John August's Blog
John has questions about the questions Craig answered on his Reddit AMA, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg as we answer six great listener questions:
- What’s the deal with the “mystery insider” Twitter accounts?
- Can a screenwriter use the n-word?
- If we had to start from scratch, what would we do?
- What did we mean by “lens selection?”
- To CONT’D, or not to CONT’D?
- Starting over after big life events.
Also, a reminder to Oscar winners: if you’re going to thank the creative team, don’t neglect to thank the screenwriter.
- If/Then, a new musical starring Idina Menzel
- The Wrap on the rift between Steve McQueen and John Ridley
- Craig’s AMA on Reddit
- Accidental Tech Podcast episode 54, in which they discuss our Final Draft episode, and their follow-up on episode 55
- Floppy Music (Tainted Love)
- Spritz for speed-reading
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jakob Freudenthal
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 in lieu of doing a normal Scriptnotes this week we want to talk about a director, we want to talk about a writer, an actor — a filmmaker who made a movie that was incredibly influential to both of us — and so this is going to be one of those episodes we’re going to just talk about one movie the whole time. And this is Craig’s idea, so Craig, what is your idea?
Craig: Well, we lost one of the greats. Harold Ramis passed away about a week ago. And not only did Harold Ramis direct and write, he was an actor, he did everything. And he was for anyone who writes comedy he was the giant of my generation.
John: I agree. He was incredibly influential. But let’s just talk through some of his credits as a writer and then going into him as a director. Caddyshack. Meatballs. Groundhog Day, which we’re going to talk about today. Multiplicity. He was the guy who sort of started off with this idea of like the slob comedy, the slobs against the –
Craig: Slobs versus snobs.
John: Yes. He was always the rebels against the institution kind of comedies. And then progressed into the movie we’re talking about Groundhog Day today, which is basically I think the template of what so many comedies tried to do afterwards. Without Groundhog Day you wouldn’t have a lot of these other movies.
Craig: No question. To give him his full due, in terms of his writing, and we are primarily a screenwriting podcast, Meatballs, Caddyshack, Stripes, Ghostbusters.
Craig: Back to School. A lot of people don’t know that he wrote on that. And, of course, Groundhog Day. And also Analyze This and Analyze That. Just incredible. Just incredible. And then as a director he directed Caddyshack and he directed National Lampoon’s Vacation which was written by John Hughes, I believe. And he directed Groundhog Day.
And just a remarkable man who I think until Groundhog Day was underappreciated. I think that it’s easy maybe in the time of comedies — comedies are rarely properly appreciated in their time. It was easy to think that Ramis was part of this gang of guys that made slobs versus snobs comedies and they were broad and they were over the top and they were outrageous and drug-fueled. And all that is true.
But there was a humanity to all of those movies, particularly when he and Bill Murray collaborated that frankly is as rich and valuable as any of the humanity that you get from the great dramatic films. And Groundhog Day, I think, practically everyone would agree is the peak, is the peak of that.
John: With Groundhog Day you’re taking the idea of one of these sort of grownup man-child people who has just not progressed enough and giving them a chance to practice to the point where they actually grew up and become the man they really should be. And that feels like an important evolution in comedy overall, but certainly the kind of comedies that he was making and the kind of comedies that we aspire to make.
It also created, I think, a template for what a high concept comedy could be, which is basically you have a man in a predicament and these are all the things that are going to go wrong. He is uniquely the one person affected by it. And over the course of this adventure has to learn to change. And that idea of like here’s a man in a normal situation, goes into a crazy situation, and as a comedy we are going to arc until he gets through it.
So, without Groundhog Day we don’t have Liar Liar, we don’t have Multiplicity, we don’t have so many of these comedies. We don’t have a lot of those Adam Sandler comedies, too, where it’s one guy in an extraordinary, high concept comedic conceit.
Craig: Yeah. It certainly set the tone for what I would call the modern version of that. There’s a long comic tradition of this. In a sense It’s a Wonderful Life is a great prototype for this kind of movie, with a bit of a comedy and a bit of a mock-ish film as well. But a supernatural interruption of a normal guy’s life causes him to examine his life. Heaven Can Wait predates Groundhog Day.
There are many examples, but interestingly Groundhog Day is probably the best of all of them because everything is right in it. And when I say everything is right — you have to start initially with Danny Rubin’s idea. There are a ton of big supernatural life interruption ideas out there. And some of them are really interesting. For instance, what if you couldn’t tell a lie? What if you were god for the time being?
But there is something about you’re going to live this day over and over, which is an idea that had been explored a number of times in other areas, that lend itself so perfectly to this genre that said you put a million screenwriters in a room and you’re going to get 999,999 lesser scripts than Groundhog Day.
John: Well, that essential idea of you are repeating the same day again and again is kind of a Twilight Zone idea. And there are a lot of ways you could do this that is basically a thriller or is Memento. There’s a version of it that’s that.
So, to be able to see the comedic possibility in that and not just as a single joke but as an ongoing progression of growth for a character is really smart and is part of the reason why this movie works.
So, we should say, Groundhog Day is credit to Danny Rubin, story; screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis. Directed by Harold Ramis.
And I think we should just start talking about the movie, because this is will be one of those things where we actually go through the whole thing and really talk through it. And as we kind of come upon these realizations about sort of how this movie is working, let’s talk through them.
Craig: Yeah. Sounds great.
John: So, this is a Columbia Pictures and I always love watching old Columbia Pictures because you sort of see the evolution of the logo. I love the evolution of all film logos.
Craig: [laughs] I know.
John: And there’s a piece which I’m going to link to on the evolution of the Warner Bros. logo that came out this week which is actually genius. You sort of see like how the shield came to be and how it stayed the shield for so long and then it became that weird WB for awhile. And then it got back to the shield.
This is a Columbia Pictures logo and it’s the pre-Annette Bening Columbia Pictures.
John: Because there’s a moment in time where it was shifted to the woman, Columbia looked like Annette Bening. And this is still the old one.
We come up on blue skies. We see Bill Murray in front of the weather map. And so right from the very first frames we’re seeing who Bill Murray is in front of the blue sky weather map. Essentially he’s fake. He’s faking the weather. He’s having a good time with it. He’s really jovial on-camera. And then very quickly we’re going to see that he has a completely different off-screen persona and he doesn’t get along with anybody.
Craig: Right. He ends the telecast, his news broadcast, by announcing that he will — as he has done before — he’s going to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania because Groundhog Day is coming up. And his co-anchor says, “Oh, yeah, that will be your third year in a row?” And he looks at her, “Fourth. Fourth.” And we know, oh god, he doesn’t want to go at all.
Here’s what’s so fascinating about this section. This is what happens prior to Phil, his new producer Andie MacDowell, and his cameraman Larry, played by Chris Elliott. Here’s what happens before they hit the road to Punxsutawney. Phil does his weather broadcast. It’s quite funny. And it’s perfectly charming Bill Murray. He sits down next to the news anchor to finish the report and we get the sense that he’s actually not thrilled about what he has to do.
Craig: He has a very brief discussion in which he says he plans on staying in Punxsutawney for about three minutes, whatever the minimum is. He hates going there. He looks at his new producer, Rita, who he’s intrigued by but yet states very clearly, “Ain’t my kind of girl,” because she looks like a nice girl. And that’s it.
Then they’re on the road. Here’s what is so interesting to me about how this movie begins. We don’t see him alone at home. We don’t know how he lives. We don’t know anything about his life. We never learn if he was married, had a girlfriend, dog died, nothing. He just meets Rita. Her character is established as such: she’s giggling in front of the blue screen and that’s it. [laughs]
Craig: We don’t know any backstory of his relationship with his cameraman Larry. There are a thousand studio notes that I can see piling up right now that Ramis and Rubin decided to not do. They just said, screw it, it’s Bill Murray. He’s a bit of a jerk. There’s Andie MacDowell. She’s very sweet and nice. Let’s go.
John: So, one of the first lines of dialogue in the movie is, “Somebody asked me today, Phil, if you could be anywhere today where would you want to be?” Which is, of course, establishing the entire premise of the movie we’re about to see. It doesn’t feel like it’s establishing, but it is.
On the podcast we’re often doing the Three Page Challenge and everything we’re talking about here — this was three pages. This was at most three pages.
John: We’ve established all of this stuff about that he’s going to Punxsutawney, that they’re in Pittsburgh, he’s going to go to Punxsutawney. He doesn’t want to go to Punxsutawney. He’s been there way too many times. He doesn’t think this producer is anything worth noting. And that he’s a very different person on-screen than off-screen. It’s a tremendous amount of work packed in here.
What’s also fascinating to me is we started credits over a blue sky and a blue screen.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: And then we stopped, we took a pause off the credits, and then we’re going to go back into credits and we’re going to have a song called I’m Your Weatherman playing as we’re driving from Pittsburgh to Punxsutawney, which is again very classically sort of establishing your world. This is what it looks like. This is going from the big city to the small town. Because without it, without that driving sequence we would not have a sense of how small Punxsutawney is and that it really is a drive, because that drive is going to become an important factor later on in the film.
Craig: That’s right. We have, on page three or four we’ve already left our old comfortable life behind. We’ve begun our adventure. One interesting thing to note that we’ll come back to at the end is that the initial credits pre-weather sequence, pre-intro of Phil are time-lapse, it’s time-lapsed photography of clouds moving rapidly across the sky.
Craig: So, we arrive in Punxsutawney and Phil is, as they’re approaching, Phil is doing his thing with Rita. He is being a jerk. And she’s picking up on the fact that he’s a bit of a jerk. What we’re learning about him and this is why — sadly, this was the last collaboration between Ramis and Murray. No one quite knows why. But, at this point you could see that they had evolved to an almost shorthand where Murray could essentially say, “Here’s what my character is. It’s this version of Bill Murray.” There’s a few of them. This is the arrogant jerk Bill Murray.
Craig: And we get it pretty quickly that the thinks he’s god’s gift. He thinks he’s better than everybody. He thinks he’s too good for his surroundings. And, frankly, even thinks he’s too good for Rita.
They pull up in front of the Pennsylvania Hotel where he throws a little bit of a tantrum on not staying here, “I don’t want to stay here, it’s terrible.” And she surprisingly says, “Actually I booked you a nice little bed and breakfast. You’re not staying here. I’m staying here.”
And he’s quite pleased with that. And off he goes to his bed and breakfast which becomes — and we’ll have no idea at this point in the movie if we’ve never seen it before — becomes home base for the entire film.
John: Yes. So, we arrive in Punxsutawney at 6 minutes and 30 seconds into the film, establishing that hotel sequence and him going to the bed and breakfast. Establishing the borderline sexual harassment happening, like, “You could help me with my pelvic tilt,” that kind of stuff.
Craig: That’s right.
John: That kind of banter between them. But then we are into the bed and breakfast. We don’t really even establish the bed and breakfast. He basically shows up there and then he’s waking up.
Craig: Very smartly we do not establish anything but that bedroom.
John: Yes. At 7 minutes and 35 seconds the clock flips over to 6am. Sonny and Cher sing I Got You Babe. There’s really annoying radio banter, which even the first time you hear it is really kind of annoying and cheesy, talking about the National Weather Service. There’s a big blizzard coming. And it feels like the way many movies would start, which is basically like the day has started. Now the day has started.
Craig: That’s right. And I just want to point out that there’s a great lesson for all of us, no matter what we’re writing, from the way that the morning wakeup occurs. Danny and Harold understood as a circumstance of the story they were telling that every aspect of this wakeup moment had to be very carefully considered because they were going to repeat it multiple times.
As such, you can tell that it’s been imbued with great care. The choice of the song. The choice of the clock, the style of clock, the way it flips over, the time itself. The banter between the radio guys, their words which later will actually be thematically interesting. All chosen very carefully.
And I just want to point out is the side advice for us all, for me, and for you, and everybody listening is the truth is all movies eventually become Groundhog Day. They will be watched over and over and over. You might as well try and imbue everything with that amount of care because they knew that you were going to have to watch that scene five, six, seven times within one move, but all scenes will be watched five, six, or seven times if you get what I’m saying.
John: Yes. Well, also I would say as a filmmaker you’re always kind of making Groundhog Day because you’re going to have to witness those scenes a thousand times, in filming them, in editing them, in watching them on the screen in front of an audience. So, another good reason to make sure all those scenes are excellent.
Now, what we wouldn’t know if we were going into this movie blind is that everything we’re seeing here has to work in the moment, the first time we’re seeing it, and has to have a special resonance when we’re seeing it the second time through.
So, we’re establishing the pattern of what the day is supposed to — the default pattern of what the day is going to be. And so unless Bill Murray changes something, this is exactly how the day will play out. So, he’s going to get dressed, he’s going to go downstairs, he’s going to have an interaction with the bed and breakfast house — the woman who runs the bed and breakfast.
John: Now, many movies would have established her the night before, here we didn’t. Here, the first time we’re seeing her is down there at the moment. It’s a chance to learn a little bit more about him, how he’s just kind of a jerk. He’s just on that edge of like you kind of fundamentally don’t like him.
Craig: Yeah. He asks her for an espresso. She doesn’t really know what that is. He mutters some stuff, “You probably couldn’t even spell it.”
There’s a sequence of things that happen here prior to him arriving. So, you know, he wakes up, he gets dressed while he’s listening to this idiotic banter. And then he –
John: Oh, the hallway. Yeah.
Craig: Yeah. And basically there are four things that happen that they chose very carefully that represent what it means for Bill Murray in the morning. I mean, we know there’s wakeup, but then they wanted four things that they — again, we are going to see over and over and over. He bumps into a very cheery man in the hallway. Then he has a discussion with Mrs. Lancaster, the innkeeper. And the discussion is mostly about nonsense except for the final bit where she asks him if he’s going to be checking out. Then as he’s walking he encounters two people — one, a homeless man that he does not acknowledge, and then Ned Ryerson.
Ned Ryerson, who is a former high school classmate that Phil does recognize, he is incredibly annoying. And at the end of that encounter he steps in a slushy puddle.
Those four things are wonderful. They’re brilliant because they are mundane. Even the Ned Ryerson bit is sort of mundane. But they are picked so carefully and cleverly because they are repeatable in interesting ways.
And if I may just add one other thing. In comedy we’re always talking about pushing against something. That you have a character that has to have something in the world to push against. And what Harold and Danny did so well was immediately start constructing things around Bill Murray that he must push against. They in and of themselves are not that wacky, or funny, or interesting. It’s him pushing against them that’s interesting.
John: And they’re all actually distinct. So, the guy in the hallway is like so cheery, he’s kind of alarming. The woman downstairs, Mrs. Lancaster, she’s perfectly nice and she’s trying to make just normal chitchat and he sort of blows her off. Ned Ryerson is an important distinction because he’s really annoying and obnoxious. And so it creates some sympathy for Bill Murray’s character from us because he’s just really annoying. And we’ve all been in that situation with like the overbearing guy.
John: So, in a weird way it puts us back on Bill Murray’s side.
The one thing I will say as people are hopefully going to rewatch the movie, one strange little discontinuity I noticed is after all that conversation about the coffee, and so Bill Murray does make himself a coffee, you see him take the coffee and the coffee does just sort of disappear at a certain point.
Craig: Yeah. And there’s another scene later where he pours himself coffee and then just doesn’t even take it. But we can imagine he tossed it or something.
John: It happens. So, even in like great films you will see little things like that, because they’re just so trivial that it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t affect your enjoyment.
Craig: I really do think that the people that run these gaffes squad websites need to have their head checks for some sort of personality disorder.
John: Then we arrive at Gobbler’s Knob which you know they just had a delightful time every time they got to say Gobbler’s Knob.
Craig: I know. And then but also big points for not making dick jokes about Gobbler’s Knob.
John: No, they just stick it there. And there’s a fair number of sort of background jokes. Like when they first pull into town you see Heidi 2 on the billboard. And then we actually go there. I always thought it was just a background joke, but then you actually –
Craig: Yeah. They go to the movie.
John: They revisit it. So, this becomes a crucial set. And you can imagine they were probably there, god, they probably spent two weeks, or many days, at sort of the Punxsutawney Phil thing, which is basically this is Bill Murray meeting up with his producer and his cameraman to film the Groundhog Day, the same thing that’s supposed to be happening every year. And so we have the whole crowd. It’s establishing the details and making sure the details work for the first time and can work every time thereafter.
And so that every time you’re coming back to one of these moments it has to be distinct.
Craig: That’s exactly correct. They create — one thing that’s fun about this movie, touching on what you said earlier, is that it invites the audience into an experience that we as filmmakers have all the time which is reliving these moments over and over and over and over. We begin to soak in these environments, which is why when you make a movie you obsess over choosing the right locations and the right places. And when you can’t it’s so disruptive.
A side story. Marc Forster made a movie and I can’t remember which one it was, but there was a scene that takes place in a laundromat. And he found the perfect laundromat and then they couldn’t shoot there because of a permit issue. So, they had to settle for a different laundromat and he just can’t watch the movie. [laughs] It’s like that — it just makes him crazy because of the laundromat thing.
Well, so you can imagine how these guys felt when they were picking these locations. Not only would they have to relive them over and over but so would the audience. It’s perfect. Right? And what’s perfect about it is that Ramis did something that is rarely done well and that is a small town movie. It’s very hard to create a small town that doesn’t feel fake, that doesn’t feel corny. You get a good small town vibe from Back to the Future. You get a good small town vibe from this.
And one thing that this nails is that town center, Gobbler’s Knob, a place where all these people can meet and come together. And they’re having fun. They’re happy. Rita, Andie MacDowell’s character, is happy. She’s excited. She’s been up — he just gets there two seconds before he’s supposed to do his report. She’s been there for awhile, talking to people, hearing their stories. These people are fun.
She’s representing already something about herself in this town that is so foreign to him. And all he wants to do is finish this thing and get out of there. And they pull the big rat out, as he keeps calling it, pulls the groundhog out and unfortunately the groundhog has seen his shadow and there will be six more weeks of winter. Ah-ha.
John: Now, I found watching this again — I found the whole bit with the groundhog himself a little bit strange, because they didn’t try to do the whole shadow thing at all. It was really the groundhog was whispering some secret to the mayor.
John: That felt like they were sort of bending the rules, at least of my expectation about what that moment is supposed to be, not having ever really watched it. But that whole like groundhog speaking his secret language thing felt kind of odd to me. It didn’t hurt my enjoyment of the movie, but it was just not what I was expecting that to be.
Craig: I don’t know how the actual Groundhog Day ceremony goes, but here’s why if it does go that way that’s why they did it. If it doesn’t go that way, here’s why I think they made a great choice to do it the way they did it.
The worst thing in high concept supernatural comedies which is a genre, body switch movies, for instance — the worst thing is the moment of magic. It always makes me feel goofy. I love Liar Liar. I just never like the fact that the kid makes a wish and blows out the candles and then there’s a woosh and a tinkling.
This movie, they avoided that completely. And I think if an actual groundhog had wandered out of his hole and seen his shadow. It would have almost –
John: It would have felt like that was the magic.
Craig: Yeah, like the groundhog did it. You know? [laughs] And this movie is brilliant in its refusal to explain or acknowledge why this phenomenon occurs. And that helped.
John: In a general sense, why is the day repeating? It’s because he hasn’t grown up. He hasn’t learned his lesson. There’s no other mystical reason behind it. It’s because he needs to stay in that moment.
Craig: Yeah. What we get the sense of eventually is that Bill Murray simply is living wrong. And the movie — oh, and this movie has been dissected on the philosophical basis a billion times. The movie is about what it means to live well, what is the purpose of life given that it is essentially repetitious in nature and absurd and then eventually ends. How should one live best?
And while we’re at this point in the movie we’re not aware that that’s where the movie is taking us, we sure know one thing: Phil is not living well. And so whatever it is — whatever reason it happens — I often say that in high concept supernatural comedies we’re basically doing our version of a bible story where god reaches down and changes something and forces you to deal with it. And in dealing with it you become stronger and better.
John: Yeah. So, we do the live report, the filmed report from Gobbler’s Knob. They’re back in the van. They’re driving. At 15 minutes and 26 seconds the snow starts falling. The road is closed ahead. We’ve established that Bill Murray had predicted that there would not be snow and that therefore they would be able to get back, but he was wrong. He has an argument with a cop on the highway saying, “I make the weather.”
Craig: Not a great day player.
John: Not a great day player.
There’s a moment where all the long distance phone lines are down. There’s a payphone, which of course people would now say, “What’s a payphone? What are long distance lines?”
John: Essentially he’s trying to call home. This was a moment where I really had — I guess it’s important to establish overall that the long distance lines are down so that you don’t believe he could just reach out to some other person or some other friend outside of this bubble universe that they’re going to create.
Craig: That’s right.
John: It felt a little stutter-steppy to me, but essentially I ended up going with it. And so essentially ultimately our little town is going to be sort of cut off from the rest of Pennsylvania because of this storm, even though it’s not that bad of a snowstorm in our little town itself.
Craig: It is essential logic stuff. And, of course, we live in a time now that’s very frustrating for high concept writers because technology has blown through so many of the convenient barriers we can put in place. But it’s important to know exactly this, that the town has become an island. When he relives every day he will be reliving every day in one spot. One spot he cannot get out of. There will be no one else to talk to. There will be no Skype. There will be no plane that could come in.
He will live this day, in this place, without fail because, of course, he has agency, nobody else does. Everybody else is going through their day almost like figures in a cuckoo clock that come out every hour, you know. They’re going through the motions of existence. He’s not. He can do whatever he wants.
So, I thought it was necessary to do that. And the nice thing is it feels stutter-steppy in the moment because it feels like unnecessary who cares. Great, the highway is closed, and oh great, the long distance lines are down. Later on — we’ll never stop to think why doesn’t he do this or why doesn’t he do that?
John: Yeah. What they’re essentially doing is taking away the question.
Craig: That’s right.
John: They’re basically making it so that you’re not asking the question. And they’re partly — they’re taking the curse off of it with a joke, which is he’s on the operator saying, “I have to get through. There’s got to be a line. Can you get me on — an emergency line. I’m a celebrity. I’m a celebrity in an emergency,” and like the two things should trump all things.
So, it feels like it’s meant to be just a comedic beat when it’s essentially trying to take away some logic questions down the road.
Craig: There’s good craft there. They’re covering up their exposition with a joke. And they’re also helping it out a little bit by building it into his character and using it to show how desperate he is to not be in this place that he will now be in forever.
John: Yes. At 18 minutes and 25 seconds time loops. And the clock radio hits the morning and we are back at I Got You Babe.
John: The same radio DJs. The same moment. And so this is classic — this is the definition of a high concept/supernatural comedy moment where you realize that the universe has changed. And he is living the same day again and has to figure out what the rules of this new universe are.
Craig: That’s right. And in these moments, these are the fun ones. So, when you’re writing these things you know that there’s a — you get this period of disorientation which is fun to show. And you want to see your character reacting like a proper human that is shocked and concerned and freaked out. And letting them experience that with the audience, so they in the audience can experience disorientation.
The hard part is going to come after when you have to now navigate the treacherous sea of episodicism. And we’ll get to that in a minute. But right here they do it pitch perfectly. They do the fun part pitch perfectly. His response is to be concerned, puzzled, and to reach out for help, in a panicked sort of way. Nobody believes him. And then he does — Ramis appears in the movie at this point. He does exactly what a normal human should do. He goes to see a doctor who gives him X-rays. There is no tumor, there’s nothing.
He goes to see a shrink who is of no help at all. And then it happens, again.
John: Craig, you skipped ahead.
Craig: Oh, I did?
John: Actually, you skipped a whole loop. So, the first loop is actually just, “Did you ever have dÈj‡ vu, Mrs. Lancaster?” “I’d say the chance of departure is 80 percent.” Rita gives him a good hard slap on the face. He tries on the phone again, talking to the operator, who basically must have said like you can try it again tomorrow. And he’s saying, “What if there is no tomorrow?”
And we really just kind of jump cut through a lot of the day. At the very end of this day as he’s going to bed he breaks the pencil and sticks it inside of the clock radio.
Craig: Yeah, this is great.
John: And then he wakes up the next morning and the pencil is intact, which is again establishing the rules that like he cannot alter this universe at all. Everything he does will be undone again which is essentially the futility of existence manifest. There’s nothing he can do. He’s truly stepped in there.
So, this is where we get to the Harold Ramis and to the other folks. The first new set we see is at 27 minutes in, which is the Tip Top Cafe, which his another recurring set. We meet the waitress. He sort of tells Rita that he’s not going back. He basically for the first time tells Rita what’s going on.
John: And then we go see the doctor, Harold Ramis. X-rays. We see the psychiatrist who is really a couple’s counselor, so they’re playing some jokes here. And his going to the bowling alley with the morons. So, the morons who we established at the diner.
Craig: Right, okay. So, great, you’re right. I did rearrange some of the stuff. And I love — the pencil thing is really important because it’s the prove it for himself. They’re answering these questions that I think we don’t even know these are questions we ask, but, well, how does he know he’s not dreaming? How does he know this is real? How does he know…?
And apparently they shot a scene where Phil goes kind of nuts in his hotel room and trashes the whole thing and then passes out, falls asleep, and he wakes up in the morning, the hotel room is fine. And Ramis opted to delete that and just go for something far more elegant, which is the breaking of the pencil. It’s just creepier when he sees it.
But, no, you’re right. So, then he has his desperate attempts to seek help from a friend, medical attention, psychiatric attention. It doesn’t work. And that’s how he ends up in that bowling alley and that’s when he comes to realize something very important to himself and his condition. That is that there are no consequences.
John: Absolutely. So, and he gets to that no consequences thing by reflecting back like on this one perfect day he had where he was on the beach with two beautiful women and he’s like why couldn’t I have had that day over and over and over again.
Craig: “That was a good day.”
John: That was a good day. Why can’t I have that day? And, of course, the lesson will be like you need to make today that day.
But through these morons that he’s driving home, these drunk guys he’s driving home, he’s recognizing there are no consequences. And that feeds us into or first of really only two set pieces, things where you’re actually spending some money and driving some cars around.
So, this is where he’s risking life and limb. He’s smashing mailboxes. He’s driving on the railroad tracks. I’m not going to live by their rules anymore.
Craig: Right. And so this is the first big character choice that I think Rubin and Ramis have to make since the beginning of the movie. The beginning of the movie they make a character choice that I’m going to have a guy who is as Rita will explain a wretch. He’s a self-absorbed arrogant wretch who’s living life wrong. And then we put him in this position and he does not behave in any way other than selfishly as this condition arises.
In this moment they have a choice. What’s the first — once you get over the denial that it’s happening and you accept this is happening, what is your first response as a character to it? The first emotional response? And the first emotional response they give this guy is, “Oh good, I can just be — I can indulge my worst aspects with impunity. It is the ultimate childish reaction to what we will understand later is a gift.
So, rather than change he gets worse. And this is where the next sequence — well, describe the next sequence and the things that he does and I’ll point a little interesting something out.
John: So, at the end of this first driving sequence, the cops arrest him, he gets put in jail, and he has a real question of like, huh, will this change how everything works? And, of course, he wakes up the next morning and there’s no jail and like no policemen came looking for him.
Then he feels sort of strangely happy. He feels too empowered. And so he punches Ned in the face. He lets someone else step in the puddle. He gorges on foods at the restaurant in front of Rita. Like I don’t worry about anything anymore.
Craig: Right. And she delivers that wonderful poem, The Wretch.
John: Yes. Which felt, you know, I love this movie — every time she had to do poetry felt forced to me.
Craig: Well, you know, I love Andie MacDowell in this movie. Even though her character is fairly thinly drawn in the sense that it is a compendium of facts that Phil learns. What I love about her is that we’re actually learning about her through Phil. So, our experience of her seems odd because it’s the way his experience is. He’s collecting facts and information, trivia, and attempting to build a human being out of it.
But eventually we come to get this vibe from her. It’s hard to describe. I thought she was great and curiously great, you know, because it wasn’t like a bravura performance by any stretch, but she’s –
John: Well, I would say this and Sex, Lies, and Videotape are the two films where we really think of her as being, you know, that’s Andie MacDowell. That’s who you sort of want in your movie.
But I would agree that he’s collecting a compendium of facts because partly it’s because we are limited to POV to Bill Murray’s character, to Phil. There are no scenes in the whole film that don’t have him, except for one, which I’ll point out later on.
But he is driving, so we’re only seeing his point of view. I could imagine though a version in which Phil was watching her being awesome with somebody else, or sort of learning about her by not just facts but seeing her interact with other people which could be meaningful. That’s just an alternate version of how he could come to actually realize how incredible she is.
Craig: Right. I liked the poetry thing, also, because she pulls out this very remarkable thing. She recites a poem. And he barely notices. He barely notices that she spat out a poem whole, which most people would stop and go, “Whoa. How did you do that? How do you know about that poetry? Oh, I see you studied…”
Nothing. Not interested. Too busy shoving his face full of cake. And in this sequence, what I’ll call his impunity sequence, note that Phil using his powers — so punches out Ned Ryerson. He uses his powers to collect information about a woman named Nancy that he then has sex with because he’s leveraging that information as if he knows her.
John: It’s the first time he’s using the power of the loop to do it. So, he’s asking her questions like, “Hey, didn’t we go to high school together,” blah, blah, blah, and gathering up all this information knowing that he’ll remember it the next time. He can use that to start the conversation the next loop.
Craig: Exactly. He uses his awareness, his practiced awareness of the rhythms of the town that keep repeating over and over to steal a massive bag of money from the back of an armored truck. He shoves his face full of food because he’ll never have to worry about gaining a pound.
He does whatever he wants. And note that when we talk about lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, the dude is making his way through the list of deadly sins.
Craig: He is absolutely wallowing in decadence, true biblical decadence because he’s untouchable. And he then makes the inevitable and critical mistake and also best thing which is to now extend that power to a wooing of her. If the child can have everything he wants, surely he can get the thing he wants the most. And that’s her.
John: That’s Rita. So, to his credit he does say — we’re 44 minutes in — he does ask Rita about herself. For the first time he actually asks her about herself. And he seems kind of interested in sort of what it is that she’s after. But then they have a conversation at the bar and this is the first time in the movie just jump cuts a scene from day to day to day, staying in the same set, same moment.
So, this is where she orders a drink and he takes note of what the drink is. And the next time he orders the same drink and keeps building. And so you sort of see the escalation of how he is — being able to anticipate every one of her moves and therefore become fascinating to her.
Craig: That’s right. And what we’re watching is a man in pursuit of something cheating. He’s cheating. It’s pure and simple. He’s asking her questions and getting answers that he users later on to test. He will order a drink that’s the same drink that she gets because he knows because he’s done it a bunch of times. But then he makes a toast to the wrong thing. He buys her the wrong food. He fixes that. He is cheating because he’s not interested in being honest. He doesn’t love her, he just wants her. So, he is collecting whatever he can to manipulate her all for the purpose of possessing her.
John: He’s putting on a performance with the goal of getting her to bed.
Craig: And here’s what’s so fascinating, and this is why I think this movie resonates beyond its concept. He’s willing to get slapped in the face 50, 60 times, it doesn’t matter, because he’s moving inexorably towards having her. But, you can see what’s tripping him up. Why does he fail?
Well, he gets her into his room. And he tells her, “I love you.” And when he says that we can think, well, it’s just another lie he’s telling that backfires terribly because from her point of view what do you mean you love me, we’ve known each other for a couple of days. Of course, he’s known her now for months and months.
So, is he lying? No. You get the feeling that when that comes out it’s like there’s this good guy in him that said something, that violates the careful practiced seduction, the cheating seduction of this woman. That’s the thing that trips him up and he can’t recover. There is no way from that point forward through his multiple efforts — no way for him to get past the slap in the face.
And now we arrive at maybe what I think people think of as the defining section of this film and tonally why this film is special.
John: Let’s pause there for one second because I know what you’re getting to, but I want to point out one very clever thing they do right here. So, this perfect date that happens, and so we sort of see him building into it and then we come to them at Gobbler’s Knob, at night, they’re building a snowman, the kids are throwing snowballs. He throws back in just the right ways. They collapse in the snow. They start dancing to But You Don’t Know Me, again, a perfect song choice for that.
And she says, “This has been a perfect day. You couldn’t plan a day like this.”
John: Which is, of course, telling. But when she says know and he’s trying to get her to say and she’s like, “I could never love a man like you,” we see him try the same date again and fail.
John: And so we see him racing through — he’s manic.
Craig: Oh, desperate. Desperate.
John: And he’s desperate. And so we see him doing the same things, but doing them worse.
John: And it all falling apart. And that leads us into this montage. And then we get to our moment.
Craig: And that’s a great, I’m glad you brought that up, because the second snowball fight shows that he’s lost.
Craig: You know, Phil is a guy that has been, even though life has taken him out of control by making him relive the same day, day after day, very predictably he has managed to control that also. So, now he is using the repetition to his advantage to sleep with women, and to steal money, and to punch people out, and eat what he wants. And he’s attempting to control his relationship with Rita as well to get to the place where he can finally sleep with her.
And now that he’s said I love you to her and he’s in love with her without even realizing he’s in love with her, he’s lost — his ability to rig the game is slipping away from him. He is desperate. He’s a man who realizes there’s a chance that this will never happen. There’s a chance that I will live here now forever and never get you. And what was seemingly heaven has turned to hell.
Craig: And this, of course, parallels our regular lives. We don’t live the same day over and over and yet we sort of do. And there comes a point where we’re confronted with the absurdity of it.
Religion aside, I think everybody sooner or later has a moment where they ask, “Is there a point to this?” And the answer that comes to them is no. And if I’m trapped here and will always be trapped is there any possible way to make this stop? And the only answer is –
John: Yes, he literally says, “And I have to stop it.” He becomes convinced at this moment that the groundhog is the cause of all this.
Craig: Right. And that’s — by the way, brilliant choice. Because what you don’t want to have this character do is say have some long, tragic, talky, mopey scene where he buys a gun and a bullet and writes a sad note and then tries to kill himself. No, no, no, he thinks there’s utility yet. The way out is for me and this groundhog to go.
And so he kidnaps the groundhog. There’s a big car chase. And Rita and Larry watch as Phil makes the choice to drive off the cliff, end his life, and the groundhog’s life, Woodchuck, in the hope that either he will wake up and it will be tomorrow, or at least this torture will be over.
John: Yes. And of course he’s wrong.
Craig: He is. And we see his dead body.
John: Yeah. And that’s the one moment we break perspective.
Craig: Ah, there’s another one.
John: Oh, okay. So, he dies in that crash and we go through a montage where he tries different ways to kill himself. We see the toaster suicide. We see the truck. We see him jumping off the building. And so I thought the first break of POV was — the only break in the POV was Andie MacDowell and Larry the cameraman, they pull back the sheet and we see his dead body on the slab.
Craig: No, there is another time. And it’s meaningful.
John: It’s meaningful.
Craig: But, yes, it’s proving it to the audience, he’s dead. The guy died.
John: Truly dead.
Craig: Ooh, and then “So put your little hand in mine” and he’s awake again. And now, now this movie goes dark.
Craig: And it’s wonderfully dark. And this is where a great comic actor can deliver dramatic commentary about the human condition better than the best dramatic actor, because it’s safe with them. I don’t want — if I watch Meryl Streep try and kill herself I either want her to kill herself or I want her to survive and then I just want to cry a lot and watch her recover slowly. But Bill Murray can try and kill himself and somehow it’s still funny.
It’s funny in the darkest, sickest way because, you know, death –
John: It’s when a clown dies.
Craig: When a clown dies. Death is funny. Not ha-ha funny, but absurd funny. That’s what comedy is. It’s tying into how stupid life is, and wonderful. And so his first death is hysterical. I mean, again, Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis were so smart the way they escalated things.
First it’s a “we’re going to have a goal by killing myself and the groundhog.” Next, when he realizes, oh well, that didn’t work, he gets the toaster oven from poor Mrs. Lancaster and heads up into the bathtub and electrocutes himself. It’s funny. The way he does it is funny — just ka-tunk, ka-tunk on the thing and drops. That doesn’t work.
Next, he steps out in front of a truck and he does this thing that I have been obsessed with.
John: The hands up and surrender, that one?
Craig: That he puts his hands up and then he just makes a little talkie talkie motion with his hands. Like he’s beeping along with the truck horn. I’m like he’s so disassociated from existence at that point. It’s like he’s a ghost at this point. And he gets run over. And, no, he’s awake again. And he throws himself off a building. And it doesn’t work.
And now what do you do?
John: Well, you’re 1 hour and 4 minutes into the movie. And what does he do? He has a little revelation. He says to Rita in the diner, “I am a god. I’m not the God, I’m a god.”
Craig: Which again it’s just so great. [laughs] That is such a Harold — I don’t know if that was in Danny’s original script. That feels like such a Ramis line to me. It feels almost like a Ghostbusters line.
John: Yeah. Absolutely. Where it’s like I’m saying something huge and then I’m going to slightly diminish it, but in the way I’m slightly diminishing kind of –
Craig: “I’m not the God, but I’m a god.” [laughs]
John: So, he tells Rita about what’s going on. And it’s not the first time he’s actually told Rita that he’s reliving the same day. He did that before, but he tells Rita stuff about everyone in the diner, including stuff that we don’t know, which I think is really important. He’s pushing beyond the boundaries of just our experience with the movie to tell about this young couple, and she’s having second thoughts. And he seems sincere at the same time, too.
He actually seems to care a little bit more than we’ve ever seen him before.
John: And so she says, “Okay, well as a science project how about I just stay with you the whole day.” And he agrees. And it becomes their first day date that is not manufactured in a way, where he’s actually being honest with her about what’s going on.
Craig: That’s right. There’s this moment in Shogun. I love that novel. Have you ever read Shogun?
John: I’ve never read Shogun.
