going to be, you know, approximations of them. They should be shootable scenes. We’ll see.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Next one, you?

Craig: All right, yeah. So we’ve got Laura in London and she writes, “I’m a UK writer. My first pilot is set in the UK has some interest from a US producer with a first-look deal at a big network. I have two producers already attached, both with a proven track record in film but not television. The US producer made some great stuff in the ’90s and not much since and has offered to option the script with a view to taking it out to cable. However, he wants to bring in a more established US writer to write a US version of the pilot. So my question is threefold. One…”

Oh boy, this is a complicated question, hope you’re taking notes.

“One, once I sign the option, what are my rights as the series creator? Obviously, it might go absolutely nowhere, but in the unlikely event it does go to pilot and get picked up, will I get to be in the writer’s room? Will I get to write an episode of my own idea?”

John: Let’s stop there and just sort of address her questions one at a time.

Craig: Okay.

John: Once you sign that option, there’s no magic contract about how these are supposed to always work. And so you have, you know, as we often say in the show, you control everything now because you control everything. And so you can dictate some of those terms about what’s going to be happening in that room, what the relationship is going to be like with another showrunner that they have brought in. You can say no and sometimes you may want to say no.

Craig: I agree. And I’m going to read, let me just jam the next two through because I think they kind of all connect together.

John: Okay.

Craig: So that was the first one. Number two, “Is this a step forward in my career? My goal is to be a working screenwriter and I would love to be based in the US in the future. So is this a step in that direction or should I write a US version myself, try my luck elsewhere? Three, the neurotic bit; he wants another writer. I know this script’s not a total steamer.” I guess that’s a –

John: A bad thing.

Craig: Local. That’s local custom. Yeah, so a steamer’s a bad thing. “And the script’s not a total steamer. It has won and been a finalist in a few writing comps, I’d give it a B minus at least. But still, I get that I’m new, untested and British, but there are plenty of shows on now that have newbie writers teamed with experienced showrunners. So what does him passing my script really mean and how it will be viewed?”

And to me, this is all, I guess, Laura, this is all leading to me picking out what your instinct is in the way you’ve even set this up and are asking the question. I think you know the answer to all of these questions. I think what you’re saying is, “This isn’t right, is it? This isn’t a good idea, is it? This isn’t going to help me, is it? This isn’t what I want, is it?” And it seems to me like the answer is, no, it’s not.

I mean, look, you’ve written a pilot and you have producers, I assume they’re UK producers, and somebody in America who perhaps is getting a little long in the tooth likes the idea of it but wants to hire people that he’s comfortable with and make it over here in the US. I don’t really see how that helps you one bit. And I’m not sure would you be the series creator? Do you want to be the creator for a series you have nothing to do with that isn’t like your show at all? I don’t know. I don’t –

John: I think you’re taking the most pessimistic view of what the end result of this will be.

Craig: Shocker.

John: Because let’s also remember most TV shows don’t happen.

Craig: Right.

John: And so that’s an entirely possible situation here as well. So –

Craig: Wait, that’s the optimistic? The optimistic view is that the show never even happens? [laughs]

John: I would say that in TV, you go into TV knowing that a show not getting picked up, a show not running, like failure is not the same kind of failure in TV as it is in features. And so getting anywhere down the path to progress is considered success.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: So a couple of things that I’d talk to Laura about. First off, there was a WGA panel I did with Kelly Marcel a couple episodes ago, we’ll put a link in the show notes, where Kelly talked about her experience on Terra Nova which actually sounds kind of similar in that here’s a British writer –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Who’s come in who got partnered up with people she didn’t necessarily believe in.

Craig: It’s eerily similar, yeah, although the people that she was paired up with were not like some guy that made some great stuff in the ’90s. It was Steven Spielberg.

John: No, no, they were big.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah, he’s made some good stuff in the ’90s and other decades, too.

Craig: Yeah, that’s right.

John: But I would encourage you to listen to that and listen to her experience about it because it was really hard for her to walk away from that but she ultimately realized she needed to walk away from that. But I would also say, look at what the upsides of what happened with Kelly because of her decision to at least pursue with the process partway. She got to meet a bunch of folks in Los Angeles. She had a reason to be in Los Angeles and to be in rooms talking about her writing. And that could be a good thing even with this producer situation you have here.

So if their option is saying you are meeting with the American writer, you’re going in and you’re talking to US television, at least you’re suddenly now in the rooms with those people who are reading your script and thinking like, oh, here is a British writer with an interesting voice. That is a positive step in your career.

Craig: Yeah. I would say that Laura picks out the key to success here when she says there are plenty of shows on now that have newbie writers teamed with experienced showrunners.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And I think that since she controls this property completely, it is fair to say to this producer, “If you want this and you want to put a different writer on it, then I have to be paired with that writer and I’m going to be working with that writer on it and that’s that or you don’t have it.” And at least then you’re buying your way into an experience. And if it goes terribly south, then like Kelly, you can walk.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: But at least you took your shot, your name is on it in a meaningful way, and you got involved and learned, you know, along the way.

John: Yes.

Craig: You really have to look at… — The worst outcome here is that this guy takes your thing, puts somebody else on it, they make something else that has no resemblance to what you wanted to do and it’s on the air and you had nothing to do with it. Or they take your thing, it does resemble what you did and you have nothing to do with it and you get no credit for it either. That would be terrible, so yeah.

John: It would be terrible but, again, the lesson we often come back to in Scriptnotes is that a writer is not one script.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And so if she wants to have a career as a screenwriter working in Los Angeles, this may be a way to get her closer to that dream even if this project itself doesn’t work out magnificently.

Craig: Yeah, you just don’t want to have to beg your way into your own writing room, that’s all.

John: I completely agree.

Craig: Yeah.

John: John writes, “I am a college grad with degrees in psych and communications with no family obligations. Here’s my concern. I’m a practicing full-blown Mormon.”

Craig: Hello!

John: “I support marriage equality and I believe I differ from most of the negative stereotypes associated. That being said, I don’t swear, I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. I feel like that would be found out quite quickly even if I attempted to keep it on the down low.”

Craig: [laughs]

John: “My concern is that given my faith’s very overt stance, will it hurt my chances? Lord Umbrage” — that’s you Craig.

Craig: Oh, yes, yes.

John: “I will say that if I write a great script, that’s all that will matter. But I worry that my particular subgroup will be bearing the burdens of Orson Scott Card and others for quite some time.” So what’s our advice for John?

Craig: “Turn it off like a light switch. Just go click…” Um, you don’t have to worry about this, John.

John: I don’t have to be worry about this at all.

Craig: Not even one iota. Look, Orson Scott Card isn’t just somebody who is a Mormon, he is outspokenly against the idea of marriage equality. He’s made it a big huge thing and he also has a lot of other very strongly held political beliefs that he’s pushed out there in an overt way. This town has all sorts of folks ranging up and down various religious axes. If you don’t make a big deal out of it, then I really don’t see what the problem is. You know, I live in La CaÒada. We actually have quite a decent sized Mormon population there, so like two families. [laughs] That’s a Mormon joke.

No, no, there’s a lot of Mormon families and they are lovely people. And frankly, I’ve known people in my town eight or nine years and then my wife would say, “You know that they’re Mormon?” I had no idea, had no idea. I mean, it’s not like they’re not walking around with a big M sign. You know that. I think it’s great that you support marriage equality and this won’t cause you any trouble.

John: Yeah. Yeah, you will find so many people who don’t drink or do drugs who are essentially Mormon in all but faith all around you. You’ll find there’s actually a ton of Mormons that you wouldn’t realize that they are Mormons working in the industry anyway. But also, I feel like it’s, I don’t know, I want to say, wow, like white people creating problems for themselves.

Craig: [laughs] White people.

John: Only in the sense that like, here’s John writing in and saying like, “Oh, I’m coming in with this giant handicap being a Mormon.” It’s like that’s crazy. Like if you want to come in with, you know, issues that are going to make it more challenging for you to start, that’s like the least issue you could possibly imagine.

Craig: Right. Yeah, I agree.

John: So right now I bet there’s a whole bunch of sort of like, you know, black women writers who are going, “Who is this person and why is he complaining?”

Craig: [laughs] Well, you know, I understand because the truth is, he’s not here and I think that he’s receiving a kind of view of Hollywood as a politically monolithic place that rejects Christianity, religion. It rejects conservative ideologies and all that stuff. And look, there have been times when people have been outspoken about things and, but this will not be an issue for you. By the way, don’t drink and don’t do drugs, go ahead and meet half of Hollywood that’s in a recovery program.

So when you don’t accept a drink in a bar, people will just assume you’re a recovering alcoholic and that’ll be cool. [laughs] I don’t…this is not.. — By the way, I know a lot of Mormons in Hollywood too and every Mormon I have met who works in the film or television business, as far as I can tell, they’re all gay. Gay, well, gay ex-Mormons.

John: Yeah, gay ex-Mormons.

Craig: Gay ex-Mormons. A lot of gay ex-Mormons.

John: Yeah. Our next question comes from Thomas in Charlotte, North Carolina. “A friend of mine has talent representation at CAA. I’m a writer-director, and the friend introduced me to his agent for the purpose of having her forward my resume/work to her literary rep colleagues. A few weeks later, she told me that one particularly literary agent at CAA would meet me “for coffee.” I live in the Southeast but make frequent trips to Los Angeles, so I’m currently in the process of trying to schedule said coffee meeting for this month.

“This is my first meeting of this nature with an agent. What sort of weight or expectations should I be putting on this meeting? Is it a significant first step, is actual landing representation still a ways off? What should I do at this coffee to make sure it’s the right step?”

Craig: Coffees are great ways to meet with people without feeling like you’re trapped necessarily in a long lunch or that you’re not torpedoing the middle of your day.

John: Yes.

Craig: But in a sense, they work as a proper meeting. And I never put any weight or any expectation on any meeting ever in my life.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But when you sit down with this person, you should have some things in mind that you want to get answers to, you can have questions. The worst thing that happens when I sit down with people is that they’re boring.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They have nothing to say. They can’t hold up their end of the conversation. They have no questions or interesting things about them. So be prepared to talk about yourself, have questions and don’t be shy about saying, “Listen, the next step for me is representation. What do you advise here? I need to kind of get this thing going.” But more than anything, you should be your impressive interesting self.

John: 100%. Coffees are fantastic because it’s such a flexible definition of what it’s supposed to be. So it could be 10 minutes, it could be half an hour.

Craig: Right.

John: It doesn’t have to be more than that and it’s fine whatever that duration is. If I were Thomas coming into this coffee meeting, I would be able to talk about the things that you’ve done, the things you’re looking at doing, and the questions about sort of, you know, this is what I’m planning to do for my next step. What do you think? What would you advice? And about representation, exactly what Craig phrased it as is basically what would you want to see that would convince you to represent a writer-director in my situation?

Be able to talk about some of the other clients there, clients who are similar to sort of what you’re doing or it doesn’t even necessarily need to be a CAA client but you could point to, you know, recent successful writer-directors who’ve made smart choices and just be able to talk about them. They want to see that you’re not a crazy person.

Craig: Right.

John: They want to see that you kind of get how things work and that you have an interesting voice, that you’re somebody they could imagine putting you in a room with an executive and that executive will say, “Oh, yeah, the guy seems really cool.”

Craig: Right. I mean, passion, all the things that work when you’re meeting somebody for the first time on a date, these are the things that work in these situations. I mean, agents in particular look at us, they evaluate us, not just by the material but by our appearance and I don’t mean to say “Oh, this is a really hot guy.” It’s more about does this person look like a weirdo, do they look presentable?

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And also by the way we come off, you know, are you passionate, are you funny, are you interesting, are you smart? They really like smart people.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, they’ve had, if you are a kind of just middle of the road, bland person, what do they need you for, you know? That’s not a prescription to go nuts. I’m just saying, you know, you just don’t want to be boring more than anything.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

All right, Justin from Vancouver writes, “I was wondering if doing Scriptnotes has changed how studio executives and producers treat the two of you when in meetings. It is easier to have your opinions be taken seriously because they know you and your personalities from the podcast. Have you gotten work?” I feel like we’ve gotten this question before. “Have you gotten work because of the podcast?” John, have you gone from an A writer to an A++ writer because of Scriptnotes?

John: I know. I honestly feel very few of the people I work with on a daily basis know the podcast exists, at least at the big executive and studio producer level.

Craig: Yeah. I’m kind of there. I do think that on the assistant level, people listen a lot. I mean, occasionally, an executive will mention to me that they listen. But no, it seems like the stuff that gets you work is the stuff that always got you work. They like your script and/or your last movie was a hit, et voila. [laughs]

John: Et voila.

Craig: Yeah, there’s really, no, nobody takes me more seriously because of Scriptnotes, no. It would be cool if they did.

John: I think it will be interesting 10 years from now as this generation of assistants rises up –

Craig: Ah. Yes.

John: And replaces their forefathers. Will they look at us with affection and hire us when we’re no longer, you know –

Craig: Right. When we’re gum in their food.

John: Yeah, when we are no longer young and in our 40s, but the creaky old men in their 50s.

Craig: The grumpy, yeah, grumpy, “Yeah, yeah, I did the Scriptnotes. I also wrote movies.” [laughs] Yes, you know –

John: So really, this is an investment in our future.

Craig: Yeah, this is like a pension. It’s like an IRA. We’re just throwing money, well, I hope that that works one day, but no, for now, Justin, no, not at all.

John: So, Nicolai writes what’s sort of a long question but he kind of perfectly described one of my frustrations with certain screenwriting software, so I’ll get through it.

Craig: Okay.

John: “I’m desperate to switch to a sleeker, no filler screenwriting app. So why can’t I buy Highland on my Android devices?” That’s a simple question, because we don’t make it for Android because we don’t know how to make it for Android. “But I recently tried unshackling myself from Movie Magic in favor of Fade In, but I stuck with Movie Magic purely because it requires the fewest amount of key strokes to type a script.

“The most basic example: in Movie Magic, hitting tab always brings up a new dialogue line whether from a proceeding line or scene direction. Hitting enter always begins a new slug line/scene description. But with Fade In, hitting tab creates another parenthetical within dialogue which I try to avoid anyway or a line break even within a block of dialogue. The results, ending your line of dialogue requires two key strokes, enter/tab plus tab, whereas Movie Magic only needs one. It’s a tiny difference that adds up to a huge drag over five to 10 pages. How does Highland deal with this controversial issue and why won’t you let me give you my money? Thanks.”

So, again, Highland is Highland. Highland’s the app we make and it’s very sort of minimalist and stripped down. But what he describes about sort of like you’re in a box, you’re in dialogue and you’re moving from character to thing and you’re hitting different keys to move to the next point. It can get really annoying and you get to have a muscle memory for how a certain app does it. And I’m sure you found that too, Craig, is that you’re now using Fade In –

Craig: Yeah.

