You are here

John August's Blog

Subscribe to John August's Blog feed John August's Blog
A ton of useful information about screenwriting.
Updated: 2 hours 54 min ago

Left or Right

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 16:09

This link has been sitting in my queue for months, but it’s still worth sharing. Tony Zhou looks at how character choice is framed as going left or right.

You see this technique in movies going back to the dawn of cinema, but no recent movie has used it as fully as Snowpiercer, in which the entire film moves on a linear track.

On the page, you’ll rarely call out “right” or “left.” But that sense of forcing characters to choose between two visual possibilities is a fundamental and frequently-useful paradigm.

Scriptnotes, Ep 175: Twelve Days of Scriptnotes — Transcript

Fri, 12/19/2014 - 15:27

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode contains lots of swearing by lots of different people, so probably not an episode to listen to loud at work or in the car with your kids. Otherwise, enjoy.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is the Episode 175 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

We are here live at the LA Film School. There’s really an audience here. Applause so people can hear. We’re actually really, really glad that you’re here, because this has been a rough afternoon I’d say.

Craig: Yeah, it’s bad.

John: Yeah, it’s bad. Things happen, and everyone sort of knows what’s happened this last week. And so there were the hacks at Sony and so on the podcast I talked about, oh, I was worried that like, you know, I had written things for Sony, you hadn’t written anything for Sony.

Craig: No, I thought I had gotten away with it, but –

John: Sony obviously got hacked and the emails got out. And this last week you didn’t want to be some of the certain executives at Sony. And things got out that were embarrassing. Because when we think about it really, Craig, anyone’s personal emails would have some things in them that are kind of embarrassing.

Craig: Oh, everyone’s. Everyone’s.

John: That’s a crucial thing. Think about your own emails and there’s going to be some stuff you really wish wasn’t public.

Craig: Like really disgusting stuff.

John: So, we found out that the Scriptnotes email had gotten hacked into. And so –

Craig: Not good.

John: There’s a real danger that please don’t pull out your phone now. Don’t look on Deadline. But, there’s a real chance that some of the stuff about our podcast and about our show tonight has gotten out. So, we wanted to get ahead of the story a bit and really talk through and really provide context because so many things can seem so awful out of context, but with context I think we’ll get some sympathy, hopefully.

Craig: Well, yeah, we just want to own this and share what’s coming out with you guys.

John: So, there’s obviously going to be many apologies coming up the weeks ahead, but for tonight we just want to focus on a little section of that and really talk through what we said and own it.

Craig: It’s an email chain basically about tonight’s event.

John: All right. So, this chain started November 3, 2014 and I wrote to Craig, “If we’re done playing the blame game, we need to start thinking about guests for the live show on the 19th. How about Chris McQuarrie? Or do you have a beef with him, too? And I think we can get Aline back if you apologize.”

Craig: I wrote back on November 22, “Did I ever answer this? I’m not talking to McQuarrie. I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m pretty sure his wife faked those texts from me. And either way, that’s what he gets for being out of town for six months making Mission Who-Gives-A-Shit 7. And fuck Aline. She says she’s French. She’s not. She’s from fucking New Jersey. Enough with her. I’m not having this conversation with you again.”

John: All right. November 22, the same day, “Derek Haas just Facebook messaged me that he wants to be on the next live show. It’s like, ‘Hey, about I come over and take a dump on your lawn and you clean it up.’ Jesus, at least it’s not Michael Brandt. Did you hear back from Edgar Wright? Maybe he could teach you how to do comedy. So, we got to get some guests or we’re going to be facing another Richard Kelly vortex.”

Craig: November 29th. “I would have written back sooner, but for the last week I completely failed to give a fuck. Jesus, Derek is desperate. Fine, let him be on the show. We’ll edit it out later to limit the boredom to the suckers who paid for tickets. So far nothing from Edgar. Why are we chasing him so hard? If we need someone to fill the geek cred director slot we can get Rian Johnson whenever we want, which turns out to be never. By the way, do not threaten me with a Richard Kelly vortex. You need to watch your tone. We’ve been friends for ten years and I’ve put up with this kind of thing because the plusses outweigh the minuses, but I will flush the whole down thing down the crapper you start pulling the Richard Kelly card. P.S. who’s Michael Brandt?”

John: Same day. You’ll notice I reply on the same day he sent emails. November 29th, “Michael Brandt is Derek’s writing partner. He’s the Adnan to Derek’s Jay. That’s a Serial reference if you listen to any other podcasts. Okay, updates. Jane Espenson is in. Try not to say anything controversial that will scare her off, like about women superheroes, especially green ones. Basically ask yourself what would Goyer do and don’t do that.

“How do you feel about B.J. Novak? One the plus side, he’s an actor, so he has a teeny, tiny bit of name value.” I am embarrassed about this, too, but like this is what comes out. “On the minus side, I hear he’s a diva. Apparently all the characters on Entourage were based on him.”

Craig: December 2nd. “What if Serial Logcast? Glad that Jane Expensive is on. I promise I want talk about She-Bulk. I love B.J. Nopack. He’s the guy who played the penis in Saving Masturbates, right?” Sent from my iPhone.

John: All right, so this week, December 14th, “Okay, we’re good to go. There’s a sound check at 6pm. Ha, ha, ha, like you’d come. But reminder that Matthew can’t cut in fake sirens to cover your vaping, so no E-cigarettes. Also, let’s talk more about Sony’s hacked emails because they’re such idiots for writing that shit down.”

Craig: I think now you get it. You get where we’re headed. Thank you.

John: You understand sort of the situation that we –

Craig: Tough week. Rough week. Very rough week.

John: But your applause really help us through these difficult times. So, thank you so much and several of these guests actually did choose to show up regardless, so that’s awesome.

Craig: And thank you guys for coming. It’s great to see you all here and as always this benefits the Writers Guild Foundation which is a terrific foundation. So, thank you all for coming.

John: When Craig goes off his scripted parts, then things just fall. But I think we should start this show by welcoming sort of our — the third leg on our stool. Aline Brosh McKenna.

Craig: Yes, Aline Brosh.

Aline Brosh McKenna: Stool. Gross. Yuck. That’s gross. Can we get like eight or ten more water bottles up here?

John: We have a lot of guests.

Craig: The criticism has started early. Usually she takes a 40 second warm-up.

Aline: I haven’t made fun of your clothes yet.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I wore the clown outfit today. This is why I’m on radio. Yeah, I can wear what I want.

John: We didn’t even plan our Christmas colors, but I’m wearing green, Craig is wearing reddish. I’m not even sure there’s a color –

Craig: It’s a melon.

John: Somewhere in the Pantone color book there that color exists.

Craig: It’s a melon check.

John: And Aline is dressed in a sparkly sort of — is that a demi-jacket? What do you call that?

Aline: I believe it’s a cropped jacked.

John: Whenever Aline is on it becomes a fashion show.

Aline: Yes.

John: We want to talk about things that you are actually also really well versed in, which is this last week Universal — well, Scott Mendelson at Forbes had an article about how Universal actually kicked ass this last year and made more profits than ever before and they had no big movies. They had no big tent pole movies and they still did really, really well. And you’re a person who writes those not giant franchise movies and, hooray?

Aline: Well, it seems, you know, the business seems to have ratcheted down into like big, big movies and then the smaller movies that we’re seeing now. It’s like it’s become sort of popcorn or Holocaust. It’s like those are the sizes that the movies come in now. And that kind of mid-range of like adult comedy/dramas that were really the ones that I was most excited to write that would be like the Sidney Pollack, Mike Nichols, Cameron Crowe, sort of mid-budgeted about how people live their lives have kind of moved into the indie space and I feel like now David O’Russell and Alexander Payne have sort of picked up the slack of that. And there isn’t really a lot in the studio space.

And it doesn’t sound like Universal was doing this intentionally really.

Craig: I think they were.

Aline: You do?

Craig: I do. I think they were. So, interestingly, the guy that wrote this article a few weeks prior had written an article that I think we were a little critical of on the podcast because it was another one of those “Hollywood is dying,” and I love that these guys who write a Hollywood is dying article then three weeks later write “look how great Hollywood is doing” and they never mention, “also I fucked up,” and they never say that.

But I think that after Battleship and 47 Ronin, Universal took a very careful look at how they were spending money. And, look, they love franchises as much as any studio, but they –

Aline: But they also don’t have the kind of built-in franchises that some of the other places have. And they have been trying with their monster movies. They’re trying to sort of make it that. I don’t think they’re trying to exempt themselves from that.

Craig: No.

Aline: But it’s sort of worked out. What we’re all hoping, I think we’re all hoping is that this shows people that you can do well with those kinds of movies.

John: So let’s actually run through the list of the movies they had out this last year because it’s an interesting mix and you wouldn’t think like, oh, those were all the same year. So Lone Survivor, Ride Along, Endless Love, Nonstop, Neighbors, A Million Ways to Die in the West, The Purge — second one, Lucy, which was a huge hit, Get on Up, As Above, So Below, A Walk Among the Tombstones, Dracula Untold, Ouija, Dumb and Dumber II, and then Unbroken which is the last one.

So, in the article they stress that like Fast and the Furious 7 was supposed to come out this year. That was supposed to be their giant tent pole. But weirdly for having all of these quite a bit smaller budgeted moves they did great.

Craig: They had a record year. And interestingly the highest budget of all those was Dracula Untold and it was $70. That was the most money they spent on movies.

Aline: The Lucy profitability is insane.

Craig: Insane. By the way, maybe not as insane as Neighbors, because Neighbors was like $18 million.

John: It’s $18 million, $268 million, so that’s a great — you want to be in that business.

Aline: What was Lucy’s number?

John: Lucy’s $40 million budget and $458.

Aline: I mean, it’s insane.

Craig: Insane.

Aline: And also, of course, the Lucy thing is always greeted by this wave of shock and amazement that people want to see women in movies. That’s the other article that’s coming next is like, “What?”

Craig: Right.

John: Before this article existed, it was more challenging to make the movies that you wanted to make, and so you did what we’re all told we should be doing is you actually went off and you made a TV show.

Aline: Yes. Well, that was not intentional at all. And I think we’ve maybe talked about this before. I had done TV at the beginning of my career and I was not looking to go back at all. And every once and awhile somebody would ask me, but this idea of just going in to TV to do TV, which a lot of features do, feature writers do. They just kind of wander over there because it’s there and people say it’s groovy, I wasn’t interested in.

And then in my procrastination I was on Jezebel and I saw a — yup, which I know you guys are all on.

Craig: Totally. Yeah.

Aline: And I clicked on the animated video of a satiric take on Disney princesses with this amazing singer. And I went to see who had done this thing and you obviously can’t see who — I didn’t realize that the person who wrote it was also singing. And then I got bumped to her other videos and it was written and sung by Rachel Bloom. So, I went to — she has a YouTube Channel.

Craig: If only she were here!

Aline: And I went to Rachel’s YouTube Channel and I watched all the videos and I got really excited. And I called my best friend, who is my actual best friend, not my showbiz best friend, but my actual best friend Kate who works in showbiz, who works for a television studio and I said you’re going to love this, I know you’re going to love these. This girl is amazing. You should meet with her. So, we had a meeting with her and she’s, in the videos Rachel is very like sexy and super hot.

Craig: But in reality –

John: Yeah, there was a conjunction coming that was not going to be your friend.

Aline: I was expecting, well, I was expecting like someone from the planet Glamazon, like I was expecting a very actressy thing to show up. And she showed up and in my mind she was wearing cargo pants, which she does not own, so she claims she wasn’t wearing them. But she was wearing sort of like jeans and a t-shirt.

Craig: Is that bad?

Aline: And she was wearing like what Craig wears.

Craig: Well, that sounds pretty great.

Aline: [laughs] So, she came in and I could see right away that she was like a writer girl, you know, and she’s also an amazing actor, and singer, and all of these things. But in her heart of hearts she’s really a writer girl.

John: So, we should bring her up.

Aline: So let’s bring her up.

Craig: Yeah, let’s bring her up.

John: Rachel Bloom, everybody. Rachel Bloom!

Rachel Bloom: I don’t know how you guys cannot curtsy for an audience this big. Like I usually perform in like 20-seat bar theaters. So, to perform — this is like five bars. I just kind of want to do an hour-long set and workshop new material. Anyway, it’s not my show.

Aline: So I found Rachel and we went to –

Craig: Aline just didn’t care what you said at all.

John: That’s what it’s like having Aline on the podcast.

Craig: That’s what I mean. I try and be entertaining –

Rachel: Sometimes, but that’s how I tell when a joke works, is like she doesn’t boo it. She just moves on like it never happened, which is much kinder.

Craig: Is that why you do that to me? [laughs]

John: Sometimes.

Aline: No, John and I are just both really controlling and trying to keep the thing going.

Craig: I know. And the two of us are just Jewish clowns.

John: So, Rachel, your background, you truly are a writer. So, you’re an actress and a singer, but you really are a writer. And that’s what you’ve been doing for your living, correct?

Rachel: Yeah, yeah. So, I started out, I mean, in my heart of hearts I started out as a musical theater kid and I went to school for musical theater at NYU. And while I was at NYU I got into a sketch comedy group and it was a group where we wrote and performed a new show every month and I just fell in love with doing that and I became kind of like a sketch writing robot. I just really, really instantly fell in love with it.

And so when I graduated I knew I wanted to do kind of a mix of comedy writing and musical stuff, but I my career started, I started making money from TV writing. And so that’s where I first started.

Craig: And so now you guys have a pilot that you have done directed by –

Aline: It’s done. Directed by Mark Webb.

Craig: You guys know 500 Days of Summer.

John: He has a movie called Spider-Man.

Craig: One of the Spider-Mens.

Aline: Spider-Mens.

Rachel: And he’s single, ladies.

Aline: And he, like Craig, is a guy who likes the musical theater.

Rachel: Yes, he does.

Craig: You left out the word straight, but fine.

Aline: Yes. He knows a ton about it. Yes, he was a great, I mean, when we finished the pilot Showtime said we want to send it to Mark Webb to see if he wants to direct it. And I said, “Mark Webb directs this pilot, I will pee my pants.” And every once and awhile while we were waiting to hear I would just send them an email that says, “Pee my pants.”

Rachel: And the whole time I just kind of had this thing of like, sure. Like you want to make a TV show with the woman who wrote The Devil Wears Prada? Sure! Yeah, let’s show it to the Queen of England. Like stop jerking me off. This isn’t going to happen. No one gives a shit about musical theater. [laughs] You know?

John: So, Rachel, talk to me about the first contact with you and Aline, because Aline can be overwhelming. Did she reach out to you directly? Did she go through your representative? How did that all work?

Craig: I feel like she could hold her own. I don’t know.

Rachel: She went through my rep. So, I got an email from my rep saying A-line Brosh McKenna wants to meet with you. And I was like who is this dress that wants to meet with me.

Craig: Even I understand that.

Rachel: Okay, good. I’m trying out material. It’s good. I’m doing a tight five at the improv after this on that. And we got a meeting. And she was great because she’s so enthusiastic and like the thing is I had just — I had literally in the past year pitched two musical shows that no one gave a shit about. And so when I got into this room with her and the heads of CBS being like let’s do a musical show, I was just like, okay. Like, yay, if you think it will work, I mean, let’s give it a whirl.

It was like really surreal. It was really crazy. And I don’t think I let myself be that nervous. I don’t think I let myself truly realize how awesome it was because I like didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Aline: One thing that might be interesting people is like there were a couple times, because it was such a blind date, where Rachel would sort of say to me something which resembled like, “But why?” You know, why?

Craig: And you just yelled at her.

Aline: And what said to her is like basically at the beginning of your career all you can do when you’re starting out and you don’t know as many people — she actually knows a ton of people — but when you’re first staring out, you just try and be awesome and hope somebody notices. And hope that the people who notice you like. And that’s all — everybody here, everybody who works in the business at all, you just go around trying to generate good work and be a good person and hope — see who notices.

And some people are really willing to get in on the ground floor, but it wasn’t like I did it out of any altruism. Rachel is like so talented. I feel so lucky. And at every step, it was funny, because we wrote the pilot and that was really fun. We had the best — I wasn’t going to write the pilot, but we were having such a good time, we wrote it together. And then when we were about to shoot it, somebody said to me at some point like she can act, right?

And I was like, yes, no idea! I had no idea. I mean, I knew from the videos I had like a sense, but I had never really seen her act without singing. And she just exceeded every expectation — everybody’s expectations. I mean, she was — people on the set were, now this is all compli-me indirectly, but people were sort of really blown away by how amazing she is and how multitalented she is.

Craig: You have to explain what a compli-me is, because I don’t think these people — that’s a term that Derek invented.

Aline: A compli-me is when you are complimenting yourself basically. It’s a humble-brag, but it’s a little bit more –

Craig: It’s when you’re complimenting somebody else so that you can compliment yourself.

Aline: Yes. Rachel was so amazing in our amazing show we created.

Craig: Right.

Aline: But it’s been really great for me to work with someone just a little younger. [laughs] It’s been really fun. It’s been really great. And you know when I was starting people did that for me. Somebody said, “Hey come here, write this movie. You should sit at this table. Come and sit at this table.”

Rachel: Yeah. And that’s what’s been amazing about working with you is I think for a long time I didn’t really think about like being a woman in Hollywood because coming from like, I don’t know, coming from like alt-comedy, especially in New York, it just feels like very on equal ground, like equal footing. And then you come out here and it’s just like different. Like suddenly you’re the only women in a room full of men and it just feels different. And I definitely did the thing, like I’m not a shy person, but I definitely did the thing where I — I’m always like afraid to make people made at me and I’m afraid to rock the boat. And that’s like a thing that women do a lot that I didn’t notice that I did.

And so it’s been great to hang out with Aline because she just doesn’t do –

Craig: She makes everybody miserable around her.

Rachel: She doesn’t do that. But not in like a, oh god, and this even feels like –

Craig: She gets it.

Rachel: I’m trying to find like a non-misogynist way. You’re not a bitch. You just act like, yes, this is how I should be treated. And I’m going to treat you with respect. You treat me with respect. Whereas like I feel like I go into rooms sometimes, especially like pitching a show and it’s like thank you so much for having me. I really don’t deserve to be here. Like I know you probably won’t buy my shitty stupid show. I’m a piece of shit, I know.

But it’s a thing that girls do because we’re taught to not make anyone mad at us, because god forbid we should make someone mad at us, so we’re supposed to be very accommodating. And I feel like I’ve gotten just a lot better as just like a woman conducting myself in show business from watching Aline. She’s amazing.

Aline: We’ve had a couple of things. This is for a different show, but there are a couple things that came up that were like amazing, well, because Rachel is also very young and was the executive producer of the show. And we had an instance where we interviewed someone for one of the jobs on the show and he decided to say sexually harassing things to her.

Rachel: Can we say — we can’t give specifics of what he said? Okay.

Craig: Sure you can.

Aline: He decided to say inappropriate things to her, and I said, and he then called her agent, you know, his agent, and I said, you know, make sure he knows that I don’t want him to work with us because he’s a misogynist. But also I don’t want to work with him because he’s stupid. Why did you insult this woman who is going to be your boss?

Rachel: And the interesting thing is I didn’t even notice that, which shows like my accommodating nature because he said this thing which we won’t say, but it’s not that bad, but it’s bad. And he said this thing insinuating that I was a slut, basically. I can say that.

Aline: Yeah.

Rachel: And instead of being — and what I did in the moment was I basically — the improviser in my like yes-and it where I was just like, oh yes, yes, blah. And I basically did an improv scene with him, but then he denied. It was a whole thing. He like didn’t even play the improv scene right. And that’s what tuned me off where I’m like, okay, well you’re also just like not funny and you don’t know the basic rules of improv.

But then after he left the room I was like that guy was like okay. And Aline was like you’re going to be his boss. And he calls you like a slut? And I was like, oh yeah, I guess. And that just shows how much probably that shit is being said to like not only me but like girls all the time.

I mean, I remember I was doing a standup show in New York and someone intro’d me and was like, “Yeah, Rachel Bloom. Usually women aren’t funny, but she is because she’s hot.” It was something like — but it’s shit like that where it’s not even like — it’s just someone trying to be funny and failing. And it’s stuff you don’t even notice until someone points it out.

Aline: Well, one thing I wanted to say because in terms of transitioning from film to TV is I think sometimes there’s this thing where people say, “Oh, writers are treated so much better in television,” as if the people in television are just nicer or cooler. And that’s not the reason. It happens that way because you need empowered, intelligent showrunners who know what they’re doing and are in charge. That’s what the job is.

Craig: And sometimes you get Derek.

Aline: And sometimes — and those shows that are run by people who know what they’re doing, and are talented, and have authority and whatever, those are the shows that have done well and have made these companies millions and millions of dollars. That’s why they treat you well.

Craig: I want to hear some of this.

John: I want to hear a song.

Craig: Yeah, I want to hear a song. I want these people to get a little glimpse.

John: Is there anything you can — I mean, can you sing us something about your journey, or at least what it feels like to be in your place?

Rachel: Sure. So, I brought something — first, I would like to invite my colleague Jack Dolgen on the stage.

John: Jack Dolgen, everyone.

Rachel: This is Jack Dolgen.

John: We’ll give you the stage.

Rachel: There we go. That’s a bow. Jack has been my collaborator for many years and he was actually the head of the music department on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the pilot we just did. So, basically I heard a couple months ago that every composition John Williams writes he adds lyrics. And I’ve been too lazy to actually research this fact to see if it’s true, but it makes a lot of sense because when you think about John Williams’ music and his themes, they all kind of have this really strong melody line that kind of works with the title, right? [Hums Star Wars theme] This is a Star War, this is Star War, it’s a Star War.

You know, or like the classic one, you know, [Hums Jurassic Park theme] it’s Jurassic Park, it’s Jurassic Park, there are dinosaurs. You know, I’ve heard that a lot. I don’t know if you guys have. So, I thought, you know, Scriptnotes has a theme, but you guys don’t have lyrics, so I thought I would add lyrics to the very short Scriptnotes theme about what I thought/think as a young writer listening to Scriptnotes and the questions that I hope Scriptnotes will answer. So, this is the lyrics to the Scriptnotes theme. Thanks.

[Sings] How’d you get your agent? How’d you get your start? How do I get famous, tell me I how do I get famous? Stop with all the bullshit about outlines and denouements. Tell me how do I get famous.

Second verse.

[Sings] What’s your advice for a young writer? What book should I read? How do I get on the Black List, not that show with James Spader, or the communist thing in the ’50s, although would that make me famous? Tell me, how do I get famous? Should I become a communist? Is that what the Black List is?

It’s a confusing name for a screenwriting competition. Right? It sends a lot of mixed messages. The Crucible was written about it. Any other name but the Black List. Third verse.

[Sings] Are people buying specs? Is that worth my time? In Final Draft or Fade In? Which software is better? Which software would get me famous? Which software has more connections? Which software might know Ron Howard.

Last verse.

[Sings] Interior. My head. Close up on my face saying how do I get famous. I want to get fucking famous. So I can start my own podcast. Called how do I get famous. Won’t talk outlines and denouements, just spend hours telling people how the fuck they should get famous. And rich.

Thank you.

Craig: Well.

John: Well. Thank you, Rachel. Thank you, Jack. Our second guest –

Craig: Is that really what people — I guess that’s what they want to know, right?

John: Yeah, they do.

Craig: Is that fair to say? That’s what you want to know?

John: Hollywood dreams.

Craig: They’re not saying they don’t want to know. Segue Man, I’ve just given you kind of a softball there. Something about famous.

John: You can pick up a softball once.

Craig: Oh, I’m going to do it? No, I’m not going to take away Segue Man’s job.

John: All right. Our next guest is famous. Hey! That’s the segue. I’ve felt it now. He was a writer-producer-actor on The Office. Since then he’s starred in everything from Inglourious Basterds –

Craig: One of my favorites.

John: To Saving Mr. Banks and The Newsroom. This year he came out with two books to make us all feel really lazy. He had two books. One More Thing: Stories and other Stories and The Book with No Pictures. Let us please welcome B.J. Novak.

B.J., thank you so much for being here.

B.J. Novak: My pleasure.

Craig: How do I get famous?

John: So, tell us, how do you become famous? Rachel wants to know, so, I mean.

B.J.: I think Rachel figured it out. Yeah, well done.

John: Yeah, be on a TV show. That’s a great thing to do.

B.J.: And here you go.

John: There you go.

Craig: Or, yeah, be on a podcast, which doesn’t get shit done, but a TV show is probably better. I wanted to ask you about this book. I don’t know if you guys have seen this video. So, B.J., we know B.J. from television and we know him from movies, but you started as a writer.

B.J.: Mainly television.

Craig: No, but you are Utivich. Inglourious Basterds. Thank you.

But you wrote this book, it’s a kids book called There are No Pictures.

John: No, no, it’s not that. That’s not the title, Craig.

Craig: What’s it called?

John: The Book with No Pictures.

B.J.: Thank you.

Craig: Right. The Book with No Pictures.

John: I’m just going to watch and wait for him to say something wrong. Have you read this book?

Craig: No! I didn’t have to read it because I watched him perform it. The title is irrelevant, let’s face it. So, go on YouTube and watch B.J. read this book to kids. It’s spectacular. And just tell us a little bit about why a kids book in particular because you’re not yet a dad. Why you wanted to do a kids book and why you approached it that way?

B.J.: Well, I felt empowered to write a kids book because I had just written this other book and it was not too different from what I had done in the past in terms of having an idea, really believing in it, and psyching yourself up not getting demoralized on the weeks when it’s going terribly. And thinking I’m just going to commit myself to this and not judge whether or not I should be doing this, which took me many years to get to that stage, especially in things that were outside my comfort zone.

But once I had done that, and then I had this idea, I was reading a book to my best friend’s son who is two years old, and as he handed me the book I thought what is his dream — he doesn’t know what’s in this book. What is he hoping will happen when I open this book? Probably that I have to say all these silly things that he knew I had to say. You know, so that was the premise of this book. So, I got sort of the bigger existential answer is that I felt empowered that if I had an idea I thought was good I could follow through and be a perfectionist about it and send it to someone and see.

Craig: I love that. I actually feel it’s a very good sign for any writer to have to get to that. The writers that are born with that I find are often just terrible. Do you know what I mean?

B.J.: Well, there’s a flip side to it which I guess balances what I was able to do well which is that I am a relentless inviter of criticism. And so I started as a standup and you learn from that that it’s really the toughest test of whatever you think is brilliant to stand in front of people and to know viscerally what you hate saying because it doesn’t work, as opposed to just presuming that what you wrote is great.

So, I from that became someone who wanted to test everything I did. I wrote the stories in the last book and read them to an audience in a theater about once a month and crossed out everything in front of them that wasn’t working. And then with the kids’ book I read it to lots and lots of kids. So, I think if you are ruthless with yourself, that is a good balance to the confidence.

Craig: Agreed.

John: So your voice is literally your voice because you’ve read all these things aloud, so they have to make sense within your internal presentation.

B.J.: Yeah. I guess I have written almost nothing in my life that I haven’t read out loud in a performance setting. A few things, but little.

John: So, your book of short stories and your kids’ book, those are small enough that you can actually perform them. But if you try to write something bigger, will it scale I guess is my question? Are you trying to writer longer pieces?

Craig: Because you are, right?

B.J.: Well, on The Office, obviously I had like two lines an episode. So, it’s hardly like I performed everything I wrote if I wrote an episode. But we would still in the writer’s room, it was sort of the dessert of the day was to get to read the script out loud for all the other writers whatever you had written on your own. And we would fight, even if it had already been approved and it was like, all right, no, it’s in the script. We’d be like, no, we want to perform it. It was fun.

John: So, on The Office, were there characters that you consistently performed who weren’t, you know, the Ryan character?

B.J.: Oh, great question. Yeah. I guess I did Dwight a lot. Yeah, I don’t know.

Craig: That must have been fun.

B.J.: Yeah.

Craig: That must have been fun. But you’re heading into screenplay waters now, feature screenwriting, that’s something you’re getting into here.

B.J.: I want to, yeah.

Craig: You want to?

B.J.: Yeah.

Craig: Because you and I were talking beforehand that the experience of writing a book, the scary part and the wonderful part is it’s you. But it’s never just you when you write a screenplay by design unless, by the way, you’re Quentin Tarantino. There is a group that starts to come in and do things. I know on The Office you had that experience, but those stories are generated as a group anyway.

B.J.: You know, if I’m lucky, or even if I’m not, I’d love to come back one year from tonight on the next podcast and tell you. Because I know whatever happens, good or bad, it will throw me for a big loop.

Craig: All right, done. Done. You can come back and cry.

B.J.: But here I am, on the verge of finishing some screenplays. Yeah, I listen to the podcast. So, I don’t know. I had to learn publishing. I had to learn television. And a lot of what you learn is frustratingly irrelevant to the creative aspect.

Craig: That is accurate.

John: Tell us your backstory. How did you get on to The Office and what was your writing before then? So, you were writing from college on? And what were you writing?

B.J.: I was, you know, I was the editor in chief of my high school newspaper, the Lion’s Roar, no big deal.

Craig: It’s a good paper. That’s a good paper.

B.J.: Thank you. Some Lion’s Roar fans in the front.

John: Royal Banner, editor in chief. High school paper.

Craig: I was the editor in chief as well of my high school paper.

John: Oh, success.

Craig: And I cannot remember the name of it.

B.J.: Wow.

Craig: It’s the Freehold High School…

John: Did you have a John August in that time to sort of help you get stuff done?

Craig: I probably did. I can’t remember him, either.

John: That’s going to be great.

B.J.: You should replace the Car Talk guys.

Craig: Aw.

John: Aw. You had to bring death into it.

B.J.: Well…

Craig: B.J. Novak everybody.

John: [laughs] So high school newspaper, then were you trying to do funny at that point? Or was it just journalism?

B.J.: Yeah, that’s what I would — I would always write funny things.

Craig: Did you ever get in trouble? I got in trouble.

B.J.: Yeah. I loved it.

John: I got in trouble.

Craig: Great. So, if you haven’t been the editor in chief of your high school newspaper, get out. Ain’t happening. You’re done.

John: The ship has sailed. Or somehow find some way to go back, like that can be the high concept comedy premise is that you decide you have to go back to edit the high school paper.

Craig: Worst movie ever. So –

John: Kevin James stars as.

Craig: Poor Kevin.

John: I think Kevin is lovely, but.

B.J.: That’s the yes and to how do I get famous.

Craig: Yes and.

B.J.: Oh, I was not expecting that.

Craig: The editor and chief of your nerdy high school newspaper.

John: So, from high school to college comedy as well? Were you doing standup? What happened?

B.J.: In college I wrote for the Harvard Lampoon.

John: I’ve heard of that.

Craig: But you did not attend Harvard? You just would wander in?

B.J.: As I tell people, I went to school in Harvard Square. That’s my way of getting around that.

Craig: What a douchebag.

B.J.: And I put on a show my junior and senior year called The B.J. Show which was a variety show. And my senior year we invited Bog Saget. Just called him cold through his manager and asked if he wanted to be honored by the Harvard Lampoon, which is confusing. It sounds like Harvard is giving a degree kind of, and he said yes, and he came and performed on the show.

And I wrote, I guess my first TV spec was an episode called the Lost Episode of Full House, which we had him perform. And it was really filthy. It was fantastic.

Craig: Oh, that sounds great.

B.J.: Danny Tanner teaches his daughters about sex. And Uncle Jessie overhears and realizes that he doesn’t know what sex is, and so he teaches Uncle Jessie who then becomes obsessed with sex. It was a lot of fun.

Craig: Too many cooks. Too many cooks.

B.J.: It’s funny to reminisce on that. Unbeknownst to me he was starting up a sitcom called Raising Dad on the WB and hired me to be the edgy young writer.

Craig: Wow. That’s great.

B.J.: Any Raising Dad fans here? Yup.

Craig: There he is. I’m so puzzled why it got canceled.

B.J.: Not as many as the Lion’s Roar.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs] It’s actually got fewer people than the Lion’s Roar.

B.J.: Yeah. Fewer people than my high school paper.

Craig: It lost in the ratings to the Lion’s Roar. Oh, man, that’s awesome. Now, you also — you had an experience that I am so envious of and that is that you got to perform in a Quentin Tarantino movie. And I am such a big, big fan of him. What was that like getting a screenplay from Quentin Tarantino?

B.J.: That was exciting just to read. I was going to San Diego, The Office cast was going to Comic Con early in The Office. And I got that script which if anyone ever got a hold of it, the cover page was red and handwritten. It was dramatic. He’s very dramatic. Even the cover page was dramatic. And it was very exciting to have this Quentin Tarantino script. And I’m reading it.

At this point I’m sure everyone knows what happens in Inglourious Basterds, but it’s this fantastic screenplay. The first 20 pages were the best 20 pages I had ever read. And it just went on from there. And there are three simultaneous plots to kill Hitler. And I’m getting towards the end of the movie wondering how these plots are going to fail.

And 15 pages away, ten pages away, and I’m thinking they seem pretty on track. I guess like poor guy, it’s like what’s going to happen. And then like five pages from the end I was like, holy shit, I think they’re just going to work. And they did and it just blew my mind that this movie had so much creative freedom. It assumed so much creative freedom that it could be relatively realistic, although in retrospect there were all kinds of things that were complete fantasy. But they seemed to be worthwhile artistic tangents to an actual historical setting. And then it ended up being as imaginative as anything you’d see in science fiction.

And at the end of a Tarantino movie, and yet it made perfect creative sense, but you never would have thought of it.

Craig: Right. You were saying that it just came to you as you finished it that, oh yeah, that’s right, this is fiction.

B.J.: This is fiction.

Craig: Yeah, you forget.

B.J.: A writer, and the movie thing. Come on.

Craig: There is a great lesson in that. Copying Tarantino is the worst thing you can do.

B.J.: The whole ’90s taught us that.

Craig: Yes. Precisely. But his fearlessness and you see it in other filmmakers and other writers, too, who write screenplays and they have no concern with you or anybody reading it and going what the fuck. In a way that reaction is a good one.

B.J.: Yeah. People copy the wrong things about Tarantino.

Craig: They do. Exactly. Like some of the wordiness.

B.J.: Yeah, like the surf music, or the leather jackets, or the few times that there’s a distracting camera move to show off. What should be imitated about a Tarantino movie is the sense of surprise, the sense of absolutely joy in storytelling which actually makes his movies much more accessible and even linear, even though they’re often told in non-linear forms. The scenes are actually usually shot very simply and very easy to understand. And if you compare it to the larger trend in filmmaking with complete chaos of movement and lack of static composition for any reason whatsoever, the movies are sort of old fashioned. And they’re actually so much more riveting and easy to follow.

And the way he works with actors is like the way a college drama teacher would take extra care in what your backstory is and what you’re feeling. I mean, he’s the most old fashioned director out there, even though what people often take from him are the few things that are so youthful and new, which are exciting, but you just take for granted the basic things that should be copied.

Craig: And you get to be in the last shot of a Quentin Tarantino film, which is amazing.

John: What you’re describing is the confidence. It’s the confidence you see in the directing style, but it’s the confidence you see in the writing, too. So, the decision to kill Hitler at the end — a spoiler — at the end of Inglourious Basterds, that’s a confidence. And you felt the confidence the whole way through.

B.J.: Yes.

John: I remember the first screenplay I ever read twice like back to back was his script for Natural Born Killers. And I was in college and I read it and got to the last page and was like well I have to read this again like right from the start. And you sense that he had — this whole world of the movie made sense and it all fit together in a way that I desperately wanted to see.

And that’s a case of copying the right things. Copying the spirit, the inventiveness.

B.J.: I wonder how much of that was his determination to direct them. And I know he didn’t direct Natural Born Kills, but I wonder if you approach it assuming that everything is going to be exactly as you wrote it, if you might approach it differently as opposed to trying to make sort of the perfect screenplay, you try to make the screenplay that’s most you. There might be a difference there.

Craig: We do say to people all the time that the only way they’re ultimately going to break through the clutter and the noise of all the people that are trying to write is to be somebody that is unique. And it’s hard, because frankly a lot of people just aren’t unique, but then I think a lot of people are and they take all the wrong lessons from the cottage industry of how do I get famous.

Well, you don’t want to do that, and you don’t want to do this, and you don’t want to do that. Well, why are you saying that? Because most other people aren’t doing it. That’s why you might want to do it, you know. That’s why you might want to write a kid’s book with no pictures in it. I mean, that would be a first, I think. No one else has done that, unless did you rip somebody off?

B.J.: I hope not.

John: All right.

Craig: Awesome.

John: So, you’re writing for features now and we’re going to see an awesome movie out of you I think. I think you’re going to make a really kick ass movie.

Craig: Agreed.

B.J.: Thank you.

John: Is this a movie you would want to direct yourself, or something you would want someone else to come onboard to do?

B.J.: We will check in a year from now.

John: One year from now.

B.J.: I want to, yes, I want to direct what I do.

John: All right. We want you to direct what you’re going to do.

Craig: We do.

John: I’d like some applause for B.J. Novak directing his movie.

B.J.: Hey, thanks guys.

John: B.J., thank you so much for being on the show.

B.J.: I love the show. I listen all the time.

Craig: Thank you. Look at that.

B.J.: This show is my One Cool Thing.

John: Aw.

Craig: Aw. Thank you, B.J. B.J. Novak.

John: Thank you so much.

Craig: Segue — Segue Man.

John: Segue Man. So, we’re going to do this sort of like the Academy Awards where we have to read off the same thing.

Craig: Oh, we are?

John: Next up we have two guests joining us. She is a writer-producer on shows including Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, Tru Calling, Andy Barker, P.I., Battlestar Galactica, Torchwood, and Once Upon a Time. She is also the co-creator of the web series Husbands which is also available as a graphic novel and is great.

Craig: He, Adele Nazeem, has written features including Too Fast, Too Furious, Wanted, and 3:10 to Yuma, and co-created NBC TV shows Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. He’s also a novelist with many series, multiple series, including the honored Silver Bear trilogy. Please welcome…

John: Jane Espenson.

Craig: And Derek Haas.

Derek Haas: Good to see you.

John: Oh, Derek.

Derek: I feel like I was the butt of all the jokes earlier.

Craig: Not yet.

John: Extra material saved.

Craig: Oh yeah.

Derek: Oh god.

John: We’ve been talking a lot about TV and that’s partly why I wanted Jane Espenson here, because no one has taught me more about TV honestly than Jane. So, people who have been around for awhile, have you read Jane’s blog? JaneEspenson.com?

So, she created this amazing blog which is sort of in archive now. You’re not updating anymore.

Jane Espenson: I haven’t updated in many years. But, you can’t tell that because the entries aren’t dated. They just have the month. So, everybody thinks it’s still new and fresh.

John: And it’s still new and fresh because there are things on there that are just great and there are terms that I did not know existed until you had blogged about them. So, I want to go through some terms and just get the live version answer of what some of these things are.

Jane: Sure.

John: Hang a lantern. What does hang a lantern mean?

Jane: All right. So, these are terms that are used in writer’s rooms, and some are specific to one room, and some are sort of universal. And hang a lantern is universal where if you want to let the viewer’s know, and yeah, let the viewers know that something isn’t a mistake, that it’s something you’re doing intentionally, you just hang a little lantern on it. So, you put a little thing in the script that says something like, “You don’t know yet that this character has a secret, but keep on them because you’ll know in the next act,” or something like that where you just indicate in the script a little something that’s just you sort of whispering in the ear of the reader or viewer.

That’s also something that you can do — and maybe the more typical use of it is if you have a character say out loud something like, “Well, that seemed like an odd coincidence.”

Craig: It’s like covering a mistake kind of thing.

Jane: Yeah. I think that’s the more common usage of it. It’s halfway between covering the mistake and letting the audience know it’s not a mistake. You’re pointing out something before the viewer can criticize it. You’re pointing right at it.

John: Yeah. Look at this thing I just did right there.

Jane. Yeah, yeah. I mean, it’s sort of the equivalent of like saying, “I know I’ve got a big zit on my nose, but what are you going to do?” You say it before someone else can say it.

John: Yes. Sort of like our emails. I was owning the story before it happened.

Jane: Right. Exactly.

Craig: I forgot about that. You reminded me.

John: I’m sorry. We’re having a good time and I bring up bad things. A joke on a joke? You also are hat on a hat, banana on a banana.

Jane: Yeah, bananas and bananas. Yes, this is — it’s really hard to think of examples of it. You know it when you hear it. But so I was sitting there trying to think of one and I thought there is a joke in an episode of husbands that Brad Bell and I wrote where they’re talking about one of the guys really likes cleaning out the pool and he says, “Because I feel like a teeny man with a giant spoon,” and it always gets a big laugh, I mean, not here.