Craig: Ah, it’s great. I mean, it’s trashy but it’s wonderful. And there’s this very cool moment where the feudal Japanese tradition of ritual suicide and the hero, who is a Dutchman that’s now living in Japan to become a Samurai himself, experiences something where he realizes he has to stop an injustice. And if the people who are in charge won’t stop the injustice then he’s going to kill himself because he cannot live with the dishonor.
And he doesn’t. He takes the knife out and he doesn’t just think about and then they say, okay, no, no, no. He starts to plunge the knife in and his hand is stopped by another Samurai. And they say, “Okay, you’ve proven your point. We’ll not do it.” But he meant to kill himself. And he stands up and he’s a bit drunk and they explain this happens. When this sort of thing happens, when you decide to let go of life and all of your burdens and commit to a release, an honest release, that you are essentially reborn.
And in his failure, his multiple failures to kill himself, what we see now with him in the dinner is he’s not eating tons of stuff. And he’s not stealing money anymore. He’s just honestly talking to her without wanting anything else other than another human to feel what he’s feeling.
Craig: He’s not yet at the point where he can empathize with the people around him. But he is at the point where he can be honest with her. And she picks up, out of all the things he knows about her — that she doesn’t like fudge, she likes dark chocolate but not white chocolate — that’s the thing that she picks up on immediately is that he’s being honest.
John: Yeah. She spends the day with him. We see them in bed. She’s not — nothing sexual — just lying on shoulder, trying to stay awake before this damn thing happens. They do a funny joke –
Craig: Cards in the hat.
John: The cards in the hat, but also midnight. Basically she’s convinced it has to happen at midnight. “It’s 12:01, we broke the curse.” It’s like, no, that’s not actually how it works. And we as the audience have never really been quite clear what it is that resets it, but he wakes up every morning at 6am.
Craig: At 6am. And they’re also playing around with our expectation that, oh, this is it, he’s really nice to her and she’s hanging out with him. The movie will end.
John: Yeah. Not even close.
The other sort of crucial thing here is that he finally — he’s being honest in general to her, but he actually confesses feelings, he’s sort of in monologue form while she’s fallen asleep next to him about what it actually feels like to be in his situation. And it’s one of the few sort of moments of introspection that he really gives us, or at least says aloud.
Craig: What he’s doing here in this moment is loving in an actual way. He has come to understand there is no prize. There’s no prize for this. He’s starting to love her with no expectation of anything in return, even if she were to love him back. In that moment she won’t at 6am.
And to let yourself love somebody that you know will not love you back the next day, well, that’s something. And we’re watching it happen with him. And as he starts to allow himself to love somebody unconditionally, he becomes emboldened to start loving everyone unconditionally. And now his life begins to actually change.
John: Yes. So, some of the visible changes we see, he brings coffee to Gobbler’s Knob to the crew who is waiting there. It’s actually weirdly the worst acting moment of the movie I feel like. There’s this awkward scene with Chris Elliott that doesn’t quite work, but works textually in the sense that he’s actually making a change.
He wants to be a better person. And so he goes, he gets piano lessons. Again, they find a funny way to get the piano lessons happening there. He basically says like, “I will pay you $1,000 for a piano lesson so the kid can go out.”
Craig: And by the way, did you notice who the piano teacher was?
John: Who was the piano teacher?
Craig: She’s the woman in the very beginning, well not the very beginning, but the first time he wakes up at 6am, I guess the second day, so it’s the first repeated day and he wanders out and he doesn’t know where all the snow is. And he sees some of these people moving and he says to a woman, “Where is everyone going?” And she goes, “Gobbler’s Knob. It’s Groundhog Day.” That’s the piano teacher.
John: Oh, great. Honestly if you can find a day player who is good, why not use them twice?
Craig: And set them up and show them — you know, all these people that you’re just ignoring are going to become an important part of your life.
John: I agree. He’s nice to the stairwell guy. We see him continue to practice the piano. Obviously piano practice is a great metaphor for by working hard and continually trying to do better you will actually get better at this thing. We see him learning how to make ice sculptures. He gives Phil Ryerson a long uncomfortable hug.
Craig: Ned. Ned Ryerson.
John: Ned Ryerson. It’s a really great choice.
Craig: “I’ve missed you so much.” [laughs] I mean, Stephen Tobolowsky, talk about a guy that came in and just had to nail it, had to nail it, and nailed it. I mean, forever. He has a Groundhog Day forever himself which is being Ned Ryerson. Just incredible.
John: But within this sort of like change for the good montage there’s actually a really sort of dark thing slipped through which is the old man who seemed begging from the very start, he sort of takes a shine to him and sees him later on in that night and sort of just takes him to the hospital and the old man dies. And there’s nothing he can do to keep the old man from dying.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And recognizing even as a good person the futility of life, that there is an end to everything.
Craig: That’s right. So, in this section we see Phil starting to live the right way. He is living unconditionally. There is no reason to learn the piano. If you’re not learning it to have sex with a woman, what are you learning it for? To play for whom? Why?
Because. Because there’s a joy in learning it. There’s no reason to help an old man that will die every single time. Just as there’s no reason to help anybody because we’re all going to die. But he does because it feels good to try. It feels good to try to be good to the people around you even if their flat tire will be flat again tomorrow. That living and loving other people is its own reward.
John: Yes. So, ultimately this is pushing us up to a sequence which has been suggested from the very start that there’s this big dance, this big ball that happens at night, but we’ve never seen it. And so we will finally see it.
We arrive — oh, actually this is the other time when we change perspective.
Craig: Yes! Yes!
John: Ah! Craig Mazin, you’re ahead of me.
John: We actually arrive at this big event with Andie MacDowell and Chris Elliott and with the piano playing. And we, of course, know that has to be Phil playing and of course it is Phil playing and he’s up on stage. And everyone there loves Phil because Phil is just an awesome guy who has done amazing things for everybody in this town today.
Craig: Right. So the moment, the second off POV moment is we’re in the bar and we’re with Chris Elliott and Nancy, the girl that Phil had seduced with his time traveling trick. And, you know, of course Chris Elliott is getting nowhere with her because he’s a goof. And then Andie MacDowell, Rita, shows up and says, “Hey, has anyone seen Phil?”
And Nancy says, “Oh, Phil Connors. I think he’s in there.” She’s apparently met him that day. And now what’s so great about the perspective shift is it allows us to see Phil through her eyes. We’ve been basically watching her through the male gaze the whole movie and now the movie flips around to an interesting female gaze, even the idea of the male charity auction.
John: Yeah. There’s a bachelor auction so that women get to bid on guys.
John: And she ends up bidding on him.
Craig: That’s right. So, that section is entirely — now for the first time in the movie we get to see Rita as a human being separate from Phil’s gaze looking at this man. And it’s so smart that they did this. Because what they’ve been holding back from us, what Danny and Harold held back from us, was her perspective of him. So, why would we ever believe she could love him if we’ve never seen him through her eyes? And now they give us that moment.
John: And he gets to say the lines, “I’m happy because I love you,” which is an important idea. So, basically this day is perfect not because he set it up as a perfect rouse for her. This wasn’t sort of done for her. It was done for himself and for everybody else. And that’s what sort of finally gets them connected.
Craig: Well, he’s living a day. So, his day, some of the things that happened on this day: he helps three old ladies whose car has a flat tire; he catches a boy that falls out of a tree; he saves the life of the town mayor, it seems, who is choking.
John: And lights the cigarette of the woman behind him.
Craig: I know! And lights the cigarette of the woman behind him! Exactly. And what’s wonderful is you start realize, oh my gosh, he does this every day. That now he lives every day, and he says to the kid — he catches this kid who falls out of the tree. He goes, “Thank me.” The kid doesn’t thank him. He runs up, “You never thank me. See you tomorrow.” And why is this a perfect day? Because it’s a day he’s okay living over and over. This is a day he’ll look forward to. If you live this way it’s all right that it happens again, and again, and again.
Just like marriage. If your marriage is good it’s okay that you wake up next to the same person day after day. It’s what you want. And we feel that now at last. And we also feel that he doesn’t care that it’s going to happen again. He’s not trying to get out of it anymore. He’s trying to stay in it, just as we should all.
John: Yeah. There’s a little bit of Candide to it all which is basically you can keep trying to do all these different things but ultimately you may want to just come back to tend your garden and live life delightfully in the smaller place rather than sort of keep trying to change everything around.
Craig: When you say Candide I immediately want to sing Glitter and by Gay.
John: Of course you do.
Craig: [sings] Glitter and Be Gay.
John: Because you’re a natural soprano, Craig Mazin.
It was also, of course because I’ve been mainstreaming True Detective this whole time, I kept coming back to the idea that True Detective is really a remake of Groundhog Day.
Craig: Time is a flat circle.
John: Time is a flat circle.
Craig: Right. Yeah.
John: And the POV shifts, honestly, because True Detective for this last episode has been lock step POV with our two guys. And some of the other women characters, especially the women, seem bizarre because of that, but it’s because of the locked perspective.
Craig: Yes. And this notion of your life repeating is ancient. I mean, in Nietzsche, I know you hate it when I talk about Nietzsche, but he wrote famously about the eternal occurrence, which I don’t think he meant in a cosmological fashion, but the idea that we just live over and over. Obviously this goes back to reincarnation and the idea of living over and over until you somehow find a spiritual — let’s not use the word perfection, because I think that that’s a trap — but a spiritual evolution.
And he experiences this with her and they make one last great, great choice that in this beautiful day where Rita watches as all these people come up to Phil and thank him honestly for saving their young marriage, and for saving their lives, and for helping them. At the end of this day they’re comfortably together in his room and he’s okay with the idea that if every day ends like this that he’s happy to live every day like that.
The morning comes and it’s a new morning. And they play a joke where they play the Sonny and Cher song and then they go, “Oh, god, we’re playing the same song.” And we go, oh my god, the spell is broken. And the last great choice is that Rita says, “You just fell asleep last night.” They didn’t have sex. He got nothing. He only gave. The whole day he just gave. And now he gets his reward to live. And where does he choose to live and with whom?
John: He says, “Let’s live here.” But before he says that he says, “Today is tomorrow.” Or, no, “Today is tomorrow” which is I think a great line.
Craig: Great line.
John: And then they ultimately decide, “Well let’s live here,” which I think is a reasonable — a really good choice for sort of the lesson that we’ve learned here. He now knows and loves all these people. And the movie decides to just — it cuts out. I mean, many movies would have gone a little bit longer and there’s arguments to be made for staying or not staying, but they don’t want you to sort of ask those next 15 questions. And so ending the movie is a really good way to sort of not ask those next 15 questions about, you know, well what does she want? Well, she wants to be a producer, she wants to do other things, she wants to do all this other stuff.
No. You can talk about that as you’re driving home.
Craig: Yeah. What are their jobs? Who knows?
The last image, I think, of the movie is clouds. But this time they are still. At peace. And from a structural point of view, let’s point out something. This is something we could talk about in another podcast, although I should bring it up now, I guess. And that’s this idea of predictability. We’re constantly, “Oh, it’s too predictable. Predictable.”
Hey, what’s more predictable than a movie where a guy lives every day over and over and then finally falls in love and gets a new day? So, predictable. We want that. This is good predictability. We’re desperate for it by the time it comes. We just want it to be earned. And we don’t mind the fact that it happens the way it’s supposed to happen because it’s structured so gorgeously.
John: The difference is execution. So, there’s expectation but there’s also execution. And it’s executed incredibly well. And it’s looking at exactly what are the moments that can happen and how to do the best possible versions of those moments. And everything was tuned and refined very carefully and very thoughtfully about how we’re going to get these moments to play just right.
You’re example of trashing the hotel room is a great example of that, because he’s going to do other destructive things later on. So, if you had done a giant destructive thing then it wouldn’t have really worked. It wouldn’t have had the same impact later on.
Craig: Right. Driving the car into the mailbox, which is his first act of destruction, wouldn’t have been so transgressive. I mean, it was more fun.
A lot of times, this is the basis of my talk at Austin that I did and I’m going to do it again at the Austin Film Festival. You could put this movie and Finding Nemo side by side. And notice some very clear thematic character structural similarities. A character has a philosophy. And they would prefer to remain precisely in the condition s they’re in, exercising that philosophy forever.
Something disrupts their ability to stay where they are. And all they’re trying to do is cling to that philosophy to get back. Where they end up is a place where they lose their faith in that philosophy. But they don’t yet have something new that they can properly believe in. And so they’re lost, and in this case throwing themselves off of buildings and in front of trucks.
And then they slowly begin to find this other way to live, but not until they act in a way that is selfless in accordance with that way to live. Same thing in Up by the way. Not until they act in a way that says I’m okay if I get nothing for living through this philosophy. In fact, I’m okay if I get hurt by living through this philosophy. It’s worth it.
Not until that point are they free to live happily ever after. Not until — Carl can say, “All right, you know what? I’m not going to. I’m here at the cliff and I can put this house down. But I’m not. Instead I’m going to go back and save the kid.” That’s not the end. The end is when he lets the house go. The end here isn’t when Bill Murray realizes, “Oh my gosh, I don’t have to be a jerk. I’m going to learn piano. I’m going to help people.”
The end is when he gets her in his bed and he’s okay to get nothing because he has no expectation that this has any purpose beyond just living well. So, it’s a great example of how to create structure around a character’s evolution from thinking one thing to the very polar opposite of that thing.
John: Agreed. It’s a terrific movie.
Craig, it’s been a pleasure talking it through with you.
John: And I should say this was always on our list of like when we do the next one of these movies we should do Groundhog Day because Groundhog Day is a classic. It was a great choice to do it this week and celebrate an amazing movie and an amazing filmmaker who gave us a tremendous number of fantastic movies.
Craig: And I should add that I know a number of people that worked with Harold. I got to talk on the phone with Harold Ramis once, many years ago. It’s funny to say that having a 20-minute conversation with a person is one of the highlights of your life. But it’s one of the highlights of my life. Because he is… — I think Harold is an example of the best version of what I wish I could be. [laughs] You know?
And from the funny, broad, insane movies to the more thought-provoking ones, just a brilliant man. And by all accounts — certainly my own brief encounter with him, but by everyone else’s accounts — one of the nicest men in the business. And I hope that that’s a lesson that other people can take into heart as well that the nice guys often finish first.
So, rest in peace Harold Ramis. We’ll miss you.
John: Indeed. Craig, thank you very much.
Craig: Thank you, John. Bye.
John and Craig pay their respects to Harold Ramis with an episode devoted entirely to Groundhog Day.
Ramis and co-writer Danny Rubin fashioned a deceptively simple story that upended expectations and essentially created a new genre of supernatural predicament comedies. Often imitated but never surpassed, Groundhog Day is smarter than you remember, cleverly side-stepping logic traps to explore deeper philosophical questions.
So grab your toaster and give Ned Ryerson a hug. It’s time to relive Groundhog Day.
- Chicago Tribune’s Harold Ramis obituary
- Ramis on Wikipedia
- Groundhog Day on Amazon and Wikipedia
- How to Write Groundhog Day by Danny Rubin
- Warner Bros. Logo Design Evolution compiled by Christian Annyas
- Shogun by James Clavell
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jonas Bech
The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: I am Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 132 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
So, Craig, as we’re recording this on a Friday afternoon there are still tickets left for the great Nerdist Writers Panel/Scriptnotes crossover episode, which is taping live on April 13. And I don’t know how I feel about this.
Craig: Mm. I mean, I’m a little shocked.
John: Yeah. Because usually we sell out incredibly quickly. So, I don’t want to put all the blame on Ben Blacker and the Nerdist Writers Panel people, because it’s possibly that they’re just slower on the uptake. Or maybe because April is actually a ways away — there’s not the urgency.
Craig: But, I mean, we are the Jon Bon Jovi of the podcast world. And when Jon Bon Jovi doesn’t immediately sell out he throws a tantrum. I will throw a tantrum.
John: You don’t want to see Craig hulk out.
Craig: I will go crazy. I will go nuts.
John: Yeah. It’s a cross between Bruce Banner and Jon Bon Jovi…
Craig: And Patti Lupone.
John: Throwing a tantrum. And it’s just –
Craig: It’s Patti Lupone.
John: It’s Patti Lupone.
Craig: When she — have you ever heard that audio of Patti Lupone singing and then she’s interrupted by the sound of a cell phone ringing in the audience? And she goes bonkers?
John: Yeah. There’s another Patti Lupone story where she believes that someone is taking her photo and it’s actually the photographer who is supposed to be taking the photo.
John: There’s basically a lot of Patti Lupone stories it comes down to it.
Craig: This one is great. I guess it’s the second podcast in a row where I’m talking about celebrities going nuts on audio. And she just goes, “How dare you! Who do you think you are?” And what’s so great about Patti Lupone, among other things, is that even when she’s yelling who do you think you are, it’s in great voice. It’s just a wonderful belted full-chested wonderful tone. “Who do you think you are?”
John: I love it.
Craig: Yeah. So, anyway, that’s what I’m going to do. If people don’t buy these tickets I’m going to go full Lupone. Boy!
John: Yeah, but see, Craig, people are going to be wanting you to go full Lupone because it just seems so incredibly amusing that they may actually delay just so they can read the stories of Craig going full Lupone.
Craig: Can I just say again –
John: Well, actually maybe we’ll find some way to antagonize you there at the actual event.
Craig: I hope so!
John: Therefore everyone will get to see it. Oh, I think we should invite back some of our favorite guests, favorite recent guests, like people who have come from a company to visit.
Craig: Oh right! [laughs], so I can go full Lupone.
John: That could be great. A live version of that.
Craig: John. If people didn’t know and you just said, “Listen to a bunch of our podcasts and then tell us which one of us is gay,” [laughs], how many votes — I think I actually — I think I would win. I would get 70% gay.
John: You might.
Craig: I mean, just Patti Lupone. The Patti Lupone reference alone. Wow. I got to rethink stuff.
John: Yeah. It’s a lot.
Craig: I’m this close to going…
John: I think you’re perfectly happy in your life and your wife and all that stuff is good.
Craig: [laughs] Oh wow!
John: Today on the show –
Craig: Wow. That’s mean. [laughs]
John: The contract formed between writers and audiences. Basically sort of what is the deal you are making with the reader as the person sits down to read the script and ultimately when the audience is going to sit down to watch the film.
And we’re going to talk about three Three Page Challenges. Brand new Three Page Challenges, which I’m very excited about.
John: And we’re going to start off with a question. So, should we just start?
Craig: Yeah, why don’t we just roll right in.
John: First question. Sleepless in Los Angeles writes, “So, I’m a fairly new writer who was hired to do a studio rewrite, which I recently delivered on. It was the usual route. Producers first, then to the studio. My reps have seemed beyond gobsmacked the producers didn’t have any notes for me to do at the producer’s pass before it went to the studio. It’s now been with the studio for almost two months. I haven’t been paid for delivery. And when I inquire about this the general thinking is that the studio is going to want to have a meeting, give notes, and since I didn’t do a producer’s pass they’ll more than likely want me to do some extra (free) work before the delivery check.
“Sorry for the preamble. Here’s the question. Is this how it works? And if not, what can I do about it? The whole don’t rock the boat, this is how it is thing that my reps are laying on me seems absolutely crazy as well as unhelpful.
“I know free work and late payments are in issue with the WGA, so I’d like to be part of the solution, not part of the problem here. But what is the solution? Dig my heels in? Play the diva? Start burning bridges? Hardly seems like a good option at this stage in my career.
“I’m assuming more established writers like you guys aren’t put through this process, but I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that you’ll have some advice. Any and all bits of advice are welcome. I’m feeling pretty powerless.”
Craig: Yeah. I’m a bit puzzled by your agents. I’m as puzzled by your agents as you are, I suppose, question-asker.
John: I’m angry at a lot of people in this situation actually.
John: I’m angry at almost everybody other than Sleepless, and I’m actually a little bit angry with angry with him or her as well.
Craig: Well, I understand. This is a mess. But it’s a mess that doesn’t even need to happen. We work in a business where messes occur every day. So, you try and avoid the ones that don’t have to happen. This one just makes no sense. It’s really simple. The script was turned into the person that’s listen in your contract. That’s it. Invoice. Period. The end. No discussion. Just invoice.
Craig: There’s really no explanation — asking to be paid for the work you’ve done is not rocking the boat. What agency is this? I mean, that’s embarrassing.
John: It’s really embarrassing. This is late payment. This is what we talk about when we’re talking about late payment which is essentially you’ve turned in the work and they have not cut you a check.
Now, you haven’t asked for the check. Or, maybe your agency hasn’t actually invoiced, but they should have invoiced because you turned in the work. You did the work. The agency also wants to get paid as well. So, there’s no reason why this hasn’t been invoiced. So, I think your first step is to talk to your agency and say like, “Have you invoiced for this work?”
If the answer is no, I think you need to have a serious conversation with your agency about why not. Why have you not sort of asked for the money that I’m owed for this thing? And really listen to their answer. And if their answer is sort of Namby Pamby, “we don’t want to rock the boat,” well, it’s sort of their job to rock the boat. It’s their job to get you paid, for starters.
Second off, if there’s any problem with — any more heel-dragging about getting paid, the WGA has a late payments desk. You can call them and say, “I’m delivered this thing. I’m supposed to be paid.” And they can start harassing on your behalf. You’re not, ugh, this is maddening.
And also the setup for this in the preamble, this is a studio rewrite. So, this wasn’t like, you know, a pitch that they sort of barely bought and things were still sort of getting sorted out, or there were contracts. This was a project that you probably had to compete with other people on to get. You got it. You delivered it. Be done with this.
Craig: Yeah. To give people context, there are legal hoops that we have to jump through to get paid. It didn’t used to be that way, but then there was this big WGA arbitration about free rewriting and all the rest of it. And what came back to us was this: in our contracts there is a person called the delivery agent. They oftentimes are somebody that’s very highly placed at the studio and it’s always a studio executive.
Until you deliver the script to them, you haven’t delivered it. So, you could write five drafts for the producer and everybody assumes — what you’re really doing is just working on your first draft. And that creates plenty of opportunity for abuse. In this case, you’ve actually jumped through all the hurdles, the people that needed to get the script for you to be paid got it. That’s it.
Now, we’re living in, what, some new lunatic era where jumping through all the hoops doesn’t qualify as jumping through all the hoops anymore? I mean, it’s ridiculous. They have to pay you. They’re legally obligated to pay you. It’s done. It’s done.
John: I have a hunch that Sleepless’ producers delivered the script to the junior executive who was not actually the person listed on the contract. And so therefore the technical person you’re supposed to deliver to hasn’t gotten the script or there’s been some sort of delay. Or, we’ll pretend that they have not gotten the script. Whatever.
You can deliver it to the executive directly yourself. Your agency can make sure that the executive got the script. This is not your fault. It’s only Sleepless’ fault to the degree that like two months is a long time. And for them to like not be even acknowledging they owe you money is crazy. Because essentially here’s what’s happened is whatever studio this is, they have taken a loan from you as the writer. They’re taking it as basically a zero interest loan, even though they’re supposed to be paying interest. They’re taking a zero interest loan from a broke writer when they’re making $60 billion. That’s crazy.
Craig: Right. Yeah. This is also a circumstance where we’ll tell you all that really matters under this is the quality of the script.
Craig: If you’ve written a script that nobody likes, none of this matters. They’re going to eventually pay you, but there’s no amount of good boy behavior that’s going to mitigate that. Similarly, if you’ve written a good script that everybody likes, then demanding to be paid now isn’t going to ding you at all.
Craig: If anything, they’re going t be happy to pay you and frightened and upset that they’ve upset you because they want to keep you on the project.
So, with that in mind, you’re not powerless. You are powerful. You’re just behaving in a powerless way out of fear, which I understand, and a desire to try and control the outcome. The only thing that’s going to control the outcome is the quality of the script.
Today, pick up the phone, call your agent, and say — and your lawyer, if the agent won’t do it, and say, “Submit this script to the executive. It’s been two months. Get me paid. And that’s that. And if they like it, I’m excited to keep working. And if they don’t, well I guess we’re all moving on.
John: So, let’s talk about the buried subject here as well which is the free pass. So, essentially “my reps were gobsmacked that I wasn’t asked to do a producer’s pass.” The producer’s pass means –
John: You have finished the script, you gave it to your producers, the producers read the script, loved some things, had questions about some things, and therefore went back to you and told you to do more, asked you to do more work.
That is troubling but actually fairly common. And it’s up to you as a writer to decide to what degree are you going to take some of these producer’s notes and incorporate them. That’s great. But, the studio doesn’t get that free work. It shouldn’t be getting that free work.
John: The deal is that when it gets to the studio that is you delivering the draft. Now, you may choose to do little tiny things, that could be your choice, but you shouldn’t be waiting around writing draft after draft in hopes that at some point they’ll just say, “Oh, this is the real draft and now we will pay you.” That’s crazy time. And that’s, unfortunately, all too common. And by putting up with it for this period of time, or honestly like just sitting around waiting for them to ask you for free work is incredibly self-defeating.
Craig: It’s bizarre. Yeah, that the agents are gobsmacked that their client wasn’t abused. “Huh? That’s weird. Well, what can we do to get you abused? I know, let’s do nothing.” It’s so strange. I would be very angry at my agents right now.
Craig: Very, very, very angry. And, you know, my big advice about agents.
John: To fire your agent.
Craig: Fire your agent. Yeah. Fire your agent. [laughs]
John: Here’s the good news. Sleepless got this assignment. And probably did an okay job.
John: I mean, likely there’s nothing wrong with the script itself. It’s likely the reason why the next step hasn’t happened has nothing to do with the actual script you turned in. It’s because it became a much lower priority at the studio. And everything else became a higher priority and they just haven’t focused on it. Well, that’s not your fault.
John: It’s just the nature of what’s actually happened. If it’s two months ago then it’s entirely possible that the holidays came and then there was new stuff after the holidays and they’ve kind of forgotten about you. But they shouldn’t forget to pay you. And maybe asking to get paid will remind somebody like, “Oh, that’s right, this thing exists and we need to do something with it.”
Craig: This is something that I’ve been talking a lot about. When I go as part of the WGA Screenwriter Rights Committee group and I go with Billy Ray and Damon Lindelof and we visit the heads of studios. What I try and impart to them is, look, if you’re paying a writer a million dollars, let’s all agree that this is a very lovely affair in which people are being well taken care of. And there’s no need to stand on ceremony.
But if you’re paying somebody anywhere near scale or, you know, $100,000 or $200,000 for what will amount to a year’s work, here’s the reality of the money they actually get in their pocket. Here’s the reality of how that money comes to them. Here’s the reality of how much work they’re having to do for that. Please don’t treat them like this.
And this sounds like this may be, that our question-asker is early on in his or her career, so I’m going to guess this isn’t a million dollar situation.
John: Exactly. And by delaying this payment two months now, they’re making it much more difficult for this person to actually make a living as a screenwriter.
John: So, this person probably I’m assuming this person got scale or somewhere near scale for what this assignment is. It’s actually not a lot of money.
John: And I worry that we’re overall by trying to sort of nickel and dime these moments and stretch out this process, we are going to make it essentially impossible for a person to have a living wage as the entry level screenwriter. It’s going to have to be sort of your part time job. And like this person is going to have to have a job somewhere else that actually has regular paychecks because he or she can’t count on getting paid by the studio when they actually deliver their work.
Craig: That’s right. And then the studios will get what they paid for, which are temps. And the other thing I’ve said to a number of studio heads is why would anyone that is very, very smart and has the potential to earn a lot of money many different ways opt for this very difficult career if they’re going to be mistreated in this way, in a way that is profound and much worse than when you and I started. They just won’t do it. They’ll just do something else. They’ll become lawyers. I don’t know.
John: Yeah. They’ll become lawyers or they’ll write for television which is, I think, part of the reason why you see a generation of writers who at first I think were sort of splitting their time between features and television, but ultimately like television at least pays regularly.
There’s a lot of problems in television. There are problems of exclusivity and options and there’s structural problems in television, too. But, you’re more likely to get paid. This writer wouldn’t be waiting for a long time to get a check from ABC Studios.
Craig: That’s right. They’ll have a job. They can plan their lives. I mean, we’re talking about young writers who are generally in their twenties. These are people starting their lives and trying to create a career path. And we’re starving the farm system. We’re beating up the rookies. It’s just really bad management. Bad management and bizarrely bad management because, frankly, if you’re paying somebody $100,000 for a rewrite and you’ve given them $50,000 of that for commencement, the $50,000 for the delivery is cushion change at a major studio. It’s irrelevant. Just give it. Pay it.
John: Pay it.
Craig: Yeah. So, look, first call — agents. And draw a picture of balls for them, scan it, and email it. And then just say, “Remember what these look like?” Jerks.
John: Yes. Jerks. If you don’t have a scanner you can just take a photo with your iPhone and just send them that. Just text them a photo of balls and then they’ll have some balls.
Craig: [laughs] You should make an app for that.
John: Ha-ha. That would be very good.
So, Craig, I should have actually had a discussion with you, but I’ve turned down employment on our behalf.
John: So, in these last two weeks I was hosting the Film Independent Director’s Close-Up Series. And so I got to do a Q&A with Alfonso Cuarón, and I got to do a Q&A with Julie Delpy, Bob Nelson, and Scott Neustadter talking about their movies.
John: And I love doing Q&As. I love moderating things. And so before the second one a guy from a TV network said like, “Hey, have you ever considered just doing this on a TV show, a sit down TV show. Like maybe you and Craig could do like a Scriptnotes thing with like cameras.” And I said, no. I was really flattered for the offer, but I didn’t really see myself doing that. I didn’t see myself doing a television show.
I enjoy doing our podcast, which we have control over. So, I hope I didn’t speak out of turn and I didn’t ruin your dreams of hosting a show on a minor cable channel.
Craig: No, no, you preserved my dream of keeping my face away from people.
Look the one thing I’m super comfortable with and happy about is that neither you or I, neither you nor I are doing this for fame. [laughs]
John: Neither — neither… — Oh yeah, you are right. I was going to say neither you nor me, but you actually were using it as the subject of the sentence.
Craig: Yes, correct.
John: I almost corrected you and now I feel embarrassed.
Craig: Good. This is the sort of — boy, this would be great TV.
John: Yeah. This is [laughs].
Craig: Neither you nor I are in this for fame. And neither you nor I need this to be anything more than it is. I think that’s part of the charm of our little podcast is that we get to have a conversation once a week and it’s simple, and it’s easy, except for Stuart. And, yeah, you know, because here’s what happens: television just, you know, then television is about, inevitably, oh, it’s that thing where they make the end of year lists of the best screenwriters and most of them are actors because that’s what people are interested in. And suddenly, you know, nobody wants a guest that’s not famous or something. I don’t know.
John: And as I was doing some introspection on sort of why I was saying no, I realized that as much as I enjoy sort of moderating these panels, I don’t kind of want to be a panel moderator. I want to be the guy who is like being asked the questions on the panels. I sort of want to be the filmmaker who gets asked questions sometimes, too. And I don’t want to be just the guy who asks questions.
So, in getting to host this last session with Julie Delpy, and Scott, and Bob Nelson, one of the things I wanted to talk about was the nature of the contract you make between you as the writer, the filmmaker, and the reader/audience about what kind of film this is. Because I thought all three of those films were incredibly smart about saying this is what our movie is and this is how our movie is going to work.
And right from the start they felt very confident in what the edges of the movie could be and sort of what journey you were going to take.
So, you look at Nebraska, right from the very start you see this is the nature of the world. It’s essentially funny but it’s not like hilariously funny. And you know that it’s essentially going to be the story about a father and a son.
You look at The Spectacular Now and you see that this is going to be a love story of a boy and a girl. It’s going to do high school movie type things but not do them in a high school movie kind of way.
John: Or you look at Before Midnight, Julie Delpy’s film, and it’s going to be a lengthy exploration of — or long conversations about the future of a relationship.
And so in all of these movies quite early on you establish the kinds of things that can happen in the world and the kinds of things that can’t. You’re not going to have aliens or terrorists invade. Someone is not going to suddenly die. Someone is not going to pull out a gun. It’s not those kinds of movies.
And so I want to talk about the contract you form with a reader, with an audience, and sort of how we establish that on the page.
Craig: Well, when we talk about, this is why I’m glad that when we do our Three Page Challenges, even though we’ve never requested or insisted that they be the first three pages, those often are the best three pages to send because those are the pages that are establishing the contract. And when we talk about that we mean the rules of the movie and we mean the tone of the movie I think more than anything. Those two things. Rules and tone.
Craig: And it’s why people tend to go along with the first ten minutes of any movie. I don’t care what it is. Every — I’ve been in god knows how many test screenings of comedies that I’ve worked on and when the movies get to the place where they’re working all the way through, people laugh all the way through.
But early on, typically your first test screening, what you’ll see is the first five to ten minutes just absolutely kill, people are laughing all the way through it. And then trouble. Because the audience psychologically comes in, sits down, and says I’m going to roughly give you five to ten minutes to teach me what this movie, how this movie works. And I’m with you on it. But then, if anything should stray from what you’ve taught me, I’m going to start to get annoyed. I’m going to get confused. Because there’s an inconsistency — I want you to take me by the hand and lead me out of your world and into yours.
So, like the first day of school, everything is new, I assume any discomfort of disorientation is my fault. But by the second day or the fifth day or the 20th day, if it changes again at school, this school is weird.
Craig: So, that to me is so much a part of that contract is understanding that you have a limited amount of time to scramble the audience’s mind as you wish, but then that time ends and you have to stick with what you’ve done.
John: I would sort of phrase the contract this way. As the writer I’m asking you, the reader, to give me an hour and a half of your time. And I’m asking for all of your attention reading this script. And I will take you on a journey. And you will be rewarded for your careful attention to this script that you’re about to read and I’ll get you to a good place.
That doesn’t mean I’m going to get you to a happy ending, but I will establish questions in your mind and those questions that I establish in your mine I will address and answer down the road. I may surprise you sometimes, but they’ll be surprises that you’ll be delighted about because they fit and they feel correct within the universe of our movie.
The same thing happens as you go from the page to the actual film. And sometimes when films falter, when you read a great script and you watch the movie it’s like, “Ah! That didn’t quite work,” is something changed in the nature of filming it that that same contract was not established. There was a lack of — the audience lost faith. The audience lost confidence in how the story was going to be told.
Sometimes it’s like those initial images. That’s why as we go through cuts of films and as we even work on our first couple pages, we’ll change those a lot because you’re trying to establish what the expectation is for the audience. And example I have is Charlie’s Angels, the first Charlie’s Angels, which was notoriously a really challenging shoot. Other writers came in. Every day was sort of a scramble. There were really good moments, but as we you put the first cut together and we’re seeing what it was, it didn’t feel — it didn’t land.
And so one of the things I was able to do was go in with McG and with the editors and we built an opening title sequence that sort of showed this is the nature of the world. This is how we’re going to move from place to place. This is who the girls are. This is what it feels like. This is what Charlie’s Angels feels like.
And as long as we were consistent there everything stuck together. But if that opening title sequence hadn’t worked we wouldn’t be in the right place.
Craig: It’s interesting that you mention title sequence because I got into a little bit of a debate over at Done Deal Pro, which I occasionally stop into. It’s like my three times a year stop in.
And somebody was asking a question about writing, it was a simple formatting question really. When you write a credit sequence at the beginning of your movie, how do de-notate it. And for me it’s as simple as begin credits and then when you’re done with that part, end credits.
Somewhat predictably a few less than fully informed individuals said, “That’s not your job. Your job isn’t to talk about credit sequences. Your job is just to write the movie. That’s the director’s job. That’s somebody else’s job. Nobody cares what you think about the credits.” And I totally disagreed.
Because to me while it is not — certainly a valid choice to not write a credit sequence and perhaps more often than not I don’t — it’s just as valid a choice to do it. And, in fact, for this very reason that a good credit sequence, which must be written as a credit sequence — it’s hard to covert a non-credit sequence into a credit sequence — a good credit sequence does precisely what you’re talking about: teaching the audience how this movie works. And by credit sequence I don’t mean just the titles. I mean to say action and movie occurring while titles are going across it.
That’s one way. It’s far from the only way, but one important tool that we have in our bag to help instruct the audience.
John: Some of the best title sequences are just showing you imagery that indicates what the universe of the movie is. And so a long time ago I wrote an adaptation of Tarzan. And the adaptation I did for Warner Bros. was modern day Africa. And so there’s some old sort of mythic Africa in it, but there’s also sort of modern day Africa. And the juxtaposition of those two was really important.
So, the title sequence I wrote for it made it really clear that we’re in present day but there’s all this sort of relic Africanized is still an important part of it. And it was teaching you how to watch the movie. It was teaching you what the movie was going to feel like and foreshadowing some of the things that were going to happen ahead. Even the Spider-Man movies, which are just imagery and noise and rock-n-roll, that’s also telling you what the movie is going to feel like.
John: The David Fincher sequences for Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, none of the stuff that you see there is specifically referenced later on in the movie, but it feels dirty sex in a way that is important for you to understand as you start to watch the movie.
Craig: Yeah. James Bond sequences also do this. There’s the prologue, which won’t have credits, the cold open as it were. And then when they go to their very famous traditional credit sequence, you will start to get glimpses of things. And I call these overtures. Just as in old Broadway you would get a good overture at length where you’d get little snippets of all the songs and all the melodies and then the show would begin. Sometimes a credit sequence can do that as well.
But this contract and the negotiation where the audience gives you this grace period where you’re allowed to basically build a world for them does require enormous attention. And it’s why I said a number of times I will spend twice as long on the first ten pages as I do on the last ten pages. The first ten are enormously important because they are teaching you so much.
I mean, the script that I just finished up for Universal is a very — it’s got a very high concept that is adapted from a graphic novel. And it involves a hero who has a certain mental illness. And how his mental illness manifests is cinematically disorienting.