John: As your main screenwriting app. And so you’re totally used to it, right?

Craig: I don’t even know what he’s describing. In Fade In, I write a character name and then I hit return and I’m in dialogue. I’m not sure what he’s talking about. I don’t see any difference between that and the way Movie Magic works whatsoever. I honestly don’t know what he’s talking about.

John: Yeah, the issue of –

Craig: Maybe he’s hitting tab when he should be hitting enter, I don’t know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The one thing that Movie Magic does that I really like is when you’re in dialogue if you hit an open parentheses, it moves you into a parenthetical with the theory being how often do you actually want to have a parentheses in your dialogue.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I always thought that was very smart. But, look, if you are incredibly fastidious about key strokes and, again, I don’t know that he’s correct here but regardless, then I think a stripped down version of things would be perfect for you. If you are like most people and the extra key strokes become invisible to your process, then it’s not a problem. But I honestly don’t know what he’s talking about.

John: So I made a video about writing in Fountain and one of the points I made in that, I’ll put a link to that in the show notes, but one of the points I made to it is that as you’re writing in the sort of more traditional screenwriting app, so Fade In, Final Draft, Movie Magic, you’re constantly thinking about sort of what element is what element. And so you’re always hitting those extra keys to sort of move and that becomes character name and there’s a parenthetical underneath it, and now you’re in your dialogue.

And it is a small tax that you’re placing on your writing to do that. And so one of the advantages in writing all in the left-hand margin, the way you can in a plain text editor or you can in Highland or Slugline is that you don’t have to think about that. The word processor, the text editor is doing that for you. So you’re just putting in the words and it is smart enough to figure out what those words would end up being. So that’s the thing. So the kind of situation he describes where he gets stuck in the wrong element can’t happen in Fountain because you’re never actually changing those elements consciously.

Craig: Right. For me, I think that because I’ve been using what I’ll call a formatted format for so long, I mean, I started on Final Draft, then I went to Movie Magic, and now I’m in Fade In. That process is invisible to my brain.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think if you start on Fountain, then you would — that’s what you would want and the other method would be very cumbersome. So it is about what you’re used to, to some extent. And there’s no right or wrong here. I guess, I would say to Nicolai, if you, I don’t know. Oh, because he doesn’t have Highland on his Android devices. Why is he writing on an Android device? What is this guy doing?

John: [laughs]

Craig: I’m starting to get angry. Why are you writing on your phone? Now I’m like David Lynch. “Watching movies on your phone, watching movies on a fucking phone.” [laughs] He’s the best. I mean, why are you writing a script on a phone? Get out of here.

John: While we’re talking about screenwriting software, what is your feeling about like auto complete and Smart-Type? Do you like it when a character name fills itself in –

Craig: Yes.

John: Or does it drive you crazy?

Craig: No, I do like it a lot. And I like it for two reasons. One, because particularly when I’m writing a scene where there are two people having a conversation, it does flow beautifully. And two, it confronts me when I’ve created characters with similar first letters or the same first letters, I should say, because then sometimes I get the wrong one or it gives me that stupid menu. So that I do like quite a bit.

John: Yeah, I do like Smart-Type when it makes sure that I’m spelling the character’s name the same way every time because that can be a huge problem.

Craig: Yes.

John: When there’s five ways you could spell it and now you’re spelling it the one way. What always drives me crazy with Smart-Type lists is when it really wants to fill in sort of the wrong character’s name. For me what always happens is I’ll have a situation where you have like two characters talking at the same time, so like Sandra/Laura.

Craig: Yes, yes, yes.

John: And then like, ugh, so then you have to manually go through and delete that Sandra/Laura so it doesn’t do that.

Craig: That’s right. That is the one thing that is very annoying and you do have to go to your Smart-Type list and blow that one out because for whatever reason, it defaults to the long one. You know what, I’m going to have to talk to Kent at Fade In and tell him to default to the shorter one in those circumstances.

John: Yeah, that’s probably a good solution.

Craig: Yeah, I think it is.

John: We’re making software better on this very podcast.

Craig: Yeah. And I’m not writing it on my phone. [laughs]

John: I’m going to let you take the Iceland question.

Craig: Yes. Erlinger, oh god, I get the best, I don’t know how to do the Iceland accent. Is Björk from Iceland?

John: She is?

Craig: She is so cool.

John: The coolest.

Craig: You know, I was listening in my car the other day and I was just, I had my phone on random songs and Human Behavior came up.

John: A great song.

Craig: It’s so weird. And when you listen, yeah. It just doesn’t follow [laughs] any kind of normal song structure, melodic structure and yet it totally does in its own way. What a cool, that lady is cool.

John: So I saw Björk with the Sugarcubes at Red Rocks in Colorado.

Craig: Wow.

John: And it was one of my favorite concerts ever.

Craig: Yeah, “Human behavior — if you ever, ever, ever, ever, ever…” Okay, so Erlinger from Iceland writes, “I’m a long time listener and a big fan of the show from Iceland but based in New York. And I wanted to ask you about credit when it comes to treatments in actual screenwriting. It was reported recently that Shane Black would be directing the new Predator movie and that his old Monster Squad buddy, Fred Dekker, would be writing the script based on Black’s treatment.” Very exciting news by the way says, Erlinger.

“And I started wondering how does that work credit-wise. Will Shane Black, an accomplished screenwriter with a very specific style be credited as a writer on the movie or just have a Story by credit?” Oh, there’s so much about this question that makes me angry.

John: Yeah, I knew it would be the perfect question for you, Craig.

Craig: It’s not your fault, Erlinger. I’m not angry at you. I’m angry at the universe. Let me just boil down the part that infuriates me. Will Shane Black be credited as a writer on the movie or just have a Story by credit?

Story by is writing.

John: It is.

Craig: Story by is writing credit. It is, there is story credit and there is screenplay credit. Story credit, the credit that, Erlinger, you are sort of implying isn’t really writing credit, is the credit to which separated rights are attached. In many ways, it’s the more important credit. So in this case, if a screenwriter is writing a script based on another screenwriter’s treatment, then a couple of things happen.

First, the screenplay automatically moves out of original screenplay mode into non-original screenplay mode. In this case, it would have been anyway because it’s a remake or a sequel. And if this were the only writing arrangement, so Shane Black writes a treatment, Fred Dekker writes the screenplay, they shoot the movie, then in fact the credits would read, Story by Shane Black, Screenplay by Fred Dekker, and both would receive a writing credit.

John: Yes. Now, it’s entirely possible that Fred Dekker would also receive a shared story credit if his screenplay contributed tremendous story elements that are not present in Shane Black’s script. Shane Black directing this doesn’t change the nature of the story by credit. The only thing that it will cause is that because he is a production executive on it because he’s directing it, it would go through arbitration automatically. It would have to happen.

Craig: That’s right. There is one other potential. And that is, if it’s a remake, well, I’m assuming this is a remake.

John: Yes.

Craig: Okay, in the case of a remake, a couple of interesting things. First, simply writing a treatment doesn’t guarantee you a story credit because if your treatment isn’t sufficiently or significantly different from the story of the first movie then you won’t get story credit and you know who will? The writer, the credited writer of the first movie.

So the credited writers of the first movie become participating writers in the remake, they become writer A in fact. So a lot of interesting, tricky little things going on there. But I think more importantly then the specifics of the question here is just for me to remind everybody that Story by is a writing credit.

John: Yes. A zillion years ago, I was in the discussions to do a Predator movie and did not proceed with it. But I love Predator as a franchise. I think Shane Black will do an amazing job.

Craig: Predator is a fascinating movie because it came out at a time when a lot of movies like that were coming out. There was a Schwarzenegger era.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And you had a bunch of guys in that movie that were sort of that steroidal ’80s action film. You know, Carl Weathers was in there. So it was a bit of, you know, some Rocky guys. Jesse Ventura was from wrestling, and of course, Schwarzenegger. And so I remember when I saw the ads I thought, okay, I’ll go see this because, hell, if I saw Commando, I should see this, right, I mean –

John: Totally

Craig: I basically, you know, I’ll go see whatever this guy does. And it was a great example of when you walk into a movie theater and say that was so much better than it had to be.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah. It didn’t have to be that good at all. I mean, I still to this day, time makes everything better.

John: Yeah.

Craig: At the time, I remember thinking, I’m sorry, did Arnold Schwarzenegger just outrun a nuclear explosion? Did he just dive in front of a nuclear explosion and land in a ditch and he’s okay now?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And at that time I just thought that was insulting. Now, of course, it feels somehow brilliant. Time has made it brilliant. It’s made it an audacious choice.

John: [laughs] Well, he didn’t go into a refrigerator. So there wasn’t that.

Craig: Yes, he did not go into a refrigerator. They literally, they dispensed with any kind of lead lined box.

John: Arnold Schwarzenegger is his own refrigerator.

Craig: Yeah, that’s right. He just, you know what, it’s that scene we’d seen a million times where somebody runs and then as something explodes in the background they dive away and they did it this time but with a nuclear explosion, with a mushroom cloud.

John: I haven’t seen the movie in a zillion years. I remember watching it the first time on VHS over at my friend Matt’s house at like a slumber party and so we watched that and Purple Rain and other stuff, but loving it. My recollection of the movie is that after a certain point, it becomes essentially a silent film because it’s basically a two-hander between Schwarzenegger and Predator.

Craig: Right.

John: And none of them is talking which is just kind of great.

Craig: It turns out that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a far better silent film actor than he is a talking film actor. And you can see that in The Terminator.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because in The Terminator, he says, you know, “Are you Sarah Connor?” It’s only four lines, you know. “I’ll be back.” He’s a great silent actor.

John: “Fuck you, asshole.”

Craig: Yeah, exactly. He’s got a great silent actor face. He’s all physical. The more he talks, the less well it tends to go. So, of course, we made him the governor of a state. How stupid. How stupid are we? I don’t care what your politics are. How do you make that guy a governor? What? And then Jesse Ventura became governor. Two governors in that movie. From Predator.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Why isn’t Carl Weathers a governor? What’s he –

John: In an alternate universe, Carl Weathers is the president.

Craig: Carl Weathers. President Weathers.

John: Oh, it’s going to be good.

Craig: Oh, it’s so great. Oh, I love it.

John: Is Carl Weathers Action Jackson?

Craig: You know he was. Action, Action Jackson.

John: So Craig, let’s wrap up questions with my question to you.

Craig: There was a guy, a friend of mine went to a movie. And it was an action movie, but it was not Action Jackson. And there was a kid sitting in front of him, 14-year-old kid. And every time some action happened, and this was about a year after Action Jackson came out, every time any action occurred in the movie, the kid would go, “Action, Action Jackson.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] And it was incredibly annoying. But then by the end of the movie, it became better than the movie.

John: Of course.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s great.

Craig: Action.

John: So Craig, my question for you.

Craig: Yes.

John: How was Dungeon World?

Craig: Oh, Dungeon World was great. So we had talked about the fact that we were going to play Dungeon World and it was your One Cool Thing before we played Dungeon World.

John: It was.

Craig: And our Dungeon World Group was a great group. We had Phil Hay of Ride Along and many other wonderful films.

John: R.I.P.D.

Craig: Clash of the Titans.

John: Yes.

Craig: We had Chris Morgan of The Fastest and Furious franchise. We had Michael Gilvary who writes on Chicago Fire. We had Malcolm Spellman. He’s written the, what was the family movie, the family…it was at Fox.

John: Yeah, and now I forget the name of it.

Craig: The something Family Wedding.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But he’s also currently working on a television show, Lee Daniels’ new television show called Empire. He’s on that. This is a great group and myself and you.

John: We had played over four nights I think.

Craig: Yeah, I think it was four crazy nights. And you were the Dungeon Master and whipped together a fantastic story with a great twist ending. It was such a good ending that my character was strongly contemplating suicide.

John: You know you hit a good point in the story where a character’s reasonable choice might just be to kill himself.

Craig: That’s right. But I thought it ran exactly the way it was supposed to go. You had the basic bones of a story. So there was a back story that connected to the end. There was a destination, some goal posts along the way, and there was one key artifact.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And then we kind of put it all together as a story as we went, you know. And with you guiding us, that’s exactly how it was supposed to happen. And there was a lot of deaths. Chris Morgan and I were the only characters to survive and even our survival was ironic and Twilight Zoney, a little Monkey’s Paw-ish.

John: It was a Monkey’s Paw. I found Dungeon World mostly pretty good. So for people who aren’t familiar with what Dungeon World is versus Dungeons and Dragons. Dungeon World is an attempt to make an incredibly stripped down version of a game like Dungeons and Dragons where you’ll be rolling two six-sided dice. It’s much more about the conversation and talking back and forth rather than looking up charts and doing that kind of stuff.

And one of the goals is that the players themselves should have much more responsibility for the storytelling. And that’s where I thought you guys really stepped up. And it’s also nice that you have like, you know, five screenwriters doing it. But you guys found some really great interplay between your characters and sort of I could let you roll with things and most of the times it was really good. For each night of play, I would create sort of two encounters and then let you guys figure out how you were going to get through them.

Craig: Yeah, to me the most fun really was in the way the characters interacted and how they solidified and became certain types. I think of all the character interplay, I guess my favorite of all that was when Malcolm’s character, Big Luther, continually harangued Michael Gilvary’s character, he’s ranger character, Patty, for attempting to shoot arrows through animated skeletons.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It was just a terrible choice.

John: It was a terrible choice. And that was the first night and he never gave up on it.

Craig: Yeah, he really never, yeah. And I like that Patty in his kind of depressive Eeyorish way kept saying, “That could have worked.” [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: It’s pretty great. But I also liked the interplay, my character was definitely the Loki of the group and sort of a selfish, liar. And he was a thief, so he’s all about, you know, profit. And Phil Hay’s character, Reynard, was the pompous, sanctimonious cleric. And those two guys hated each other. It was great.

John: Yeah. So one of the smart things about Dungeon World was you start with this concept of bonds and so as you’re figuring out your character, as you’re figuring out what their bonds are and sort of what their relationship is with each other. And it reminded me of a similar dynamic when we were playing Fiasco with Kelly Marcel, is that before you start the whole process, you figure out the relationships between the characters and then you figure out the characters.

Craig: Right.

John: And that was really helpful because I remember playing D&D growing up. It was so much about like which character class you are and what the plus was on your sword.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And it wasn’t about the story. And this, to its credit, was very much about the story.

Craig: Yeah, it was very, it’s funny actually, I was looking, because, you know, you and I are now talking about continuing on with you as a player and us doing a campaign in the new Dungeons and Dragons, the fifth edition which is on its way out. And I was looking, just reading a little bit and I thought, you know, I’m really interested in creating a character that’s the wrong race for the class.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: I just think that would be a cool way to begin, you know, because the truth is, yeah, does it hurt you a little bit statistically in the beginning? I suppose. But, you know, by the time you get to level whatever, who cares?