Craig: Hanging a lantern.

Jane: Yes! But when a professional actor performs it, it’s hilarious. And I was thinking like we could have ruined that joke by going like you know what, like we’re working with this image that it’s like the swimming pool is a big thing of soup, and what are the floaty things called in pools? They’re called noodles. Well, that’s got to fit in that joke somehow. “It’s like I’m a teeny man with a giant spoon and giant noodles.” And then you’re like the audience doesn’t know which bit of the joke to laugh at. There’s two jokes that are fighting each other there.

John: Great. House number. I don’t even know what this is and you suggested house number.

Jane: House number. That’s when you know, it’s a sort of this but not this kind of pitch, when you’re saying like this isn’t the joke but this is the house number of the joke.

Craig: Like you’re on the street. Or this is the key of the song. It’s not the melody, or that kind of thing?

Jane: Yes. I have never heard a definitive explanation from where it comes from. The best explanation I heard is just like in sort of a jazz club, the jazz band may have just sort of the house number, the thing that they play when they’re just sort of noodling around without playing a specific song. So, it’s like you say, well, I don’t know what the joke is, but I’m pretty sure it’s a joke about Liza Minnelli-ish, you know, it’s something.

Craig: Ooh, I like that.

John: [Crosstalk] for Liza Minnelli. Leads very well into clam. Tell us about clams.

Jane: A clam is any old familiar joke, pretty much any joke you’ve heard before.

Craig: There’s no way I’m going to go to that party.

Jane: Yeah. I mean, that’s a flip joke, a specific type of joke.

Derek: He’s coming back in three, two…

Craig: Hey guys.

Derek: Is he right there?

John: Oh yeah, is he right there. Yes.

Craig: He’s right behind me, isn’t he?

Jane: All of those. And you’ve heard them a million times and you can say them along with the TV. And you’re obviously in your own writing — you avoid those. Don’t — sometimes very young writers usually, none of you people, but very young writers will often feel like they’re on the right crack because the words are really flowing, and they know it’s funny because they’ve heard it before. And it’s like that’s the trap of the clam.

Craig: Derek, do you have those, I mean, do you have any special terms? Because you have an empire of television. You’ve got two primetime hit shows running simultaneously that are both in their same universe. Do your writing rooms have like terms that are specific to you guys?

Derek: The only one, see, I had never done television until two years ago, so all of this was pretty new to me. But the only one that we have is when there’s an absolutely home run out of the park idea then you get the double overhead shaka which is this, but with — but you can fake them out. You can be like, [yawns].

Craig: That was pretty boring and you’re fired. Yeah.

Derek: But we, I mean, all of these terms are just pretty common screenwriting terms, but I hear it different ways. Like you’ll say it will be something like — not this, but something like this.

John: Yeah.

Jane: Which helps you, because I mean, yes, in comedy rooms and drama rooms, part of the trick of pitching is that you have to be able to pivot away from your own pitch so that you can quickly get on board with whatever sells. So, you often don’t want to go in with too much, “I’ve got it,” because if you don’t got it, how do you then commit to thing over here. So, you often downplay your own pitch.

Craig: That’s crafty.

Derek: We’ll say building on that. Okay, building on that, blah, blah, blah.

Jane: Yes.

Craig: I wouldn’t last a minute because I’d be like, “I’ve got it. Everyone, I’ve got it. And if you disagree you’re dumb.” And then that would be it.

John: So, Craig and I have never been –

Craig: Right? I’d be fired.

Jane: Well. Maybe.

Craig: If I get fired, I want to be fired by you. You’re nice. You’d be like, “Well, maybe you’re fired.”

“Am I?”

“Yeah. You are.”

John: So, Craig and I have never done a real writer’s room for TV. Are you allowed to say things, well, bad version but. Is that an okay?

Jane: Oh bad version, that’s the quintessential version of that.

Craig: Do you guys do that over in Chicago Fire, too?

Derek: Yeah, we do the exact same thing.

John: And do you ever film a good version?

Derek: [laughs].

John: Sorry. [laughs] I’m sorry. I don’t know why, that was me. I apologize. I’m so sorry.

Craig: Do you know how — he’s going to have $40 million in like a year.

John: Oh, no, he already –

Derek: Oh please.

Craig: It’s going to be amazing.

Derek: That’s all brand.

John: It’s all brand.

Craig: [laughs] It’s all brand. Whose brand?

John: So, you’re allowed to pitch, okay, this is the terrible version, but this is going to get us to where we need to go? So you’re trying to fill the big white board of like how we’re going to do this moment?

Jane: Yeah, but you’re taking it too literal. You actually say this is the bad version even when it’s the good version.

John: Oh, okay, that’s the trick.

Jane: It’s the trick. And it sounds –

Derek: That happens a lot where somebody will say, okay not this, but something like this. And they say it and you’re like, no, no, that.

Jane: That’s it. Yeah.

Derek: Yeah, that’s what we’re doing.

Jane: Exactly. And it sounds bad, because it sounds like the exact thing that any like management book will say don’t do this is like, you know, have confidence in your idea. But because TV is so committee driven and you have to be ready to get behind whatever horse is leading the horse race of whatever the showrunner is liking, you have to under pitch.

Derek: That reminds me of the bad thing you get in the writer’s room is the repeater. So, somebody will say, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if Mouch had a dog?” And you’re like, “Oh, you know what I like about that is if he had a dog, Mouch would, he’s have that dog.” You just took up ten seconds of my life.

Craig: And kind of indicated that your brain is empty.

Derek: Yeah. That happens a lot.

John: All right, so since we have two people who have experience with writer’s rooms, a thing came up this last week and you guys could actually help us figure this out. This was on The Newsroom, and people have actually probably read stories about this. So, this last week there was a controversy, it’s the Aaron Sorkin show The Newsroom and there’s sort of two controversies.

The first was about a plot line on a recent episode which was a campus rape and the whole story with the characters in there and sort of what they do. And people were not delighted about sort of the things that happen in the show. The controversy that matters to us is a staff writer on the show, Alena Smith, she tweeted about the show and this is what she tweeted. So, I’m running all of these tweets together.

“As Emily Nussbaum points out in her review of tonight’s episode, you can’t criticize Sorkin without turning in to one of his characters. So, when I tried to argue in the writer’s room that maybe we skip the storyline where a rape victim gets interrogated by a random man, I ended up getting kicked out of the room and screamed at just like Hallie would have been for a bad tweet. I found the experience quite boring. I wanted to fight with Aaron about the NSA, not gender. I didn’t like getting cast in this outdated role.”

So, these are tweets that happened from a staff writer after the show aired. Sorkin came back with a longer statement, but the gist of it was –

Craig: Surprisingly, it was a very long statement.

John: A long statement.

Craig: But to be read very quickly and it was very articulate.

John: It really was.

Jane: While walking into [crosstalk].

Craig: Exactly.

John: It’s more of a walk and talk. It really was great.

Craig: Really good statement.

John: In part, I’m just going to read part of it, “I was even more surprised when she had so casually violated the most important rule of working in a writer’s room which is confidentiality. It was a room in which people felt safe enough to discuss private intimate details of their lives in hope of bringing dimension to stories that were being pitched. I’m saddened that she’s broken that trust.”

So, this was a situation on The Newsroom, and obviously we don’t know everything about this situation, but I want to ask you guys about that sense of the confidentiality in the room and how important is it that the stuff that happens in the room stay in the room in general?

Jane: I mean, I’m torn about it because I think we are maybe a little precious with writer’s rooms. Particularly I wish that people whose job is to review TV had the experience of coming in and sitting in a writer’s room and seeing how it works. I think there’s a lot of misconception among writers and fans about how a writer’s room works.

On the other hand it’s true, you need the freedom to express your opinion in a writer’s room and bring up personal things. And it’s very much like a family. You’ve got stuff that happens in your family. If you go to school the next day and say what you saw — what you heard mother saying about the neighbors, you know, it’s not cool. The family has its own privacy unless there’s something that you think that’s so harmful that’s going on in your family that rises to the level where you feel that you have to — that there’s something that goes beyond privacy.

And clearly she, I have no idea if it was justified or not, but she felt that it was worthwhile to break that privacy.

Craig: Derek, what do you?

Derek: Oh, I don’t know. I’m not torn about it. I hope that the room is confidential. I mean, the shit we say in that room that generates the good ideas or the bad ideas, but gets us somewhere. I mean, we’re constantly thinking of the worst thing that a character could say, or the worst thing that we would say about a situation and, I mean, if the transcripts got out, we’d all be fired. The whole point is to generate discussions that make things interesting and surprise people and surprise the viewer.

And if you don’t feel like the stuff I say in here is now going to be broadcast out to the world, which sounds more and more like that’s the reality, it’s going to be a disservice to the creativity of the show.

John: Well, it strikes me that coming from a features side, I’m used to like the whole writing is happening in my brain. And so my brain can do everything it needs to do and think these terrible thoughts. But that thinking happens out loud in a writer’s room. And that thinking, it’s a group brain doing this, and so all that terrible stuff will come out sometimes.

Craig: This had come up before. I think it was a lawsuit by a writer’s assistant from Friends.

John: You’re right.

Craig: And in the depositions she was reporting on some of the things they had said. And part of the deal with writing rooms, and B.J., maybe you’ve experienced this on The Office is you kind of have to go too far in order to go far enough. Like, okay, that’s too far. One back, we’re good, because otherwise everything will be mild.

But this is a slightly different situation because this is really one about, I mean, this is I think perhaps unique to a Sorkin show. His show is about controversial political issues. And it sounds like they had a pretty passionate impassioned debate about the specific issue. And the writer felt that the show was taking a point of view that was hostile to what she thought was right.

I don’t know the timeline of whether or not she was there to write that episode, or if she was there all season.

John: I checked and the credit on the episode is Aaron Sorkin, but apparently –

Craig: Again, no surprise.

John: Yes, but from what it says, and from people who have worked on shows with him, there’s a writer’s room that generates sort of the story and then he writes the script. And I don’t know what the situation was on this.

What I worry about though is, Derek, in sort of having that absolute sense of like everything has to stay in the room, a lot of terrible behavior could happen in that room. And if you are a writer who is suffering some mistreatment in that room, it’s going to be challenging. Or it could be a challenging for a woman or a minority or someone else to –

Derek: I just think we’re going to go — we’re in a culture now, I mean, not to get too much into it, but we’re in a culture now that everybody is waiting to be offended and also everybody is waiting to broadcast to it the masses and to catch people and embarrass them. And it’s happening on a gigantic scale right now. I don’t know, if I had to — if you have to worry about it, what you’re doing, and then you’re trying to make a creative endeavor, I just think of all the people in history if they thought that their innermost thoughts or even group thoughts were then going to be broadcast, what ideas wouldn’t have been generated?

Craig: Like Hitler?

John: Yeah. What is the rule whenever like Hitler gets brought up the discussion is over?

Craig: I Godwin’d it.

John: Yeah, Godwin’s Law. Yes. We’re in a strange time now, because the fact that she could tweet this and she had a broadcasting mechanism in Twitter, even five years ago she wouldn’t have had the ability to sort of publicly state these things and get the attention of national press. So, it’s a really unique situation.

Derek: Well, it also becomes a he said/she said in a lot of ways, too. Because what somebody else perceives may not be, you know, it takes intention out of it. There’s all sorts of, like somebody who is aggrieved, not to blame the victim, all of that kind of stuff, but there are two sides to some of these stories and it’s like, you know, maybe if you had a writer who you thought wasn’t doing as well and then you went into their office and said, “Look, you’re going to have to up your game and blah, blah, blah.”

And then they tweet something about somebody yelled at me in my office, well that’s not what happened. But now I feel — not that that’s happened — but I can just see where an aggrieved party now has a voice to make it, I don’t know.

John: Well, let’s talk about the writer’s voice, though, because you guys both have shows on the air. And do you have to tweet, do you live tweet your episodes, Jane?

Jane: I do sometimes, yes.

John: Sometimes, yeah. So, is that a thing that is expected of you now, or is it something you do just because you’re awesome?

Jane: I think it varies from show to show. Some shows, yes, you are expected to live tweet your episode. I have not been asked to, but I like interacting with people on Twitter.

John: And Derek?

Derek: John, you live it when I love tweet my shows.

John: I love it when you live tweet your shows.

Craig: You do the best thing where you do the ten questions. I got to wake up early and do that again with you.

Derek: I do ten questions on Wednesdays and Sundays only because then I don’t have to answer questions the rest of the week. But we do live tweet the shows and NBC is gigantic on social media, wanting everybody, cast and crew and producers, to tweet it.

John: So, but my question is how much do you really engage with the fan base because particularly on a show like Once Upon a Time, there’s got to be people that are so invested in sort of these two characters, how personal do you get with them, or do you engage them on their — ?

Jane: Yeah, I try to be considerate of everyone. My catchphrase is I love all the ships, because I think there’s a feeling right now that you’re not being a good fan if you’re not advocating for something, or you’re not agitating for one particular aspect of the show. So, the people who ship Hook and Emma versus the people who ship Regina and Robin Hood and sort of see themselves in competition, and so I try to just like — I think there’s a perception that what we do in the writer’s room is like, oh, and I’m a fan of this ship, and I’m a fan that ship. And it’s not what the show is about.

Craig: Did that start whole Team Edward/Team the other guy? What do you want a team of a guy who’s not real?

Jane: No, because this goes farther back. There were Buffy people versus Spike people. That’s one reason that I kind of wish people knew more of what was going on in the room and what the process of writing is like and why I am glad there are things like this podcast that you get sort of an inside view of what the room is like, because we love all the ships. We are invested in every single relationship on the show.

And so I think — I enjoy interacting with the fans and hearing what they think and what they want to see, but I hope they don’t feel too much like they are letting down any particular storyline that they want on the show if they aren’t out there lobbying for it because that can be a bit –

Craig: I have a question for you two on behalf of what I presume are a number of people here who would like to be where you guys are, in the writing rooms, working on television. When we started in the business, and probably when you guys started in the business, the deal was if you wanted to get on a show you would write a spec of that show. So, you’d write a sample episode of Once Upon a Time or Chicago P.D. and they would read it and go, yup, this is seems like the sort of thing.

Jane: So you wouldn’t be writing it for the show that you were trying to get on.

Craig: You’d be writing for some other show.

Jane: Right. Exactly.

Craig: So like if you wanted to get on Chicago Fire you’d write one for Chicago P.D., no, I’m just kidding. But that’s gone. It seems like the trend now is you guys want to see people’s original work. You want to see essentially either a feature film or a feature screenplay rather or a script for their own pilot.

Jane: A spec pilot. Well, everybody seems to read except me. If I were staffing a show, I like the old fashioned system because you have to see if someone can write for voices they didn’t create. But –

Craig: What do you think, Derek?

Derek: I think the best way into a writer’s room if you can get a job working as an assistant or a PA in the office around the production and you’re around the writers and you get into that writer’s room and we hired two of our assistants for PAs last year on the staff. And they wrote specs of the show. I bet a majority of the staff t was original pilots because to me it’s not that hard to imitate a show that has 60 episodes, but I really want to see you surprise me with those first ten pages, or those first 20 pages.

And we’ve hired a couple of playwrights. It doesn’t matter the format. I feel like you can figure out if people can write.

Jane: So, the assistants who get bumped up to staff, you’re saying you asked them to write a spec of the exact show?

Derek: Well, they all did. They could do whatever they wanted, but that’s the choice that they made.

Jane: Oh, I love that. That’s very cool. Because then you can really see if they can write, not just write, but write your show. That’s what I really love.

Craig: That seems like a good blend, because I see both of your points. I mean, you don’t want somebody that wows you with their script and simply cannot write for anything that you’re doing. On the other hand, if all you want are mimics, then you already have a room full of people doing the show, so I can see the balance of it.

Derek: But I want original voice and original, you know, I mean B.J. mentioned surprise — to me that’s the best, like if you want to be screenwriter that’s what you’ve got to do on almost every page is surprise me with dialogue or surprise me with a plot twist or surprise everybody. The viewers are going to be surprised when they see it. And I feel like you can do that easier with an original spec than you can with writing one of our shows.

Craig: Awesome.

John: That’s great. It’s time for plugs. So, you are Once Upon a Time right now.

Jane: Once Upon a Time, yeah.

Craig: My daughter loves that show, by the way.

Jane: Oh, yay.

Derek: Once Upon a Time is Frozen [crosstalk].

Jane: This half-season. But the Frozen arc is concluding this Sunday and then new stuff starts happening.

Craig: She’s been just binge-watching those. She loves them. Loves them.

John: So, you have this and that’s taking you through the end of –

Jane: This season.

John: Through the spring, yeah.

Jane: And also Husbands, the online show that I created with Brad Bell, which we are hoping to make an announcement soon about more of that.

John: Awesome.

Derek: Great.

John: Congratulations. And, Derek, what should we look for? Another book?

Derek: I’m hopefully going to have another book out next December, so I’m supposed to — it’s due in February, but I don’t know how I’m going to do it.

John: The laziness of not writing a novel while writing two shows.

Craig: Yeah, because you’ve written 12 novels and you have two television shows. So, come on, man.

Derek: I got to step it up.

John: And has this taken over all your future? I don’t honestly know.

Derek: No, I mean, we’re fully on, I mean, we have 46 episodes to put out this year.

Craig: It’s amazing. Just amazing.

John: I want you to give Derek Haas from two years ago some piece of advice about TV. Like something you didn’t know going in that you now understand so much better.

Derek: Wow. Derek, I think –

John: If you had a full head of hair.

Derek: Yeah. The hardest thing for me was a writing staff. I had never done, like you guys, I had never done it before. I’d never been in that room before. I didn’t know how to tell someone that I didn’t like their idea. I feel bad. Or, letting the best idea win. All of those kinds of things.

So, I think the me now if I could go in and tell him like listen and the good ideas are going to emerge. Don’t be frustrated in the first five minutes. All of those kinds of things.

Craig: Awesome.

John: Awesome. Jane and Derek, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, guys.

John: All right, so in lieu of One Cool Things, we’re going to — my One Cool Thing is going to be Craig Mazin, I think.

Craig: Oh, I’ve got a little treat for you guys.

John: Craig is going to treat us to a musical performance. And that’s pretty great. So while he’s getting setup, I want to give some thank yous.

So, I want to thank all of our amazing guests. Thank you very, very much for being here. You are terrific.

We need to thank the Writers Guild Foundation. So Chris Kartje and sort of this whole Writers Guild Foundation, this is a fundraiser for them, but they’re awesome and they do great work with veterans groups and kids groups, young storytellers. They’re awesome, so thank you very much for hosting us.

Thank you to LA Film School for literally letting us use their theater. That’s really great. There will be links to the things we talked about at show notes, johnaugust.com, standard routine.

Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel. This is the actual Stuart Friedel. He’s right here. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Matthew, please stand up. Matthew is the one — Matthew also does our amazing outros, so he did the Peanuts intro tonight. He’s just the best. So, thank you very much.

Craig: That was Peanuts.

John: Peanuts. With a T there. It’s crucial. And, Craig, would you play us out?

Craig: Play us out, play us off, Keyboard Kat. Well, it’s Christmastime and I thought you guys would like a little Christmas song. This is by a couple of my favorite show tune composer-lyricists and it’s, I mean, it’s a standard tune. Everybody sings it all the time, but it’s how I feel the most at Christmastime. So, I thought I would share it with you. It’s nice and brief.

[Craig sings The Lonely Jew on Christmas from South Park].

Craig: Merry Christmas Scriptnotes listeners. Thank you. Thank you.

Links:

Shipping 8,000 Kickstarter rewards in one minute

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 17:55

Last week, we shipped out 8,000 Writer Emergency Packs to our Kickstarter backers. The bulk of the packing happened in three days, so I set up a time-lapse camera to document the process.

Here’s the finished video.


You can read the full update about how we did it in the Kickstarter update.

Twelve Days of Scriptnotes

Tue, 12/16/2014 - 08:03

Craig and John welcome special guests Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom, B.J. Novak, Jane Espenson and Derek Haas to talk about writing books, movies and especially television.

Aline and Rachel just finished shooting a pilot called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. We discuss the genesis of the project, and how sexism is just stupid.

B.J. tells us about the joy of reading Inglorious Basterds, and how the key to success is apparently editing your high school newspaper.

Jane and Derek teach us what really goes on in the writers room, from secret lingo to codes of silence.

Plus there are songs!

Recorded with a live audience at LA Film School as a benefit for the Writers Guild Foundation. Huge thanks to everyone who came and supported the show.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 174: Hacks, Transference and Where to Begin — Transcript

Mon, 12/15/2014 - 13:33

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 174 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig, first most important question — what are you going to wear to the live show on Thursday?

Craig: Oh, right, yeah, wardrobe. I was thinking I would maybe deviate from my normal outfit and wear pants and a shirt again.

John: All right. Shirt but now sweater? Because I don’t want to be twinsies. That’s the thing I worry about most in life is being twinsies.

Craig: Twinsies. Yeah, no chance we will twins up with you in a sweater. I don’t wear sweaters. I never grew past the sweater is itchy phase.

John: All right. That makes sense. So, I know the best dressed person will be Aline Brosh McKenna.

Craig: Always.

John: Because she’s Aline. Rachel Bloom, who is the guest that she’s bringing, I also suspect cares about what she wears because she’s an actress, but I think she probably wears clothes that suit the character she’s playing.

Craig: Frankly, I hope she’s a slob, because I need help. I need comparative people to look — I hope she looks like a disheveled wreck.

John: Well let’s go through all of our guests on the live show and figure out whether we think they care about what they wear. So, Jane Espenson, I bet she dresses for comfort most of the time, but if there’s a reason to dress up, like a costume kind of thing, I bet she is the one who is so in to the costume thing.

Craig: Yeah. So I think that we’ve got some geek chic going on there with Jane. I would say that she will be just perfectly casual and classy looking, but nothing over the top. And she won’t be as carefully crafted as Aline.

John: Yes. There won’t be brands necessarily, but there will be an idea behind it. There will be a theme behind it.

Craig: Right.

John: That’s the important thing.

Craig: Because Aline is half French. People don’t know that.

John: Yes. That’s a crucial thing.

Craig: Yes, so she has the French person’s sense of style.

John: Aline is actually coming over to my house on Wednesday to speak French, just to speak French.

Craig: Oh, really?

John: That just happens. She has a French conversation group.

Craig: Why not?

John: So, B.J. Novak, does B.J. Novak care about how he looks?

Craig: Yes.

John: I think he does.

Craig: 100 percent.

John: So, we’ll see what he looks like dressing live. Now, Derek Haas, people might think that Derek Haas dresses down, but they don’t know that Derek Haas is a major polo player and he really does dress up in that sort of Ralph Lauren look a lot. So, I’m fascinated to see what he wears.

Craig: I think what you mean is that Derek’s wife dresses him up in that look.

John: Well, exactly, well the same way that you dress up little children to look adorable. She does that.

Craig: Yeah. Kristi just sort of looks at him as a paper doll. Plus, he’s bald so you can put on wigs, hats.

John: The fun never stops.

Craig: It never stops. Never starts.

John: If you attend the show live on Thursday, and there might be some tickets left. Who knows? They may have released some. You would see what we wear. But if you’re just going to listen to the audio podcast you’ll miss out on that sort of visual experience of the show.

Craig: Right.

John: So, next week’s episode will be the audio from our live show cut down with all the terrible and slanderous things taken out.

Craig: Yeah. This time we’re going to take the terrible things out. [laughs]

John: It’s a lesson we learned from last time, Craig.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t know what we were thinking.

John: We weren’t thinking very well.

Craig: No, you know what? We forgot that people pay attention.

John: That’s a dangerous thing.

Craig: Well, look, the good news is that the internet tends to take things in stride, carefully consider them, and them, and then make reasoned, thoughtful commentary about them.

John: Yes. I think really what the comment button, when they put that timer on it that says 15 minutes, basically like you click the little link and then it gives you 15 minutes to think about it. And then it asks you like, hey, did you really want to post that? And then you can decide, yeah, maybe, yes, no. And that 15-minute pause that they put in on all comments on all sites, I think that’s really helped the conversation.

Craig: I actually have been kind of quietly excited by the slow disappearance of comments. You know, the major publications are just getting rid of them now. They’ve given up. I mean, they just know what’s coming.

John: I was ahead of the curve on that one, because I used to have comments on the blog.

Craig: You were.

John: And it’s just exhausting. And you used to have comments on your blog. You used to have a blog and now I saw that it actually has fallen away. It has disappeared.

Craig: Yes. I had a blog way back when called The Artful Writer. And it was most active I would say around 2005 to 2010, those five years, which were I think peak blog years anyway. And it might have gone longer but during the strike it was under enormous scrutiny to the point where the Wall Street Journal did an article about it. And I was not prepared for that, frankly, nor was I prepared for the amount of attention I would need to give to it. And, also, the strike was a big newsworthy event and when it was over it just seemed like I kind of lost so much vim and vigor for the whole enterprise.

That said, the worst part of it were the comments because, I mean, frankly I was writing about a lot of controversial things during a controversial time and, you know, we had crazy people. A lot of them. A lot of crazies.

John: Crazies are crazy.

Craig: Angry.

John: And so it was abandoning your blog which sort of led me to think about, hey, Craig might still have opinions and might share them in an audio format, and so that became this podcast.

Craig: It did. And I was so glad when you called me because I thought, oh, thank god, I can stop writing.

John: Mm, it’s a nice thing.

Craig: You still do it though. You still write. Although not the way you used to.

John: I blog a lot less than I used to, but I still do blog sometimes.

Craig: I mean, god, if there’s more to say after this hour every week after 100 — this is our 174th!

John: It’s madness. But let’s get to the topics for today. Today we’re going to talk about this big Sony hack and what it means –

Craig: Oh boy.

John: And what it doesn’t mean. And how frustrating and infuriating it is for everybody involved. We’re going to ask the question how far back do I go, how far back do you need to go into your characters’ back stories in order to understand them well enough to be writing them in your movie. And we’re going to talk about transference and what it means on a psychological level and what it means for writers and their process.

But, first, we have some news that the good folks at Sundance, so I’ve been helping out at the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab for many years. And Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab is a fantastic program where they take filmmakers and we sit down with them and we talk about the scripts and it helps them get their scripts into great shape before they shoot.

This last year was the first year they did an episodic storytelling lab. So, episodic meaning television or things that are kind of like television. And they’ve asked us to open the floodgates so they can get new material in there for the next episodic story lab which will be in the fall of 2015.

Craig: Great.

John: So, this is an open call for submissions. It’s a February 11 deadline, so don’t dilly or dally. But essentially what they’re looking for are emerging writers and writer directors from all different mediums, including probably people who are listening to this podcast. These can people who have written a pilot script for a show but they have not had anything produced yet for television.

The goal is to get these people into the program, and then the same way that in the Screenwriter’s Lab they’re sitting down with professional screenwriters. You’re going to be sitting down with people who are big showrunners and they’re going to be talking you through how you would make this show. How you would work your pilot into the best possible shape, but how you actually run a show, which is such a crucial and very different thing than making a movie.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, there will be a link in the show notes for where you can find out information about applying, but it’s really a great program and I’m so happy that Sundance has broadened its mandate beyond just making great indie films, to start making great television as well.

Craig: The Writers Guild has a fantastic program that was started many years ago by Jeff Melvoin I believe primarily called the Showrunner Training Program. And it’s actually supported in part by the companies, because they have a vested interest in making sure that they’re people out there who can actually run these shows. And hopefully the folks that go through the Sundance episodic story lab do appreciate that they’re getting this fantastic insight into one of the strangest jobs in Hollywood, which is writer/showrunner.

You’re an artist and you’re an executive. And it’s a fascinating combination of things to have to think about all of the stuff that we think about as writers — theme, and character, and episodes, and all the rest of it — and also salaries, staffs, scheduling, budgets. It’s such a strange thing.

For those of us in features, it’s foreign to us. But in television, it’s everything.

John: The other big challenge in addition to the management function is to be able to think about story, not just in the context of this one two-hour block, but think about how story will feel over the course of many, many episodes. And what the experience for an audience will be encountering these same characters week after week, or episode after episode depending on how it’s structured. It’s a very different kind of thing. And I think the Sundance folks were very smart to be looking at who are the television equivalents of these advisers that they’ve been bringing in for the film lab.

So, I think it should be a great program.

Craig: Awesome. Good for them.

John: Less good for anybody was what happened at Sony this last week.

Craig: Good god.

John: So, basically essentially all of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s computers got hacked in a very massive way. As we’re recording this on Sunday, it’s not entirely clear who did this. It’s not entirely clear what the endgame of it will be, but if you work for Sony Pictures your last week has just been horrible.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a really bad situation. I mean, the rumor is that it was the North Korean government in response to the upcoming Sony/Columbia film The Interview, which is a parody I guess of the North Korean government. And that may be true. I mean, the one thing that it does seem is that this was far more of an aggressive planned attack than your average script kiddy going bonkers, or even a more impressive like Anonymous targeting something.

This was really big. And it didn’t help that Sony did seem a little unprepared. I read a — I mean, they rushed out a letter from the firm they’ve hired now. They’ve hired a cyber security firm and the cyber security firm says, “Gee golly, no one could have ever seen this coming,” which is a fairly decent job of covering your butt except, yeah, you can see it coming.

Everybody should just presume it’s coming. That’s part of the problem. So, they made the hacker’s job a little easier. Apparently they were keeping passwords in unencrypted Word files. I mean, that’s a disaster. That’s not something that you need a North Korean cyber terrorist to untwine. So, it seems like this was a combination of a very bad malicious effort with, frankly some, or let’s just say less-than-best security practices.

But, unfortunately it’s one of those things that reveals people’s true natures. So, they put this information out there, much in the way that the phone hacks had released nude photos of celebrities, now we have apparently salary information out there of executives and so forth.

And I was just shocked that Deadline decided it would be appropriate to publish that stuff. Shocked. Did you see that?

John: I did. And so essentially this last week Deadline Hollywood, the website, published the salaries of essentially the top Sony executives, which was information that had been linked through this hack. And so of course everyone was like, oh, well how much does each of these people make. And, of course it’s not showing their bonuses, but it’s showing how much these people make and the way that salaries can sometimes essentially reflect rank, or sort of who is overpaid, who is underpaid.

And immediately you think like, well, why is she making this salary when this is what’s been happening at the studio. Why is this person’s name on this list? So is she making less than a million dollars? All those kind of issues came up.

What was fascinating about the Sony hack to me is that there are so many different things happening sort of simultaneously. We’ve had movies leak early. That’s a thing that’s just always been happening and it usually comes from a post-production lab or something else, but Star Trek, the movie, will leak early. And so when this first happened I was like, oh no, Annie got out, like that sounds terrible.

But it really was much more than that, because we have the second tier which is all of these sort of inside business information getting out, so it’s people’s salaries, but it’s also like the whole Adam Sandler thing. Was all these internal emails complaining about like why are we making all these Adam Sandler movies.

This third thing we have, which is I think a little less reported but is actually much more paralyzing is that their computers as we’re recording this are still deeply, deeply messed up. So, you have an entire company who cannot use their computers to do the things they need to do. So, if you’re a studio that’s trying to be in business making movies and releasing movies, it’s incredibly difficult if you don’t have access to your fundamental computers. You cannot talk to anybody else in your company.

Craig: Yeah. Well, for starters you can be sure that much in the way — we had mentioned awhile back when The Avengers came out that every studio was going to immediately look to try and Avengerize some part of their own library. And lo and behold that has happened. Similarly, as this happens at Sony, every single studio now is going bananas with cyber security experts trying to lock everything down.

Because this is going to impact Sony actually in a very serious way for a very long time. This isn’t one of these deals where it’s like a week of my email is messed up. Beyond heads rolling, and they will, not the aforementioned executives but the people in charge of actually maintaining the computer network structure at Sony, this is just tarnished. It’s a tarnish. It’s an ugly affair. And that’s why, frankly, not to get back to Deadline again, because you know me, I love to harp on entertainment journalism, but I thought it was, and this is just a general thing — I think it’s irresponsible of any news outlet to publish images like that, images of either stolen photos that are not about busting some political scandal, or hacked salaries of people. This is stolen information. And I just wish that everyone had been a little more restrained.

Because, you know, these are human beings and they’re human beings working for the human beings. And whether or not you think people should be making that much money or any of that stuff, it’s not really ours to talk about. I just found it so — I found the whole thing so depressing.

John: Let’s personalize this for a bit. I’ve written for Sony a lot. You’ve written for Sony. At some point, somewhere in this big data dump are all of our contracts, all of our salaries, our Social Security numbers.

Craig: Yeah, yours. [laughs] I actually, I think I –

John: Oh, you’ve never written for Sony?

Craig: I think I did one thing for them once in 2002 or something like that. Just luck of the draw, I’ve always been a Warner Bros/Universal kind of guy. And Disney. So, I think I’m okay, but I hope that — yeah, I don’t want my friends to have their stuff leaked out there. That would be disaster.

John: Yeah. And I don’t know the degree to react or overreact or under-react. And it’s not entirely clear like, you know, people freaking out about their Social Security number, but like, well, there’s other ways people could get my Social Security number. But there is sort of fundamental information about how much I got paid on these things, sort of how it all worked and fit together. And that is — that would be frustrating for some of that stuff to get out.

I mean, obviously there are scripts I’ve written that were produced or were not produced, and those could also get out. And whatever happens, that feels more like just a movie leaking out there in the world. But it’s the information about sort of like, you know, what I was writing when would not be ideal to be out there.

And in all honesty, the emails between back and forth with executives would not be ideal as well. It’s made me much more aware of exactly what I put in an email to somebody because you never know where that email is going to end up.

Craig: That’s true. And I think for Hollywood and I suspect that Hollywood is behind a lot of other industries in this regard, well I hope that they view this in the way that security changed after 9-11, but didn’t at all change after 1993 I believe it was when terrorists initially attempted to blow up the World Trade Center. That was just like, oh geez, wow.

John: Eh.

Craig: Well, that could’ve been bad.

John: Good thing that didn’t happen.

Craig: Yeah, boy. I hope that everyone takes this as seriously as possible, because Hollywood for better or worse will always be a target because unlike most businesses people are inherently interested in our business. It doesn’t matter, frankly, if you hack a car company’s and you pull a terabyte out of Chrysler. The vast majority of it would absolutely put you to sleep.

But these companies, emails back and forth with big movie stars and all the rest of it, it’s just — I hope that they’re being much, much more careful, because this will happen again.

John: It’ll happen again.

Craig: Or at least somebody will attempt to do it again.

John: All right, second topic, this is something you suggested which is how far back do we go when we start to figure out the history of our characters.

Craig: Well, yes, it’s not just the history, but I was also thinking, because I was talking to a young woman last week. She has a baby, she’s a mom, about 18, and she was talking to me about her script. And one of the questions that she had, which I thought was really interesting, was where do I start. I know what the meat of the story, but should I show the character before this part of the story? Should I show them even before that?

But really the question is where do you start with your character because we all know that there is this length of story. And I thought it was a really interesting question. So, I wanted to throw out a few possibilities of just general places we can choose to start with our characters in the movie itself. That is what we’re presenting to people in the film.

And so here are just four possibilities, there’s likely more, but these are four common ones. The first is childhood. Even if you are telling the story of an adult, very frequently a movie will begin with that character as a child because it gives us an insight into something that is either tragic or determinative, or shows us how they haven’t changed at all since they were a kid. Sometimes it’s two children who are bonded together by an incident and we understand the nature of their relationship later much more easily.

The second is what I would call a new beginning. The movie begins with someone getting married, someone getting divorced, somebody graduating. There’s a party. There’s an affair. There’s somebody crying. And then they go, okay, now what do I do? And from that, by starting with the new beginning we understand that they are about to go on some sort of adventure of growth so to speak.

The third is what I would call in a rut. This is where we don’t actually wind the clock back before a story. We, in fact, show that somebody in the moment now is living as they have been living for quite some time. And that’s the point. They are stuck. Either they’re in a rut of things being great and then suddenly tragedy strikes, or in the rut of things being bad and tragedy strikes again and makes them worse so that they can get better. But the point is this is the way it’s been. You could have started the movie a week earlier or two years earlier and you would have seen the same thing.

And the fourth possibility is mid-crisis, where we don’t — we dispense with all of this run up and we open with somebody in the middle of a war. So, Saving Private Ryan. We don’t get scenes of Tom Hanks becoming an officer. We don’t see scenes of him getting on the boat. We don’t see scenes of anything except him getting off a boat and starting to shoot people and getting an assignment, because the events of the movie dwarf everything that comes before it. And, frankly, the idea of the movie is that we will be revealed, the character will be revealed through the action itself, rather than through a sort of chronological explanation.

John: I think those are four really good ways of looking at sort of how we start telling a story. And what you’re really talking about when you’re talking about these kind of stories is in a movie there’s a two-hour journey that’s about to happen. And are we starting our journey literally on the road to this place, or are we starting before the character has decided to go someplace. And that’s — each story is going to have a different way they’re going to want to tell themselves at the very beginning.

I want to go back to the Saving Private Ryan, or you also cited like Raiders or The Sixth Sense, which start right in the middle of something. Even those stories, a lot of times they’ll start with this big action set piece, or this big sort of important thing that happens, but then a normalcy will return.

And so even if it starts with a big shocking moment, you do get a sense of what the normal situation is after that. So, in Raiders of the Lost Ark, we’re going to go back to the Raiders episode, of course it starts with that great set piece. But then we go back to the university and we see like this is what his normal life is like before he’s chosen to take this new adventure.

Craig: Right.

John: So, as you’re figuring out the right way to start your story, I guess it’s also important to figure out what is the nature of your journey, and is the place that you’re going to take this character, do you need to set up all that stuff about who they were as a child, what the normal day was like in order for that journey to be meaningful. Or, is the journey itself enough of a change that you don’t have to go all the way back to those early days?

Craig: Yeah. This is one of those things you have to kind of feel out. And it’s also something that I think you should think about when you’re looking at movies and stories that you like, because it is only natural for us as victims of the illusion of intention to believe that this was really the way the story — this is the only way the story could be told.

John: Yes.

Craig: Incorrect. [laughs] Incorrect. And this is one of the first big decisions you make actually when you figure out your story. Where do I start with my character? At what point do I want to see them in the beginning? What would help me the most? And this is where you could play this game with lots of movies and suddenly you can see, yes, there actually is a plausible version of Saving Private Ryan that begins in the United States with someone getting the assignment that they have to go and they’re not really sure why. But this is going to be a big invasion and they’re learning about it.

It could start with the three brothers being shipped off. It could start with Matt Damon. You know, there’s a hundred ways to start it. And you have to decide in a brave way which is the one that you think is going to actually help your story the most.

John: Like most things in screenwriting, you’re trying to do two things at once. You’re trying to create the best moment to start your story, so basically from the audience’s perspective that they are clicked in and enjoying your story immediately and that they are on this ride with you. But you are also trying to setup things that are going to be useful for later on. And when you pick the right one, hopefully both of those things are working simultaneously.

We’ve all sat through movies that feel like, okay, come on, start the story already. There’s all this backstory being setup and you’re going please start the plot of your actual movie. And sometimes those movies, it’s worth all that long lead up, because you got to this great moment. But you also start thinking, well, what if you just start it. What if Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas all that time, but just showed up in Oz? And it would be a very different movie.

And the movie where Dorothy starts in Oz works fundamentally differently than the movie that starts in Kansas.

Craig: That’s right. And you have to understand, therefore, you can’t make the choice of why you’re doing it the way you’re doing it, unless you understand how the way you’re doing it affects the movie. It should be intentional. You know, you make these decisions.

If you’re going to start the movie with someone as a child and then jump ahead to them as an adult, that must be necessary. You must understand not only that them as a child is a huge informer for us of who they are as an adult, but frankly that needs to be paid off later. It can’t be the last time we understand that their childhood was relevant.

Similarly, if you’re going to start with what I would call the new beginning move, you need to be aware that it’s been done so many times that you are already in danger. So, you need to find a much more compelling reason for it. If you sense that what you’re doing is kind of just saying, oh you know, like all the other movies that do this, well I’m doing it so you’ll get that feeling that you got from all those other movies. Maybe you don’t need it.

Maybe it’s built in, you know?

John: Maybe you don’t need the character waking up and hitting their alarm clock.

Craig: Right.

John: We know exactly what that moment is. And we don’t need to see that moment again. So, and one bit of advice just for all writers is never start with a character waking up and pressing their alarm clock. It’s such a horrible cliché moment. So, unless you have like the most brilliant way of subverting that trope, please don’t start with an alarm clock and a character waking up.