And so much of the first pages is about how to reveal this and then once you reveal it how to do so in a way that lets the audience feel comfortable with it as it plays out over the course of the rest of the script. You’re building that contract so that they don’t feel that you switched the rules around.
See, why — constantly, you’ll hear this all the time, very common studio note: what are the rules, what are the rules? Well, why is it so important that we stick to the rules? What’s that about? In some movies it’s not that important. Some movies you’re not dealing with a traditional narrative and violating rules is part of the fun. But, for a traditional narrative the reason that we get so worried about breaking the rules is because when you do the audience, whether consciously or subconsciously, calculates that you’ve done so because it was convenient for you.
And if it’s convenient for you then it’s no longer that impressive, is it? It’s a little bit like you want a guy to fall into a vat of whipped cream. Well, you can get him up the ladder in an interesting way, or you can just have him say, “Huh, this ladder doesn’t look that study. I think I should test it out.” Well, you’re just cheating. You know? And that’s what you’ve got to watch out for.
John: Yes. There’s a longer talk I do sometimes on expectation. And it’s really that same idea which is that an audience approaches a film with expectation. So, if you have a western, the audience comes in with e expectations of a western. And that’s largely very helpful, because you get a lot of things for free. You don’t have to explain how horses work or how gunfights work or how a lot of that kind of stuff works.
If you’re going to change some things about how the Old West is, that’s awesome, but you have to do that pretty early on so we understand that, okay, it’s everything we know about western but change these variables in this movie.
If you were to try to change those variables quite late in the movie, we would be flustered, the same way like a vampire movie. In a vampire movie we have expectations about what happens in vampire movies. We know enough about vampires so you don’t have to explain everything to us. But if you are Twilight and the vampires can be out in the daylight and they’re radiant and beautiful, you have to establish that quite early on because if you were to save that for three-quarters of the way through the movie we’d be going, “What? That’s not vampires. You’re just making stuff up.”
Craig: You’re just making stuff up. [Crosstalk] Yup.
John: Exactly. You would have lost confidence in the filmmaker. You’ve lost confidence in the screenwriter whose script you’re hopefully going to finish.
Craig: Yeah. Because the natural psychological consequence of that feeling that they’re making stuff up is that, well, I guess what I see next is just something that they’re going to make up. I don’t feel — because in my world things aren’t just made up. There are actions and consequences and they’re knitted together logically.
So, again, you are allowed to bring somebody to a completely different planet that they don’t understand, but once you’ve given them enough time to understand — and you don’t get that much — you can’t violate their natural human sense that the universe is ordered to some extent.
John: So, what I should stress is this does not preclude surprise. And surprise is still wonderful and amazing. And if your movie is firing on all cylinders, some surprises are great, and good, and you should look for them.
A mild spoiler here for Spectacular Now, so if you haven’t seen Spectacular Now, close your ears for about 30 seconds while I talk about this one little moment. So, in Spectacular Now the hero of the story is a drinker, he’s a drunk, and he is driving all the time. So, we have this expectation like he is going to crash. He’s going to crash and the girl is going to get hurt and it’s going to be terrible.
What actually happens in the film is he pulls off to the side of the road, they have a fight, she gets out of the car and gets hit by another car. Something that was not his fault — he wasn’t sitting at the wheel. And so we, as an audience, are taken by tremendous surprise like, oh my god, I didn’t see that happening. I can’t believe that just happened. But it’s in the universe of possibility for a movie. It’s a genuine surprise but it’s not breaking the rules of our world.
And they could do it only because we had invested so much in the reality of these characters. If they had tried to do that quite early in the story it wouldn’t have had an impact.
Craig: That’s right. This is not only do you not want to shy away from surprise and subversion. You want to move towards it. You’re constantly looking for those things.
And what you’ve just described there is the difference between improbably and illogical. Improbable is okay. Illogical, not so much. And improbable is okay, particularly if the audience understood that they got fooled. Because they will understand that they were in your control. They want to know that the person telling the movie is in control of the story and not just lashing out at stuff to happen because it would be convenient for it to happen, that that was a careful choice.
Similarly, there are movies with twists that recontextualize the entire world of the movie and turn all the rules that you thought you understood upside down. That’s also great. As long as when you do it the movie retroactively makes sense in the re-contextualization.
John: Yeah. I would also stress the movies that are going to pull the rug out from under you and re-contextualize everything, it only works if you are along for the ride in the first version of it. So, if you’re watching The Sixth Sense and you are with it from all the way through and you’re completely accepting it on its own surface level, then the twist and surprise is meaningful and helpful. But, if you bailed on the journey before then you’re just going to be annoyed by the twist.
Craig: Well, it’s interesting. One of my favorite films is Fight Club. And the first time I saw Fight Club I was a little annoyed. I was annoyed. Fight Club is an example of a movie where it’s, for me, it was difficult to enjoy it the first time through because I did not understand the twist. And then the second time I watched it it was awesome. But I couldn’t get to that second time without experiencing the first time.
But, now we’re talking about a high degree of difficulty here. [laughs]
Craig: And, look, you know, like The Sixth Sense is a movie that I actually did enjoy all the way through and the twist was great and it was extra, you know. But it’s always a risk. When you do a big twist movie there’s always a risk that people are going to be just too confused and too detached from what’s going on to connect with it that first time through.
John: Yup. Well, let’s talk about how movies start right now, because we’re going to look at some Three Page Challenges.
Craig: Oh yeah!
John: I thought we would start with Blake Armstrong if we could.
Craig: We can.
John: So, Blake Armstrong, by the way, so Stuart picked this script randomly, but Blake Armstrong is actually a person who works on Chicago Fire/Chicago PD. He works on the Chicago shows that Derek Haas does.
Craig: He works on –
John: He’s a gaffer.
Craig: I think he’s a gaffer or grip. He’s a crew person who works for the Chicago Empire. And what that means is he spends a lot of nights freezing in sub-zero temperatures while actors are being warmed in their tents.
John: Before we get into the script, we should really talk about Derek Haas’s Chicago Empire. Because I know the next spinoff is, I think, Chicago Municipal Services, which is basically the people who like fix traffic lights and stuff like that. There really seems to be no limit to what they’re able to do in Chicago.
Craig: Chicago Board of Ed. Yeah, Chicago Sanitation.
Craig: Chicago DMV.
John: Yeah. They were going to go for Chicago Parks & Rec, but they thought that would be too confusing with the NBC show called Parks & Rec.
Craig: Eh, you know what? I think they’ll do it anyway. [laughs]
John: They’ll do it. They we’re going to do a hospital show called Chicago Hope, but it turns out there already was a Chicago hospital show called Chicago Hope.
John: At some point they’ll reach a barrier, but it’s sort of like, you know, the limits of what they’re going to — the limit is pretty high, so there’s only a certain number of hours in the day, but people will watch whatever shows they want to set in Chicago apparently.
Craig: The one show, Chicago Chicago, which is going to be –
John: Perfect. It’s about the Chicago production — the city of Chicago putting on a show of Chicago, the musical. And it’s sort of a behind the scenes thing. It’s going to be great. It’s like Smash, but in Chicago.
Craig: Yup. They also have Chicago Smash.
John: That’s going to get confusing. I think they just crossed the line there.
John: Let me recap Blake’s script here. So, these are three pages by Blake Armstrong. We don’t know the title of this script, so we’ll just say Blake’s script.
We open on a glossy white spaceship leaving a planet. There’s chunks of busted ships and debris surrounding it. In the captain’s quarters we meet Specialist Kat Powell. She’s in her late 20s. She’s naked under the sheets.
The captain is Ben Drake, mid-30s. We see him in the bathroom with a ring box. He’s going back and forth about — back and forth dialogue about should they quit, should they get out of this game.
Ben is trying to work up the nerve to ask her to marry him, that’s what seems to be happening. Kat gets paged by the doctor, Rachel Galvin, to go the med bay. She’s gone before Ben has a chance to ask her.
In the bridge, Drake gets an urgent message from mission command where Director Ayers tells him that the mission is over. Ceres can be tera-formed faster than they thought, so they need him there now to lay claim. He’s got 20 days. And that’s what’s happened at the end of our three pages.
Craig: Yeah. You know, I like the opening here. I thought we had a good opening. I like this contrast. We begin with an image we’ve seen a number of times in movies, a spaceship in space, but I did like that the spaceship was moving past a lot of junk. So, there was a nice view — a little more realistic view of what space looks like, which is full of all this junk. Obviously we’re in the future because there’s lots of ships out there, including this one.
And obviously I always get excited, Patti Lupone aside, about seeing a naked woman lying on a bed. That was great. Quick — we’ve got some typos in here. For instance, “Glimpses of her skin peak out.” You want P-E-E-K, not P-E-A-K. But, I enjoyed the contrast of –
John: If it was a boob, maybe one of the boobs is sort of — I just talked over you. If it was a boob I would say the boob could be like a peak, a mountain peak, peak out.
Craig: I don’t know how to say this without sounding weird. Boobs don’t really work, [laughs], they tend to not go upwards. You know, when you’re lying on your back…
John: Well, if they’re fake boobs. And maybe that’s really what he’s going for her.
Craig: Really fake. Like those hard –
John: Really fake.
Craig: Like bolted on. Yeah.
John: Nice hard Pamela Anderson boobs.
Craig: Right. Like, yeah, god, poor Pam. Anyway, but I enjoyed –
John: I think that’s really what Blake was going for.
Craig: Yeah, probably. But I enjoyed the contrast of junkie space to this presumably beautiful woman lying naked in a bed. It was an interesting contrast. And I also like the way that we got into this conversation with her and her lover who is off-screen. It’s sort of a mid-conversation thing. “Let’s quit.” We’re not really sure what they’re trying to quit. But that’s always good. I always like little bits of mystery here.
When we catch up with this guy who’s in this connected bathroom, he’s looking at this ring in this box that clearly is an engagement ring. Couple of things. One, I’m just going to put aside the fact that even in the future people are still spending two month’s salary on rings at some intergalactic Robins Brothers. But more importantly, this just goes on too long.
This is one of those things where the audience gets it immediately. You see a man privately looking at a ring and not quite sure what to do. We know everything. So, we don’t necessarily want to have him open it, close it, open it, close it. We’re just going to get annoyed, I think.
And, frankly, what’s easily — perhaps more interesting way to go about this is to have him talking back with her. He seems occupied, preoccupied, or nervous. And then at the very end reveal that there is this ring on the counter. And then he’s about to pick it up when she’s called away. It’s just one of those things you want to hold back, I think.
She gets called away by — it’s, by the way, I-T-’-S, it’s the crew doctor, Rachel Galvin who is on a filter saying, “Paging Specialist Kat Powell. I need you at the med bay, now.”
Eh, we don’t want to talk like that. Nobody talks like that.
Craig: It doesn’t seem — unless Rachel is also a robot, that’s not — I think if we just heard, you know, “Kat, I need you at Med Bay now,” that would enough.
John: It’s always dangerous when someone calls out with like their job title. I never kind of believe it.
Craig: Exactly. It felt very forced. Similarly, I didn’t — I don’t think it’s satisfying when you have a man with a ring and he’s considering whether or not to propose and make a commitment to this woman, and it’s interrupted because she has to get up, put her pants on, and leave. I would much rather see him make that choice. I think it’s just more powerful. I don’t want to take my choices away from these guys.
Let’s talk about what we’re teaching people about our movies. So, what did I learn from this moment that she walks out and as it says here on the pages, “Like a whirlwind, she’s gone and he’s missed his chance.” Well, the movie has taught me that this is the kind of movie where somebody can be stopped from proposing to somebody because somebody else is putting their pants on and walking out a door.
John: She didn’t go that far, I don’t think. They’re on a ship.
Craig: They’re on a ship. And you could just as easily say, “Wait, hold on.” [laughs] So, I don’t want to lose the choice.
We now go into the bridge and we have some syntax errors here. “Two walls displays instruments, meters, data, etc. taper into a V…” There’s typos and missing words here. Similarly, “The screens fade to black and white text blinks across them.” Something is missing there as well.
These pages have, for me, I have a very low threshold for this kind of character cheating where you describe a character, we meet them for the first time, and you tell us about how their personality works even though there’s no evidence for it. I know that you have a little bit more of a tolerance for it, but there’s a lot of it in here. Everybody is getting it at this point.
Drake, for instance, I presume our hero: “He’s really easy going for a guy in charge. He can’t help it that he sees the crew as friends, not subordinates.” I mean, I’d love to see that instead of having you announce it. And then he gets a message, “Urgent message from corporate mission command.” No, that’s pretty cheesy I think. It doesn’t feel like this movie is lived in. It feels like that is just a — that feels very contrived to me. He says, “Answer call,” and then we have his boss who very brusquely begins, “Mission’s over, Drake.”
And Drake says, “But — ,” when I think probably the appropriate response to that would be, “What?” Or nothing. And then he says a bunch of stuff here and then he says a bunch of stuff that’s science fiction-y stuff.
So, I think there was good contrast in the beginning. I’m intrigued by the promise of the mystery of this romance between these two. I generally advice people to clean their pages up before they send them to us so there’s not a lot of errors. A little concerned about some of the on-the-nose stuff. What did you think?
John: I share almost all of your concerns and your praises. So, a few things right from the start. In terms of the typos, obviously, the pages that blank sent through had a blank title page on them with like “Name of Project, Name of First Writer,” like basically the Final Draft title page thing but not filled in.
Again, that’s just like open the PDF before you send anything to somebody and make sure it’s actually what you want to send. Because basically he forgot to take the tick box off for include title page. And so it’s just one of those things where it made me from the very start realize like he never actually opened this PDF or else he would have gotten rid of that first page.
Getting into it, I agree with you. I like the contrast between space and then we’re in a sexual situation. But that space shot, I was missing, I had no — by the end of these three pages I didn’t have a sense of, am I on the Starship Enterprise or am I on the Millennium Falcon? I have no sense of the scale of the ship that I’m on. We’re talking about a crew but I’m not seeing anybody else. I’m just seeing these two people. And then when we get to the bridge, I didn’t know if he was alone on the bridge or if there were other people on the bridge, too.
When he described the V of screens it sort of focused on his chair. It’s like, oh, maybe it’s like a one-person command thing. Maybe it’s more like Serenity, like the Joss Whedon show. All of these are good, I just don’t know what universe I’m in in terms of the ship. And clearly the ship is very, very important.
I, too, really like the idea of going from space to a bed. Can be good, but like a girl in bed and talking to a guy who is out of the room, if you’re going to get to a sexual situation I would love to have them be in bed and just let that be the moment. Because if it’s about the relationship, I’d love to see them together. Not just like talking in different rooms.
The wedding ring to me just feels like the tropiest, tropiest, trope.
Craig: It’s pretty tropey.
John: Yeah. And it’s like, so a guy looking at a wedding ring, trying to decide whether to propose, it just feels — we just know what that is too much and too well. And it doesn’t feel interesting.
I actually like Blake’s description of sort of who these people are. I think they are going to be interesting characters. I just wasn’t seeing them do anything that would tell me that. So, like, facts not in evidence. It’s there on the page, but they’re not actually doing anything that would let me know that this is who these people are. Their dialogue isn’t telling me that. They’re not taking actions that let me see sort of who they are. I just see them being kind of annoyed to being called out to do their jobs. And that’s not giving me a lot of confidence.
Craig: Yeah, it’s interesting that this is following our discussion about the contract. Because your point about the nature of the ship is dead on. Typically when you do enter a new environment, one that’s not natural to our world, you want to give the audience, you want to give them a tour. The opening of Serenity, in fact, does this brilliantly. You know, a good tracking shot where one guy is moving through the ship and doing stuff. You start to learn — you see faces of people. You learn the scale of the ship. It is junkie, is it smooth, is it high tech, is it low tech? Size? And also the way that these people interact with each other. All that stuff comes out. You want to build, I think, for a science fiction movie, these pages feel a little bit more like maybe they would happen on page five and that pages one through four would be a little more of an exciting — we’re inside a freaking spaceship and here’s what it’s like.
John: So, I point us back to the start of Alien. If you look at how Alien begins, it doesn’t start with an alien. It starts with a bunch of people waking up and just establishing normal life on the ship. And these characters believe that they’re in a movie called Space Truckers. They have no sense that they’re in a movie called Aliens. And they’re just going through their normal life. They’re going through the normal stuff that sort of happens.
And we get little snippets of conversation. But we get a sense of who the people are in the world, what’s going on, and that it’s a very working class ship. And I’d love to see better evidence of sort of what kind of ship we’re on right from the start here. Because right now I don’t have a sense of like are there three people on the ship? Are there 300 people on the ship?
John: I don’t really have a good sense. And when we get to the later section, like the mission is over, like they were on a mission? I don’t know what their mission was. So, that mission is over — I’m confused not in a good way. So, I was excited to see that there’s a place that they’re going to be going to and by the end of page three a good thing I will say here is I did have a sense of what to expect next.
As we talk about a contract between the writer and the reader, the bottom of page three, like you’re going to go to this planet and start tera-forming, or get there and stake your claim. Ah, okay, so that is a thing to look for. And so I should be looking for them going to this planet and I will be basing my expectations around this journey to this planet or being at that planet.
Craig: Yeah. Absolutely. And in the discussion between our woman and our man, whether you have them separated or together, that is also an opportunity, I think, to get a little bit more character and conflict out of it. It was a little — there are times in movies where you can have a kind of a lazier conversation. But this wouldn’t be one of them. I think in the beginning you want to really try and pack a lot of dramatic information in. I don’t mean spell out a bunch of exposition. I mean, even if it’s looks, or somebody is slightly thrown off by something the other person says, you just want to get a sense of — a little bit more of an emotional sense rather than a circumstantial sense of the conflict between these people.
John: Yeah. Remember, you’ve got to hook us. And so I just feel like you have a beautiful woman in bed. I think you can do a better job hooking us in there and making us really invest in the nature of these two people.
John: Mm-hmm. What shall we do we next? Do you want to do Hearts and Minds or Brood?
Craig: Well, Brood is kind of fun. Can I summarize Brood?
John: Summarize Brood for us.
Craig: Brood is by Sandra Lee Slotboom.
John: What a great name, by the way. I’m not sure I believe it, but it’s a great name.
Craig: I absolutely believe it. You don’t fake that. You don’t fake Slotboom.
John: All right.
Craig: Slotboom. Fantastic name. Brood by Sandra Lee Slotboom.
Okay, so, we open in the woods at night. There’s a primitive log cabin hidden sort of in the forest and inside we hear a grunting and then a slap and then the wail of an infant, obviously newly born. A man, a bearded middle aged man, emerges. He’s dressed in 19th Century garb, so we’re at some point in the 1800s. And he walks out with a candle lantern. He has blood up to his elbows and he’s carrying a swaddled baby.
Inside a young woman is screaming, “No, Papa, come back. Not our baby.” He carries this newborn into the woods. He digs a hole. He puts the baby in the hole. Shovels dirt on the baby until the crying stops. Oof. And then he lifts the lantern above his head and we see that, in fact, he is in a vast cemetery littered with hundreds of unmarked graves.
Okay, so that’s our cold open. Now, we’re in the Ozark forest. It’s modern times. And a young couple, Lisa and Aaron, are hiking together with their dog. She has to go pee. She wanders off behind a shrub. A twig snaps somewhere behind her. Her dog growls.
We now cut to the inside of an upscale kitchen and a woman named Sloane Robertson is bathing her infant, Christopher, in the sink. And she’s cooing to him, but then she opens up the hot water tap and this scalding water comes out and she drowns her baby. And then the baby — apparently not dead — reaches up with arms, grabs her around the throat. She wakes up. It was a nightmare. She’s there with her husband, Michael, in the middle of the night and there is an infant, in fact, very alive in another room crying. Michael says he’ll take care of it.
And before he goes to leave the room he says to her, “You can do anything, Sloane. You always have. It’s who you are.” She cries. And she cries.
Sandra Lee Slotboom! Baby killer.
John: So, I loved the opening image.
Craig: [whispers] Baby killer.
Baby Killer is not a better title, by the way. Brood is a good title.
John: Brood is a good title. So, I loved this opening image. I loved the opening little moment. The guy burying a baby. Horrifying. That’s great.
I liked the second opening. Not quite as much, but that’s fine. Hikers in the woods. A twig snaps. By the time I got to the third opening of the movie, which was this fake out — it was a nightmare. I drowned my baby — I lost some faith in this movie. And so as an example of, I thought actually the writing line by line was pretty good. But we had three openings in three pages. And I started to get a little bit unsure of the journey that I was going to be going on.
Because am I going on — I could take a cold open that takes place in the past. Great. I’m totally down and good for it. But when we get to the Ozarks and we’re hiking, okay, great. So, we’re in this world now. Oh, a twig snaps, the dog growls, oh, it’s that kind of thing. It’s that kind of movie? Great. I’m totally good.
But when we cut to the upscale kitchen I’m like I cannot make that leap to make those two pieces connect. And I started to — I didn’t have enough time with those hikers to know what degree I’m supposed to be investing in them. And then that jump to another present day thing was just bizarre to me. And to be jumping to a present day thing that’s actually in a dream felt really strange to me.
How about you, Craig?
Craig: Yeah. Look, the first — the prologue — is awesome. That’s the kind of scene that people will read it, put the script down, and say, “Come in here. You’ve got to read this.” Great opening. Terrifying. Ballsy. And it also had — not only did it have this terrible image of a man burying his incest baby alive. I presume it’s his incest baby.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: But then there’s a kicker on top of it that this has happened hundreds of times, which is just like what’s going on here. It’s really dramatic. It’s really well described. The only mistake I think that occurs, frankly, in that prologue is the young woman inside her dialogue is too on-the-nose. I would have just preferred, “Papa, no!” I think we can actually start to let our gears move on our own to figure that stuff out. People screaming and in pain are never quite this expository.
But, wonderful opening. And like you, I’m now great with, okay, I’m in the Ozark forest. I presume this is — we’ve jumped ahead in time, but maybe the same place. Wasn’t thrilled with this dialogue between Lisa and Aaron. It was very cutesy. It felt fakey to me.
And then –
John: Oh, she said — the dialogue here, for people who don’t have these pages in front of them, Lisa is like, “Mr. Kovachavich?”
And he says, “Yes, Mrs. Kovachavich?”
“I have to pee.”
“God, I love it when you talk dirty.”
And, it’s only okay. And it’s the first things these people are going to say. They could say anything. They should say something better than that.
Craig: Yeah. It doesn’t work. They don’t seem like actual people. This isn’t a conversation that two people have. She goes to pee and he for some reason says to her, as she’s wandering off, “Lisa, stay close.” I don’t know why. They’re just hiking and it’s not like — they’re in a trail. It seemed like a… — If we’re in a horror movie, you know, people are supposed to be a little less cautious than the average person.
There’s an uncomfortable expository moment here. Once again, we have the trope diamond, from trope jewelers. As she’s peeing she holds out her left hand to admire her diamond wedding band glinting off her finger, which I just felt was — we just had the two of them tell each other that they’re married. And now she’s looking at how they’re married. I get it. They’re married. And, frankly, I’m not sure how any of that matters now.
Her dog growls. Something is in the tree behind her. Okay. Fine. Then we cut. This cut is unacceptable. It is absolutely unacceptable. And you will rarely hear either John or I be this firm about something. You cannot cut away now into this dream sequence. We will not know where the hell we are. We won’t know why you’ve cut away from that scene at that moment. It makes no sense. You’ve drawn our attention to something and now you’ve pulled it away bizarrely.
That said, terrifying dream. Gorgeously written. It’s like I feel like there’s two different people writing this. Because the horror moments are really well put together. And this, again, you have this terrible baby and I was really shocked. I thought, by the way, I didn’t realize it was a dream until the very end. I actually thought she was killing her baby. And then this baby has eyes like black marbles.
Ooh, good, it’s creepy, creepy, creepy. Okay, it was a nightmare. Fine. We see this frequently. That’s okay.
Then, we have this moment now with her and her husband. It’s the middle of the night, so now I’m really confused. Now we jumped ahead to night from day. And he says the following. “Sloane?” She’s listening to the baby. The baby is crying. “I’ll take care of it, darling. Go back to sleep.” No. I’ve been there a number of times with both of my kids. We don’t call each other darling at that moment.
And then, before he leave he says, “You can do anything, Sloane. You always have. It’s who you are.” What?
John: Yeah. I have no idea. I assume that was something to do with like maybe she has postpartum depression or something. He’s basically saying it’s going to be okay, we’re going to work through this, it’ll be okay. But, that’s not what he said. He said this thing about you can do anything. You always have.
And it’s like, what?
Craig: No one ever says that. Ever. Ever, ever, ever. You would say that maybe on page 100 if you’re Mr. Miyagi and it’s the big moment before the fight. But certainly not now. If you’re portraying a woman with postpartum depression I would think that just a helpless look from her husband and maybe he just gives her a squeeze, but she turns away, and he kind of gives up we would understand. But this was a fascinating — these were among the most fascinating pages I’ve read in all the time we’ve been doing this because it was such a Tale of Two Cities. Two really, really frightening, well written scenes. And then two clunky scenes. And the order was just kooky. Kooky McCuckoo.
John: I had a theory that I’m not sure is accurate or not accurate. But perhaps these were longer scenes and then she compressed them down so she could fit more into three pages. Because I feel like I could imagine the longer version of that Ozark thing actually making sense and actually building to something in a way that was useful or meaningful and that we’re ultimately going to find out that the hiker girl who dies or whatever is somehow related to these people. There’s something going on here that makes this all meaningful.
And maybe Sandra Lee Slotboom compressed these down to sort of try to get more in. But it wasn’t a compression that was helpful at all. It was just jarring. And I would read the next page, and maybe the page after, but I got — I have a lot of concerns because I don’t know whose movie I’m watching at all.
Craig: Yeah. I think that in a moment where a woman in a horror movie, putatively a horror movie, wanders off the trail to pee. And there’s a snapping twig behind her and her dog is growling. We need to see something happen. Even if it’s here turning, seeing something, and screaming, and then we cut, we need to know that something happens.
John: Yeah. Even if you were to do something crazy like recontextualize what that was, and then you realize like, oh, that’s actually a scene that’s happening on a monitor. This is actually a soundstage or something else, you could move to other stuff, but you have to address that thing that just happened or else we’re going to be going, “Huh? Did that happen? Did the reels get mixed up?” It doesn’t feel connected.
Craig: Exactly. What we’ve been presented is a scene that absolutely has no story purpose. None. It has given us no information. It’s given us information about characters, but no information about story whatsoever. And, yet, there’s story elements in it. So, it’s beyond confusing.
But, look, that said, those are fixable. What’s not fixable is an inability to write, and I think that Slotboom — BOOM — wrote a great cold open. Is onto a very chilling, very frightening topic that I’ve never really seen before. It’s risky as hell. And this is one of those areas where some people will just put the script down. They’ll make it halfway down page one and go, “Oh my god. I can’t watch a movie where babies are being buried alive.” But, I’ve been waiting my whole life for that.
So, I think that she can write. And she can do this. And she seems very comfortable writing in horror moments. Not so comfortable writing dialogue. Not so comfortable writing moments that aren’t horror. So, those are some areas to work on.
John: I think she has a great title. I think that title fits very well with that opening image.
John: Because what I got from that title and that opening image is like, okay, these undead babies are going to come back and seek vengeance. And they could be like an undead baby ghost movie. I love it.
Craig: No question. Yeah. And I’ve always wanted to see babies kick ass.
John: Yeah. Our third script is called Hearts and Mind by James Stubenrauch. And I’ll summarize this.
We start with a male voice asking, “So, you wanna go save the world?” And then what’s labeled as a flashback we are at an army recruiting office where Bree Foster, 19, is talking to a military recruiter. The recruiter changes tactics. Maybe she doesn’t want to go save the world but rather get a paid job. Seems more like it.
As they’re talking, Bree is watching this homeless man though the window. She ultimately grabs the recruiter’s cigarette’s and gives them to the homeless man who asks her if she’s joining the military to run away. She says, “It can’t be worse than here.”
We cut to the present time, or 2011, where a snow-like ash is falling. There’s explosions. We are in Kabul, Afghanistan. We move through streets and alleys to a blown up apartment building. We see Humvees, US soldiers, and Bree is among them. She’s in a medic’s uniform. She’s scared to death but hiding it. She’s very much a rookie in this world.
And that’s the end of our three pages.
Craig: Hey, James. James, guess what? You’re a pretty good writer. I think you did a really good job here. I have some comments and some thoughts for you. Most of them occur on page two.
But, let me tell you what I really liked. You built me a character. And you built me a character without cheating. Here’s what I see: “Bree Foster (19): a woman with nothing to lose.” Okay, that’s cheating. Except –
John: That’s cheating.
Craig: Except it’s not. It’s almost not cheating because she’s sitting in an Army recruitment office. And if you’re sitting in an Army recruiting office my guess is probably, you know, something interesting has happened to you, particularly if you are a 19 year old girl with “long dyed black hair. Black on black thrift store clothes, a homemade nose piercing… something both hard and innocent about her.”
You’re built an interesting — I can see her. And there’s no substitute for suddenly being able to see somebody. Not only can I see her. I’m starting to think of actresses. That’s a human being that you described and I love that.
And this guy is talking and she’s not paying attention. Instead she’s looking outside through the window and we see this Midwestern main street and this old homeless man reaching for a cigarette pack in the gutter. And she’s watching this guy, while this recruiter rambles on with all this nonsense about serving your country and being all you can be, we’re watching this homeless person finally, finally get the cigarette pack only to find out that it’s empty inside.
And I don’t think you can really teach stuff like this. People just have an understanding that you can create a small moment that is instructive in a metaphoric way and without being — slam you over the head. And I really liked it. I thought it was nice. It was calmly, quietly poetic.
My issues with what’s going on page one and two really have more to do with the cocky recruiter, because he goes off the rails pretty quickly. He’s just too broad. And, again, let’s talk about it as we’ve discussed — we’re world building here and we’re setting a tone and instructing the audience. He’s too “funny.” He is a recruiter. He may be cocky. He may have a patter. But at some point it gets off the rails.
He says to her, “Married? No? Awesome. What about babies?” Babies is a weird one. I would think children would be a better word there. She tightens up at this and he says, “Babies? Yes? No? It’s not a trick question. Yay or nay on rug-rats?” That’s quippy. It’s not real. That’s not how anybody in that position would talk. Not only is it not how anybody in that position would talk. It’s cutting against his job which is to get her to sign on the line that is dotted, right? It’s just bad salesmanship.
She says, “No.”
“Even better. You’re ready to be all you can be,” which is, again, it’s too — he’s getting too jokey. “Now the most important question.” He holds up two brochures — Soldier and Medic. “Wanna give shots, or get shot at.”
No. No, no, no military recruiter is going to tell you you’re getting shot at. [laughs] And give you a choice about it. It makes absolutely no sense.
So, that character I really think needs to be brought into the world that Bree’s character is in, and the homeless character is in. It’s fine to have him droning on. It’s fine to have him be canned and to be following the copy of a Department of Defense mandated script. It’s not okay to have him go that awry.
I love that she steals his cigarettes. And I love that she gives them to this homeless guy. And where I really got excited — although I wasn’t happy that he burns the cigarette down in one drag and tosses it into the gutter, because that’s not how smoking works, unless it’s a cartoon.
But where I was really happy was at the rest of page three, when we jumped ahead to present time. I thought, James, that you did a beautiful job of painting a picture here. Where a lot of people would have just said, “Chaos. We’re inside a building. It’s blown up. There are people…” You, you gave us a transition. You brought us in with sound. You brought us in with image of ash, which was quite beautiful. You had some terrific descriptions in here.
“We follow the ash toward its source — TRACKING through narrow, filthy ALLEYS. No signs of life. Only ghosts tonight.” I love that.
“A BLOWN-UP APARTMENT COMPLEX. Its insides disemboweled into a BLAST CRATER.” Great. So, I could see all of this. You are telling me a story. You are guiding me. I was watching a movie. And that is why I think you can write.
So, I would fix that cocky recruiter character, but very encouraged by this. What did you think, John?
John: I agree that once we get to Kabul, that scene setting, that painting of the world is really terrific. I had more problems with these first two pages than you did in that I didn’t get to see anything that Bree did. Basically all I got was a description of what she’s wearing and then this really annoying guy was talking the whole time. And I didn’t really get to see her. I got to see — the first two pages were basically being driven by a cocky recruiter we’ll hopefully never see again and a nameless homeless man. And that wasn’t a rewarding way for us to start.
Even if you have a character who is essentially passive, let’s see her be doing something even in her passivity. So, rather than being talked at by this recruiter, she’s like trying to fill out this form. Get us further into this process because I didn’t believe — like you, I didn’t believe that this guy was real. I didn’t believe that this was really her signing up.
It can be just about the paperwork. But let her speak something in here because she’s going to be our main character. So, let her try to explain herself at least to some degree to this guy. And if it’s even about a very small thing, like “When do I get my first paycheck? How does this all work?” We can understand her perspective on this more than what we’re getting from right here, which is basically canned spiel from a guy who I don’t want to see again.
Craig: Yeah. I think that what I would suggest — I get the idea that Bree is a little dead inside here. And I’m okay with that tone. If the more grounded, realer recruiter said, “Now, do you have questions? I’m sure you have questions about salary.”
And she said, “No.”
“All right, well, do you have any questions at all?”
Then I would know something about her. So, there are ways to show passivity in an active way. I did think that –
John: I would also say –
Craig: Yeah. I was going to say I thought that her thing with the cigarettes was — she was doing something during the scene. So, I give her a little more credit there than I think you are. But I agree that we need a little bit — I think fixing that guy is going to fix her.
John: Yeah. I think she has to drive the scene, though, ultimately. Even if there’s another guy who is asking the questions, we have to believe that she is essentially in charge of the scene. I would love to see her try to be giving an answer but really she’s paying more attention to the homeless guy up the street. And like that, I think, is an interesting dynamic where we see her start to talk or start to form an answer, but she’s really more paying attention to what that guy is doing.
I agree that the homeless man doing the pack of cigarettes stuff is interesting. It’s a good visual image that helps establish our world. And ultimately when she makes a choice to go out and see him, it’s great. But I didn’t really believe the moment of her grabbing the cigarettes and sort of walking out the door. I was like, well, did she leave the recruiter’s office not doing it, signing up? I more wanted to see her sign on the dotted line and then as he’s filing the paper, whatever, then she takes the pack of cigarettes. Some completion on an action, because right now I didn’t necessarily really believe that she had joined the military.
Craig: I agree with that. I think that’s right. The part of this that isn’t working is essentially the nuts and bolts part, which is her signing up for the military. But, the mood of somebody that’s a little dead inside, answering questions and doing something that is an enormously radical thing for somebody to do and a big life choice for somebody, and yet doing it in a way that seems distracted and sort of dead inside and misplaced focus. That’s all great. You just have to take care of the nuts and bolts end of it a little bit better.
But that said, I thought, again, that James understands how to write a movie. And that is a very encouraging thing to see from three pages.
John: I would agree.
Craig: Yeah. Great.
John: So, again, thank you to all of the people who submitted pages this week and every week to the Three Page Challenge. If you would like to follow along with these examples, or any of the other ones, for every podcast we do a Three Page Challenge in the show notes we’ll have links to the PDFs for those three pages, so you can follow along.
If you would like to submit your own three pages, it’s at johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out, and there’s little rules there about sort of how you send stuff in and what you should put in your email and what you should not put in your email.
And we’ve been getting a lot of them. So, Stuart goes through the pile and sorts them out and finds some really good ones for us to look at. And, again, thank you to Blake, and James, and Sandra Lee for sending them through to us this week.
John: Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: Yeah I do. Do you want to hear it?
John: Go for it. I want to hear it so much.
Craig: So, I feel like I only have three categories of One Cool Things and one of them is medical stuff. Very interesting invention that is currently being tested out and is on the verge of being manufactured. It’s called the XStat syringe. And it’s an example of how modern thinking is changing the way we approach problems. It just seems like such a modern solution to a thing.
Bullet wounds. Incredibly common wound to deal with, not only on the battlefield but also any municipal hospital in a city is dealing with bullet wounds all the time in trauma. And the immediate problem with bullet wounds is bleeding. And basically the way you’re taught when you’re dealing with first response to a bullet wound, and a bleeder as they often are, is to basically shove a bunch of gauze into it, which is what they were doing in the 1800s. Shove gauze in there. The gauze gets quickly soaked. The blood keeps coming out. And then you also have to pull all the gauze out, which can be very painful. Shoving the gauze in is very painful. It doesn’t really do what it’s supposed to do.
So, this is so brilliant, this company called RevMedx has come up with what looks like basically a syringe. It’s a plastic syringe shaped a bit like — it’s kind of like basically a tampon. It’s like a big tampon applicator. And it’s got a silicon tip at one end and a plunger at the other and it’s filled with tiny compressed cotton balls.
And they look like, you know like Smarties, the candy Smarties? Like little — did you get those in Colorado?
John: Yeah. I know — yeah, absolutely.
Craig: Yeah. Smarties. So, they look like little pills, like little aspirin pills, but they’re just compressed sponges. And so you stick this plunger into the open bullet wound and you push in these little tiny sponges which fill the space and then the blood essentially makes them expand and they seal the wound up, almost instantly, which is pretty remarkable.
There’s some issues with it. You’ve got to pull all those things out later. But by that point theoretically somebody will be stabilized and anesthetized and so forth.
But, it’s just one of those things where you look at it and you’re like, oh yeah, I guess –
John: Yeah. We could do that.
Craig: Yeah. Like I guess we just sort of gave up on bullet wounds for awhile, like for 300 years, and now we realize maybe it would be a good thing to kind of fix that. Because the other option is tourniqueting which causes all sorts of problems. It’s a last resort. You can damage a lot of healthy tissue with a tourniquet. And tourniquets are incredibly painful.