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s just more interesting.

John: It is. If I had an overall criticism of Dungeon World, I felt that it was so stripped down at times that when you actually got to fighting things, it became really hard to figure out when should you roll again. And so, you know, if Luther is fighting this guy over here, how often should you be getting back to Luther and having Luther try to attack this thing and roll his dice versus the results.

Craig: Right.

John: And that was sort of a mess. And that was me not being especially, you know, great with the structure and the rules of it all, but it didn’t seem to scale especially well to the five of us. And so the lack of initiative which is basically a system for going through and figuring out who’s turn it was to do something got to be a bit of a problem.

Craig: Well, we’ll see how it goes with this next thing, but I had a great time regardless. And I’m looking forward to the next. And mostly because my wife hates it. She doesn’t hate it like, she’s not angry at it, it just more like, “Oh God.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’re going to nerd, I literally put it in my calendar which she can see, I write down Nerd Fest.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: All right, it’s time for One Cool Things. So Craig, what have you got?

Craig: My One Cool Thing this week is not a repeat, although, it might sound like a repeat. It’s David Kwong who I’ve talked about before. But today, right now, on Friday the 11th of July, his TED Talk is up and available and we’ll have a link in the show notes to that. It’s a great example of what he does.

So in the TED Talk, he talks about the idea that we are all hardwired to solve and he even talks about some scientific research with infants. And then he does a trick, and the trick has a component that involves that day’s crossword puzzle. It’s very intricate, it’s very meta. David always figures out how to be meta and the meta on top of meta and meta on top of meta on top of meta. It’s a great trick, I don’t know how he does it. It’s brilliant. You should all check it out. And the best news of all it’s I think like a 13-minute video.

John: Yeah. So actually I haven’t seen the TED talk as final, the final version of it, but I got to see a rehearsal for it over at Aline Brosh McKenna’s house several months before he did it. And it’s great and he’s super smart. And just this last week, my daughter came home from summer camp and she wanted to show me a card trick and it was a mess, it didn’t work at all. And so like, I went on YouTube and like, “Let me show you David Kwong doing a real card trick.” And it was terrific. And there’s actually one YouTube clip where he actually shows you how to do a very simple card trick that would impress most people at parties.

Craig: That’s such a great father-daughter moment for you. “Oh, that’s terrible, sweetheart. Here, let me show you the best guy.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: “This is the guy who’s the best in the world. You’ll never be as good as him.” Behold, behold, have I crushed every ounce of passion out of you for this? Good. Good. You be a screenwriter like your father!”

John: To be fair, she had actually gone with me over to see David’s rehearsal so she knew who he was.

Craig: Oh, okay.

John: So it wasn’t just like… — He was fantastic. But it was actually a good father-daughter moment where she asked me, “Papa, why do you know so many famous people?”

Craig: Aw. Because daddy is special.

John: Daddy is special.

Craig: Yeah.

John: My One Cool Thing is actually related to last week’s –

Craig: Wait, she calls you –

John: Procrastination talk.

Craig: She calls you Papa?

John: I’m Papa.

Craig: She calls you Papa? That’s so German, I love it.

John: Well, we’re a two-dad family so –

Craig: I know, but see to me it I would just be dad and dad. But papa, or papa is, whatever. Let’s say, okay fine, you want two different dad type names, but papa is so wonderfully old school. It’s so Little House on the Prairie.

John: Oh, thank you.

Craig: Papa.

John: Papa.

Craig: Papa. Why, Papa?

John: But of course whenever she really just wants something, she doesn’t care who it is that gets her the thing, she’ll go, “Daddy, Papa.”

Craig: Oh, I like that.

John: It’s like one thing like, I don’t care who does it. Just one of you do this thing.

Craig: Yeah, one of you –

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Guys. Hey guys.”

John: Guys.

Craig: “Guys. Guys, I need a thing.”

John: My One Cool Thing is related to last week’s procrastination topic and it’s how I actually came upon those procrastination articles was I was in a deep click hole researching the Fermi paradox, which you’re probably familiar with.

Craig: I am.

John: So the simple way of stating the Fermi paradox is that if you assume that the Earth is not special, the Earth is mediocre in terms of places in the universe, that our solar system isn’t special, that our Earth, our planet is not that special in terms of its possibility of existing. If you look at it that way, there should be tremendous numbers of civilizations out there across the universe, across the galaxy. And our galaxy is actually fairly old, so there should be some younger ones out there that would have progressed to the point where those civilizations should have been be able find us or at least done something that we can see. But when we look out into the galaxy we don’t see any other civilizations. So the Fermi paradox is basically, where is everybody?

Craig: Right.

John: So it turns out there’s some really good explanations about, you know, why we may not be seeing other people and it could be everything from the universe, the times spans are just too huge, the distances are just too huge. It could be that there’s, the most troubling article I went through is that there may just be some filters and there may be some filters that sort of prevent civilizations from progressing beyond a certain point to where you would actually leave your home planet and travel across the wide empty spaces. So a really interesting thing. I’ll put three articles in the show notes this week.

Craig: It is interesting. There’s a lot of possible explanations. I have to say that I’ve always been the sort of person who wondered where all these people were and why aren’t they contacting us. And then I saw Neil deGrasse Tyson. I think it was Neil deGrasse Tyson talking about this thing. I don’t know if I mentioned on the show before. He was talking about how we all wish to meet an alien intelligence and we always presume that when we meet them they’ll be basically like us.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: But he says, you know, we share something like 99% of our genetic material with chimpanzees. And the genetic material in that last 1% is that’s the difference, that’s why we are as smart as we are compared to a chimp. What if the people that we meet improbably are 99% is similar to us. That’s how similar they are to us. But unfortunately that 1% difference makes us as chimps to them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Oh my god. We wouldn’t even understand what they’re saying and we would be like children to them.

John: Well, I think of the different possibilities with Fermi paradox, my default answer to this point is that version of we’re asking the wrong question because essentially when you get to be so advanced that you could travel across the galaxy, there’s suddenly something else that’s much more appealing to do. And so –

Craig: I see.

John: One of the ways they described that as beings is like if you were building a freeway and you pass by an anthill, you wouldn’t care about the ants on the anthill. And it’s very possible that’s we’re just the ants in the anthill. And we’re not even really aware of the freeway that’s being built.

One last bit of news on my side, I’m hiring somebody. I’m actually hiring a new employee.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So it’s very possible that someone listening to this podcast is that right employee for Quote-Unquote Films, Quote-Unquote Apps, my app development company that makes Highland and Weekend Read and Bronson. We are hiring a full time position, a UI designer. Somebody who’s really good at designing interfaces for apps both on the Mac and on iOS. We’d love somebody who is a combination of good design skills but also coding ability. We want somebody who can actually build things in Xcode. So if you are that person, there is a job posting on johnaugust.com and you should send in your resume because you might be exactly the right person.

Other bit of news and announcements, we have the first 150 episodes of Scriptnotes are now packed onto those little USB drives. So if you are a latecomer to the show and want to get caught up, that’s an easy way to get all those back episodes. So if you go to store.johnaugust.com you can buy that little USB drive that has all 150 episodes of the show, both in AAC format and mp3 format. So you can see where it all began.

Craig: How much does that cost?

John: It’s a really reasonable question. And I don’t know, I think they’re $19.

Craig: Okay. So what is a year of tuition at the worst film school cost?

John: Oh, God, I don’t know, $10,000?

Craig: Yeah, that’s minimum. That’s 10 grand for the worst experience.

John: The worst.

Craig: The worst. And then upwards of what, 30, 40 for like an NYU or USC?

John: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Craig: Yeah. So we’re –

John: Yeah, USC has got to be 40 or 45.

Craig: Right. And so you said we were $19,000 for this?

John: [laughs] No, just $19.

Craig: What? $19?

John: Move that decimal point.

Craig: Oh my, that’s crazy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: All right. Well, I don’t know why anybody wouldn’t buy it.

John: So it’s a reasonable thing to buy, if you want to buy that. Another choice if you want to go all the back episodes is you can got to scriptnotes.net and if you sign in there, if you get a premium membership there, it’s $2 a month. And that gives you access to all the back catalog. There’s an app that you can use to listen to that back catalog. There’s also occasionally we have some bonus episodes and you can find stuff in there too. So that’s another choice. $2 as opposed to $20,000, if it makes sense for you, go for it.

Craig: No, $2,000 a month is way better than –

John: Yeah, it’s way better.

Craig: Yeah, way better.

John: Oh God, if we charge $2,000 a month that would be crazy.

Craig: We would just need one person.

John: We can do one person.

Craig: And we would finally cover our bills.

John: One student at $2,000 a month.

Craig: We, as always, run at a loss.

John: We do run at a loss. Proud of that loss.

Craig: Proud, that’s our pledge to you.

John: If you have question for Craig Mazin, you should write him at @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust on Twitter. These longer questions like we answered today on the podcast, write your email to ask@johnaugust.com. If you’re on iTunes, click subscribe so that people know that you’re subscribed to this and leave us a comment while you’re there, that’s always nice too.

Podcast is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yay!

John: The editor is Matthew Chilelli who will have his work cut out for him this week. And we love outros. And so we’re not sure which outro we’re going to use this week. But if you are a person who writes music and you would like to write an outro for our show, go to johnaugust.com/outros, I’m guessing that’s the URL. And you’ll listen to many great examples of previous people who’ve done outros and you should write us an outro and send us a link because we would love to feature it on the end of our show.

Craig: Yeah, man.

John: And so I’ll also say this is our first time ever trying to do a live broadcast, the live stream online. It kind of worked.

Craig: What did our people in the chat room, what are they saying?

John: People say –

Craig: Boo?

John:“John and Craig, great show. Thanks. Do you have time to take some questions from the people in the live audience?”

Craig: Oh, we should have done that. That would that have made –

John: Well, because we didn’t do it, but maybe next time we’ll try it again.

Craig: Your answer to we should have done that is, oh, we should have done it but we didn’t do it. That’s the answer. Why we didn’t do it? Because we didn’t do it. But I hope you people in the chat room see what I’m working with here.

John: So maybe at some point in the future we will do another one of these live-ish kind of shows. We should probably do them at night if we’re going to do them because –

Craig: Yeah, yeah. For sure.

John: People are going to be at work. But we will try to do another one of these, is at mixlr.com, M-I-X-L-R.com/scriptnotes is where we live-streamed this and it seemed to kind of work.

Craig: That’s awesome.

John: So maybe we’ll do that again.

Craig: Well, you know, I did a lot of preparation and research into this. So I’m glad that my whole system of doing the live podcast… — Never mind, I don’t do anything. Everyone knows it. I’m useless.

John: Craig Mazin, you host a great podcast and it’s all we could ever ask of you to do.

Craig: Right, that is in fact all you could ask of me because I have no other skills. [laughs] All right. Thank you, John.

John: Craig, thanks. Have great week.

Craig: You too.

John: And thanks everyone in the chat room.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Highland and other screenwriting apps on sale

Fri, 07/18/2014 - 14:38

Apple asked Highland and several other screenwriting apps to be part of their Explore Your Creativity promotion on the Mac App Store. It’s a great time to check out these apps at discounted prices, and perhaps pick a new favorite.

Highland is the app we make. It’s half off during the promotion, $14.99 rather than $29.99.

Over the past year, Highland has become the second-bestselling screenwriting app in the Mac App Store, after Final Draft (which is also on sale for $124.99). Users choose Highland for its speed and minimalism. You just type; Highland figures out which elements are which.

For the past year, I’ve done all my screenwriting in Highland and love it. You can see more about it, including a video, at our website.

Slugline is Highland’s longtime pal, also on sale for 50% off ($19.99 versus $39.99).

Slugline’s editor does more on-the-fly formatting, with text moving while you type. If you’re used to traditional screenwriting apps, you may find it comfortingly familiar. If you’re used to plain text editors, you may find it distracting.

The great news is that Slugline and Highland share the same format (Fountain), so you can freely move back and forth between them. In fact, at these prices you can get both Highland and Slugline for the cost of one, so if you’re curious about working in a plain text app, get both.

While it’s not strictly a screenwriting app, Scrivener has many fans for its extensive feature set, including corkboards, outlines, tables and images. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Highland’s minimalism, but if you need an app that can handle an thousand-page research report, Scrivener may be a good choice. It’s half-off at $29.99.

Fade In isn’t part of the Mac App Store promotion, but if you’re looking for an app that does many of Final Draft’s production features, Craig swears by it. (It’s $49.99.)

I’m excited that there are more choices than ever for screenwriters. I hope this promotion gets more users trying out alternatives, and picking the apps that suit them best.

Selling without selling out

Tue, 07/15/2014 - 08:03

In their first-ever live streaming episode, John and Craig open the mailbag to answer a bunch of listener questions.

  • What research should a writer do before soliciting an agent or manager?
  • What should a writer be willing to give up in order to make her first sale?
  • Does a Mormon writer face special challenges in drink-and-drugging Hollywood?
  • Why doesn’t Highland exist on Android?
  • What determines “Story by” credit on a feature?
  • How did we like DungeonWorld? (John asked this question.)

All this, plus the Fermi Paradox in this episode of Scriptnotes.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 152: The Rocky Shoals (pages 70-90) — Transcript

Fri, 07/11/2014 - 17:01

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: Hi! My name is Craig Mazin.

Aline Brosh McKenna: And my name is Aline Brosh McKenna.

John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Aline Brosh McKenna is here with us!

Craig: The Joan Rivers of Scriptnotes podcasting.

John: See, I debate that. I think she’s actually now the Steve Martin or the Alec Baldwin or the Tom Hanks, the returning guest host on Saturday Night Live.

Aline: Do you know which woman hosted the most?

Craig: Wait, wait, hold on. Let me think about this.

Aline: I’m almost about 62% sure this is right.

Craig: The woman that hosted — it’s a great question.

John: Melissa has only hosted twice, right?

Craig: I’m going to go with Candice Bergen.

Aline: That is correct!

John: Nicely done.

Aline: That is correct, may man.

Craig: Thank you. Thank you.

John: So, you’re really the Candice Bergen of the podcast.

Aline: Oh, I would be thrilled to be the Candice Bergen of anything.

John: And so your father was a famous ventriloquist we’re going to learn later. That’s the third act reveal is that maybe you were actually his puppet who came to life.

Craig: Why do I know that?

Aline: I don’t know why you know that.

Craig: It’s kind of weird, right?

John: I think it’s because I have seen old clips of Saturday Night Live where Candace Bergen was the host.

Aline: They did that skit when Justin Timberlake, I think it was, joined the Five Hosts. And she was in it.

Craig: Right. The Five-Timers Club.

Aline: And I think she might have been the only woman in the Five Hosting, yeah.

Craig: I wouldn’t be surprised if she would be. Paul Simon is also a member of that club.