Craig: Yes. So, the alarm clock and the character waking up is a time-honored way of presenting in a rut. Oh, I’m hitting the alarm clock, I’m getting in the shower, I’m bummed out. I’m getting dressed, brushing my teeth, going to work. Sitting there huffing and moaning. That’s all very typical ways for a movie to tell us this person is in a rut.

But if you understand why people, why that has become a cliché, which is to say this person is in a rut, well now you’re free to come up with other more interesting ways to show that they’re in a rut. And there are. And people will get it and they will appreciate you trying to show them the same thing but in a different way because after all that’s all movies are: the same things in different ways.

John: Yes. So, if you have a character who is in a rut, find a way to visualize that, that is comedic or dramatic, and interesting and new. Doug Liman has this theory about showing a party. And if you show a party and people are having a bad time at a party, you’re trying to film a boring party, it just won’t work because it just looks like a bunch of people are just standing around. So, you have to show people’s reaction to this party being a terrible party. And it’s a subtle difference, but it’s really all about sort of what the character is doing in the moment rather than just like aiming the camera at a boring party, because if you aim a camera at a boring party it’s just nothing.

Same thing with a rut. If you’re just aiming a camera at a rut, like, well I don’t see what that is. It’s all about what the character’s reactions are and the character’s actions within those moments.

Craig: Exactly. It’s incumbent upon us to understand why it’s there. If we don’t, we’ll never be able to do a new version of it or an interesting version of it. Same goes for new beginning. There’s probably other ways to show this beyond just a graduation. Even if the point is I’ve just graduated and I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life, which is a very common topic for 20-year-olds writing screenplays, there are other ways to show it.

Think about the other interesting things that happen to you after you graduated. After I graduated college I spent one week working at — I went back to the convenience store that I had been working at in summers to basically get enough money for gas to drive across the country. And that was a terrible week. Terrible. Because a part of me thought, I’ve graduated college and I’m working at a convenience store, and I could just stay. And they asked me. By the way, they asked me to stay, you know.

So there are all these — I guess the point being if you understand why these things are there, then you can figure out how to give them a new twist. But this question, I have a feeling that a lot of people don’t even ask the question. They just say, oh, it starts with this. Why? Because it could start later. And it could start earlier. So, why?

John: And this is fundamental whiteboard stuff. This is the time when you’re thinking about your story in a big macro sense. Because usually when you start to write a story, you get excited about this first thing, this first act stuff that you want to start writing. And those may be the right moments, but you may not be starting your story in a way that’s going to get you to where you want to be in the second act and in the third act.

And so this is why we urge people to really think about their whole movie before they start writing it, because otherwise you could be spending a lot of time — you might write this brilliant first act that sets up this kid’s childhood and all this stuff, and then you realize like, oh wow, I’m never going to need to go back to his childhood for the rest of the movie. That’s not going to work well, at all. You’ve burned a lot of time writing this thing that is not serving your movie.

Craig: And unfortunately when people burn a lot of time writing things that don’t serve the movie, they become very attached to them. It’s hard to just throw out a bunch of work. It has a lot of ramifications for us and our sense of self worth. And so you try as best you can to cut things out. Like on set you’re like maybe we should cut this before we shoot it. And when you’re writing, maybe we should cut this before we write it. It’s a good plan.

John: One more option for where do I start, which is a pretty common one, is you start at the end, or you start at some crucial moment later on in the story and then you jump back. And so that’s a thing where, again, you’re showing the audience this is where the story is going to go. This is the moment it’s going to happen later on. And now I’m going to show you how we got there.

Craig: Yes.

John: And it can work well in some movies. Go does it. Certainly some Tarantino movies do it. It can also work horribly. It can be incredibly frustrating where you feel like, well, I now know that he’s going to make it to that point, so nothing bad could happen to him up until that point.

Craig: We like to call this Stuart’s favorite, from when he continually picked Three Page Challenges that did this.

John: That’s true.

Craig: I find that this is — it seems like it’s wearing out its welcome. Very frequently when it happens I think you’ve done this because you didn’t have an interesting opening. You didn’t intend to do this. Your movie started with something that you felt was a little bland, so you decided to zest it up by opening with somebody — have you seen John Wick by the way?

John: I haven’t seen John Wick.

Craig: I really liked it. I liked it a lot.

John: Good.

Craig: It did this, and it didn’t need to. It was one thing that I just thought — I wish they hadn’t. But I understood why they did it because I think their actual first scene just felt a little too ho-hum, but that’s just a reason for you to really think about what that first image is. You know, Spielberg has done a talk about his first image is he tries to put a metaphor for the entire movie in his first image. You’ve got to make that opening thing really sizzle, because, look, if you have a twisty movie with all sorts of crazy stuff going on and reversals all over the place, then yeah, I think starting with a “look, this is what happens,” and then go backwards is great because really what you’re doing is telling people, oh, you’re going to try and see how we get there and you’re going to be wrong.

But when you don’t have that, when it’s like “you’re going to see how we try and get there,” and you’ll be right because that’s how we get there. That’s not good. Yeah, that’s bad.

John: Absolutely. It is a very, very bad thing.

Craig: It’s bad.

John: I like that on our podcast we are generally about positive moviegoing and not venting about movies, but there was a trend that — you know, you were talking about some things that annoy you a little bit, one of these being the sort of Stuart’s Favorite, like let’s jump forward to the end.

A trend I’ve noticed, just because two movies I saw back to back did this. So I’m going to call it Special British Snowflake movies. And it’s this weird thing that usually it’s like Weinstein Company movies that I perceive it. The King’s Speech is one of the first ones I could sort of point to. It’s like, oh, this terrible thing has happened to this one lovely British man, and therefore the story we are telling because he’s so special, and so it’s Colin Firth in The King’s Speech.

But then I saw The Theory of Everything, which is the Stephen Hawking movie. It’s also a very special British man and he’s a special British snowflake and we should celebrate him for being special British snowflake. And then I saw The Imitation Game which has Benedict Cumberbatch as a special snowflake as Alan Turing. And in all these cases, many of the tropes that we’re talking about rear up.

So, there’s this boy as a child and we’re going back to these moments of his childhood. Or we are jumping forward and seeing an interview or a speech that they are giving and sort of setting up these whole things.

There’s something about these movies has just started rubbing me so wrong. And I’m trying to figure out what it is that bugs me so much about it.

Craig: Well, biopics are the most formulaic movies. They are more formulaic than the dumbest comedies. I like biopics, but they live or die on the strength of the events of that person’s life.

I was actually talking about this with John Lee Hancock the other day because he’s got some biopic cred.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: I mean, he did The Blind Side which was kind of a biopic, and Saving Mr. Banks, which was kind of a biopic. And he was saying how, because he gets sent as you would imagine a lot of these things, that the trick is to find somebody whose life is both interesting circumstantially but then also personally interesting in a way that your neighbor’s life could be interesting.

And so — and that’s correct. But then what happens is, of course, that’s what you get every time. So, you’ll get a story of somebody doing something that is impactful to the world and it is contrasted against a personal drama such as stuttering, or ALS, or secret gay, and therefore they will always start to take on this shape. They’re very, very formulaic.

That said, a lot of times they’re very well crafted and they can be really fascinating.

John: And all three of these movies that we’re citing, there’s tremendous craft and there’s tremendous performances behind them. So, I don’t want to sound like I’m just slamming on these movies, because that’s not really my intention. I get frustrated by the movies that a character does something and then there’s five title slides at the end that tells you what happened the rest of their life, or in the case of Alan Turing, and then he killed himself.

Craig: [laugh] Yeah. Spoiler alert: he kills himself.

John: So, I think that is my frustration. And as I look at the movies like The Blind Side, or Saving Mr. Banks, or Erin Brockovich, you want to talk a great biopic.

Craig: Yup.

John: Those are stories in which there was a clear arc for what they were trying to do in the course of the time of this movie and it wasn’t trying to tell their whole life. And I think my frustration with some of these Special British Snowflake movies is that it’s supposed to be this journey that this person took, but it’s basically like a bunch of stuff happens and then there are some slides, and you’re supposed to feel good about it.

Craig: Yeah. I actually liked The King’s Speech perhaps more than you did. I liked it quite a bit. Mostly because I thought that it focused in on a fairly narrow band of time and down really to one moment.

John: I do agree with you that it did focus on — his objective was really clear. And sometimes these movies, their objectives are not clear.

Craig: That’s right. And sometimes the idea is look how fascinating this person is, now sit with them for awhile. So, for me a less successful version of this was Ray. The movie Ray definitely does the thing. Here’s somebody that made an impact on the world circumstantially. Privately there was all this pain, heroin abuse, the dead brother. He’s blind. And so we get the shape, the normal shape of things, but we’re just getting episodes of his life, one after another, after another, until he’s old and we’re supposed to go, “Awesome, you made it.”

Yeah, or — or –

John: Or, choices.

Craig: I could sit at home and just listen to some incredible music and be just happy enough listening to Ray play the piano, you know what I mean? I don’t actually need the other stuff.

John: Well, it’s a question of like there are people who are tremendously talented who are deservedly famous who did great things in the world. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I want to see the long movie about them.

Craig: Right. Like there’s a James Brown biopic out right now. And I love James Brown. But I love James Brown music, and I’m not sure I — I hate to say it — I don’t really care about James Brown’s life so much. I mean, I love The Beatles. I don’t care about their lives so much.

John: Yeah. I don’t want to see another Beatles movie.

Craig: I don’t need a George Harrison biopic. And it was a really interesting life on so many terms. But, you know, I’m frankly biographically more interested in other people, which is why I think I liked The King’s Speech because I felt like I actually know nothing about this man. I only remembered that there had been someone who abdicated the thrown to marry a woman. I knew that fact. I didn’t realize that his brother ended up doing this. I had no idea about the stutter.

And what’s fascinating actually about that movie is that you can hear that speech, the actual speech, it’s on YouTube. And there it is. And you can hear, oh my god, yeah, he’s a stutterer. And it’s World War II, which I find fascinating, more fascinating than say whatever issues James Brown might have had. I don’t know. I’m going to get yelled at again by James Brown fans.

John: You won’t get yelled at.

Craig: Thanks.

John: So, getting back to sort of the how far back do I go, biopics are a special case of that because you have to figure out like, well, what is the story that I’m trying to tell. And with a biopic you have the choice of going from the day they were born till the day they die. And you have to decide, well, within this time period what are the most interesting moments.

The reason I’m singling out Erin Brockovich is like it picks a very specific interesting moment to focus on. And she has a clear objective. We meet her in an interesting way. And some of these other movies I just feel like, well, we’re meeting them at Cambridge because everybody goes to Cambridge apparently.

Craig: Well, that’s the thing. Again, you try and resist formula as much as you can I think in movies like this because they’re so formulaic. What I find fascinating is that comedies and action movies tend to be punished for being formulaic. These movies tend to be rewarded for being formulaic. One of the things that I thought really well about Saving Mr. Banks was that it was a parallel construction, so you weren’t trapped in that — I mean, you could have taken the movie and done the way that they have taken the Godfathers and made a chronological super cut out of them. You could do that with Saving Mr. Banks.

But I think the point was let’s actually run a parallel thing and show how someone was a child and now they’re an adult and they are playing out the same things that happened as a child. And until they figure that out, they’re kind of stuck.

John: Yup.

Craig: So, at least it broke out of that rigid constraint that you see so frequently. And I hope that more movies do. They could be a little more adventuresome.

John: Well, the challenge of most biopics is that it becomes “and then” rather than “because.” And an event happens, and then an event happens, rather than you’re seeing the character make these choices that leads to these next events. And that’s the real frustration.

Craig: You know what’s a great biopic? A biopic I love?

John: Tell me.

Craig: Is What’s Love Got to Do with it.

John: Yeah, Tina Turner.

Craig: I love that biopic. And it runs a lot of years, but because it’s less about the biography of Tina Turner and Ike Turner and so much more about — it’s really Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s like watching two people battle each other physically and mentally. So, it’s really a psychological thriller dressed up as a biopic.

John: Yeah. I remember seeing What’s Love Got to Do with it in a theater and when she finally fights back you hear the men in the audience cheer.

Craig: I know.

John: It was a really empowering moment.

Craig: Yeah. Angela Bassett.

John: Yeah. All right, let’s get to transference which is the next topic you put on the little WorkFlowy sheet here, which I think is a great thing for us to talk about.

Craig: So transference, this was something that had kind of come up last week for me. And I did a talk and one of the things I noticed, I was suddenly aware of it that if you talk in front of a group of people, you’re holding the microphone, we do this when we do our live shows and stuff like that. That you become aware as the talker that people are investing an amount of authority in you that you may or may not deserve. And this is something that we all do. We also do it to other people. This notion of transference, this old psychotherapeutic idea I think coined by Freud originally. And the idea is that we’re only capable of a certain kind of relationship in our lives.

There are limited relationships. We can be partners with somebody. We can be children to them. We can be parents to them. So, when we’re working with people, we begin to transfer authority to them at times. We begin to essentially look to them like our parents and hope that we get something from them that is parental, but also perhaps take what they say and do and interpret in a way that we ought not to, because we have cast a kind of authority on the relationship that it frankly hasn’t earned.

So, I wanted to talk about this because I feel like a lot of times as screenwriters one of the reasons we get so hung up about the notes we get or the people that we’re working with is that whether we realize it or not, we have transferred an amount of authority to the producer, or the studio executive, or the director, and we’ve begun to think of them like mommy or daddy. And we’ve begun to seek their approval which would show us some kind of love. And we also then cast their criticism in a harsher light because we feel like we’re being let down by our mommy and daddy. But they’re not our mommy. They’re not our daddy. And if we are aware that we’re doing this, probably would mitigate some of the pain that we feel when it goes wrong.

John: It ties into something I often say that never put somebody else in charge of your self-esteem. And there are times where I’ve found myself most frustrated is when I recognize that I have let someone whose opinion I don’t really care about hugely influence how I feel about myself and my own work. And there are cases where it truly is transference where I have — I think so highly of some person that I am so worried about disappointing them. And that is, I think, probably more classically the transference.

Craig: Yeah. It is. And part of what’s — it’s unfair to you and it’s unfair to them, because ultimately they’re just people. And they’re not always right. When I think of my screenwriting heroes, I can come up with two or three movies that each of them have done that I just hated. It doesn’t mean anything. They’re still my heroes. That’s probably an exaggeration; maybe just one movie that I hated. But regardless, they’re not always right.

So, there’s a huge difference between saying I have enormous dispassionate reasoned respect for your talent. I am really interested to hear what you have to say about this because I suspect there’s a high probability that I will get some good insight from you. That’s healthy.

Here’s maybe troublesome. I look up to you. You’re my hero. I wish I were like you. Your approval would make me feel wonderful because I need it. So, when you tell me what you think of this, that’s going to basically make me feel the way I would when mommy or daddy told me that I was good or bad.

John: In last week’s episode we talked about the perfect reader, and I described how a friend when I was giving her a script to read she quite candidly asked, “Do you want me to tell you that it’s really good? Or do you want me to tell you what’s wrong with it?” And that was recognizing, I think, that transference aspect of I wanted affirmation. And I wanted affirmation in the same way that when I would write my little short stories when I was ten years old and I would have my mom proofread them. I didn’t really necessarily want them proofread. I wanted her to tell me that they were really good.

Craig: Right.

John: And that’s an important psychological function, but it’s not the same as necessarily getting notes.

Craig: God, that’s such a great — I would love to have been there and your mom says, “Well, I’ve gone through it. This should have been a comma here. And this was miss capitalized.”

John: Ah-ha.

Craig: And then you say, “Is there anything else?”

“No.”

“Nothing else to say about it?”

“No, those were the only two errors.” [laughs]

John: Indeed. Everything else was formatted properly.

Craig: Everything else was formatted properly. So nothing else to say? No.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then just a weird German silence.

John: Now, Craig, you’re the one with the psychology degree, so tell me what transference really means in the classic therapeutic sense?

Craig: Well, in the classic therapeutic sense when they talk about transference they talk about basically people falling into parent/child relationships in ways that can be damaging, but also they acknowledge that they’re important and necessary at times. Classically, it’s the therapist/patient relationship that gets the most examination through the lens of transference. So, the patient begins to transfer a lot of authority and emotional weight to what the therapist says.

The therapist –

John: So it’s not necessarily that you fall in love with your therapist? That’s what I always think of it as.

Craig: It’s not. However, at times what will happen is a patient will believe that they are falling in love with their therapist. And the therapists are trained to understand that that is transference and that they need to be able to explain to the patient that this is why this is happening and that it’s okay and necessary because if you’ve never been loved by a parent before, perhaps you’re allowing me to step in and be that. But we’re going to get — this is a merely crutch for now. Eventually we’ll get to a healthy place where you love yourself.

But, similarly, the therapist needs to be aware of their own transference issues with their patients. Suddenly they become attracted or in love with their own patient because they feel like they need to rescue them, or save them, and that’s all about the therapist’s issues of needing to be a parent to a child. But, you know, look, Freud, who was wrong and right. It’s just amazing how right he was and how wrong he was.

So, Freud expanded the notion of transference to be far too wide reaching. His initial theory of male homosexuality was transference, that men were trans — [laughs] I just don’t understand how he ever got there. It just doesn’t work that way. So, I mean, there have been many crazy theories about where homosexuality comes from: the frigid mother; male transference –

John: The absent father.

Craig: The absent father. And it just turns out it comes from the same place heterosexuality comes from. [laughs]

John: Or left-handedness comes from.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, duh. But to this day, however, I think, and I understand why it makes sense, that psychotherapists are trained to recognize transference as it happens and try and encourage it in good ways.

And, by the way, I think that’s true for any of us. When you’re speaking in front of a group of people and you hold the microphone, you should be aware that people are investing authority in you. You know who is really aware of it? Con artists.

John: Oh yes.

Craig: They, believe me, they are plugged in. The preachers that are asking you for money are engaging in the most blatant form of transference. They are essentially becoming god for you. They are practically saying it. And so you’re transferring all of your childlike need for the almighty onto this individual. And then they’re taking advantage of it.

So, it’s normal and at times it can be healthy, but we have to be aware of it because there are times, for instance when you feel like you’ve put your self-esteem in control of someone else’s you put it. That’s where maybe the transference has become, well, there’s over-transference, or you’re just not aware of it enough and you’ve got to really take a look at it.

John: A thing I also find happening and I think it’s increasingly happening is you’re transferring upon something that’s not even one person, but is actually a horde, a mass. And so Twitter can be that. And where Twitter has turned against you, or you are looking to Twitter for validation about this thing you did being good or being bad.

I noticed it somewhat to a degree during this whole Kickstarter. It was like, you know, as the numbers kept ratcheting up, more and more of my time and my focus and my personal energy was on this Kickstarter and making sure that everybody sort of felt heard and rewarded, because it was like having comments back on on the blog. But fortunately it was for a limited period of time and then I could step back from it and not be involved with it.

You’ve not read Lena Dunham’s book yet, have you?

Craig: Only the three pages that everybody read. [laughs]

John: That everyone talks about. So, there’s a great chapter that I would really recommend you read. It’s when she, I don’t know, she’s 10 or 11 and she started seeing a therapist. And sort of figuring out who was the right therapist for 10-year-old Lena Dunham. And that whole issue of how much do you know your therapist and how much space should there be between a patient and a therapist. Was exactly in Craig’s wheelhouse because it’s that sense of that person is not your parent, and is performing some of the functions of a parent in terms of offering structure and guidance for sort of how you’re going to figure out your life.

Craig: No question.

John: I think you’d really enjoy that.

Craig: You actually can’t. I don’t think you can have a successful therapeutic experience if you don’t transfer a certain amount of authority to this person. That’s kind of why they’re there. Ultimately, 99% why we go to therapy is because of issues with how we were raised and children. Sadly, there are things that happen afterwards that are traumatic, but if those haven’t happened to you, then a lot of it is how you’re raised as a child, which means the therapist kind of has to model to you what a good parent would be like.

And so transference naturally occurs and, you know, but you just want to be careful because — Dennis Palumbo famously says people come to Hollywood seeking the approval that they did not receive as a child. And ironically Hollywood is the worst place to seek approval if you didn’t receive it as a child.

We are all here looking for applause for a reason. And the people who are in charge of us either are aware of it and are exploiting it, or they’re not aware of it and they don’t understand how they’re being viewed by us in some ways as surrogate mommies and daddies and how our feelings can get hurt that way.

Even when we talk to each other, I don’t think we realize how quickly writers and actors and directors fall into this trap of being a child or a parent.

John: Yes. And anyone who has listened to the podcast for the last couple months is probably identifying sort of you and Lindsay Doran as like, well, there’s an aspect of that to your relationship on the script that you’re writing, because this is a producer who you trust who is involved, who is seeing every bit of what you’re writing and you’re having these long conversations about these things.

Are you aware of that? Is that an accurate reflection?

Craig: Well, I don’t know. I’ll tell you this, and you tell me if you think I’m aware of it. I call her Script Mommy. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: Which she does not like, because she feels it sounds too old. And she would prefer Script Friend, or script something. But she is Script Mommy. And I’ve happily transferred because she is really — she is an excellent person in which to invest that kind of emotional need. And what’s great is once you’re aware that you’re doing it, then you can say, look, should I be doing this with this person? Are they safe? Can I trust them in this regard? And if you can, then what happens is you’re able to learn how to take the good and the bad in much better ways, you know.

John: Well, let’s look at this from Lindsay Doran’s point of view, too, because you and I are both sort of Lindsay’s with other people in our lives, and it’s recognizing that someone has transferred upon you. And that you have to be careful with them because they may be fragile or they may take things too personally. And so it’s recognizing that the kinds of things you’re saying to them may have more weight than you think.

So, it’s going all the way back to what you said about being in front of the audience with a microphone is that you may not realize how much that microphone is wired in to their souls.

Craig: That’s right. And I think that for people who do it well, and Lindsay is one of them for sure, it’s a combination of just an inherent gentle nature and experience. I mean, Lindsay was partners with Sydney Pollack for many years. And Sydney, who was just a flat-out genius, was –

John: And a gentleman.

Craig: And a gentleman, was as creatively quirky and difficult as the rest of us. He wasn’t a bad person, but he had his quirks. We all do, you know. And so you learn over time as a facilitator of creative people to accept a lot of the way they are and to either love it or don’t. You know, I mean, the thing is she — Lindsay loves writers and directors. She loves them more than she loves memos and synergy. And so it comes through.

John: All right. It is time for our One Cool Things. Craig, why don’t you start?

Craig: Right, my One Cool Thing this week is, god I hope that this spreads. Google has taken a look at the most annoying thing on the Internet which is CAPTCHA. For those of you who don’t know the name of it, you’ll know what the thing is. A CAPTCHA is when you’re asked to sign up for something on the web and they say to verify that you’re not a robot could you please type in the following impossible to decipher numbers and letters.

They’re usually smeared, [laughs], they look like numbers and letters that have been smeared and then perhaps a line is drawn through them. It’s ridiculous. And, more to the point, it appears that it’s not that effective because in the arms race between bots and spammers and the people that are trying to weed them out, I guess they’ve been coming up with ways to actually sell these CAPTCHAs, including just hiring thousands of people in third world countries to sit and decipher CAPTCHAs.

So, Google has come up with this new thing called reCAPTCHA and this is how they verify you as a human being. You sign in your information and then it says, “Click here if you’re not a robot.” And you click and you’re done.

Now, how does it work? They’re not exactly saying. But it seems like what it’s doing is picking up on how your mouse moves to click the thing, how much time you take, because the name of the game for the spammers is to have bots basically blowing through these CAPTCHAs really quickly, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense. You might as well use actual human beings.

So, I’m hoping that Google reCAPTCHA works. There’s an article on it at Wired. If you want to check that out we’ll include the link in the show notes.

John: Great. My One Cool Thing is a game for kids for the iPad and for the iPhone called Endless Alphabet. And it’s really smartly done. So, I saw it this week because Dustin Box who works for me has a two-year-old and Dustin was showing it to me on his phone. And I taught my daughter how to read and we did this — I’ll put a link in the show notes for this thing as well. We did a Hooked on Phonics Learn to Read which was a really well, smartly setup system. Phonics are sort of how you should get kids introduced to the sounds of the letters so they can figure out how to decipher words.

This app called Endless Alphabet does that but in a really, really fun way. So, if the word is like fluffy, those letters will be distributed around on the screen and kids will drag them in to the space. But when you touch on the F, it goes Fafafafafa. You touch on the U it goes Uh-Uh-Uh and it wiggles in a really fun way.

Craig: Can you do the F again for me?

John: Fafafafafa.

Craig: Well, that’s Lecterian. That’s Hannibal Lecterian.

John: Ha-ha. It’s delightful.

Craig: It’s the scariest thing ever. That is Babadook scary.

John: That’s great. So, it’s Sexy Craig and Fafafafa. It’s going to be the best.

Craig: Oh god. Ooh. Blah.

John: So, anyway, the app seems really, really smart. It does all the right things in terms of engaging kids and they get to touch the letter. They hear the sounds. It’s so important that kids hear the sounds of the letters. Much more important than actual name the letter is to know the sound it makes. And so it’s really good for helping kids decipher all the words around them. So, I would strongly recommend you check it out. It’s $6.99 on the App Store.

Craig: All right.

John: So that is our show this week. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel and it’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you would like to know more about the things we talked about on the show, join us in the show notes. Those are at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes.

On iTunes you can find us. Just search for Scriptnotes. Also on the iTunes store you can find the app for Scriptnotes that lets you listen to all the back episodes. There’s an equivalent Android app as well. For $1.99 a month you’re a premium subscriber. You get the bonus episodes. You get all the way back to the very first episode of the show.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. If you have a question for Craig Mazin, you should write to him @clmazin. For me, I’m @johnaugust.

Longer questions go to ask@johnaugust.com. We will see so many of you at our live show on Thursday.

Craig: Very exciting.

John: That will be next week’s episode.

Craig: Yes. No eggnog, right?

John: No eggnog. It’s an eggnog-free event.

Craig: Oh yeah. Wait, wait, say that again. Say it’s an eggnog-free event.

John: It’s an eggnog fafafafafa-free event.

Craig: Ah! I knew it. I knew I could count on you. Chilling.

John: Yeah. I’m reliable sometimes. Yeah.

Craig: Chilling.

John: [laughs]

Craig: Chilling. It’s terrible.

John: With a nice ch-chianti.

Craig: Oh god.

John: Oh, it’s good stuff. And I think that is it. Craig, have a wonderful two days and I will see you on Thursday.

Craig: Uh, this is where your mom would say, “John?”

John: Yes?

Craig: “You made almost no mistakes during this podcast.”

John: That’s good. I love you, mommy.

Craig: “Yes.” [laughs] I’ll see you next time.

John: See ya. Bye.

Links:

Scriptnotes, Ep 173: The Perfect Reader — Transcript

Wed, 12/10/2014 - 17:50

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: [laughs] My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 173 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today, we are going to be talking about the perfect reader, loan-out companies, and how to record a podcast. But, Craig, all of our listeners want to know first and foremost, how was your heritage turkey?

Craig: I got to say home run.

John: Oh, fantastic. Glad to hear it.

Craig: Home run. So changed up a couple of things this year for those of you playing the home turkey game. I got a heritage turkey from a company called Mary’s Turkeys, about a 17-pounder because I had a lot of people. I brined it — I always brine but this time, instead of brining it in a bucket or a cooler, I went with a brining bag.

John: Ah, those are the dry briners –

Craig: No, no, I’m a wet brine guy. I believe in the wet brine. But that’s a whole north/south, east/west civil war but I’ll –

John: Yeah, which is the right barbecue sauce, too, while we’re at it.

Craig: I mean, I don’t even get in the middle of that.

John: [laughs]

Craig: But, no, I’m a wet briner. But the nice thing about the brining bag is that you put the turkey in this big — it’s basically an enormous super heavy-duty Ziploc bag. So it goes over the turkey, you fill it up with the brine, and the nice thing is you can put it in your fridge. Because, otherwise, you got to put it outside in the garage with a bunch of dry ice in a cooler. It’s a big pain in the butt.

And the other thing I did this time was I added some brown sugar into the brine. By and large, you know, people throw in, like, what I call potpourri into their brine. You know, like lemons and sprigs and things. That stuff, all those oil-based things, like, from citrus, that’s not going to dissolve in the water and it’s not going to go into the turkey. You’re wasting your time. Anyway, it came out fantastic.

John: That’s great. And how long was your bird in the oven?

Craig: This is also the simplest oven-cooking of all time.

John: Right.

Craig: I went with no basting. I did an olive oil rub.

John: Yup.

Craig: Put it in at 325 degrees.

John: Yup.

Craig: 3.5 hours later, it was done to perfection.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Did not do anything.

John: So this year, I did what I’ve been doing the last couple of years which is the high-heat method.

Craig: Okay.

John: So you think yours is simple. This is how simple mine was. A little olive oil rub into a 475-degree oven.

Craig: Woo.

John: For two hours. Done. And so not only do you not have to do anything other than sort of clean and dry the bird –

Craig: It’s faster.

John: Yes. And you don’t even truss it. You sort of deliberately untruss it. So you have to stick forks in to sort of hold the legs out away from the bird so the heat can get everywhere.

Craig: Interesting.

John: And it worked really well.

Craig: Yeah, I did fail to mention that I trussed. I’m a trusser.

John: You’re a trusser?

Craig: Yeah, my method is –

John: Well, that’s really your bondage thing coming through there.

Craig: Yeah, Fifty Shades of Grey’d that thing.

John: [laughs]

Craig: Yes, the turkey will see me now. I did the slow-and-low method. But the truth is that if you put it in, you know, as long as you don’t have to do stuff with it, it doesn’t really matter.

John: It doesn’t matter. Time is irrelevant as long as –

Craig: Time is irrelevant. But I have to also, well, I’ll save my One Cool Thing because I did a — I made a lot of different things. I made a pumpkin pie. I made an apple galette, I made acorn squash, I made garlicky green beans with roasted pine nuts. I made a ton of things. But one thing I made, oh, pumpkin scones, which were spectacular.

John: Oh, good. Yeah.

Craig: But I’ll save my favorite thing for my One Cool Thing.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Yeah. How about you? So did you have a great Thanksgiving?

John: We had a great Thanksgiving. We had some friends come over. We had a good simple outdoor Los Angeles Thanksgiving.

Craig: I know. My sister is in town with her husband and kids and, you know, it’s freezing in New York and they’re swimming today, so they’re super happy.

John: Yeah, life is good.

Craig: Life is good.

John: So life is also good on December 11th. That is the live Scriptnotes show in Hollywood. So as we record this on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, there are still some tickets left. I don’t know if they’re still really out there, because you, Craig, are bringing in a whole entourage. So I know that you requested, like, 20 tickets for you and your posse so –

Craig: I believe I’ve requested four tickets.

John: All right.

Craig: Yeah.

John: A lot.

Craig: [laughs] That’s too much. That’s way too much.

John: Way too much. You’re disrupting everything.

Craig: Yes.

John: Our other guests are going to be, so it’s me and Craig, Aline, Jane Espenson, B.J. Novak, Derek Haas, actress/singer/funny person Rachel Bloom, all those people will have entourages as well. So we’re not sure how many tickets are going to be left but if you would like to come, you should come. So go to wgfoundation.org, click Events and you will have the option to purchase the tickets. Come join us on December 11th at 8:00 pm.

Craig: Let me do a little hard sell on this, by the way.

John: All right, sure.

Craig: For those people that listen to the podcast but haven’t been to one of these things, they’re great. It’s just a more relaxed, fun atmosphere. There’s something about it just being all together in a room is fun. You also get to meet other people that listen to the show and people have made friends at these things. You know, it’s like a little community.

John: Yes, and we’ve had some babies created out of –

Craig: We must have had some podcast babies. I probably made a few podcast babies. I mean, don’t tell anybody. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Don’t tell Melissa. Does Melissa listen to your show?

Craig: Hey, Melissa, I made, like, 14 podcast babies. [laughs]

John: That’s absolutely not true and is the worst.

Craig: Not at all true. No.

John: Not at all true.

Craig: I don’t do that.

John: But the shows are genuinely fun and while we’ll, of course, ultimately have this show up for listening, it’s not going to be same thing as being there because we will cut it down and we will cut out, the audience Q&A will probably get cut out.

Craig: Right.

John: So that’s why you kind of want to come.

Craig: Yeah, there’s a great Q&A. I’ll probably do 40 minutes on She-Hulk again [laughs], so that should be terrific.

John: Oh, don’t, no, don’t.

Craig: Oh, I shouldn’t do that? I shouldn’t?

John: No, no more She-Hulk. I think we’ve banned that discussion ever happening again. What I will say what’s interesting is because for my Kickstarter I had a video of me talking about it, some people wrote in and said, like, “Wow, you look nothing like I thought you would look like.” And that is a strange thing about listening to podcasts is that –

Craig: Yeah.

John: You have, just human nature. You form an image of, like, who you think goes with that voice, and apparently, I don’t look like my voice at all.

Craig: I also don’t look like my voice. Neither of us look like our voices.

John: Yeah. That’s a good thing.

Craig: I remember as a kid, you know, it’s funny, podcasts have kind of brought back an experience that you and I had when we were kids. And then I felt like it sort of went away because radio started to go away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When I was a kid, I remember wondering like what does Howard Stern look like? And what does Robin Quivers look like? What do any of these people look like? And then that sort of went away because — and now, it’s back.

John: I remember being in Los Angeles, well, as I first moved here and listened to KROQ, and there was Kevin & Bean in the morning. And I had this image of who I thought Kevin and Bean were.

Craig: Right.

John: And then I saw them at some live event and like, wow, that’s not even remotely what I thought that would be. It’s jarring.

Craig: They looked pretty much like I thought they would look like.

John: [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. I used to listen to Kevin & Bean every morning. Kevin & Bean, and you know, people don’t know, like, that’s where Adam Carolla came out of, that’s where Jimmy Kimmel came out of.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah. It was a great show but, you know, it’s radio. What are you going to do?

John: Yeah. I remember when Go was being launched, I mean, that was an incredibly important platform for us to get our actors and I think Doug Liman may have even been on that. And like Doug Liman on the radio, it’s just, “Why would you do that?”

Craig: [laughs] I know.

John: But we were promoting our show. But, like, Breckin Meyer, Jay Mohr on that kind of show killed it.

Craig: Right, absolutely. Yeah, I know. It was a big deal back in the ’90s, yo.

John: Yo. Another thing we talked about on the previous show was Franz Kafka and we had a reader, Kevin, from Tokyo wrote in with a long response to that and I thought it was great so I thought I would read this aloud. “It was a pleasant surprise to hear Franz Kafka come up on the podcast. I spent many years studying his work and life, visiting the places he lived and wrote, archives, holding his manuscripts and so on. I’m writing to let you know that Craig’s literature professor lied to him.”

Craig: Mm-hmm, liar.

John: “The mention that Kafka’s works were only published after his death and against his wishes is a persistent myth. The truth is, Kafka oversaw the publication and translation of many of his short stories and novellas, including Metamorphosis. He fretted over details and illustrations, cover designs, and tracked the sales records of his books.

“It is true they asked his friend Max Brod to destroy his unpublished manuscripts in fragments which he considered incomplete. One justification Brod later gave for ignoring this was that after making the request, Kafka continued to actually publish his work. He was working on correcting his proofs for the collection that contains The Hunger Artist when he died. I certainly do not mean to criticize you since Craig brought up Kafka as a springboard for talking about writers’ feelings about their work. Your podcast is not about Germanic literature and the whole thing started by Craig’s professor lying to him.”

Craig: [laughs]

John: “I guess the professor wanted to leave out the facts to make a juicy story like the entertainment journalists who were the target of your umbrage. Thank you for your entertainment inspiration. Kevin in Tokyo.”

Craig: Well, thank you, Kevin in Tokyo. You know, this does happen. Sometimes these myths persist. And look, we are trusting Kevin because Kevin sounds informed. He could be lying to me also, [laughs], right? I mean, we now know that I am susceptible to these kinds of lies. But in this case, I think Print the Legend, that’s my theory.

John: I think it is a Print the Legend situation. So I was doing just a little bit of cursory research and it does seem that Kevin has other people in his corner backing him up. There’s a book by James Hawes and there’s a review I read by Joanna Kavenna in The Guardian, and I’ll read a little quote from her because I thought it actually really summed up sort of what we’re talking about. “Hawes strongly believes the myth surrounding Kafka has clouded the perception of his writing to the extent that his translators believe he should sound like some ghostly, plodding sub-Sartre rather than someone whose, ‘black-comic tales of what happens to modern people who can’t give up on the Old Ways’ could hardly be more timely.”

And I think that’s actually a really fascinating aspect of the Print the Legend because when you print the legend, it’s going to influence all the choices you make about that person’s work.

Craig: Right.

John: And in the case of Kafka, you are translating these things and so if your image of the person you’re translating is, like, “Oh, he’s dark and it’s all about, you know, gloom,” then you’re going to make choices that support that thesis rather than try and define, you know, the funny or the satirical aspects of what it is that he’s writing.

Craig: That’s true. And I suspect that this is all accurate because I know that I didn’t study Kafka anywhere near the extent to which Kevin has, obviously, but I did do a lot of Nietzsche studying in college and there are a ton of myths surrounding Nietzsche as well, that he had syphilis, which is not at all the case, that he was an anti-Semite, which is not at all the case. There’s just a lot. It happens, you know, and all these guys lived well before the time of over-examination. No more myths can possibly exist, it seems to me. Unfortunately, we repose mythology now.

John: Yeah, it’s very possible we are. I can think back to Columbus, for example, if you want to talk about a person who is sort of built around a myth. And so you and I grew up celebrating Columbus Day and, like this was the day of discovery and there’s all this imagery about sort of who Columbus was and now as we sort of discover more things about, like, “Oh, you know what? Maybe Columbus wasn’t such an awesome guy.” We have to sort of look at all this text we’ve read as a kid and say, like, “Wait, huh? Is this really the right thing to be talking about with Columbus?”

Or Thanksgiving, for example, Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. I would not want to change anything about the modern celebration of Thanksgiving. But if you look at sort of what is the legend behind it, it probably wasn’t anything like what we want it to have been.

Craig: Oh, no question. America itself, essentially, is the product of, I mean, the American dream, the American stories, all mythological. I see mistakes cropping up all the time. In fact, I was listening to, somebody had put on Facebook this bit that David Cross does in an audio book where he’s rebutting Larry the Cable Guy who was complaining about him. And at one point, Larry the Cable Guy is complaining that America’s on the verge of banning Christianity which David Cross correctly finds absurd and says, “You know, this is a country where, you know, George Washington was christened.” Actually, most of those guys weren’t Christian.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists. They weren’t even Christians.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s just a lot of bad info circulating out there. And now, I’m circulating it as well. So good. Tune in next week for more disinformation.

John: Well, speaking of David Cross, David Cross’ frequent collaborator, Bob Odenkirk, is associated with our next –

Craig: Segue Man. [laughs]

John: A follow up. So on the last episode, we were talking about Simon Cowell and the aspect of, like, criticism and how criticism itself becomes a form of entertainment. And I said, like, “Oh, well, somebody should make a show where they just like criticize a stick of gum and it should be all about that.” And Jonathan Bell, a reader, wrote in, a listener wrote in and pointed us to this great Bob Odenkirk sketch which is on Funny or Die, which is all about — it’s called American Contestant.

And it’s a spoof of American Idol but it’s really just about the judges criticizing this woman who thinks she’s on a singing competition. It’s, like, “No, no, this isn’t about the singing.” It’s, like, “Well, I really want to go to Hollywood.” “We want to see that you want to go to Hollywood but, you know, you have to prove it.” And it just becomes about the nature of criticism and how criticism becomes a popular culture. So of course, I did have a good idea but about six years ago, Bob Odenkirk did a funny series of sketches about it.

Craig: Once again, trumped by Odenkirk.

John: Yeah. It’s not going to be the last time, I suspect.

Craig: No. No.

John: No.

Craig: Did you see the new Star Wars teaser?

John: I did. So we we’re recording this on Friday. So as we’re recording this it is a big deal because this new teaser came out so –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, how erect were your nipples when you saw it?

Craig: Like I could’ve cut glass with those things.

John: Yeah. I’ll pause for a second. When did cutting glass with nipples become a thing? Because it is a common phrase. How did it happen?

Craig: Well, I don’t know how it happened out there. I cut glass with my nipples all the time. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Indeed.

Craig: Oh, yeah.

John: Basically, whenever you need to do a jewel heist, you have to get really, really excited so you can actually cut through the security glass and steal the jewel.