So, hopefully this ends up being cleared by the FDA. The syringes themselves are $100 each, which is a huge deal, because that means that they will be available not just for first world use but all world use. And hopefully they save some lives…of good people.
John: That would be great.
John: When you said syringe I assumed it was going to be something like an epoxy, like an epoxy polymer that you would squeeze in that would actually seal the thing. But, that’s maybe chemically not wise to stick epoxy into people’s open wounds.
Craig: Yeah. You don’t want that in the bloodstream. That’s probably a bad idea.
John: They do — they use super glue though for cuts and that does work.
Craig: Yeah. They have some surgical adhesives and things like that, but an open wound where you’re injecting it pretty deep in and sometimes even into an organ, epoxy also hardens and then it’s a — yeah, that would be a problem.
John: As always, we like to give a lot of medical advice in our podcast because we are experts on so many topics.
Craig: I am.
John: You are. Craig is.
John: My One Cool Thing is just a simple game that you will download on your iPhone and waste a lot of time with, because it’s great, called Threes! Have you played Threes! yet, Craig?
John: Threes! is really good. It’s really straightforward and simple. And it goes to your basic need to sort of neaten and straighten things.
Craig: Oh, no, I have that need.
John: So, essentially you’re given a grid of numbers and you are trying to add up — merge these numbers and you’ll have a tile with a three and a tile with a three. You merge them, they become a six. And you’re trying to build up to bigger and bigger numbers. But, of course, there’s limited space on the board, so you’d have to plan strategically for how you’re going to combine these numbers and therefore not fill the grid. And the game is over when you fill the grid.
It’s just a very well thought out game with terrific little mechanics. It’s just smart enough. It’s just cute enough. It’s a good game to play and a terrific time-waster for playing for 30 seconds or for six minutes, but a really good game.
Craig: I just bought it.
John: On the App Store right now.
Craig: I just bought it.
Craig: I bought it while you were talking.
John: That’s how good it is.
So, our show is now complete. If you would like to know more about the topics we talked about, Craig’s medical syringes, my game, any of the Three Page Challenges, you can find the Show Notes at johnaugust.com/podcast.
You can subscribe to us on iTunes. We are there. Look for Scriptnotes. And you can leave us a comment while you’re subscribing there.
If you’re on iTunes you can also find the Scriptnotes app which is for sale. Not for sale there — it’s free there. You can download the app to your phone or other iOS device. Through that app you can access all the back episodes, which is fun and good for you to do.
Weekend Read, the app I make for reading screenplays on your iPhone is also there, so you can download that for free.
We will be back next week with more things to talk about. And if you have questions for Craig, he’s @clmazin on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Longer questions like the one we got about late payments go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And that’s our show.
John: Done. Thanks Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
- Get your tickets now for the Scriptnotes/Nerdist Live Crossover episode on April 13th at Nerdmelt, with proceeds benefiting 826LA
- Patti Lupone interrupted
- Film Independent’s Directors Close-Up series
- Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.
- Three Pages by Blake Armstrong
- Three Pages by Sandra Lee Slotboom
- Three Pages by James Stubenrauch
- How to submit your Three Pages, and Stuart’s post on lessons learned from the early batches
- The XStat syringe by RevMedx
- Threes! on the App Store
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Betty Spinks
While it’s still early, Weekend Read’s pricing model seems to be successful.
The app is free, but the library is limited to four scripts. Upgrading the app via in-app purchase allows you to store hundreds of files. So far, 33.2% of users upgrade when presented the option.1
Since it’s free to install, there’s no reluctance to sampling; the only people who pay for the app are the ones who’ve tried it and like it. I think that’s why reviews have been so positive, and why support emails have been about actual issues and feature requests rather than unhappy feelings.The wonder and horror of PDF
Weekend Read supports Final Draft, Fountain and Markdown formats, but its special magic trick is the ability to extract text from screenplay PDFs. We weren’t sure what the split would be among the various file types.
It turns out 86% of the files loaded by Weekend Read are PDFs. FDX and Fountain are running equal at about 4% each, with the remainder being Markdown or plain text. I was surprised to see to see it skewed so far towards PDF, and for Fountain to have achieved parity with FDX.
We spent two years getting good at handling PDFs for Highland, yet our thousands of new users for Weekend Read have revealed some things we missed.
A4-sized PDFs. Sorry, Europe. We didn’t mean to cut off any lines. Fixed in next update.
International glyphs in PDFs. For Fountain and Final Draft scripts, Weekend Read does a solid job with Ørni’s über-piñata. But our PDF parser often omits or mangles non-English characters. Fixed in the next update.
PDFs from Celtx. None of our beta testers use Celtx, and apparently none of the For Your Consideration scripts were written using it. Until users pointed it out, we had no idea about the wordsrunningtogetherwithoutspaces problem. Fixed in the next update.
Scripts from Blcklist.com. These screenplay are watermarked, but we worked with Franklin Leonard and his team to make sure users can read them in Weekend Read. This should work reliably in the next build.
PDFs from Fade In. PDFs created with Fade In resist all efforts at extracting meaningful text. Fade In’s Kent Tessman has working hard with Nima to get it sorted out, but for now neither side can fix it. On the bright side, Fade In has the ability to save in Fountain and FDX format, both of which Weekend Read handles natively. That may be the best solution we can offer.
The 1.0.2 build focuses on squashing these PDF issues, and adds new features to the For Your Consideration section.
The most common feature requests have been for an iPad version, and the ability to add notes. We’re working on both, but have no ETA.
We’ve also had inquiries about volume purchases from studios and agencies. There’s currently no way to offer bulk in-app purchases, but we’re considering creating a special Studio Edition that ships already upgraded. If you’re interested, contact support.
One final note: The Oscars are this Sunday, so some studios may begin taking their awards-season scripts offline. If you’re interested in reading any of the screenplays in the For Your Consideration section, grab it now.
- We don’t show the Upgrade Now choice until the library is full, so some users will never get the chance. In the next build, we’ll give users the option to upgrade at any point.
John and Craig look at the implicit contract made between screenwriters and readers — and ultimately, movies and their audience. That’s a natural introduction to our Three Page Challenge and the three new entries we look at this week.
Also: Late Payments suck. You shouldn’t tolerate it, and neither should your agents.
There are still a limited number of tickets available for the great Scriptnotes/Nerdist Writers Panel crossover live show on April 13th. You can find a link in the show notes.
- Get your tickets now for the Scriptnotes/Nerdist Live Crossover episode on April 13th at Nerdmelt, with proceeds benefiting 826LA
- Patti Lupone interrupted
- Film Independent’s Directors Close-Up series
- Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D.
- Three Pages by Blake Armstrong
- Three Pages by Sandra Lee Slotboom
- Three Pages by James Stubenrauch
- How to submit your Three Pages, and Stuart’s post on lessons learned from the early batches
- The XStat syringe by RevMedx
- Threes! on the App Store
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Betty Spinks
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 131 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are ya?
Craig: You know, I’m — do you ever get this thing, John, I’ll bet you you don’t. I bet you you don’t. But every now and again, and sometimes for stretches of days at a time, I’ll get that butterflies in the stomach anxiety thing.
John: For no good reason?
Craig: For no good reason. And I just sit and I wake up in the morning and there it is. And it kind of lingers all day. It’s really uncomfortable and I feel anxious and I don’t know why. I believe this is called Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
John: Yeah. Sorry to hear it.
Craig: Do you ever get that?
John: I do get that sometimes.
Craig: Oh, you do?
John: And, in fact, I will talk about a little section of my life. These last two weeks have been really busy with the contract negotiations. And then we were supposed to take a trip this weekend. And then the next week was going to be chaotic for different reasons. And I finally just had to say I cannot possibly take a trip this weekend. It just was going to be impossible.
So, we ended up staying home and it’s a lovely weekend in Los Angeles and it’s so much better and more fun.
But, yes, I sympathize with your Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I don’t know, is it technically some sort of like fight or flight instinct that has no basis? Do you know what it is?
Craig: It seems like it. I mean, every now and then I get that. It’s the feeling that you get when, I don’t know, you’re nervous or scared, except that there’s nothing to be nervous or scared about. So, you just get that fluttery — and I guess physiologically what’s going on is that adrenaline tends to divert blood flow and oxygen from your gut to your muscles and that what you’re feeling is the result of that. But it’s unpleasant and I’m not really sure what’s going on. And I just want it to stop.
And the problem with anxiety is that you — then what happens is you feel okay but then you get a little twinge of it again and then you suddenly worry, oh god, it’s happening, and then that’s why it’s happening. You know, it perpetuates itself.
John: Yeah. With me it’s usually I have convinced myself that I’m having a heart attack.
Craig: Oh, that’s a panic attack. That’s a whole other…
John: Well, that’s true. That’s a whole extra discussion.
Craig: Yeah. I never had that. But people who get checked into emergency rooms all the time, with every symptom of a heart attack except cardiac damage.
John: Yeah. Well that’s me twice. I’ve twice had to go to the emergency room with all those symptoms.
John: And they said like, “Yeah, it was good that you came in. But, no, you’re not having a heart attack.”
Craig: Right. You’re just panicking.
Craig: Oh my god. The two of us are so panicky!
John: We’re so panicky.
Well, this week let’s talk about some psychological issues. Specifically I want to talk about procrastination and pageorexia based on partly a great article you sent through that we’ll talk about.
But we have a lot of other sort of follow up and bits and news and things. I want to talk about sort of all the changes in the industry with the Aereo lawsuit and the Comcast merger. So, let’s just get to it, okay?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, as long as I don’t freak out.
John: All right. Don’t freak out. I’m here to keep you company.
First off, we can freak out just a little bit because we have a live show coming up. We have a live crossover episode with the Nerdist Writers Podcast. And I’m so excited because we’ve talked about doing this for a long time. The Nerdist Writers Podcast is potentially the other great screenwriting podcast or writing podcast you should be listening to and we’re going to have a joint show. We’re going to have a joint live show — they do all their shows live — April [13th] at 5pm. It’s at Meltdown Comics. And tickets are available right now. So, you can go get them.
We have a link in our show notes, but if you’re listening to this on Tuesday I would really recommend you get tickets now because they’re $15. They will sell out. And then you’ll be sad that you weren’t there in the audience for us.
Craig: Once again you and are the Jon Bon Jovi of live screenwriting podcasting events. So, yeah, you got to get these tickets.
John: I guess we are the Jon Bon Jovi. I don’t even know what the Jon Bon Jovi means though.
Craig: Well, Jon Bon Jovi keeps selling out — he sells out everything. You, Jon Bon Jovi is a huge — people love Jon Bon Jovi.
John: See, I’m learning things on this podcast even right now.
John: I should say that this podcast, like all the stuff we do, we’re not making any money off of this. The proceeds from this benefit 826LA, the non-profit organization that sponsors writing programs in Los Angeles. So, it’s another good cause to support.
Craig: I mean, you’re familiar with Jon Bon Jovi in general?
John: Oh, in general I am. But I’m familiar with him as being a thing from the past.
John: So, for us to be like the current things, that makes me feel really weird like, oh my god, we’re like some ’80s relic. And I don’t feel like a relic whatsoever. I feel vital and young.
Craig: So does Jon Bon Jovi.
John: That’s true.
Craig: [sings] Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame.
John: We also have some follow up. Last week on the podcast we talked about –
Craig: Just the best.
John: [laughs] I said, “Oh, there used to be this place called The Office where people would go and write.” And I spoke of it in the past tense and that was completely incorrect because it still exists. And so they sent a nice tweet, which I retweeted, saying like, “We still exist, we’re out there.” And I recommend people check it out.
There’s another place called Writer’s Junction which does the same function. So, I did mean for those to rhyme. But, if you are looking for a place to go that is not actually a coffee shop but is more like an office that you can go to and write, those are two options for you there.
Also, last week, Craig said The New Girl instead of New Girl for the TV show on Fox.
John: And I get it. I mean, it’s so easy to say The New Girl. But, it’s actually called New Girl.
Craig: And, by the way, my current television obsession — I shared this with millions of people — is True Detective. And about, I don’t know, 80% of the time I’ll say True Detectives with an S at the end.
John: Yeah, because there’s two of them.
Craig: There’s two of them and I’m basically a yokel.
Craig: Yeah. I can’t get this stuff right.
John: You’re the Cletus of the show. You’re the Cletus and Jon Bon Jovi of the show.
Craig: Cletus. Cletus is the greatest character.
John: He’s so good. Because clearly he was meant to be just a one-time throwaway and they just loved him so much that they brought him back.
Craig: Did you ever see the one where Marge is trying to find a designer dress at a discount price because she has to go to this fancy party?
Craig: And they offer her, [laughs], they tell her that they don’t have anything right now, but in her price range there is a shipment expected of partially burnt Sears sportswear coming in. And she’s not interested. And Cletus walks up and he goes, “What time and how burnt?” [laughs]
Perfect line. Ah! He’s slightly discriminating.
John: [laughs] He is. Yeah, so it’s a character that you couldn’t get away with — if he had like a race associated with him you couldn’t possibly do it.
John: But because he’s just white trash it’s still safe.
Craig: Oh, 100 percent. I talk about this with Malcolm Spellman all the time. We try and track what races are now safe to do. Like what racism is okay. I mean, poor white trash racism, thumbs up. Huge thumbs up. Irish people. Yeah. Green light. Green light.
Craig: Asians, I think, are successful now enough where it’s starting to get to be a green light. Bad news for Asians.
John: Yeah. But then you’re generalizing a whole giant category of people rather than being specific.
Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, but that’s the point of racism. [laughs]
John: That’s the point of racism. It should not be precise enough in your description.
Craig: That’s it. The whole point is it’s a very clumsy, ham-fisted way of getting a laugh, a cheap laugh out of an entire billions of people. But, yeah. I think that they are successful enough, powerful enough that it’s happening. It’s happening.
John: All right.
Craig: I feel it.
John: Craig, so we recorded — the last show came out on Tuesday and Tuesday afternoon we put out this new app and I sort of didn’t want to talk about it ahead of time, I just wanted it to be a surprise upon the world, but it wasn’t actually a surprise to you because you’d seen the build of this app quite early on. This is called Weekend Read.
John: It’s an app for reading screenplays on your iPhone. And can you summarize what your reaction to the app was when you saw it?
Craig: [laughs] Look, you don’t have to set a trap for me. I’m perfectly happy to just jump into your spikes and poison. I have no idea.
John: And told-you-sos?
Craig: And, by the way still — and told-you-sos. I still have no idea why anyone would want to read a screenplay on their phone. On their iPad, sure, I get it. On their phone, it’s just tiny, and I frankly don’t want anyone reading my screenplays on their phone.
So, you sent it and I’m like, “Why would anybody?” It’s perfectly — you did exactly what you set out to do and you did it well, but why would anybody want this. Well, apparently, I’m just, once again, totally marginalized by existence. Everybody wants it. I think it’s your biggest seller, right?
John: Which has really been remarkable. So, Weekend Read is a reader for your iPhone. It basically takes a screenplay and melts it down so you can make it look good on an iPhone, so basically you can take a PDF of a screenplay, sort of like what Highland does, it melts it down and just gives you the text so you can change the size and make it actually readable on your iPhone.
You and I both — well, you said you’ve never ever had to read a script on your iPhone, but I’ve had to. And you basically end up squinting and pinching and it’s terrible. That’s why you would never want to read a script on your iPhone.
John: And now you suddenly can. So, we launched the app on Tuesday and within like four hours we’d sold — we’d shipped more copies of Weekend Read than we did of FDX Reader, our first app, which has been out for two years. So, that was remarkable.
John: It seems to be quite popular among people. I just feel like many listeners of the show probably do read screenplays and many of them probably do have iPhones, so if you would like to try it out it’s free in the App Store right now. So, you just download it.
Craig: Look, congratulations. That’s spectacular. One thing that occurred to me when you were talking about how successful the launch had been is that you had — the app is a great name.
John: Thank you.
Craig: It’s a really good name, you know. And it’s one of those names that manages to both say what the thing is but also sound interesting. It sounds like an actual name and not just a description.
John: Yes. So Weekend Reading in Hollywood lingo is classically the scripts that a development executive would read over the weekend. And so essentially a bunch of stuff will come in over the week and then they will sort of assign out the weekend read which is basically everyone on the team is supposed to read these scripts over the weekend. And so it felt like a very natural thing to call a script reader Weekend Read.
Craig: And now they’re going to read them on their phones. “Oh, good for you!” That’s my Christian Bale yelling at Shane Hurlbut. “Good for you!”
Craig: Have you ever heard that?
John: It’ll be nice.
Craig: Have you ever heard that?
John: Oh, yeah, that great audio of Christian Bale ranting at people?
Craig: That’s my favorite part. “Good for you!” [laughs]
John: Good for all of us. What Kelly Marcel pointed out, which I think will be interesting to see if it actually kicks in, is that a lot of times actors going out for auditions get sides. And those sides are just a PDF. And so it’s fantastic for them just like, well, it’s now on their phone and that’s kind of all they need. So, we’ll see if that works as well.
Craig: Oh, good, now the actors will just be reading their parts. “Good for you! Oh, good for you!” We got to throw a little clip of that in at the end of this.
John: It’s going to become a meme.
Craig: Did we ever talk about which side of that you come down on?
John: Both of them came out horribly in it I would say.
Craig: Interesting. I disagree.
John: You think Christian Bale came out — ?
Craig: I back Bale 100 percent on that one.
John: Okay. Here is my perception of what actually happened, being the person who was in Shane Hurlbut, the DP’s perspective. For people who don’t know what the hell we’re talking about, this was on the set of Terminator Salvation which was — Christian Bale played John Connor in a Terminator version. And he had a complete flip out on the set against the DP who was Shane Hurlbut I think is his name.
John: And it was recorded because people were already wearing mics. So, Christian Bale initially came off really badly in this and sort of had to do some penance to dig himself out of this hole.
My gut feeling is that Christian Bale was incredibly frustrated by the situation and he couldn’t flip out on the director, McG, and so he flipped out on the nearest person who he actually could kind of flip out on, which was probably Shane Hurlbut. That’s my perception.
Craig: My perception is that Shane Hurlbut was doing something that I’ve never seen any DP do which is go and tweak lights in the middle of a take. And I guess the deal was it’s coverage, so the camera is aiming at Christian Bale over someone else’s shoulders. Which means all the lights are behind the camera pointing out at Christian Bale.
And you try and clear the eye line for actors so they’re not being distracted. They can perform in the moment. And then while he’s talking here comes this guy that just starts wandering in behind the person he’s talking to and starts moving stuff around.
And I guess he had asked him a bunch of times, “Please don’t do that,” and then the guy just kept doing it and he flipped out. “Good for you!” I’m sorry. This is the weirdest tangent. Like a weird old tangent.
John: It’s a fine tangent.
John: But let’s get to the meat of today’s podcast.
So, you had sent this great article by Megan McArdle which is from The Atlantic on procrastination. And I loved a little piece of it, but it’s worth reading the whole thing because I thought it was a really smart piece and it’s actually part of I guess a bigger book about sort of the importance of failure.
But, tell me why you sent it and sort of what you got out of it.
Craig: Well, first I got excited because I thought that the child star of Annie had written this, but that’s Andrea McArdle. Megan McArdle — boy, I’m in the craziest mood today.
John: That’s all right.
Craig: I promise you I’m totally sober.
Megan McArdle wrote about procrastination which in and of itself is nearly impossible to do, because it’s been written about 1,000 times, but what I liked about this was that she zeroed in on why writers — I mean, this is the title — Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators. And she has a theory.
Look, I’m not sure if her theory is correct. But at least it’s a theory of why it seems to be so much harder for writers than for other people. And essentially her theory is that writers were likely the kids who found writing easy. That is to say writing relative to their peers. So, you’re in English class, you’re doing creative writing, you’re discussing a book, you’re doing a book report — you have to write anything. And everybody pats you on the back because being able to write instinctively and write cohesively and interestingly turns out to be fairly rare. I mean, just walk around. Go into any business and read what people are writing. It’s just hard for most people.
It’s a little bit like singing. Most people can’t sing, but a lot of people can. And people who can sing it comes easily to them, that’s great.
Craig: And her point is that this unfortunately starts to — this creates a bad lesson for this kid, because they associate writing with something that is innate and fixed. That is to say this isn’t something I’m going to develop, it’s something that I was given. You have a gift as they say.
It turns out, of course, in the real world, no. You do have to develop your skills. Just because you have natural ability or a “gift” doesn’t mean that you are now ready for primetime or that there are other people that aren’t doing a lot better than you are. You have much to learn, much to learn. And you always will. You always will.
So, what happens for a lot of writers is that procrastination becomes the psychological extension of the fear that they don’t have anything more than what they have.
John: Yeah. I described it on the blog as the best scene is the scene you haven’t written yet. Or like you can’t fail at a scene you haven’t written yet.
John: There’s every chance — every time you sit down at the typewriter it’s a chance that you’re going to write something terrible. And so therefore maybe I just won’t sit down at the keyboard and I will do something else instead.
What I think is interesting about writing is you compare this to really kind of anything, like athletics, and so let’s say you’re a kid who is like really naturally athletic and great. And so you are very good at basketball or whatever. At a certain point it’s going to become objectively clear whether you are great at basketball or you were just good compared to your peers. Because you can actually see how good somebody is at basketball.
Writing is actually so much more amorphous. It’s really hard to say who’s a good writer, who’s not a good writer, who is a fantastic writer, who’s an okay writer. But weirdly the writer, him or herself, at a certain point develops a sense of like what is good and what’s bad. And they can recognize sometimes when they’re not writing their best. And there’s always that fear like, well, I might write something just awful. And everyone may — this is, again, the imposter syndrome — everyone may realize that I’m actually not that good of a writer at all.
And so by procrastinating, by putting off that writing you are delaying, you’re protecting yourself. It’s really self-preservation through procrastination.
Craig: That’s right. Because if you’re one of these people that falls into this category that there’s — Ms. McArdle sites Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck who is doing some research on this, and so professor Dweck has this idea that there are people who have the fixed mindset and the growth mindset. The fixed mindset people, basically when they do something they look at it as an indication of essentially what my ability is. Period. The end. That’s it. if you have a fixed mindset and you sit down, and you start writing, and either you don’t like what you wrote, or other people don’t like what you wrote, this is going to shatter some fixed part of your identity. People might as well be looking at you and saying you have an ugly face, you know, you’re far too tall, and I don’t like your eyes. You can’t change it.
Whereas the other kinds of writers, the growth mindset writers, don’t look at their writing ability as some sort of fixed capacity tank. Do you feel like you have both of these or just one, or — ?
John: I think I do have both of them. But I think I definitely am guilty of sometimes picking the easier — that sounds wrong — but in her article she talks about self-sabotage. I’ve definitely witnessed myself self-sabotaging by creating a situation where it was impossible for me to sort of succeed. And so therefore I have an excuse for why that thing wasn’t the best thing I could possibly do.
So it’s like, well, it’s the best I could do in that circumstance. Well, I put myself in that circumstance so therefore is it really my best work?
John: Or, not doing that thing that is so incredibly risky because I wasn’t sure if I could write it.
I would say over the last ten years though I’ve been much more aggressive about picking the thing that I’m both sure I can write and also not sure I can write. The thing that’s sort of outside of my comfort zone.
And even I guess sometimes at the start of my career, definitely going from Go to Big Fish, which are not sort of natural progressions, I really tried to push myself to do both of those things.
Craig: Yeah, that’s very –
John: Are you a growth or a fixed? I perceive you — I’ll diagnose you first, but I think I’ll be wrong. I perceive you as a person who is fixed in the sense that you perceive yourself as a comedy writer and yet you very much also want to stretch beyond those boundaries of just a pure comedy writer.
Craig: I, yeah, well the thing is the genre that you pick is probably — it’s probably a symptom of your desire to stay safe and to succeed.
I don’t feel that I’m a fixed person. I do feel like I am always trying to get better and challenge myself, which indicates that I don’t have a philosophical belief that I’m just capped at a certain level. But certainly like you, I’ve made choices to protect myself and like you, lately and particularly lately, I’ve been making choices that do the opposite, that essentially put me out there in an area — I think you said it perfectly. I can do this and I can’t do this. That’s a good place to be. That means you’re not trying to fly, but you’re definitely taking careful steps somewhere. And that’s a good thing.
John: Yeah. And I would say beyond just my pure writing stuff, I think in public speaking and sort of my moderating of panels and my doing stuff at the Academy has been also an expansion beyond what I’m comfortable and safe doing, because it’s just so much easier for me to stay at home and just write on blog. And to go out and have to be in front of a big crowd of people was not natural for me. And yet I’ve gotten much more comfortable about doing it.
I think I’ve told this story on the podcast before, but I’ll summarize it here because it actually fits really well with this sort of fixed versus growth mindset. I was on set and I was watching Spielberg direct this scene. And I was looking at sort of how he was doing stuff and how stuff was going. And I had this momentary flash where I realized like, oh, he’s just working really hard.
You associate these great directors as being these visionary talents who are born with these gifts. And while clearly he has gifts, he’s also just worked really hard. And I could see him — he’s Steven Spielberg, but he’s figuring out all these shots and he’s telling all these people what to do. And he’s really good at doing that, but he’s also just really focusing on it and he’s really working.
And it was one of those moments that was both sort of sobering in the sense that, oh, it’s not magic. But it was also like, oh, it’s not magic. Like I can work really hard, too. And that was actually greatly encouraging for me to see like, you know, it’s really, really hard work but I know I can work really, really hard.
And I think it gets back to Megan McArdle’s point is that oftentimes the people who succeed are the ones who just kind of aren’t afraid of failing. The ones who sort of can benefit from failure or benefit from struggles and learn how to sort of struggle.
Craig: That’s right. It puts you in a tough spot because most people on the planet don’t do jobs where failure is likely. They don’t. I’m not sure — most jobs are fairly safe things. This one isn’t one.
John: You can’t fail at a spreadsheet.
Craig: No, you can’t. I mean, you can, but it’s a different kind of failure. It’s not a failure of you. You can make mistakes but it’s not a failure of the expression of your point of view, your taste. Our brothers and sisters in the film review community, how do you fail? How do you fail?
If you can give Her a terrible review and still be at work the next week, how do you — there’s not failing there. But what we do, there’s failure every day. In fact, it’s built in. When we are hired, the contract is built around the notion that we’re going to keep failing. That’s why there is more than one draft even if it’s just optional. The entire editorial process is built around that. The reason you shoot more than you’re going to keep in the movies, because directors make mistakes all the time.
Why do actors get more than one take? Failure. Failure. Failure. The whole thing is a parade of it. And you have to make your peace with it, or it will absolutely destroy you.
John: It occurs to me that this kind of procrastination that a writer faces sitting down at the keyboard is really just a form of stage fright. It’s that fear that I’m going to get there at the keyboard and I’m not going to be good. And everyone is going to see that I’m not good and it’s going to be awful.
And so therefore I just won’t sit down at the keyboard.
John: And the difference with stage fright is that eventually you have to get on. They’re going to call your name and you’re going to have to get up on stage and you’re going to have to start singing. And that’s, I think, ultimately what you have to face is a writer is that I have to sit there and I have to type this thing. And even if it’s terrible, I have to get through it because that’s my job. That’s what I’m here to do.
So, let’s just talk a little bit about sort of how you get past those humps and sort of what you find.
Craig: Well, I try and remember, and this is something that McArdle points out. I try and remember that there is no percentage for me to compare what I’m about to do or what I’m doing with finished products, which I think is the demon that plagues us constantly. I’m going to sit down. What should I write? Well, if I write this, that’s been done before. If I write this, somebody else already did that better. If I write this is it too much like that?
Constantly comparing the process, the messy process of cooking, to already completed perfect meals. You have to get ultimately to the place where it’s done. And, of course, we’re all trained to watch and appreciate the best of all those completions. So, I try and remind myself that there is nothing permanent about what I’m about to write. I can always hit delete.
It’s not like I’m expending resources, you know, rare resources to generate three or four pages, only to throw them out. I’m not building a wall, you know, where it’s going to cost me money to build it again. So, I give myself a break in that regard.
John: I think what you’re saying is exactly right in terms of recognizing that the finished product is not what you’re working on right now. You’re working on the process and in McArdle’s piece she points out that we always read, when we read like the great authors, we’re reading their final drafts.
John: We’re not reading everything they did along the way. We’re not seeing all their mistakes. We’re not seeing everything they threw out. We’re seeing the finished product. And it would actually be very helpful, I think, sometimes if we saw all the drafts that led up to it so we could see this.
Shakespeare actually weirdly, we do get to see all the different versions of things, and that’s kind of useful. You can sort of see how things grew and how things changed.
When I find myself procrastinating I, you know, the classic rule is you sort of set a timer. And it’s like for the next 20 minutes I’m going to write and I’m not going to do anything else. I’m just going to write. Jane Espenson calls this a Writing Sprint, which is basically no matter what, the next 20 minutes, the next 40 minutes, I’m going to write and I’m not going to stop writing until the timer goes off. That’s a great trick.
Freedom for Mac, the utility that we’ve talked about before on the show, which basically turns off your internet connection for a period of time, also really helpful. So, if you’re sitting there and you can’t get on the internet you’re more likely to be able to focus on the work you’re doing.
Anything else for you?
Craig: Yeah. The other little trick I do is to think about the scene that I’m supposed to be writing and then say, okay, maybe I’m scared to start writing this because I just don’t love it yet. There’s nothing in it that’s getting me super excited. And so I just try and think about it in different ways. Or just let myself think.
If it takes all day I’ll just think all day. If I have to take a walk, or you know me, a long shower is always great. But, when you find that thing that suddenly gets you excited then it’s a lot easier to sit down because it doesn’t feel quite so grindy.
And, by the way, interestingly enough, a lot of the times those things that got us motivated, they come out. It was something that we just needed to do it to not feel bad about moving our fingers over the keys. And there are days when you can take a walk and you feel like you can walk from one end of the earth to the other. And there are days when taking five steps just feels tough.
You have to actually honor that and not punish yourself for having one of those days. It’s totally normal.
John: Yeah. Agreed.
I want to sidestep to another sort of psychological thing which I actually witnessed this week in the negotiating room.
So, basically during the negotiations there is a lot of time where we as the screenwriters are just sitting there waiting for the next thing to happen. And so people are writing, which is great. So, you’re shoulder to shoulder with all these writers writing, which is fantastic.
But one writer who was sitting close to me was struggling to — his script was 116 pages and he really wanted to get down to 114, or 112. And he called it Pageorexia, which I thought was just the best term. And this wasn’t like a newbie writer. This was like a guy with multiple awards and nominated this year for awards. And I just thought it was hilarious that this is this guy who is getting paid a tremendous amount of money to do whatever he wants to do. And he still sweats all of these little details to try to get it down one more page.
He described it as, “Well, if they love it at 116 they’ll love it even more at 114,” which is such a classic anorexia kind of comment. It’s like he’s looking in the mirror and he’s not seeing what the script truly is.
Craig: Right. He’s got script dysmorphia.
John: Yes. But I would argue that in some ways that’s related to the procrastination thing that we’re talking about. It’s a perfectionism as a way of fearing failure. Rather than fear stopping him from writing, fear was getting him gripped into this sort of OCD must make everything perfect.
Craig: Yeah. We are constantly deluding ourselves that we have control over the response to our screenplay when we don’t. We write what we write. And we then give it to entirely different sentient organisms with completely different tastes, experiences, moods. And either they like it or they don’t. But that stuff is about trying to control that which we cannot control.
Craig: It does not — they will not like a 114 page script more than that script at 116, ever. [laughs] It’s never going to happen.
John: Yeah. What it’s doing is it’s crossing the line between like sort of professionalism, which is basically like making that look as good as it can. And perfectionism, or sort of needless perfectionism where you’re just moving commas around so that it breaks a little bit differently.
Craig: That’s right.
John: This is a very smart man. So, I can tell him, and he knows that the 114 page script and the 116 page script will shoot exactly the same. You’re not changing the movie whatsoever. You’re just changing the words around on the page.
And yet sometimes we get obsessed about the words on 8.5 x 11 paper, not remembering like, oh that’s right, it’s actually just a plan for making a movie.
I heard a story, which may be apocryphal but it sounds absolutely true, because I feel I like I may have seen this in one of his scripts, that James Cameron when he got to — this is back in the time where you actually would type scripts or they were sort of printed out of things, so they weren’t PDFs. So, he would number it from 70 to 79 and when he got to 80 he would start it again at 70 to 79 again, so he could squeeze an extra 10 pages in. And no one would sort of notice that like it was doubled up there. Isn’t that a great idea?
Craig: [laughs] I totally believe it. I mean, the “it’s too long” is the traditional problem of the screenwriter. I’ve really never had a problem of a script that was much too long. The current script that I am doing is more of an action movie, and so I’ve given myself more length than a typical comedy. And it’s in at 119. And that’s 119 with proper margins and double spaces before the slug lines. And I feel good about that.
I called up Scott Frank in a little bit of a panic –
John: Scott Frank will tell you to turn in a 180 page script. Scott Frank writes long…
Craig: Scott laughed at me and then slapped me around and said, “No one gives a damn. I’ve never turned in a first draft that was shorter than…” Yeah. Exactly. “If it’s under 150 it’s a hallelujah for me.”
The one thing that I do spend time on, and I know Scott does — a lot of writers do — is page breaks at important moments.
Craig: I do look and see, okay, look, if there’s a big reveal or a moment, I don’t want that to be split up by a page break. If there’s an interesting speech. In fact, I don’t want any dialogue split over page breaks. I hate it. So, I try and — I mess around with stuff like that. But, you know, that’s when the script is done. And that’s just a fun hour or two.
John: Yeah. Let’s segue to our next topic which is a bunch of stuff happened this last week and it’s going to be happening in the next few months which could make everything quite a bit different in the next couple of years. So, I just want to give a little sense of what’s gone on and forecast — a very murky forecast — of what could happen in the weeks ahead.
So, this last week it was announced that Comcast is buying Time Warner Cable, which will create the largest cable company in the universe, I guess.
John: So, it was the number one cable company, Comcast, buying the number two cable company, Time Warner. It raises just a lot of questions about sort of how powerful can one company be.
John: Also, happening soon we have Aereo, the company that’s being sued by the broadcast networks. Aereo essentially retransmits over the air broadcast via the internet. And it’s a whole question about sort of what is possible there. What’s going to be legal there.
John: And then we also have, you know, this is the new season of House of Cards starting. A real question about Netflix and Amazon and now companies are making things that are like television but are not classically television. And how are we going to write for those and how are we going to get paid for those? And that’s a big thing.
Craig: It’s a mess out there. It’s a mess.
John: It’s a mess out there. And they’re actually all kind of related because — so, let’s go back to the Aereo lawsuit.
So, essentially Aereo’s lawsuit is — the broadcast networks are suing this company, Aereo, which provides television, a local channel television, but what they do which is very clever, they have these tiny little antennas and essentially as a subscriber you are renting this tiny little antenna which is often hooked to a tiny little hard drive which allows you to record the over-the-air broadcast in your market and so that you can look at it on your iPhone, your iPad, your computer.
It’s a way of getting your broadcast television to your computer or your other device. And it has this sort of geofencing on it and stuff so you’re not supposed to be able to get it outside of your region. Classically that would be called retransmission.
John: And so when cable companies come into a market, or cable companies are in a market, they have to pay the broadcast channels for the right to retransmit their shows.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, they have to pay, the classically New York, CBS, and I guess it was Comcast had the fight over basically how much Comcast would have to pay CBS in order to rebroadcast.
Craig: It happens all the time. Yeah.
John: And so if you lose a channel, like basically for awhile CBS wasn’t on Comcast, and that was because they were fighting over the price. And the broadcasters make about $4 billion a year in those retransmission fees. So, if Aereo were to succeed the broadcasters would feel like, well, we’re going to lose all that money.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I don’t understand how this is legal at all. Anyone that watches a baseball game has heard, or any sports event, “This telecast cannot be rebroadcast or retransmitted without the expressed given permission, blah, blah, blah.”
Yeah, how do they do this? It doesn’t seem…
John: I’ll tell you exactly how they get away with it. It’s because of Comcast itself. So, Comcast won an earlier Supreme Court decision with their basically personal DVRs. So, what Comcast was letting it do, and I remember blogging about this a zillion years ago and actually coming down on kind of maybe the wrong side of it. But, so Comcast, the DVR decision, was essentially Comcast wanted to say like, “Okay, so we have this cable subscriber. And rather than having a DVR in their house, they can have their DVR at the cable company.”
Craig: Right. A cloud-based DVR. Right.
John: Exactly the same thing. But it’s one DVR per household, so it really is an individual’s DVR. And so the retransmission is public retransmission, not private retransmission. So, that is the very fine line that Aereo is trying to go for. And apparently the reason why they introduced service in New York City is because it was already in the second court, the second district court when it had that ruling for Comcast that was beneficial. So, it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens.
This case, and now I think it’s supposed to be heard by the Supreme Court in April, so we’ll have a ruling there.
The question is, from a writer’s perspective, and an industry’s perspective, what happens if the Supreme Court says you can do this sort of private rebroadcasting? Well, I think if you’re a cable provider you’re going to say like, well, I’m not going to pay this local channel all this money for this. I’m going to do this thing with the antennas and it will be cheaper for me just to do this thing with the antennas.
Craig: Yeah. I’m always fascinated by these businesses that operate like fatal viruses. There’s the classic question in epidemiology. Why didn’t say small pox just kill everyone? What stopped it? And the answer what stops it is it’s too good at killing people. And it just kills at its hosts in an area too quickly and can’t transmit itself.
I’m fascinated by these companies that their business model is to feast on the corpse of the thing that’s giving them life until there’s nothing left.