Aline: John Goodman.

John: Oh, yes, John Goodman.

Craig: Nice. Well, you’re the Candace Bergen of the… — I like keeping the gender appropriate.

Aline: Yes. I like it. I would rather –

John: I think it’s good stuff.

Craig: You’d rather be a lady.

Aline: Yeah, I’d rather be a lady.

Craig: So would I.

John: Aline is here today because she wrote in with two topics that she really wanted to talk about. So, we’re so happy to have you here. The topics that you proposed to us, actually maybe kind of three topics really, the Rocky Shoals, page 70 to 90, that end of your second act going into the third act and the challenge that is for a writer.

We’re also going to talk about tone and sort of how important tone is in your script and how to create tone, how to keep tone.

We’re going to talk about mentors. And we’re also going to talk about procrastination. So, it’s going to be a busy podcast.

Craig: So much to do.

Aline: So much.

John: Four topics. Three hosts.

Craig: Plus we have Aline, which is already adds another 40 minutes of bizarre analogies.

Aline: Analogies. I’ve got my Dan Rather going on.

John: So, we’re here recording this live and in person. Usually we’re on Skype, but we’re all actually looking at each other. And I think the last time I was in this space was with you when we did the Frozen podcast which was a great episode. And last time you were here, Craig, was the Final Draft episode.

Craig: [laughs] Last time I was here –

Aline: Which is a classic.

Craig: Was one of my favorite days.

Aline: That’s a classic. It’s a classic.

Craig: It is in fact a classic.

Aline: It is a classic.

Craig: It’s hard to say that about something you’ve done, but that episode should go in the podcasting hall of fame as far as I’m concerned.

John: So, we’ve set a very high bar. But let’s get started. Let’s get started with those rocky shoals. So, talk to us about what you mean by this topic.

Aline: Well, this is something that I’ve always found to be true and in talking to other writers I have found it also true for them. Which is the first act tends to be the funnest and easiest to write. You often overwrite the first act. You often write the 38 pages when it needs to be 29, but it’s usually because it’s the thing that you spent the most time on which is the setup and the idea and you have the most information about it.

And what I’ve found is that after the first part of act two, where you’re sort of setting up the pins to knock them down — analogy — in the second part what you’re really doing is sort of building that on ramp to the third act. And I know Craig has talked many times about how you need to know that third act to write the movie, and it’s best if you know the third act, and I agree with that. And I find third acts not, I would say, on a par with first acts in terms of difficulty to write.

But if I’m going to have an existential crisis, if there is going to be a moment where I drive home from work and say to my husband, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know how I’ve ever written one of these before, I don’t understand how these work,” it will always be around 71 where I start to feel like, you know, it should start to spit out material, and it’s probably the stuff you have the least of in the outline. But it should start to spit out steps to this thing that you know you’re going to.

So, often I know exactly what the third act is and I can see it. And it’s just over the crest, but I need those steps, and 70 to 90 are those steps. And if something is wrong, if you’ve conceived a character incorrectly, if the action in the third act is in fact wrong, if your thematic are wrong, that’s where it’s all going to fall down. It almost never falls apart in act one. For me it almost never falls apart in act three. It’s always 70 to 90 is the moment where I think, oh boy.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: In act one you’re setting things up. And that’s the part of the movie where you had the best idea of what it really was. That was probably what got you to start writing the movie. You had this idea, and that was probably act one.

Act three, you’re closing stuff down. You’re cutting off those threads, you’re tying stuff up. Final confrontations. But there is not a defined thing that’s sort of supposed to happen in that stretch that you’re talking about. There’s probably been some big thing that happened in the middle of your second act, but now you’re kind of waiting for this third act thing to happen. You’re waiting for either the worst of the worst, or this big twist, this big reveal, and you don’t want to do anything before its time. But, yeah, it’s a tough moment.

Craig: Well, it is. Although I kind of feel like that’s the point. You know, your character is going through this process and that’s the part of the movie where they’re lost, right? Your plot is building in a certain way and that’s the part of the movie where the plot and the simplicity of what’s supposed to happen doesn’t work anymore. It’s natural for us to get to that place and start to feel overwhelmed. Oddly, we give ourselves a break from page 30 — well, the ending is far away, I’m relaxed.

When you get to page 70 you think, well the ending is supposed to be coming up soon but it also still feels far away. It feels further away now that I’m at 71 then it did when I was at 30. But I feel like that’s the purpose of that section. In a weird way pages 71 and 90 in every movie is a horror movie, in every genre. That’s where the horror is. It’s where everything is supposed to basically fall apart, otherwise your ending is kind of a “who cares?”

So, if you start to embrace the fact that you’re supposed to feel that way, particularly if you’re connected to your main character and the movie is supposed to fall apart. You have to break it to fix it. Then maybe, you’ll still be scared, but at least you’ll understand why.

Aline: You know how Ted Elliott talks about that stuff where you make those first couple decisions about a movie and then you’re sort of — you have the consequences of those you can’t ever get back. I feel like to use one of my tortured analogies that to get — you’re going to have a lot of stuff and you’re winnowing. The process of a movie really is winnowing down thematically and plot wise.

And I always feel like it’s like you’re at the edge of a river. You’re Tarzan. You’re trying to get to this place across and there’s ten vines. And you can only pick a couple to swing across on. And I just have had a couple times where I’ve gotten there and thought which one is taking me, is the right path to act three. And I think that’s probably the section that I rewrite the most because often I have an act three I really like, but it might not land if the onramp is not — if I have not picked the right thing to swing across on.

John: One of the things I think you’re describing may be part of the problem. If you’re describing it as an onramp then you’re not describing what the actual — what’s the joy of that part of the movie? If it’s only doing work, then there’s not a joy to that part of the movie.

Aline: Right.

John: One of the scripts that I was working with at Sundance this last year, as I was talking with the writer we were trying to figure out how to move some scenes around, or sort of what could go where. And I had him really rethink the whole thing in terms of sequences. And so basically like imagine this is the sequence that goes from here to here, the sequence that goes from here to here. And within that sequence, those are the edges of your sequence — what is the movie? Like imagine that little sequence as its own movie.

And maybe that’s the key to what the 70 to 90 is, is think about, well, given where we’re at what is the movie of 70 to 90 and how can we make the most interesting movie in that place?

Craig: That movie also is… — One thing, it’s funny, I actually have a weirdly opposite point of view that it is true, as we make choices, the breadth of choices that are available to us begin to narrow. But that section to me is actually the one place where you get to not worry about that because, for instance, that’s the point in movies a lot of times when somebody gets really drunk, or gets high, or has a vision, or a dream. That part of the movie you’re allowed to almost become non-linear. And then arrive at something kind of –

Aline: But you need propulsion. It’s too late in the movie to not be propulsive. And I often find I’m in that section cutting stuff because it feels early act two-y.

Craig: Maybe so. I mean, to me if you’ve gotten your character to a place where they are disconnected from the life they had, but they are no longer at the life they need to live, then you’re allowed to get arty horror, I guess. I don’t know how else to put it. You’re allowed to break the rules of your movie and actually plunge them into a moment where out of it they can have an epiphany or something.

I was just telling John before the show began that I’m plotting out the story of the script that I’m about to write and I got to this point. And I understood that my character needed to have an epiphany, but well how do you have — it’s hard to create an epiphany. If you can create it that simply then it’s probably not that satisfying.

So, part of what I did was just relax. I don’t know how else to put it. Like you can start to beat yourself up when you get to that section because you feel like, oh my god, ugh. And then it has to make this half propulse and make the ending happen and all the rest. I just weirdly just relaxed.

Aline: But I do think it’s the point where the audience starts to get shifty. It’s just the part in the movie after the first hour and it’s the thing that I always refer to in meetings as you really don’t want people to be sitting there going, “Did I park on P2 or P3? Honey, was it P2 or P3?” And they’re thinking that. And that’s where if it’s going to go south it’s going to be there.

I mean, you have such tremendous goodwill in act one. You really do. And I always find, I have a friend who watches movies going, “I’m at an A. I’m at an A+. I’m at a B. I’m at a B-. I’m at a C.” Like that’s how he experiences a movie. And so often you watch a movie and you’re like, I’m at an A. I don’t know why people didn’t like this. I’m at an A. I’m at an A. But getting back to you’re like at a B. And then it’s always an hour in where you’re like, oh, we just wandered into D- here. Like we’ve lost our way.

That’s always the — that really is. That’s why I say, “Rocky shoals, men from the boys, you know?”

Craig: Yeah. Because you can get into a treading water syndrome where you kind of think, oh, I’m not allowed to have my ending yet. I need to do some work. You actually don’t. Like for instance one solution to your 71 to 90 problem is that it’s really 71 to 80.

John: Yeah, you’re cutting it short.

Aline: And you know what I will say? I worked with Alex Kurtzman and he said something to me that I really think about all the time. He’s like, “You always need less stuff than you think you need.”

Craig: It’s so true.

Aline: It is so true. You pack up for your screenplay and you’ve got like giant suitcases and a duffle and a carryon slung across you. And you always get through and go, “Why did I bring all this stuff? I didn’t need all this stuff.”

Craig: But you don’t know what you need until you get to the resort.

Aline: You don’t know what you need until you get there!

Craig: Yeah, but you should just be willing to not wear everything at once. Right.

John: Well, let’s talk about like that heading into that last section. If we talk about a movie as being a character’s transformation and hopefully you’re going to have this arc of transformation. They start at one place and they end up in a different place. And that transition to act three is really the lowest of the lowest, that moment of great transformation. Everything seems lost. All hope is gone.

There may be an opportunity in that 70 to 90 phase for the character to try a new thing, to try a new persona, to try a new approach that may not end up succeeding, but you can see it’s a step on their way to this next thing. So, they wouldn’t get to the character they’re going to be at the end if they hadn’t tried this new thing. And that could lead you into the new thing.

It may also be a moment for — I’m a big believer in burning down the house. Like literally I will burn down the house as much as I possibly can. And sometimes you’re burning down the house at the start and that’s instigating the whole story. But sometimes you’re burning down the house at the act two moment, that’s like that was the worst of the worst and their house got burned down. But it can be a fascinating time to literally burn down their house or destroy everything they have at that moment before the real end of act two. And so this is a section where they’re forced to sort of be on their own. They’re force to sort not be able to go back.

Aline: I’ll give you a somewhat, it’s not super specific, but in the script I’m writing midway through this character has had a relationship with — a woman has had a relationship with a man. And halfway through she realizes he’s not who she thought she was. And the third act is her realizing, oh, he’s a good guy. I’m going to go help him and save him.

But in between, oh, he’s not the person I thought he was, in that 70 to 90, she’s trying to decide or figure out is he the good guy or bad guy of this story. That’s really what’s she’s doing is she’s going back and forth between trying to figure out was I right to be drawn to this person or not. And at the end she’s, yes, and she goes — so, she is in a treading water kind of a thing where she’s investigating and it is a little bit like a horror movie because she’s sort of going down halls and trying doors.

And my challenge has been to pick the things that allow her to be in a little bit of a suspended state, which you often are in that section, right?

Craig: Without feeling like –

Aline: Without feel like –

Craig: The movie is just flat-lining across. I know what you mean.

Aline: Yes. Exactly.

Craig: Well, sometimes also the way to approach those sections is to think of them as false endings. So, okay, in her mind this movie needs to end on page 90. So, perhaps then she just decides I’m going to make a decision. I don’t know if it’s the right decision or not, but I’m making a decision and I’m going to confront this person and I’m going to blow this thing up. And that’s going to be the end of this movie. And she does it. But then it’s not, you know?

Aline: Right. Right.

Craig: Or sometimes if it is a heist movie, this is where we’re going to do the thing, oh my god, it just –

Aline: Well that’s exactly, really smart, because that’s the part in the heist movie where everybody is moving in and getting the thing and the acrobat is in the box and all that stuff is happening. And I think one of the reasons really truly that I find it challenging is not often because I don’t know what to do, but because the execution of that, if it’s elegant and wonderful like it is in Ocean’s, if it’s an elegant, wonderful, surprising thing, it elevates the movie and if it’s the kind of thing where the audience goes, yeah, yeah, okay, so that’s the part where blah, blah — I think the onus on the level of execution in that particular thing is quite high. I just think they’re not in a — an audience is not in as forgiving a mood.

Craig: Yeah, no, you have to write it well.

Aline: Yes.

John: [laughs]

Aline: The solution to all your writing problems is write things well.

Craig: Yeah, you have to do that part good.

Aline: But I do find, I always think of it as like going down a rapids thing and then you get there and you’re like, oh, you know, here it is. Rocky shoals.

John: Part of the challenge may be with your project, but all projects in that 70 to 90 phase is that you want to sort of keep your hero active. So, right now in your case like she’s opening doors and she’s investigating, but that character doesn’t necessarily know where the end is. She doesn’t know what she’s looking for.

Aline: Exactly. That’s right.

John: And I think part of the reason why movies often feel aimless in this part is you’re not communicating to the reader and to the audience what the character is trying to do and where the character thinks they’re headed. And so sometimes you just literally need to put a place or you need to put — explicitly state a goal, like I need proof that he is this person. I need proof that he really did this thing, so we know what they’re really trying to do.

Aline: I’ve noticed this a lot in action movies where they wrap their movie up on page 85 and they start a new movie.

Craig: Right.

John: Yup. Absolutely.

Aline: Every action, I mean, I actually really admired in X-Men it did not feel that way, the latest X-Men. I felt like it was a true continuation. But a bunch of the super hero movies I’ve seen and the action movies I’ve seen recently, it seems like you all just stop at the end of act two and then there’s new creatures, and new stakes. And then they go to a… — And that’s a note. In the third act you often go to a new setting, a new environment.

Craig: I actually don’t love that syndrome. And I think that’s part of the new creature of movie as theme ride theme room.

Aline: That’s exactly how it feels. It’s like that thing where you’re in that strap in a ride and you get around the corner and you see that last thing.

Craig: Right, you’re like, oh, I thought I was done, but there’s one more thing. You know, and that’s fine. But for an integrated story that you’re telling, I think, John’s got the exact right advice. There’s a — even if the character doesn’t have clarity, that’s good. But the audience needs clarity.

Aline: That’s right.

Craig: And you need clarity to know what the hell you need to do.

Aline: She doesn’t need to know what’s going on, but you don’t want the audience to be like, “What is she doing?”

Craig: Right. Even if she sets an artificial thing up, okay, I’m giving myself 48 hours. I’m like a jury now. I’m going to collect evidence over 48 hours and then I’m going to render a verdict. Verdict: you’re not good; I’m dumping you.

Aline: Right.

John: Another possibility would be to shift POV. So, if your story has really locked POV to one character –

Aline: That’s when you can switch.

John: That might be the right moment to switch and actually see things from the other point of view.