Craig: I have to sort of rotate my torso in a planar, circular fashion. Yeah. No, I do it all the time. I loved it. But rather than talk about the teaser trailer, I just want to tie in to what you were saying that it just seems like these things come out and then there’s just this horde of people just waiting to say, “Meh,” and “I don’t like it.”

John: I have to say, as we’re recording this on Friday, I have not heard a single “meh.” I’ve heard a lot of sort of like, “Holy cow, that was much better than I was expecting it to be.”

Craig: Well, look, it is exactly as good as I was expecting it to be but then again, as we know, I’m a positive movie-goer. I expect every teaser trailer to be awesome. I truly do. And then, you know, I start from a place of hope and then, you know, we’ll see what happens. But yeah, there was just a bunch, but you know what, sometimes when I’m on the Internet and this is a weird thing for somebody who does a podcast to say, I just want to — I wish there were a button like a shush button, and I could just shush the Internet, just shush. Everybody shush.

John: You can. You can close the window.

Craig: No, no, no, no, I want other people to shush. [laughs] I want everyone to be quiet, even on their own.

John: So on a previous episode of Scriptnotes, we talked about this list that a guy put out saying, like, you know, a list of reminders, sort of an open letter to J.J. Abrams and a list of reminders about Star Wars. And it is interesting that, J.J. Abrams is not a stupid person and it seems like he did a lot of the things on the list not because that list existed but because, like, they’re the right kind of ideas.

Craig: Right.

John: So the universe does definitely feel old. It doesn’t feel new and shiny. And, like, the helmets look battered and damaged. It definitely looks like it takes a place on a frontier.

Craig: Right.

John: It looks, you know, like there’s mysterious things happening.

Craig: Well, it also looks like it is part of the universe of the first three movies. It has the palette of the first three movies, those wonderful Ralph McQuarrie illustrations. It looks like those. The colors are like those. Obviously, we know from advanced publicity that he’s been erring towards the side of practical objects that are maybe enhanced by CGI as opposed to pure CGI creations. It just looks like a Star Wars movie whereas the other ones just didn’t, you know, so –

John: Very shiny.

Craig: Yeah, they were shiny. So, I’m super excited. I do believe that this movie will be the biggest. I believe it will be the biggest movie. I think –

John: It could be the biggest movie of all time.

Craig: I think it will be. I think it’s going to outdo Avatar.

John: Yeah. I think you’re probably right.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Hooray for everybody involved.

Craig: All right.

John: Last bit of follow-up. On the last episode, I asked if there were listeners who had insights about retail that could help me out as I’m trying to figure out Writer Emergency Pack and in 2015 we’re going to try to put it out in the world, both retails like physical retail and online retail. And about half a dozen people wrote in with like really, really good helpful suggestions. And so I just want to thank everyone who’s written in and if other people have thoughts about that.

And it’s a good segue to our first topic which is, I recognized this last week that we’re actually going to have to put Writer Emergency Pack in a whole separate company because right now I’ve been running it through my own loan-out company and it should not, for accounting reasons, it should just not be part of the loan-out company. So I thought we’d start by talking about loan-out companies.

Craig: The loan-out company, which is a quirk of the entertainment business. It really is, you know. It’s not something that anybody really should know about unless they are considering becoming a writer, an actor, a director. That is to say an individual who sells their own art that isn’t — and they’re not objects but rather us, our expression, our individual expression. So what happens is if you achieve a certain amount of success and you want it to be success that you expect to be repeated, not just a one-time deal, then everybody, every tax person, your agent, all of the people around you, your lawyer will say, “You need to form a loan-out company.” What is that?

It is a corporation. Typically, it’s an S-corp. Some people do a C-corp. And you become a company. So for the sake of argument, you’re the Joe Smith Company. The Joe Smith Company is controlled entirely by Joe Smith. Joe Smith owns all the stock. Joe Smith is the sole officer of the company. When you are hired to do things, let’s stick with writing because we are Scriptnotes, the studio makes a deal with the Joe Smith Company, not with you. The studio pays the Joe Smith Company. The Joe Smith Company, in turn, warrants that it is there to provide the services of Joe Smith. And then, of course, you set up something where the Joe Smith Company then pays Joe Smith.

John: Yup.

Craig: What’s the deal with all these hoops? What does it come down to? No shock, taxes.

John: Mostly taxes. So let me back up and make sure that a few terms are clear along the way. So when we say success, it’s not, like, “Hey, you got an Academy Award nomination.” Success means that you are earning a certain amount each year.

Craig: Correct.

John: And so when I first became a corporation, that threshold was about $200,000. They said, like, if you’re making more than $200,000 a year, then you should incorporate so that you could have a loan-out and things would just become much simpler. That bar may actually be a little bit lower now just for –

Craig: That’s what I read, yeah. Now, I think maybe even $100,000. But back when we were starting, yeah, $200,000 was the number that I heard as well. So every actor you see in movies, pretty much every working writer, every director, everybody has a loan-out company.

John: So some of the advantages for this are taxes. And so it’s a way of, Sony is paying through a loan-out corporation. Your loan-out company has that money. Your loan-out company can take write-offs against that money for things like your agent and things like your manager and things like your lawyer. Some of the things are going to being paid as a corporation, so they’re not being charged to you individually. That’s very useful.

In almost all cases, the overall balance of your company will be zeroed out of a year. So they’re ultimately going to pay you but it’s a way of delaying paying you as an individual writer for a little bit longer, and that can be very, very useful. It can also be useful because if you have legitimate research that you need to do, trips you need to do to study something for something you’re writing, if you have an assistant like Stuart Friedel, that person can be paid out of your corporation.

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s generally much better to pay things from a corporate perspective than to pay as an individual.

Craig: Yeah. As an individual, taking business deductions is arduous. It is often a red flag. A real simple thing, for instance, I have an office in Pasadena. That’s where I am right now. If you’re an individual and you have a home office, the IRS is, like, “Do you really? Because that’s something that a lot of cheaters say they have but don’t really have. Is it really just your bedroom?” But if you have an office-office and it’s a corporation, it’s an office. They don’t have a problem with that. They expect that. So you’re right. And there’s something called the alternative minimum tax where as an individual they’re like, “You can deduct a bunch of stuff but then where if you deduct too much, we’re just going to add on a new tax because we don’t really believe you.” That gets circumvented when you’re talking about the — having a corporation.

The other huge tax benefit to having a loan-out is that you can then access different levels and expanded levels of tax-deferred savings. I’m talking about retirement plans. So you can save, you know, as an individual, you have your IRA where, I don’t know, they let you put in $2,000 a year. As a loan-out, you can put in six figures. You can put in a lot of money in tax-deferreds for retirement. You will pay taxes on it one day but it gets to grow without you having to pay the taxes upfront and it’s better.

John: Absolutely. And I think we should stress for writers is that if you were a screenwriter, you’re going to be a member of the WGA. And so there will be a WGA pension. The WGA pension, while good for most industries, it’s probably not going to be sufficient for you to be carrying on for the rest of your life. And so socking away money as a screenwriter during your most productive years is really quite important. And to be able to do that in a tax-deferred way through a corporation is fantastic.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a must-do.

John: Yeah, it’s a must-do. I mean, it’s not just silly, it’s actually dangerous not to do that.

Craig: Correct.

John: Well, an interesting that’s happened to me is like I’ve had some employees long enough that they have actually become vested in the corporation and therefore, like, they have retirement plans with me, which is just weird but also kind of great. So assistants who’ve been with for, like, five years –

Craig: Right.

John: Where now they have a pension, which is wonderful.

Craig: That’s amazing. Yeah, that’s terrific. You have all sorts of options and flexibilities when you are a loan-out corp. Some people will say that the other benefit is that, you know, you’re shielded a little bit from some legal issues. Not really.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The truth is that if you do something wrong as an individual, you can’t really hide behind that loan-out corp. That’s so easy. They call it piercing the veil. It’s so easy to say, “No, it’s really just you.” The other thing is that when we sign contracts with studios, one of the things we sign is a certificate of authorship that says, “We’re going to write this.” The individual is going to write this. That’s what the loan-out company is promising. And as an individual, we are warranting that we’re not ripping anyone off. We’re not infringing. We’re not making any, you know, bad mistakes.

John: Yeah. So let’s talk about this from a newer writer’s perspective. And people might be listening and saying like, “I’m an aspiring screenwriter. Do I need to form a loan-out corporation?” The answer is unequivocally no.

Craig: No.

John: So it’s one of those things like getting an agent, getting a lawyer, getting all that stuff, it’s all stuff that happens down the road. And when it has to happen, it just has to happen. Actually, here’s the best parallel. It’s the kind of thing like joining the WGA. You don’t need to join the WGA until you need to join the WGA. Like, at the minute you sign to write a script for a studio that’s a signatory or you sell a script to a signatory, then congratulations. You have to join the WGA and you are now a WGA member. The same kind of thing holds true for incorporating is that at the minute you need to incorporate, your agents, your lawyer, your manager will tell you, “Oh, about that time. You got to incorporate.”

Craig: Right.

John: And there will be a whole process to do it because literally thousands of people have done it before you.

Craig: That’s right. There’s a fee involved to incorporate in the State of California. You know, it’s tempting to think, “God, what I should do is incorporate in Nevada because they don’t have taxes there the way that we have taxes here.” Yeah, it don’t work that way. You got to –

John: No.

Craig: Incorporate where you live, in the state you live. But they will tell you — it’s good information though to have in your pocket for those of you, especially if you’ve just sold your first thing, if you’re on the verge, this is something you should start talking about with your attorney because it’s a huge benefit to you. You will actually save a lot of money. By the way, do you, question.

John: Yes.

Craig: Do you use a business manager?

John: I do use a business manager. So I will get into that. But first I want to back up one step and say that the first thing I sold, Go, was the first, actually, that wasn’t my biggest sale. I sold two things which I was paid as an individual, neither of which got produced. And those were just paid to John August. And I sold Go and that was just paid to John August. It was after Go that I incorporated. So I still get checks sometimes for just John August money. It’s not my loan-out money.

Craig: Yup.

John: And it’s fine. It’s just a little bit weird that there’s some stuff that falls outside that veil and falls outside that –

Craig: I’m in the exact same boat. My first two movies, RocketMan and Senseless, were both –

John: Yeah.

Craig: I didn’t have a loan-out.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So the residuals go to me personally for those. But everything else, they go to the corporation.

John: So actually back to your question about a business manager, yes, I do have a business manager, Carrie, and I love her to death. And so she is responsible for keeping track of the corporate money and keeping track of sort of the individual John August money. So I get quarterly statements. She files, you know, the estimated taxes, the quarterly taxes that have get through and make sure that all of the stuff happens.

And again it goes back to the heart surgery thing. She does this for a lot of other writers, a lot of writers that you and I both know. And because she’s seen all the stuff before, it’s just gets done, and it gets done right. But you do not if I can remember correctly.

Craig: I don’t, no. Because I kind of like this sort of stuff. I mean, some people have different arrangements. Some business managers do everything for people. They pay their bills. You know, they talk to, “Oh, I need to switch my, the guy that does my exterminating.” Okay, we’ll handle it. So I don’t do any of that. I pay all of my bills. I like Quicken, you know, I’m a Quicken guy. I do have a tax guy that I work with and I have financial investment managers that obviously I don’t , you know, I don’t know what stocks or anything like that. I don’t do that sort of thing.

But the other stuff I handle, you know, it’s not that bad. It’s pretty simple. And, you know, with computers now, it gets even simpler than it used to be.

John: So the conversation I had to have this last week with my business manager and with my accountant, and ultimately with my lawyer is that my company, my loan-out company, has been doing all the stuff we do for apps and it’s worked out just fine. So I have employees and we do stuff. The challenge is the company works, the corporation loan-out, works as a cash-based business. That’s fine when you don’t have inventory. But once you start having inventory –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Things get a lot more complicated. So the only inventory we’ve had to date, has been literally like our 150 episodes Scriptnotes drives and our t-shirts and those just sell out and then they’re done and nothing sits around.

Craig: Right.

John: But these will sit around and there will be orders coming in and orders going out and there’ll be this whole timeline thing, and first in, first out. And it’s just going to be very complicated and wrong to try to bend this company to deal with that kind of situation. So it will end up being, I think, a whole separate company that will end up being the distributor of Writer Emergency Pack and other things we hope to make.

Craig: As well as it should, yeah, because when you have — I remember talking with my late father-in-law about this. He was a Burger King franchisee. So he owned a couple of Burger Kings and you would have to do the same thing with your new company if they get in to profit and loss statements.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: It’s just a whole other world. See, the loan-out company exists and can exist because it’s so simple.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, we don’t have stock, we don’t have inventory. We don’t even have profit and loss because our overhead is such a joke, you know. I mean, let’s put it this way. If your overhead is so great that it’s eating up all of your money, I mean the idea is whatever your overhead is as a writer, that plus the money you pay yourself should equal all of the money you’ve earned.

John: Exactly. The goal is to zero out everything, every –

Craig: Right.

John: Every year, every financial year. And as a writer, that’s really simple to do. As someone who has inventory, that’s just not going to be possible.

Craig: Right. Because if you don’t, then ultimately you end up paying taxes twice.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because the corporation is making money, it has to be taxed. And then it’s going to send it to you, and then that’s going to be taxed again. Anyway, this is something that you, I know it’s all wonky, money, annoying stuff. But if you want to be a screenwriter, you kind of got to know about it.

John: You do.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And you need to think about it at the time that you need to think about it. And so awareness of it before it happens is great. And then when the time comes that you need to do it, you do it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So my questions are mostly the writers I know from loan-out companies are feature writer people but it happens in television too.

Craig: Sure.

John: And at a certain point you’re getting paid enough money, and you’re being paid as both a writer and producer, and that’s going to be enough money that that will happen. But I wonder, are professional athletes a loan-out company?

Craig: I believe they are. Yeah, I can imagine –

John: And musicians are probably the same. Like Taylor Swift, I’m sure is.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: She is a multibillion and whatever. But I think any time that you’re being paid a lot of money as an individual –

Craig: Yes.

John: That’s when you want to be paid as a loan-out.

Craig: And particularly when you are essentially an individual actor not performance actor but an individual person doing something. So, you know, it’s the difference between now becoming an employee of a company temporarily as opposed to a corporation that’s being contracted and providing a service to somebody. It’s just a better thing. By the way, a little bit of advice for those of you out there who are successful enough to incorporate and have your loan-out company. Don’t name it something stupid.

John: Because that name will stick with you for the rest of your life.

Craig: And it’s super hard to change it. So –

John: Yeah.

Craig: When I started out, I was working at Disney. And when I had to set up my loan-out, I remember that my business card from Disney, it said The Walt Disney Company. I thought, “Oh, if it’s good enough for Walt Disney, it’s probably good enough for me. I think The Craig Mazin Company is probably, that sounds like a good name.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Did you pick something silly?

John: I picked something good, it’s Quote-Unquote Films Inc.

Craig: Oh yeah, that’s totally fine, it’s respectable.

John: But unfortunately, it doesn’t actually make sense with things that aren’t films, so –

Craig: True.

John: You know, the new company name will be something different that it makes more sense for that. And if you want a good advice on picking a good name, I would go to the recent South Park episode, I think it’s Go Fund Yourself where they actually picked names for their startup venture. And it’s fantastic.

Craig: Those guys are the best.

John: So our second topic is the Perfect Reader. So this is the third installment of our Perfect series. We have no idea how many installments there’ll be. Craig, how many installments will there be? Thousands?

Craig: Thousands, yeah.

John: So we previously talked about the perfect studio executive. We talked about the perfect agent. Today, we want to talk about the perfect reader. And by reader, we really kind of mean two different things. We mean a reader who is a professional gatekeeper, somebody who is the difference between your script moving on some place and not moving on some place.

We’re also talking about the sort of casual reader which is the friend or acquaintance or compatriot who you’ve given your scripts to and that person is reading your script and they’re both looking at your script and judging it and hopefully giving you some feedback on your script. But there are very different goals behind it.

So we just want to talk about what it’s like to be a great reader.

Craig: Well, why don’t we start with the friend version?

John: Sure.

Craig: And then we’ll get to the professional version. So I do this all the time. Just in the last month, I’ve read a script by Scott Silver. I read stuff by Koppelman and Levien. And the first thing that I think that the perfect reader has to do is make sure they understand what the person giving them wants.

John: Exactly.

Craig: And you don’t always get it right, you know. Sometimes you get it wrong. But it’s important for me to know, okay, has anyone read this before? Are you looking for a wide open what do you think? Or is this something that is already set up and you’re having questions about A, B, or C?

Is this targeted? Do you want to know what I think about what I would call like inside the scenes or do you want to think about the total thing? And you try and get a sense of that so that you don’t, so that you don’t go too far or just bore them with stuff that’s irrelevant or that they can’t do anything about.

John: I sent a script to a friend and her first response back was, “Do you want me to tell you that it’s really good or do you want notes?” And it was such an honest response. And I sort of split the difference saying like mostly I want you tell me that it’s really good. But if there’s anything that sticks out that says like, uh-uh, that part doesn’t work, please let me know. And it was such a wonderfully, upfront way of addressing sort of what I was looking at –

Craig: Right.

John: For the experience.

Craig: That’s the other thing is that sometimes people send you something and that’s what they want. They want validation with some little bon mot of easily done work.

John: Yes.

Craig: Sometimes people really do want shotgun to the face. In general, when I read things, what I say to people is, look, my default position is what I would want which is shotgun to the face. But if you’re not looking for shotgun to the face, let me know, and I’ll adjust.

And again, you know you don’t — everybody’s different. Like not every reader is right for every writer. You know, so like Scott Silver and I, we have a good, like I really like reading his stuff and I feel like I have a good, and the same thing with Brian and David. And Scott Frank and I read each other’s stuff. And so you find people that you’re like, okay, yeah, this is actually working, this is a good deal.

Then other people maybe you’re like I don’t think I helped them or whatever. But when you’re doing this for somebody else, the most important thing, I think, the perfect reader does is not think how would I rewrite this, which is a mistake I think a lot of writers make. And it’s natural because most of the time when you’re a professional writer and you’re reading someone else’s script it’s because the studio has given it to you and said, “Would you rewrite this please?”

John: Yeah.

Craig: So your natural instinct is to go, all right, I’m going to read this now and imagine what would I do. That’s not helpful for your friend. What’s helpful for your friend is, I’m just going to read this and then I’m going to say to you here’s where I got confused. Here’s where I wasn’t sure what to think. Here’s where I thought what you wrote didn’t feel good. You know, it’s all about just pure audience style reaction. And then ideally you offer some solutions. They don’t have to be hard and fast solutions or overspecific because you want the writer to feel like they’re going to write their work.

But it’s not enough to say, “You know, this scene felt a little bit too much like that other scene.” It’s better to say, “You know, this scene, when these two people talk like this, these two other people are talking the same way in this other scene. So what if instead they did something like this or this or this, just so I didn’t feel that repetition because I like what’s happening in the scene. I just feel maybe, it felt repetitive to me.” That kind of thing.

John: So it’s a different experience when you know the person whose script you’re reading and when the person is a stranger. And so I love reading scripts from friends who are tremendously talented writers. A lot of times I’m reading scripts for things like Sundance, The Sundance Institute. And so I’m reading their scripts and but the first thing I always think about is, “What movie are they trying to make?” And I’ll never sort of — it’s dangerous — you should never ask that question first because that just sets you off on a path of like talking about things rather than talking about the movie itself.

But again, I don’t want to think about, “What movie would I want to make?” I’m saying like, “What movie did they seem to be trying to make on the page?” And when I think in the sense of what movie is it that they’re trying to make, then I can really look at it from perspective of like, “Are these scenes helping them tell the story that they seem to be wanting to tell?”

Craig: Right.

John: Which scenes best encapsulate this vision of what they have and which scenes stick out because they’re not actually getting to where I think they want to be going. And that way, I can sort of start the conversation with them, saying like, “Here’s what I think is so awesome and amazing. Here’s where I think this movie is. Tell me if I’m wrong, tell me if this is the right thing you’re aiming for. And if so, then let’s talk about how well these things are working and why these things might not be helping support that vision of what you have for your movie.”

In general, if you can talk about your reactions in terms of this future thing, the movie rather than this thing that’s sitting there in front of them that they’ve been slaving over, they’re going to be much more free to extrapolate and expand and move away from decisions they have made because it took them so long to write that moment.

Craig: That’s right. And I think what you’re zeroing in on is that when we are reading things for our friends, we have to read them like we’re producing the movie rather than that we’re rewriting the movie, you know. And a good producer is there to say, “I’m going to tell you how I felt not as a writer because I’m not a writer. I’m an audience member. I watched this movie in my head. Here’s what I thought of the movie. Here’s where I thought it worked, here’s where I thought it didn’t work. Here’s what I think, like you said, the movie is or wants to be. Here’s something that I loved and wish there was more of.”

It’s just an honest expression of your reaction. And it is not at all clouded by anything other than a pure audience member rooting for the movie as opposed to, “Oh, I don’t like this sort of thing,” or, “I don’t write like that,” or “Why would you? Your character, you know, is always like the way you do action.” No one needs that, you know. And particularly when it’s a fellow professional, one of the nice things about reading scripts from fellow professionals is that I never worry that there’s a subtext of, “I’m evaluating you as a writer.” Because I’m not. We’re all good writers, we all are professionals. I’m just evaluating the movie.

John: So let’s talk about the other kind of writer, the other kind of reader, I should say. This is the kind of reader who is working for a production company, for a studio, for a producer, a director. Is reading through a bunch of material and has to render a decision about like, “This is a script that I think is worth this next person reading or I think we can pass on this right now.” And I used to have this job. I think you used to do some reading as well.

One of my first jobs in Hollywood was as a reader at TriStar. And so I would have to read — I was reading 14 scripts a week and writing up coverage on them. And that’s a very different kind of reading because while you’re still flipping the pages and sort of taking notes and looking at what’s working and what’s not working, ultimately your audience is not the writer who wrote that script, but it’s some other decision maker. And so what your job is is to encapsulate, well, this is what is actually here and this is what’s working about what’s here. This is what’s not working about what’s here.

And there’s a third thing which I think is also really important which is a thing you don’t do when you’re talking to an individual writer is you’re saying, “Here’s the good writing and here’s the bad writing. Here’s strengths I see in this writer and here are the weaknesses I see in this writer.” It’s a very different experience because you’re not trying to think about being supportive, you’re just trying to be kind of blunt.

Craig: Right.

John: And honest about sort of an assessment of what this is in front of you.

Craig: And these people not only read, I mean we’re all familiar with the notion of new writers who are sending their work in and it’s getting coverage somewhere, and they’re hoping that it gets passed to somebody, and that’s true. But frankly, for you and for me, this also occurs where studios, internally, have work that they’ve commissioned to be covered by their own readers. They want that as well.

So we all live in the world of these people. And by and large, I think they do a good job. I’ve read some, lots of coverage, some of my works, some of other people’s work. And what I think is the best kind of gatekeeper reader is not so concerned with jamming the movie into a box. They’re not a production executive, they’re not trying to figure out what would be good in our slate or would this make a lot of money or any business concerns. They just concern themselves with the script and with the craft of the script and whether or not the script is true to itself and is well written. So they avoid some of that stuff.

I find that the good ones tend to leave out what feel like personal axes. If you don’t like violence, if you think that violence is distasteful, don’t cover bloody R-rated action movie scripts. They’re not for you and that’s just not an appropriate, you know, reason to ding a script. So you leave out your personal ax grinding.

I remember Todd Phillips showed me coverage that was done of a script that he and Scot Armstrong wrote many years ago and it was really, I really like the script and so did the reader. But then the reader — there was one joke. It was a 9-11 joke and it was, I think it was — the script was covered like on 9-12. And the reader was just outraged and wrote an entire paragraph about how this joke was the worst thing ever. And I just thought that’s a bad reader because that’s not relevant.

The joke will be cut — if it doesn’t work, guess what, it gets cut. We don’t even shoot it at all. That’s not why you’re there, to argue about a line in the movie, you know. So that’s less than ideal. But, you know.

John: Yeah. So quite earlier in my career, when I think I first had an agent, I was working at a production company and I had readers who worked for me. And so there was a slow week and there really wasn’t quite enough to cover. So I’ve slipped this reader, who I thought was a really good reader, my own script under a different cover page. Just to see like, oh, let’s see what he thinks about this. And he slammed it. He just really ripped it to shreds. And it was so fascinating. Both to see what he wrote, but also to sort of internally look at my own reaction and sort of like how I was gauging my own work that other people really liked because this one reader has sort of slammed on it and it sort of gets to the nature of all criticism. But I will tell you that that never actually kind of stops.

And there’s one project that I have that is dormant at a studio. And I’m pretty sure one of the reasons why it’s dormant is because someone snuck out the coverage, the internal coverage at the studio. And it’s really negative coverage on this project that they paid me a lot of money to write.

And it’s just so fascinating that after, you know, being employed to write this thing and having people like it and, you know, getting directors on board, this one piece of coverage apparently does, I’ve heard from other people, continues to hurt it.

Craig: When you say snuck out, you mean put it online?

John: No, no, no. Like somebody at — I think my agency or someone else’s agent said like, “You know, the coverage there is really bad.”

Craig: Oh, yeah. And this can, this is a real problem because you would think, “Well, look, all of these people are paid a lot of money to decide what movies to make. They’re the president of a studio or the senior vice president or whatever.” And then there’s a guy that they pay, I don’t know what readers got paid, but not a million dollars a year. And this person takes a dump on the script and they all go, “Well, it got bad coverage.” And that becomes kind of the path of least resistance to sort of yield to that.

John: Yeah. I think it has been a bit of a momentum killer on this particular project. Now is that insurmountable? Hardly. We can totally get past that and getting one director or one piece of talent on it will completely change everything. If Cowboy Ninja Viking gets bad covered someplace and then it gets, you know, Chris Pratt attached, well who cares about that coverage.

Craig: Right.

John: But it is a piece of momentum, you know, early on in the process.

Craig: It’s true. And frankly, you know, I was — happily Cowboy Ninja Viking got very good internal coverage. If it hadn’t, the problem is there’s just suddenly less of an impetus to get the script out to agents, and managers, and big actors because internally they kind of lose a little bit of their love for it and that’s a weird thing. But it’s a true thing, and I have to say that those people, we don’t know them. They’re very powerful.

There’s one reader at Universal, in particular. I don’t know him, I don’t even know his name. I just know the legend of him that he’s kind of their guy. And he’s a very powerful person. And, you know, in a way I’m glad he’s there because he’s like that silent, unseen person that is in the back of my head when I’m writing. I’m just thinking, you know, you can’t really get away with stuff because one day that guy is going to read it. And that guy isn’t thinking about marketing. He’s not thinking about the schedule or, “Oh, we need a movie that fits into this particular box because we don’t have anything like that.”

He’s just going to read the script and say is this good or bad and I like that. Actually, if you’re writing a script that’s off the beaten path a little bit, then that reader actually could be your best friend which, let me just say is another thing that I think the perfect gatekeeper reader does. They don’t shy away from different or ambitious. They kind of like it.

John: Well, I’m going to disagree with you on a bit of this because I worry about mythologizing this terrifying reader as the person who is going to stop you from being able to make your movie. I know I just said that it was a momentum killer on this one project. But I don’t want to sort of ascribe too much power or fear among this one person because if your studio executive loves the project and it gets bad coverage, yeah, you’re going to be fine. So it’s not the one sole gatekeeper. It’s the person who’s writing their opinion down and therefore it matters.

I will say as the person who was reading at TriStar, so you know, I looked through my coverage when I left and I had just covered like 110 scripts. And I had given two really enthusiastic recommends on two things. And in both cases I was called to the matt for having wasted people’s time.

Craig: Ooh.

John: With these enthusiastic recommends. And that was incredibly frustrating. One of them was a really good Billie Holiday biopic and they were just like, “Well, who would want to see a Billie Holiday biopic?” And I was like, “You know what, I bet you can make a really good one now and I bet it could be really kind of great.” But I got called to the matt for wasting people’s time.

Craig: Really? See, to me that’s outrageous. Because I mean, and this is why I — look, I wasn’t a studio reader and I would have been fired immediately because I would have said, “That’s not my job. My job isn’t to tell you who would go see this or why you should make it. My job is –

John: Absolutely.

Craig: “To tell you is this good or not? How about this, you didn’t waste your time. You’re not going to make a Billie Holiday pic but look how good this writer is. Do you have something else you want to make that this person could write? You know, she’s really good, read her stuff.” That’s just dumb.

John: The other one I remember recommending was a script called Full Honeymoon. It was by a writing team. And it wasn’t perfect but it was a very good solid romantic comedy. And you could sort of see where it was going but it was a very good version of that. And the ability to say like this is a really good version of this kind of movie. So, while you may not make this movie, these are writers you should probably consider hiring for other stuff. And I remember being called to the floor for that too. So I have tremendous sympathy for readers as well.

Craig: Yeah, I do, too.

John: And many screenwriters are going to be readers along the way. And my recommendation is reading is really a great way to learn about scripts and learn about sort of what things never work on the page. But you have to get out of being a reader before you just get that hole burned in your brain. Because it’s impossible to read 15 scripts a week and actually write your own.

Craig: Oh, yeah. I totally agree. I think that any overconsumption of something is bad for you. Overconsuming movies the way that critics do because they have to is bad for them. It skews their appreciation of movies because they’re not intended to be consumed that way. And the same thing is true for scripts.

If you’re writing, I mean, I know, I don’t know about you. But when I’m writing something, sometimes someone will say, “Hey, do you want to read this script? It’s kind of in a similar vein.” I’ll say, “Absolutely not.” That’s the last thing I want to do is read anything that’s in the same tone because I just know the way I am. It’s going to bother me, it’s going to affect my choices. I want to be able to choose freely and not worry like, “Oh, but they kind of did a thing that was sort of like that. Or I didn’t like the way they did that, maybe I should do something else.” I could see where it would become a little toxic.

John: Yeah. And I have a hunch, though, as we do with Perfect series we’re going to come back to the same characteristics for every perfect person. But I think they’re going to come down to honesty, clarity, kindness/forthrightness, the ability to sort of to speak the truth but speak it in a way that understands what the audience for it actually is.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And as we talked about a studio executive, those are the characteristics to look for. As you look at an agent, those are the same characteristics. And the same is true for a reader, be it a professional reader who is, you know, deciding which movies the bosses should read or it’s a friend reading a script. You want those people to take their jobs seriously and be able to communicate effectively what it is that they’re seeing.

Craig: I agree. And I guess I would throw on there another unifying quality to all these perfect professionals is a lack of cynicism. That they approach their tasks with a rooting interest and a desire to see success occur as opposed to the opposite which I think does affect quite a few people.

John: I agree. So our last topic for the today is Dan Benjamin who runs the 5by5 podcast network has been doing podcasting really from this whole new area of podcasting. You could trace a lot of the stuff back to him and sort of the shows that he created on his network. And so when we started to do our show, I remember looking for like what equipment should we use. It was one of his blog posts that became the go-to for sort of which microphone should we use, how should we do this. And so this last week he updated his blog posts with some new recommendations and so I want to point to that because it’s really, really good.

So if you’re thinking about doing a podcast, this is probably the first place you should look in terms of hardware and software recommendations. So it’s Dan Benjamin. The URL is podcastmethod.co and it’s just a really terrific expert’s opinion on sort of how stuff should work.

Craig: Are we still doing it right?

John: We’re doing it right. And so it’s interesting because we are using a lot of the stuff that he is recommending. And so let’s talk about our microphones. So we used to use these accent microphones. So you still use the Audio-Technica 2020?

Craig: I don’t. I now use the Apogee –

John: Ah-huh.

Craig: Something, something.

John: All right. And so you are using a condenser microphone. And a condenser microphone classically records voices really well but also records the surrounding environment, which in your case, your office is pretty well padded, so there’s not a lot of –

Craig: No.

John: Bouncing around happening.

Craig: Right, yeah.

John: So other than the sirens, it’s all good.

Craig: If there were no sirens, it would be perfect.

John: And so I used to use the Audio-Technica 2020. I just switched three episodes ago to the Heil PR-40 which is a dynamic microphone. And that is because my office is really bouncy and noisy and so my side of the audio I always felt was a little bit too live and a little too present and echoey. And so after some negotiation and discussion, we switched to this microphone. And I think I’m happier. So I’m going to give you an example of what’s so different about my microphone.

So here, I’m talking into the microphone. And if I move a little bit off to the side, my voice really completely fades away.

Craig: That’s right. Whereas if I do that same test, I’m over here, I’m over here, I’m over here, it’s probably the same.

John: It’s about the same.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So that is one of the useful differences. And because I’m working in a busy office, honestly the guys downstairs can have a conversation, you wouldn’t hear it up here. So it’s really useful this dynamic microphone. If I’m directly talking into it, it’s awesome, otherwise you can’t hear me at all.

Craig: Well, I’m glad that our setup is still pretty good for what we do. But, you know, it’s not about the setup, man. It’s about the content, bro.

John: It’s all about the content. I would much rather hear a poorly recorded podcast that has interesting things being discussed than a terrifically recorded podcast that’s boring.

Craig: Right.

John: So we are recording this on Skype. So you and I are very rarely in the same room together. So we are on a Skype call. You’re recording your end locally on your own device, I’m recording my end locally on my own device. Just QuickTime, hit record. Recently we started using Call Recorder, so we actually are recording the Skype call as well. So when Matthew Chilelli edits the podcast together, if he needs to, he can grab this Skype recording of the whole thing together and use that if anything goes wrong on one of our sides.

We cut the show, I believe Matthew’s he’s cutting it on Logic these days, but we still end up going back to GarageBand because GarageBand let’s it put in chapter markers. And I want to step up for chapter markers for a second because so many podcasts don’t do it. I think they’re so useful.

So in our podcast, in most podcast players, you can hit the jump forward button, it’ll jump to the next topic. And so Stuart puts in those little chapter marks, so if you really don’t care about loan-out companies, you can skip over that whole segment.

Craig: But who doesn’t care about loan-out companies?

John: Everyone should care.

Craig: You know what we should do? On the chapter marks for this, under loan-out companies it should just say sex tips.

John: That’s nice.

Craig: Yeah. Everyone will check that out.

John: So GarageBand is also where you put in all your metadata, so information about the show itself. And that’s what shows up when you are in your podcast app and you want to see what the episode is about, it’s all there.

Craig: You know who loves sex tips?

John: Who?

Craig: Sexy Craig.

John: I walked right into that.

Craig: Hey, dude, how was your Thanksgiving, man? Did you stuff that turkey? Did you stuff it?

John: So it’s time for One Cool Things.

Craig: [laughs]

John: My One Cool Thing is A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. It is a great Iranian vampire western. Did I say Iranian?

Craig: You said Iranian and I thought maybe you meant Randian like Ayn Rand had written a vampire Western.

John: No. Iranian, Iranian, both of those would be better choices than what I just said.

Craig: Iranian. Yeah, Iranian.

John: Iranian vampire western. It’s by Ana Lily Amirpour. It’s just great. It is black and white. I saw it at Sundance. It is terrific. It is, you know, set in Iran. It is a vampire movie. It is a western. It is sort of period, it’s black and white. It’s just terrific. And so I highly recommend people go to see it. It’s in five theaters in the Los Angeles area, including the Sunset 5. And so if you have a chance to see it in a real theater, I would definitely go and see it in a real theater. If not, come see it when it comes out on video. It’s just great.

She’s really talented. And I don’t think all the details about her next movie are released yet. I am fascinated to see what she’s able to do with it because it’s really ambitious and could be really, really cool.

Craig: All right.

John: But this movie that she made is a great example of picking things that, you know, you can do and letting your limitations be empowering. And so she didn’t shoot this film in Iran, but she was able to find places in Southern California that looked like Iran. And by shooting it in black and white, she can create this really unique and special world that supports, you know, just cool things we’ve never seen in a vampire movie before. So I highly recommend it.

Craig: All right. That’s good enough for me. I’m there. I’ll go check that out.

John: Cool.

Craig: My One Cool Thing is something that you need to file away for next year.

John: Right.

Craig: It’s a recipe.

John: I love it.

Craig: I don’t know if I’ve ever cited the best recipe as my One Cool Thing. It should be. The best recipe is the big Omnibus Cookbook put out by Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen where they take lots and lots and lots of recipes of things and they basically do every version they could find, get a hold on and then say to you, “This is the best one and here’s why.” And they’re very scientific about it. They love to talk about molecules and things. It’s great.

However, sometimes the best recipe is not the best recipe because one size does not fit all, you know. However, I did make the best recipe stuffing, specifically the bacon, caramelized onion, sage, and apple stuffing.

John: Well, that sounds great.

Craig: It was spectacular. Rave reviews from everybody. Best stuffing I’ve ever made. Best stuffing they ever had. If you’re looking for a good stuffing, and I’m not a stuff inside the turkey guy. I don’t do that.

John: No, no.

Craig: Yeah, that’s just –

John: Dangerous.

Craig: It’s dangerous, it’s going to dry your turkey out because your turkey takes too long to cook, blah, blah, blah. Anyway, the point is it’s not easy to make, it’s annoying to make, it’s spectacular. It’s really, really good. That is the stuffing recipe.

John: And Cook’s Illustrated could probably point out the reason why it’s so successful is you’ve combined, you know, smoky, salty, sweet –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Carby.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Because it is stuffing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Whatever you quality you want to say sage has, it’s –

Craig: Savory. You’ve got the tartness of the apples, a little sour from the apple because you’re using Granny Smith’s. It really does hit every part of your tongue. And texturally, it’s super crunchy because you start with a baguette that you slice up and leave out overnight. Then you chop that up into cubes and leave that out overnight and then it burns really super hard, which is great because then as it cooks, it sucks up some of the liquid so it’s still crunchy but soft. It’s just perfect.

John: So I have two stuffing related bits of follow-up. First off, Ike Barinholtz who is a talented writer and actor on The Mindy Project, he Instagrammed today, “Oh, this is my breakfast.” And so he basically took leftover stuffing and then cracked an egg on top of it and baked it with some cheese on top. Is that not a genius idea?

Craig: I mean, generally the day after Thanksgiving is when you’re trying to unclog your arteries, but yeah. [laughs] That sounds awesome.

John: And so my only stuffing modification this year, because I had a very classic, you know, celery, onions stuffing — cranberries. And just, you know, we had fresh cranberries. And so I microwaved them a bit so they softened up, added some sugar so they weren’t incredibly tart, and mixed those into stuffing. Delicious.

Craig: Well, spectacular.

John: Spectacular.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Oh, yeah.

John: If you would like to know more about the things we talked about on the show, join us at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. There you’ll find show notes for this episode and all of our other previous episodes. You’ll also find transcripts for our previous episodes. We’re one of the few shows that does transcripts, so please look those up if you’re curious.

If you would like to find us on iTunes, just search for Scriptnotes. You can also search iTunes to find the Scriptnotes app for your iOS device or also on the Android Store and the Amazon Android Store. And that’s where you can find episodes of our premium show. Premium subscription is $1.99 a month.

Craig: That’s it.

John: $1.99. A bargain.

Craig: So easy.

John: Let’s you get to all the back episodes and bonus episodes that we put up as well. If you would like to come to our live show on December 11th, go wgfoundation.org and join us for that. If you would like to reach Craig Mazin, find him on Twitter. He’s @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. Longer questions, go to ask@johnaugust.com.

And our outro this week is provided by Betty Spinks.

Craig: Yeah, Betty.

John: Thank you for running that in. Yay, Betty. I think Betty Spinks is a pseudonym for somebody but –

Craig: Okay, all right.

John: Thank you, Betty Spinks. If you have an outro for our show, something that uses the [hums theme] in a clever way, please write it and please send us a link to that so we will know to find it and use it as the outro to our show. And that is our episode this week. Craig, thank you for a fun podcast.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: All right, talk to soon.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Hacks, Transference and Where to Begin

Tue, 12/09/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig talk about where to start a story — how far back should you go? The decision about whether to meet the hero as a child, in their normal rut, or mid-crisis fundamentally changes the narrative, so it’s worth exploring fully.

We also discuss the psychological phenomenon of transference, and how writers’ desire for approval can lead to strange (and strained) relationships with executives and other authority figures. Finally, the Sony hack: was it a one-off, or will this be the first of many?

There are still a few tickets left for Thursday’s live Holiday show. Tickets available through the link below.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

The Perfect Reader

Tue, 12/02/2014 - 08:03

Craig and John discuss the qualities of the perfect reader, whether it’s a studio professional or your screenwriting buddy. What should a reader look for, and how should she communicate her thoughts?