John: Well, here’s the thing though. I think from what Aereo would argue back, and I’ll just play devil’s advocate for Aereo here, is that it’s essentially the same thing as what the Cablevision decision was. The subscriber is still getting exactly the broadcast that they would have gotten with their own rabbit ears.
And so they’re still getting all of the commercials. They’re still getting — Nielsen still measures those people. So, technically it’s not that they’re stripping out commercials. It’s not that they’re taking the content away. They’re just giving it to them in the way that they want. And so Les Moonves of CBS said, “Well, if this lawsuit happens maybe we’ll just become a cable channel.”
Well, maybe they’ll just become a cable channel. Or maybe they’ll just start offering on CBS.com all of your shows for a subscription.
John: Which then raised the question of like, well, does that mean that five years from now, CBS, NBC, everything we associate as being broadcast television could ultimately become a subscription service?
Craig: Well, yeah, it could. I mean, the fact that anything is broadcast over the air anymore is, obviously, it’s archaic. But it is so much part and parcel with the way that networks work. And there are still a bunch of places in the country where people use antennas and pick signals out off the air.
John: Yeah. And complicating these things even more, when we switched over to the digital channels — there’s piggyback digital channels. There are basically secondary channels that can go along with this. And so you’ve seen like My Network TV in certain markets or there’s another thing with like Axion or something, that’s considered a piggyback. It’s a secondary digital channel. And the rules for how we treat those are still kind of amorphous. Are they broadcast? Are they not broadcast? Do they fall under those rules? Do they fall under some sort of digital distribution rules?
That’s all strange and complicated.
Craig: Mess. It’s a mess.
John: It’s a mess.
So, but let’s talk about Comcast because what’s so weird about Comcast is if the merger happens, it’s already the nation’s largest internet service provider. It’s the nation’s largest video provider. It’s one of the biggest home phone providers. It controls a movie studio, because Comcast owns NBC Universal, so it controls a movie studio, a broadcast network, and a whole bunch of cable channels. That’s a big company.
John: Craig, where do you stand on big companies?
Craig: Well, my feeling is that as a professional writer who makes a living from these big companies, that I want them to survive but only to a point. I want them to survive with robust competition.
Craig: So, I have no problem. I know the Writers Guild immediately freaks out every time this happens. They absolutely lose their minds over vertical integration and multi-national corporations consolidating the business. My feeling is, good, I’m okay with that. As long as there’s not one or two of them, you know.
We currently have Sony and we have Comcast Universal. And we have Warner Bros. which will exist with its networks and its movie studios and its television production regardless of the cable situation. We have Disney and we have Fox and we have Viacom. There’s big companies out there all fighting with each other. Those companies have the resources to not only make large scale entertainment but they also have the resources to pay us and to negotiate pretty good — pretty good deals with our union, as you’re in the middle of right now.
I think the Writers Guild, this is an area where I’ve never understood the Writers Guild’s full blown paranoia. Paranoia, yes. Hysteria, no. They’re constantly looking at Amazon and Google as some sort of rescuers. I keep screaming to everybody they’re the opposite. They’re the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Non-union shops that are used to bullying everybody out of everything.
I mean, we have five major movie studios, right? Five?
Craig: How many major search engines are there on the planet? One. That’s the way Google works.
How many major e-tailers compete with Amazon? I’m going to go with none.
Craig: So, I have no problem with these companies doing what they need to do to survive as long as I have options. Frankly, in my house I don’t get my internet from Time Warner or Comcast. I don’t get my phones from Time Warner or Comcast. I don’t get my television from Time Warner or Comcast. You know what I get from Comcast?
Craig: I get paid because I’m working for Universal. [laughs] That’s what I get. I get paid.
John: Ha-ha! You get checks.
Craig: I feel like I’m still living — I get checks. So, I’m still living in a world where these companies have vital, large scale competition and I support their — I back their survival as long as there’s enough of them to keep each other honest. How about you?
John: All right. I’m concerned about this merger because it’s literally like, it’s just like number one and two, it’s like 75% of cable in the country would be controlled by this one giant company which doesn’t feel like a lot. And cable is also one of those weird things.
So, broadcasters are subject to these regulations because the broadcast spectrum is there are limited resources, therefore we have a lot of controls over sort of what you can do there and how many players you can have because it’s a limited resource.
But cable is actually a limited resource in the sense that every community had to make deals with the companies who are bringing in this wire. And basically because, so you’re not ripping up the streets a thousand times, they’re sort of near-monopolies in a lot of these markets.
And I do worry that because they are the fastest pipe into the house and it’s essentially only end up having one or now maybe two choices, a duopoly situation where AT&T is the other way you can get the stuff. It could just become really problematic.
And I’ve sympathized on both sides of the net neutrality debate, but I think it becomes a little bit more pressing when you have this giant company that controls the access to households, to so many households, and is making its own content and can therefore in the world of no net neutrality prioritize its content over anyone else’s content. And that is challenging to me.
Craig: In my mind, I don’t see that the company would do that. I don’t think that Comcast/Time Warner would — their merged cable system — if they were to tier stuff would say, hey, it’s going to cost you more to watch these other channels. It’s going to cost you less to watch the ones that we control.
John: But that’s exactly what they’ve done in cable. Cable is tiered. I mean, it already is tiered right now. You can get these channels with this. You can get this, a higher tier, you get these channels.
Craig: But in the way its tiered, they don’t — in other words, Time Warner never gave you a break on HBO. They charge you more for HBO because it’s worth more. My point being that they never — they know the consumers — the demand from consumers is what drives the market price. And if they try and use monopoly pressure. Well, first of all, they’re going to run into anti-trust problems if they start bundling, because that’s basically bundling. You’re not allowed to do it.
But also they’re just going to run into marketplace problems because people are not going to want that. Where I kind of see benefit for professional writers on these non-net neutrality side is if these companies said things like, “Well, we’re going to start charging a premium for super fast delivery of movies. All movies. Not Universal movies. All movies.” And then we would get better residuals. So, that — I could see that as a benefit for writers. But, I don’t, I mean, look, I personally suspect that cable has got another 10 or 15 years left. Physical cable. Because I think ultimately –
John: Before there is some sort of pervasive Wi-Fi?
Craig: Yeah. It’s inevitable. It’s inevitable. So, I mean, this merger I don’t think is a cause for us to twist our underwear up.
John: All right. We’ll see.
We have some questions. Let’s go to some questions. So, Mark in Portland asks, “If pagination isn’t that important,” I think he’s talking about last week’s episode where I ranted on pagination. “If pagination isn’t that important, why use Courier or Courier Prime font?”
I would say that use Courier because Courier is what is expected in screenplays. It’s not that it’s better, or that it’s perfect, or that will exactly match the one page per minute guideline. It’s just what we’re expecting in a screenplay. And anything that’s not that will be met with an “Uh-huh? That’s not what a screenplay should look like.”
Craig: Yup. It’s basically tradition. Simple as that. It’s the tradition that comes from an old school way of thinking about stuff as being a page a minute and all that. And really it was way to try and — all of these things were really ways to foil writers who were trying to cheat either by not writing enough, or by jamming too much into a space. The studios got wise to all of our tricks.
It’s an easy way for them to go, “Oh, okay, well at least we’ve eliminated one variable. They can’t use the super tiny font. They can’t write everything in Times 12, you know.” But, yeah, it’s tradition.
John: I think we use Courier and Courier Prime, even though we have better fonts now, or different fonts that you could use, simply for the same reason why when you’re turning in those papers in college or in high school they wanted you to use a certain font so you wouldn’t cheat.
Craig: That’s exactly right. And it’s style sheets. I mean, Warner Bros. I think still includes all that stuff in the contracts. Margins and all that.
John: Scotty Shumaker writes, “I’m a 22 year old recent college graduate working as a night shift janitor at McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica.”
John: “I came here to find some adventure and pay off student loans. Because I work alone in a deserted science lab for 60 hours a week I’m able to pass the tedious hours mopping and scrubbing urinals by listening to you guys. I have probably listened to over 100 hours of Scriptnotes in the past few months as well as all seven Harry Potter books, all three Lord of the Rings, and about 100 episodes of a podcast called Inside Acting. I just wanted to say thank you and let you know that your wisdom and umbrage has made its way down to the seventh continent.”
Craig: That is amazing. I mean, first of all, there’s something — doesn’t that sound like the first five pages of a movie? You’re the guy –
John: Oh, come on, it’s a great setup.
Craig: You’re there at the science base on the south pole, but you’re not a scientist. You’re a janitor. You’re just the janitor.
John: You’re the janitor.
Craig: And you’re just scrubbing stuff. And then one day you come out of the bathrooms and everyone is dead.
Craig: And there’s something — yeah, I mean, it’s great. Anyway, my former college roommate, Eric Leech, I believe worked down at that very station. He’s an astrophysicist. And I think he was there for a year. It’s dangerous down there. When they have their winter, and our summer, you get like 15 seconds or 30 seconds to walk around before they make you come back in. It’s brutal.
John: It’s bad.
So, Craig, I’m hoping that over our many, many episodes of the podcast I’ll get to know all of your college roommates who have all gone on to become famous people.
Craig: Well, Eric and I share a common opinion of the junior senator from Texas.
John: A third roommate.
Craig: Ted Cruz. Yeah.
John: A question from Khrob in San Francisco.
John: Khrob. K-H-R-O-B .
Craig: Oh, Khrob.
John: Khrob. “Where’s the line for things in your script that are very clearly referencing the specifics of another project? If the Tae Bo movie had a shot — ” So, last week we talked about the Tae Bo movie, or the theoretical Tae Bo movie. I guess it was a real Tae Bo movie.
Craig: It was an actual Tae Bo movie.
John: “If the Tae Bo movie had a shot of the protagonist clearly doing Daniel-san’s Crane Kick practice, but was otherwise its own film, at what point would that cross from reference to homage to plagiarism? If a show like Futurama or The Simpsons builds a whole episode around a known property, the Futurama episode of Titanic, for example, do they pay for that or are they allowed to use specifics given their status as satirical shows?”
Craig: Well, I mean, you can reference any movie you want.
John: Yeah. That’s fine. It’s fine to reference the movie. And I would say like that whole thing about doing the shot, the Crane Kick position, that’s obviously a reference, we get the reference, you’re not stealing anything.
But I will tell you in a very real sense it does happen sometimes where people get uncomfortable, even not a legal standpoint, but sort of like, “I’m not sure we’re in a parody spot here. I just feels like too much the same movie.”
John: It does happen. That’s a conversation that happens all the time.
Craig: Yeah, look, if you’re trying to parody something, parody is generally protected under the copyright law and fair use. But, let’s say you’re just making a reference so that the reader understands the kind of thing you’re going for, you know, you say something like, “The two of them begin fighting in the elevator. It’s like From Russia with Love,” but you know, something, something.
John: Over peanut butter.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, just so that people understand what you’re going for. That’s okay. I mean, don’t do it lot. You know, it starts to get a little weird. But it’s fine if you feel like it’s going to help convey your intention. You’re not copying something, but you’re saying it’s a little bit like this, but imagine that in this new circumstance. Just, you know, underline the film title and keep going.
John: Keep going.
Hope writes, “I’ve heard you and Craig mention several times on the podcast that now more than ever people should try to shoot their own small projects, like a short film. This helps them learn about filmmaking, see their words on a screen, and has a slim but real possibility of getting them attention either online or at festivals.”
John: “Would this advice still apply if you have no intention of becoming a writer-director? Is an award-winning short that you wrote a useful calling card as an aspiring screenwriter? Have there been any screenwriters, not counting writer-directors, who have gotten their first success in the industry through a short?”
Craig: Oh, I’m sure.
John: I’m sure there are. But I would say my general advice about like shooting your own stuff is not just as the calling card for yourself, while it can be really great as the calling card, it’s just so you actually understand what it is like to make something as a finished product rather than just a screenplay. And so that’s why — I think that’s why we talk about the importance of going out and actually shooting some stuff, just so you have a sense of what that is, because that is incredibly useful.
But if you wrote a really great short film, and even if you didn’t direct it, I think that is good for you. I think it is great exposure.
Craig: No question. Yeah, the whole point of making your own thing is to be a better writer. And if you say, “Well, I actually don’t want to direct, I just want to write,” which is completely noble and that’s pretty much what I do, then just do it anyway because it will make you a better writer for the person that is going to be directing it.
John: Yeah. A question from Oscar. “A script of mine was optioned by a producer over a year ago. It was a one-year free option. Nothing came of it, even though the producer pushed it and still wants to try to get it made. I don’t want to pull the rug out from under him, but several other producers have asked me to send them the script if nothing was done with it at the end of the option period. How do I handle this? What are my ethical options?
“I realize that legally I can do with my script whatever I wish because the option has expired, and wasn’t formally renewed. But I’d like to do what is right by the initial producer.”
So, what’s your advice for Oscar in this situation?
Craig: In this situation I don’t think the ethics are — there’s no shadowy ethics here. the ethics are that you made a business arrangement and the term of the business arrangement is up and it is now your choice. And you are able to ethically, guilt-free, do whatever you want with it.
The only question I think you need to ask is do you want to give this producer more time? Do you think that this producer actually can get it done, that their passion sets them apart from these other people? And that if they have another three or four months something terrific is going to happen and that’s the person you want producing the movie.
John: I agree with you. I would say — it’s not clear entirely whether this producer has had the option and no one else has been reading your script, because you need other people to read your script. I mean, you want people to read your script. And so no matter what, make sure it gets out in the world so people can see it.
If these other producers are asking about it because they have some plan for how they’re going to do it, I think honestly at this point you listen to their plans and if they sound like interesting plans you let them pursue it.
Now, it could come to a situation where they start to get some stuff moving and this initial producer gets upset and just the whole awkward terrible conversations, but those are awkward, terrible conversations that are happening because there’s movement and because there’s things that are going on with your script. So, that’s only a good thing.
Craig: Yeah. There’s an interesting — I was talking about this the other day with a fellow writer. There is an interesting psychological phenomenon in our business as it relates to the relationship between writers and executives or producers. We writers are expected to be rejected constantly. And either rejected off the bat or hired and then replaced and fired.
We are meant to expect this and to absorb it politely and without fuss. They are not at all expected to handle rejection politely or without fuss. And very often are nasty about it. And I think you just have to remind yourself they — while the day that they’re complaining to you that you somehow have rejected them, they rejected five people before they got on the phone with you.
John: Yup. It’s absolutely true.
Craig: Part of life. Circle of life. Lions and gazelles.
John: And as a circle of the podcast, because it’s now time for One Cool Things.
Craig, do you want to start, or should I?
Craig: Oh, you should totally start.
John: Okay. I actually have two Cool Things, so I’m going to give both of them here.
First one is The Fog Horn, which I thought we had talked about on the podcast, but maybe we haven’t. Many episodes ago, god, 90 episodes ago we probably talked about Popcorn Fiction which is Derek Haas’s short fiction website.
John: The Fog Horn is an app. It’s a thing that you can find in the iPhone App Store, the iOS App Store, which is sort of like Popcorn Fiction, but it’s just short stories that every month they put out a new batch of short stories. It’s one of those sort of online magazines. And some of the short stories are terrific, so I would recommend you check out The Fog Horn online. It is a very good experience both as an app and some really good writing in there.
My second Cool Thing was something that, we’re recording this on Saturday, so this happened Friday, was Ellen Page’s coming out speech. So, Ellen Page, star of Juno, came out this week. And if you just saw the headline, like Ellen Page comes out. It’s like, oh, fine, good for her. But I actually — I really strongly recommend you watch the video. We’ll include a link to it if you haven’t watched it yet. Because it’s really just terrifically well written and terrifically well presented in terms of why she feels — why she hasn’t come out publicly before now, why she thinks it’s important to come out.
And last week we talked about sort of a hero sort of needs to be in charge of his or her own story.
John: And it’s really very much about that. It’s basically until you can claim your own sort of self-identity you can’t actually control anything else in your life. And so it’s a really smartly done thing and I just sort of — I want to vote for her for something, because it was just an incredibly well presented, incredibly articulate and heartfelt description of both what was keeping her from being public. It was basically the lie of omission. And why she was excited to not be lying anymore.
John: So, I strongly recommend you check that out.
Craig: It’s great. Chris Nee, the creator of Doc McStuffins –
John: We love Chris Nee so much.
Craig: We love Chris Nee. And Chris made a really good point that one of the great things about the way that she came out in this video was that it was about a minute of “I’m gay” and really seven minutes of her acknowledging that all the people in the room didn’t need her to come out. They were already doing great work. They were already doing great stuff.
She said at some point, “So you guys are doing this, you’re doing this, you’re doing this, you’re doing this, and the truth is you didn’t need me to tell you any of it. That’s the weird part of this.”
And I love that she didn’t — it’s so easy for celebrities to turn everything into me, me, me, and frankly coming out of the closet is a me, me, me, and somehow she made it into a you, you, you, which was awesome.
John: It was really smart. So, the context of this was HRC’s Time to Thrive conference which is this sort of youth and teachers conference they were doing. And it was exactly what you described. It was five minutes of you, you, you, this is the nature of the struggle, and it’s because of what you’re doing that I’m able to come out. And so it was just a thank you.
And it was just perfectly done. Perfectly delivered.
Craig: It was. Well, you know, my One Cool Thing is also a person and it’s, I’m sad, I’m sad John because we found out this week that this coming baseball season will be Derek Jeter’s final season.
John: I can’t tell you how incredibly heartbroken I am to hear this.
Craig: Well, you should be, and I’ll tell you why.
John: I did know that Derek Jeter was a baseball player, so I get some points for that. [laughs]
Craig: Allow me to extend what his value is. Are you a Simon & Garfunkel fan?
John: I’m aware of who they are. That’s the best…
Craig: They are not baseball players. The famous folk singing songwriting duo of Simon & Garfunkel.
So, in their song Mrs. Robinson there is a lyric that says, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you. What’s that you say Mrs. Robinson? Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away.”
And apparently this drove Joe DiMaggio nuts because he was a notorious grump. But Joe DiMaggio is in that song because he exemplified a kind of purity of a time. He was a class act playing America’s game. He was remarkably talented. And he just managed to do it all right. And we love that in our heroes. I mean, he had his stumbles and his falls, and he had his injuries and his mishaps, but he was classy. He was the Yankee Clipper.
And baseball has had lots of heroes and lots of great guys and lots of goats. God knows, so many goats. And in a time when America’s pastime has just been about the most tarnished it has been since the Black Sox scandal of the early part of the century, Derek Jeter has exemplified what it means to just be a classy, great baseball player. He’s done it right the whole time. He’s enormously respected.
And more importantly, now I feel old because Derek Jeter isn’t going to be out there anymore manning shortstop for the New York Yankees. This is going to be a tough season. He’s a shoe-in first ballot Hall of Famer. Never one iota of concern that he was on steroids. He wasn’t that kind of player. But, he has hit some magic benchmarks, well over 3,000 hits and a career average of slightly over 300 which I know is something that you always look for.
John: It’s really my first criteria, career average.
Craig: It’s sad because one of the greats is riding off into the sunset. One of the truly great, great players of a great, great game celebrated by a great, great country. So, Derek Jeter, today and for many months to come you will be my One Cool Thing.
John: Now. Craig, is it possible we’ve pinpointed the source of your anxiety. Was it his retirement that is causing your anxiety?
Craig: No. No. I’m not quite that, [laughs], I don’t like Derek Jeter at all, actually.
John: Not that much. You appreciate it more from a distance. And that’s our show. So, if you would like to know more about the things we talked about today, the show notes are always at johnaugust.com/podcast. You can see the things we’ve talked about. You can see some sort of article that Stuart will find about Derek Jeter. You will also find Ellen Page’s coming out stuff. Many of the articles we talked about today on the show.
If you are on iTunes looking through the App Store you can find the Scriptnotes app which lets you listen to our most recent episodes, but actually our entire back catalog as well. You’ll also find Weekend Read there while you’re there.
If you have iTunes open and you want to leave us a comment or a rating, that’s awesome as well. You can subscribe to us there in iTunes.
And so, Nerdmelt, so we should say the live show at Nerdmelt, the crossover episode with the Nerdist Writers Podcast. Tickets are available now, so don’t wait too long for that because that will sell out. There will also be other live shows coming later on in the spring, but we’ll have those details when they come.
Craig: “Good for you! Good for you!”
John: Craig, have a wonderful week.
Craig: You too, man.
- Generalized anxiety disorder on Wikipedia
- Get your tickets now for the Nerdist/Scriptnotes Live Crossover episode on April 13th at Nerdmelt, with proceeds benefiting 826LA
- The Office and the writers junction are both open
- Weekend Read in the App Store
- Christian Bale gets upset on set (very NSFW language)
- Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators by Megan McArdle in The Atlantic
- Freedom for Mac
- Comcast/Time Warner deal will face antitrust hurdles
- The Aereo lawsuit on Upstart
- McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica
- The Fog Horn
- Ellen Page’s coming out speech at HRC’s Time to Thrive conference
- Wallace Matthews on Derek Jeter announcing 2014 will be his final season, and Jeter’s career on Baseball-Reference.com
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Kim Atle
Randall Girdner is a screenwriter living in Shanghai who wrote in with a question that became a conversation. I asked him to share his experience as a First Person post.
This morning, I was listening to both John and Craig’s comments in regard to the billion dollar lawsuit against Tom Cruise and the general legal entanglements in regard to theft of ideas. As a whole, I agree with all of their points. I am forever astounded at the frivolous lawsuits that get bandied about and the inflated self-importance of the people that pursue them.
But something happened to me last year that was a very weird coincidence.
I have been writing for many, many years, but I’ve never sold a script, nor had an agent (and have only really tried in a half-hearted manner). I’m sure I’ve sent a couple of my scripts around at some point, but considering I’ve lived overseas for a good deal of my adult life, it’s never been a high priority.
Last summer, I learned of a thriller that was about to come out that had an idea that was similar to a script I had written in the past. Very similar.
It wasn’t “two-guys-and-a-girl-move-into-an-apartment-together” similar, or “an-asteroid-is-going-to-crash-into-the-planet” similar. The idea for this new film was unique and was almost exactly the same as mine.
I had registered my original script with the Writers Guild in 1995 and had forgotten about it until this movie came out. Suddenly, news of this movie was everywhere. I felt somewhat ill at the notion that my idea might have been stolen.
Worse but related: the premise of the movie is so unique that this particular movie has rendered my original script dead in the water.
I contacted an entertainment lawyer through friends, who advised me to watch the movie and compare plot points. I never did, partially because I lived in mortal fear that the movie actually would be similar to mine and would make my brain explode.
I wrote to John, and told him basically what I wrote above.
While I was waiting (hoping) for a reply, I ended up watching the movie.Similar yet entirely different
Aside from the initial premise and some general, large-scale ideas, it turns out that my script is pretty much unlike the this movie at all. The execution is very different.
While I was pondering how this could be, John wrote back:1
I know it’s hard to wrap your head around that there are probably four other guys who saw this movie and said, “Hey wait a second! That’s almost exactly like the script I wrote!” But I guarantee there were. I bet some hardcore googling would find them bitching in message boards, and that might give you some solace.
Can you remember when you got the idea? My hunch is that there was a moment of inspiration/inception…And it’s a goodish idea. But that bare idea doesn’t have characters and story and detail. It has nothing protectable.
This was true and I needed to hear something like that to help calm my brain.
But those feelings are still there. Partly because there’s a sequel coming.
As a writer, my uncontrollable imagination can envision nine thousand elaborate scenarios in which someone (a studio, a producer, a writer/director) could have conspired to screw me over, but the truth of the matter is that I cannot conceive of any possible way in which my script could have been stolen.
Even if it was, the planning and execution of that theft would have to be so incredibly elaborate and dastardly that someone should have just bought it from me in the first place. Nothing is worth that much thought and energy.
Hmm…there’s an idea for a movie.
When I encounter this with projects I’ve written — or have on the drawing board — I try to remind myself, “This means I have commercial taste! People make movies like mine!” It’s small comfort, but it’s something.
- I save most questions for the podcast. In this case, I had a hunch there was a First Person post possibility, which is why I wrote Randall directly.
This falls more into the category of “because you can” than “you definitely should.” It’s more tech demo than recommended workflow.
The Prizmo app for iOS has built-in OCR, which means you can scan documents and access the underlying text. Learning this, I immediately tried using it to go from a printed screenplay to Weekend Read.
It actually works.
It’s far from perfect. Prizmo has no inherent sense of what a screenplay is, so it sometimes divides text into blocks it shouldn’t. (Double-spaces after periods are often a contributing factor.) Weekend Read does the best it can with the somewhat slapdash PDF Prizmo gives it.
Still, Weekend Read + Prizmo kind of works. In certain cases, it might even be useful. Actors with audition sides, for example.
And the fact that you can do it all on the phone in your pocket is amazing.
Writer-director Jessica Bendinger emailed to say she is looking for a part-time research assistant to gather video and images:
Candidates must be internet savvy and possess a keen eye for found footage and photography. In addition to gathering assets, position requires determining usage licenses and clearing all assets for use in a new travel series created by Jessica Bendinger. Initial run of six episodes may turn into a longer assignment. $12/hour to start. Approximately 15-20 hours/week for 2-3 weeks, submitting requested materials to the editor and creator within a tight timeframe.
Must have a laptop, reliable high-speed internet access, excellent written and verbal communication skills.
Please send resumes to email@example.com.
I have a hunch many of my readers would be great at this. I’ll be deleting this post as soon as she gets enough resumes, so don’t dally.
House of Cards creator Beau Willimon wonders if “television” is a good word for describing what we’re seeing in long-form storytelling:
If you start thinking, well a TV show is a half-hour to an hour long and it’s in chunks, and a [movie] is an hour to two hours and it has a beginning, middle, and end and then it’s done—those are pretty weak definitions, right? It really just comes down to formal, structural things. It’s like if I said to you there’s no fundamental difference between a sonnet and a haiku. Like, they have different meter structures. But they’re both poems. They’re both trying to express something. The words within them don’t know that they’re a haiku or a sonnet. If a television show has an episode that is 90 minutes long, could that episode in itself constitute a film? And what if you have a movie that’s 45 minutes long? We typically call that a short. But how different is that than a standalone episode of TV?
I’d argue that the Marvel franchise is essentially a mega-budget series. Both narratively and financially, these movies designed to fit together in a way that’s unusual for something that’s not based on a book like Harry Potter or The Hunger Games. The actors who signed on to Marvel committed to far more films (episodes) than typical.
Willimon says the biggest freedom he felt with House of Cards wasn’t the length of the episodes, but the length of the run:
There are still certain fundamental parameters. Our show still generally has to be around an hour because we still sell internationally to networks that will traditionally air it week-to-week with commercials sometimes. But I didn’t think about commercials or act breaks or anything like that.
I guess the biggest thing that affected the writing of our show was not releasing all 13 [episodes] at once—we didn’t know we were going to do that until about halfway through production of Season One. It was always a possibility, but a traditional week-to-week release was a possibility as well. So were other permutations between those two extremes. The biggest thing was knowing we had two seasons guaranteed. Because it meant I could think about something layered in early in Season One that might not boomerang back till the end of Season Two. It meant a much broader canvas, and not having to force arbitrary cliffhangers or frontload Season One for the sake of jacking ratings for the fight for one’s survival. It makes you think about story in a totally different way.
Craig and John get in your head to talk procrastination, pageorexia and generalized anxiety. They also move beyond the psychopathology to discuss all the changes in the industry, from cable mergers to lawsuits to disruptive technologies. You’re not as paranoid as you think you are.
John’s new app Weekend Read is in the App Store now, and free. So check it out.
The long-fabled crossover episode with Nerdist Writers Panel is happening April 13th at 5pm. Tickets are $15, and will sell out, so get on that. Link below.
- Generalized anxiety disorder on Wikipedia
- Get your tickets now for the Nerdist/Scriptnotes Live Crossover episode on April 13th at Nerdmelt, with proceeds benefiting 826LA
- The Office and the writers junction are both open
- Weekend Read in the App Store
- Christian Bale gets upset on set (very NSFW language)
- Why Writers Are the Worst Procrastinators by Megan McArdle in The Atlantic
- Freedom for Mac
- Comcast/Time Warner deal will face antitrust hurdles
- The Aereo lawsuit on Upstart
- McMurdo Research Station in Antarctica
- The Fog Horn
- Ellen Page’s coming out speech at HRC’s Time to Thrive conference
- Wallace Matthews on Derek Jeter announcing 2014 will be his final season, and Jeter’s career on Baseball-Reference.com
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Kim Atle
The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Argh! Ah! My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, Episode 130, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Now, Craig, last week there was some controversy and both you and I got sucked into it. So, I feel like maybe we should just start off with this and just get a clean slate here. Okay?
John: So, this happened on February 3. Justin Marks, who is a screenwriter and colleague of both of ours — a friend actually — he tweeted something. He tweeted this: Screenwriters, use two spaces after a period, unless you’re writing scripts in Times New Roman which means you’re not a screenwriter.
So, Craig, I ask you, do you use one space or two spaces after a period?
Craig: One space.
John: Yeah. And so I feel like I am complicit in this controversy that has happened because Justin actually cited that I had said two spaces after a period, which is in fact true.
Craig: But what year was that? [laughs]
John: That was in 2005.
John: So, in 2005 I made a blog post about how to change, basically saying that mono space fonts like Courier traditionally use two spaces after a period. Everything else — everything else — should be one space after the period.
John: But mono space faces use two spaces after the period. Even back in 2005 I said it’s not a must, I’m just saying it’s a thing that you can do.
Now, if a person were really carefully observing of my behavior they would notice that if you look through the script library at johnaugust.com at a certain point I actually switched to a single space after the period. And even you and I on the podcast have discussed it. I looked it up and in 2012 on episode 65 we actually talked about the fact that I was sort of leaning more towards using a single space.
But the truth is I have to sort of come out and say this: like most American screenwriters my feelings have evolved and I have become a single-spacer.
Craig: Mine too. I learned how to type in high school on a Brother electric typewriter. It wasn’t even the kind of electric typewriter that stored any of the words. It was just more of a clack-clack electric typewriter.
John: Did it have a little tiny display before you hit the thing, or just straight to paper?
Craig: No, nothing. Straight to paper. It was a disaster and also, therefore, a great way to learn how to type because it really forced you to learn properly.
And in 1985 I was taught two spaces. It took me awhile to get out of the two space habit because I am a touch typer, but I did. And there is absolutely no call for it. Most screenplays I read are one space. It seems very weird now to see something with two spaces. It’s old school. It’s unnecessary. I think it look worse. And Justin Marks is just wrong. He’s wrong!
John: [laughs] I won’t go so far as to say that Justin Marks is wrong. Or, actually, no, I’ll say he’s wrong in the sense that to be declaratory that it should be a certain way is wrong.
John: If he chooses to still use the two spaces, the world is not going to come crashing to an end. But, I would encourage you if you are not set one way or the other way to just use the single space, because for everything you’re doing in your life a single space will go great. It will look fine in Courier.
And here’s what actually pushed me over the edge is when we were working on Courier Prime, the type face of Courier that looks better than sort of normal Courier, we sort of put the punctuation in a place that looked really good with a single space after it.
Craig: Good. Good.
John: So, I would just encourage you to try single space and you probably won’t ever go back. And it’s sort of like when you stop smoking, I suspect, that you’ll suddenly notice other people smoking a lot. You will start to notice double spaces that annoy you to some degree.
Craig: You never smoked.
John: I never smoked. But you did.
Craig: Yeah. You don’t know what you’re talking about. [laughs]
John: If people go back to the early episodes of Scriptnotes you can hear Craig smoking while we are recording the show.
Craig: Well, I never smoked cigarettes while we were –
John: Oh, you did your little e-cigarettes.
Craig: My e-cigarettes. Yes. But that’s not smoking either.
John: So, one last tip, if you make your change midway through a script or if you’re going back to an old script that you’ve double spaced, the simple solution, of course, is to do a find/replace. Just do Find “period-space-space” and just swap it out for “period-space.” Run that through a couple times. You’ll get rid of all the double spacing and you’ll be happy.
Craig: You will, in fact, be happy.
I think it’s better looking, and you’re right, two spaces isn’t going to end the world, but certainly you can’t go on record with something as outrageous as the suggestion that two spaces is preferable and one space is verboten. Not true.
John: Not true. It reminds me of Animal Farm. If you remember that the animals, when they took over, they said like two legs bad, four legs good. And then, of course, they end up manipulate itself so that two legs were better because the pigs started walking on their back feet.
So, I’m just basically saying, “Justin Marks don’t be a pig.” Or, maybe I’m the pig in the example. It really wasn’t a well thought out example.
Craig: No. This was McKenna-like in its clumsy analogy with nature.
John: [laughs] I’m a squirrel in a rocket ship headed towards thieves.
Today on the show we obviously have to talk some Final Draft follow up.
John: Because that was just a thing that happened.
Craig: That’s what everybody thought you were talking about when you said we got sucked into a controversy.
John: So, we want to talk about that. I want to talk about writing in public spaces, because it’s something I’ve had to do a lot this week. I want to talk about keeping your hero in the driver seat of your story. I had sent you this link to this blog post, this sort of regular column by Heather Havrilesky which I thought was just great because it was really talking about being in the driver’s seat but in real life.
We have a question that I haven’t even sent you yet but I’ll just read it and you’ll have a great answer for it.
John: We have people suing Tom Cruise for a billion dollars.
Craig: This is a big show.
John: It’s a big show. I want to talk about this thing called Time Tailor which I didn’t even tell you about but you will be annoyed when I tell you what it is.
Craig: Oh, good.
John: And so it’s a big show. We’ve got a lot to do here.
Craig: Big show.
Well, I guess we should start with Final Draft. We had an interview last week, or we welcomed as our guests on the show two gentlemen from Final Draft, one of whom was and is in fact the CEO of Final Draft.
John: That was Marc Madnick.
Craig: Marc Madnick.
John: And then Joe Jarvis who’s the Final Draft Chief, sort of, he’s the person who is the product manager of Final Draft and I think does more of the technical stuff.
Craig: How would you say — I’ve been looking around at Reddit and Twitter.
John: I haven’t actually seen you on Reddit but I heard through Stuart that you have actually been engaging with people on Reddit which is really dangerous, Craig.
Craig: It is? I mean, it’s in Reddit Screenwriting, not in Reddit, I don’t know, [laughs], whatever else Reddit.
John: Well, Reddit is nothing but timely threads. No, maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s good you’re engaging.
Craig: I mean, I’ve only posted a few things. Everyone has been very polite. What’s the feedback that you’ve sensed from the interview that we did?
John: People have written to say that it was incredibly uncomfortable to listen to.
John: Which it was uncomfortable to be in that room. So, I’d like to sort of paint the scene and sort of what happened when we did that. We were sitting around a folding table in our little office set with like two towels on the table to sort of muffle some sound. And I was manning the board, poorly, for the four microphones, which we’d just gotten the four microphones up and working.
As it turned out me and Joe Jarvis, we didn’t really need microphones because we weren’t going to be doing very much talking.
John: It was mostly going to be Marc and Craig and I knew that it was mostly going to be mostly Marc and Craig which is why I sort of sensed that my role would be the let’s make sure no one flips the table over. That was my function to sort of calm things down.
And I didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to challenge him on certain things that I thought were not entirely accurate because things were actually already pretty tense in that room.
Craig: They were a bit tense. But they were…I guess I would say they were civil-tense. In other words, everything was about Final Draft and about the product and how they conduct their business. I don’t think that Mr. Madnick did himself many favors, frankly.
You know, anyone can do what they want when they come on a show like our show and talk about what they have to talk about. I was really surprised, honestly surprised. I expected that he… — If it were me I would have come on the show and say, “Look, let me just be humble about this. Let me listen to your complaints and let me address them in that spirit,” because no company does everything right and certainly Final Draft hasn’t done everything right, and then kind of work back to a place of, “But here’s how we’re trying to get better.”
Not really the case. He was pretty defensive, I thought.
John: He was sort of more the Ballmer mode, the Microsoft Ballmer Chief, the “I know this is the right thing” kind of mode, versus the responsive way. Evernote, which is a product I use, the CEO or the president or whatever it was sort of very recently said like, “Listen, we know that our syncing and a lot of our services have slowed down a lot. We’re not satisfied and this is what we’re doing to fix it.”
John: That wasn’t what I heard from him. I didn’t hear that he was responding to things. He was more sort of just defending what had happened.
Craig: Yeah. And you know a lot of the feedback that I saw on the interwebs following the posting of our show commented on his reliance on a couple of talking points, one of which was they had 40 employees, which I’m not sure is particularly relevant.
Craig: One of which was –
John: Well, I would like to parse one second for 40 employees, because does 40 employees mean that you’re a giant or you’re small? Because I think to almost everybody listening were like, “Wow, you have 40 employees?” That felt so much bigger. And to him it’s like, “We’re a small company. We’ve got 40 employees.” And so it was a weird disconnect in terms of what I think — he didn’t seem to have a very good sense of who the listenership of the show was.
Craig: I agree, particularly when one co-host of the show has his own software company that puts out very good apps and I believe you have three employees.
Craig: The proprietor of Final Draft I believe has one employee, himself. I think WriterDuet is two guys. This is sort of the way things are going. So, I think you’re right. There was a disconnect there. And there’s a question of how many of those 40… — Well, part of the problem is then you start saying, “Well what are those 40 people doing?” And I think it’s probably true that the minority of them are actually coding software. And then, of course, what that means is many of them are doing other things like promotion, and marketing, and other stuff.
So, that talking point was repeated a lot. I’m not sure if it helped him, or his case. The other thing that people picked up on was that both gentlemen were essentially saying we’re old software and we’ve been out of date for a really long time, so you just have to — that’s why it took us a really long time to issue this fairly expensive upgrade that accomplished things that should have been accomplished awhile ago.