Aline: Listen, you guys are very expensive, so if we do a lot more of this on the air I’m going to be owing you guys a lot of dough.

Craig: Uh, you already do.

John: Yeah.

Aline: That’s a great idea because you know what’s funny –

Craig: As John Gatins says, “The meter is running.”

Aline: It’s funny when you have a single perspective movie, it does get exhausting. And that’s a great kind of technical tip just to try, even if you don’t end up keeping it, which is go to the other lead, go to the other main relationship and write what they’re doing for awhile and see if that is — because that creates a nice intriguing mystery for the audience, which is you want to get back to your lead. That’s an excellent tip.

John: One of the other exercises I do with people when I’m sitting down and talking about their scripts is I’ll ask them like, okay, you have written a thriller here, but let’s imagine this as a crazy comedy. Let’s imagine this as a western. This imagine this in a completely different genre.

Aline: Yes

John: And sometimes you’ll figure out what the beats would be in that other kind of genre and that you won’t necessarily be able to apply those directly, but it will get you thinking in different ways.

So, in your case, if your movie is predominately not a thriller, but these are thriller moments, like let’s talk about the real thriller of this, and then you can sometimes bend those elements back into your –

Aline: Well, I don’t think it’s funny because this is sort of what Lindsay Doran’s thing is, but every movie I’ve written in any genre, you always start going — someone always says, or you say to yourself, “This is really a love story about these two people.”

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: All movies are.

Aline: Always. All movies are.

Craig: If they’re done right.

Aline: They’re always a love story between two people.

John: 21 Jump Street is a love story.

Aline: Sometimes you have the wrong people. I mean, name any movie we love, ET, even movies that are — every Hitchcock movie. I mean, they’re love stories.

John: Cast Away.

Craig: All movies have a central relationship. All of them. And knowing your central relationship and playing that through. And she has this great thing. She talks about how some movies it’s do a thing, and then you get the relationship. And some movies the relationship is the thing.

Aline: That’s right.

Craig: Which I love. I love both kinds.

Aline: That’s great.

Craig: But I think it’s not — the Rocky Shoals aren’t so rocky. You know, we know this because we get through them. Once you’re done with it, and you’ve fixed it, and you know what you’re doing and you’ve solved that problem, when you look back you go, “There’s no rocks. There’s no shoals.”

Aline: Yeah, well, of course. Any writing problem once you fix it it’s like why was that a problem, yeah.

Craig: So, I guess my point is that over time, we’ve been doing this long enough to know, when you get to that place, see if you can’t subtract the fear of it from the equation. The answer may come, I don’t know if it will be a better answer, but it will probably come quicker. I do believe that. I believe that relaxing and not tensing up will probably make it go faster. I love speed.

John: Yeah, speed is good.

Craig: Speed.

John: Speed is also a solution to our next issue.

Craig: Segue Johnny.

John: Segue Johnny.

Craig: This is my new character, Segue Johnny.

John: So, on episode 131 we talked about procrastination. And there was this great article by Megan McArdle that we talked through. And her thesis was essentially –

Craig: She was great in Annie.

John: Megan McArdle was the best.

Aline: She was amazing. Amazing.

Craig: She was amazing.

John: And now look at her. She’s writing for The Atlantic.

Craig: Unbelievable. Oh, wait a second.

John: It’s really just incredible. No, possibly a different person. McArdle’s thesis was essentially procrastination especially for writers stems out of the fact that we were probably raised being the best writers in our class. Everyone was like, “Oh, you’re so good,” and it was really easy for us. And then we actually sit down to really do writing and it’s hard. And then we start to wonder, wait, am I even good at this. And that was the sort of thesis in her piece which I thought was terrific.

This last week I went sort of down a click hole and I came across this great article, this two-part post by Tim Urban on this site Wait But Why, where he looks at procrastination less through psychology and more as a process. What does it actually feel like to procrastinate? And when you go into deep procrastination, what is that really all about.

And I thought it was great. So, I sent links to you guys.

Aline: Well, here’s the thing. I was supposed to read it.

Craig: And you didn’t read it?

Aline: I procrastinated for too long. And I also know that John will always summarize things.

John: Oh, I’m going to summarize the hell out of this.

Aline: So well.

Craig: John always summarizes things.

Aline: So, I kind of felt like –

Craig: You didn’t have to do it?

Aline: No.

Craig: Well, that’s not procrastination. That’s just laziness.

Aline: It is. That’s right, they’re close, but they’re not the same.

John: Well let me talk through it, because I thought it was a great article, and we’ll have links to both of these posts, but talking through his thesis is a good way to sort of get into it. He sort of rails against fake procrastinators, and a fake procrastinator is the people who are like, “Oh, I look at Facebook two or three times a day.” It’s like, well that’s amateur. That’s not real procrastination.

He defines real procrastination as when the instant gratification monkey shows up and basically sends you through a stack of small little tasks and he calls it the dark playground, which is all things which would be perfectly well and good if you were in your real leisure time, but you’re not in your leisure time. You are in work time. And instant gratification monkey wants you to look at this thing, and look at that thing, and look at this thing, and that thing. Or, if you’re making plans, they’re like these really kind of vague plans, these sort of dreamy plans that don’t actually take you anywhere.

And eventually instant gratification monkey takes up so much time that like, oh, it’s too late to really get started tonight, so I’m going to have to get started tomorrow. And everything gets pushed back. The challenge with this kind of procrastination is eventually a panic monster will show up and scare the monkey away and you will get those things done that you have to get done. But all the things you kind of want to get done will never get done.

You’ll never actually do those things you kind of would love to get done because it’s only the most emergent situations happen. So, I thought it was a great article, a great sort of description of sort of what it feels like when you’re in that deep procrastination hole. And –

Aline: I could have been learning Spanish.

John: There’s so many things you could have been doing if you hadn’t been feeding that stupid little monkey.

Craig: Well, I love the dark playground metaphor. It was great, because he nailed the bittersweet pleasure of goofing off when you know you shouldn’t be goofing off. You are doing it because it does provide some instant gratification, but it’s bitter. You know you’re not doing the right thing.

John: It’s not actually as much fun as it would be.

Craig: You can’t really enjoy it and you start to feel — and all this comes from self-loathing. Look, all of the procrastination that keeps you from what he calls flow, which is the point where you finally just start doing the thing. And he says, “Look, everybody has got to go through,” I think what does he call it, the tunnel, the crisis tunnel?

John: Yeah. There’s like dark woods that lead you to the tunnel.

Craig: The hardest part when the monkey is the most angry is when you’re about to start. But when you finally do it and you get through and you get into the flow of it, then it is the happy playground, because you’re doing something that’s positive and good and you’re free. And you lose track of time and it’s wonderful.

But all this procrastination, all the tip-toeing, and the dipping your foot in the pool and then backing away, or reading email all at once, and so on and so forth is about your fear of what it means for you to be doing this thing that you on the one hand want to do, and on the other hand are terrified of doing, either because you’re afraid that you’ll fail, or you don’t think you’re very good, or you think — or all you can remember is the hard parts of it, but not the fun easy parts.

And, you know, I liked everything. I mean, I thought he laid it out beautifully. I will say in defense of procrastination that sometimes when I read stuff like this I think, well, you’ve absolutely described the process that we can generally look at as negative. And you’ve given us a prescription to avoid it, but we can’t really avoid it. I mean, we are human, and it’s going to happen no matter what.

And to some extent I’ve given myself a pass.

Aline: I have, too. After many years I have, too.

Craig: A loose rigid thing, like okay, I know I’ve got to be here, but I can wander to get there.

Aline: I’ve come to believe that it’s so widespread that I’ve just come to believe it goes with the territory. Nick Hornby has a hilarious thing about his day and how he starts writing at four or five o’clock and all the things he’s done before. It’s just so widespread that I feel like it must be part of it. And one of the things, you know, writers are so protective of their whole day. Like I don’t like to have to relocate.

Like if I have a writing day and it’s going to start at nine or ten, and I’m going to write till five or six, I don’t want a lunch.

Craig: Right.

Aline: I don’t want to go anywhere. And it’s not totally rational because within that, but I know, the reason for that is I want to get all my procrastinating done once. I want to just bang out as much baloney that doesn’t need to get done one time. And if I go away and come back, I’m going to have to have another session of –

Craig: Started up again.

Aline: Airbnb, whatever. And I don’t want to do that again.

Craig: Airbnb?

John: [laughs] That’s your click hole? Finding vacation destinations for trips you may never take.

Aline: That’s a new one. Get on there, because there is some really good stuff.

Craig: Airbnb, huh?

Aline: Oh my god, any place you want to in the world. Anywhere you want to go in the world. Some fabulous places to stay.

Craig: Really? So that’s better than hotels?

Aline: Yeah, because it’s someone’s fabulous house.

John: Oh, it’s much better.

Craig: That’s what I should do.

John: That’s what we did in France last year.

Aline: It’s less expensive. It’s great.

Craig: I was thinking of maybe going to London with Melissa. I should Airbnb it?

Aline: Oh, must talk to Ling.

Craig: Must talk to Ling? All right.

Aline: Yeah, it’s a great click hole. But I’ve learned that that’s why I don’t like to write at my house and then go write at the office, because then I know… — And the funniest thing is when you get into the productive work part, every time you’re like, what was hard? This is great. I enjoy this.

John: This is fine.

Aline: I enjoy doing this. Why don’t I just sit down and do this?

Craig: It takes effort to start.

Aline: Have either one of you ever once when you were not in production, because in production its different. Have you ever once when you were writing a first draft ever sat down, opened your computer, opened the document, and started?

Craig: Never.

Aline: Never.

Craig: Never.

Aline: Never. Have you?

John: I don’t think so.

Aline: Never.

Craig: Never. Why? I mean –

Aline: I have stuff to do.

Craig: Yeah, and you know, Dennis Palumbo has often said that procrastination for writers, I mean, procrastination is basically like masturbation, which of course is its own procrastination.

Aline: Yes. Yes.

Craig: When you’re not looking Airbnb.

John: Let’s talk about an instant gratification monkey.

Aline: And I actually think one of the reasons it feels sort of tawdry is because it has this onanistic quality.

Craig: Right. But, you know, if you masturbate too much, like I remember when I was a kid I would listen to Dr. Ruth and she’s like, “It’s okay. Masturbation is fine unless it’s destroying your day.” And I thought, listen, that’s good. Because it’s not destroying my day. I’m getting stuff done. So, I’m cool with this. So, assume that it’s not destroying your day. It’s okay.

His whole theory is that procrastination in part is allowing the subconscious writing mind to kind of just do some stuff. And we can’t access it, so it doesn’t even seem like anything is happening. But then when you sit down and write like, okay, things were kind of — we weren’t ready. It’s just you weren’t ready to write.

Aline: That’s exactly what I think.

John: Yeah, I think that’s an excuse a lot of times.

Craig: Ah, here comes the German. [laughs]

John: But truly, and this is as a person who has done some professional procrastination. I can say like, oh, I was really kind of thinking about stuff, but I really wasn’t thinking about stuff. I was just sort of clicking through headlines or doing other stuff. I generally have the experience, like Aline says, is once I actually finally sat down and actually started writing I was like, once I was 20 minutes into it I was like, oh, this is fine, this is good, this wasn’t nearly as bad as I figured.

Aline: And the funny thing is then if I need to take a break to go check an email or whatever, I can get back into the work. Once I’ve really started I can take little tiny breaks and get back in.

Craig: Sure. Because you’re in a groove.

Aline: But if I walk away for the day, or I go have lunch with somebody, and that’s the thing, it’s –

John: You’re never going to get back into it.

Aline: It’s an engine. And what’s frustrating is we don’t really know how to start it or keep it running.

Craig: Well, you know, the thing that I think is so frustrating about starting and scary about starting is what if you start and nothing happens. Right?

There’s that thing of the first, when you just start typing you’re like [gibberish] because it’s like you’re waking up and you’re supposed to running. What if I can’t? What if I can’t? But then it starts to be, okay, you essentially defeat the fear that you’re not going to be able to do anything, because of course if you start, what if there’s the day that you start writing and nothing happens? That’s it. You’re done.

Aline: Well, also we all know that sometimes you have days where you write great stuff. And some days you have days where you write terrible stuff. And you don’t know which one of those days is coming.

Craig: That’s true.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: That is true.

Aline: And I think that’s a huge part of it is putting off like the verdict.

Craig: I will say that’s why I am a big believer in preparation, because I don’t mind having a bad story day. I have a bad story day, screw it. I’ll come back tomorrow. I’ll redo the index cards.

John: A bad writing day you really feel like that’s –

Craig: A bad writing day is like a punch to the guts. So, when you know that you’ve got your story laid out and it is the summation of only good story days, and all bad story days have been subtracted out of it, it’s hard to have a bad writing day.

John: One thing I will say in my defense: I write out of sequence, and so part of the joy of writing out of sequence, if I kind of sense that I’m not going to have a great day, I can do the less important scenes. Because there are always going to be some moments in a script that are kind of people walking through doors. And it’s really more about sort of the connecting A to B rather than like the best, most brilliant dialogue.

Aline: What I think is hard for people who don’t write to understand is it’s not like there’s a house there and you need to go paint it and you’re standing there with paints and you’re not going over to paint it.

What’s happening is –

Craig: Another one –

Aline: You’re standing there with paints. And there may not be a house there at all. There may be nothing there. And sometimes you get over there with your paints to go paint the house and you’re like, this thing has one wall, no roof.

Craig: I just can’t wait to see the animated version of all these, again.

Aline: That is the true fear is that, because I love to write dialogue. Scene work is my favorite thing. But that’s not the fear. The fear is that you’re going to get there and it’s not going to make sense, it’s not going to be purposeful. And anybody whose written everything knows what it feels like to delete 40 pages.

John: Yeah, it’s brutal. So, if you’d read the articles you would see that –

Craig: But you’re lazy.

John: They use that metaphor of a house often. And basically the idea that nobody builds a house. You sort of put down brick and you put down a brick, but you can’t really build a whole house. And really a screenplay is the same way. You can’t write a screenplay. You can only write a scene. And you can’t really write a scene. You can only write this little part of a scene.

Craig: You can only write a word at a time and a letter at a time. I mean, there is a comfort to sort of saying, oh, I don’t have to write a script. I just have to write some words today.

Aline: But what if you do all those bricks and then you realize like this whole chunk over here needs to go?

John: It’s incredibly frustrating. Yeah.

Craig: But no matter what, even if you get all the way to the end and you didn’t have to do that, you’re going to then have to do it. That never stops. But the point is then, okay, remove the burden of saying I’m writing something that we’re shooting. You’re not. You’re writing something that’s going to begin a conversation about whether or not we should shoot this and what should we shoot.

Aline: And it’s so much easier to write when you’re in production, because you have to. You just do it.

Craig: Well, it’s also you know you have the cast. You have the locations. You have the places.