We also discuss loan-out companies and why writers need them, and offer advice on starting a podcast. Plus a lot of turkey talk.

In follow up, most of what we thought we knew about Franz Kafka was wrong — but maybe that’s okay. Bob Odenkirk already made a sketch about judging. And if you haven’t purchased tickets for the live show on December 11th, get on that.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 172: Franz Kafka’s brother, and the perfect agent — Transcript

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 16:43

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 172 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the show we’re going to be talking about Franz Kafka, Jonathan Nolan, and finishing a script, and other things.

Craig: Yeah. All of which are interesting to screenwriters or people that are interested in screenwriting, is that — or things that are interesting to screenwriters? I’ve only heard it 172 times.

John: Yes.

Craig: Nevermind.

John: Well, actually Craig insists on actually never being present for this opening intro thing. So, he just sort of leans in to say his little bit, but he doesn’t listen to the rest of the show.

Craig: Yeah. I’m in the green room.

John: Which is crucial.

Craig: Yeah. Getting makeup.

John: Mm-hmm. Craig, we have so much to get through that I think we should just start into our follow up, because otherwise we’ll never finish this episode.

Craig: Let’s do it.

John: All right. You wanted to say something about the Black List.

Craig: Yes. So, Franklin Leonard sent us an email and he was — I believe his comment regarding our take on the fivethirtyeight article was, “Nailed it.” And so I was happy about that. And he also mentioned that, in fact, they do do the thing that I was hoping they would do, which is provide score distributions. So, when you get your average score they do show you here’s how it breaks out for how many 1s you got, how many 2s, and so on and so on through 10s, which is helpful because then the distribution will show spikes at the higher and lower boundaries.

John: So, when we looked at that fivethirtyeight article it was all based on data that they’d gotten from the Black List and Franklin’s concern, which was also your concern, is that the data itself doesn’t necessarily reflect the real experience of what that is. And a distribution is a crucial guide to showing what the actual trends are.

Craig: Well, it’s not like fivethirtyeight is a website specifically about statistics and statistical analysis, so they wouldn’t know that perhaps a distribution and sigma and various things like deviation from the mean would be useful to data analysis. They’re just a statistical analysis website.

John: They want the data to tell a story. And the story they were telling was not necessarily, we felt, the most accurate story.

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: I have an update about the Scriptnotes app. So, if you are one of our subscribers who listens to episodes through the Scriptnotes app, or actually you can listen to recent episodes even without being a premium subscriber, the app just went through a bunch of updates on iOS and some of the updates were terrific and some of the updates were not terrific.

Craig: Oh.

John: We believe the current app that you have out there in your hand right now is stable, but if it’s not, let us know. Because this is a rare case where we don’t actually make the app. It’s Libsyn who makes the app. But if people have problems with it, let us know so we can yell at Libsyn to try to get the app fixed. The app that you’re using for Scriptnotes is actually the same app that a lot of other podcasts use. And so it’s the same app that Jay Mohr uses and Marc Maron uses. But it should work properly for you. So, if it doesn’t work properly for us, please tell us and write in to ask@johnaugust.com and we will yell at the Libsyn people.

Craig: And feel free to use poor language, get angry, obviously rant in your email about this app, because that’s what motivates John and his staff.

John: That’s not actually true at all.

Craig: Oh.

John: But if, no, but if you are using the app and you are a premium subscriber, you will find that there are two brand new episodes that just posted this week. We have Simon Kinberg’s interview for the Writers Guild Foundation. That was me and Simon sitting down, talking about Days of Future Past and his whole writing career. And we also have the Three Page Challenge that we did in Austin, which was me and Franklin Leonard from the Black List, and Ilyse McKimmie. So, if you’re a premium subscriber you get those episodes, too.

Craig: Fantastic. That’s a hell of a deal.

John: That’s a hell of a deal. And maybe you’re off for a few days around Thanksgiving. Maybe you have family in town. Maybe you’re trying to hide from them. Or maybe you have to be present in the room, but you can have your earphones on and then not really be present. That’s a good –

Craig: Yeah. Let us help you isolate yourself from your useless family.

John: We’ve actually had to sort of make a rule in the house where sometimes — both of us like to listen to podcasts a lot, but if we’re in the same room together and we’re listening to different podcasts it can be a little bit frustrating. So, not always a great choice to do that. But sometimes through the holidays you need to check out a little bit.

Craig: Not surprisingly that doesn’t come up in my house.

John: Because you don’t listen to podcasts.

Craig: Nope.

John: Nope. You had an update about Cowboy Ninja Viking.

Craig: Yeah. So, that was something that we had talked about way back when you and I did the Nerdist Writers Panel podcast crossover thingy. And somebody had asked what we were working on so I mentioned that I was writing this thing called Cowboy Ninja Viking which someone actually knew about because we were at, what is it, Nerdmelt? Melt Comics? Melt Nerd? Meltdown?

John: We were at Meltdown Comics. We were at the Nerd Melt stage at the back of Meltdown Comics.

Craig: Got it. And so somebody actually knew about the graphic novel. Regardless, Chris Pratt is going to be in the movie.

John: Which is fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Chris Pratt is a great actor and a gentleman and seems like a perfect choice for movies about cowboys, ninjas, and/or Vikings.

Craig: Well, he kind of is a perfect choice because the character, I mean the idea of Cowboy Ninja Viking is that it’s a guy who has these three personalities in his head and they are really spectacular at what they do. He doesn’t feel like he does anything. So, you need an actor who is physically a match for an action hero, but who at least in his face and in his persona can also be meek and humble and not at all and scared.

John: There’s a softness to Chris that’s great.

Craig: Exactly. And there are not too many people that could actually do that. So, and he’s a big movie star now and he’s the husband of one of my good friends, Anna Faris.

John: Which is lovely. Craig, is someone directing your movie? I don’t even know.

Craig: No. Right now, well, somebody will be directing the movie. Right now that’s the big thing is they’re talking to multiple folks about possibly directing it. And so I get lists and things and then we all talk about it. But I think before the end I believe we should have our answer for that.

John: It’s always an interesting case about whether you attach an actor or star like him without having a director on board. Because in some ways it can hamstring the director a little bit because the power relationship between sort of who is driving the ship can be a little bit off. But sometimes it can work really well. So, Drew Barrymore was attached to Charlie’s Angels along with Cameron Diaz before McG came on board. And so we were able to sort of set the tone as the wheels were turning. And then we would find like, oh, who is the right director to make this version of the movie. And so that can work really, really well.

But, we can all think of horror stories where a big actor was attached to something without a director and then the director came on board and had to sort of wrestle with these decisions that had been made in his absence.

Craig: Yes. That is absolutely true. The benefit I think to having the star in place before you get a director is that you know that you’re getting a director that wants this version of the movie.

John: 100 percent.

Craig: So, the director is not going to sign on if they love the actor, don’t like the script, or like the script, don’t love the actor, whatever it is. This is somebody coming on and saying, yeah, I like this package and I think I can work with this and I want to do it.

Obviously there is a certain amount of ease to getting a director for a project when you have a big movie star in place.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Because now they realize it’s a real movie and it’s happening and it’s going to have, you know, an ability to connect with an audience and a fan base. But the nice thing here is that Chris really seems to love the script. I mean, that’s the other thing. Sometimes you don’t know. You get a big actor and the big actor says, “I love the idea, you know. Let’s rewrite everything.” You know, that can happen, too. But happily, at least so far, it doesn’t seem to be the case here at all. So, anyway, I’m very excited. I just thought it was the best possible outcome and I’m really happy that he responded and that he’s going to do it.

John: Fantastic. Congratulations.

Craig: Thank you.

John: So, this was a big week for us. We closed the Kickstarter campaign for Writer Emergency. That was on Thursday at noon. And so inevitably at 12:01 I got a bunch of tweets and emails saying like, oh no, I missed the deadline. And I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk about this for far too long. And people would say like, oh, I was three weeks behind on the podcast. And I was like, well, you were three weeks behind on the podcast.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I can’t bend laws of time and physics.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, that crap didn’t work on your history teacher in junior year. I don’t know why you think it would work on us.

John: But the good news is that if you missed out on the Kickstarter campaign there is a site now called writeremergency.com. If you want to know about when the packs will become available for the rest of the world, just put in your email address there and we will send you an email when they’re available to purchase.

We’re not quite sure how they’re going to be purchased. And we kind of can’t even think about that now. So, the campaign did really, really well. So, we are printing 16,000 decks.

Craig: Wow!

John: That we have to get out. So, it’s about 8,000 to backers and 8,000 to the youth writing programs that we’re supporting. So, that’s going to be everything we can possibly do through the end of the year.

But sometime in January we should be able to make more of these and get them out to other people who would want one. And that’s where I’m actually going to ask people who are listening to this who might actually know about retail or dealing with Amazon, because we’re trying to figure out the best way to get these out into the universe. Because when we’ve done t-shirts for Scriptnotes and stuff, that’s like maybe 1,000 t-shirts we’re making and sending out. This is going to be such an order of magnitude beyond that that we just cannot do it ourselves. And so if you are a person who sells through Amazon or a person who deals with like sending stuff to retail stores and have good experience, just write me and tell me about your experience, because I genuinely want to know. And I’ve found it really frustrating to try to find out that information.

Craig: You should go on Shark Tank.

John: I should totally go on Shark Tank. And just have them just cut me down.

Craig: No, they wouldn’t cut you down. I think they’d be respectful. I mean, you’ve got a high profile. You go on there and you’re like, look, they always want to know how many have you sold already. What’s your margin, blah, blah, blah. And now you’re margin is terrible, obviously, because you’re giving half of them away, but they won’t let you do that.

But then you have a lot of sales. You did really well. And then you get like Mark Cuban to help you out or something. Or the QVC lady. That would be a good one.

John: That’s the one you want, the QVC lady.

Craig: Or Damon. You know, Damon is really good because, you know –

John: I have no idea who Damon is.

Craig: He’s the clothing magnate.

John: I love that you don’t watch any TV, but you know Shark Tank really well.

Craig: Well, here’s the deal. If you want to understand what I watch, I choose to watch Game of Thrones.

John: Well, who could not watch Game of Thrones?

Craig: Right? I choose to watch Game of Thrones. And that’s pretty much it at this point.

John: Everything else is just the TV is on and you’re in its presence.

Craig: Everything else is what Melissa watches on TV. And my kids. So I’ll actually see more Disney sitcoms than any normal programming.

John: Than anyone should ever see.

Craig: Right. But Melissa and Jessie love Shark Tank. So, and you know, when they’re watching it you get sucked in. It’s actually –

John: Oh totally.

Craig: It’s fun. It’s so obvious that each one of them is playing a character. But, I don’t know, they do a good job.

John: Whenever you watch a show about judging, it’s always like, well what would I say in that situation? And then you’re trying to predict what each person would say based on what this thing was. That’s really the fun of it. I think somebody out there should make a parody of a judging show that there’s actually no content sort of being judged. It’s just sort of the judges performing their shtick to whatever. So, basically like a stick of gum is put there and then you have each of the judges performing their shtick to that stick of gum.

Craig: The whole judging dynamic is fascinating. I know this is a tangent, but so the other show that Jessie and Melissa love to watch is The Voice. And so, you know, I’ll drop in on The Voice with them and all of the judges are super positive on that show. I never hear any of them say a single bad thing. And, you know, for me Simon Cowell, he’s the greatest because he was the only man to ever tell the truth on TV. And I just find it fascinating that somewhere along the line, I mean, you know those things aren’t — that’s not haphazard. That is a carefully planned decision that came out of months of committees and meetings that they’re not going to do that.

Like everything on TV is carefully, carefully planned. So, I’m just so fascinated by that that they decided no one is going to be the heel or the villain on that show, whereas on Shark Tank, Kevin O’Reilly is clearly the villain, which I love. He was like make Mr. Burns.

John: So, Kevin O’Reilly, not Kevin Reilly?

Craig: Oh, is it Kevin Reilly?

John: Well, no, Kevin Reilly was the Fox president.

Craig: No, no, I think it’s Kevin O’Reilly. Maybe I’m getting his name wrong, but he’s one of the sharks on Shark Tank and he’s some sort of investment guy, which that tells you everything you need to know about what I know about money. “Investment guy.” But, he likes to put his fingers together and make a little tent with his hands like Mr. Burns.

John: Oh, yeah, Mr. Burns, yeah.

Craig: And if he makes someone an offer and they don’t take it, then he says, “You’re dead to me.” That’s his catchphrase. He’s like me.

John: [laughs] He’s like you.

Craig: He’s like me.

John: So, the thing I’ve had to figure out is basically the supply chain and sort of like how you make things and physically deliver them to a place where they could be delivered again. And that is just so new to me. And it’s really genuinely fascinating. But I’ve found it very hard to investigate because if you look up sort of like selling stuff on Amazon, you get a bunch of like Amazon links to here’s how you do your stuff, but it’s hard to find the real information about that kind of thing.

So, our friend Quinn Emmett, Dana Fox’s husband, who is a great writer in his own right, his brothers actually run a health food thing that sells through Amazon. So that’s one resource. But they’re giant and they’re health foods. If people have experience with games and books through Amazon that would be incredibly valuable if you want to drop me a note.

Craig: Well, all right. So, help John.

John: Help me is what I’m saying.

Craig: Help him.

John: This is going to be an interesting segment because I think this is going to be one of those rare cases on the show where I have tremendous umbrage and you can maybe talk me down off the ledge a little bit.

Craig: Oh. My. God.

John: It’s a very special episode.

Craig: Oh, I’m so happy.

John: This is something that was actually tweeted around last week. And it was this vulture piece which is also New York Magazine, and I don’t quite understand where the boundary is between New York Magazine and Vulture, but it was an article by Nate Jones. And Nate Jones may not have written this headline, but Nate Jones wrote the article. Here is the headline: Christopher Nolan’s Brother to Adapt Isaac Asimov’s Foundation for HBO.

Craig: Hmm.

John: This is the actual article. “After spending years on the screenplay to his brother’s Interstellar, Jonathan Nolan is going back into space: The Wrap reports that the younger Nolan is working with HBO on an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. It’s Nolan’s second project with the network after J.J. Abrams’s planned Westworld adaptation and his third TV show overall. (He previously created Person of Interest.)

“If the Foundation show takes off, Jonathan Nolan will finally be ‘Christopher Nolan’s brother’ no more. At least in the career sense. In the fraternal sense, they will likely remain bonded.”

Craig: Oh boy. [laughs] Wow, that’s really good writing.

John: Ugh. So, I did slice out a little bit of sort of unimportant stuff, but that’s the gist of the article. Okay, so from the headline forward, Jonathan Nolan has written like three or four giant movies. And he’s written on a lot of stuff that’s not Christopher Nolan things. So, to set up in your headline the idea like, oh, we’re not going to say his name. We’re going to say like Christopher Nolan’s brother. That’s ridiculous. Then, to continue on and say, you know, this wrap up at the end, “Oh, if this succeeds then he’s no longer Christopher Nolan’s brother.”

He never was just Christopher Nolan’s brother. His show Person of Interest has been on for like three or four seasons, has 80 episodes. So, just, grr. I wanted to say a bad word, but I want this to be a clean show.

Craig: [laughs] I have to say, look, I completely agree with you. I’m only laughing because that was adorable. I mean, you tried so hard to be angry and you couldn’t because you’re just a nice person. And you’re such a good guy.

John: I kind of always have some beta blockers in me that don’t let get to full umbrage.

Craig: I know. You have natural beta blockers. [laughs] That actually made me love you more.

John: Oh, thank you. So, let me continue my rant, my attempted rant, because I was reminded of the Jonah Nolan story. You can say Jonathan or Jonah Nolan interchangeably. They’re the same person.

This past week on the episode of Scriptnotes I said, oh, I’m going to be adapting Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.

Craig: Right.

John: And so that was announced in the world. So, here are some of the stories written about that. This is Time Magazine. Headline: Frequent Tim Burton Collaborator to Pen Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Movie.

Craig: Wow.

John: An article by Nolan Feeney. And the article includes, “Screenwriter John August, who has written multiple screenplays for director Tim Burton, will write CBS Films’ upcoming Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, Deadline reports.”

Craig: Yeah. It’s like we’re not enough on our own. We only exist within the context of a director.

John: That’s really the thesis I want to get to is that journalists only want to talk about the director even if there’s no director. So, with this Jonah Nolan story, they’re talking about Christopher Nolan even though he’s not involved with the project at all. They’re talking about Tim Burton, even though he’s not involved with the project at all. I swear to God he’s not involved with the project at all.

Craig: Right.

John: And they want to stick him on because a writer by himself is not worth talking about.

Craig: Yeah. They will always gravitate towards things that they think their audience will know. And so rather than educate people on who someone is, they just make it easy. Oh, you know, here’s a name you know. Well, this guy worked with that name. It’s just lazy and dumb.

John: It’s lazy and dumb, but here’s the danger. And so I’m going to skip ahead to Meredith Woerner writing at iO9. And so the headline is, “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark Movie Writer Could Change Everything.”

Craig: Ooh.

John: So, I’ll read some select paragraphs from here. “But now this befuddling movie adaptation has a whole new screenwriter, John August. Yeah, Tim Burton’s John August.”

Craig: Ooh.

John: Tim Burton’s John August.

Craig: Now you’re possessed.

John: I am possessed. “Deadline is reporting that John August (Big Fish, Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie, Titan A.E.) will be writing the script for CBS Films. If you noticed, August likes to work with Tim Burton, a lot.”

First off, Titan A.E., there’s like five credited writers on Titan A.E., so please put Charlie’s Angels Full Throttle if you want to stick a credit on me, but don’t do that. And also Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a much bigger movie than the other ones listed there.

Craig: Well, particularly since the point is that you like working with Tim Burton. It just seems so dumb.

John: Yeah, also, Go, maybe my first movie. People like that movie a lot.

“Then there’s the matter of Tim Burton.” So, continuing on with her story. “Then there’s the matter of Tim Burton. This project has Burton written all over it,” except not on the title page, “but that might not be a necessarily good move. When was the last time Burton was legit scary? Beetlejuice? Sleepy Hollow? HOWEVER the classic Burton ‘nightmare face’ would really feel at home in this world.”

So, there will be lots of pros and cons to having Burton helm this work.

Craig: Wow. [laughs] So, now even Tim Burton is getting attacked for something that he is not involved with at all. You’re basically being belittled as some sort of pinkie on his hand. You know, I have to say, you want, let me give you some umbrage. Let me help you.

John: All right.

Craig: Let me help you because –

John: Can you spare a little umbrage?

Craig: Yeah. I can.

John: All right. Craig, teach me how to be angry.

Craig: First you start way back. And it’s like you’re going to slowly run and then you’re eventually going to hurl yourself off a building. Journalism as a whole has always been a disaster of a business. You can go all the way back to Remember the Maine and yellow journalism pushing us into the Spanish-American War if you want.

It’s always been a mess. And it continues to be a mess to this day. But entertainment ‘journalism’ is a cesspool of stupidity unlike anything else. Everyone in it, everyone in it is doing it wrong. I don’t know, there’s no one that does it right. And what they will do is this nonsense where they literally go on to IMDb for — I honestly believe there’s a rule, if you’re going to write an entertainment journalism article you can only use IMDb as your source and you are only allowed to look at the page for four seconds. That’s it.

Four seconds. Scroll. Okay. Done. Now, start writing.

John: Blink twice, then begin writing.

Craig: It is the most insane. And first of all, think of what you just read. That article really sounds like someone who heard something from someone who heard it from someone who is now telling a friend over some coffee.

John: Yes.

Craig: And just rambling about it.

John: Yeah. Bobby Moynihan has a character on Saturday Night Live –

Craig: Drunk Uncle.

John: No, different than Drunk Uncle. He has a guy who overheard some news, some second hand news.

Craig: That guy. Right. [laughs]

John: And it does feel a little bit like that. So, my frustration though is that from now on because people write these stories, from now on whenever we do announce a director for this movie this article is going to come. I guarantee you it’s going to come. “While Tim Burton was rumored to beó”

Craig: Oh, of course.

John: “…directing this movie.” It’s like, he was never rumored to be directing this movie. You know, Tim could direct the movie, but I swear to God there is no director on this movie. There is nobody.

Craig: You haven’t even written a script yet.

John: There’s been no script.

Craig: There’s nothing.

John: There’s been no script. No one has been talked to.

Craig: There is a book and there is a contract for you to write a screenplay. That’s it. And these people are already now critiquing the work of a man that isn’t involved and deciding if he should be — like anyone gives a damn what they think. It’s so dumb. It’s so dumb. Everything –

John: Oh, it’s dumb, but it’s so much fun though, isn’t it, because the fun is just to take any random director and apply them to this project and think about how much that could go wrong.

My favorite example would be, “I think we should go to Nancy Meyers,” because can you imagine the Nancy Meyers version of this movie?

Craig: It would be great.

John: So, I think Something Wicked This Way Has Got to Come.

Craig: Yeah, it’s got to come.

John: It’s got to come.

Craig: And then there’s like a kid is confronted by a ghost. And then they dance.

John: Yeah. But you know that the house in the movie is would be so well decorated.

Craig: Is going to be gorgeous.

John: And the kitchen would be great.

Craig: Gorgeous. With a lot of depth and really just glinty lighting. It would be gorgeous.

So, years and years and years ago, when I was hired to write Scary Movie 3, and it was this crazy rush job. And Bob Weinstein said, “All right, I’m going to hire you to write, and David Zucker is going to direct it. And maybe, I called Kevin Smith, maybe he’ll get involved.” And I was like, okay, and then Bob put a thing in the trades about it and said, you know, and possibly talking to Kevin Smith. That’s what he said. It was something like possibly talking to Kevin Smith.

Kevin Smith never worked on the movie. He was never hired on the movie. He didn’t have anything to do with the movie as far as I know. And I was there from the first day.

The Kevin Smith thing persisted not only throughout but even in reviews of the movie.

John: Oh god.

Craig: People would talk about the screenplay by me and Kevin Smith. [laughs] That’s how dumb these people — they literally just go back to IMDb, they look at the first, like the news article in IMDb. It’s amazing. It’s amazing. Let me tell you something. If there was one person out there who is really smart and really driven and ambitious and believes in quality and wants to own an entire an entire marketplace, wants to corner the market on quality, go into entertainment journalism. Go into it. Because there are so few people out there doing it right.

John: I agree with you.

Craig: Which is going to endear me to all these people once again. I’ve just ensured myself another 20 years of great reviews.

John: Well, the thing is I actually know some entertainment journalists who I really like and I can personally really like them and in some cases like their work and still have just tremendous frustrations at what the net result ends up being most of the time.

Craig: Yeah. I’m with you on that. You know my other — can I just say my other pet peeve about a lot of these guys, some of these people work on websites and they’ll do, like they’ll play good cop/bad cop. So, the good guy will call you up and do this really lovely interview with you and it’s full of respect and admiration. And then that will run on the website with a link to the website’s review of the movie that trashes it by the bad cop. What? Why? I know. Anyway.

John: Never good.

Craig: So, anyway, congratulations Tim Burton. Good job.

John: Yeah. Thanks. So, let’s segue to a writer whose life was actually just delightful and full of cheer. And someone who I think embodies sort of this like laissez-faire, whatever may happen, happen, spirit that I think all screenwriters should aim for, and that’s Franz Kafka.

Craig: Yeah. Happiest fellow in the 20th Century. Franz Kafka, great, great — I guess you would call him, well, he’s a modern European author, possibly existentialist, absurdist.

John: Kafkaesque.

Craig: Kafkaesque. The amazing thing about him is really he is a self-defining guy. He is his own style.

John: In some ways the same way like Tim Burton is Burtonesque. Like there’s a definable style to Kafka’s writing, the same way there is to Tim’s world.

Craig: Yeah. Tarantino. I mean, some of these people sort of self-define. And Kafka self-defined. And what’s interesting about Franz Kafka, well, among other things, one thing is that he was not at all famous when he was alive. He was posthumously appreciated and tremendously so.

But what I find so interesting about him and what I wanted to talk about with you today and for all of our listeners out there is this interesting fact. Over the course of his life, Franz Kafka, we believe, burned 90 percent of the manuscripts he wrote. 90 percent of what Franz Kafka wrote is lost forever. As for the remaining 10 percent, when he died he asked his friend, Max Brod, to destroy everything. He said, I’m leaving this to you. Please destroy it. Max Brod opted to not destroy it, and that is why we have Metamorphosis and The Hunger Artist and all these –

John: Castle.

Craig: Castle. And Penal Colony and all of these incredible stories that have fueled many, many a modern lit class. And I wanted to talk a little bit about, well, it came up in mind because over the summer I took a little class at my son’s school. The headmaster offered a class for adults on great books and we sort of moved through, from Socrates on forward. And at one point we got to a Kafka story, The Hunger Artist, which is one of my favorite stories. And it came up that Kafka had destroyed a lot of his work and wished that all of it could have been destroyed. And one of the people in the class said I cannot understand that for the life of me. Why?

And all I could think of was I completely understand that. I understand that 100 percent. And I don’t know if you’ve ever had that impulse.

John: I’ve never had that impulse.

Craig: I guess here is where I would come down on it. I’ve never actually destroyed my work, although I’m sure some people which that I had. But, what I do understand is that when it’s done, I have the instinct of wishing to god that no one would ever have to see it. That just that there could be a job where you get paid to write a screenplay and then when everybody agrees it’s good, you just put it away.

John: I’ve had the experience after watching a first cut of something, where watching the first cut of Go where I wanted to bargain with the lords of fate that the movie could just never be released because it was just — it was soul crushing. But I think that’s a different thing than what you’re describing, because I don’t think what you feel and necessarily what Kafka felt was that their work was horrible, but maybe just that you didn’t want to put it out there in the world and have a reaction to it. Is that correct?

Craig: That’s right. It’s not a question of being embarrassed. In fact, it’s the opposite. And this is particularly tempting I think for screenwriting because you get your script to a place where you feel this is it. This is good. And then you know that this is a snowy field that must be trod upon. And simply by people reading it, you lose it. It’s no longer yours. Now it’s ours. It belongs to everyone. And that’s a hard thing sometimes to get around. And I do feel that sometimes this protective feeling that I don’t want this to belong to everybody, it’s mine, is the thing that keeps some people from wanting to finish.

John: I can completely understand that. You’re describing sort of what is a creator’s responsibility to his creations — is it to protect them from all possible harm, or to send them out into the world. In some ways it’s a parent’s function as well. Is that you want to keep your child safe and yet you know that they must go out into the world and fend for themselves. And that’s so challenging.

So, finishing — delivering your script, you know, turning in your manuscript is very much like sort of sending your kid off to school and you’re not ready to have them be out of your care and control.

Craig: Well, yeah. And there is something paradoxical about the nature of creation of work and then what follows, the sharing of the work. The creation of the work is — it’s solipsistic. And not only do you have complete control, but complete control is required to do the work well. And so you do control it in a way that you can’t really control the raising of another human being.

And then you send it out and just by being read it is changed. And you can feel that — it’s most notable when you go to that first test screening after you’ve edited a film and you believe you know this film upside, downwards, and backwards, and then you sit in a theater with people. And as you watch it with them, you see a different movie because it’s almost like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. The observation changes the object.

And so a lot of times I think, you know, we’ve talked about why people hold on to work too long. I think sometimes we have to acknowledge that we have a fear that the observation of the work will change it. And that’s a natural fear to have. Unfortunately, destroying 90 percent of your work is not a good idea.

John: Well, let’s play devil’s advocate. The other 90% of his work, the odds are there was tremendous work that was lost to time, to all the ages, because he destroyed it. But some of that work would not have been his best work. And so it’s part of the reason why we have Franz Kafka as such an amazing, great author is that everything that survives is the brilliant stuff. So, it’s silent evidence of all the stuff that wasn’t so good.

Craig: It’s possible. I mean, we do have authors who have written great things and then not such great things. And we tend to ignore the not such great ones. But considering that Kafka very strongly felt that the remaining 10 percent also needed to be destroyed makes me think that perhaps the 90 percent that was was probably quite good. I mean, he was, after all, Franz Kafka. [laughs] And it’s just — that to me is an extension, an extreme extension of what I’m talking about here. Frankly, I think if Franz Kafka could come back to life today he would be horrified that everyone has read it and that not only — it’s almost his worst nightmare. In a sense it is a Kafka story.

A man creates something for himself that no one is to see, because they will destroy it by looking at it. He begs that it be destroyed when he is too sick to do it himself. It is not. And not only does everybody look at it, but everybody then analyzes it and teaches classes on it and writes term papers on it. I mean, it’s a horror show. Poor guy.

Anyway, I guess all I’m saying is, hey, this is a natural thing if you’re a writer and if you feel this, just know that you feel it, but tough, you’ve got to put it out there.

John: So, the only reason we have Kafka’s work is because Max Brod saved that 10 percent. So, let’s talk about people who take 10 percent and let’s talk about the perfect agent.

Craig: Segue Man!

John: I am Segue Man. So, this is the second part of our Perfect Series. So, last week we talked about the perfect studio executive. This week let’s talk about the perfect agent and what makes the perfect agent. What that person should be doing for a screenwriter. What our expectations should be when we’re talking to an agent. Craig, get us started.

Craig: Well, I think that we do have quite a few agents and agent assistants who will soon be agents listening to us, so hey, lean in, listen carefully. I’m very simple about what I look for in an agent. Primarily, let’s talk about the real simple stuff. Call us back.

John: Always good.

Craig: Okay? Call us back. Don’t be impossible to reach. Call us back within a reasonable amount of time. That’s the big one.

John: Let’s define reasonable amount of time. A reasonable amount of time is 24 hours at the outlier and if it’s not 24 hours than it’s some communication that acknowledges got your message, I will get back to you ASAP.

Craig: Yeah. My feeling is if I call before lunch, I get a call before the end of the day. If I call after lunch, I should still get a call by the end of the day, but if not, first thing the next day and an acknowledgment that the call was received. So, that’s a real simple thing. I know that this is something that is talked about a lot in the agency hallways as a kind of nuts and bolts things. I cannot stress how important it is. Ultimately, the constancy of communication is the glue of the agent/client relationship. It’s as simple as that.

The other thing I look for in an agent is clarity. When a writer asks an agent what should I do, should I do this job, or this job, should I pass on this, should I accept it? Who should we give this to? Is this the right producer? What we want desperately is the same thing that the people that hire us want. Clarity and comfort. We want our agent to give us an answer.

If there is no answer, then explain why there’s no answer and then explain that either way will be okay.

John: Yes.

Craig: But this wishy-washiness or asking questions back — we’re not looking for an Ericksonian therapist to just rephrase our questions. We want answers.

John: So, when you proposed this topic I went through and sort of made my list of archetypes of sort of the things I think about when I think of an agent. And not all agents are going to be all these people, but generally these are the kind of roles an agent fulfills in a writer’s life.

One is as adviser, which is just what you described, the person who has an informed opinion about what should be done on a project, in a situation, what is the overall shape of what this experience should be.

Secondly is an advocate. You want your agent to be someone who is like on your side. And so when people are pushing you around, they’re pushing back. And that’s a really crucial role because sometimes the agent has to be the bad guy. The agent has to say like, no, he delivered, pay him. And convince on the next step if you want the next step. That’s a critical function of an agent and sometimes one that they are reluctant to perform because they’re trying to maintain all these other relationships.

But, from the writer’s perspective, we just need you to like stick up for us.

Craig: Right.

John: Third archetype is sort of the connector. And really good agents are smart at being able to put people together who they think can work well together. So, that’s putting writers in rooms with studio executives who actually know what they’re doing. Setting up a lunch between a writer and a director because there’s probably something they could work on together. Bringing the right material to the writer because this is a book we have and we think you would probably like it. That’s a crucial function of a good agent.

Craig: Let’s stop there on that one because a lot of these things are sort of constitutionally required for agents. Some of them are things that agents have to earn their way towards. The truth is that we want from our agents a certain amount of connectivity. And there are all sorts of words for this, juice, or whatever you want to call it. We want our agent to be able to get the people we need to get on the phone on the phone.

John: Yes.

Craig: And if you can’t get those people on the phone, then you need to have a relationship with a senior agent who can.

John: That’s a crucial point. Because a lot of times as newer writers you’re going to be working with a junior agent, someone who doesn’t have all the history and all of the contacts and all the access that the top people have. But in some cases, those younger agents have tremendous numbers of contacts, they’re just at a lower level. And those can be incredibly valuable and they can actually be faster than some of the very top tier people can actually get that information. So, that can be really useful.

So, obviously if you’re agent is plugged in at CAA and they have this vast knowledge network of how everything is set up, that’s awesome. But even if your agent is at a smaller sort of boutique agency that deals with like just TV writers, that can be exactly perfect if that’s what you’re trying to do.

My first agent was just a terrific agent but his client list was mostly very esoteric indie writer-directors. And he was really good at dealing with sort of specialty film arms of things, but that wasn’t who I ultimately was. And it got to be very frustrating because he didn’t know the people who I needed to be in rooms with. And that’s why it didn’t last.

Craig: Exactly right. There’s another thing that I think the perfect agent is capable of doing, and that is switching their tone from every kind of communication they have, except for their communication with their writer clients, and the communication with the writer clients. We know when we’re being agented. So, what is being agented? It’s being handled, cajoled. There’s that agent talk that’s smooth and fast and all facts have suddenly become fogged by war. And everything gets twisted around. That’s what they do. And they need to be able to do that.

When they’re dealing with other agents, when they’re dealing with producers, when they’re dealing with studios, when they’re dealing with business affairs they need to agent people. That’s their job. But when you’re talking to us, before you get on the phone with us, take a breath and say this, “This person I don’t agent. This is my client. This person I can just calm down, relax, and be honest with.” I know. Sounds crazy. But we actually appreciate honesty more than anything. Don’t hide bad news from us. Don’t sugar coat bad news.

Don’t flimflam us. And if we challenge you on something and we’re right, don’t think that by saying, “You know what, that’s a really good point, you’re right,” that it makes you weak. It doesn’t. It makes us like you more.

So, save a certain tiny nugget of honest, normal you for us. And agent everybody else.

John: So, part of that honesty is being honest about why a project is coming to you, or why a project is not coming to you. And that’s a very difficult conversation to have.

Craig, you will be able to better articulate what the legal definitions and differences are between an agent and a manager. But my perception is that any time somebody comes to my agent with here’s work, here is work we would like John to do, I think he’s legally obligated to tell me about it. Is that correct?

Craig: It is. Yeah. I mean, a lot of times they will glide over that because they know that you’re busy and unavailable and wouldn’t want to do that. So, I don’t need my agent to call me up and say, “Hey, listen, we got an offer. You just started writing a script. We got an offer for you to do an episode of an animated program in Albania.” I don’t need to hear about it, you know.

John: Yet, I think one of the crucial things is, and this is the conversation I have quite often, is in one of those sort of check-in calls there will be like four things we’ll talk about. And the last thing will be, oh, and I got this thing for you. Here’s the project. Here’s the producer. Here’s why I think it’s a pass. And that is just a godsend when you sort of hear what that is.

Agents are fairly describing what it actually is and why it’s probably not interesting. And sometimes I’ll say like, you know, actually that does sound really interesting, or like I’ve always liked that person, so I do want to take a look at it. But a good agent is able to say, this is why it’s probably not going to be right. In some cases, especially for a newer writer, they might say, okay, there’s this project over at this studio and they’re meeting with writers. They asked about you. I think it’s a fishing trip. I think they’re just basically bringing a bunch of people into the room and seeing what might stick. And you could be wasting a tremendous amount of your time.

I so appreciate that. And as a young writer, I might be panicked like, wait, I’m not going to go in for this job? A smart agent might say, you know what? I don’t think anyone is ever going to get that job. I think it’s basically just a let’s see what sticks kind of situation.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. There’s another nice benefit to letting your clients know when you’re passing on things for them in that it makes them feel good, that people want you to work for them. I mean, look, if you say don’t do something, we’re not doing it. We’re very simple that way. You know, I mean, we want to do everything. We want you guys to be able to help us say no to things. It’s obviously a very valuable part of this. And, you know, sometimes as agents you will smell some blood in the water and we won’t smell the same blood.

I’ll get a call, “Something came up at the agency, our biggest movie star is excited about doing this thing. It’s a book. And everybody is running around like crazy. But, you know, I put your name in and they really responded to that. I mean, this could be huge.” Well, look, again, we’re being agented there a little bit.

John: Yeah. But at least he’s being candid about what’s actually happening there.

Craig: Right. Exactly. And it’s good to know. And then if we don’t smell the same blood and we go, you know what, I get why they would love that. I just don’t think it’s for me. Then, you know, you let it go. That’s okay. Just don’t jam us in because we know, I mean, we’re not dumb. We know how the agent business works. You guys make 10 percent of what we make. So, the person who makes the most amount of money, that’s the most important person.

We know that. And it’s okay to shepherd us all together. That’s part of your job. But then if we don’t get it and we don’t want to do it, just be respectful and let us not like it. That’s okay.

John: That shepherd function is really crucial, too. When Aline was on the show last she talked about how her agent of many, many years, they were on a phone call and Aline was venting her frustration about this project and these people and the people being impossible. And the agent basically pulled her aside and said like, “Get over yourself. Call me back tomorrow. And figure out how you’re going to actually do this project, because you’re being crazy.”

And that’s a crucial thing. That shepherding role of saying like, you know what, you’re not actually being reasonable here. This is, you know, it’s almost like a parent. Like, you know, reminding you like, you know what, this is your job. Your job is to write this movie. Write this movie. Get it over with. Get it done. And move on. And that’s a crucial thing to have happen, too. Sometimes you as the writer are the problem and a very good agent can find the right way to tell you this is a you thing. Get through it. And let’s get onto your next project.

Craig: No question. Yeah, Aline and I actually have the same agent and I can hear him saying all that. And, frankly, we want that specificity. It goes back that we want to be spoken to honestly and we want clarity. If the clarity is you’re being insane, I mean, if my agent ever said to me, “You’re being insane,” I would think I’m being insane.

John: Yes.

Craig: A good agent should not be afraid of his client, or her client, right. So, if you’re an agent and you’re worried that your client is not going to respond well to the truth, so your job is to somehow figure out how to hide the truth in a thing, like the way that I feed medicine to my dog by putting it in pudding. We’re going to know. Don’t be afraid of your clients.

If your client can’t handle what’s true, then they’re not going to be able to handle it with their next agent, or their agent after that. Truth is a great defense.

John: I absolutely agree. The last thing I would say about the great agent is like the analogy I think I’ve often made is that if you’re having heart surgery, you don’t want to go to the woman who only performs heart surgery three times a year. You want to go to the surgeon and she performs it seven times a week. You want the person who is sort of the pro at doing this thing. And sometimes as a writer you have to step back and realize like, oh, you know what? You actually do this job. You’re actually the person who makes this deal. So, I’m not going to sort of worry about every little step of this process.

I’m going to let you — and maybe my lawyer — go off, make this deal, figuring out all that stuff, and then report back to me what the results are. And I can say yes or no. But I see sometimes, especially newer writers, freak out about each little bit of a deal and that’s not generally a helpful thing.

Craig: It isn’t. I totally agree. There are times when we have a disagreement. And what I end up saying is, listen, let me tell you why I don’t want what they’ve offered, even though you think it’s good, because of this and this. It’s important to me. It’s important enough that I’m willing to say, no, I don’t want to do this.

And a good agent hears that and goes, “Fantastic news.” As long as you’re in sync with your client, and they’re saying, “I don’t want to do it. I would rather not do it than this,” that’s empowering, and don’t fight anymore. Now just go with that. Unless you feel that they’re being insane and then tell them they’re insane.

John: Yes.

Craig: There needs to be that just honest communication. The most important advice I can give to you on your path to becoming a perfect agent is to not agent your client.

John: I think that’s great advice. Cool. It’s time for some One Cool Things. So, mine is a web series that I just started watching, but it’s actually in its third season. It’s called High Maintenance and right now this new season is on Vimeo. And so it’s $1.99 an episode. And the episodes range in length from, the one I watched was 18 minutes, but they get longer and shorter. There’s two prior seasons you can also find.

The show is set in New York. The show is created by Katja Blichfeld and actor Ben Sinclair. And it follows this guy called The Guy who is this pot dealer who has a whole bunch of clients. And the show is kind of like an anthology. So, it just follows — he’s delivering weed to different places and then you’re just staying with mostly those characters he’s delivering weed to.

The episode I watched was called Ruth. I thought it was fantastic. And it’s dramatic and comedic at the same time. The episode I saw involved chili peppers and testicles and milk. And it was really just terrific. So, I highly recommend it. It’s on Vimeo. I think you can probably get it everywhere in the world, but I know you can at least get it in the US. And so High Maintenance.