I’m not sure that’s a great defense either.
John: I would agree. And so Kent Tessman recently wrote a blog post talking about sort of his experience as a software developer listening to this episode and sort of working through sort of point by point. And so do you want to walk through what Kent wrote about it, because I think that might be a useful start.
Craig: Yeah, so he makes some really good points here. And in the moment it was kind of hard, you know, I had to sort of battle to get in there. Marc is certainly an impressive talker, you know. I mean, I think I’m an — impressive meaning volume. So, you know, we couldn’t get into anything, nor could we rebut point by point. But, also, I’m not a software developer and Kent is, and so he had some interesting comments to make about the things that the Final Draft folks were saying.
First, Retina. So, we brought up the point that Final Draft 8 was not Retina-compatible, nor did they release a Retina-compatible patch. You had to wait I think it was the four years. Was it four years?
John: It wasn’t four years. It was essentially 14 or 18 months after the Retina –
Craig: Between 8 and 9?
John: Yeah, but no, essentially Retina became available and it was 18 months later that they actually supported it.
Craig: So a year and a half.
Craig: And it was considered a feature of their $100 upgrade. And his point was, hey, you can’t say that Apple somehow shocked you in a way that nobody else was shocked. Every software developer is in the same boat, particularly guys that are smaller than the 40 employee shop. And what he did was he said all he did was just go into a thing called Quartz Debug and there’s a Graphics Tools folder and he turned on the “Simulate high DPI text demagnification” and, voila, he was able to… — He said he went over to Best Buy, downloaded the Fade In demo on a Retina MacBook that was there on display and it looked great.
So, why couldn’t they have done that? Well, the problem he says is not that they were somehow surprised by Retina. The problem is that they’re using not just old code but nearly ancient code.
John: Yes. He’s saying they’re specifically using QuickDraw techniques which were really from ancient Macintoshes to sort of do all the screen rendering. And specifically Kent is saying that likely in order to — every build they were doing, every time they opened up X code to actually build Final Draft they were getting these warnings saying, like, “You’re using things we don’t let you use anymore, you should switch to newer libraries.”
John: And they didn’t and they couldn’t because everything else was dependent upon it.
Craig: Yes. So, QuickDraw goes back to the ’80s. And I’m a Mac-head, so I remember QuickDraw being a thing that they were promoting in the ’80s. But I also remember that when Mac OS X rolled out around 2000, 2001, that one of the things that they were really proud of was this Quartz technology and how — it’s the thing that allows print to look better, everything, the graphics/guts of the system software had been upgraded. And this is really — this has been around for a long time.
And one thing that’s puzzling, but more frustrating than puzzling is that Final Draft sat there knowing full well for decades that they were using deprecated software and they didn’t do anything about it. And they didn’t do anything about it because they didn’t have to. And that’s just poor planning. I’m sorry, it’s poor planning.
So, then for them to say, “Oh my god, we suddenly had to rewrite everything.” Well, you didn’t suddenly have to rewrite everything. You only suddenly had to do it when finally it seemed clear that you could no longer drive your Edsel down the freeway.
Craig: So, that was an interesting point. He also makes the point that for Windows users this upgrade is even less valuable than the upgrade for the Mac people because they don’t even get the Retina stuff, or the full screen. He also points out that Unicode, which is something that they’re talking about jumping on the bandwagon with, this newfangled Unicode is something that has been available for 25 plus years.
John: Yes. So, let’s talk about what Unicode is. So, Unicode is a way of representing character sets, so languages, the glyphs of languages, letters that go beyond sort of a standard small roman subset of characters. And it becomes incredibly important for international support. So, if you’re going to be writing scripts in other languages, Unicode is what you need to be able to use in order to render those letters or characters in some cases on the screen. And they still don’t have it.
And it’s one of those things that essentially you get free in Macintosh right now. Like if you write any sort of text editing program that’s not a thing that you have to sort of carefully wrestle with and bake in. It comes free. The challenge is that everything you’ve done up until this point hasn’t used it. And so for Final Draft they have to sort of just do everything differently because it’s not the way they’ve been doing it. And yet it’s not that hard. And it was frustrating for me to hear Marc Madnick to hear sort of how their international users and all this stuff and how they’re doing all this stuff around the world.
And it’s like, well, how are people using your app? Are they only writing scripts in English? Because with Unicode support it’s going to be much more challenging for a writer in Greek to be using your app.
Craig: Yeah. There’s really no excuse. The only excuse is, well, it’s not our focus. Our focus is to market our software, to market our competitions, and to make our deal with Writers Guild, and advertise. But to not feature something that’s over a quarter century old, which in computer terms means is 14 million years old is mind-boggling.
John: And to be fair, Unicode could be 25 years old. It doesn’t mean that everything was Unicode 25 years ago. But like the standard has been out there and now it’s standard. It’s actually genuinely standard.
Craig: It is genuinely standard and it has been standard for awhile. Kent makes the point that Carbon and Cocoa were meant to sort of work simultaneously but that moving to Cocoa isn’t something that people just recently decided is something they ought to do. It’s something that basically they’ve been aware they had to do, they should do, for what, ten years? I mean, that sounds –
John: That sounds about right. It’s essentially like the doctor says at some point you’re going to need to have this surgery. And, yeah, yeah, but I’m not going to do it this year. I’m going to wait another year. And so like you’re wearing down your joints and suddenly, “Doctor, I can’t move.” Well, yeah, you needed to have this surgery ten years ago. You needed to go and do this and now this is the repercussions of this.
Craig: Right. So, suddenly you can’t make the easy fix to have Retina. I don’t know if this is what impacted their application of Unicode, although I doubt it since Unicode pre-dates Cocoa. I doubt it.
And lastly, I’ll just pull up this point. You should read his — he has a very thoughtful piece here — but the last thing he mentions is Fountain. And there’s an exchange that occurs where Joe says, you know, “Fountain is not something that we support but it’s something that we could easily do.” And I said, “So then do it.” [laughs]
You know? And this is something where Kent says, “Fountain is something that they could implement in an afternoon.”
Craig: And why aren’t they? And answer certainly can’t be lack of manpower. And I doubt it’s lack of interest. I think they’re not doing it because they are internally, I believe, it’s my opinion, see a defensive position in the proprietary nature of their code, or their format rather, their file format. They don’t want it to be easily translatable between other software programs. But, too bad, it is. And “we have a proprietary format” — that’s a mountain that so many companies have died on. Why would you want to be another one?
John: Yeah. I think that really comes down to my central frustration of their defense of sort of what they do. And it comes down to early on in the exchange Marc Madnick says, “We’re the only company that does pagination right.” And that statement really reveals sort of how he perceives his company. Because he built Final Draft because he got frustrated with sort of how hard it was to do his screenwriting, but he had this vision that a page is a page is a page, and it’s a minute per page, and I think he genuinely believes — and I think the company genuinely believes — that one page of screenplay is one minute of screen time. Not just a rule of thumb. I think it’s like a fundamentalism.
John: I think they genuinely deeply in their bones believe that that’s how it is and that therefore maintaining that one page — maintaining that page on the Mac being a page on the iPad being a page on the PC, you know, no matter which platform you’re opening on that file will still open exactly the same way — is the fundamental thing that they think they do right and do better than anyone else can. And they believe that their one way of doing it is the precise right way.
Now, like any sort of fundamentalism there are really easy ways you can sort of poke that belief which is, well, if that’s true then why are you letting people set like tight or loose spacing?
John: Why are you letting people touch the margins at all? So, it gives lie to the idea that this rule of thumb is anything more than just the Crassus rule of thumb. And, of course, we are writers. We recognize that if I write “Atlanta burns” that’s not –
Craig: Yeah, that’s not a minute.
John: That’s four minutes of screen time in one sentence. So, but I genuinely think he believes that. And so I can understand from his perspective that pagination is the most important thing. And understanding that he believes that pagination is the most important thing, Fountain is an incredibly frustrating thing for them to deal with because pagination is fixed. Pagination is sort of how things are going to be when they’re printed on paper. And I think Final Draft is still fundamentally concerned about getting stuff onto paper.
John: And so while they’ve been able to generate PDFs, they really still think about printing stuff out and they want stuff to print in the exact same page breaks and everything like that to be the same.
But, file formats and sort of the editable file formats are not fundamentally fixed that way. They’re fluid. And so FDX, which is the format that they use, is an XML format and doesn’t have any sense inherently of where the page breaks are. I know this for a fact because we deal with FDX all the time. And the only way that Final Draft is getting their page breaks to be the same way every time is by some really kludgy methods.
And so they sort of brute force it to fit onto a certain page and then if they have to do it on a PC that’s why they have Courier Final Draft which is a sort of made up font they have that is different on the PC, works differently on the PC than it does on the Mac so that all the words will end in the same place basically.
John: So it’s this really kludgy way of doing it. So, both Fountain and Courier Prime are big annoyances to them because it means the one thing they think they’re really good at isn’t important anymore.
Craig: Yeah, it struck me — it’s so funny when he said that this was their thing, that this was what set them apart and this was their obsession as a company. I was shocked because it’s not mine.
Craig: And I’m a screenwriter. This is supposed to be for me. Yeah, sure, I want a document that I’m writing on my Mac to have the same page breaks if somebody else opens that same document with the same software on their PC. Absolutely. And in that case Final Draft accomplishes that and so does Fade In.
They’ve extended that fetish to their app for iOS. Now, interestingly their app for iOS, another thing Kent points out is that they initially released it as Final Draft Reader. It was read-only, not write, and cost $20. And it was buggy. And then later they dropped the price from $19.99 to zero for Reader and then created the Read-Write app which I guess has a fee connected to it. Which isn’t great business practice to basically charge $20 to your early adopters and then go, “Eh, now it’s free.”
But either way I certainly don’t need my iPad to have precise pagination like that. And I was wrong. In the thing I said, oh, the iPad app for Fade In does that. It doesn’t have any pagination. You just read it. Because, as Kent said, you can tell who’s not a screenwriter on set? It’s the guy with the iPad. Either way, for me pagination is not this holy grail of things. That’s so ’90s to me.
John: It is. And I think it reinforces that obsession that you see in sort of beginning screenwriting books, too, which is that like this thing needs to happen by this page.
John: And that obsession about that kind of thing — that’s not actually writing. And that’s the thing that I think I felt more than anything else is that they fundamentally believe this as a way to write a script. They believe this as a way to paginate a script. And I think they’ve sort of forgotten about the actual writing process. So, I did a video awhile back about why I like writing in Fountain. And one of the things I really stressed is that because you’re not thinking about like where the margins are you can actually just sort of focus on what the words are.
And I don’t think Final Draft has focused on the words for really quite a long time.
Craig: I agree. And this, I guess, I know they’re listening. This is my big advice.
John: I’m not sure they’re listening, but I think they’re going to read the transcript after it’s transcribed.
Craig: Fair enough. My big advice is to not — whatever resources you’re expending on developing your software, first of all I would increase them and maybe decrease some of the other stuff, Yeah, I guess I’m saying spend a little more on R&D. Sorry. I understand you’re not in business to go out of business — we heard that a lot. I don’t think spending more on R&D will push you out of business. I’m guessing you guys are in a low margin business, particularly because you’ve been charging premium prices for legacy software for well over a decade, nearly two decades now.
But I would say design. Concentrate on design and features and have less of an obsession over pagination. Pagination doesn’t matter. When you go into production the first AD and the line producer sit down with the screenplay and they start to break it down. And they break it down by content. They don’t care.
That’s why — they always catch you anyway, first of all. If you ever try and fiddle with kerning, or line spacing, or margins. They’re going to catch you anyway. And they read it and they’re experienced. They know how the words will translate into days and they start carving things up by day. And that is entirely about content. It is not about pagination.
That is a weird, weird hill to die on.
John: I agree. The last thing, you mentioned it briefly while they were there, but I think it’s worth everyone sort of taking a look at and I’ll put a link up to it, too. You mentioned QuarkXPress, which I thought was such a great example of a software that was completely disrupted by a newcomer. And I think they could be QuarkXPress. And they could essentially become marginalized by someone else just doing their thing better. And so in the case of QuarkXPress it was Adobe who came in with InDesign. It’s like, oh wow, it does all the stuff we need to do and it was just better.
And it wasn’t better at the start, but ultimately it was better and it got disrupted. And I just feel like it was fascinating to be conducting a roundtable interview thing with a company that I don’t think really understood that their whole world was being disrupted.
Craig: I agree. I don’t think they get it. I think part of the problem frankly is, and I’m happy to say this to Marc, and he’s invited us to go visit them. I think he’s the wrong CEO for this company.
John: I agree.
Craig: He’s not the guy that wrote the software. That’s Ben Cahan. So, he’s not the technical guy. And he’s not a screenwriter. And I wouldn’t expect him to be. So, then what is he? I think what he is is a very, very good promoter. A very good marketer. But that’s not enough anymore. And particularly because the CEO isn’t connected to the technological underpinnings of the product he’s selling, when he’s talking about it you can tell — first of all, how does he even keep his own guys accountable?
John: I don’t know. I mean, there’s a thing in software developing called “Dog Fooding” which is basically you have to eat your own dog food. And because I sense that most of them were not screenwriters, I don’t think they were using Final Draft to write screenplays and therefore had no sense of what that was. But refresh my memory. I don’t think they were actively involved in the screenwriting, sorry, in the software development world either because they’re just not making choices everyone else would have made five years ago.
Craig: Right. I think that’s right. And I think if what he has been promoting from the top down is pagination, pagination, pagination above all, well no wonder things like, I don’t know, like the fact that their dual dialogue system is ridiculous and clumsy, or the general design of the program looks ugly, or the amount of time it takes in between updates. All that stuff falls away.
The fact that they don’t have a proper way for two people in two separate places to collaborate at the same time on a shared document, that should be — that’s what they should obsess over, to the exclusion of everything else. That’s all –
John: I agree.
Craig: That would — if they solved that, and legitimately solved it, I would think that they could survive.
John: Yeah, I agree.
Craig: But, you know, hey, look, he thinks that we’re nuts. Look, right now they’re like, “Eh, we own 95% of the market. Bring it on.” I remember that –
John: We’ll see if in two years, in five years, if they’re 95% of the market. We’ll see.
Craig: Well, I remember when the iPhone came out Ballmer said, “Right now Windows supports 60% of the phones that are being sold,” or something, and “Apple sold nothing.” Well, let’s see where they are in 18 months. Well, there they are.
John: There they are.
Craig: There they are.
John: Moving on.
Craig: Moving on!
John: Next thing. I want to talk about writing in public spaces. So, this last week we’ve had WGA contract negotiation, and while I can’t talk about the substance of what’s happened in the rooms there I can say that like you described it is sort of like jury duty in that there’s a lot of downtime. And so there’s a lot of time where I’m just sitting in rooms with a bunch of other writers. And it’s very tempting to just like trade war stories. Like Carl Gottlieb is right across the table from me.
But I’ve been actually just working. I’ve actually put in my headphones and started working. So, I want to talk a little bit about writing in public spaces because I didn’t grow up writing in coffee shops. Did you? Did you write in public spaces or did you always go someplace quiet?
Craig: No. No. I always just found a little, even when I had — I was sharing a tiny apartment with my then girlfriend now wife. I would just find a little corner.
John: So, I think we are sort of the exceptions to the rule. Most — my belief is that many aspiring screenwriters have found themselves out in public spaces and that’s where they feel naturally sort of drawn towards writing.
So, I’ve been one of those people increasingly I would say over the time, partly because of Big Fish. I’ve just been in New York so much. And that process of sticking in your headphones, staring at your screen, and just being someplace else.
What I’ve found — I mostly like it. And what’s so interesting about the process is that whether you’re alone in your office or you are in a public space, ultimately you put yourself wherever those characters are. And so you put yourself in the scene of where those people are.
John: And that can be a really great thing. The challenge for me I find is I have to find exactly the right music or other sort of noise to drown out everyone else around me talking. I have to remind myself not to try to jump right into writing the scene but to sort of give myself some notes about what it is.
So, I find myself writing fragments of things. Like not even really an outline of a scene, but these are things that happen. This is ways to start. And just really sort of visualizing the different ways the scene can sort of get started and get going.
It’s really been kind of a great week. I’ve gotten much more down this week than I would have predicted because I’ve just sort of been forced to be outside of my normal environment where I have all of the distractions of my big computer. I’m just at this one table surrounded by other people. And Susannah Grant is right behind me and she’s just pounding away. So, it’s been a great week for me.
Craig: I think that’s the part, occasionally if I feel jammed up not creatively but jammed up motivationally I will occasionally take a road trip down the street. And I’ll sit outside the cigar shop and work or I’ll go over to the Coffee Bean. For that reason. You are now accountable to everybody that’s around you.
First of all, I love that everybody thinks I’m just some guy, [laughs], that’s wasting his whatever meager money he has chasing a stupid dream of being a screenwriter. I actually like that. It reminds me of what it was like when I was 21 and starting out. And I like the fact that I have to write. I can’t just sit there and stare at the screen. I’ll look like an idiot.
And porn is totally out of the question.
John: Absolutely. Public space. You can’t get away with any of that stuff.
Craig: Can’t get away with porn at the Coffee Been. Well, some people might be able to.
John: But you can’t get away with a game either. If you’re just sitting at the coffee shop and you’re playing a stupid game then you’re clearly not doing work.
Craig: By being in a public space you put yourself — you begin to play the role of professional screenwriter or screenwriter.
John: I think that that’s a crucial thing. There used to be a place and I think it’s closed now but it was called The Office.
John: And it was just a place that basically rented workstations and you’d just go like you were going to the office. And literally it was a place for screenwriters or other writers could go and work and be in a public work environment. It just changes your perspective in terms of, like, I am in work mode. I’m not in home mode. And that can be an incredibly useful thing.
So, I was already sort of in work mode because I couldn’t wear jeans and a hoodie to the negotiations, so it was forcing me more into that zone.
Craig: Yeah. Any tactic that gets you to write more and write better is a worthy tactic short of hurting yourself or others.
John: Or addiction.
Craig: I include addiction as hurting yourself.
John: That’s true. That’s a fair thing.
So, one of the things I was working on this week, I had the revelation — which I’ve had the same revelation 15 times, but every time I have it it’s like, oh, that’s right, I forgot this thing that I remembered from before. I was really having a hard time getting the scene short enough. And I recognized that I had a minor character who was doing a lot of talking and sort of setting up the story and I remembered like, oh that’s right, you’re a minor character I don’t care about at all. You should not be driving this scene at all.
And once I sort of demoted him and said like, no, you’re not allowed to say many things because you’re not the hero of the story, the whole scene changed. So, in general I just want to — it was reminded to me and I’m reminded that we had talked about on the podcast is to keep your hero in the driver seat of the scene. And occasionally you will encounter scenes where like the hero is not in charge of the scene. But almost always the hero needs to be taking the focus of what’s happening on screen at a given moment.
Craig: No question. Obviously we’ve come to this story because we’re interested in how the hero is going to develop, and change, and deal with his enemies, deal with the world around her, whatever it is. But let’s also point out most of the time your hero, if your movie gets made, is your movie star. And don’t you want to see the movie… — The word we would always use, I remember when I started working on movies with David Zucker. He would always caution against giving good jokes to day players.
Day players are actors that are there for a day. So, you have a scene where somebody walks into, Harrison Ford walks into a Starbucks and asks for coffee and the woman behind the counter has a couple of lines with him. That’s a day player. Well, don’t give the good stuff to the day players. Generally speaking your movie star will be better and even if they’re not people want to watch the movie star anyway.
John: It reminds me a little bit of — so, this last weekend we had a second session of this D&D game that we’re playing, Dungeon World, and one of the rules of Dungeon World, one of the reminders of Dungeon World is make characters take the action. The Game Master doesn’t take the action, the characters take the action. And sometimes that’s really challenging when you’re facing like a monster or something. It’s like I feel like I want to roll an attack role for the monster, but I’m not supposed to.
John: I’m supposed to let you guys as the players, the heroes, do the work and if your attack fails then I hit you. But if your attack succeeds then you’re the winner. And it’s a very good reminder that the heroes, you guys, are supposed to be the ones who are in charge of the narrative and in charge of the story.
That doesn’t mean that everything should go your hero’s way. Not at all. It just means that they should be the ones who you are following. What they’re trying to do should be the focus of the scene, not them being rebuffed or what the other character is trying to do.
Craig: And here’s an example that comes to mind of how you can do this — sorry, I’m fighting a little cold over here.
John: Both of us.
Craig: How you can do this even when you’re in a scene where your character, your hero, isn’t saying anything. Two other people are having a conversation or one other person is imparting information, opining, philosophizing, but you want your hero to drive it.
Scene that comes to mind: in The Godfather Michael decides he’s going to go and kill Sollozzo in the Italian restaurant. And he goes into the bathroom, finds the gun that’s been stashed for him. Comes back. Sits down.
For the next probably 40 seconds or so Sollozzo rambles, rambles on in Italian about why Michael should make a deal, why this, why that, and the entire time he’s talking we’re on Michael’s face and he’s thinking to himself. Do I do this? Should I do this? Am I capable of doing this? I’m going to do this. And then he does it.
John: If he didn’t have the gun that scene would be a completely different scene. It wouldn’t be his scene.
Craig: Correct. And I like that there are always ways to contextualize stuff through your hero. There are a lot of scenes where your hero is wandering into a room and they know less than everybody around them. Great. Don’t just shower the guy with information because then the information givers are the ones driving the scene. Let him piece it together. Let him uncover it. Let him be distracted by something that’s important to him.
We’ll still get the information filtered through. But very good reminder from you, John August, to all of our listeners, to keep your hero in the driver’s seat.
John: This is a good segue to a piece of advice that I read on The Awl this last week which I thought was actually terrific.
So, a woman named Heather Havrilesky writes a column called Ask Polly. And it seems like very standard sort of like relationship advice questions except they’re really long questions. Because usually when you think about relationship advice questions it’s the Dear Abby length where it’s two paragraphs, it’s really brief, and then the person responds. It’s very common sense. It’s all very boilerplate.
What I love about the internet is that there’s no reason why the question has to be short. And so this woman writes in with a question that’s just endless, or a situation that’s endless. It’s not even really a question. It’s just like this is the situation I’ve gotten myself into. Please help.
And this one was particularly great. So, the one I’m going to link to in the show notes is called “I Moved To A New City To Be With An Emotional Vampire.”
John: Which is a good headline. But essentially this young woman describes the situation where she got into this long distance relationship with a guy who is fantastic. He was going to move to her. She ended up moving to his city. He still hadn’t broken up with his current girlfriend but eventually did, but then there was this other girl who was always still around. And it was sort of strange.
Every time she tried to confront him then it made her feel bad about things. And so she details it. And as you’re going through you’re like, “Oh my god, how can you not see what you’ve done? How can you not see what has happened to you?”
John: And why I bring this up is she is no longer in charge of her own narrative. She has taken herself out of the story of her life. She’s given this other guy — he has the important story and she’s like a bit player in his life rather than being the hero of her own life.
John: And so I thought Heather’s advice was fantastic essentially about, first of all, you’ve got to get away and you’ve got to fix yourself, but it’s useful I think to screenwriters for two reasons. First off to recognize that there’s real life people who make just terrible choices like this. And so she as a character is kind of fascinating — maddening but fascinating. But also if you were to write from one of your character’s perspective, if they were to write into an advice columnist what would they write? And what would the advice be given to them?
I thought it was just a great example of sort of how people and characters can lose control of their story.
Craig: Yeah. And this particular story was rough to read. The woman who answered said, “Go back and read what you just wrote.”
Craig: “And then you tell me how crazy does that sound.” Delusion is — I mean, now we’re just sadly exploiting this woman’s pain for fodder, but delusion and delusional behavior is a fascinating character trait and it is one of those things that does add very realistic texture to characters.
The trick is to make the delusion connected to something that we understand. And that usually is an emotion. True delusion, like schizophrenic delusion is boring, but delusional behavior and thinking that comes about as a result of fear, self-loathing, these things — we understand fear. We understand self-loathing. So, we can start to understand the delusion.
There is a way to understand how this woman got herself into that mess. That’s the fun of the screenwriter is putting your character in a mess that’s fascinating, and relatable and believable and then watching them wriggle out of it.
John: Yeah. I feel like the woman in this article who wrote in this letter, she would be a challenging character to have at the center of a feature, but she’d actually be a great character to be in like a one-hour drama.
If this character was going through this situation in a one-hour drama and like it wasn’t just her story but it was sort of her and the people around her, it would be fascinating because you can see why she made each of the individual choices, and yet having made that choice she is deeper and deeper and deeper to the point where she’s essentially like an addict who keeps going back for another hit of this thing.
And everyone around her must see what she’s done and she’s driven away everyone else who was a friend or could sort of help her out of this situation.
John: I would say, again, because she’s lost control of her narrative she’s not really the hero of a movie, but I thought she’s a great character within a bigger context.
Craig: I think you’re totally right about that. One of the things about delusional behavior like this is when you do read it as one long story from beginning to end the weight of the insanity and the bad choices overwhelm your connection with the person who made them. But if you watch them happen one by one then you’re with somebody as they just slowly sink into quicksand.
Craig: And that’s understandable.
John: It is very much understandable. On the topic of delusional behavior, let’s talk about the $1 billion lawsuit that was recently filed against Tom Cruise and Mission Impossible 3.
John: And so these happen all the time. And so whenever one of these things happen you and I both get tweets saying like somebody is suing about this and they stole his idea. It’s like, well first off, that’s just crazy town. No one stole his idea. And then when you actually read — we’ll put a link in the show notes, too.
Craig: It’s a good one. It’s a good one.
John: This complaint. Like he’s clearly representing himself and basically he saw the movie and he’s like, “Well that’s just like this script that I sent to William Morris eight years ago and therefore it was lifted from me.”
John: So, it’s delusional behavior. And so when you actually read through his, the plaintiff’s — what he’s arguing — it’s like, well, you have no understanding of sort of what copyright law. And I don’t want to slam on him, because I think he’s probably not entirely there.
Craig: All there.
John: The fact that no one is willing to even represent him or take his case means that there’s not a there there.
Craig: Generally speaking that, yeah, pro se litigants aren’t your strongest litigants. [laughs] Yeah.
John: But the delusional behavior, it’s real to him. And that’s, I think, one of the interesting things about him as a character is to him this really is a real thing that was stolen him. And he, at the center of his whole inner narrative, this is a wrong that was done to him. This movie that had come out that he finally watched on video it’s like, “Well, wait, that’s my movie.”
John: “Someone stole my idea for my movie even though it’s called Mission Impossible 3 and it’s basically the third element of a franchise.
Craig: The thing that jumped out for me from his complaint was that he seemed to feel that producing proof that he had written what he wrote was enough. Generally speaking in a complaint you need to actually show how the defendant has infringed on your unique expression and fixed form. He doesn’t even bother with that. He just shows that he envelopes and things.
By the way, I’ve read other complaints that did list alleged examples of infraction and I wasn’t really swayed by those either, or infringement I should say.
But, you know, here’s what goes on. I talk about this a lot of times when I’m talking to writers about the credit process. Sometimes the arbitration system, the Writers Guild credit arbitration system, just blows it. Sometimes they get it wrong.
I would say a good chunk of the time when writers are infuriated by the result the arbiters have gotten it right and that what’s going on this: I write a screenplay, I live it. I see it in my head. It is not only connected to the effort that I put in, but it is vivid to me. I have felt it.
So, that’s my entry into this. And so then somebody hands me another thing and I read it and I go, “Eh, this is just words. I’m just reading this.” There’s nothing else behind it but the reading. And so, yeah, I see all of these things that are connected to my incredibly vivid thing. But they’re not. They just seem that way.
Craig: We are tricked by the complete asynchronous nature of our experience of what we’ve written and what we read or watch. I can come up with 20 movies that have scenes that are very similar to the scenes that you’ve seen in Mission Impossible, whichever the one he’s complaining about, because it’s an action movie with a secret agent in it.
John: Yeah. I often call it silent evidence. The sense that you’re seeing these two things and you see them like, well these two things are similar so therefore they must be related. One is the cause of the other.
John: But you’re disregarding all of the other things that are similar to those two things which would indicate like, oh, it’s actually just a very common idea.
John: And so let’s take Pitch Perfect. Let’s take a movie where it’s about a singing competition or a girl joins a singing competition in college. And so let’s say I wrote a script about a girl who joins a singing competition in college and then I see Pitch Perfect. I’m like, “They stole my idea.” Well, if I’m only looking at those two examples I would say like, well, that feels kind of true. The best defense against that to me would be if someone presented 12 other scripts that were written at the same time that were about singing competitions at college.
And if were shown those other 12 scripts I would say like, “Oh, well, I guess other people had kind of similar ideas. It wasn’t stolen from all of these things. It was idea that was out there.”
John: And then I would stop and think like, “Oh, you know what? I guess I did read that article in someplace about singing competitions. Or I guess I was in college and I did go in competitions. I guess there were other people who were in choirs, too.”
And you start to realize, “Oh, you know what? The whole universe does not revolve around me and my ideas.”
Craig: Ah-ha. Your ideas are not as unique as you thought. And, frankly, a lot of this stuff that these people are complaining about being stolen isn’t property that can be stolen anyway. For instance, there is — I can’t remember the name — but there was a movie that came out in the wake of the Karate Kid’s success. And it featured the guy who did Tae Bo. Remember Tae Bo?
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: So, he’s a fitness trainer and he kind of invested this fusion exercise martial arts thing called Tae Bo.
John: I have a hunch that Stuart Friedel, our illustrious editor of the podcast, probably has a whole bunch of like Tae Bo stuff, because that feels like the kind of thing that he’d focus on.
Craig: Billy Blanks I think was his name.
John: I think you’re right.
Craig: And so after the Karate Kid’s success somebody went and made a movie where Billy Blanks played a janitor at a high school, just a humble janitor, and there’s this kid who’s just been — he’s a new arrival to the school and he’s getting beaten up by the bullies in the school.
John: Well that’s just terrible.
Craig: Yeah. And he’s really into this girl but she’s dating one of the bullies and what is he going to do. And one day when he’s getting beaten up the janitor pops out of the janitor closet, whoops everyone’s ass with Tae Bo, and then says I’ll teach you Tae Bo.
Well, you know, [laughs], you could say, “Well, oh my god, they’ve stolen Karate Kid.” No. They haven’t. And people don’t understand what is protectable and what isn’t. Ideas aren’t protectable. Tropes, character archetypes, these things are not protectable. And Karate Kid didn’t invent that stuff either anyway. It’s the specifics that are protectable. And, frankly, it’s the specifics that are the value. There’s a reason that the Billy Blanks Tae Bo movie wasn’t a big hit.
And there’s a reason that Karate Kid was, because Karate Kid is a better movie. It’s way better, you know.
John: Craig, that’s the most controversial stand you’ve taken today.
Craig: Thank you. [laughs] So, I just feel like people don’t even understand how this stuff works. Anyway, here’s an example. A couple of women are suing the folks who created New Girl, The New Girl, the sitcom.
John: Oh yeah. I remember seeing that lawsuit, too.
Craig: Yeah. And I read the complaint.
John: A girl moves in with three guys? That’s a revolutionary idea.
Craig: As if that’s something you can even own. But regardless of that, one of the examples that they cite of infringement is they have a character named Cece and in The New Girl there is a character whose initials are C.C. but doesn’t go by C.C. So, it’s like Catherine Cummings. And then they’re like, “Get? C.C. Get it?”
Well, that’s just delusional. Why would somebody who — think about it. The whole premise of a lawsuit is you intentionally stole my stuff. If I’m intentionally stealing your stuff why would I be encoding references to your stuff that are unnecessary to put in, to leave a breadcrumb trail back to my crime? It’s just bizarre.
John: So, what caused me anger about this and why I sort of want to address it with the Tom Cruise, but especially now with The New Girl, is that it creates this pall, this shadow over an original expression. So, Mission Impossible 3, fine, it’s a sequel that made a billion dollars. But the idea that Liz Meriwether copied somebody else’s script to create The New Girl is just absurd and I don’t want to say it’s like libelous, but it’s kind of libelous, honestly. Because I know Liz, I know what she did. That was incredibly difficult. She’s an established playwright. She did this thing that was great.
John: And for someone to say like, “Well, she clearly stole it from me,” it’s like, no. And I feel like the good sound evidence thing could come into pass which basically like let’s pull up all the pilots from the three years surrounding The New Girl that have guys and girls as roommates. And you’re going to see so many similarities in general because it’s guys and girls living in a house together.
Craig: How many metric tons of pilot scripts exist prior to whatever those women wrote and whatever Liz wrote where a woman was living with three guys, or a guy was living with three women?
It’s a sitcom. For the love of god, I mean, it’s like –
John: It’s Three’s Company.
Craig: Yeah, it’s Three’s Company! [laughs] You know, it’s like come on! That’s not why people watch that show. People don’t watch that show because –
John: It’s execution.
Craig: Yes! Thank you. Nobody tunes in because, oh my god, they’re doing it again this week! She’s still living with three guys! Oh my god!
That has nothing to do with the value of the show. It’s so weird to me. That the initials are the same? Just none of that makes any sense to me at all. And, you’re right, it does cast a pall. And frankly it puts studios in this awful position of constantly, constantly having to waste attorney hours knocking away these Looney Tunes lawsuits. Even in The New Girl lawsuit they cite the fact that the studio offered them ten grand to go away.
John: Yeah. Because ultimately and frustratingly that’s what they do because I’ve been… — It would cost them more to try to fight it.
Craig: It would cost them so much more to try and fight it. When they offer you $10,000 what they’re saying is, “Oh my god, you will never win, because if you turn down our $10,000 we’re willing to spend $5 million because you’re that wrong.”
Craig: Ugh, so annoying.
John: The other annoying thing I want to point out this week which I didn’t even spring on you because I didn’t know this even existed until a friend pointed this out and said that this is something that she was facing on a show that she was working on.
So, it’s a thing called Time Tailor. Have ever heard of Time Tailor?
John: So, it’s a TV thing that will horrify you. So, essentially what it is, it’s a service. And so if you are doing a one-hour drama or a half-hour show, after you’re done, you’re locked, color timed, everything is perfect, you think you’re ready to go to broadcast, the network takes that episode and they give it to this service called Time Tailor.
What Time Tailor does — I’m looking at their website which I’ll put a link to the show notes — “It reduces run times up to 10%, all without deleting scenes or alternating original content virtually undetectable to the viewer. Single pass repurposing makes a clean copy of your program with sophisticated digitizing to scan every single frame, then redundant fields are removed and adjacent fields are blended.”
So, essentially they’re snipping out scenes, or not scenes, they’re snipping out frames and blending frames to make everything tighter, basically to shrink it down so they can fit one extra 30 second spot into a show.
John: Sometimes more than that.
Craig: Oh, you dicks. You know, I mean –
John: And the thing is, you don’t know this, but all the broadcast TV you’ve seen has had that for awhile. And a way that you could test for it is generally the iTunes version of it, if you downloaded that, it’s going to have a different runtime than what was actually broadcast on the air.
Craig: Time Tailor. So, in the old days when people would cut film on Moviolas, maybe I’d get this. You know, obviously the two technologies would not exist simultaneously. But now we have non-linear digital editing. We’re all capable of making the edits precisely to the frame we wish. And then you Time Tailor dicks come along.
Listen, man, what can I do? It’s like, this is the part of TV that I know everyone keeps telling me, “Oh, TV, TV…” And I’m like, yeah, yeah, but I have to say there’s some things in movies that I’m still happy I’m in movies.
John: So, my friend, I’m not saying, this isn’t like a basic cable kind of thing. She’s writing on a giant top-rated one-hour drama. So, she finished her cut with her director, editor, and then they’re like this going to happen. It’s going to go through this process and it’s going to be not what you turned in.
John: And that just would drive me crazy.
Craig: Yeah. Umbrage.
John: Time for One Cool Things. Do you have one?
Craig: I do!
John: Tell me.
Craig: This one came from I think someone on Twitter and I love this. Do you like to cook, John?
John: I love to cook.
Craig: Okay. Then you’re going to enjoy this.
John: Is it an expensive gadget that I will only use once?
Craig: It is not, although I have those, like a nice French lemon zester. No. It’s called SuperCook.com.
John: All right.
Craig: SuperCook.com. And what it is is a database site with lots of recipes, which there are many of, however this one is fun because what they offer you is the ability to just type in the ingredients you have. You type in everything you’ve got near you and they spit back a bunch of recipes that use nothing but those ingredients. Very clever.
John: That’s great.
Craig: Yeah. It’s very clever. And their database is very extensive, so you can really get specific about what you’ve got.
John: Cool. That sounds fun.
John: My One Cool Thing is B.J. Novak’s book, brand new book, called One More Thing: Stories and Other Stores. So, B.J. Novak is a writer and performer from The Office. You also see him on The Mindy Project. He’s great and really, really funny.
Craig: Saving Mr. Banks.
John: Saving Mr. Banks.
Craig: Excellent in Saving Mr. Banks.
John: He is great in Saving Mr. Banks. Unlike most of these books where it’s essentially like an autobiography with some like lists thrown in and other stuff, it’s just short stories he wrote and they’re really good and really funny. And he’s a terrific writer, so I would highly recommend that.
Craig: I met him, I met B.J., at a Saving Mr. Banks event.
John: You went to the sing-along that I didn’t get invited to.
Craig: To the sing-along. Oh, you weren’t invited to it?
Craig: Well, you’ll be invited next time.
John: [laughs] For Saving Mr. Banks 2?
Craig: Uh-huh. Yeah. For Saving Mrs. Banks.
John: I like it.