John: Well, you also have the panic monster, though. That panic monster showed up, because if you don’t deliver, there’s nothing to shoot. And everyone is relying on you. So, the panic monster shows up. The little monkey is terrified. It goes running for the woods. And suddenly you’re just there like, oh, I guess I’m going to have to write this thing.

Craig: Well, the other thing is in production I have to say that’s when our self-esteem generally at its highest. We’ve gotten a script made. We are the writer. Everybody is waiting. We actually feel like we’re a big boy or a big girl.

Aline: Doing something purposeful.

Craig: You have like a job, like a real job that you have to show up to.

Aline: That’s right.

Craig: Suddenly we feel quite good about ourselves. It’s when we’re at home, either masturbating, or looking at Airbnb that we’re kind of like, is this…?

Aline: What is this?

Craig: If I went into a coma for a week, no one would know and it probably wouldn’t even change the process that much.

Aline: No, nothing feels better than when someone says, “Can you write this scene where we get from here to there,” like a really specific, purposeful scene that you know is going to be in the movie and you can just make it awesome with some paint.

Craig: Yeah. Somebody actually gives you a path to accomplishment, which we never have. And that’s why I often think when I’m in Ralph’s, I would like to work the night shift here because I know I could, if given the task to put these boxes on that shelf, that at the end of the night I would feel good.

John: Well, the thing I loved most about school was like it was really clear that I could finish.

Aline: That’s just what I was going to say.

John: Yeah, so like I loved being graded, I loved getting tests, I loved turning –

Aline: And that’s why it’s not smart people… — I mean, a lot of screenwriters are smart people. But a lot of people who are really book smart/school mart who try to be writers are very frustrated because you can’t just do your calculus homework and write your history paper and hand it in.

Craig: No extra credit.

Aline: And there’s none of that. And the completion can often be fake completion. And –

Craig: And effort is simply not enough. You could triple your effort and things get worse. It’s brutal.

John: Yeah, even like –

Craig: Why would anyone do this?

Aline: I have no idea.

John: Even like coding, like you’re building an app or a game, either it runs or it doesn’t run. Fundamentally there is a bullion sort of outcome. Like, yes, it worked or it didn’t work, versus this sort of mishmash where you just don’t know what actually ended up happening.

So, let’s wrap this up –

Craig: Worst job ever.

John: Worst job ever. Don’t do it.

Some of the standard advice for avoiding procrastination or to actually getting started can be looked at sort of through this lens. And so we often talk about Freedom, that little utility that you can put on your computer that shuts down your internet connection. It’s just a way of taking away your monkey’s toys. That basically the monkey has nothing to do because you’re not letting him. So, either turning off your internet connection, getting a computer that doesn’t have internet, or in my case I often will just go someplace and barricade myself in a hotel room without computers and without anything else for a couple days and break the back of a script.

Because I find I just can’t get started if I don’t sort of have a certain critical mass of material.

Craig: Yeah. I find that if I turn my email off, that sometimes is enough. It’s okay for me, like once I’m going, to just jump over, check Twitter for two seconds, or check the Yankee game or whatever.

But it’s the email is the killer. That’s the one where somebody will write something and now I have to write to respond to them and now I’m writing, like I shouldn’t be writing anything other than what I’m writing.

Aline: It’s so funny how when you’re procrastinating you’re grateful for every email because you’re like, ooh, I have to take care of this. And then when you’re writing it’s like why are you people bothering me?

Craig: If my phone, if people are texting, sometimes I’ll get into like a group text with some of my friends. And the texts are coming in. I’ll just turn the phone off, like completely. I don’t even hear the [vibrate noise]. I don’t want to hear any of it. I get so angry that anyone is infiltrating my little world.

John: How dare they?

Craig: How dare they?

John: Aline Brosh McKenna, you suggested the topic of tone. What shall we talk about with tone?

Aline: Tone. Well, it’s funny, it’s something that I feel like I have thought a lot about more over the years. And one of the things I’ve noticed is when someone gives me a script that I think is unsuccessful, often I think because information about screenwriting has proliferated, people are able to do sort of the basic building blocks of a story, but often it doesn’t feel like anything. It’s toneless. It feels like you don’t know how to feel.

And I’ve noticed that in scripts of people who are starting out, that writing tone and establishing a tone is actually very difficult and something that we don’t talk about a ton. And it’s a real intangible. And I have also found that when you’re developing a screenplay you can outline it, you can talk about it, you can talk about the characters, you can really talk and talk and talk, but the tone is the thing that you can’t really describe to people until it’s on a piece of paper.

Craig: You can use another movie as an example. I mean, I always think of tone, people talk about all the time about the rules of the world of the movie. Okay, so this is what physics is like in the movie. If it’s science-fiction, these things can happen. If it’s a certain kind of movie, people can get hit and not get hurt. Those are the rules of the world.

Tone is almost the rules of the way humans interact and express themselves. Is it the kind of movie where people can say and do outrageous things and it just kind of goes by? Is it the kind of movie that’s very hewing towards our natural understanding of the way the world is? Is it a tone where everyone is super buff and action hero and if you get punched you don’t really feel it? And if somebody dies you can quip?

All that stuff is about the rules of human expression and interaction.

Aline: And often when you’re reading something that’s not successful you’re like all those things are happening, competing things are happening. But, you know how when a movie starts and in the first ten seconds you feel like you’re in good hands or you’re not? And I always think of the beginning of True Grit. There’s that voiceover and then there’s the shot of the guy goes flying out of the bar and is on the ground and then the snow falls and there’s voiceover.

You just feel like, oh, I know how I’m supposed to feel. And that’s not theme. That’s a feeling. And because as screenwriters we don’t have actors, and we don’t have costumes, and we don’t have photography, we just have words. And establishing it through word choice and how the characters behave, your diction, all these things which I think are very hard — I think you can only learn them by doing them and by understanding that if you are writing a fast-paced action thing and you’re writing in staccato phrases and underlining things, it just will feel a different way.

Or if you’re writing a comedy and you’re putting jokes and asides, and I was writing with this young woman, we’re doing this Showtime pilot, and she was really surprised at how florid my scene descriptions are. And they have gotten over time, like I’ll put — instead of a line of dialogue, so it will say how are you today. And then in the scene description it’ll say, “I’m fine, thanks.” But there’s no line.

And that’s because over time it’s like the actor may not need a line. If it’s just a shot of them –

Craig: Making an expression. Without words.

Aline: Exactly. And I often will put in jokes and asides and comments, not in a distracting way, but in a way that says this is the tone of this piece. And in the piece we were writing it actually was important to establish the tone outside of just the dialogue and the description because just a flat description of what you’re seeing is continuity, it’s not a screenplay.

And it has been one of those things that it’s your voice, it’s the voice of the script, but we spend a lot of time talking about the mechanics and I understand why because they’re very difficult, but one of the things that Craig talks a lot about, which is theme, I feel like people don’t talk about theme enough. But I also feel like people don’t talk about tone enough and how to make it feel on that first page, you should feel like I’m in this movie and I know what movie I’m in. And then when you are developing a script it’s often that’s the thing that people either connect to the tone, knowing that you can always move the building blocks of a story around. And you’re going to be doing that.

You’re going to be shuffling those things around. If the tone is not successful, that’s a very difficult — that’s such a pervasive thing. So, it’s something to think about before you start writing. And as Craig said, you can point to other movies, or look at other screenplays. If you read that True Grit script, the script has just all that tone in it. You want people to feel, to understand the — not just what you’re trying to say, but how you’re trying to make them feel.

John: When hear tone I often think about the soundtrack for the movie. And honestly when a script has a very successful tone to it, I can sort of hear what that soundtrack is going to be just by looking at the page. It’s sort of suggesting what this world feels like, what kind of music I would be hearing underneath those things.

And what you’re talking about with word choices, that’s the same kind of thing. Those staccato sentences for the action sequence, that’s giving you the sense of what it kind of feels like to be in that moment, both how it’s cut, but also what the soundtrack sounds like, what the sound effects sound like. What those quick little moments feel like.

When you have those long florid sentences it gives you the sense of like this feels like a camera moving slowly through and panning across these things.

Craig: Pacing.

John: But also I love what Craig said in terms of it’s about what the characters are doing that often sort of really speaks to the tone. Like how the characters would interact with each other. How a character responds to something is really very key to the tone. And when you hear that in those first couple pages and really get a sense of like, oh, I get what this movie feels like.

Chris Terrio was up at Sundance and we were talking about Argo. And Argo has two vastly different tones if you remember the movie. There’s the FBI, really three tones — there’s the FBI people, and they are sort of walking quickly down hallways and talking at a little bit of a hyperactive kind of pace. You have the Hollywood people who are sort of doing their Hollywood thing. It’s basically a comedy when we’re there with them.

But then when we get to Iran –

Aline: Hostage drama.

John: Hostage drama, it can’t be either of those things. It has to slow down. It has to be very real. It has to be like real sort of moments of fear and uncertainty and anxiety. So, the challenge of that movie is how do you balance these three very different tones and make them all feel like they’re part of the same movie.

Aline: And the other thing that I realize more and more is that it’s so much about getting inside character’s heads. And tone is just so important for the interiority. And if you feel like you don’t have enough tone, write those scenes from the perspective of the character, how they would react to stuff.

That’s why I put comments, things that the character thinks in their mind or would say but doesn’t say. I put them in the scene description so that we know what they’re thinking and what they want to say and don’t. The interiority really, when I am reading a script and it seems blank, it just seems like it’s not being told from anyone’s point of view, or even an authorial point of view.

Craig: I know what you mean. Sometimes the way that you can establish tone is by establishing it almost in opposition to a different tone. I often think about how until Unforgiven came along, westerns had people constantly getting shot. And western heroes were constantly shooting people and then going, you know, quip, right? Or I don’t care –

Aline: That is a masterpiece of tone, that movie.

Craig: In that movie they make this choice, I mean, from the start he has trouble getting on his horse. Right off the bat, you know, so westerns, typically the tone is I jump on a horse, I ride. It’s a little bit like superhero stuff, you know. Here it’s like an old man who is struggling to get on a horse.

When the Schofield Kid shoots somebody for the first time, you can see his terror and his horror, because he’s never done it before, and it’s disgusting to him. These are tonal choices.

But then again, there are good and successful westerns that I love that are in the mold of the classic kind of — they’re great action –

Aline: But this is saying to you this is the kind of story we’re telling here.

Craig: That’s right. Sometimes you see an action movie and you’re like that was just fun. That was fun. The Matrix was, I mean it was cool, but it was fun.

Aline: But that had an amazing, cool, specific tone.

Craig: Wonderful specific tone.

Aline: That buoyed you over, even if you didn’t understand what was going on.

Craig: Correct. So that tone was like mysterious, S&M, leather, awesome superhero-y Whoa, and all that was really like cyber punky/awesome/cool, and it was fun. But I can also see a movie where somebody gets punched in the face and they are in terrible pain and they can’t get up and the person who hit them is petrified that they might have killed them. That’s a totally different tone. It’s all about that –

Aline: That’s right. And it was interesting, I watched Mud with my kids when we were on vacation and they’re accustomed to watching superhero movies where people just get killed, just all willy-nilly. And there was a scene in Mud where just the little boy was in peril for a minute and my son got really upset. And it was because the tone of that made you feel that pain.

Craig: That it mattered.

Aline: Exactly. And so the great thing as a writer, you’re in charge of that. That’s what makes you god is your ability to choose the tone. And one of my favorite movies is Tootsie, partly because I think it’s just a — that movie could have been so goofy, and silly, and corny.

Craig: 99 times out of 100.

Aline: 99 times it would have been.

Craig: Cross-dressing comedy, it’s Bosom Buddies.

Aline: And the masterful tone of that movie and keeping you in, you feel real at every step. So, I think it’s a little bit of a lost art and I think and I think it’s partly because it’s such an intangible. We don’t teach it. We don’t talk about it as much as we do.

I know you get exhausted by this, which is the endless act one break, act two low point, blah, blah, blah.

Craig: Structure, structure, structure.

Aline: Yeah, structure, structure.

Craig: Well, because the people that teach these things, that’s what they know. They don’t know tone because they don’t have a voice.

John: Well, the challenge is you can sort of teach structure because you can put it up on a whiteboard, or you can have slides to sort of go through it. But tone is all about the very specific words on the page.

Aline: Right.

John: One of the first projects I got paid to write was this –

Aline: By the way, Go is an amazing — the tone of the screenplay of Go is really bracing.

John: Thank you. Yeah, what characters would say in Go and do in Go is very, very specific to the world. And you can’t break that world. And an example of breaking it was I was over at Paramount and I was writing this thing for them. And it was sort of a cross between, it was like Clueless in an apocalypse context. And so it was these two school girls that have to save New York from the apocalypse.

So it had a very specific tone. But there was like one line, one of my favorite lines, that I was really trying to wedge in there. But it was too much of like a Heathers line. It did not quite fit the world. And I was so proud of that line and finally Maggie Molina who was my executive said like, “I know you love this line. It does not fit in your movie.”

And really what she’s talking about is it’s not the tone of the movie. It breaks the expectations of what this movie can be.

Craig: And then the line will never work the way you want it to, which is the most frustrating thing.

John: Yes.

Craig: It’s interesting, when you talked about that concept, a lot of times the key to tone is in the concept. Certain concepts want certain tones. So, when I hear, okay, two privileged schoolgirls in Manhattan have to save the world from Armageddon, it can’t be too real. It can’t be too serious, because the concept –

John: The concept is absurd.

Craig: The concept is demanding that it be funny. I think the concept allows that the two girls can have a relationship that is meaningful to each other and dramatic for each other, but that the actual adventure of the world, they need to be able to see some crazy things happen.

Aline: But if you think about it, a lot of our filmmakers that we revere the most, contemporary filmmakers are people like Wes Anderson, and Quentin who have just very distinct tones, that have a very distinct, and their movies vary, but they have a certain feel to them.

John: I would single out Rian Johnson. Because Rian Johnson’s movies don’t all feel alike, but each of them has such an incredibly specific tone.

Aline: Right. Writers don’t just have one tone. I mean, the Coen Brothers are a good example. The tone of True Grit and the tone of –

Craig: And Raising Arizona.

Aline: Yeah. I mean, they couldn’t be more different. They just — what I love about them.

Craig: But they’re true to their own tones.

Aline: Love the movie or not the movie, whatever they’re doing it is total commitment to the tone of this. We are going full on to Hudsucker Proxy. We’re going full on to Big Lebowski. We’re going to embrace that tone.

And I think if you make a mistake, it’s better to do that as an aspiring screenwriter, because I would rather read something that had tons of tone and was like a little bit of a mess as a story than something where it sort of checked all the boxes.

Craig: Yup.

Aline: But it just felt like –

Craig: You can fix the story.