Craig: High Maintenance. Well, my One Cool Thing of this week is maybe an uncool thing, but I love it. On YouTube, you can find it under the Worst Line in Scriptwriting History. And I like that they called it Scriptwriting History as opposed to screenwriting history. The Worst Line in Scriptwriting History. And I don’t know who wrote it. And I don’t mean to pile on here. It’s actually quite beautiful.

Have you ever listened to — do you know the story of The Shags?

John: They’re the ones that their father ran the band?

Craig: Yeah.

John: And they had no idea how to make music?

Craig: I think I’ve mentioned it on the podcast before. Three daughters. I think they were from Vermont and their dad was like I’m getting you guys into the kind of teeny band craze of the ’60s. And he bought them a guitar and drums and a bass guitar. And they practiced and then recorded an album and they wrote their own music and it’s impossibly bad. It’s impossibly bad in a way that you could not do intentionally. And this line is a little bit like that. It’s beautifully terrible. It’s wrong in a way that you could have never done intentionally.

Simply, it’s an exchange between a woman and her mother. And the woman says, “Mother. You’re alive.” And the woman says, “Too bad, you will die.” That’s perfect.

John: Let’s pause here so Matthew Chilelli can insert the actual audio so we can actually hear how great this line is.

Craig: So there it is. That’s the worst line in scriptwriting history. It’s from the movie Mortal Combat: Annihilation. And it’s gorgeous because, I mean, the first line is normal enough. She’s surprised that her mother is alive. She’s stunned. Her mother was supposed to be dead. We’ve seen that in movies before.

It’s the mother’s response that is so syntactically disruptive. I don’t know how else to put it. She’s saying something to someone else.

John: Yeah. The “too bad you’ll die,” let’s try to think of a setup line that could actually make that second line make sense. I’m not sure there is one.

Craig: I think the setup line would be, “Thank god you’re going to live.”

John: Oh yeah, okay.

Craig: Right?

John: Going to live. Too bad you’ll die.

Craig: Too bad you will die. So, thank god you will live. Too bad you will die. But that’s, see, even that would be so crazy, because nobody would ever say thank god you will live to somebody who would then say, “Too bad you will die,” with glee. But what she just says is, “Mother, you’re alive.” “Too bad you will die.” So, you are, you will, the too bad is fascinating.

Anyway, it’s just gorgeous. I love it. I love it so much. It’s beautiful.

John: It is beautiful. What’s also beautiful, and the reason why we’re talking about this at all, is I had mentioned before we started recording that when I finished the Kickstarter for Writer Emergency Pack, Nima Yousefi who works with us, he bought us all copies of the Mortal Combat novelization. So, it’s the novelization of the movie of Mortal Combat. And it’s an actual book. It is in my hand. It is 216 pages, which is just kind of amazing that this thing exists in the world.

Craig: Who is this for? I mean –

John: It’s for people who are giant fans of the movie Mortal Combat.

Craig: See, I think it’s for people who love Mortal Combat, but also love reading.

John: Absolutely true. Or, love Mortal Combat but hate movies.

Craig: Exactly. [laughs] It’s just the weirdest — that’s a very small Venn diagram overlap. Regardless, I don’t know if you ever saw any of the Mortal Combat movies.

John: I did see the very first one.

Craig: First one is not bad.

John: So, I remember seeing, I’m pretty sure it was the first one I saw. I remember going to the Beverly Center and we went on like a Saturday morning, like the first show. It was me and my friend, Jen. And we sat down and watched it. And this is the experience of watching Mortal Combat: trailers, trailers, trailers, screen fades up, MORTAL COMBAT. [hums] And it’s literally the first seven minutes are just kind of that.

Craig: Yeah, that’s why I wanted to go see it.

John: Then we left.

Craig: Oh, you mean you didn’t even stay longer than?

John: It’s one of the very few movies of my life I’ve walked out of.

Craig: Oh, no, I stayed with the whole thing. And by the way, I’ve got to tell you, that’s it.

John: That’s it?

Craig: It stays on that flat line through the end. Anyway, too bad you will die.

John: And that is our show this week. So, some reminders for you. Tickets are available for the December 11 live show here in Hollywood. Scriptnotes Live. It’s with me, and Aline, and B.J. Novak, and, oh, we get to announce our special musical guest finally. That is actress-singer-funny person Rachel Bloom.

Craig: Yeah. Very cool. She’s got this show coming on to I think it’s Showtime that she and Aline Brosh McKenna have created. She’s very funny. Very, very, very funny. And she’s going to be doing an original song for us?

John: I think she’s doing an original song for us.

Craig: Spectacular.

John: But in the show notes I will put a link to a song that she wrote about Ray Bradbury. I can’t tell you the real title because that would make this a not safe podcast.

Craig: That is correct. But it’s an excellent song. She’s very, very good.

John: So, our other guests include Jane Espenson and Derek Haas. It’s going to be a great time.

Craig: I’ll be there.

John: Craig will be there. So, as we’re recording this on Friday, I think there are still tickets available. So, anyway, don’t dally. Go to get those tickets.

Craig: I think we’re down to the dregs here. You better speed this up.

John: It’s Writers Guild Foundation, so it’s wgafoundation.org. But, of course, there are always links in the show notes. And you can find the show notes for this podcast at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. And there are links to the things we talked about on this episode, including many articles about how Tim Burton will be not maybe making this movie. And news of Craig’s Cowboy Ninja Viking.

Craig: Cowboy Ninja Viking.

John: If you would like to subscribe to this podcast, do so in iTunes. Search for Scriptnotes and click Subscribe. That’s also where you’ll find the Scriptnotes app, both in the iTunes and in the Android store.

If you would like to become a premium subscriber and listen to those bonus episodes and the dirty episode we will be recording, go to scriptnotes.net and that’s where you sign up to be a premium subscriber. And then you can listen to episodes all the way back to the beginning of the show, both in the web and in the apps.

Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli. It’s produced by Stuart Friedel. Our outro this week is also by Matthew Chilelli and I think it may be the best outro we’ve ever had.

Craig: Wow.

John: Did you listen to it? I will send you a link to it if you haven’t listened to it yet.

Craig: Send me a link to it.

John: It’s really good. So, we are going to stop talking so you can hear this in its entirety. But, Craig, thank you very much. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

Craig: You too, John.

John: All right. Bye.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Mapping and scribbling

Mon, 12/01/2014 - 13:26

As part of their Creative Spark series, The Academy shot a video with me talking about my creative process.


Man, I talk with my hands a lot. But overall, I’m happy with how the video turned out.

The whole series is terrific. As an Academy member, I love this increased focus on showing the process of filmmaking, and the faces that go with the names.

My hope is that videos like these not only inspire new filmmakers, but also help film fans appreciate how many talented craftspeople work to make their favorite films come to life.

Scriptnotes, Ep 171: Finishing a script, and the Perfect Studio Executive — Transcript

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 13:51

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: Sshh, me Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 171 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig: That are interesting to screenwriters.

John: Oh, you’re my echo now.

Craig: You have latency.

John: Oh, do I have latency?

Craig: No. [laughs] I’m just pretending to be your latency.

John: Ah, you’re the worst.

Craig: I’m the worst. No one gets it.

John: No.

Craig: By the way, people do get it. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Today on the podcast we are going to be talking about finishing a script. We’re going to be talking about this data that fivethirtyeight crunched about screenwriters and their screenplays. And we are going to be talking about the perfect studio executive.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Mm-hmm. But there’s follow up to start with. And follow up about future events, including the December 11 live show.

Craig: So exciting.

John: I’m so excited. So, I put a little teaser at the start of last week’s episode, but now you and I can both talk about how excited we are that on December 11 at 8PM in Hollywood we will be welcoming our guests including Jane Espenson. B.J. Novak. Derek Haas. Aline Brosh McKenna. Plus one special musical guest that’s not even announceable yet.

Craig: Fantastic. I mean, that’s a great roster even including the person that’s not announceable yet. I was watching, you know I’m a huge Quentin Tarantino fan.

John: I do.

Craig: And just the other night I decided, you know what, I’m going to watch Inglourious Basterds again, because I want to. And I forgot, because I hadn’t seen it in a long time, B.J. Novak.

John: B.J. Novak.

Craig: He’s Utivich. Utivich, I think that’s his name. He’s awesome.

John: Yeah. Just yesterday I was reading The Book With No Pictures, which is a kid’s book that B.J. Novak has at the top of the bestseller charts.

Craig: Very, very creative.

John: It’s a great little book. And so I was reading it to Chad Creasey’s little daughter who was over, and she loved it. And this is a kid with a limited attention span. And she loved it. Because whenever you get the chance to make silly noises to a kid at that age, they’re in heaven.

Craig: She’s also notoriously picky. Not an easy review to get out of her.

John: Oh, absolutely, no. She has set opinions. And they’re usually about where is my mother, where is my father, why are you not either of these people.

Craig: Right. I’m tired.

John: So, last week Chad Creasey, who is a writer on Castle, was live tweeting his show, because the new thing is you’re supposed to be live tweeting your show so the fans can talk with the creators of the show as the show is actually happening.

Craig: I see this all the time. Derek Haas does this.

John: Yes. And sometimes it’s wonderful, and sometimes it’s kind of annoying, because maybe Derek — I don’t need to see like the 20 tweets about Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. Or the crossover episode between Law & Order and Chicago P.D., which is just — that’s like two hours of Derek Haas tweeting.

Craig: Wait, that was Law & Order?

John: So, Law & Order, the New York show, or Law & Order SVU, I’m sorry.

Craig: Oh, okay, yeah. Okay. SVU. Right.

John: SVU crossed over into a Chicago P.D. episode. And so I happened to catch part of this change over because I don’t, honestly I’m sorry, I don’t actually watch either of these shows.

Craig: Oh!

John: The TV was on and I saw this crossover. And it was just so weird like, oh, that’s a thing that happens.

Craig: Yeah. Well, you know, it’s actually a very rare thing to have happen now because there are very few, I mean, Dick Wolf kind of stands alone. Dick Wolf and Chuck Lorre are the two people that have multiple shows. Oh, no, and Shonda Rhimes.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, actually the three of them could get away with it.

John: Yeah. But no one else can get away with it. And so I was watching this thing happen. Of course Derek live tweets his show. Chad was live tweeting his show. And I had to interrupt Chad live tweeting his own TV show in order to arrange childcare for our children.

Craig: For both of your children?

John: Because that’s what it’s like to be a Hollywood writer is basically you’re supposed to live tweet your show to the mass audience and then figure out who is going to take care of your kid because you’re working late hours making Castle, the TV show.

Craig: Sometimes I’ll send out some tweets to people just because I’m at home and I need to arrange childcare for my kids because I’ve got to go score some heroin. Do you know how you know that I don’t have a heroin problem?

John: Uh, I don’t know how. How do I prove a negative?

Craig: Here’s how. I just said, “I needed to go score some heroin.” That’s not what they say. Right?

John: Yeah. Scoring is actually a really interesting word, this is going to be my awkward segue into Writer Emergency Pack, or maybe it’s a brilliant into Writer Emergency Pack.

Craig: It doesn’t really matter, does it? [laughs]

John: Because I made the transition?

Craig: That’s right. Transition Man.

John: We’re here now.

Craig: Segue Boy.

John: So yesterday we were going through all the text on all the cards just to make sure that everything was right and we were not disagreeing about any commas, and Stuart Friedel who genuinely loves basketball was arguing that I had said, in the card I said, “You could score three baskets in a certain amount of time.”

And he’s like you can’t score baskets. You can make baskets. But you can’t score baskets.

Craig: That’s right. Correct.

John: And I’m like, well, you’re being nitpicky. And then we looked on the Internet and he was right.

Craig: Yeah. Of course he was right. That’s correct. Just as you can’t make runs in baseball. You score runs. It’s just the parlance of the sport.

John: It is the parlance of the sport.

Craig: And similarly there is a Stuart Friedel of heroin out there listening to me and saying, “No, no, you don’t say I’m going to go out and score some heroin, you dork.”

John: Yeah. What do you need to score heroin? How do you get heroin? What is the verb for obtain heroin from a person?

Craig: I think we’ve established that I don’t know. At all.

John: [laughs] If you do know, if you are a heroin addict who knows the lingo, or even better yet, a heroin dealer, please write in to @clmazin on Twitter and let him know.

Craig: Let me know. By the way, this is one of the best arguments for drug legalization I’ve ever heard was from my friend [Gene Yin]. Because I remember I was saying, well you know, yeah, sure, legalize drugs. But heroin, I don’t know. And he said, “Let me ask you something. If you wanted heroin, do you think you could get some?” And I was like, yeah, I guess I could.

John: I don’t think I could. You know, honestly, that’s a fascinating sort of six degrees of separation. Like how many people would I have to go through to get heroin. And the way my life is set up right now, it would take awhile.

Craig: It would take awhile, but you could get there. It’s not hard. By the way, anyone can. Especially now. Go to the marijuana dispensary. Get your marijuana card. Hang around the people in the lobby of the marijuana place and be like, “Anybody have any heroin?” Somebody will hook you up.

The point being, if you want it, you can get it. But we don’t get it because — the law is not what’s stopping us. It’s our understanding that heroin is just bad.

John: Yeah. Heroin is bad.

Craig: It’s bad.

John: Lessons we’ve learned on podcasts.

Craig: Heroin is bad, you guys.

John: It’s not good at all.

Craig: Breaking news.

John: So, going back to the Stuart Friedel basketball conversation, the reason why we’re editing all these cards is because we are nearly done with the Kickstarter campaign. So, this is the last chance if people want one of these cards in the early part of 2015 is to go to our Kickstarter page. So, we are nearing 5,000 backers, which is crazy.

Craig: That’s great.

John: We exceeded our fundraising goal. Thank you, Craig Mazin.

Craig: Yeah. I’m one of those backers.

John: Which is fantastic. So, this podcast comes out on Tuesday. Thursday at noon the campaign shuts down. And it’s a hard out. Because when you actually set up the campaign you set the end date and that is the end date for all time.

Craig: Forever.

John: It’s done. No more. So, if you’d like a pack, that’s where you can get it. If you’d like to support the youth writing programs that we’re partnering with, that’s also a great place to go.

Craig: Hey, not to undermine the Writer Emergency Pack situation, but our live show on December 11th, tickets are on sale now for that?

John: They are on sale now. I can’t believe we left that out. Yes. So, if you would like to come to our live show in December 11, go to the Writers Guild Foundation. They’re the people who are selling the tickets. It’s wgfoundation.org. There will also be a link in the show notes. And the seating is quite limited, so really if you haven’t gotten tickets yet, you should maybe pause this podcast and go over there and get some tickets, because it will sell out, especially with those great guests.

Craig: And the money goes to charity. Once again, we lose.

John: Yes. Once again, a money-losing podcast.

Craig: Awesome.

John: Awesome. The last bit of follow up is previous weeks I described how I had this phone pitch and it was on a Friday at 4PM, which is the worst time for a phone pitch, but it went really well. And so now I think I can announce that the deal happened. It closed. And I’m going to be writing this movie.

Craig: Congrats.

John: So, it’s called Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. It is a kid’s book that you kind of probably remember from your childhood.

Craig: I totally remember that book from my childhood.

John: Yeah. So it was one of the most controversial and one of the most banned or sort of like on a lot of parent not favorite lists throughout our entire childhood. It’s written by Alvin Schwartz. Illustrated by Stephen Gammell. It’s a great collection, an anthology of sort of all of the stories that you sort of remember being creeped out by as a kid, so including like “the worms crawling, and the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout.”

All of that stuff is in there. And so it’s going to be I think a potentially really cool movie, but I’m not supposed to spoil how we’re going to do it, but I think it’s going to be a very interesting and innovative way to make this movie.

Craig: I think that’s great. That’s a very cool project. My daughter in particular is a big fan of, there’s a current kid’s series that’s like a Goosebumps kind of series, but I can’t remember the name of it. Anyway, the idea of horror movies for children is great.

John: Yes.

Craig: I loved like all the ghost stories when I was a kid. I loved all that stuff.

John: So, what I will tell you is that while this book is for children, the horror movie that we’re making out of it, I think hopefully captures how scary those books were when you were a kid, but is not strictly a kid’s movie. In fact, you should not take certain younger kids to this movie. To the degree like I can’t actually take the art into the house, because if my daughter saw it we would have nightmares.

Craig: Is the idea that it’s a — you don’t have to say anything that you don’t want to say, but is it a PG-13 kind of thing?

John: We are aiming for a PG-13.

Craig: Got it.

John: The same way that I loved Poltergeist.

Craig: Right.

John: Or that I loved The Ring. Movies that are not gory, but man they can freak the bejesus out of you.

Craig: I love that. That’s the best kind of horror as far as I’m concerned.

John: So, we have high hopes. Lord knows anything can happen, but it’s been a very fun couple of weeks getting this all put together.

Craig: Where is this?

John: This is at CBS Films. And it’s such a strange experience going into CBS Films because I get there and I’m talking with the producer, and he’s like, “Oh, I don’t know if you saw in the trades today.” And I’m like, oh god, what was in the trades today? And so Lions Gate is not distributing CBS Films’ films. And that was a change, but also like, oh, well Lions Gate is kind of awesome at doing this exact kind of thing. So, it feels like it’s going to be a change that will benefit the making of movies like this.

Craig: Who was distributing their movies prior?

John: They were self-distributing. They had their own distribution company.

Craig: Oh, yeah. You know what? Good. That’s smart, frankly. Nothing wrong with –

John: Distribution is expensive.

Craig: Distributions are.

John: And distribution is expensive to maintain even if you don’t have a lot of movies going through it. That becomes the real stumbling block, without enough product like you have this team that you can’t keep continuously employed.

Craig: And distribution, we know as we discussed before that the big trick of distribution is that you need big huge right hand punches to sell your left hand jobs, you know. So, a movie like this that’s new IP and it’s not like say Hunger Games, right. A movie like this needs the weight of a Hunger Games behind it, so that Lions Gate can say, “Hey everybody, you want Hunger Games? Here is our package. Hunger Games, Scary Stories You Tell in the Dark.” You know what I mean?

John: Yeah. And that package is important throughout the entire process. So, that’s how you get the great theaters. That’s how you get the ArcLight versus the thing in Gardena. That’s how you get –

Craig: The thing in Gardena. By the way. Terrible name. Great, great cinema.

John: It’s one of the highest qualities that you can find anywhere.

Craig: Heading down to the thing, yeah.

John: Except for that one stain on the screen where somebody threw their Coke at the screen.

Craig: That was me.

John: All right. The old theatres that were across from USC, the USC Cinema Schools, there was this village, I think it was a three-plex or a four-plex. I remember going to see Last of the Mohicans and there literally was like this brown stain on the screen, because someone had just like taken a Coke and thrown it at the screen. And like they never washed it, they never cleaned it.

Craig: Wow.

John: And so you’re watching this movie that obviously a lot of care went in to making it. And there’s this brown stain.

Craig: Why do you think someone did that for — was it that movie or a prior movie?

John: No, I’m sure it was some previous movie. Some previous movie that really deserved to have a Coke thrown at it.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, that movie didn’t really.

John: No.

Craig: I mean, unless somebody was like, “Look, this is an embarrassment to the work of James Fenimore Cooper. [laugh]

John: “Stay alive no matter what occurs.” Splash.

Craig: Splash. “That was not in the book!”

John: No.

Craig: Yeah, some USC lit major.

John: Yeah. Daniel Day Lewis hater.

Craig: Oh, all one of them.

John: All one of them. So, anyway, it’s incredibly fun to be making this. My last point about sort of distributing in a package, it becomes important to get your film into a theater. It’s also important for getting your money out of that theater, which sounds really obvious.

Craig: Yeah, no, that’s right.

John: They will pay you very slowly unless you say like, “Oh, wait, you still haven’t paid us for that movie and we have The Hunger Games coming.” They are more likely to actually total up that money and write you the check that they need to write.

Craig: That’s true. Plus, you have a marketing department that likely just through the experience of marketing more movies and generally larger movies will be very, very good.

John: That is the hope.

Craig: Terrific.

John: Excited to be writing that.

Craig: Awesome.

John: But, Craig I’m so excited that you just finished your script.

Craig: I did. Well, let’s just say that the two words that screw writers up more than any other two words in the English language are The End. We type The End and it is not at all the end. But, you do feel kind of an ending. It’s a very strange feeling, isn’t it?

John: It’s a little post-partum depression. You’re so excited to be done. And at the same time you’re like, but, but, but, especially in those last few weeks as you’re finishing something up. You are a person who writes this script. Like your entire being becomes consumed in the writing of this thing. And so when that thing is done, well, who are you?

Craig: That’s right. You have molded your day-to-day life around a routine of creating this thing. You are living in that world. And it is a world of possibility. And it’s still a world of possibility. But when you write the end and you get to the end of it, no matter how good you have felt along the way, or about the moments, suddenly it’s just a script. Isn’t that the hell. It’s just the worst feeling.

Like I’ve been living this thing and breathing this thing and imaging a world, creating — all the wonderful woo-woo stuff that writers say about being kissed by the cosmic joy. But then you print it out. And so it’s a PDF. [laughs] It’s like, huh, all that and this isn’t shooting rainbows out of its butt. It looks like every other script.

John: A couple memories that brings up. The first is finishing something and printing it out for the first time, and laser printers used to be quite so slow. And so a page would print out and I’d take it out of the printer and look at it. Inevitably I would find a typo just because I had pulled it out of the printer. And so it was like these weird things where like because it’s coming to you at a page at a time I started to recognize all these things and want to go through and fix them.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Second is that advice that I remember being told like all the way back in probably junior high school is like well when you finish something, you put it in a drawer for two weeks and you don’t look at it. And then you pull it out so you can look at it fresh. I’ve never been able to do that. I’ve never been able to sort of just completely walk away from something and look at it fresh. It’s like one of those great ideas in theory that rarely is practical or possible, partly because I’m generally giving it to someone trusted to read and I want to be able to have that conversation with them before two weeks from now.

Craig: Yeah. You can look at things in a fresh light, I suppose, after a year or two. No real reason to put something away for a year or two. Better to just hand it to somebody you trust. Or, if you are writing professionally, you don’t have a choice.

John: Nope.

Craig: You’re a week late. No matter how fast you write it, you’re a week late.

John: Yes you are.

Craig: Yeah. If you write it in three days, you’re a week late.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: It’s like reverse Scotty.

John: So, in your situation, you were showing pages the whole time through. So, did that change your process? Because that doesn’t seem like what you would normally do. I think of you as being a Craig does the whole thing himself and then someone gets to read it. In this case, you were showing stuff all the way through. Did that change the process for you?

Craig: Not as much as I would have thought, in part because part of my process — this is one area where I know you and I are very different. You quite religiously don’t go backwards when you’re writing. I quite religious do go backwards. I’m constantly — every day I’m reviewing the prior eight pages.

And then that’s kind of how I ramp in to the next work. So, by doing it this way with Lindsay I wasn’t doing actually anything different than I normally do in that sense. The other very helpful thing is that she was incredibly supportive. And so all of her notes came in the form of questions. It was never, “I don’t like this.” It was more, “What did you mean by this? What if this happened? What about this?” And these were all just very positive things. And, of course, there was a lot of praise along the way, too. Not, of course. [laughs] Surprisingly I should say, there was a lot of praise along the way, which is something I’ve actually never had because when I’m writing by myself and my creative associate, Jack, can attest to this, mostly I just sit and go, “This is the worst thing anyone has ever done. I’m the worst.”

Actually, what I used to say is, “I don’t even know what this is.” You know, there’s a lot of that that goes on. So, it was great to have somebody say, “I know what this is. This is good. I like this.”

John: That’s great.

Craig: Yeah. So, we’ll see what happens now.

John: Was there any good boy syndrome kicking in though? I wonder if having someone like Lindsay who is mom-like in the best ways, did that motivate you to work harder, work differently? How did it change your approach to the daily work? Did it?

Craig: It did a little bit. Yes. For one, she has a strong emphasis on clarity. Not just clarity for story sake, but also clarity for the reader. And her emphasis on clarity is actually very admirable and very optimistic. Her emphasis on clarity is this: we’re making this movie. I and you, and if it happens Scott Frank will be directing, the three of us are going to be in rooms with people who are going to ask us questions. Let’s answer as many of those questions as we can now, without breaking the script or making it — and sometimes, occasionally I would say, “Okay, I can’t do that. That’s just ridiculous.” [laughs]

And then she would agree. Mostly. John: I should stress, when you say answer the questions, in some cases you’re really talking about taking away the questions.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Basically making it so that question doesn’t even come up.

Craig: That’s exactly right. So, we had many discussions about where people were standing and how we could get across where they were standing and how far away they were and all the rest of it.

But, that did change the way I was approaching things because when I was writing I then kept in mind a certain amount of clarity, which in the end actually didn’t really — I think it helps the read. Actually, I liked it. I like that style of it.

There was a good boy syndrome in as much as there were times when I disagreed with her. But there were most notably what would happen is we would have a discussion, she would say here’s six things to consider. I would consider all six things. And then come back and say I’ve done four of them. These two, I do not. And you know what? She never once said, “No, no, no, you have to.” Every time she said, “Well, if you thought about it and that’s your reason, I agree.”

It was actually kind of great. I guess the point is that I’ll always have good boy syndrome because I want to make people happy. You can’t work in our business and not want to make people happy. But, it wasn’t a toxic good boy syndrome. And Lindsay also had good producer syndrome. It is interesting. She wanted me to like her notes.

You know, every now and then she would say something and I would go, oh my god, that’s why we get along so well. She would say, “Here’s something.” And I would say, oh, that’s very good. I like that. And she’d go, “Well thank you. I thought it was good. I was hoping you would think it was good.”

It’s the same. We’re the same. You know, so many of us are the same no matter the different jobs we do. We just want to be liked.

John: The other thing I think is probably crucial about the way she was framing these conversations was this is the movie we’re trying to make, so that way it becomes not a criticism of your words on the page, but it’s about this shared vision and this shared goal of like let’s make this movie. And so let’s always frame these discussions in how are we going to make this a great movie, not about this work that you just did, Craig, and whether it’s good or bad.

Craig: That’s right. And ideally if it goes well, then instead of what I normally have which is I wander into a room, at least initially alone, and then rally people to the cause through the script. Now I walk into the room with an ally, which is nice. It’s new.

So, I really enjoyed it. It’s not something that I would do I don’t think with anyone else. No offense to everybody else in the world. But, it takes a certain amount of deep trust there. And even then, who knows, it might have not worked, but it did. At least, I can’t speak to the [final] product –

John: Well, you can speak to the process. You can at least speak to like that you got through this script is terrific. And so I don’t know if you know that I was racing you and I wanted to finish my script before you finished your script, because we started our scripts at about the same time. But you finished and I did not finish.

Craig: Oh.

John: So, I am past the midpoint, but I got pulled off to do another job, and then of course this Kickstarter. So, you finished first. Congratulations, Craig.

Craig: Well, I can’t really take — there is no prize for first. Also, you had a good excuse. You had one good excuse, another job, and one ridiculous, awful excuse, a Kickstarter.

John: The Kickstarter madness.

Craig: Just disgusting.

John: I will say, I did write the last scene. And that is always an incredibly important part for me, because I tend to write that pretty early in the process so I know kind of where I’m going to. And the ability to sort of have that last moment fixed and encapsulated is in many ways as important to me as knowing what that first scene is going to be.

Craig: I agree. In fact, where I differ from you is I don’t write it, but I know what it is. And I couldn’t wait to write it because it should be your favorite scene in the movie, frankly.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so it was held back as this little reward for finishing. And so, you know, but man, when I finally finished it I was, you’re right, when you finish a screenplay, even though it’s intermediate, even though there will be another draft. Even though there will be changes. Even though it will be transformed into a movie and the document will disappear, as it should. You do feel like you accomplished something and it’s a weird thing for us as screenwriters to acknowledge that we have accomplished something and yet also at the same time we have accomplished nothing. [laughs] It’s very odd.

John: It is. Yet, there’s something very special about that first draft, which is entirely yours, before the building starts to get built. Before all the necessary changes that have to happen to change it from this idealized form to its actual form, there’s something really terrific about that first draft.

Craig: No question.

John: Congratulations on that.

Craig: Well thank you. And congratulations to you on your new project and congratulations to Stuart for being — staying alive.

John: For being Stuart.

Craig: Staying alive.

John: Next thing we want to take a look at is this article that everybody tweeted at us this week by Walt Hickey. It’s in fivethirtyeight, the data science blog. The headline, which is umbrage-inducing, “How Data Can Help You Write a Better Screenplay.”

Craig: Hold me back. [laughs] Hold me back.

John: And so I read this headline and I’m like, oh no, that’s just Craig bait. That’s like little someone has an algorithm for like how can we make Craig Mazin angry. That’s the headline.

Craig: The best part was that when I saw that headline I thought, okay, calm down. It’s not going to be that bad. And it was actually worse than I thought it would be.

John: Oh, see, this is going to be fun, because I actually thought the article itself was not nearly as inflammatory and actually had some things –

Craig: I hated it.

John: That were interesting to talk about. I don’t think useful for screenwriters necessarily, but interesting to talk about as a general sense.

Craig: If your praise is “not useful for screenwriters” and the title of it is “How Data Can Help you Write a Better Screenplay,” I actually think that’s a brutal condemnation here.

John: I strongly suspect that Walt Hickey did not write his headline for his article, because it doesn’t — because his article does not support that headline at all.

Craig: Uh…

John: Because there’s nothing about helping you write a screenplay. There’s nothing about that in here at all.

Craig: Uh…

John: So, here’s the proper headline. Here’s I would say is the actual fair headline that does not attract as much umbrage or clicks, but is actually accurate to what the article is about: “In a statistical survey of the blacklist.com’s scripts, these are the patterns we’ve noticed.”

Craig: That, honestly, is useless. It’s useless. And this is shocking to me, because honestly these guys should know better. And Nate Silver who runs fivethirtyeight.com should have really said, “Hey, wait a second. I mean, our bread and butter is being rational.” And this is just irrational nonsense. First, yeah, go ahead.

John: We should frame what is actually happening here. So, this article takes a look at the data from fivethirtyeight.com and basically anonymized a bunch of the reviews — so they weren’t looking at the actual projects themselves, but just the genre, the reviews of things, the most frequent criticisms of these different projects. And they were able to look based on genre and based on response what types of scripts are getting positive reviews versus negative reviews.

Now, I think this article tries to go too far and say like, well these are the kinds of scripts that get these good reviews and therefore become these kinds of movies. There’s actually no evidence at all to support that. All they’re really looking at is the people who have put their scripts on the blacklist.com and had them reviewed, this is data that they’re pulling from that information. Nothing about the actual finished movies. So, when it says — the first two paragraphs where they talk about Interstellar, that’s just random BS that should not be in there.

Craig: It’s all bad. This is all bad. And let me get to the heart of why I was shocked by this. Shocked.

John: Shocked.

Craig: Shocked. Yes, obviously the massive flaw floating at the surface of this mess is that they are attempting to analyze what makes a good screenplay from a population sample that is not at all accurate. Sorry, a sample that’s not at all accurate to the appropriate population. The sample that they’re using are Black List screenplays, which has nothing to do, frankly, with the sample of say professional screenplays from which most movies are drawn.

The Black List is open. It’s just people throwing their stuff in there. But the real — the real problem with this is that what they’re doing is they’re looking at trends. Trends have absolutely nothing to do with success. In fact, I would argue that they have the opposite to do with success. Let me explain.

They’ll say things in here like, he’s talking about courtroom dramas, I think.

John: Yeah. We make a lot of courtroom dramas, don’t we Craig? Our cinemas are overflowing with courtroom dramas.

Craig: So, you know, he talks about these courtroom dramas, and he’ll say take courtroom dramas. “Because of the legal eagles writing them,” that’s an unfounded comment, “only two percent of such scripts were flagged as having logic holes or unanswered questions. However, a whopping 47 percent of them suffered from unnatural, clichéd or on-the-nose dialogue.” So, he’s finding this problem that seems to exist with courtroom dramas, but it’s not a problem. Because here’s the fact: success in screenplays is an outlier. Success should be anti-statistical. We are looking for things that are not a trend.

Here’s the most uncommon trend in screenplays: quality. Okay? So if you have a situation where, well, 50 percent of our comedies rate an average of seven out of ten, but only two percent of our courtroom dramas rate a seven or higher out of ten, you might think, well, comedy is the way to go.

Wrong. Because, we don’t know how many of those comedies sell. We also don’t know how many of them are seven, eight, nines, or tens. And here is the other important point: all the courtroom dramas, all of them, could be a one, but one of them is a ten. That’s a great script. That gets made.

None of this analysis has any relevance. None of it. It is flawed. It is both flawed internally and flawed externally. It is a terrible — this is terrible. And, Walt, I think you know. I think you know that this was a mess. Don’t do this anymore. This doesn’t make any sense.

I mean, come on, critical thinking here. Ugh. Look here’s my problem, honestly John, this paragraph made me angry. Following what they’re talking about, you know, the complicated relationship between genres and a best picture nomination, which again has nothing to do with quality.

John: These amateur scripts in Black List.

Craig: And not even anything to do with quality. Being nominated for Best Picture is just what the Academy thinks. Okay, anyway, he says, “This is also part of a larger question about the difficulties of writing a good movie. What makes a screenplay good? What makes it bad? Are writers in certain genres at an advantage or disadvantage when it comes to certain elements like plot, premise and characters? And if so, how can we show this?”

Get ready. Hold on. Hold on. Grab something now, because this is what he says, “And if so, how can we show this? All we need is a data set to draw from.” That’s all we need! That’s it! And we’ve solved –

John: More data!

Craig: Yes. All we need is a data set and we’ve unlocked the mystery. You’ve unlocked the mystery of nothing. First of all, your data set sucks. And, no, all you need is not a data set to draw from. You don’t have the answer. You’ll never get the answer from a data set because the whole point is that the answer exists counter to the data. Counter!

And that, my friends, that is the umbrage of the week.

John: And mic drop.

The final chart in this thing lists the most common problems in amateur screenplays. So, if you take nothing else from this article, the final chart in here shows the most common problems in amateur screenplays, which I think could actually be useful if you were a person who had your script on blacklist.com and you got flagged for one of these things. You would at least know like how often are they flagging for these things.

These are the list from most commonly flagged to least commonly flagged. Underdeveloped plot. Underdeveloped characters. Lack of escalation. Poor structure. Unnatural dialogue. Logic holes. Commercially unviable. Derivative or unoriginal. Not cinematic. Or too long.

The only reason I kind of like that too long being last is that it’s the first thing that everyone is freaking out about. They’re like, oh my god, my script is 122 pages, it’s going to be too long and they’re going to say it’s too long. No, that’s actually one of the least likely things they’re going to flag it for.

They’re mostly going to say like your story sucks, I didn’t believe your characters.

Craig: Well, yeah, okay. So, this is a list of problems that a screenplay can have. This is a percentage of problems that those readers had with that pool of screenplays. We can also point out that, again, on the outlier theory, any script that actually emerges from the Black List and gets produced, and that’s been happening happily, my guess is at least one or two of their readers would pick one of these things.

John: 100 percent.

Craig: So, again, it doesn’t reflect success. I have a different theory about the too long, and it’s a pessimistic theory actually, John, because I’m in a pessimistic mood.

John: No one sensed that.

Craig: Your theory is that people should feel free to ignore the admonition, the — I agree — inaccurate and unnecessary admonition, “Keep you scripts short,” because look they’re not really having a problem with the length of scripts. My theory is they’re not having a problem with lengths of scripts because everybody is freaking out over the length of their scripts and refusing to send in anything that is longer than 115 pages. So, they’re not getting long scripts anymore, because everybody has lost their freaking minds about page length.

John: Yeah. That’s probably more likely the case.

Craig: I read this thing and literally I needed beta blockers when I was done with it. [laughs] I don’t actually take beta blockers, but I think I could have used beta blockers.

John: So, here’s a possibility, and I wonder if this is a statistical study that would be meaningful. So, I don’t know if you know that there are districts across the country, they do this thing where they can sort of measure teacher’s effectiveness by taking a kid from one class and then checking to see in the next grade whether that kid progressed or did not progress in that teacher’s next room. So, it’s a way of sort of tracking kids through time. And therefore you can measure the kids in this teacher’s class tend to have progressed more than kids in another teacher’s class.

Craig: Okay.

John: So, it’s a rough way of doing that. I wonder if you could do the same kind of thing by basically rating the reviewers as a place like blacklist.com. Basically saying like how often does this reader give negative reviews to writers. Is there a specific genre that they always give bad reviews to? In cases where something has been reviewed twice, how often is it likely that they are the lower reviewer rather than the higher reviewer?

There probably is data there somewhere if they’ve done enough of these things. You could actually check and see sort of like, you know, a profile of what these reviewers actually like and what their tastes are and whether they agree with the consensus or are outliers from the consensus.

Craig: But the problem is what do you do with it? Because let’s say you have one guy that’s just remarkably grumpy.

John: Then if you’re Franklin Leonard, maybe you fire him.

Craig: Maybe. Or maybe or you go, this remarkably grumpy guy was the only one that loved this script that actually got bought and made.

John: Yeah. He was the truth teller.

Craig: That’s the problem is that this whole thing is all about trends and the middle, the big thick middle. So, for instance Ms. Hagen, this is Kate Hagen. Kate Hagen, does she work for the Black List?

John: She works for the Black List. Yes.

Craig: So Kate Hagen says to Walt Hickey, “Sports dramas tend to do really well on the site because you’ve got a fusion of a real-life concept or event to then structure a narrative around.” Okay. But what does that have to do with the purpose of the site? The purpose of the site isn’t to do well on the site. The purpose of the site is to get the hell out of the site. You see what my point is? So, that actually doesn’t mean anything.

It reminds me of a story that someone told me, and I don’t know if it’s apocryphal or not, but I love it. In the early days when they were first making Seinfeld, they had to test it, and it was notoriously the lowest testing pilot in NBC history. That, I think, has been talked about before. But as the story goes, what happened was they tested it and the numbers came back terribly. And they sat down with Warren Littlefield, who was running NBC at the time, and he said, “Listen, this one low number here for this particular thing, we know that’s an artifact. We know that in television shows that have this kind of arrangement,” for instance like a show set in New York, “will always get a lower number on this, but it actually doesn’t translate to the success or failure of a show. It’s a statistical artifact.”

And they were like, okay, well that’s good to know. And he said, “But anyway, we should change it.” And they said why. And he was like, “Well, because of the testing.”

Now, you’re just chasing the testing. You’re not chasing what the testing is supposed to test for. And my sense here is that all this is doing is really just trying to figure out how to get a pretty decent middling number on the Black List. Your job, if you’re on the Black List, honestly, the perfect script is the one that gets a bunch of ones and a bunch of tens. You know, like in my mind, who cares if everybody agrees it’s okay.

John: Yeah. A bunch of sixes is not the same. And so you could have two scripts and if the average score was a seven, that doesn’t mean as much as if there were a bunch of tens and a bunch of ones and it drifted down.

Craig: You want to be the outlier.

John: I’m trying to do a max/median/mode, and I don’t have the right numbers for it, but that’s the thing. If there’s people who love it, those are your champions and those are the people who are doing to say, “I want to make this movie.”

Craig: Yeah, the least useful thing, frankly, I mean, I suppose the only useful part of this average overall score is that it might inspire some people to read that script who might not have been interested to read it. But, see, if I were running the Black List, I don’t know how they do it. If they just provide a mean overall score, that’s actually not as interesting to me as a chart, a graph, you know, where you show a one to ten and then you show the amount of people that have broken out between one and ten. I think IMDb does this for their stuff.

Because if I see spikes at the bottom and the top, that’s way more interesting to me than sort of a blob. I want spikes.

John: A bell curve distribution opinion on your script is not likely to be a good sign.

Craig: That’s right. I want spikes. I want outliers. So, this article was bad. And Walt Hickey, I want you to do better. And I think you can do better. Nate Silver, no, no, no.

John: Let’s move on to our series, I think you’re proposing this as a series.

Craig: A series.

John: That’s the new trend in podcasts is series. So, let’s make this a series. And the first topic is the perfect studio executive.

Craig: Right. So, the idea –

John: Talk us through what a perfect studio executive might consist of.

Craig: Well, the idea of the series is that we want to do something called The Perfect series where we go through each kind of job in Hollywood and talk about what the perfect version of that job would be. So, we might as well start with the studio executive because they’re sort of the bosses sitting at the top of this whole thing making these decisions.