Craig: And he was a delight to talk to. And it’s funny, sometimes you meet writer-actors and you walk away and you think, “You’re an actor who does some writing.” Sometimes you meet them and you’re like, “No, no, no, you’re a writer who does some acting.” He’s a writer that does some acting. He’s a good actor, a very good actor, but he’s a writer. He’s got a writer’s soul.
It was very nice talking with him. He’s a very cool guy.
John: I’ll do one extra One Cool Thing. I tweeted about this. But he actually was on the Nerdist Podcast this last week, talking about him, about the writer, and actor/performer. They talk a lot about sort of the process of writing jokes versus writing comedy, writing characters. And it’s a great lesson in sort of how that all works. So, we’ll put that up as a little bonus One Cool Thing.
John: So, a few last bits of news. The Big Fish cast album is out. So, you can download the songs. It’s on iTunes right now. I think by the time this podcast is up the physical CDs will be shipping.
Craig: [sings] “Time stops, suddenly I’m….” Am I going to have to pay for this? [hums]
John: Yes. Andrew Lippa will get some royalties on that and that will be good.
Craig: Yeah. Just from that little snippet.
John: That’s good. I think both the CD and the iTunes are excellent. So, the CD gives you a really good booklet, which I had to sort of copy edit a lot, but it’s nice and has pictures and lyrics and all that lovely stuff. So the physical copy is good.
The iTunes version, you get some bonus tracks. You get an extra bonus track of Magic and the Man, This River Between Us, so it’s hard to say. I would really recommend you buy both.
John: But anyway that’s out there so we’ll have links to both of those two things in the show notes.
John: We also have a few last t-shirts. We don’t have all sizes — for Scriptnotes t-shirts I should say. But if you go to store.johnaugust.com we have a few last Scriptnotes t-shirts, the black ones, in various sizes. So, if you are still waiting on a Scriptnotes t-shirt you are maybe in luck if you’re just the right size.
Craig: And what size is that?
John: I don’t know. But if you go there it’ll show you what sizes are left.
Craig: You just have XXS and XXXL.
John: Yeah, we have the extra-large small shirts is really all we have left.
Craig: Extra-large small shirts. [laughs] I love that. Are you extra-large small?
Standard boilerplate stuff here. If you would like to write to me or Craig something short, Twitter is your friend. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. There is a question that somebody wrote in that we didn’t even get to this week, but we’ll get to it next week. So, that’s the place to send those longer questions.
If you are on iTunes buying the Big Fish cast album you could also go over to the Scriptnotes podcast page there and leave us a note because that’s lovely. You can subscribe to our show as well if you’re not subscribed to us right now.
In iTunes you can also find the iOS app that we have for Scriptnotes which lets you download all the back catalog. We have now 129 previous episodes. You can download those old ones and get all the show notes and stuff for them there.
Show notes for this episode and most episodes are at johnaugust.com/podcast. [motorcycle in background]
Craig: Motorcycle show up at the very end there.
John: That was very good, that motorcycle. Keeping it real.
Craig: Keeping it real, yo.
John: Craig, thank you again for a nice podcast. It was nice to be back in a normal situation.
Craig: Whoa. I want to know what happened in that gap. There was like a really cool gap where I feel like you just went away.
John: Did I disappear?
Craig: Yeah, you went into a fugue state and then you came back. I love it when you do stuff like that.
John: [pause] Like that?
Craig: Yeah. That was it. Oh my god. That was great.
John: I do it. I have these little silences. I think it might be a small stroke, but it’s all okay.
Craig: [laughs] It’s an extra-large small stroke.
John: Craig, if I see you next week then I see you next week. If not, it’s been a pleasure.
Craig: [laughs] I can’t wait to do this alone.
John: [laughs] What if it’s always been alone. The whole time through it’s all been a monologue?
Craig: Yeah. I believe it.
John: All right. Thanks Craig. Bye.
- Slate on why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period
- John’s 2005 blog post on fixing double-spaces after periods
- Scriptnotes, Episode 65, in which John and Craig discuss their period-space preferences
- Courier Prime
- Scriptnotes, Episode 129: The One with the Guys from Final Draft
- Kent Tessman’s Notes on Scriptnotes blog post
- How QuarkXPress became a mere afterthought in publishing
- Heather Havrilesky’s Ask Polly: I Moved To A New City To Be With An Emotional Vampire on The Awl
- The AV Club on Tom Cruise being sued for one billion dollars
- THR on The New Girl lawsuit
- Time Tailor
- SuperCook.com tells you recipes to cook with what you have on hand
- One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak
- B.J. on the Nerdist Podcast
- The Big Fish cast album on iTunes and Amazon
- We have a few shirts left in The John August Store
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli
Megan McArdle wonders if procrastination stems largely from a fear of failure:
Over the years, I developed a theory about why writers are such procrastinators: We were too good in English class. This sounds crazy, but hear me out.
Most writers were the kids who easily, almost automatically, got A’s in English class. [...] At an early age, when grammar school teachers were struggling to inculcate the lesson that effort was the main key to success in school, these future scribblers gave the obvious lie to this assertion. Where others read haltingly, they were plowing two grades ahead in the reading workbooks. These are the kids who turned in a completed YA novel for their fifth-grade project. It isn’t that they never failed, but at a very early age, they didn’t have to fail much; their natural talents kept them at the head of the class.
I’ve seen this in myself and my daughter: when something is comparatively easy, it’s bewildering when it gets difficult.
With age, we begin to realize that everything we write isn’t perfect. Most of it isn’t even good. Procrastination becomes self-defense. The scene you haven’t written yet can’t be terrible.
Last night, I had the pleasure of hosting a Q&A with Alfonso Cuarón for Film Independent, part of a five-week series. I looked at it as an opportunity to get all my questions answered from a longtime talent crush — and if people wanted to listen in, swell.
Between clips, we talked about music and color and collaboration. I also wanted to know about Cuarón’s lengthy, technically-sophisticated shots.
Even before Gravity, Cuarón was known for very long takes. Children of Men has a stunning car sequence that plays like one continuous moment, and a wide shot with Michael Caine that continues for quite a long scene.
But it’s not showing off, and it’s not just because he has access to great technology and master technicians. Watching clips from the much more down-and-dirty Y Tu Mamá También, it’s clear that Cuarón loves these uncut scenes regardless of the genre or budget level.
So I asked him why.
His answer spoke to the relationship of the character and the environment. It was a revelation for me. I suspect the audience could see the lightbulb over my head.
So what I’m about to say isn’t quite what Cuarón said, but my reaction to what he said.Foreground and background
In film, whenever you cut, the audience has to re-establish where the character is in relationship to the environment. Sometimes you’re cutting to a new location, a new scene, so that re-establishing is significant. But even if you’re just cutting within a scene, the character’s relationship to the background is different. There’s a (subconscious) process of figuring out where Kathy is in the space, and her relationship to it.
It’s unnatural — in real-life, things aren’t jumping around — but audiences have gotten really good at handling it. We’re all sophisticated viewers now, so many of the old rules about cutting are less crucial than they used to be. We can cut fast. We can jump cut. We can cross the line. Aggressive cuts have given us some of the most thrilling sequences in cinema.
Cutting is a powerful tool. But it has a cost, too.
Think of it from the audience’s perspective: each cut requires us to find our character against the background. It’s not a huge burden, but it’s work. If there’s a lot of cutting, we prioritize the character and start paying less attention to the background. We don’t explore the setting because we’re worried we’re going to miss what the characters are doing. The Who is almost always more important than the Where.
But in a long take, we can shift our focus from the character to the background and back again. We can notice things we otherwise wouldn’t. Scenes shot in long takes feel “more real” not just because of the continuity of time and performance, but also because we have the time to really invest in the backgrounds.
In the case of Gravity, most of those backgrounds are completely computer-generated, which is testament to just how good Cuarón’s work is. Space in Gravity feels so real in part because we get to see it in such long stretches. And because it feels so real, we invest even more deeply in Bullock’s performance and the reality of her predicament. We believe that she — and we — are really there. The long takes are a huge part of why.
Most of us won’t be making movies in space, but it’s a lesson I’ll be taking with me. I love the power of a cut, but I’ll always ask what could be gained by not cutting.
We have a new app. It’s called Weekend Read. It’s for reading scripts on your iPhone.
It’s free in the App Store.
Up until now, reading screenplays on an iPhone has been terrible. It’s all squinting and pinching.
Weekend Read takes screenplay PDFs, Final Draft and Fountain files and reformats them to look terrific on your iPhone.
Weekend Read is only for the iPhone.
Why only the iPhone, and not the iPad? Numbers.
Our sophisticated market analysis revealed that there were zero good apps in this category.New yet familiar
You’re right. That’s exactly what we did.
But we didn’t stop there. We built in search, new fonts, Dark Mode, a new page jumper, character highlighting and full-screen mode.
We added Fountain and Markdown, including images.
And because a reader needs something to read, we beefed up Dropbox support and gave users a hand-curated (and continually-updated) list of For Your Consideration scripts and Project Gutenberg titles.
The Weekend Read library holds four scripts at a time. If you choose, you can unlock the app to store hundreds. It’s a single in-app purchase.Speak up
We already have David Wain, Rawson Thurber and Dan Etheridge singing Weekend Read’s praises, but I’m actively seeking one more blurb.
To celebrate Weekend Read’s launch, we’re also offering Highland at 50% off through Friday. Now that you have an app for reading Fountain files, it’s time to start writing them.
John and Craig tackle the greatest controversy in screenwriting: how many spaces to put after the period. From there, it’s follow-up on the Final Draft episode, including some behind-the-scene details.
Why is it often better to write in public spaces? How do you keep your hero in the driver’s seat? What do you do if you’re dating an emotional vampire? We have some answers.
We also have annoyances: the $1 billion lawsuit against Tom Cruise, similar hijinks with The New Girl, and Time Tailor.
The Big Fish cast album is available on iTunes and Amazon. A few last Scriptnotes t-shirts are available on the John August Store.
- Slate on why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period
- John’s 2005 blog post on fixing double-spaces after periods
- Scriptnotes, Episode 65, in which John and Craig discuss their period-space preferences
- Courier Prime
- Scriptnotes, Episode 129: The One with the Guys from Final Draft
- Kent Tessman’s Notes on Scriptnotes blog post
- Heather Havrilesky’s Ask Polly: I Moved To A New City To Be With An Emotional Vampire on The Awl
- The AV Club on Tom Cruise being sued for one billion dollars
- THR on The New Girl lawsuit
- Time Tailor
- SuperCook.com tells you recipes to cook with what you have on hand
- One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B. J. Novak
- B.J. on the Nerdist Podcast
- The Big Fish cast album on iTunes and Amazon
- We have a few shirts left in The John August Store
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli
Doug Karr’s new film Art Machine is available on demand and through iTunes. I asked him to write up a post about his experience finishing it.
Nearly three years ago John watched my ambitious and rather complicated short film Ten for Grandpa and liked it enough to not only post it, but also ask me to write a first person for the blog.
This was mid 2011 and I had just gone through the roller-coaster ride of having that film premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, go on to screen at 50+ international film festivals, win multiple awards, and ultimately give me the juice to finish an achievable feature screenplay and finally crowdfund and source private equity to get it made.
That film was Art Machine, which I co-wrote with my friend and collaborator Nuno Faustino.
With the script finished and our financing in place, our rollicking crew of filmmaking maniacs went into production at a lightning fast pace for what I can only describe as one of the best directing experiences of my life. Thanks to the encouragement of my then girlfriend (now wife) Aimee Karr, who is a producer on the film, and the trust of a handful of amazing investors and producers, we undertook 18 glorious days of production. I got to work with some of the most incredible actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of sharing a set with, including, but not limited to, Joseph Cross, Joey Lauren Adams, Jessica Szohr, Christopher Abbott, Lucas Papaelias, the list goes on and on.
I quite literally had the best crew money couldn’t buy, and, hell, we even got to blow shit up and light a stunt person’s hand on fire. Sure there were complications, splitting time between living in a closet and a woman’s empty house who had recently died during the production to save money, the five hit and runs that occurred during the shoot that impacted our crew. Our favorite was when one of our own interns hit one of our other production cars…and then ran. Gotta love shooting in New York City!
And of course I didn’t sleep for three weeks. But that was all part of the crazed rock-and-roll caravan that is film production.
This was late 2010.How three years vanish.
Post-production was magnificent at first. After a quick holiday I jumped into the edit suite with unparalleled enthusiasm. Editing has always been my first love. I learned how to edit on a pair of three-quarter inch tape-to-tape decks when I was 13, a quick progression after falling in love with the whole idea of becoming a filmmaker after seeing a 65mm re-issue of Lawrence of Arabia on the Champs-Élysées as a nine year old growing up in Paris.
Here I was, cutting my first feature. The dailies were terrific. I couldn’t have asked for better performances, the cinematography looked amazing, even the physical effects were working exceptionally well (from the explosions and flame gags to the grand finale).
What I hadn’t accounted for is the grueling drudgery that a long editorial process can bring on.
I’d had a flavor of it when I returned from a year in Africa back in 2001 with nearly a hundred hours of documentary footage to cut together (a process which ended up keeping me in dark room for over a year), but that was a documentary. This was narrative — my dream job no less. This was different.
A year later we were still tweaking, shooting little pickups, endlessly pushing the boundaries of our tight post budget to craft visual effects we were dreaming up after every screening.
Somehow, as that first year of post wore into the next and then some, the air deflated out of my tires, and I started to wonder if there would be an endgame to this process at all. And once you start allowing yourself to go down that mindset, everything around you starts to justify it.
- The film industry is overwrought.
- There’s nothing left to say.
- The rungs on the ladder just keep getting father apart.
- How can movies make money anymore?
- All anybody wants to watch is dirt-cheap serialized drivel.
- Cinema is dead.
I even wrote multiple drafts amounting to a 70,000 word document that some might consider a novel, hoping to find a way clear of the dreaded film industry. That’s how bad it got: I nearly wrote a book.
Luckily somewhere in there, the latest cut of Art Machine (the 12th? 15th?) was accepted to premiere at the Woodstock Film Festival, and distributors immediately began taking notice. We had six offers, and by the time Art Machine was the Closing Night film of the GenArt Film Festival a year later, we had a deal in place with the wonderful FilmBuff.
So now I’ve finally fulfilled my childhood dream, I’ve completed my first feature and it’s launching out into the world. Today the film becomes available to the public at large on iTunes and ON DEMAND. If you like it, throw up a review on iTunes, it would be a huge help.
Perhaps the splashy blanket-theatrical prize was elusive, but screenings were set up in NY and LA. Most importantly, the film is finally out there in the world.
Doug Karr is a New York based writer director. His twitter handle is @doug_karr
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.
Craig, welcome back.
Craig: Yes. Here we are, face-to-face, a couple of silver spoons.
John: Now, Craig, do you have memory of what happened to you last week? What actually happened?
Craig: Uh…it was bad. I was on my way to the podcast and my car was hit from behind.
Craig: I hit my head on the dashboard.
John: That’s awful.
Craig: When I come to I’m in Aline Brosh McKenna’s basement, [laughs], Misery style. And she’s hobbled me. Yeah. She hobbled me good. She wants to take my place.
John: It’s really pretty clear that Aline wants to take your place, but she was fantastic as a guest host.
Craig: She did a great job. And Jennifer Lee was terrific to come on the show. Thank you, Jennifer. And very exciting. I’m going to get to meet her anyway because she’s going to be a neighbor of mine soon.
John: The hinterlands of Los Angeles.
Craig: We like to call it the privileged place where people like Jennifer Lee choose to live.
Today on the podcast we have two special guests. We have Marc Madnick, who is the CEO and co-founder of Final Draft. And Joe Jarvis, who is the product manager. They’re going to talk to us about Final Draft 9 and our interactions with Final Draft 9.
Craig: And we’ve had some. And we are, I have to say, I’m very excited to talk to them. And I think it’s very cool that that they came on the show knowing perfectly well that this wasn’t going to be a softball interview.
John: I have a hunch, because we already recorded it, that you will ask some pointed questions.
So, we’ll do the Final Draft segment. Then we’ll come back. We’ll talk about the Tarantino script, the WGA negotiations, we’ll answer some listener questions. It’s going to be a very big show.
So, first I need five notes.
[Scriptnotes theme music]
John: We were just talking sort of our history with Final Draft. So, my first experience with Final Draft was Final Draft 5. And I remember buying it, I think it was in 2000, and it was like $245 which was like a lot – $249.
Marc Madnick: Still is.
John: Still is. Which was a lot more money back then because of inflation.
Marc: Actually, I think versions one and two were about $349 we started out selling.
John: But I remember I think I bought it at the Writer’s Store, which is a physical place at that point.
Marc: Yup, still is.
John: Out in Westwood. And before then I’d written Go just in Microsoft Word. And you can write a script obviously in a normal word processor, but it’s a giant pain in the ass, and revisions are a giant pain in the ass. So, Final Draft was just an amazing godsend that I could do these things that were so difficult to do before. And they were strange to do, but I could actually do them then, so it was great.
Marc: Thank you.
John: So, that was my first experience with it. Then Final Draft 6 was 2002. Final Draft 7, 2004.
Marc: Boy, you know this better than I do. I have it in front of me. It wasn’t that quick probably.
Craig: Sounds about right.
Marc: It sounds close, yeah.
John: And then Final Draft 8 which was a bigger revision. The FDX format in 2008.
Marc: Right. 2009.
John: And this last year, just this month –
Marc: Three weeks ago.
John: Three weeks ago we have Final Draft 9.
Marc: Yes, doing wonderful so far. Thank you.
John: Fantastic. So, thank you very much for coming here.
So the voices you’re hearing are Marc Madnick. I’m pronouncing your name right, I hope.
Marc: That’s correct. With a C, John.
John: Yes. Marc with a C, Madnick, who is the co-founder and CEO of Final Draft.
Marc: Yes. I’ve been doing this 23 years now.
John: Holy cow.
Marc: I wanted to be you two guys and it led me to this. So, like I always say, those who can’t do make software.
Craig: Make software. John does both.
Marc: I can’t use that joke anymore.
Joe Jarvis: John can do it all.
Craig: John does it all.
John: And Joe Jarvis, what is your official title?
Joe: I’m the Product Manager at Final Draft. And you and I have talked quite a bit about all kinds of — high level, low level stuff. Just all the time. And by the way, I saw Go at a screening back then, probably when you were buying that first copy of Final Draft.
John: Yes, a good time machine back.
So, the reason why we talked this last week was because you were getting, was it phone calls or people were being jerks to you and it seemed like it was coming from stuff that had happened from the podcast. Can you tell us what was going on?
Marc: We listen to the podcast. And Craig is very passionate about his…
Marc: …wants, desires, and likes and dislikes.
Marc: And I guess he got riled up the other day and, you know, listen, I’m the owner of this business. So, I’m never going to have 100 percent of the people love us. So, we take the criticism and I’m used to it. Just like I know you guys write great films and there’s always 10 percent of the people.
Craig: Ooh, sometimes a little more than 10 percent.
Marc: Who are happy to think that you didn’t put your best effort or whatever, which is obviously not true. And you get a few tweets. People, employees, a Facebook thing, an email, “Craig says you guys should die.” It scares people. [laughs]
Craig: No humans should die.
Marc: We can put it behind us. You were very nice to put out a statement about it. That’s why we prompted the call. It’s perfectly fine. We invite the criticism. If I may say that we do survey, obviously, our customer base from time to time. Last time we did it, 92 percent of the people graded us an A or a B. That’s our software, company, and everything. 92 percent of the people.
I bring my office staff, 40 of us. We’re not Microsoft. We’re 40. Some people think we’re really big. We’re still a small, privately-held company. And told them, “Don’t congratulate ourselves. There’s 8 percent of the people, Craig being the number one of them, who do not like us and do not like our software.” So, that’s what keeps me up at night is the 8 percent.
So, I’m used to it.
Craig: We’ll talk a little bit about that 8 percent, and I think even that number is probably a little misleading in a sense.
Marc: Well, it’s a survey.
Craig: It’s a survey. The thing is you guys don’t exist in a vacuum anymore. I think that’s one of the things I want to talk about with you. And first of all, just to go on the record, I’m really sorry. Anybody that called you guys and was abusive or anything, that’s gross. And I was very clear about that on Twitter.
Marc: Thank you for an apology. And we have hourly employees or — “Is somebody going to throw a brick through our window or something?” [laughs]
Craig: Yeah, that’s terrible.
Marc: I had to calm them down. I said, you know, it’s not a problem. People get heated.
Craig: Nobody should be throwing anything. But the truth is there’s no — the satisfaction you can have with a product where you say, okay, it’s an A, or it’s a B, or whatever, is to that product. But if there’s another product where people are an A+, you might as well have a C or a D, if people start to leave you.
And one thing I want to talk to you guys about is what’s happened to Final Draft because as we were saying before the show started I bought Final Draft back in — I think it was 1993. And I drove to Santa Monica where you guys had your initial bungalows like on the second floor kind of thing.
Marc: There were about three or four of us then.
Craig: Yeah. There were three or four of you guys. I remember meeting you. I remember meeting Ben who was your partner. And I bought it directly from you. I wrote a check. And I didn’t have, you know, I was making $20,000 at the time. This was a lot of money. And I got two floppy disks and I guarded them with my life.
And so I was a very early adopter of Final Draft. And I stayed with Final Draft through the revisions. And along the way I got disillusioned. And I’ve become increasingly disillusioned. An particularly disillusioned with what happened with Final Draft 9.
Now, I don’t know if we’re jumping, should we be jumping into this right away? Do we have other stuff to do?
Marc: I don’t understand what happened.
Craig: Well, I’m going to tell you.
Marc: I mean…
Craig: From my point of view. And listen, I’m glad that you guys are listening, you know.
Marc: I’ve heard your point of views before on the show and, [sighs], it’s partially our fault, so I’m obviously — some critiques are warranted. And we listen. But a lot of times it’s misinformation.
John: That’s honestly why I’m so glad you’re here to talk about this.
Marc: Yes. And that’s what I want I to do, too.
Marc: Literally, more times than not, it’s misinformation. People, person A says the software doesn’t do X, Y, and Z, but it does. Now, whose fault is this? Probably our fault. We’re not informing the people as well. But, that’s frustrating when we get comments that aren’t…
Marc: Accurate. “Final Draft doesn’t care about the writer. Final Draft doesn’t listen.” There’s 40 people in our office every day –
Craig: Yeah, they’ll listen if you pay $25 or $29 when you call. I mean, you’ve got tech support. I’ve got to pay you, right?
Marc: Actually, misinformation.
Craig: Okay, tell me.
Joe: We also have free chat support and we also have free email support. And you know nobody pays to ring my phone number. I mean, I talk to people all day long.
Craig: All right.
Marc: You’re listeners should know that Final Draft provides free support many different ways.
Marc: We have a knowledge space. Costs money to run a knowledge space. Every question and every question we ever got is up there and searchable. We provide email support free that you get back within an hour if you happen to email us between 8:30 and 5:30 when we’re in our offices. If you do it over the weekend, it might take a day or two.
Marc: We have live chat from 8:30 to 5:30. If you have problems installing or getting started, we have a free telephone number. What Craig is alluding to is that we started to charge $25 per phone call. About 40 or 50 people take advantage just month. It was meant to be a deterrent and it is a deterrent to call. Let me tell you what happened.
For 10 years we provided free phone support. 10 percent of the people — remember now, I run a business; we have to make business decisions. Okay? We’re in business not to go out of business. — 10 percent of people would call up when it was free with no clock and talk and start asking about their printer not working and how do I get Microsoft Word. I mean, things that had nothing to do with us.
Joe: How to write a screenplay.
Marc: How to write a screenplay. And then when John August wanted to call that one time he couldn’t get through. Actually got worse press when we had free phone support then I do today. You don’t like it, but I’m telling you the customers do get serviced.
Craig: Okay, you’re right, I don’t like it. And part of why I don’t like it has to do with the pricing of your product which can… — Now, when Final Draft was the only game in town, I got it. And listen, I’m a capitalist. I understand the way the world works.
Marc: First of all, I was never the only game in town. I’ve always had competitors.
John: That’s — I want us to talk about that –
Marc: I’ve always had competitors. I wasn’t even the first.
John: But you were always the industry standard. And you always marketed yourself as the standard.
Marc: Why are we the industry standard?
John: Well, that’s a great question, because it’s always –
Marc: Take all the bells and whistles out of everybody’s product, all the competitor’s products, okay. Take them all out. What it comes down to is pagination. Period. A minute a page. Break it down in eighths. Right, you guys are directors as well, okay. So, we are trusted because it’s the proper pagination. You get a script, it’s 120 pages, you can estimate it’s going to be approximately 120 minutes. That’s really what it comes down to. Does it paginate properly?
All the other things are bells and whistles. Okay, really, if you want to break it down.
Craig: Kinda. I mean, revisions aren’t bells and whistles. I mean, that’s a huge part of what we do.
Marc: But, I mean, I’m saying what got us started and what was really important was the pagination.
Craig: Was this many lines per page.
John: Clearly. And I will say going right back to the history of sort of Final Draft, part of the reason why you started the product originally was because you got so frustrated by trying to write a screenplay in a normal word processor.
John: And that is honestly one of the things I appreciated about Final Draft so much is that, oh, this is actually set up to do exactly the thing I’m trying to do.
Marc: There you go. Thank you. And that’s the key for us.
John: But who are you competitors now as you see it?
Marc: There are 24 apps, competitors. Adobe has a competing product.
John: Yeah, Adobe Story.
Marc: You know, they come and go. We’re here. We’re still standing. We’re still number one, clearly. And it’s because we believe — I’ll give you a perfect example what makes us stand out.
We made an iPad app called the iPad Writer. It took, ready for this, two years. And you’ll say to me, “Marc, some of these apps that are much less expensive, by the way some of them are even free, they told me they took two, three, four months. Why does it take Final Draft two years?”
A year and a half of that two years was spent making sure that your script of 119 pages was 119 pages there. And also on your IBM, your Windows, I’m sorry, look at IBM, I’m old school.
Craig: That is old school.
Marc: And any device you have of Final Draft it’s the same. We can’t go to a reading, a rehearsal, a whatever we do and say, “Let’s turn to page 16,” and everybody has got a different page 16. Every — I’ll repeat — every — all of my competitors today do not do that. They may have great bells and whistles. They may be… — And by the way, I never talk about my –
Craig: I think Fade In does that.
Marc: No. It does not.
Craig: You’re saying that the Fade In app on the iPad doesn’t match the –
Marc: That’s correct. I took a 215 page script of Final Draft –
Craig: It worked for me.
Marc: It’s the same page count?
Marc: Oh, our tests showed it different.
John: Craig is lucky and he’s touched. Well, let’s talk about what’s –
Marc: Not on the iPad.
Craig: That’s what I use.
John: The iPad app took two years because it was a huge undertaking to move something that was working on the Mac and in Windows onto an iPad device.
John: Final Draft 9 is about four years after 8.
John: What were the challenges there?
Marc: The biggest one was about 10 years ago Apple, even though we’re a developer and they love us and we have friends over there, they don’t tell you anything. 10 years ago they made you do Carbon language. And you’re familiar with this. And you had to go down there and strip it, you know, put Carbon in.
I’m not a techie, by the way. But, now they come to us three, four years ago and say, “You need to do Cocoa.” That means a page one rewrite for us. What does that mean to the customer? Well, version 8 they came out with MacBook retina displays. Guess when we found out that our font wasn’t really looking as crisp as it should? When somebody came to our office with a MacBook retina display.
It’s not like we got a call, or they mentioned it to us. We didn’t even know until it happened. So, what do we have to do? We have to spend a year and a half rewriting our software so it works on not only today’s latest Mac operating system –
Joe: With the Cocoa.
Marc: But their future ones. Okay? So, now we can take advantage of their dictation, some of the things they provide in there. It can take advantage of –
Joe: Full screen.
Marc: So, there’s a year and a half there.
John: Yeah, that’s a lot.
Marc: 36, 38, something like that, other pieces of software rely on the FDX format, from your editing programs to your casting to translation companies use the FDX format for various different things. You have to make sure it works with all of these things. It takes some time. There are new features. There are corrections. There are fixes. It goes on and on and on.
Craig: Are you honestly saying that you think the amount of time that it took to do Final Draft 9 with the amount of features you’ve added and the price you’re charging, you think that all lines up right?
Marc: Yeah, absolutely.
Craig: You don’t detect a problem?
Marc: Of course, Craig. Like I said, we’re in business not to go out of business.
Craig: I understand, but –
Marc: Absolutely. It’s a mature product. It’s a very mature product. You say the same thing about Microsoft Word and Quicken. What do they actually put in? We put a lot in here. A lot.
Craig: Not really.
Marc: Of course we did. First of all, it takes advantage of all of your latest operating systems. That’s very important.
Craig: I’m sorry. Marc, Marc –
Marc: You’re sorry?
Craig: I am. I’m sorry…to interrupt. Not sorry for what I’m about to say. Adding retina display to this product when retina display has been out for two years. And listen –
Marc: It’s not one line of code.
Craig: Just give me a moment. Just give me a moment.
Marc: Okay. Okay.
Craig: We’ve given you a lot of time. And I’m just a little incredulous. There are a lot of companies out there. In fact, 100 percent of companies that make software for Mac had to deal with the fact that suddenly there was a retina display.
John: Yeah, we had to deal with it with our two apps. So, Bronson Watermarker and our other Mac app, Highland, our other Mac app were originally not retina and so we had to make them retina. It is –
Joe: Were they originally written in Carbon libraries or Cocoa library?
John: They were written in Cocoa library.
Joe: We had to go from Carbon to Cocoa, where it’s a very low level transition. So, a lot of what you’re saying –
Marc: You’re punishing us for being around since 1992.
Craig: Not at all. What I’m saying is…
Marc: That’s the way I see it.
Craig: …if you’re going to — listen, you guys have been around a long time. You’ve been charging a lot of money for a product for a long time. This change comes along and you decide we’re going to take as much time as we need and we’re going to still charge you all this money anyway when everybody else has become used to a cycle now where products update fairly frequently and things like retina display is a free update. It’s not a charged update.
And the fact that you guys had to rewrite your software is now why I have to spent $99. Is that what it is to update?
Marc: Well, $79 if you act by the end of the day. We take credit cards.
Joe: Act now.
Craig: Listen –
Marc: I don’t understand. Do you know how much work that goes into it? We’re not, you know –
Craig: I’m a customer. I’m not here to cry for you. What I’m going to –
Joe: In order to see it all.
Craig: It doesn’t matter. I don’t need to see it all.
Marc: You want to make sure –
Craig: Hold on. You guys don’t need to see what we do to make a movie. And I don’t need to see what you do to make software. All I need to know is does this make sense for me or not. And what I’m saying to you is I’m a little surprised by the fact that you’re coming here and essentially acknowledging no mistakes, no problems, we did everything right.
Craig: Right? Because it seems to me, you’re in a position now, John put this article on about how Quark was just — Quark ruled the world. And then one day they didn’t. And I have to tell you, you guys — and this is not person, it’s just a business, seem willfully blind to the fact that things are so much more easily disruptable now than ever before.
I mean, listen, you used to say you need Final Draft because the studio needs it to break down for budget. No they don’t. Not anymore. They’re breaking the budget down from in Universal right now off of a PDF document. They don’t need this anymore. I can get, John, oh my gosh you guys have watermarking now. One name, John has — what does Bronson cost?
John: it’s $29.
Marc: Which is why we told people if they need — we keep improving it as it goes on.
Craig: But I don’t understand. You guys are the industry leader and you seem to be just lagging behind.
Joe: Well, there is a lot, as Marc said, a lot of legacy code, so we’re — unfortunately because we’ve been around so long it’s harder to pivot quickly because right now I’m talking all day long with our chief architect about these particular libraries that if we want to pursue opportunity A, or opportunity B, or put it on the surface, or make it Unicode for other languages, there are some legacy libraries that are going to have to get removed. And so it’s like we’re going to have to go through and take a lot of engine parts out and replace a lot of under the hood stuff.
And it unfortunately takes a long time.
Marc: And the customer doesn’t see that, but it’s necessary that is has to be — it has to happen.
John: And I actually see that.
Joe: It’s a hindrance to be as old as we are.
John: I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for you, Mark, though in a sense of software pricing. Because I think what Craig is complaining about the price, $249 is not expensive software for a thing that you’re using every day and that you’re staring at every day. And yet the price of software has fallen through the floor. And Adobe feels it. And everyone sort of feels it because I think consumers start to sense that apps should be either free or they should be $0.99 like they are on the iOS App Store.
So, I’m incredibly sympathetic to you guys in that regard. No matter what you price it at someone is going to say, “Well that should have been a free update.” That’s inevitably going to happen.
Marc: Well, you know, you get that criticism. But the only income we make is from selling you Final Draft license, which is a perpetual license that you have forever, and ever, and ever, and selling you upgrades. There is no other income revenue at Final Draft. That’s what it is.
Craig: But I can now purchase an entire new software program for half the cost of what you’re charging for an update that has a few features thrown in. And that to me seems out of whack. That’s where I just say, look, I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. The market doesn’t have right or wrong. It’s just a market.
Marc: You are in the minority. Fact.
Craig: Well, I’m in the minority now. But, I guess I’m just sort of surprised that you guys are sort of going, “And you’ll always be in the minority. We don’t see a problem. We don’t see any icebergs.”
Joe: I mean, unfortunately, like Marc said, we sell one thing. Apple gives their operating system away for free. But they sell $30 billion worth of iPads every quarter.
Craig: Oh, I’m not comparing you guys to Apple.
Marc: Our sole revenue is this.
Joe: We’ve heard the comparison, “Why can I get a whole…”
Craig: There’s a difference between free and $300.
Marc: Well, first of all, many company’s upgrades are about half the price of the full copy. Ours isn’t. $79. And even when it’s $99 is about 40 percent.
Craig: If this had been… — Look, part of the thing that I was surprised by, and I think you were surprised by, too, to be fair, was that this upgrade which you sell like a full upgrade didn’t feel like a full upgrade. It felt like, frankly, an incremental thing that should have been released as a free update or a service package like retina display. I mean, I’m paying for retina display? And what else?
Joe: Had we released it for free we would go out of business, because it takes a lot of development –
Marc: And that’s your opinion. We’re getting tremendous responses.
Joe: A lot of development for us to get to that point.
Marc: That’s our problem, I think.
Craig: I know I see it as a problem.
John: I think it’s an industry problem. I think it’s a software industry problem.
Joe: It’s a challenge in software development.
John: Especially I think for people in your situation and I know Movie Magic Screenwriter has a similar thing because they’re product feels like it’s 1983. I mean, those menus feel incredibly old. And they’re going to face the same situation. You guys were smart enough to pivot and go to FDX format. That’s a classic example of making the right choice of getting rid of FDR.
Joe: Yeah. We had to bite the bullet. We knew it was going to take a long time.
Marc: Hey, we made a lot of bad decisions over the years. You live and learn. This is what running a business is. We’re 40 people. There’s not an office really in the world that has 40 people dedicated to one thing. And that’s screenwriting and screenwriting software.
And, quite frankly, we listen every day. We service our customers. We listen every day. We love the good comments and we listen to the negative ones. Believe me, we take them to heart.
Craig: Do you think I’ve had any interesting or reasonable criticism for your product, or you think it’s all just a bunch of bunk?
Joe: I read every single podcast.
Craig: I’m not asking if you read it. I’m saying do you agree with me?
Joe: I want to absolutely know. Do I, well –
Marc: Sure, yes. Yes, some of your criticism is warranted.
Joe: I can’t think off the top of my head.
Marc: I don’t remember those. I remember the ones that aren’t warranted.
Craig: I think that’s weird. I would remember the ones that are warranted.
Marc: Hold up. This is our business.
Marc: We know exactly, top to bottom, what the customers want, what they need, and we listen. You have to make business decisions on how you do it, when you do it, how you implement it, not implement it. It’s really what it’s all about. But we know. We’re engaged. And we understand. And we hear the criticisms. And some of your criticisms are warranted. And some of them are, I feel you might be misinformed.
Craig: All right.
Marc: I can’t pick and choose that. I don’t want to pick and choose and beat a dead horse. But this is how 40 people make a living. Believe me, we listen.
Craig: All right.
John: But let’s talk about your customers, though, because do you perceive your customers being sort of the working-working-working screenwriters or the aspiring screenwriters. What do you know about your customers?
Marc: Well, I wrote something that got produced, a theater piece, at Ford Theater. Am I professional writer?
John: You and I talked about this because that was actually the template that I used for Big Fish. I was just starting Big Fish when you did that. And it was like a patriotic –
Marc: Yeah, It’s called Liberty Smith. Actually, it was very well received.
Marc: 10 percent of the people, by the way, didn’t like it. [laughs]
Craig: That’s better than I’ve ever done.
Marc: Thank you. Yes, it’s correct. And I don’t write the music but I was the book writer on it. And we had a ball with it. I don’t know where this is going now. I just lost my…you got me talking about myself.
Craig: Who your customer base. Who do you see as your — ?
Marc: Oh yeah. So, am I professional writer? Well, some people would say yes. I got paid a little bit of money. But I’m not. So, it’s hard to tell when you do surveys about who’s actually professional writers or not. And I would say it comes back 30, 40 percent of our users internationally are professional writers. Okay?
We are extremely popular in India. I went to Mumbai. I went all over the place. We estimated, the Mumbai Film Office estimates there are 300,000 people using Final Draft in India. They make four times the amount of TV shows and movies we do, except we sold one copy eight years ago and didn’t even get paid for that. It’s 100 percent piracy.
But we’re very popular there, so they bring me over there and they want us to do more stuff to help make it better for them. But, if you’re not going to get paid — it’s a business like anything else. But, so we take the criticism.
John: The reason why I ask who your customers are is I think between Craig and I we know almost all the working feature writers. And a lot of them have been frustrated with Final Draft over the years, some more, some less. Most people end up using it. Like it’s still the best thing. That’s honestly what you honestly.