Aline: But it just felt like an unpainted wood. When somebody made those stores that are like unfinished wood furniture.

Craig: You’re like so into the paint and the wood today.

Aline: Yeah, I really am. Paint and wood.

John: You’re saying tons of tone, and I just worry that somebody could look like, “Oh, I should add some more tone to this.” That’s the last thing. It has to be really inherent to sort of everything. So, when you read a script that tonally is so unique and consistent, that’s when I start to think like, oh, this person has a voice, this person has perspective, this person has a point of view.

Aline: Is anything worse than going to see a movie and going, “What is this? What is it?”

Craig: I mean, it’s rare that you go to a movie where you think the tone is all over the place.

John: There are some.

Craig: I know.

Aline: I can think of some.

John: Indie films, you’ll see a lot more of that.

Craig: Well, yeah, that is true. I get that. That is true. I do agree though that when I read something that somebody has written and they are an aspiring screenwriter, that’s all I’m really looking for. I’m looking for — I would say specificity and tone and a general understanding of the music of speech. And if the script, if nothing happens in the movie but, boy, all the things along the way were really well done, well just write about something that’s interesting. But you can, which is so much better than being a bland writer.

Aline: And how many of the movies we love either the story is rickety or it doesn’t do any of the things it’s supposed to do. And you love it anyway because it has this great feel to it and these great characters and these great moments?

Craig: We’ll forgive.

Aline: We’ll forgive a lot.

Craig: We’ll forgive bad narrative for great character. And characters and tone go hand in hand.

John: Let’s talk about mentors. So, that was a suggestion of yours.

Craig: Where did Segue Johnny go? [laughs] Segue Johnny has left the building.

Aline: That was called a Hard Segue.

Craig: Topic over. New Topic. That was the McLaughlin. Next topic!

John: Next topic! Did you have a mentor when you started writing?

Aline: I did. I had many mentors. I had amazing mentors. I mean, right from the beginning I took a six-week screenwriting class. I talk about him a lot, this teacher named Dick Beebe. And we had to write a class –

Craig: I’m sorry, what?

Aline: Amazing name. And we had to write a script in that class. And he was the one who said you should be a screenwriter. And then he read that script three more times, which I now look back and think how did I have the balls to ask him to keep reading it.

Craig: Well, if he liked it I can see why he would keep reading it. I do that sometimes if I like it.

Aline: But the reason I wanted to talk about this today, and we can talk about mentors in general, but the reason I want to talk about this is you guys have spent a good amount of time on this podcast talking about why there are not more female screenwriters and directors. And we’ve talked about it also. And one of the things that studies have shown in the business world is that women are not as good at attracting and maintaining mentors.

And if you’re in a male-dominated field, you’re going to have to attract male and female mentors. And so one thing I want young women to think about is if you’re starting out as a screenwriter either right after college or right after film school, right after undergraduate, or even after film school, you’re going to go into a business which is dominated by men. And I think a lot of times we talk about mentors we think about giving women female mentors and that’s sort of how our brain works. She’s a woman, she needs a woman to help her and guide her.

For whatever reason, most of my mentors ended up being men. And it is a tricky dance when you’re a young woman to pursue men heavily for work without it seeming…

Craig: Sexy time.

Aline: Sexy times. They’re often way older than you and if you’re single, particularly if you’re single and they’re single, but if you’re single and they’re married, and I just think saying to women you can only have female mentors or pursue female mentors is not great advice in a business where 83% of the writers are male. So, I learned very early on that you had to find a way and to get a mentor you have to pursue them. And I had a funny experience where I went to something where there were a bunch of students and they wanted to talk to me. And a lot of them handed me their card.

And I was like, okay, thank you. I’m not going to take your card and call you. And then there was one kid who talked to me for a long time and then went to the organizer of the program and asked for permission to get my email. And then emailed me and said, “I hope it’s okay that I emailed. I enjoyed speaking with you. Ten minutes of your time. If I could have aó”

I mean, all the things you want to say. You have to pursue if you want a mentor. You can’t go up to someone and say, “Here’s my card. Please call me and mentor me.” In fact, if you are a young woman and you went to a man and said, “Here’s my card, will you mentor me,” and he called you, that’s bad.

Craig: That’s a problem.

Aline: You have to go to them and say, “I’m a writer. This is what I’ve written. Let me show it to you or let me talk to you about it.” You have to make a case for yourself. And it can be intimidating and it can be tricky, but what’s interesting and I think what we should say to women is for whatever reason that first teacher I had, that was a guy, then the first producer that I worked with consistently, who really, really championed me was a gentleman named Bobby Newmyer, just loved the movies that I wrote.

You know, that was his tone. He loved those kinds of movies. And then I had an agent for many years who is a woman and she was an incredible mentor and guide. So, I had both.

But, I really think to break into the business, male or female, you have to learn how to make people want to help you. And the best way to do that is to be awesome.

Craig: [laughs] Is to be the kind of person that needs help less than all the other people.

Aline: Well, no, I don’t mean to be an awesome writer. It means to have awesome deportment.

Craig: Be a good person.

Aline: To be friendly. And helpful. And when you make that coffee date, show up on time. Express interest in… — Like I have this kid that I’m mentoring. Every time I see him he’s looked up online what things I’m working on and he says, “Oh, so tell me how this is going, how this is going.” And last time I saw him I said, “God, I don’t have a lot of time. I don’t really need to talk to you about my stuff. I just want to hear about your stuff, you know, trying to break in.”

And anytime I’ve interacted with younger people that I’ve wanted to help, I’ve just noticed if you have — it’s not a mystery. Be awesome. Be polite. Be respectful. Be educated about the person that you’re going to.

I’m having drinks today with someone that I met at the live podcast, the cocktail, it was an interesting woman and I wanted to help her. And it took me a long time to find a time that was convenient. But she was patiently saying I’m here whenever you –

You’ve got to have a certain deportment. But I would say for women, absolutely look for female mentors, but be prepared to find a way to seek out, to attract and seek out male mentors. And what I would say to you is just make sure your messaging is very clear about what you want and that you want help with your work and that there isn’t sexy times afoot. I mean, if there is, god bless you.

But if you are trying to just attract a mentor for mentor’s sake, particularly before I got engaged and married I would just sort of over correct a little bit. Don’t meet for drinks. Meet at 9am for coffee. And if you have a number of interactions where you’re making it clear to this person you have a boyfriend, whatever it is, you’re not interested, and you’re very educated, have great questions about work. You’ve listen to these podcasts. You know, you have the right questions to ask.

People want to help. They want to be helpful. John has dedicated his life to helping young writers.

Craig: Dedicated.

Aline: It’s true.

Craig: St. John.

Aline: It is true. You?

Craig: Not so much.

Aline: A little bit.

Craig: This is what I do. Tough.

Aline: Yeah. But people want to help. I mean, I remember during the strike John would say if you’re a young writer come and walk with me.

Craig: [laughs] Like St. Francis of Assisi. Or Jesus. Come walk with me.

John: But also during the strike one of the great things about like if you’re a young writer, even if you’re not WGA represented, just come out and join us in the picket lines because we have nothing else to do, so we’ll talk to you.

Craig: Right. We’re super bored.

John: And we’ll give you some advice.

Aline: Yeah. And when I’m helping somebody and I say can you stop by my office at nine o’clock, the people that I have helped and befriended who became successful writers were in the lobby at 8:15 and had brought a paper.

John: Yeah.

Aline: And the people who came flying in at the last minute and wanted to tell a long story about why they relate and how they couldn’t find a parking spot, you know, that’s not — you have very few opportunities to demonstrate to people that you deserve to be mentored. And I would say, you know, try and avail yourselves of them. Don’t be creepy. Be polite. Understand boundaries.

But for young women, don’t be afraid to go up to male writers in your field who you think might be interested and say, “Help me out,” and in general across the board to be successful, even as successful writers you have to attract and maintain the sponsorship of people who are more successful than you.

Craig: I actually think that goes too for male writers. Don’t be afraid to find female mentors. I actually –

Aline: That’s true. I mentor girls and dudes.

Craig: Because there’s not a lot of them, because there aren’t a lot of female screenwriters.

John: I had the equivalent of like a Lindsay Doran coming out of grad school and she was hugely helpful. So, it’s often that teacher role.

Craig: Well, yeah, I didn’t go to film school. And frankly all the people that kind of mentored me early on were men, but I’m not necessarily sure they were good mentors. I think they were more benefactors than mentors, which is a different deal.

And I think that’s a good thing, too, by the way. Finding somebody that both appreciates what you do and is going to pay you for it can be terrific because that’s how you really learn.

But, at this point now I actually prefer working with women. I do. I just — I’ve come to the place now where I realize I just need mommies. I do. I understand myself a little bit better now. I need moms.

But I also find that they, for whatever reason working with women calms me down a little bit. I feel a little bit better about myself.

Aline: But, you know, we often have this conversation and men say like, “I don’t know what to do. I can’t be on the Women in Film Committee and I can’t be on this panel. And I can’t do that.” And I always say to them find a young female — if you really want to help have there be more female writers in Hollywood, find a young… — By the way, feel free to only mentor talented people.

John: Oh, absolutely, you should. I mean, you’re doing nobody a service if you’re mentoring really horrible people.

Aline: That’s right. They’re going to look for you and the reason I wanted to talk about this is I want to encourage people to look for mentors in a respectful and once again uncreepy way. But I also want to encourage established people to look for people to mentor. It’s awesome. It is a great feeling when you’re helping someone and you see them start to succeed and you get those emails that say, you know, and one of the things I love about this podcast is you guys do that en masse. And you constantly get feedback from people who say –

Craig: But it is important, so for instance John and I both do the mentoring program at the WGA. And I did a mentoring program separately through the Writers Guild East I think last year. So, there’s a young woman who I thought was terrific and I kind of did this process with her for about a year.

I’m also doing one through the Universal — I don’t know what the name of the program is.

Aline: Oh, yes, I know. Andrea talked to me about that.

Craig: Yes, it’s essentially, what is it? It’s for racial minorities and –

John: Diverse writers?

Craig: It’s for diversity. It’s for racial minorities and it’s for women. I think but mostly racial minorities. And that frankly is — I love that we do this. And this is great. But this is not mentoring. It’s different.

John: Yeah.

Aline: No, I know. But it’s resources, it’s true. But I just want people to think about –

Craig: This is just replacing bad film school.

Aline: But I’m saying, like in this discussion of tone, which people don’t talk enough about, we don’t really talk a lot about mentoring. We don’t teach women in particular how to do it. And it’s, again, it’s one of those intangible things which is super important and no one teaches you how to do it. And some people have an instinct for it and some people don’t.

Write the thank you note after someone has sat down with you. I was shocked at the number of people who sit down with me and then I never hear from them again. They never send me an email or a card that says thank you for your time.

Craig: I’m not. People are terrible.

Aline: Yeah, but it doesn’t advance their cause.

Craig: They don’t know what their cause is. They don’t know how to advance their cause. Let me just get a little upset for a second.

Aline: Okay, here we go. I wound you up.

Craig: You did. There are people who simply don’t know how anything works. I don’t know if they were loved too much, not loved enough, they just are genetically broken. I don’t know what their problem is. But they just move through life like this.

And then one day they look around and say, “Why is everything going wrong? Why is my life no good?” Because they’ve made a terrible, a string of terrible decisions like that. They don’t realize that they’re terrible decisions. They just don’t see it. They don’t see it.

And part of being a mentor is identifying those people very quickly. By the way, we can within seconds. You — you don’t have what it takes to be a successful anything. So, why would I waste my time trying to help you be a successful thing that’s very hard to be successful at?

Aline: But so much of it is deportment.

Craig: I love that word. Deportment. She’s so French.

Aline. You know, people who come up to you and then want to talk obsessively about themselves or tell you some dramatic story or some sob story. Complaining is not attractive.

Craig: The waves of crazy coming off.

Aline: Yes, complaining is not a good. And so they’re critical. They’re critical for women to get ahead. They’re critical because every study has shown you need to be mentored to get to the next level. And you know what? If you’re worried that someone is going to gossip because such and such, you’re single, and such and such married man is helping you? So what? If you know what’s happening and not happening, and truth is the work speaks for itself. The work speaks for itself.

And if you do good work consistently, people will see that you are talented and they won’t look back and say, “Oh, that’s because she’só”

Craig: She slept with all those mentors.

Aline: Yeah, maybe that’s why it didn’t work out so great.

Craig: I slept with both Weinsteins. That was a mistake.

Aline: Oh my god.

Craig: Why did I do that?

John: Huge mistake.

Craig: I should have just slept with one of them.

John: Yeah, together.

Craig: No, John.

John: That’s gross.

Craig: No, bad. Bad John. Terrible.

John: So I have four mentors now assigned by the WGA.

Aline: Mentees.

John: Mentees, yes. It would be great if I had four mentors.

Craig: Yeah, that would be cool.

John: People would take pity on me. We’ve got to help John August with his career. But I have four mentees.

Aline: You could apply to the program.

John: I could. I totally could apply.

Aline: Who would you get? No, it would be great if you applied to get a mentor. Who would John get?

John: That would be fantastic.

Craig: Zak Penn.

Aline: Zak Penn.

Craig: That would be the best.

John: I want Zak Penn and David Koepp. And sort of all those –

Aline: J.J. would be good.

John: J.J. would be great.

Craig: I want Leslie Dixon to mentor me. That would actually be awesome.

Aline: That would be great.

Craig: That would be pretty great.

John: So, but mostly my function with them is stuff will just come up in their work life. Like I don’t know what to do here. And so to be on the other end of that email saying like you’re not crazy. That’s a weird situation. Here’s what I would do. That’s what I’m actually able to provide.

Because I can’t really provide — I’m not reading their writing. I can’t provide great writing advice, but I can just — how to get through that day advice.

Aline: My young people, I often say to them, because a lot of times they’re wondering is this a real guy. Somebody wants to option my script or meet with me, is this a real person, you know?

John: You have a radar for that. So, one of my mentees emailed to ask, “I turned in my script and now they’re asking me to send in the continuity. I don’t know what that is.” What do you think they meant by the continuity?

Craig: So, I’m sorry, they sent in their script and they’re also asking for continuity? I would imagine that that would be just a list of scenes. No?

John: They meant the FDX file. They meant the original file rather than the PDF.

Craig: That’s the stupidest –

John: It’s so stupid. So, I emailed back saying like I don’t know. That’s actually not really a thing. That’s not a thing we provide.

Craig: No, continuity like in post-production is the list of scenes.

John: Yes, the list of scenes.

Aline: Well, that’s a great, another thing –

Craig: Who are those people?

John: And so I said I think they probably don’t know what the hell they’re talking about, A.

Craig: So scary to me that –

Aline: Let’s not work with them.

John: No.

Craig: By the way, that’s what I would have said. You’ve got to pull this project. They literally are dumb. I feel really bad for those people if they listen and love and they’re like, what, it’s just a vocabulary term.