So, you know, it’s an interesting thing. The studio executive job has changed over time, even in my time. I think you’ve probably noticed it, too.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: As the studios fell under a much more corporate control, and as they reduced the amount of movies they made, and as they began to rely more heavily on tent poles, there’s less of the old kind of job that they used to do which was read a bunch of drafts of a script and give a bunch of notes and try and try again. Now, it’s really about managing these projects that are sort of born as movies that cannot be stopped.

But to me, the perfect studio executive is somebody who is willing to focus on the filmmakers, the writer and the director. And who will support them and when things run counter to what we’ll call quality, to sit them down and explain honestly what’s going on and then ask how can we have our cake and eat it, too.

Far too often I think studio executives hide the reality because they’re ashamed. They’re embarrassed that they just got their leash yanked because there needs to be some character in there for some market. Or they’re having a bunch of problems, or somebody above them is demanding a car chase.

John: So, I think honesty is a fundamental quality you’re looking for in a studio executive. I would also say intelligence. And intelligence I’m going to sort of combine with knowledge, is that sometimes you encounter studio executives who will come to you with an answer, saying like we need to have a car chase here, or we can’t do this, or we can’t afford this. And they’re just — they’re basically telling you what they’ve been told, because they don’t actually fundamentally have the information about what it is that needs — why that thing needs to happen that way. They’ve just been told that, and they are parroting it back.

And so you want the person who has either the knowledge, or the intellectual curiosity to find the answer for why this thing needs to be a certain way. I remember being on the set of a film and we were doing this night shoot. And there was a real concern that like is there actually going to be enough light. And so the two studio executives showed up and they’re like, okay, where are the lights.

And I’m like, the lights are those giant condors above you that are providing the light. Because it’s actually the middle of the night and it looks really bright. Those are the lights.

And so it was frustrating to be talking with — I lost some trust and faith in these executives because, wait, I thought you’d made a bunch of movies. They really didn’t have a fundamental understanding of the filmmaking process.

Craig: Yes.

John: That’s crucial. You have to have had some time on the set, in the trenches, in the editing room. I have to believe that you really know what this is like, even if you’re not good at doing a director’s job. Great. That’s terrific. You’re a studio executive. That’s fantastic. But you need to know what it is a director is doing.

Craig: That’s exactly right. And it’s easier for them to wrap their minds around what writers are doing, because that involves reading. But directors and studio executives often clash because, you’re right, there are studio executives who are under-powered in the experience department. And that’s not helpful for them. And it’s not helpful or the director. The truth is, we want to make studio executives happy. What I always look for in somebody is somebody who will be honest with me about the why something has happened and then is respectful of the fact that I want to still make, do as a good of a job as I can. And there have been times when I’ve just, somebody has just pointed a finger at me and said, “No, I’m sorry. We’re actually saying we don’t want it to be good. We want it to be this.”

And that’s hard because you, I’m just saying to my imperfect studio executive, the Goofus, look at Gallant. Gallant sits there and gets what he wants with the filmmaker, and the filmmaker still feels good at the end. Goofus just points a finger and says, “Do what I’ve been told to tell you to do.”

And by the way, if you are Gallant, what happens is you will — the perfect studio executive has close personal loyalty-based relationships with key filmmaking partners. That actually is more job protection than just doing what you’ve been told, I’m guessing. I don’t know. I’m just guessing.

John: I think experience will — I think the data scientists will be able to figure that out. Because essentially if having a hit movie, that may buy you some time in that seat, but you know what — did you really make that movie? If you were the person who helped James Cameron get his vision onto the screen, that’s going to count for a lot more.

Craig: That’s right. Saying, look, this director that we trust wants to work with me. I’ll tell you something, studio executives, you have a nice situation in a weird way, the way that screenwriters kind of have a nice situation. There’s a lot of people out there doing your job poorly. It doesn’t take much to shine. So shine. And you will be rewarded. You will be rewarded. And if you get that pool of writers and directors that you know deliver wanting to work with you, that’s pretty great.

John: So, my next point about the perfect studio executive is that he or she is really good at the stuff that filmmakers are not good at. And that means a lot of times dealing with other departments. Dealing with marketing. Dealing with distribution. Dealing with all of the other layers of corporate stuff that has to be dealt with that we are not privy to and we’re not good at it.

So, the great studio executive has a vision for what this movie is. And when she goes in to talk with the marketing department and they throw a bunch of stuff back at her, she can say, “That isn’t the movie. That is not what the movie is. That’s not how this is going to be.”

It’s a person who can communicate the vision of the movie to all the different people, like the merchandising people from Hasbro about like this is what the movie is and can get their feedback and communicate it back to the filmmakers that it has to happen in ways that makes sense.

Craig: It’s funny. That actually is a way that I think things have changed. Because for a lot of studios now, the traditional relationship which is what you just described, has changed into, “No, the marketing department is telling me what the movie is. And the merchandising people are telling me what the movie is. All the more reason for the perfect studio executive to turn back to her writer and her director and say here’s honestly what’s going on, let’s not freak out, let’s help each other. Let’s together, I’m going to give you what I know, you’re going to give me what you know, and now I can go back to them with some substantive alternative plan. And let’s see if we can win this one.

So, something to think about, again, as you’re choosing between Goofus or Gallant, by two favorite twins.

John: They’re the best twins.

Now, some of what we’re describing overlaps with what a producer does, because a producer should also have some of that role of insulating the filmmakers from some of this craziness, but the producer is fundamentally CEO of this little corporation that is the movie, versus the studio executive who is part of this giant corporation that’s making ten movies at once. And there’s all this stuff going on that we’re not going to privy to and honestly we probably shouldn’t be privy to. But hopefully we’re going to have a champion in there who is making sure that when it comes time to our movie it’s being treated really, really well.

Craig: Correct.

John: All right. Let’s get on to our One Cool Things. Craig, I see what yours is on the list and I’m just so happy that you’re keeping true to the spirit of Scriptnotes in that we are a show about women’s reproduction.

Craig: Correct.

John: We are a show about razors. And we are a show about cooking.

Craig: Correct. I think in the past one of my cool things was brining. I’m a big briner. This Thanksgiving my sister and her family are heading out to the west coast to join us and I opted to get a Heritage turkey. And I’ve just been doing a lot of turkey reading, you know, so the turkeys that we get in stores like Butterball and so on, they are — essentially they’ve been bred over time, selective breeding over time to be super breast heavy. Yeah, hey, you know who’s back, Sexy Craig.

John: Uh-oh.

Craig: Hey.

John: Yeah, Sexy Craig comes back every Thanksgiving. It’s the holiday for Sexy Craig.

Craig: I like my turkeys with huge breasts. Huge. They’re so big that those turkeys actually can’t really stand up straight. I mean, it’s amazing actually what we’ve done.

John: We’ve created these deformed animals.

Craig: They are. But, you know, if you like breast meat and American stew, yeah, then that works. And they’re not, you know, for all people’s handwringing over corporate factory farming genetic freaks of nature, they taste pretty good.

But Heritage turkeys are turkeys that are essentially from an unselectively bred line of the original three or four different kinds of turkeys that ran around America back in the day when we were genociding our way across the continent. And they are different. They’re smaller breasted, bigger thighs, and wings. God, this is so sexy.

John: [laughs] I know.

Craig: It’s so sexy.

John: Yeah, when you talk about wings, everyone just immediately goes there.

Craig: Smaller breasts and bigger thighs. Honestly, that’s kind of my thing. So, anywho, and it’s a different kind of flavor. I’m not opting for this because, you know, I think GMO is perfectly fine. I’m a skeptic and a pro-science guy. And I know that almost everything we eat has been genetically modified either through science or just people growing stuff the way they grow them.

John: Look at the history of corn and you’ll see that corn is completely made up.

Craig: Oh yeah, bananas. Bananas, like the yellow banana we have, that’s the most GMO’d thing on the planet. Not by Monsanto, by banana farmers. Anywho, as Seth Rudetsky says, anywho, I’m giving this Heritage turkey a try just out of curiosity. I want to see if it tastes better, different, more interesting. It is certainly more expensive. I will say that. But I like the fact that it’s an option.

So, I will have a turkey review for you all post-Thanksgiving.

John: Fantastic. I did a Heritage turkey a couple of years ago and it worked out just fine. It wasn’t the best turkey I ever had, but it wasn’t bad, and it was interesting and it was different, so I salute you in attempting to do it.

You will discover that it will take longer to cook because it is heavier dark meat. You may actually just want to change some of your technique and basically pre-cut it down so that you’re doing your legs and thighs first before you’re trying to do your breast, because it may just be forever in there. But you’ll see.

Craig: What I like to do, a little method, I’m a big believer in Cook’s Illustrated, they’re geniuses.

John: Oh my god, they’re so smart.

Craig: You foil tent the breast, so you can actually let it — the legs and thighs and wings will cook faster — they’ll cook hotter, I guess.

John: Sure.

Craig: Slows down the breast cooking, speeds up the, yeah, anyway. We’ll see how it goes. And if it’s a disaster, guess what? Everybody is there for the side dishes anyway.

John: 100 percent. So, my One Cool Thing this week is the show that perhaps people have already watched, but I just started watching it and it’s really good. It’s Transparent on Amazon. Jay Duplass is a friend who I got to connect up with again in Austin for the Austin Film Festival. He is great in the show. Everyone is great in the show.

And I will admit to being skeptical of Amazon when they started doing their TV thing. I was especially skeptical about this whole process where they shoot a pilot and then put it up for there for everyone to look at and then they decide what shows are going to shoot.

I’ve actually been convinced that maybe that’s not such a bad thing, because having shot pilots that never aired or never got seen by the world, at least in the case of the Amazon pilots, they exist out there in the universe. And so people loves Transparent from when it was a pilot. The rest of the show is also really, really good.

So, I would urge you to watch that if you have the opportunity to watch it.

Craig: Guess what’s coming?

John: It’s a siren.

Craig: Multiple sirens.

John: I love it. So, what have you done this time, Craig?

Craig: It’s not good. [laughs] It’s not good. I actually really, most of the time when I commit a crime, you know, I just do it because I feel like it. And I feel fine afterwards. That’s, you know, like a real sociopath. But this time honestly I crossed the line. I should not have done that.

John: Yeah. Somewhere between victim number three and number four, you stopped to think for a moment like, wow, I may have gone too far. But by the time you got to victim six or seven you’re like, you know what? This feels right.

Craig: Sometimes the only way out is through.

John: 100 percent. Sometimes you’ve just got to put the accelerator down and just keep killing.

Craig: Just keep killing. JKK.

John: And that’s our show this week. So, if you would like to talk to Craig about his murder spree, you can find him @clmazin. I am @johnaugust on Twitter. Longer questions you can write to ask@johnaugust.com.

That’s also where you’ll find the show notes for this show and all of our other episodes. On iTunes we are — just search for us on iTunes. We are Scriptnotes there. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes app, so you can listen to all the back episodes there and on the Android store of your choice.

We have just now crossed 1,000 paid subscribers.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: So, we are going to be recording a dirty episode that is just for our premium subscribers. If you would like to be a premium subscriber, go to scriptnotes.net and that will let you listen to all of the back episodes, some special episodes we’re putting up this week, and the dirty episode when we get that recorded.

Craig: So dirty.

John: It’s going to be so good.

Craig: It’s going to be filthy.

John: You can also join us on December 11th in Hollywood. The Writers Guild Foundation is throwing our live Scriptnotes Holiday Spectacular.

Craig: And that’s going to sell out.

John: That’s going to sell out. And that will be — I’ll bet it’ll be dirty in person, but then Matthew will probably cut it down so that it’s clean for air. So, if you want to hear the dirty version, maybe show up live. That would be great.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. And just get your tickets quickly because we are the Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts.

John: We’re the Elton John/Bernie Taupin of podcasts.

Craig: Correct.

John: Plus, our special guests are super special this year, so I think it’s going to be great.

Craig: It’s actually a spectacular lineup. Oh man, you know, B.J. Novak, he’s in that last shot of Inglourious Basterds, looking down at the swastika they’ve carved into Christophe Waltz’s head. It’s fantastic. It’s great.

John: It’s pretty great. This is the last week for Writer Emergency Packs, so Thursday at noon is the cutoff. And so if you want one, get one. Thank you to everyone who has joined us and backed us there. Our outro this week, well, I should say first off our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli. It is produced by Stuart Friedel. Our outro this week comes from RJ Sampson, who didn’t compose this, but he found this thing on the Internet. It is actually a TV spot for Restasis, an eye drop, for people with chronically dry eyes.

And, weirdly, it’s exactly our outro.

Craig: What the…Restasis.

John: Restasis. I just love that you pick five notes, people are going to pick the same five.

Craig: Of course. Restasis, do they list the side effects of Restasis on the website?

John: Yeah, umbrage.

Craig: Oh yeah, here we go.

John: It’s terrible. Craig, thank you so much for a fun podcast.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: I’ll talk to you soon.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Franz Kafka’s brother, and the perfect agent

Tue, 11/25/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig talk about why writers are often reluctant to show their work, and how film journalists love to focus on the director — even when there’s no director in sight.

Then, it’s part two of our Perfect series, in which we look at what constitutes the perfect agent. Underlying the agent archetypes — advisor, advocate, connector — is a relationship based on honesty and trust. How do you build it? How do you maintain it? We offer our opinions from the writer’s side of the phone sheet.

Come to our live show on December 11th in Hollywood! You’ll find the link in the show notes.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Finishing a script, and the Perfect Studio Executive

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 08:04

What are the odds that fivethirtyeight.com’s statistical analysis of screenplays will make Craig angry? Always bet on umbrage. Fortunately, he just finished a script, so we talk about that, and John’s new gig writing Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (which was the project he described phone-pitching the past few episodes).

Then we talk about what makes for the perfect studio executive. It’s a series we plan to continue, looking at the prototypical awesome person in various categories.

Our December 11th live show is likely to sell out, so don’t delay getting your ticket. And Thursday at noon is the last chance to get a Writer Emergency Pack. Links to both below.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 170: Lotteries, lightning strikes and twist endings — Transcript

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 14:43

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. Before we start the show today, I want to let you know about the live show happening on December 11th in Hollywood. It’s Scriptnotes with me and Craig and Aline and special guests Jane Espenson, Derek Haas and B.J. Novak. So we did this last year. It was a tremendously fun time. You should come.

Tickets go on sale tomorrow, November 12th. So if you would like to come, please go buy a ticket. There’s a link in the show notes but you can also go to the Writers Guild Foundation site. That’s wgfoundation.org. As always, it benefits the Writers Guild Foundation which is an awesome charity. And we had a fun time last year. We’re going to have a fun time this year. So come join us if you’d like and we’ll get on with the show. Thanks.

[intro tone]

Hello and Welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 170 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

So Craig, last Sunday I had a really strange experience.

Craig: Tell me all about it.

John: I went to Long Beach where I saw the West Coast premiere of Big Fish: The Musical.

Craig: Oh, that must have been both disorienting and pleasing at the same time.

John: It was. It was surreal in the best possible ways. So this is the production that actually bought all of our stuff when we closed on Broadway. So they bought our sets, our props, our costumes, our wigs. And so it’s that weird experience of seeing something that is incredibly familiar yet incredibly different at the same time. So it’s the same production in terms of the script and the music but it’s just different because it’s different people doing it. It’s a different stage. It’s at this really quite big house, the Carpenter Theatre in Long Beach. And I kind of loved it, at the same time it was sort of an out-of-body experience.

Craig: I know that it’s hard for a lot of people to have seen the Broadway show because it’s in New York only but it was my pleasure to see it. And one of the big show-stopping elements were these big elephant butts, which sounds kind of crazy when I say it like that, but they were. It was very impressive production design. Did they have the elephant butts?

John: They have the elephant butts.

Craig: Wow, that’s awesome.

John: Yeah. So here’s what was so fascinating is because this production is original theatre, it didn’t have automation of the stage. So they had a lot of our set pieces but they didn’t have all the magic under the stage things to make stuff move around. So they have to like push things around. And they did a remarkable job sort of accommodating what they needed to do for that. And they were able to do a lot of the choreography with the Broadway production but not all of the choreography.

So it was actually just genuinely fascinating. It’s an experience that, as a screenwriter, you and I would never have.

Craig: Right.

John: To see the same text but with completely different people and being done without any of your sort of direct involvement. And so in many cases, people are making similar choices to the Broadway production because it’s just that’s the text. I mean like you’re going to play things a certain way because that just is what makes sense. But then sometimes a person will do something that is just different than intention. And sometimes that was kind of fascinating.

So Amos Calloway who, in the movie, is Danny DeVito, in the Broadway stage production it was Brad Oscar who was fantastic. The Amos that I saw in this version was sort of like I would say like a drunken cowardly lion, which is just a very different choice but it kind of worked. And so it was cool to see something very different.

So I would recommend anyone who makes a Broadway musical [laughs] to go visit a regional production of their own show because you’ll find it fascinating and surreal.

Craig: That’s spectacular. I’m glad it’s enjoying a second life and hopefully many more lives to come. I can see the show being done in schools.

John: We will be doing it in schools. So we have 60 productions this year of Big Fish across the country. Abilene Christian University did it in Texas. There’s a lot of university productions. Eventually there will be a Big Fish junior version like a school version –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Which will probably be different because I think a fifth grade musical about death is probably not the most ideal subject matter. So I will do some book changes to accommodate those needs.

Craig: There is actually some very interesting junior versions out there. My son was Jean Valjean in the Junior Les Mis in which some people actually were allowed to die.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So Éponine was allowed to die but Fantine was sent to a hospital [laughs] but then returns later as a ghost. So you just sort of understood that maybe the hospital wasn’t that great. But various changes were made. No one ever referred to prostitution or things like that. But your show, I think, wouldn’t require much.

John: No. I mean, our show is incredibly wholesome and family-friendly. The challenge is just how do you , you know, the idea of a father dying is quite a bit to put on the backs of a grade school cast. And also the split between the past and the present, that’s kind of sophisticated. And then to be able to show that and really act that when you have maybe a 12-year-old doing that could be challenging.

So I think we will find a way to simplify aspects of the storytelling so that it can best be the story of a son wanting to learn the truth about his father’s tales within the framework of what Big Fish should be.

Craig: Yeah. And I think you’ll find also that a huge part of the job of juniorizing the musical is making it much, much shorter and taking out — choosing which songs should just go because they can’t sing all of them.

John: Absolutely. And which songs can move from being a solo number to a group number because –

Craig: Right.

John: You have so many kids.

Craig: Right. That’s right.

John: So today on the program, let us answer some questions from listeners. We have a whole bunch that have been stacking up, so we’ll dig into that mail bag. We’re also going to talk about The Five Types of Twist Endings, this great blog post by Alec Worley. And I want to talk about lightning strikes and lotteries and sort of that sense of whether something becomes popular or successful because of its inherent awesomeness or just because magic happens.

Craig: Right.

John: So let’s get to it, but first a tiny bit of follow- up. Last week I announced Writer Emergency, this pack of ideas and prompts that we’re starting on Kickstarter. And Craig, you had to venture to the Kickstarter site.

Craig: Here’s the sick part is that I gave you money –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because you’re my friend.

John: Aw.

Craig: And then today, I gave our editor, Matthew Chilelli, some money because he does a really good job.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it’s killing me.

John: It’s killing you. I really just want to dig into what it felt like to press that green Back This Project button. How did it feel when you clicked that and knew that you were supporting the Kickstarter economy?

Craig: It felt like I was betraying everything that I believe in. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: That’s basically I felt like I had turned my back on my values and had contributed to the weakening of civilization.

John: Craig, I want to thank you for that because you’ve helped and I want to thank, we’ve had so many backers. We had more than 2,000 backers and we –

Craig: Yeah, you guys did great out there.

John: We did great out there. So we were trying to raise $9,000. As we’re recording this, we’ve crossed $57,000 which is just nuts. So that’s fantastic. So now it’s pushing through the rest of the Kickstarter and putting these out in the world and then getting them to the hands of kids in creative writing programs across the country and around the world who could hopefully benefit from these. So I want to thank you, Craig, personally –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Because I know this was not an easy thing for you. But you broke through that seal, that barrier just for this one and then you supported Matthew Chilelli and now you’re just not going to be able to stop supporting Kickstarter projects.

Craig: No, no, no, it’s very easy for me to stop. In fact, what I really want is for Stuart to have a Kickstarter that I don’t support [laughs] just as a matter of principle. I don’t care what it is. He’s getting nothing. By the way, do you think you’re going to make money on these things? Do you think you’ll profit at all?

John: We might profit a little bit. So here’s the deal. It’s like as I described on the first podcast when we talked about this, is printing playing cards scales pretty well. So they’re really expensive to make those first batch of decks, but the more you can make, the cheaper per unit it is. The challenge is we’re actually doubling that because we have to, we’re sending them out to kids. And then there’s some things that don’t scale like postage and like sending stuff out to backers around the world.

Craig: Right.

John: So we’re not going to make a lot out of it but I think we’re going to sort of do what I wanted to do out of the project which is sort of bend the universe in a slightly better direction. So it’s been exciting to do that and sort of engage with that community which has its own sort of esoteric rules and customs and try to both be a part of that world of Kickstarter and also introduce that Kickstarter kind of world to people who are backing their very first projects like Craig Mazin.

Craig: Well, now that I hear that you are going to make some money on this, I’m full of regret because I would have just given you the $9,000.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I would just have bought you out, given you the $9,000.

John: Yeah.

Craig: This is like Shark Tank for –

John: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Craig: For 100 percent equity in your company, it’s just, but now I’ve given money and –

John: But you’re going to be getting a deck of cards. And you said you actually wanted to donate –

Craig: Yes.

John: The extra cards. So I think you did like the 12-pack.

Craig: Yeah. I want all the cards to go to the less fortunate budding screenwriters out there.

John: Great. And that’s a thing that backers can always do. So when you get your survey at the end of this asking for your mailing address, there’s this little field saying Special Instructions. You’re can just say I’m Craig Mazin and I want to give all my cards to the kids.

Craig: Yeah, that’s right. You can just say I want to Mazin this.

John: I want to Mazin this.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s really the term that we’re going to use for this. And so when Stuart sees that on the instruction sheet, he’ll know, okay, this is the Craig Mazin special.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Awesome. Let’s get to our things today.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: So first up is this Five Types of Twist Endings, which is a blog post by Alec Worley, and whoever sent this to me, thank you because it was great. It’s been sitting in our show notes for a while. But it was really cool.

So this blog post talks through twist endings and it defines twist endings as “the moment of revelation within a story that throws into question all that’s gone before.”

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s not hard for us to think about twist endings in movies because some of my favorite movies have twist endings.

Craig: Yeah, and I thought that this was a pretty good summary of how these things work. We can go through them one by one. I’ll take the first one, reversal –

John: Sure.

Craig: Reversal of Identity in which someone turns out to be someone else. So your parent is actually not your parent but your grandparent. Your best friend is actually a shape-shifting monster so –

John: Yeah. The Crying Game where the woman you love is not –

Craig: Is not a woman.

John: Ta-da.

Craig: Ta-da. Or in Fight Club, Brad Pitt is not actually a person. He is your alter ego.

John: That would also maybe play into the third version which is the Reversal of Perception. And Reversal of Perception is the way you thought the universe was built is not the way the universe is actually built. And so there’s a fundamental thing that is not the way you thought it was. My movie, The Nines, has that aspect where quite early on in the film you realize something bigger is going on. And so it’s not a twist in the sense of like, oh my gosh, I didn’t expect that at all. But you know that there is a revelation coming, that the universe is bent in a way that you were not expecting.

Craig: Yeah, the universe is a bent in a way or time is being bent in a way. So Alec cites An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge which is an amazing short story by the great Ambrose Bierce and was clearly the inspiration for Jacob’s Ladder in which it turns out the entire movie is the fantasy of someone as they are dying.

John: Yeah. And short stories are actually a perfect place for twist endings to happen because in some ways, a novel, a twist at the end of a novel could feel like a bit of a betrayal. But a short story, you have just the right amount of investment in the reality of the short story that the twist ending feels great and rewarding. Where I would wonder in a novel sometimes you spent eight hours on this thing and like then to say like, oh, I’m going to pull the rug out from under you, it might feel like a betrayal.

Craig: No question. Twist endings have always been the stock and trade of science fiction and fantasy short story authors. In part, it works so well for short stories because a good twist makes sense of some confusing facts. And we can only bear to be confused for so long before we just give up. So short stories work beautifully for that.

One of the other twist endings he identifies is the Reversal of Motive.

John: Yes.

Craig: I thought he was after this but he’s really after that. So he cites Seven where we realize in the end the serial killer isn’t actually helping them. He’s setting up Brad Pitt to become, Brad Pitt and Brad Pitt’s wife to become his final two victims.

John: Obviously reversal of motive is often found in comedies also where you have a misunderstanding of what a character is trying to do and that’s sort of driving things. So in Go, in the third section of Go, Burke and his wife, they seemed to be trying to seduce Adam and Zack like some weird kinky sex thing is about to happen and it’s revealed that they’re actually trying to sell them confederated products.

So their motive was very different and that was the surprise. That’s the jolt that you weren’t expecting. And part of what was fun about that is it was a good misdirect. So like, oh, that’s the twist and then the next scene, you’re going to see that they’re actually, Adam and Zack were a gay couple this whole time and they’ve been fighting.

Craig: Right.

John: So sometimes you can misdirect twice or like you can lead the audience into one misdirection and then surprise them with a second misdirection.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. And some of these things overlap. You know what just popped into my mind is that great character from Monsters, Inc. I can’t remember her name but she’s the one who talks –

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: And she is both the reversal of identity and the reversal of motive. It turns out that she’s actually there under cover and she’s not a file clerk. “You forgot to file your paperwork.” But she’s the head of some sort of internal investigation and that was her motive. So those things always, you’re right, they work well in comedies.

And here he also has Reversal of Fortune in which, this one was a little, I guess it’s kind of a twist ending. It’s really more of the kind of Monkey’s Paw theory — what you thought you were going to get you’re not quite getting.

John: Exactly. So it’s pulling defeat out of victory or that thing that at the very end you realize like, oh, you actually didn’t get what you wanted. He cites someone we talked about before on the podcast, Emma Coats from Pixar who writes, “Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating”. And so this is basically there’s a coincidence often at the end that ends up pulling the rug out from underneath that character. And that can be rewarding in the right kind of movie. I think of noir movies sometimes having this or certainly like that Twilight Zone kind of fiction –

Craig: Yeah.

John: May have that like suddenly at the end the great and short version where he finally has time to read and then he breaks his glasses.

Craig: Yeah. This is the hallmark of the ironic ending.

John: Yeah.

Craig: One of my favorite Simpsons jokes was a Halloween episode. Homer eats the forbidden donut. He sells his soul for a donut, doesn’t finish it. [laughs] So he doesn’t have to go to hell but then he does finish it and he ends up in hell and he’s sent to the Department of Ironic Punishment –

John: [laughs]

Craig: Where he’s put on a conveyor belt and –

John: And force fed doughnuts.

Craig: Force fed doughnuts except that he never stops eating the doughnuts. He’s perfectly happy to eat as many doughnuts as they give him. And the demon says, “I don’t understand. James Coco broke in 15 minutes!”

John: [laughs]

Craig: Anyway, this would be the Department of Ironic Punishment.

John: Yes.

Craig: And then we have Reversal of Fulfillment.

John: Which I found the most challenging of the ones he describes and how you differentiate that from reversal of fortune.

Craig: Yeah. And so what he’s saying is, somebody is going to achieve is kind of subverted by what somebody else achieves. And I think the best example he gives is the gifts, O. Henry’s Gift of the Magi where two people individually sell their most beloved possession to sacrifice for the other and then find out that they’ve done this.

John: Well, it’s not only that they’ve done this, but like one of them has bought a comb, but she’s sold all her hair.

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The gifts are now useless for each other. So that was, yeah, that works. Again, it’s a little bit of an ironic. That sort of kind of is also –

John: It’s ironic too.

Craig: It’s a reversal of fortune in a sense too.

John: Yeah. What I think is important about all these discussions about the twist ending is it’s really looking at what does the reader know? What does the reader know at every moment in the course of the story? Because in order to create one of these twist endings to make sense, the entire narrative has to make sense without the twist. And so that the journey you’re going on seems to make sense. And then when you provide the twist ending the reader needs to be able to go back and say, “Oh, it still completely makes sense with this new information.”

So you’re withholding a crucial piece of information and then at the end providing it and that changes the perception of everything that came before it. And that could be a rewarding experience for the reader. It can also be a very frustrating experience for a reader. And if that’s kind of the only thing you’re story has going for it, it’s unlikely I think to be completely satisfying.

Craig: That’s right. You don’t want to start and I think you can see the problem in the progression of the career of M. Night Shyamalan. You don’t want to start with this edict that the twist rules all.

John: Yep.

Craig: It does not. The script that I’m writing now is essentially a neo-Agatha Christie Who Dun It? All Agatha Christie stories had a twist ending, all of them, because the person that you thought did it wasn’t the one who did it and you never could figure out who did it and then you find out. And she used these reversals of identity and motive all the time.

Interestingly, never a reversal of perception, a reversal of fortune or fulfillment. It was always the motive and the identity were the things that were constantly shifting with her. And what’s so interesting about her success as a writer was that she understood that her audience knew it was coming. And that’s quite a high wire act to do when you, it’s not like — we all went and saw The Sixth Sense. I did not- I wasn’t sitting there thinking I wonder what the twist is. I just watched the movie and enjoyed the twist. But no one sits down to an Agatha Christie book and thinks, well… [laughs]

John: Well, this is going to be straightforward. I am going to know who did it.

Craig: Just like, yeah, it’s like a true crime story or something.

John: And so it’s sort of there’s a meta level of expectation is that she has to write the story knowing that everybody is expecting there to be a twist ending.

Craig: Right.

John: So therefore, everyone is going to be reading everything she writes into it with the expectation of like, oh, but that’s not really true. And so she has to both honor that expectation and then surpass it in ways that continue to be rewarding and surprising. And so that’s a challenging thing.

What the frustration would be is if Agatha Christie ever tried to write just like a straight story, something that didn’t have that at all, everyone would be a little bit weirded out by it. I could imagine her writing under pen names because anything with the Agatha Christie brand on it is going to feel like, well, that has to be that situation. M. Night Shyamalan has a similar kind of jinx to him because three times is certainly a pattern.

Craig: Mm-hmm. No, for sure. I mean, and frankly it started to feel a little desperate. I mean we don’t want to feel like our filmmakers are sweating to cook us the meal that they think we want. We want them to be expressing something competently and then we can enjoy it along with them.

By the way, Agatha Christie’s first big hit novel was called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I think it was called The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. And at that time, she was a new member of this Mystery Writers of England organization. That’s not the real name, but it was essentially that. And this caused a huge uproar with the mystery writers organization because they felt she had violated the rules of the craft.

Because the twist in the, and so The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a first person account. A guy is living in this little town and Hercule Poirot is renting the house next to him and he describes how a man is murdered and Poirot goes about attempting to solve the crime. And at the end, spoiler alert, it turns out the murderer is the narrator.

John: Yup.

Craig: And everyone just lost their crap over this. But boy, it really works in the novel. It’s great.

John: Yeah, we like that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: In many ways, I think that kind of reversal of expectation, that’s a reversal of the form in a certain way. Like you thought this was going to play by the rules and it’s not playing by the rules at all. And I certainly love that when that happens.

Craig: Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

John: It reminds me of Too Many Cooks. I don’t know if you’ve seen Too Many Cooks yet.

Craig: Well, it’s my One Cool Thing.

John: Oh my god. And so Too Many Cooks is fantastic. And so I will let it remain your One Cool Thing. But I think that also reverses the form. You have an expectation of like, oh, I know what this is, I know what it’s parodying.

Craig: Repeatedly. [laughs]

John: Repeatedly. And then it just through its length and its form and just how nuts it goes, it becomes something really transcendent.

Craig: Indeed.

John: All right. I want to talk about two other little Internet things that came up this week. First is Alex from Target. Do you know this whole meme, this thing that happened?

Craig: I do. And I have to say, this is where the Internet just occasionally pukes something out. It just randomly decides you — I’m going to make you a star.

John: So Alex from Target for people who weren’t aware of it or who are listening to this six months later and wonder what the hell was that? So this is what happened with Alex from Target. There was a teenage checkout boy at Target, someone took a picture of him bagging groceries and another girl on Twitter wrote, “Yo, like so hot.” And that became like a viral meme sensation and then it got remixed and it just became this whole big blowup of a thing.

But then another company, a marketing company, claimed credit for having started it, but it looks like they really didn’t, which is juts nuts also.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If someone can try to jump on and claim credit for something they didn’t do at all. But it’s just so obvious we check that they didn’t really do it. So it was just a fascinating moment of kind of these Internet lightning strikes where this is not a person who, this Alex from Target, he didn’t do anything.

Craig: He did nothing.

John: He was just, he did nothing. He was just suddenly in a place and his photo went crazy and by all accounts, at the time that we’re taping this, he seems to be handling it remarkably well in the way that I think young people now who’ve always grown up with the Internet are sort of just kind of ready to be famous in a way that we never were. [laughs]

There’s that expectation like you could be famous tomorrow.

Craig: Well, also, I mean Alex understands inherently that he didn’t do anything. [laughs]

John: Yeah, exactly.

Craig: I mean, there are people that want to be famous and start doing things to be famous and then they become famous either because what they do is legitimately good or it’s legitimately terrible.

John: Or it’s ambiguous in a way that’s, yeah.

Craig: Yeah. Or it’s just bizarre or amusing, whatever it is. Alex literally did nothing. [laughs] He did absolutely nothing. This is one of those, this is like when there’s a glitch in the matrix and this happens.

And I think for him I can only assume that he’s like, yeah, this is just the Internet being Internet. I don’t have anything to do with this. It could have been me, it could have been anybody.

John: Basically, all he did was reflect light. And that was the extent of it.

Craig: Literally, all he did, it’s not even a well-framed photo.

John: No, I think that’s partly what makes it so incredibly great and charming. So I wanted to just take a minute or two to talk through what the Alex from Target movie would be, because I guarantee you that at least a thousand screenwriters go like, oh, that’s an idea for a movie. Like what if you suddenly became famous and like for no good reason. And I wanted to think about sort of what that movie would be because we’ve made other movies, good movies, about sort of the rise of Internet culture. I mean, Social Network, one of the best of them.

And I guess in Social Network of course, he’s creating Facebook, he’s actually doing something. But that sense of being plucked from obscurity and put up on this great stage and suddenly weirdly having a platform when you kind of shouldn’t have a platform is fascinating. And there’s potential there’s something to be made there but there’s also so many pitfalls in a character who has and wants nothing and suddenly gets everything.

Craig: Well, one of my favorite movies of all time is the old school version of this and it’s Being There.

John: Oh, certainly.

Craig: Yeah, and I think that I could easily see an Alex from Target’s version of Being There. If you were to make Being There now, that’s probably how it would go. Somebody is bagging, I mean, I don’t mean to suggest that Alex from Target is mentally challenged in any way [laughs] the way that Chauncey Gardiner was.

But somebody who’s unremarkable and perhaps even sub-remarkable becomes famous because the Internet has a weird burp and they end up being the president.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah, it could totally happen.

Craig: It could happen.

John: Yeah. So I think there will likely be competing Alex from Target movies in development. And I suspect none of them will happen. But I suspect we will see this idea in general explored not because of Alex from Target but just because it’s an idea that sort of needs to be talked about in the universe is this sense of suddenly out of nowhere you can just have this giant spotlight on you and you have no way of anticipating it, controlling it, making it start, making it stop.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that’s a weird time that we’re living in.

Craig: Yeah, and somebody out there is pitching Jimmy from Taco Hut.

John: [laughs]

Craig: And probably selling it.

John: Yeah, probably.

Craig: Yeah. Probably.

John: Low six figures, yeah.

Craig: Low six.

John: Low six. The management company is involved as a producer, they shopped it around.

Craig: Right. The studio is, even though they haven’t gotten the script yet, they’re already thinking about who’s going to come and rewrite it.

John: Yeah, they are. And they’re probably going after like some of the Teen Wolf cast like Dylan O’Brien or somebody like kind of person for that role.

Craig: Totally.

John: Totally. So in a related thing, this was already on my show notes to talk about, is this great talk that Darius Kazemi did at XOXO, this sort of, I’ll summarize and say it’s a sort of TED Talk like, but his speech was actually really fascinating because it was like the most brilliant parody of a TED Talk speech. And so I’ll link to it in the show notes, but essentially he talks about how he made it. And we’ve heard a lot of speeches about how people made it and sort of how they became successful and how they built a community.

So what he did was he played the lottery. And he would, every day he would play the lottery and really think about what numbers and he started a community and he started like a blog where like he talked about his favorite numbers and like he’d mix it up and like played numbers in different combinations or sometimes like on his mom’s birthday he’d actually play his dad’s birthday to really throw things off. And eventually like he hit it and he became like super rich.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so it’s this brilliant parody of like how I made it but what’s so great about his speech is he actually segues into this idea of lotteries and this idea of lighting striking. And he’s a person who, this guy in real life, he makes sort of little Internet memes. And so he makes this little Twitter bots that combine random things. And so he gave a demonstration of like 50 of these different things that he’s made and combined.

And some of them are incredibly successful and some of them aren’t incredibly successful. And he can’t predict what goes viral. And his suspicion is that there is no reason. That it genuinely is just random, like Alex from Target, and that you cannot funnily predict it and shouldn’t therefore beat yourself up if something doesn’t work and you shouldn’t praise yourself when something does work because it kind of is random.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, look, there are way, there is good work and bad work. There are ways to do better and there are ways to do worse. But the magic that occurs when something takes off is unpredictable and does incorporate an enormous amount of random factors.

John: Yes.

Craig: And that fascinates me. I talked a while ago, one of my Cool Things was Gödel, Escher, Bach, which is a great book, which I think is –

John: Which I bought, which I –

Craig: Wait, I sent it to you.

John: No, you sent it to me.

Craig: I sent it you.

John: You sent it to me. You sent me the physical thing. It’s like 1,000 pages.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a massively long book. But Gödel was a mathematician and his — and I always worry that I’m not quite getting his theorem correct, but I believe this is essentially what he said was for any system of math with rules, there will always be things that are true that cannot be proven. There must be things that you can’t — that are true regardless of the fact that you can’t prove that they’re true which is fascinating to me. And I feel like entertainment is the same way. There will always be things that are good and there’s no way to prove why. And you could have never gotten to them intentionally. They just happen.

John: Yeah. I think that absolutely is true. What is interesting about this idea of lightning strikes or lottery tickets is that in a weird way you’re more likely to win the more things you do. And so I would say for people who are looking at a writing career or like trying to get into the movie business, the more times you’re at bat, the more likely you are to hit a home run.

And so you’re much less likely to sell a spec script if you’ve written exactly one script and you’ve shown it to one person. So that exposure to many opportunities and taking many chances is much more likely to get you into a situation where you can suddenly find yourself lucky.

Craig: Yeah, you have to strike the balance of course because there are people that shotgun a lot of things out there. One of them happens to click, but that’s the end of them because really their success was a product of nothing more than the shot-gunning.

When they talk about animal behavior, they talk about two reproductive strategies. I can’t remember, they’re defined by letters. But regardless, one of them essentially is a low quantity, high quality reproductive strategy which is a very human way of approaching it. Elephants do it this way.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It takes a lot to have a child, so therefore you’re going to have fewer of them, but really put a lot of resources into protecting them and raising them. And then there’s the other way which is, screw it, I’m going to have as many kids as possible and then a bunch of them are going to die but maybe a bunch won’t. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: And what you find, actually, even in humans, is that when humans are in situations where there is plenty, they will go for the low-quantity, high-quality reproductive strategy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And vice versa.

John: The other thing which I think the lightning strikes theorem kind of misses is, especially in creative work, is iteration, in that sense of like, you know what, that first thing may not be the right idea, but by going back and tweaking it and tweaking it and tweaking it and tweaking it, that’s sort of how you find what is the thing that takes hold. And, you know, with all the sort of Twitterbots this guy did, that’s not really iteration, it’s a bunch of like things moving in parallel versus sort of serially going back through and seeing like, what, how can I make this thing better? How can I take the system and tweak it and make it better, and how can I make that experience better.

Craig: Right.

John: And so, in rewriting a script, that’s iteration. That’s taking feedback and looking at the script again and saying like, okay, this is the better version of this. And you’re honestly iterating on your own ability to write because I’m certainly a better writer than I was 10 years ago because I’ve had the experience of looking at my work and saying, okay, these are strengths, these are things that are not strengths, and I can actually do things better through all that iteration process.