Craig: Sure. By default.
John: It’s by default. And so like it’s good in production stuff. You bite the bullet and you use it. But I asked a lot of people and I asked like did you use a beta of Final Draft 9. Did they come to you? Did they survey you? Were these the things you wanted?
Marc: Of course.
John: But I haven’t found anybody who did of my working –
Joe: We do have professional writers on our beta. I’m not going to give their names out, but we do. And we do consult them. And we actually pursue relationships with guys like you. You guys are our customers. And the reason that aspiring writers want to use our product is because they want to use what the pros use. And we know this.
And so primarily we’re here to make you guys happy. And if we’re not then we’re not really doing our job. That’s what we really want to do.
Marc: 24 competitors yet we’re the ones who show up everywhere. I mean, we’re everywhere. We’re at the London Screenwriting Festival.
Craig: You are –
Marc: Wait, let me — we’re in Buenos Aires for the International Film & Video Association.
Craig: Yes, you’re spending money on that.
Marc: And we put ourselves right there. The list –
Craig: You’re spending money on that. I mean, part of what –
Marc: Let me finish. We’re listening to everybody.
Craig: No, no, no. You’re promoting. That’s not listening.
Craig: It’s promoting! You guys run contests and you go places and you show up. And, listen, promoting is part of business. But part of what I think a lot of — when I talk to screenwriters we perceive is that Final Draft has become a company that charges a lot of money to wannabes, takes that money, converts it into marketing to get more wannabes. And there’s nothing wrong — every professional writer starts as a wannabe.
But what you’re not doing, I don’t perceive, and like John said we’ve never met a single screenwriter that you guys have talked to.
Craig: That’s a little weird, since we know almost all of the ones that work.
Marc: We might have talked to 250 people just today alone. Every day.
Craig: 250 people today?
Marc: We email, every day. Every day.
Craig: No, I mean to say talk to them in other words –
Joe: Well, you have some friends that wrote on Ride Along, right?
Joe: One of my buddies was the original writer on that. Very close relationship with him. Talk to him every day. He wants to come in and present stuff to Marc. Every other week he’s asking me for things. CollaboWriter. Huge item on his list. He won’t shut up about it. It’s something I absolutely want to build to make him happy. He’s a pro. He had a million dollar pitch at Paramount. You’ve never heard of the title of this thing, but he’s a real guy. And he’s out there.
Craig: I’m not denying that you talk –
Joe: These are real people.
Craig: Yes. I’m not denying that you talk to some people, and I don’t know if he’s got a credit on the movie or not.
Joe: For sure.
Craig: And that’s good. But I’m saying that it seems odd that there isn’t quite a bit of consulting going on with professionals.
Marc: Craig, I’m sorry to say –
Craig: I know you’re saying that I’m wrong.
Marc: You’re completely, 100 percent, mistaken.
Craig: We just don’t know the ones who talk to you.
Marc: I came here to the hot seat, didn’t I?
Craig: We just don’t know the ones that you’re talking to.
Marc: Listen, the one time I would say that 30 or 40 percent of the television market, no, what am I thinking? Yeah, the television market.
Joe: The TV shows.
Marc: The TV shows was ours. Okay? So we went out and spoke to everybody and anybody, script coordinators, everybody. Today we probably have 90, 95 percent, I don’t know. But just about every studio and TV show uses Final Draft. Why? We went and talked to them, and listened, and we put the things that they wanted in there. To assume — this is how we make our living. To assume that we’re not engaging the customer is –
Craig: Well, we’re not talking about [crosstalk] –
Marc: No, it’s my fault. It’s my fault. That you have — let me finish Craig. If you have this perception, then we did not do our job.
Craig: The only perception that I have is that it’s just a little, there’s perhaps just an odd coincidence that John and I don’t happen to know any of the theatrical screenwriters that you talk to.
Joe: They call us every day. The Family Guy, Doug Ellin. I could just go on and on and on. I mean, Modern Family. We talk to everybody. We talk to everybody that we know. We would love to know the guys you were talking to and get their input.
Craig: Well, that would be good.
Marc: You’re frustrated because there’s things that you don’t like about it and you want to know why we haven’t acted on those things. And the answer to that question is that we have to prioritize. We are a business to not go out of business.
Craig: I’m –
Marc: Let me finish. There’s only so many screenwriters in the world. You talk about price points. Okay, 40 people have to eat at Final Draft. I’m not an extremely wealthy person out of this, okay? It’s still a limited vertical piece of software. You have to balance, as a business man, and this is what I do — a small business owner — you have to balance the income and revenue with the expenses. And sometimes they get tricky and some things fall through the cracks.
But we’re not in business to go out of business. And that’s a very key point.
Craig: We’re not asking you to go out of business.
John: We’re certainly not. And I think I’ve said many times I think it’s crucial that we have people at that top end of the industry, top end of apps, so there will always be a way to do that difficult production stuff, because that’s what you guys are especially good at.
Marc: Thank you.
John: As we sort of wrap this up, I want to ask both of you what’s next, or what’s officially on the timeline for the future? Because when I talked to you last I know there were products that were being discussed, but what’s officially the next kind of thing that you guys can talk about?
Marc: Well, we’re talking to a lot of, some other companies and I’m not privy to talk about, that want to do some interesting things with Final Draft. Right on the horizon is we’re releasing — what are we releasing in the next couple weeks?
Joe: Well, right now we’re following up the release of 9 with some fixes and some enhancements.
Marc: That people found.
Joe: I would love to do some more iterations on things like watermarking and make it a little more robust and things like that. Now that it’s out in the wild, we’re getting a lot of feedback and we’re cycling through a lot of that stuff. You guys are both familiar with how that works.
But, one of the big things we’d like to do in the next couple year time frame type roadmap is a better outlining experience with the navigator being a navigator and not a true outliner. I mean, I’ve always felt that. And I’ve always felt like that’s an opportunity for us to really improve this. And so if we were looking at a version 10 or something I think that would be a cornerstone of it.
John: How about Fountain? Is Fountain anything you’re going to be incorporating into future versions?
Joe: You know, Fountain is real easy. It’s text. So, we can already read it. So, we just have to make a couple of syntax adjustments probably here and there. We could import a script right now –
John: You actually do a pretty good job of importing Fountain right now.
Joe: Yeah, because we can read text and we kind of get the context and it does that with the text document. It’s done that for a long time. So, I can pretty much get 99 percent of Fountain today really without doing anything. So, if we did a little bit of a –
Craig: So then you should do that.
Joe: Well, yeah, we should. We absolutely should. I could show you a long list of things I want to do.
Craig: I’m just saying that some of these things that are easy… — In other words, what we’ve become used to is that Final Draft will say every few years, “Here’s a bunch of stuff. Pay for it,” as opposed to as we go through, these little things that obviously don’t require a lot of effort would be nice to see. The other thing I would love to see you guys do that I think everybody would pay — look, I remember buying Final Draft and there was this collaborator thing and Todd Phillips and I were like, “Oh thank god. Finally.”
Joe: It’s absolutely something that we’re dealing with, this CollaboWriter.
Craig: It didn’t even come close to work. And you guys, that was — I had a real problem with that. I felt like I was sold bad goods.
Marc: That’s justified. [Crosstalk] As barriers that people will start building your firewalls and stuff.
Craig: It wouldn’t work on anything. [laughs]
Joe: CollaboWriter was built when it was a peer-to-peer technology with no security. And it’ll still work like that. We took it out of the program.
Craig: Sure, yeah.
Joe: If there were no internet security and firewall on everything that exists today, CollaboWriter worked. It stopped working. And then we kept trying to figure out –
Craig: It never worked.
Joe: And it failed. No, it worked in the beginning.
Craig: Where, at DARPA? It didn’t work in anyone’s office. I mean, honestly, it never worked because everybody at the very least was going through just like, even a router it would –
Marc: It worked. It just had to do some things, manipulate some things.
Joe: It got defeated by internet security and things like that. And technology changed so rapidly. And when Marc says we’re a 40 person company –
Marc: Right. We’re not Microsoft or Apple here.
Craig: No one is asking you that.
Joe: 10 to 15 percent of those people are actually programmers.
Craig: I understand. All I’m saying is…
Joe: So, I have a limited amount of –
Craig: …the company sold me a product and it didn’t work as described. I would love — I think everybody frankly was a little, I think I was — I was, I don’t think, I was shocked that after this many years you guys didn’t come out and at that price say here’s a cloud solution so that you can actually collaborate. This is being mastered across platforms by everyone else.
Joe: What we’re doing is we’re integrating Dropbox on our iPad app so that you have really deep integration with Dropbox to make that a lot easier.
Craig: Oh, come on. But I’m not talking about that.
Joe: But that’s really what our customers are asking us for.
John: Honestly, I’m sort of on your side.
Joe: That’s what our customers are asking us for.
John: All my stuff is currently in Dropbox. That’s where I sort of want to see stuff.
Craig: No, I understand. But I have Dropbox. See, there’s two kids that have created this writing site, you know, WriterDuet, where they — now, is that solution appropriate for Final Draft, I don’t know. But they figured something out here already. And they’re just kids!
Joe: Well, so there’s CollaboWriter and there’s like the online storage and syncing the storage.
Craig: They’re not really kids. They’re grownups.
Joe: And CollaboWriter is something we want to deal with in a completely new way, so we have a hosted environment so we can do it the right way.
Joe: But as far as syncing and sharing documents, I think there are solutions out there that we just need to integrate with rather than offering you cloud storage. There’s no reason for me to offer you storage.
Craig: We don’t need storage. We need just, yeah.
Joe: We’re making adjustments as we go along and adjustments change.
Craig: Here’s a suggestion to you. Like when I talk to all of our screenwriting friends, the number one thing that we want is to be able to open our laptop here and you open your laptop in your house and we start working in the same document just like Google Docs.
Joe: Definitely. I’m with you.
Marc: We agree.
Joe: We are going to build it. I promise we’re going to build that.
Marc: Let me apologize to the listeners if we’re a little slower than you’d like us to be.
Craig: [laughs] And you have 40 people.
Marc: Like I said, there’s 36 products that work with us. There’s a lot of people that touch Final Draft. We have a lot of — sometimes you get spread a little too thin. We do realize that we are in the screenwriting business and our job is to make screenwriters happy. Hopefully we will get Craig to be a fan.
Craig: You know me. I’m all — I’m honest.
Joe: You’re much more charming in person than on paper.
John: I told you he was going to be a charming person.
Joe: He’s a sweetheart –
Craig: This is charming? Really?
John: Thank you guys so much for coming in.
Craig: Thank you. That was brave. That was brave.
John: It was brave and wonderful for you guys to come in and talk to us about Final Draft 9
Craig: Face the music.
John: And let’s keep a good dialogue going.
Joe: Let’s stay in touch and let’s get these things worked out.
Marc: We’re open to criticism. We’re open to love. And we’re open to suggestions. And just want to remind the listeners we’re not distant. We spend every day listening, talking, interacting with writers of all kinds, from playwrights, to television writers, to people in Europe. We work very hard. My team works very hard.
Craig: I believe you.
Marc: And the reason that prompted this was that the employees might have felt taken back.
Craig: That’s a shame.
Marc: And me — throw it all at me.
Craig: And we are very, I have to say just personally I respect the hell out of you guys for coming on. I think it’s fantastic. I hope that you understand that everything I have to say — the good news about me is that I’m just a little honesty machine, so when I love it I’m going to love it hard.
Joe: What you see is what you get.
Marc: But this is why we came here. We cannot get better unless we listen to the criticism. We just can’t accept the love. I do want to thank the listeners that do love us to keep loving us. And I want the ones that don’t to tell us how to make us better. That’s the only way you get better. We are sometimes a little slower because we have a big reach. We’re not a new startup. We’re not a small company. And we have what you call a legacy product. And you have a lot of things that have to work hand in hand with that. And a lot of partners and a lot of — I could go on, and on, and on.
So, it’s a balancing act and I appreciate you having me on.
Craig: It was a pleasure.
Marc: And please feel free to keep criticizing us. It makes us better.
Craig: [laughs] Fantastic.
John: Thank you guys so much.
Joe: Something tells me they will. [laughs]
John: Yeah, probably.
Marc: As always, John, good to see you.
Craig: Thank you guys, that was great.
[Scriptnotes theme music]
Craig: So, a very interesting thing happened this week. Billy Ray and Chip Johansen — Johansen, right? Johannessen or Johansen? Well, anyway, Chip, they are the co-chairs of the negotiating committee. Very well regarded, well respected writers, not only for the work that they do but their position in the guild and their demeanor, they way they conduct themselves.
And they sent an email to the membership and it said essentially that even though the AMPTP, the organization that corrals all the companies for the purposes of bargaining, even though they’ve made a deal with the DGA, and even though we have, I think we’re coming up on 70 years of precedent where if one guild gets a deal they all get it, the AMPTP opened up with a volley that they were going to offer us something that was worth $60 million less, with all these rollbacks on the table. And basically the email said, “Well, that was surprising. And we’re not going to take that.”
And I just wanted to talk about this for a minute, because what does it mean? A lot of people are a little concerned and nervous.
John: So, as we’ve talked about on the podcast before, I’m actually on the negotiating committee for this contact. So, while I can’t talk about specifics of what’s going on here right now, I would say in general in the town both on the writers’ side and the studios’ side, it didn’t feel like this was going to be a particularly contentious negotiation.
Craig: Yeah, like why? This wasn’t supposed to be this way. Why are they doing this?
The first thing I should say is that there was — what I didn’t read in the email from Billy and Chip was any sense of panic. And nor do I have a sense of panic. And the reason I don’t have a sense of panic is because I think that this is a fairly obvious but also fairly clumsy attempt by Carol Lombardini, who is the head negotiator for the companies, to get us to sort of bargain up towards the DGA as opposed to trying to get us — working hard to get us to bargain down to that number.
As a strategy I suppose it’s okay. It’s a little silly. A lot of this stuff is kabuki theater. The blunder here was that it was just way too aggressive. Way. It just feels like a huge mistake. And it feels like a mistake on their part strategically because, look, if they really do want to overturn pattern bargaining then I’m going on strike. I’ll go on strike without the WGA. [laughs] I don’t care.
John: Craig Mazin just walks around all the time with a blank picketing sign and he will just write whatever he needs to write on, because that’s Craig Mazin. That’s what Craig Mazin does.
Craig: Uh [laughs]. So, if you lose me that early you’ve really blown it because I’m a very moderate guy about this sort of thing. I hate strikes because I think that you can’t truly win a strike.
But in this case if we were to violate pattern bargaining, there’s no reason for the guild to exist anymore. If you accept that one time, then the next time you’ll have to do it again and again until eventually we just get paid McDonalds wages and what do we need a union for?
That’s why I know that this isn’t serious from them because they know that we would never take it. I just think it was a bungled first step by the companies and I hope that they un-bungle this quickly. It was sort of pointless.
John: I am told that my function as a member of the negotiating committee will be to sit in a room and make a counter offer, then sit while they mull that counter offer, and then sit some more, and then sit some more. So, I am bringing plenty of good reading material. I have plenty to write. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my fellow writers and trying to get this contract done.
Craig: It’s essentially the writer’s version of jury duty, because the negotiating committee exists per the constitution, the union constitution. In actuality it would be impossible to negotiate anything. By the way, it’s the same thing for the companies. They have all these people in the room. It’s very hard for the — ultimately it comes down to about four people in a sidebar deciding everything. So, you become quickly ceremonial.
But that said, I think everybody is looking at this going, “Oh, come on. That’s just ridiculous.” So, I guess I would say to my fellow writers don’t panic. Not over this. But, nor should you think for a second that we would ever in a million years accept something like that. We would not.
John: If Craig Mazin tells me not to panic I will not panic.
Now, another thing that happened this week, something that a reader wrote in about, this is from Erica Horton: “I know you guys have probably gotten a lot of questions about the Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight script. However, I was wondering if you could address the difference between sharing a script the way one of the actors supposedly did and posting the screenplay online the way Gawker did. Is there a difference?
“I understand how someone producing a movie from a screenplay without the permission of the author is copyright infringement, or taking it and claiming it as their own. Is it against copyright law to share someone’s screenplay if you credit them as the author and don’t sell it?”
Craig: Absolutely against copyright law. 100 percent. What a shame. And then Quentin famously said, “Well, now I’m not making the movie.”
John: Which I would like to stipulate as a writer and director, that is entirely his right.
Craig: I love –
John: He can not make his movie. That’s fine.
Craig: If he weren’t already the coolest guy in the world he would have become the coolest guy in the world because of this. Strong move to the hoop.
John: So, in case people are listening to this podcast years after the fact, what happened this last week is Quentin Tarantino’s script, which is apparently called Hateful Eight, leaked online. So, I’m not even sure what the entire backstory of this was, but he had sent the script to certain actors and either through them or through their agents somehow it got out. And it was passed around town. But, more importantly it was put online by Gawker. And so people could read the screenplay. And that is what has happened to get us to this point.
Craig: The idea is that if you’ve written a screenplay, either you haven’t sold it or you have sold it, either way someone owns the copyright. And part of copyright — part of the right of copyright is the right to distribution. So, I don’t have the right to sell things that I haven’t authored unless I’ve gotten permission. And in this case copying and disseminating the screenplay is a violation of the copyright owner, which in this case I think is Quentin. I don’t think he’s sold it to anybody yet. Yeah.
Which is even — for those people who are kind of copy-fightists, then just know that his isn’t like a pro-corporation, “Well Mickey Mouse should be copyright forever,” kind of thing. This is a man who wrote a thing.
John: So, let’s talk about the difference between a script being passed around Hollywood and a script being posted online. I’ve taken my own sort of smaller John August umbrage at people posting script reviews online. And this is sort of the same kind of thing, but times a thousand.
I think as writers we can all sort of understand what this is like. This is something that I’ve written that I did not want to share to the world that is now suddenly up on Gawker. And how would you feel?
Craig: Violated. I mean, people have to understand we would never — if Stephen King sent a rough draft manuscript to his publisher and some assistant in the office took it and scanned it and threw it up on the web, everybody would be shocked by it. But somehow for screenplays we don’t have the same level of outrage, maybe because the internet geek community is so passionate about this stuff. And I use that term lovingly. And they want to celebrate and read these things and they’re obsessed with the insidery-ness of it all.
The problem is they don’t understand we don’t write screenplays for you to read on the internet period, anyway. We write them to be converted into movies. We want you to see a movie not having read the screenplay. What a shame to go into The Sixth Sense or Silence of the Lambs having read the screenplay.
And, look, I saw Silence of the Lambs having read the book, but I would have never read the screenplay to see the choices and to see the movie in my head. It’s just violation. The worst kind of violation is the ScriptShadow-y “I’m going to take your early draft and review it,” which is a double dose of why. Like who the hell gave you the right to do this? And why do you think it’s good for anyone?
John: Let’s step back and talk for a second about a screenwriter’s right to control the distribution of his or her script. Because there’s sort of two different phases a script goes through. There’s the stage where it’s just your script. You’ve written a script, you may have handed it to one or two people to read. You are trying to get their opinions, their feedback. You’re trying to know if this thing you’ve written is good.
Now, at a certain point you’re going to be going after directors or actors and that script is going to be in other people’s hands. At a certain point you give up your expectation that you can control every person who’s reading it. And sometimes that’s okay.
When you write a spec script at a certain point you want people to be passing it around. Each year we talk about the annual Black List of the people who have written the scripts that people love most in Hollywood. And most of those scripts were not a case of an executive calls the agent and says, “Can I read this script?” It’s more, “I read this great script and here I’m going to give you a copy of this great script.” That passing around is a natural part of Hollywood.
But that’s not what happened with this in Gawker. This was not a passing around of something that we loved. This was publishing it on the internet for the whole world to read. And that’s not okay. That’s not an acceptable sort of use of the screenwriter’s work.
Craig: It’s different in scale, obviously. But it’s also different in terms of whose intention is ruling the day. For instance, when I was writing the Hangover movies with Todd Phillips, we never printed a single page out. Nobody got copies of it except for him and me while we were writing it. It existed entirely on our two computers. That’s it. And then when we were done we made a hard copy for the head of Warner Bros. We presumed that he would safeguard and he did. And the three actors, you know, the three guys.
And everybody else had to come into the office, you know, like costume designers and production, everybody else, had to come into the office, read it, and leave, and not take it with them, no transmission, because we understood it was something that people would take and put on the internet.
So, there are screenplays that there will be interest in.
Craig: J.J. I’m sure is struggling with massive amounts of security around the Star Wars scripts.
John: And I want to talk about how you lock stuff down when you mean to lock stuff down, because right as the story broke people were tweeting or emailing me saying, “Oh, they should have used Bronson Watermarker,” which is an app I make that watermarks PDFs. Saying like, “Oh, if Tarantino had done this then this wouldn’t have happened.”
No, this could have still happened. I mean, the app that I make can put a watermark on your PDF and that is some protection, and we can do like a bigger deep burn thing where you’re creating an image of every page. That’s a little bit more protection.
But that’s still kind of locking your bike. If somebody wanted to put it up on the internet they could still put it up on the internet. They could retype it. There’s no real way to protect your script from anyone possibly looking at it unless you’re doing exactly what you did with The Hangover 3 which is have people come to your office to read it.
Craig: Well, and for instance on that project, and I suspect it’s the same case with any high profile movie that you know you’re making, and it’s a sequel, or even if you’re doing the first — like I’m sure when they did the first Hunger Games they were obsessive about security. The agents don’t get it.
One thing that I was puzzled by, frankly, was the way that Quentin went about this. I think that he — I can’t blame him for walking through a bad neighborhood wearing a tight dress, but he acted in a way that I would have at least counseled him to not do.
John: He did seem to be very casual about sending this script to these people with the expectation that it wouldn’t get out past them, which if you think about his previous scripts have leaked out. So, you would think he would approach this with, I don’t know, a little bit more caution. I mean, you’d think he would have them come to his house to read it, for example.
Craig: That’s right. And maybe it’s just that he — because he’s Quentin Tarantino, you know, he doesn’t know that he’s Quentin Tarantino. But if I were with him I would say, “Oh my god, you have to understand something: people would knife their brother or sister to get your scripts because people are that obsessed with it.”
John: That would actually be a great job for somebody, sort of like following Quentin Tarantino around saying, “No, you’re Quentin Tarantino. You shouldn’t do that.”
Craig: “Yeah, I’m sorry Quentin. You forgot again that you’re Quentin Tarantino.”
John: Right. That’s what you should do.
Craig: By the way, I would do it right now. If Quentin Tarantino said you can follow around all day long, I mean, I am so fascinated by him as a filmmaker. He’s probably my favorite filmmaker.
John: Well, I do recall that probably the first script I ever really truly loved was Quentin’s script for Natural Born Killers.
Craig: I read that script. It’s awesome.
John: Which wasn’t really the movie that they made, but it was the original script. And I was at USC at the time and I remember one night getting the script, reading the script, and getting to the last page and then just flipping back to page one and reading it all over again. It’s the first script I did that with because it was just so good.
Craig: And he gets away with stuff that we can’t all get — I mean, he just does things that we’re not allowed to do. He’s the best.
John: All right. We have a question from Paul. He writes, “I am a Brooklyn based filmmaker.”
Craig: [New York accent] Hey what’s up, Paul? How ya doin’?
John: “And I enjoy your show greatly which is why I wouldn’t have guessed that I would ever take umbrage at your remarks, but umbrage I have taken. In your show Women in Pilots you and Craig commented numerous time about the way kids can mess with your career. Craig even went so far as to say they prevented him from becoming a director.
“In past shows you’ve talked about how kids halt many writer’s careers and success in the industry. As a married filmmaker considering having kids these remarks are more than disconcerting. You and Craig provide too strong of an anti-kid argument for parents who clearly both revel in the joys of a family. This feels like a ‘do as a I say not as I do’ bit of wisdom. I know successful filmmakers who have families and who are permanently single. And while the responsibilities of family can be extremely difficult to manage, I don’t believe a filmmaker’s success is harmed by his or her obligations to children. I think it’s totally specific to the individual.”
Craig: I…where to begin.
John: I know.
Craig: I mean, well, my initial reaction is, Paul, I can absolutely do anything I want professionally and remain the father to my children. It’s just I’m not sure I’m doing the father to them that I want to do. So, it’s a choice. I’m just making a choice. I’m not saying don’t have kids.
First of all, family should be your priority anyway. [laughs] It’s more important to make human beings and love them to, I don’t know, get a job making a film. It’s a movie. I love movies, but they’re not people.
John: This reminds me of another podcast I was listening to this week, the Planet Money podcast. And they had this economist on who writes about love and sort of the choices people make in romantic relationships. And I think the specific bit of advice was about this guy who had written in who was polyamorous. And he’s saying, “I have three lovers and people never write about this stuff and so what do you think the economic consequences of this are?”
And the economist was very smart in saying you may have bountiful love. Your love may be endless. But your time is not endless. And your ability to be with people is not endless. And so no matter what you do you are making some choices about how you are spending your time and how you are spending your emotional energy.
And that, I think, is really what we get into with Paul’s question is that, yes, you can have a terrific filmmaking career. You can have a terrific family. But to try to put energy in both places equally, there’s only a certain number of hours in a day. There’s only so much you.
And so everything is choices and you’re making a choice between how you’re going to allot your time. And having kids may cause you to allot your time differently. And that’s, I think, just the nature of the beast.
Craig: That’s right. And, Paul, don’t misinterpret my snarky attitude. I don’t blame my children for the choices I make. I make my choices for my children. I love my kids. My wife and my kids come first. I have turned things down, repeatedly, because I thought that it would be bad.
And, by the way, I’ve also made mistakes. I’ve talked a lot about how when my son was two I went to Vancouver and I was there for about six months. And I would go back and forth. There was a stretch of about three months where I was gone. And I came home and he looked different. And it was terrifying to me.
I was talking to this to Alec Berg was actually talking about this the other day when he went off to make — he made EuroTrip. And his daughter had just been born. Had just been born. And he got back from Prague and even though she was a baby and babies don’t necessarily — when you say like, oh, a baby doesn’t recognize me, she didn’t recognize him. His own baby didn’t recognize him. It was like a soldier coming back, you know, it was terrible.
So, Paul, I don’t blame my kids for these things. I make my choices because of my kids. I love my children. And if you love children, too, have some.
John: I will also say that these are the kinds of choices that comes at every filmmaker at every point in his or her career. So, in an early incarnation of Big Fish, Steven Spielberg was attached to direct it. And so it was to the point where we were talking about when we would actually make the movie and Steven said, “Well, I want to do it during the summer so I can be with my kids.” And this is Steven Spielberg and these are the choices he’s making. He’s a director who can make any movie, but some of the choices he’s making are because this is when his kids are going to be out of school and can join him on a set.
So, it’s not just an aspiring screenwriter thing or an aspiring director thing. At every level in the filmmaking world you’re going to be making some of these choices.
Craig: Well answered.
John: Next question comes from Liz in Chicago. She writes, “I’m a filmmaker working on developing a script for a tech-inspired story involving the themes of network and cloud storage, digital storage and security, and big data analysis. The problem is I’m expert in none of these fields and want to understand the real technology behind some of these things so that the story holds some weight in terms of relative accuracy.
“How would you go about finding a trustworthy adviser in the technology field to run the viability of plot elements by?”
Craig: That’s a really good question. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a big research episode.
John: I love research.
Craig: Me too. Beats writing, doesn’t it? [laughs] Most of the movies I’ve done haven’t required a ton of research. Identity Thief was the first one where I had to do a lot of research. And the answer to your question, Liz, is you call up a company that does what you are talking about and you tell them you’re writing a movie and you would love to talk to them. And oh my god do they want to talk to you.
And if you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement or something about trade secrets or things, but just expertise. You know, I went over to Beverly Hills and I sat down with the detective that runs their identity fraud division and he talked to me for two hours.
I remember he said at the end, because he hates identity thieves as you can imagine. He hates them.
John: He figured out that she was the hero.
Craig: Well, he didn’t. But as he was leaving he turned and he said, “By the way, what happens to the identify thief in your movie?” And I said, “She’s going to end up in jail.” And he said, “She should die.”
Craig: And he wasn’t kidding at all. It was like I laughed and then I realized, oh my god, he wants her to die.
John: It would have been a very different movie. I’m glad you didn’t follow his advice. Now, I agree with Craig’s overall advice about reaching out to people but I would say reach out to a specific person.
And so a project that I’m working on I needed to find people who had a very specific disease, or a very specific sort of situation. And they were hard to track down. Fortunately I was able to find an organization, a charity that works with people who have this condition, and I could reach out to them. And so online I could figure out there was a group in LA that did this. I could figure out who the people were I needed to talk to. I could email them directly and say what I wanted to do. Could they get on the phone with me? And they were wonderful.
Because I was talking to an individual. I think if I just called up blindly it would have been very hard, but since I could target an individual person it worked out really, really well.
And, again, people do want to help you, especially if you’re making a movie. I guess I could have dropped some credits, but I don’t really think that was the reason they were talking to me. They just want to actually see the stuff they do portrayed correctly. And that’s more than anything they want to see is they want to be able to talk about their jobs and see their jobs reflected accurately in the movies.
Craig: People get fussy. And they don’t even need you to be a fancy screenwriter. Everybody loves to talk about what they do. Do you know how frequently somebody that is a big data management cloud storage specialist gets to talk about what he does with someone who cares? Never.
They start talking at a party and people are like, “Ugh….” You’re listening. They get very excited. So, you find that person. They’re going to be very happy to talk to you.
But also make sure you do your homework on your own. Don’t show up and ask dumb questions. Read a few books so that you’re not wasting their time and your time by not asking really good questions that only they could answer.
John: Last bit of advice for Liz. Remember that you will become a sort of expert in this because you will learn all these things about data and such, but your audience won’t be. And your audience doesn’t need to be. Your audience needs you to be the person who interprets all that expert information and gives them just enough so they can follow your story.
So, I want you to be David Koepp in Jurassic Park. I want you to create that clever moment that explains how you clone dinosaurs and let’s just get on with our story.
Craig: “What would Koepp do?” I’ve got a bracelet that says that.
John: All right. This is from Zack. “My sister and I are writing partners from Steubenville, Ohio. We’ve been repped on our first script but it was passed on by all the studios it was sent to. Since then we’ve written another script that was considered by a WME agent, giving us notes on two separate drafts. After our last draft we never heard back from him, so we sent to CAA. They liked it and gave us more notes. We completed them and they said the script was ‘unique and enthralling read, but it wasn’t strong enough to represent.’
“My question to you is this: What the hell do we do next? While the script may not be good enough for them, should we spend our time working on the query letters to hopefully get another agency to bite, or should we scrap that idea and focus our time on writing another script? My biggest fear in this industry is that we have a great script that we just weren’t successfully getting to the right person. Maybe that’s me being overconfident, but by killing myself on the page for the last four years, that idea is what gives me hope to keep writing.
“As a seasoned writer I hope you can understand the struggle we’re going through and hope you can give us no more than a few words of advice to get us through these tough times.”
Craig: Well, I always worry when agencies are giving notes to people. Agents have no — I mean, I love my agent. I love my agency. Agents are not in that job. They’re in the job of negotiating business deals. They don’t know what makes a script good, nor do they know what makes a script sell. They only know what make a script sell.
So, they’re always looking backwards at what just happened and then they get new material and say, “Well, does that fit the pattern I watched?” But that’s not how the actual business works, because the actual business is a disruptive business where suddenly Diablo Cody writes Juno and that’s not at all what came before it, but somebody falls in love with it.
So, my advice to you would be consider maybe a service like the Black List where the script would be read not by agents but by people who are more creatively minded. And, remember, all you need is the one.
John: Blcklst.com is certainly a choice. Or, Austin Film Festival, or Nicholl Fellowship, any of the really meaningful screenwriting competitions. Those could be good ways to send your script out there in the world.
But I think the more important thing I would stress to you is that you have one script and I’m sure it’s terrific, but agents are reading this and they’re trying to base their entire opinion on one script. If you had more for them to read with different kinds of scripts they would have a better sense of who you are as a writer. So, while, yes, don’t abandon this project, I think you need to sort of keep writing new stuff and sort of expand your portfolio of awesome.
Craig: Well, and particularly relevant if you are talking to agencies. Because they’re not looking for screenplays, they’re looking for clients.
John: They’re looking for writers who sell things.
Craig: Exactly. And so if you have that one script and that’s the only one you’re ever going to write, and there have been quite a few people, one-hit wonders like that, then you’re less attractive to an agency. They’re going to make 10 percent off of you one time.
John: Our last question comes from Timothy. “Assuming you have a spec script that everybody loves, and assuming you want to direct your own script, is it appropriate to attach a line on your title page that says something to the effect of ‘Writer Attached to Direct.’ If not, how do you go about selling a script as a writer-director?”
Craig: Yeah, you don’t want to say anything on the title page other than the title and who wrote it and the date.
John: Your email address.
Craig: Email address. Yeah. The idea being that if somebody is truly interested in the screenplay you now have leverage. And you tell them I want to direct this screenplay. At which point they’re all going to try and convince you not to. And here’s the fun part: There are a ton of stories where people said no, I must direct it.
John: Richard Kelly on our podcast.
Craig: Correct. And many of those stories fork off into Richard Kelly-ville where they do a great job and they become directors. Many fork off into — they forked off…[laughs].
John: Boondock Saints.
Craig: They got forked off, yeah, into movies where you think, “Oh, you probably should not have directed that and I can’t believe that you forced yourself on when look who could have directed it, this person, this person, this person.”
And, god, that’s the problem. You need a crystal ball there, don’t you.
John: Craig, this was a jam-packed full show.
Craig: This may have been the best show we’ve ever done.
John: I have a One Cool Thing. Do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do have a One Cool Thing. It’s very, very brief.
John: Mine is brief, too. So, every year the City of Los Angeles does this thing called Ciclavia. And if you don’t know what Ciclavia is, it’s kind of awesome and amazing. What LA does is they shut down certain streets on a Sunday an people can go ride their bikes or walk on these streets. And so streets that are normally only car traffic are suddenly pedestrian friendly or bicycle friendly.
Craig: “Get on your box and ride!”
John: The next Ciclavia is April 6. It’s down Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to about LACMA, and it’s just great. And so if you are in Central Los Angeles or if you are going to be able to come to Central Los Angeles, it’s just kind of amazing to be able to see the city in a very different way. So, we’ll put a link to the Ciclavia site so you can see what the roots are and stuff.
Yes, it messes up traffic a little bit, but it’s so worth it to see everyone out in the street enjoying a beautiful spring day.
Craig: That sounds awesome. Very briefly my One Cool Thing this week is @chuckpalahniuk. Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, brilliant writer, and one of our listeners and Twitter followers sent me something that he had posted that somebody else wrote about writing. And I thought it was really good. And then he posted something else that somebody wrote about writing that I also thought was really good that was specifically about screenwriting.
And then he posted something he wrote about writing. And all of it, in one day Chuck Palahniuk posted three things about writing that I thought all of them were terrific. So, this is a, I mean, aside from the fact that he’s a terrific writer, that is a Twitter account well worth following if you are a listener of this podcast.
John: Now, Craig, did you click through to his Twitter bio?
John: Because if you did you’d see that it’s actually not Chuck Palahniuk necessarily tweeting. It’s actually run by the guy who runs his site, a guy named Dennis Widmyer.
Craig: I don’t need the actual Chuck. Whoever that guy is, he is posting great stuff. Who runs my Twitter account?
Craig: I’ve got 40 people. I’ve got 40 people running my Twitter account.
Please, for the love of god, if you’ve listened to this episode and maybe you just disagreed completely with what those guys said or are doing, don’t be jerks. Let me be king jerk and stay under my jerk level, because I’m not even that jerky. That’s the truth. Hey, don’t go beyond me. That would just be disgusting.
- Final Draft
- Scriptnotes 126: Punching the Salty Ocean
- John’s post on Final Draft, software and people
- Deadline: WGA Claims AMPTP Wants Big Pension & Health Contribution Cuts In New Contract
- LA Times on Quentin Tarantino’s Gawker suit
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jakob Freudenthal
The market leader and the preferred file format of the Writers Guild of America West Online Script Registration.
That surprised me. Here is the actual wording on the WGAw Registry website:
Preferred file formats are ASCII, XML, PDF (Adobe Acrobat), Word, Final Draft , and Movie Magic Screenwriter 2000; however, all file formats will be accepted.
In addition, other screenplay software and standard computer file formats are acceptable.
So according to the WGA Registry itself, Final Draft is a preferred file format, not the preferred file format. Which doesn’t seem to be a claim worth trumpeting that loudly, considering the other options include “all file formats.”
Final Draft does get a small logo on the WGAw Registry site, though. Final Draft put out a press release about that. So Final Draft has some special relationship with the WGA. Perhaps it’s the most preferred of all the preferred formats, which include basically anything capable of rendering text.
And speaking of text, ASCII! Younger readers might not even recognize this term. It’s the plainest of plain text, just 128 characters. Do you have a dot-matrix printer? Feed it some ASCII.
Since you can register basically any type of file, can you register scripts written in Fountain? Yes.
Fountain is just text. So if you’re writing a script in Highland or Slugline or Scrivener or Fade In or the growing number of apps that use Fountain, the WGA Registry is happy to take it. PDFs are also a good choice, because they look like a printed screenplay.
While we’re at it, should you register your script with the WGA?
I have no strong opinion. For legal purposes, it can be useful to show you wrote something before a certain date. It’s no substitute for copyright registration, but then again, in many cases the screenwriter and the studio will be engaging in the mutually-beneficial practice of claiming something was a work-for-hire. So I don’t have an all-purpose answer.
All I know is that if you choose to register your script with the WGA, it doesn’t have to be Final Draft.