Aline: When you’re coming up you don’t know whether you can say, “What is that?”

John: Exactly. And so I gave him permission to ask.

Aline: Right? The most freeing thing about having tons of experience is the number of times you get to say, “I’m sorry, what? What do you mean?”

Craig: Yeah. I don’t know is a great answer.

Aline: I don’t know is a wonderful thing. But when you’re young you don’t want to be walking around saying I don’t know. So, it’s great to have someone email and say, “Is this a thing?’

John: [laughs] It’s like the answer is no. It’s not a thing. It’s not a thing we provide, so ask them if they want the FDX file because it’s probably what they mean. Because probably they want to do a breakdown on the budget and so they really wanted that thing that they could feed into.

Craig: That is so weird.

John: They just wanted to use a fancy word for it. That’s crazy.

Aline: Are they from a foreign country?

John: They’re not from a foreign country. They’re from a big American country.

Craig: A big American country?

Aline: Wowser.

John: Yeah, one of two North American countries. They’re one of those two.

Craig: They’re from one of the two North American countries.

John: It’s time for One Cool Things.

Aline: Time has flown.

John: Craig, you start.

Craig: Yeah, you know what? I don’t have one. I mean, look, this has been a very long podcast. Nobody wants to hear my One Cool Thing this week. I do. I have five. I have 12 One Cool Things. I have 12 Cool Things, but I don’t feel like sharing any of them.

John: I have Two Cool Things. I have two movies that people can watch on iTunes or on-demand. First is David Wain’s They Came Together. David Wain was a guest on our podcast and his movie I saw on iTunes on Friday. It was delightful.

Craig: I’m going to iTunes that tonight.

John: You should. Absolutely. Because the things he talked about on our show –

Aline: iTunes the hell out of it. Don’t just iTunes it.

Craig: I’m going to iTunes it twice.

John: If you haven’t listened to the podcast, watch the movie then listen to the podcast, or reverse order. But he talked in the podcast about sort of the wraparound scenes they shot. And it’s so hard to imagine that movie without them. So, it was a great movie to watch.

Also, another movie, Mutual Friends, by Matthew Watts and Amy Higgins is also on iTunes starting this week. Matt and Amy had this idea where they were living in New York and they had a bunch of sort of screenwriter friends, like film school friends, and they said what if each of us wrote a little short film and the only rule is that everyone has to be headed towards one birthday party of this guy. So, they gave that guy a name. And basically it’s a whole bunch of little short stories that all lead up to one place.

And so everyone wrote their pieces and then they sort of stitched it all together in an Altman-esque way that ends up at one birthday party.

Aline: Oh cool.

John: So, it’s a great example of I think sort of a good film school idea, a great kind of first film way of doing it. And it turned out nicely. And it’s on iTunes now for you to watch.

Aline: Well I’m about to change some lives with my One Cool Thing.

John: Go for it.

Craig: Oh, boy, here we go.

Aline: What am I holding here?

Craig: That’s an iPhone purse?

John: Purse kind of thing.

Craig: What the hell is that?

Aline: This has changed my life. And every time I wear this people sprint across the room to find out where I got it and how they can get it.

Craig: Notice that neither John nor I even noticed you had it.

Aline: No, this is a lady thing primarily.

John: Can you describe it?

Aline: Please describe it.

John: So, I see her iPhone and it is sort of a gold case. And at the bottom of the case where it would plug in at the bottom there are in fact two hooks that go to a gold strap.

Craig: Like a purse strap.

John: Like a purse strap. And so now she’s stringing it over her body like a Bandolier.

Craig: So it’s like the iPhone becomes the purse body.

Aline: Yes so here’s the thing. You’re always clutching your phone in your hand, especially as a mom. You’re always clutching your phone in your hand. This is a very slim case that goes right around the phone, so there’s not a lot of case-y-ness to it. And you don’t have to pull the phone in and out of a little big. It’s basically a sling for the phone. Goes over one arm. It’s called Bandolier. It’s called a Bandolier and the website is Bandolier Style.

Craig: By the way, the Bandoliers, those were the things that held the bullets. Weren’t those the things that held the bullets?

John: Yeah.

Aline: You don’t have to take this in and out of your purse. You just wear this all the time. In fact, I was in a production meeting yesterday and the woman said I was trying to figure out why you were wearing your purse the whole time. And then she saw it and then she said where can I get that. I have given this to so many people. It’s mostly a lady thing.

It’s basically an iPhone sling. And I have the gold and I have the snakeskin. There are ones with studs on them. There are many colors. Bandolier Style.

Craig: Oh, there’s ones with studs on them? Oh, then now I am going to get one.

John: Yeah, John Gatins would get the one.

Aline: He would get the most bling’d one out.

Craig: He would get the rhinestone number.

Aline: It’s life-changing. I’ve changed lives. Lives.

John: And so I see in the back that there’s actually a slot for credit cards, too. So, you could use that in lieu of –

Aline: And you know what this is particularly good for?

Craig: What’s that?

Aline: Room key.

Craig: Ooh…

John: Ah!

Craig: But doesn’t have your room key against your phone erase the room key?

Aline: Ah-ha, yeah, that can be an issue. But it didn’t, we just went on vacation and it didn’t do it.

Craig: It didn’t do it? I feel like the room key science has gotten better. That they know now to not –

Aline: Ugh, the room key used to be such a crapshoot.

Craig: The worst. Like you’d put it anywhere near anything.

Aline: Yeah. True. But this is really good for — you know, this is also for the ladies who want to go to the night club. Put a couple bills, your ID, and your credit card, and have your iPhone, and then you’re not schlepping a big purse. This is also great when you’re in production because your phone is on you at all times. If someone emails you it’s not stuck in your purse.

Craig: And you don’t have a pocket for instance?

Aline: Women don’t put their phones in their pockets.

Craig: Now what is that?

Aline: Because it messes up the line of your pants.

John: Yeah. Makes sense.

Craig: Messes up the line for pants?

Aline: Women don’t put wallets, keys, coins, or phones in their pockets.

John: Their pants are slimmer, and so it creates this weird bulge. And it’s like well what’s wrong with your body?

Aline: You don’t want bulges.

Craig: You don’t want bulges?

Aline: No, you want no bulges.

Craig: Because you think that men don’t want bulges?

Aline: No, you don’t want lines or bulges. It messes up your line.

Craig: But why? I don’t care about bulges.

Aline: Because of your aesthetics. Aesthetics. Aesthetics. Aesthetics.

Craig: I’m just trying to tell you as a straight man the aesthetics that we’re looking for don’t really get disrupted by –

Aline: You don’t want a girl with like weird bulgy things in her pants.

Craig: You’d be correct. You don’t understand what I’m looking for.

John: Craig’s eyes never go below the navel.

Aline: Here is what I’m going to say to you. Next time you see a hot girl, check for bulges.

Craig: No, but my point is I wouldn’t. You see, the next time you see a hot girl, you could have just ended it period.

Aline: She won’t have budges.

Craig: You could have just ended it.

Aline: She won’t have bulges. The Venn Diagram of people who have bulges and hot girls do not overlap. Although I do have friends who can pull off the — you know, there’s a certain Tom Boy thing that certain girls can do. And that allows them to do. But I can guarantee you I have never put my wallet in my pocket.

Craig: Sexy Craig doesn’t mind a girl with a bulge. Sexy Craig is adventurous. Hey.

Aline: A girl with a bulge.

Craig: I’ve noticed you’ve got something bulging there. Take it out. [laughs] Take it out. Sexy Craig wants to see it.

John: And that’s our show this week. If you’d like to leave us a comment on iTunes, we love those comments. You can find us just by searching for Scriptnotes on iTunes. While you’re there you can also look for the iPhone app so you can listen to all the back episodes through there. We also have an Android app if you’re on an Android device.

We also have a new batch of our little USB drives that have all the back episodes on them. So, the first batch only had the first 100 episodes, but now we have 150 episodes.

Aline: I want to listen to them, but you know what happens?

John: What happens?

Aline: I procrastinate.

John: Ah, it happens. You have to listen to podcasts while you’re doing household chores. That’s the best time by far to do it.

Aline: This is really the only podcast I listen to. I tried.

John: You tried other ones?

Aline: I tried. I’m like Craig. I tried like Craig.

Craig: I don’t understand podcasts.

Aline: I’m rather monogamous. I’ve tried.

Craig: I’m somebody that provides things for people that I don’t understand.

John: Slate mentioned us again today.

Craig: Oh, they did?

John: The Slate Gabfest. They were talking about the David Wain episode.

Craig: Oh great.

John: Yeah. That was lovely.

Craig: I wonder if we can get Sexy Craig on their show.

Aline: Sexy Craig also sings.

Craig: No, that’s Singing Craig.

Aline: Oh, singing Craig.

Craig: That’s totally different. And then there’s Segue Johnny. You’ve got to keep these characters straight. There’s a lot of different ones.

John: On the topic of segues –

Aline: I like Hard Cut Johnny, by the way. Hard Cut Johnny I like.

Craig: Oh, Hard Cut Johnny shows up all the time.

Aline: And Hard Cut Johnny has a huge bulge.

Craig: Oh, okay.

John: Hard Cut Johnny will smash his beer bottle and shove it in your face. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, Hard Cut Johnny doesn’t respect life. He’s got no time.

John: If you have a question for me or for Craig, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Aline Brosh McKenna is not on Twitter.

Aline: I’m not a tweeter.

John: You’re not on Instagram either? You’re just not?

Aline: Not really.

Craig: Can we visit your Pinterest?

Aline: [laughs] You cannot. I did not sign up for that one.

John: Oh, it’s fine.

Aline: I know it’s a real girlie thing but I don’t have one.

Craig: What is your MySpace page?

Aline: You can leave it in chalk on my cave wall.

Craig: Yes.

John: If you have a longer question or a question that you have to get to Aline Brosh McKenna, I guess, you could write to ask@johnaugust.com which is a great place where those longer questions would be. And, let’s see, we talked about subscriptions.

Oh, also we should say if people wanted to listen all the back episodes you can go to scriptnotes.net. That’s where we have all the back catalog for $1.99 a month. You can get access to all those things.

Our podcast is produced by Stuart Friedel and edited by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you for all your hard work on that. And that’s our show this week. Bye.

Aline: Bye.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Hiring a UI designer

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 15:50

Our tiny company is getting a little bigger. We’re hiring a full-time UI designer for Quote-Unquote Apps.

This is a new position, one that combines art and science (design beautiful things…that actually work). Responsibilities will include:

  • Designing art (icons, graphics) and animations for our current and future apps.
  • Building and testing interfaces for apps and websites.
  • Shared responsibility for support email. (Everyone in the office chips in.)

We make apps for Mac and iOS, including Highland, Weekend Read and Bronson Watermarker PDF. We have several new apps in development, and will likely make stuff for iWatches, AppleTVs and other future gadgets. We need someone to help us build cool things.

I’ve hired enough people to know that the job ultimately shifts based the special skills each person brings. But we have a good sense of what we Require and Desire.

Required:

Great taste. We need someone who can make beautiful, thoughtful art and experiences. We should to be able to have a conversation about any app and discuss where it succeeds, where it fails, and how to improve it. It’s one thing to know what it says in the HIG; it’s another to understand where the trends are headed.

Expertise. This person will ultimately be responsible for building interfaces, both as prototypes and in Xcode. They’ll need to be comfortable wiring up little bits that work with storyboards and auto layout.

You can’t learn taste, but you can learn Xcode. What’s important is that this person needs to genuinely love working under the hood, wrestling with constraints and timing and UIScrollViews. Candidates need to be able to muck around with code to figure out why the status bar isn’t displaying properly after rotation.

Prototypes can be a great way of exploring design options, so it’s likely we’d be using something like Origami or framer.js to create mock-ups. We have no musts when it comes to prototypes. Whatever works, works.

We’re not requiring that a candidate have a certain number of years experience working as a paid designer. In fact, it’s more likely we’ll find someone who has been doing something else but Just Happens To Be Great at this.

Our lead coder, Nima Yousefi, was getting his masters in biology. But he’d rather make apps.

We’re looking for someone who’d rather make apps.1

Our Desired list is deliberately broad. No one will tick all these boxes, but we’ve found making apps in 2014 ends up incorporating a lot of seemingly-disparate skills:

  • Web experience in HTML/CSS/Javascript. Many of the apps we’re working on have a web component.
  • Editing skills (Avid, Final Cut Pro). The App Store will soon be allowing demo videos, and we intend to create them.
  • Animation and VFX chops (After Effects, Motion or more-sophisticated apps).
  • Photoshop/Sketch/Illustrator skills. Beyond icon and logo design, we spend hours tweaking App Store screenshots.
  • Copywriting. Sometimes, half the job is figuring out the right word for a UI element, or how to phrase a warning.
  • A/B Testing. We haven’t done a lot of it, but upcoming apps will require it.
  • Broader coding experience. Nima remains our lead engineer, but there’s always too much to do, and a second set of eyes is great.

A good candidate for this position would be able to talk about most of the following with ease:

  • Great opening title sequences of the last year.
  • The design challenges of moving to larger iPhones.
  • Accessibility, and apps that do it right.
  • Are short URLs even worth it?
  • Google’s Material.
  • iOS keyboard extensions, and what’s possible.
  • Localization.
  • iBeacons.
  • Books you’ve bought just for the cover.

We work together in the Los Angeles office twice a week, keeping in touch other days over Slack and Google Hangout. Candidates don’t need to live in LA to apply, but they need to be able and willing to move here if they get the job.2

Salary is commensurate with experience — enough to live in Los Angeles — and there’s health insurance. It’s certainly not Google money, but it’s more than most people are likely to make writing their own apps, with the stability of a small team and guaranteed income.

Here’s the process for applying:

  1. Email digital@johnaugust.com. Tell us about yourself. Include links to your work. If you have apps, send some promo codes.
  2. We’ll be accepting emails through midnight on Thursday, July 17th.
  3. We’ll start interviewing selected candidates via Skype shortly after that.

If you think you’re the right person for this job, apply. Or if you know a great candidate, send them a link.

It’s a great job for the right person. I have a hunch we’ll find someone amazing.

  1. Or, someone who has already made apps. We’re happy to bring someone in who already has her own apps in the App Store.
  2. We’ll consider international applicants, but visas may be a challenge.

The Rocky Shoals (pages 70-90)

Tue, 07/08/2014 - 08:03

Aline Brosh McKenna joins Craig and John to talk about the difficult journey through pages 70-90 of your feature. After that, we talk about procrastination, the Panic Monster and our inner Instant Gratification Monkeys.

Screenwriting books always talk about structure, but never about tone, which is much more important for distinguishing great writing. So we spend some time looking at what tone feels like on the page.

Finally, we talk mentors. Aline has specific suggestions for young women.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

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