Craig: And for those of us who are making movies, our goal is to make something that is permanent. We don’t always succeed, but we try. Whereas when you’re doing pursuits like the kind that Darius is doing, there is no expectation of permanency.

John: Yeah.

Craig: What you’re hoping for really is a combustion, you know.

John: That’s true.

Craig: But everybody knows that when the combustion consumes the fuel it’s gone. I mean, there’s no chance that a meme will last forever. You know, Grumpy Cat will not be popular 10 years from now.

John: Yes. And so, we can love Grumpy Cat now, we can celebrate its impermanence.

Craig: Yes.

John: But we can’t try to emulate its impermanence. We can’t try to like, to make the next Grumpy Cat. That’s probably not the right idea. We should try to make the next amazing thing. And the next amazing thing could end up blowing up like Grumpy Cat or could be a long slow burn that is remembered 10 years from now.

Craig: Yes, yes. But when you’re trying to make things that are permanent the high-quantity approach often will bite you in the butt.

John: I would agree. Let’s take a look at some questions.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So the first one I have here is Jason from White Rock, British Columbia who has a location question. “How specific can you place action in the real world? Can you really place a scene on a specific street in a specific town with perhaps even a specific address? I’m a suburban Vancouver-based filmmaker, and we Vancouverites don’t have a lot of experience watching movies that are actually set in Vancouver. Mostly our city serves as a stand-in for other American towns. I probably know as much about the way addresses work in New York as I do about Vancouver itself. So when addresses are needed in your script, how specific can you make them?”

Craig: Well, yes, you can make the address as specific as you want. Generally speaking, it should be as specific as it needs to be.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s no point in saying that the building is 35 West 56th Street if you can say, well, it’s a building, you know, Midtown, you could say, or corner of 56th and 5th. But, you know, if you’re telling the story where the address becomes a matter of importance, for instance it’s a crime story and someone has lied about where they live, sure. Well then, that makes sense, yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Put the specific address in.

John: Yeah, I think Craig and I are generally always pushing for specificity. And specificity doesn’t necessarily mean the street address, but it’s describing things in the kind of detail that makes it this house versus that house and lets us know the kinds of people who live in this house versus the kinds of people who live in that house. And so really think about what information will help your reader understand what is unique and special about these characters and their world.

And if that means really nailing down to what that street is like, great, tell us the street, but also make sure you’re giving us words that describe what that street feels like so, because we’re not going to know this. Don’t just put in a link to Google Street View, like really describe the street.

Craig: Yeah. What we want to know really is about people more than anything. So places exist for people to be in and we need to know what that place says about the people that are there. So, yeah, be specific, but don’t be over-specific. If the detail adds nothing for the reader it’s probably dispensable.

John: It is. So anything that provides feelings, sentiment, emotional detail, that’s what you want.

Craig: Right. Okay, well, next question is Matt from LA. And he asks, “After a long time toiling in the entertainment industry, I’ve been lucky enough to make the leap into fulltime writing and directing. As a freelancer I’ve been very busy and I’ve taken every single job that’s been offered. Now, they may not be the best projects but I’ve learned a ton and I’ve always felt good about the decision to take the job. But I foresee a near future where the various companies that have been offering me jobs will present something I don’t think is worth my time or the paycheck. As two very successful writers — “

John: Ah…

Craig: “Very successful writers, I’m sure you’re offered projects that you feel compelled to turn down by reputable studios.” I think he means I’m sure you’re offered projects by reputable studios that you feel compelled to turn down. “How do you turn down opportunities without souring relationships? Any tips would be greatly appreciated.”

John: That’s a really good question.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that happens a fair amount, I’m sure, I mean, to both of us. And so someone will send us something and say like, hey, we’d love you to do this thing. And I will read it, and I’ll say I don’t want to do this. And so how do you answer back in a way that doesn’t make you sound like a jerk saying like that’s a stupid movie, I don’t want to make it, but also doesn’t leave you on the hook for trying to write this movie for these people?

Craig: Yeah. There are a couple of reasons why you’re not going to want to do something. You either think it’s dumb or just not your thing, or you think this isn’t, it’s just not something that I want to do or that I think I could add something great to or that I could succeed with. What you want to do is always turn down things with that second reason, [laughs] even if they’re not always that second reason.

John: [laughs] Exactly.

Craig: Nobody minds if you say, listen, this is very cool, it’s not quite — I’m not quite sure what I could bring to it or it’s not quite what I’m looking for right now. John Lee Hancock has a great phrase, “This isn’t a pitch I can hit.”

John: Ah, nice.

Craig: You know, like so I’m putting it on me. I will often say, you know, it’s probably not something that I think I could succeed with, but I look forward to being embarrassed when this thing wins an Oscar for somebody else.

John: [laughs]

Craig: So, you know, I try and be humble about it. I mean, people are offering you things, you should be polite. But, you know, they’re not unaccustomed to this.

John: Yes.

Craig: Just as we are not unaccustomed to hearing no.

John: And that’s absolutely true. And so, often what I will say is truthfully I am too busy, so like, maybe I’m just not actually available to do it, and that could be a completely valid way to get out of something. The danger is sometimes they can come back to you with that same thing when it becomes clear that you are more available. Or they’ll say, we’ll wait. I’m like oh god, now I actually have to explain why I really don’t want to do it.

The other thing that I will say, which is often true, is that someone will come to me with a project and I’ll say, you know what, this is actually kind of like something I already planned to do myself. And so I sort of have my own version of what this kind of thing is, and yours is going to be great, but I sort of want to do mine at a certain point.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s another way to approach it. So from you, as a writer-director, Matt, I would say, always say thank you. Make it clear that you really did really look at it, that you’re not just dismissing it out of hand, that you don’t want to work for those people. Just say like I didn’t spark to it. It didn’t feel like it was my thing, but I’m excited to work with you in the future. And if you mean that, then they will come back to you with more stuff.

Craig: Yeah. By the way, something that I will often do is I’ll say, after I’ve said no, I’ll say by the way, I really like this. For this part, think about this. I’m just saying like here’s just some thoughts in general. It doesn’t cost me anything and it shows that I wasn’t just being a jerk.

John: Exactly. And you may actually have a suggestion of like a person who is the right person for it. And so that’s always a good thing, too, if you can get someone else who would be fantastic for it involved.

Craig: Great point, great point.

John: Jay writes, “Can you go over the correct format for writing different scenes in the same room? For example, a bar where protagonists split up and do battle separately but in the same room. Do I still separate each scene with slug lines? If so, how should it look since they’re in the same master scene location? If not, can you give an example to how you would phrase this?”

Craig: Okay. Well, I personally wouldn’t do separate slug lines here. The slug line ultimately is a tool for the production to know where they’re shooting this thing. And if it’s all in one room, they’re shooting it all in one room.

John: Yeah.

Craig: What you can do is, say something like OVER BY THE BAR, you know, in all caps, and then write some of that and then say OVER BY THE ENTRANCE and then some of that, you know, so that people will understand that the camera is picking off two different areas of the same room.

John: Yeah. So what Craig is describing is often called the intermediary slug line. So it’s not an EXT/INT. And you’re not changing going from a new, it’s not a new scene, it’s just like a new part of where you are at in a scene.

And you’ll see that a lot. And as you read more scripts, especially action things, you’ll see that happens a lot, when you’re in sort of the same general space but there’s sort of scene-lets happening. There’s moments happening over here, and there’s moments happening over here, and sometimes characters — you need to make it clear that characters are not in the same space and can’t interact, because they’re in different parts of an environment. That’s totally fine.

I would say, in general, as I read scripts from newer screenwriters, they tend to throw in too many slug lines and make things seem like there’s too many scenes. And a lot of like “same, continuous” they get so freaked out by the format, and sort of like moving through a house takes like three pages because there’s so many slug line.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s not how it really works in the real world. If you’re in a house and the character is moving through space, let them move through space and don’t worry about each little new location.

Craig: Well, it’s just in part it’s the toxic impact of all these know nothing scripted advisers and so forth who fetishize the rules and put the fear of god into these poor people that their script is going to be thrown out if a slug line is misused. It’s absolute nonsense. The screenplay is there to inspire a movie in the reader’s mind and that’s what you should be aiming for. Don’t panic over things like “this is the way the slug line has to be!”

John: Yeah. Or that it should say “same” rather than “continuous.” It’s like no, it doesn’t need to be either of that. You probably don’t even need the slug line.

Craig: It’s just crazy.

John: In general I’d say like save those scene headers. Let’s really call them scene headers because it’s a header for a scene. The movie has moved to a new place and time in general and if you really haven’t moved to a new place and time but you’ve just like moved to a slightly different part of the room, just keep going and just let us be in that place.

Craig: I mean, there are times when you need a different slug because it’s the same time but you have two people in the bar and then at the same time behind the bar outside two guys are climbing in through the rear window.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: You know, people need to know, okay, it’s a cheat to not kind of call out that you’ve made a big location change, because again, it’s really, it’s for the production. I mean, that’s what it’s there for. Frankly, readers tend to glide through these scene headers. It’s not the stuff that our eyeballs snag on, so.

John: I think, honestly, I doubt, most times as a reader I’m not really reading those, I’m just aware that there was and INT and EXT and it was all upper case and so therefore, okay, I’m in a new scene.

Craig: Right.

John: So it’s a sort of piece of visual punctuation that lets me know that, okay, I’m in someplace new, and I’m going to figure it out once I start reading it.

Craig: Precisely. All right. Well, we’ve got a question here from Jim from Durham, North Carolina. And he writes, “My question concerns use of paragraph breaks in a block of dialogue.” All right, we’re in the format session of our Q&A?

John: We are.

Craig: “Admittedly, in most scenes, there’s a lot of back and forth, so it’s not common that a character goes on for half a page, but it can happen. My natural instinct when writing a long speech like that is to use normal paragraph breaks, a blank line. However, I was chastised for doing this. In fact, I was told by a person who seems to know all the rules that I had to put, in parentheses, beat, between each paragraph. I didn’t really intend for a pause any longer than the normal speaking pace, I was just trying to make it more readable and less run-on. “

Well, there wasn’t a specific question there but I think that the implied question is who’s right? [laughs]

John: Who’s right? Can you put that blank line in a long speech?

Craig: Yeah. What do you say?

John: I think you can. But I would agree with whoever said that it’s not standard and that it does sort of throw you because we’re not used to seeing it. And if I were to encounter that in a script I might wonder is this a mistake, did something get dropped out, is there something wrong, because I’m used to seeing a continuous block of dialogue being a continuous block. And if it’s broken up by anything, it’s broken up by beat or something else.

Craig: I agree. I mean, the problem isn’t that you’re putting the break in there, the problem is that the reader might presume that something went wrong and obviously that’s not what you intend. Beat is a perfectly good way to break these things up. Most people don’t read beat as long pause. If I want a long pause I’ll write in “long pause.”

However, I have to also say, if you don’t intend for any pauses or anything and it’s a half a page of a speech, try it without the pauses. I mean, just write the half a page. I’ll tell you this much, if it’s a half a page speech, better be a damn good speech. But if it’s a damn good speech, I’ll read it.

John: And you have other options rather than just beat and for that parenthetical. And there may be some good reason why there’s sort of a special moment of action or emphasis that it makes sense, like sort of like in the parenthetical, you might say like, you know, (to Jim) or like (straight down the barrel), or like some kind of a color line that you’re putting in that parenthetical that actually helps make the speech make more sense, and it’s also visually breaking it up. I think Jim’s overall instincts, like oh my god, this is going to be a very long block of dialogue if I don’t break it up, that’s the right instinct.

Craig: It is.

John: I would just that overall a use of a parenthetical or honestly just breaking out in speech to put it in a line of scene description and then going back into the dialogue is generally a better approach.

Craig: I agree, I agree. It’s a good instinct to break it up unless you’ve got something that really works best as a kind of spat-out run-on deal.

John: Yeah. So Clarence, from Canada, asks a marathon question.

Craig: [laughs] This needed to be broken up by beats.

John: Yes. So it’s in little bullet points in WorkFlowy here. So I’m going to read this and it’s going to be kind of long, but I think it’s interesting, so I’m going to get into this here.

“Two years ago, I wrote, directed, produced my second feature film with a meager budget of $7,000. It was solely financed by me and my own production company. I had screened it at a film festival in Los Angeles and was fortunate enough to be able to attend. Before arriving in Los Angeles, I got in touch with a handful of sales agents that the festival announced would be in attendance.

“I met with those three who were interested in representing the movie for international and domestic distribution. Two wanted to make changes to the cut, so I went with the one that didn’t.”

Craig: Act one.

John: “The deal was this. The company would own the distribution rights for my movie forever and ever. And they would work hard to sell the movie to territories worldwide because otherwise they wouldn’t make any money either. They had a number of other movies under their belt that range in size from no budget like mine, to about the $1 million range.”

Craig: Midpoint.

John: “Since its initial release on VOD and DVD in North America last year, it has also been released in 30 countries. But here’s the thing, I haven’t made that much money. It’s not necessarily the number that bothers me, it’s still a huge return on a $7,000 investment. What bothers me is that my sales agent has made much more than I have, about a 60/40 split. They take a 22% commission right off the top of each sale, and they recoup $20,000 they invested into marketing, like poster design, travel to film markets, et cetera. What’s left is mine. Unless the film reaches $100,000 in sales, then they recoup $15,000 additional marketing expenses. The movie has pushed past the $100,000 mark, and most markets have now been sold, giving a little room for much more income to trickle my way.”

Craig: Denouement.

John: “So finally, my question, is it normal for a sales agent or potentially distributor to make more money than the production company that actually made the movie? Not to mention put up the cash in the first place? Is this just the cost of doing business?”

Craig: Okay, so let’s summarize this Cecil B. DeMille production of a question. So he’s made a micro budget movie for $7,000. He has some sales agents that have sold it on VOD and DVD, and basically he’s not getting as much money back from the sales as they are.

The movie has grossed, I think is what he means, pushed past gross $100,000. There’s not much more that he thinks is coming towards him. So while he’s made some money here, it’s not what he was hoping.

Yes, this is normal. And here’s the problem. When you’re in this micro budget business, and you’re having an independent sales agent going out there and slinging this thing around, you are essentially, it’s like the pink sheets in the stock market. You’re penny-stocking it, you know?

John: Yup.

Craig: And so there’s this enormous built-in risk to these things. Some of these deals, the fact that the movie cost you $7,000 doesn’t mean anything to them. What they’re worried about is that they have to spend in this case, $20,000 to actually market and distribute this thing.

That $20,000 is at enormous risk. So the only way for them to make money is to build in the failures into the successes. And unfortunately, you’re not just paying them for what they did for your movie, you’re paying them for what they did for other movies that lost everything.

John: Yes. They’re sort of building a slate after the fact. They’re gathering up a bunch of movies. And in some ways it reminds me of sort of like the housing crisis where they packaged up a bunch of mortgages, and like put them into different bins and sort of like, you know, marketed them as one thing.

They probably were able to cut deals with VOD places and other stuff for like a whole big bundle of things. And yours was one of those bundle of things. And I think it’s unlikely that you’re going to see a huge windfall from that sort of situation.

Craig: Yes.

John: Here’s the good news for Clarence though, like he made a $7,000 movie which got released on VOD and DVD. That is full of win.

Craig: Right.

John: And I think you have to take that as a victory. And the fact that your movie exists in the universe, is a really good thing especially if you like your movie. That’s a really good thing. Many, many filmmakers, Lena Dunham’s first films never had that kind of release, so you’re ahead of her from that perspective.

I wouldn’t stress out about this. I would kind of forget about this movie, this distributor. Work on your next thing, and then if you have a thing that has multiple people who want to distribute it, take a stronger look at sort of what those terms are and if there’s a possibility for better terms with a better person, maybe that will be the case.

Craig: Yes. Michael Eisner once famously said of negotiating for deals, “You can get what you can get.” And this is what you’re able to get.

John: Yes.

Craig: So when you roll with these kinds of guys that are doing these high risk investments, yes, this is the way it works. There’s just no way around it. But John is absolutely right, the victory here is that you made the movie, people saw it, now it’s time to trade up and see if you can get into business with some people that aren’t necessarily in the, what my grandmother would call the schmatta business. John, that’s Yiddish for low quality clothing.

John: Ah-ha, I learned something today.

Craig: You learned something. Patrick in good old Blighty writes, “If I’m a British writer, writing a US-based script, most likely targeting a US production company or agent, should I be taking measures to alter my language and spelling accordingly? Hopefully, the dialogue should read as authentic to the setting. But should I be writing mom and not mum even if it’s against my nature? Would this freak an American reader out? Or would be people be able to accept the British-isms if it’s not affecting the story?

“I want to be able to write the script the way I feel comfortable. And I would feel as if I’m being inauthentic or misrepresenting myself as a writer by trying to remove or hide part of my identity from it, but I’m also worried at the same time it will be jarring, or take people out of the script. So what do you think I should do?”

John: You should absolutely not write mum instead of mom particularly in dialogue. Anything a character says needs to be written in the way that the character would actually say it. I mean, not going crazy into sort of like regionalisms or colloquialisms or trying to describe specific dialects accurately, but you don’t say mum instead of mom if it’s an American kid. That’s just not going to be natural. I wouldn’t worry about sort of every last little spelling. That’s fine. If it’s spelling in scene description, that’s going to be fine, but the big words, the words that are actually going to be said, those have to be American words if this is going to be a US production.

Craig: 100%. This is a slam dunk answer here. It’s not you, you’re not saying these things. You’re writing a screenplay with American characters, they have to speak as American people would speak. I’m on my second script in a row that is primarily populated by British characters. They speak like British people. What I don’t do is, for instance, if it’s a word that has a different spelling but the same pronunciation, I don’t go that far.

John: So honor, color, valor.

Craig: Precisely. If someone is going to say color, I just write it C-O-L-O-R. But I certainly, I take very careful, pay very careful attention to not use words that they simply don’t use over there. I mean, specifically if it’s in dialogue. For instance, in Britain, dumpsters aren’t called dumpsters. So I’m not going to have a character say dumpster. I’m not going to have an English character say dumpster.

This is an easy one, Patrick. Go ahead and write them however you want when people aren’t talking, but when the characters are talking, they have to talk like the people that they are.

John: Yes. John in Orlando writes, “I’m an attorney and screenwriter who is in Florida. I have a good friend who happens to be childhood best friends with a major showrunner you both surely know.

Oh, now I have to think of who this could be.

“We have hung out in social situations, but I’ve never revealed that I write scripts. I really hate to be ‘that guy,'” in quotes, “lest it change the social dynamic between the three of us, but I would like to at least pick his brain about some things. My dream would be to have a project gain traction first, and then mention it, but I feel this guy probably knows a ton that could help me at this point. Any advice for broaching this subject? This must happen to you with friends of friends who want advice.”

Craig: Yeah, it does happen with friends of friends who want advice. I think what nobody wants to hear is read my script because they already have scripts they have to read. There’s legal issues with reading a script, and so on and so forth, and of course, what’s hanging over it more than anything, is that they don’t want to be in that terrible position of having to tell you that your script is atrocious.

John: Yes.

Craig: However, I don’t think it’s a problem if you’ve hung out with this guy in social situations and you live near him to say, “Hey, can I just buy you a drink or a cup of coffee, an hour of your time, no more, no less? I just want to ask you some questions.”

That’s an easy one for somebody to say yes to. Frankly, it’s also an easy one for somebody to say no to. If they say no, then you just let them off the hook and that’s the end of that. But if they say yes, at least then you get them there. And if your concept comes up in the discussion and they get really excited by it, then they’ll ask you if they want to read it.

John: Yeah, I think that’s exactly right. I think broaching it in a way that is sort of both direct but also not sort of confrontational, so like putting it in the context of like coffee or a drink is going to make things probably feel a little bit better. I’d be leery about having like someone else sort of broach the topic like having the wife call the wife or any of that stuff. That’s going to just be a mess. If there’s a friend of a friend and you are friends with this person, and it hasn’t come up yet, but it could come up, let that come up.

If it’s a situation which like you’re going to the Austin Film Festival and that comes up naturally in conversation, then clearly you are a screenwriter and they will know that you’re a screenwriter and that’s awesome.

Craig: Yeah, easy. All right. Here’s our last question, I think. Jawaad from Fort Lauderdale writes, “My question is about a recent fear I’ve been having about being trapped underground in a box.”

John: That’s not true.

Craig: No, I misread that, “About being trapped in one genre.” Sorry. I misread that word. [laughs]

“So my question is about a recent fear I’ve been having about being trapped in one genre. So far, I’ve been a comedy writer, I’m the head writer of my university’s sketch comedy show, done quite a bit of improv. However, lately I’m starting to realize that I may not love comedy as much as I initially thought. I realize with comedic features,” and he says here, “I just finished my first feature, a kids’ comedy and it’s definitely not as funny as it should be.”

All right. “There is a high expectation of laughs per minute and I’m not sure that’s the type of writing I ultimately want to be doing. Do you think there is an easy crossover for somebody who’s only done comedy to start writing dramas? I feel like sprinkling a little comedy into dramas would be an asset that would make my writing stand out.” John, what do you think?

John: So Jawaad is in college. He’s written one script and he’s worried about being pigeonholed.

Craig: Yeah, it’s pretty awesome.

John: That’s actually crazy. And so, I put this question on here because I love it because it’s that sense of like I worry I’m going to be trapped in a genre having written one thing and being in a comedy troupe in college. That’s not how it works. If you had like a hit sitcom that ran for five years, then yes, you might be pigeonholed as a comedy person.

But you are at the start of your life. You can literally do anything. And so you should go off and write the drama if you think you’re a drama person. You are not trapped at all. The sense of being trapped is completely an illusion.

Craig: Yes. If a tree is pigeonholed in the forest and no one’s there to read it. Yeah, no, Jawaad, you are pre-pigeonhole, my friend. Nobody knows what you’ve written here, and it doesn’t matter. Your gut is telling you something, however, that is important and that’s you don’t want to write a certain kind of movie. You don’t want to write broad comedy, and you may not want to write comedy at all.

The fact that you maybe identify as a funny person or that you like writing sketch comedy, so you like writing comedy in sketch format as opposed to feature format, that doesn’t mean that that’s all you can be or all you should be. You should write the kind of movie you want to write. That’s really the only sort of movie that you are ever going to have success with anyway.

Sprinkling a little comedy into dramas is a good thing if that’s what the movie wants to have. I would not think in terms of assets. There’s a lot of calculation inherent to this question that I would advise you abandon.

John: Exactly. It’s always like, it’s trying to figure out like, well, what if I build this mansion and I don’t like the bathroom in this mansion that I build. It’s like, well, you don’t have a mansion yet, so like, stop building your mansion and actually like, you know, go to work. It’s one of those sort of like, what if I don’t –

Craig: It’s a Steve Martin joke. You know, how to not pay taxes on $1 million, step one, get $1 million. You’re not there. This is not something you should be worrying about. You have all the ability and time to write precisely what you want in the manner you want to write it.

John: I agree. Craig, it is time for One Cool Things.

Craig: One Cool Things.

John: My One Cool Thing is so short. It’s Tim and Susan Have Matching Handguns. It’s a documentary by Joe Callander. It is 1 minute and 47 seconds long. So I shouldn’t say too much about it because I could actually talk longer than the actual documentary is. But it’s just a perfect little gem that I just love. And it reminds me of like an Errol Morris film, but it’s 1:47. I loved it.

Craig: You had me at 1:47. I’ll be watching it as soon as we’re done recording. My One Cool Thing is the aforementioned too many Too Many Cooks by Chris “Casper” Kelly. So Chris Kelly, who goes by Casper Kelly because there are four billion Chris Kellys out there, he’s done a lot of shows on Adult Swim which is the Cartoon Network, I believe. And he did this thing that may be the greatest thing actually that anyone has ever done in an Internety way. This is the best of the Internet. If Alex from Target is the sort of most pointless of the Internet, this is the greatest.

Adult Swim has this thing where they do these infomercials which aren’t infomercials at all, but they fill in an 11 minute gap at 4am.

And so he floated this thing out there and lo and behold, a few days later, it is a sensation. And it truly is a sensation. We talked about subversion. The concept is a simple comic concept. We’re watching the opening credit sequence of what is sort of like a Full House sitcom. And the gag is that the song is super cheesy and everybody in it turns and looks at the camera and smiles when their name appears underneath them.

And you think, okay. And then the joke becomes, oh, there’s actually way more characters than there should be on the show like there’s like way too many characters and you think, okay, that’s a joke. But every 40 seconds, Chris Kelly says, “No, that’s not the joke. This is the joke.” And then, about seven minutes in, it’s not a joke anymore at all.

It’s actually something brilliant, and subversive and kind of existentially gorgeous. And where it ends is quite beautiful actually. Smarf, that’s all I say is Smarf.

John: Smarf. I’m going to watch it again because I’m not sure I got to the moment of existential beauty. I got to a moment of just tremendous appreciation for sort of just the ongoing genius of it. And to me, where it crossed over is there’s a moment where a young woman is hiding in the closet, and it’s one of the most sort of bizarrely brilliant little ideas. So I just loved it.

Craig: I think my mind went into a Nirvana space when the names rearranged themselves as people, and the people appeared as the names. That’s when I just thought Chris “Casper” Kelly, and really, I’ll just say this, why I love it so much is that this is truly a marriage of chaos and discipline.

John: Yes.

Craig: We typically just get chaos on the Internet. It’s easy to be weird on the Internet. Super easy, and there’s lots of it. But this was absolute madness within a structure that was so good. So anyway, it’s out there, by the time this airs it’ll probably be, everybody will be like, oh, we all know about Too Many Cooks, but if you don’t, my god, Too Many Cooks.

John: Check it out. So we will have a link to that in the show notes, and also there’s a piece I read in Entertainment Weekly this morning about an interview with him talking about sort of why he did what he did and how he did it. It was just remarkable.

You’ll find links to that in the show notes in addition to other things we talked about. You can find those at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. If you want to subscribe to Scriptnotes, you can join us on iTunes, and click subscribe there, you can also leave us a comment which is always lovely and helps us out.

If you want to listen to the back episodes, and also the special bonus episodes, we’ll have special things with the Three Page Challenge from Austin. We’ll have Simon Kinberg. Those are found at scriptnotes.net and you could subscribe there. It’s $1.99 a month, it gives you access to the whole back catalogue.

Craig: $1.99.

John: $1.99. Craig, we are super, super close to the 1,000 full-time premium subscribers, so we’re going to have to do that dirty episode and I’m so excited to do it.

Craig: You said you had a great idea. Do you want to say what it is?

John: I don’t because I’ve not reached out to that person yet.

Craig: Okay.

John: Yes, but it’s a great idea.

Craig: Okay. Well, I trust you.

John: Well, I told you who the person was, right?

Craig: No.

John: I did. Craig, your memory is failing. It’s a person who, I’ll tell you again after the show. But you said, I told you after the last show, you said oh my god, that’s a great idea.

Craig: Oh, really?

John: Yes. Wow, Craig. I’m sorry, maybe you should like have a medical professional because last week you asked about the whole Retina iMac and the display –

Craig: Right.

John: You said like you wanted to get the Retina display but without the iMac and I explained why. And I explained that I’d done it before.

Craig: Let me put your mind at ease. I have a 13-year old son. He’s destroying my mind. [laughs] It’s just him. It’s not medical. It’s just my son.

John: It’s not medical.

Craig: No, he’s just consuming me. He’s consuming my mind because I have to remember all of my stuff and all of his stuff.

John: Yes, it’s a burden.

Craig: Yes, huge burden.

John: If you would like to jog Craig’s memory, you can reach him @clmazin on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. If you have a long question like the ones we answered today, you can write it to ask@johnaugust.com.

If you want to get a Writer Emergency Pack, you can just go to writeremergency.com, that’s a link to the Kickstarter. There will also be a link in the show notes. Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did our outro this week, who also has a Kickstarter project, so back that.

Stuart Friedel is out sick today. He will be back next week.

Craig: Good, good. [laughs]

John: How do you dare say that?

Craig: I hope it’s fatal. [laughs]

John: Craig gets very mean late in the episode. This is the one where everyone turns again Craig Mazin.

Craig: Exactly, I don’t know why. I think this is my new theme is that Stuart is bad.

John: Stuart is all things good.

Craig: I’m sorry, Stuart. But it’s, what if he’s dying?

John: Well, it could be Ebola.

Craig: Oh, sweet.

John: All my staff went and got their flu shots because the flu sucks and it’s much more likely that you’re going to have the flu than to get Ebola.

Craig: Slightly more likely, yes.

John: Just a little –

Craig: Just a touch.

John: Just a tiny bit, but I learned that everyone who works for me is afraid of needles.

Craig: Oh, what a bunch of babies.

John: I know. [laughs] Like it’s very rare that I run around with a needle and stab them.

Craig: Like what a bunch of, first of all, the flu shot, you don’t even feel that needle. It’s the tiniest, skinniest needle.

John: I know. And it’s so rare that I stab them. And for them to have this sort of, you know, instinctive reaction just because I’m running around with a needle is weird. [laughs]

Craig: Honestly, it’s so bizarre. Wait, you gave them flu shots?

John: Well yes. It kind of saves them money.

Craig: I like that you sit them down and just start injecting. No wonder Stuart is sick. It’s your latest concoction over there at Quote-Unquote.

John: I told them it was the flu serum.

Craig: Yes, it’s not Stuart.

John: You’ll never know.

Craig: Yes.

John: It’s not.

Craig: Yes.

John: Craig, thank you for another fun episode.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Lotteries, lightning strikes and twist endings

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig look at the nature of fluke hits, everything from #alexfromtarget to huge spec sales. Is luck just luck, or is it about how often you play the game? Where does talent fit in?

We walk through a great breakdown of twist endings by Alec Worley, looking at how expectation both inside and outside of the story shapes the experience.

Then we answer a bunch of listener questions, on topics including using real-life locations, breaking up dialogue, and passing gracefully when you don’t like a project.

The Scriptnotes Holiday show is December 11th in Hollywood, featuring guests Aline Brosh McKenna, B.J. Novak, Jane Espenson and Derek Haas. Check the link below for tickets.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 169: Descending Into Darkness — Transcript

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 17:39

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: Uh….my name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 169 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig, it’s been far too long.

Craig: Been far too long.

John: You were not around last week. You were doing something else, so I had to do a podcast without you. I survived, but it’s good to have you back.

Craig: Well, thank you. I was at the wedding of excellent screenwriter Ted Griffin and remarkable Broadway performer and film and television performer, Sutton Foster. It was a beautiful wedding. Had a great time. But I did miss you. I missed Austin. I mean, I haven’t missed Austin in years. So, that was a bummer.

And then I wasn’t there to do the show. And that was a bummer. But I did listen to it. The first podcast I’ve ever listened to in my life. And it was good. Everybody did a really good job.

John: Yeah. We had Susannah Grant stepped in and was the co-host in your absence. One thing that may not be completely clear to people who are listening to that episode is so we’re in this church, but the actual layout of where we were was incredibly awkward. So, a church has pews, which is lovely, and then there’s like two steps up and it gets to where actual services happen. And the steps are very important because that’s why you can actually see what’s happening.

But they had us set up in front of those steps, down at the same level as the pews, so sight lines were actually awful. In many ways listening to the podcast would be a lot like attending the podcast because it was very hard to see anything while you were there.

Craig: I did notice on the schedule that they had you in that church. And I confess that I thought to myself, oh, John is going to throw a fit. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: Because why did they put you in a church? Why weren’t you in the regular room?

John: Because it was one of the biggest available rooms. The biggest room at the Driskill was actually bigger than this would have been, but this was what was big and available at the time. So, once again, I want to thank the Austin Film Festival for having us there at all. It was a great experience. We had great guests. It was super fun.

We also did a Three Page Challenge with people who were in the second round of scripts for the Austin Film Festival.

Craig: Oh, terrific.

John: And that was really cool, too.. So, a few weeks from now we’ll have the audio up for that. We had Franklin Leonard and Ilyse McKimmie as the guests for that. And they were so insightful, because these are people who read scripts all the time. They’re sort of gatekeepers. And their perspective on stuff was just terrific. And to be able to have the actual writers of those three pages in the room to explain sort of this is what the actual full movie is like is so useful, because we could talk about — that movie you’re describing sounds great, here’s the movie I thought I was reading based on these three pages. Let’s try to get these things a little closer together.

Craig: And that right there is the core of what a good relationship between a writer and a development person should be.

John: Absolutely. So, today we’re going to be doing a new batch of Three Page Challenges. We have three new scripts to look at, so that will be cool. And they’re actually really interesting scripts, so I’m eager to get into them.

But we have so much follow up. We could do a whole episode with just the follow up stuff. So, let’s burn through this stuff first.

Craig: Okay.

John: I’ve set it up in two previous podcasts, there’s this thing we’re working on called Writer Emergency, and it is a deck of cards for when you are writing something and your story just gets stuck. And it’s the kind of thing where — Aline mentioned this on an earlier episode — where sometimes just someone needs to give you a nudge, an idea, saying like what if this. And sometimes everything just breaks open, like oh, I suddenly get how to do that.

You don’t always have that person to give you that idea. And these cards are just full of those ideas. So, you saw these. I sent you a deck of these cards.

Craig: Yes. I saw an early version and they’re adorable.

John: Thank you.

Craig: And they’re full of very cool little exercises and exercises are good things. I mean, they get you — it’s kind of like the text version of writing in a different place. It just jostles you out of your normal which is always a good thing.

It’s funny. On Twitter when you had mentioned that you were going to be bringing something like this but you were being intentionally vague, a whole bunch of people thought that you were about to launch some sort of pay me for notes service. And I just thought that was hysterical.

John: That will never happen.

Craig: Ever.

John: Ever.

Craig: Ever! No, but this is a great little deck of cards. And it seems like if I made a list of gifts you could get for your writer friend, it would be — I don’t know, what do you get writers?

John: Yeah. It’s hard to get things for a writer. So you get them like pens or backpacks.

Craig: Or Advil. I mean, we don’t need anything. But this is a fun stocking stuffer. I think you’ve timed it well for Christmas.

John: Yes. So, we cannot actually guarantee Christmas delivery. It’s something we would love to be able to do, but we are working with suppliers who have to print these things, and we have to ship these things, so that could be complicated. But it could be possible.

The most fascinating thing I’ve learned over the past six weeks as we’ve been trying to put this thing together is that shipping physical goods is really challenging. I always make apps and things, podcasts, things you can ship out digitally. When you have to ship physical things to far away countries, it gets to be challenging.

And so we’re dealing with these suppliers that are sort of all over the world. But it’s turned out really cool.

One of the most interesting things about this whole process, and the thing that made me most nervous about my conversation with you, is how we’re actually launching these into the world. We’re using Craig’s favorite thing in the entire world. Craig, what is your favorite thing in the entire world?

Craig: Uh, well, my number one favorite thing is death by anthrax. And then my second favorite thing is Kickstarter.

John: Yes. And we had a whole episode about your love of Kickstarter.

Craig: Love it!

John: You love it to death. And so I was really nervous when I sent these to you and said, and Craig, we actually went through a lot of different ways, and the best way for us to make these is actually to do a Kickstarter campaign. And you said…?

Craig: What was the lie I told you? [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: That it was okay? Did I say it was okay? It’s okay.

John: I think you said it was okay.

Craig: It’s okay because you are essentially using them like a store. You’re saying, look, you buy this and we’ll give it to you. You’re making them. It’s not like you’re saying we might one day make these.

John: It’s not like you’re investing in something that we are getting all the profits from. The goal behind this is, so, every deck of these cards that we give away through Kickstarter, we’re also giving a deck to a kid’s writing program. Because these things are actually really great for learning about story and how you would talk about story. And so we’ve been doing exercises with kids to figure out what actually works and these cards work really well.

But Kickstarter is a good way for us to be able to make a bunch of these at once. And when you make physical goods, the more you can print at once, the cheaper each unit becomes. That whole like curve of economics thing, it actually kind of works when you’re dealing with physical goods. So, we have to make enough so we can actually print enough so that it’s actually worthwhile to do. So, that’s the goal behind doing the Kickstarter of it all.

Craig: Look, I make an exception for you. What can I say?

John: Ah, thank you. It means a lot that Craig is not angry at this Kickstarter.

Craig: Can I just say as an aside…?

John: Please.

Craig: [laughs] It is kind of sad that my podcast character, I mean, Mike Birbiglia called me the antagonist of Scriptnotes and it made me laugh. But, you know, Lindsay Doran, she’s been doing this independent producers thing lately where she goes and talks to independent producers about, I don’t know, producing stuff. I guess it’s like Sundance Labs for independent film producers.

And somebody brought up that she was working with me and they had heard this on the podcast. And they’re like, is he okay? Is he mean? [laughs] Do I yell? And she just started laughing because I’m actually — I’m very nice.

John: You’re actually very, very nice.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t yell. I’m not a jerk.

John: No. Maybe three times in our entire relationship have you been sort of really, really angry. And they’ve never been directed at me, because I would never want to be the focus of that rage. But I was actually genuinely concerned, because I know you have deeply held feelings about Kickstarter, and so I actually approached this Kickstarter thinking like how would I build something that Craig wouldn’t hate.

Craig: Yes.

John: That’s really how I go through my life is how do I do things that Craig can possible stand. So, we designed the pledge tiers at levels where like no matter what you’re doing, you’re getting the thing.

Craig: That’s the thing. I mean, look, you’re delivering the product, so you’re not asking people to give you a bunch of money so you can go buy a bunch of lunches for yourself for a year and then not deliver. And, also, you’re donating these to charity. I mean, it’s just — it’s the best possible version of this. So, how could I — by the way, it’s the same thing that Franklin Leonard said when he called me about the Black List.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: He was like, I really was just thinking how can I get you to not hate this. [laughs]

John: I was asking myself what would Franklin do, and how can I get Craig not to hate this?

Craig: There you go.

John: You were the two standard bearers for me. Aline factors in there, too, so I actually showed these to Aline right away. And significant changes were made based on Aline’s feedback.

Craig: She’s tough. She’s tough.

John: She’s tough. So, if you are interested in seeing these decks of cards and perhaps getting one, the Kickstarter campaign will probably be up the morning that this podcast comes out. If I don’t have the URL tweeted, you can just go to writeremergency.com and there will be a link to the Kickstarter campaign. It’s a super short campaign. It’s like two weeks or so. So, you don’t have a lot of time to dilly and dally, but the people who listen to this podcast, they’re on it, they’re buying t-shirts during limited windows.

Craig: Yeah. They’re good.

John: It’ll be fine.

Craig: We have the best listeners.

John: Well, we do have the best listeners. And I met so many of them at Austin. It was really nice.

Craig: What a lovely thing.

John: At Austin I always see Scriptnotes t-shirts, which is great. And now that there’s multiple generations of Scriptnotes t-shirts, I see the different eras, the different colors, the different everything. But I saw one of the very few shirts we ended up selling that was sort of Frankenweenie inspired. It was a quote from my Frankenweenie script. And they want what science gives them, but not the questions science asks.

And someone was wearing that shirt. And it was just so nice to see, like, aw. That one shirt.

Craig: I didn’t even know. Is that a Scriptnotes shirt?

John: We sold it through the same store. We sold it through the same johnaugust.com.

Craig: Well, I will, for all of our listeners who do attend Austin and those who are thinking about attending, I will absolutely be back next year for sure. No one else is getting married that I care about.

John: Absolutely. And you will be at our next live show. And on the next podcast we will be able to announce the dates and possibly even the guests for that. And that’s going to be great.

Craig: Good one. It’s going to be a big one.

John: Cool. Further follow up. Last episode that you and I were talking, I got a new computer and it’s so nice.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: It’s the 5K Retina iMac.

Craig: Yeah!

John: I would encourage — if people are on the fence like, oh, will it really make a difference, it’s so nice.

Craig: Yeah. I’ve been reading some reviews. People are just tripping all over how awesome it looks. I’m waiting now for the Retina Cinema display, because it doesn’t exist yet, but I have to assume it’s on the way, right?

John: We talked about this last week. It’s actually incredibly hard to build that because there’s not a cable fast enough to get the –

Craig: Oh that’s right. We did.

John: So you may be waiting awhile.

Craig: I’m like your grandpa that just now he’s repeating stuff. [laughs] That’s just sad.

John: It’s okay.

Craig: It’s just sad. Someone tuck me in. Tuck me in and give me soup.

John: The podcast, we’ll forgive you.

Craig: Yeah, I’m old.

John: Last podcast we also talked about the Marvel superheroes. We talked about all the superheroes and that there were 31 superhero movies coming out.

Craig: And now we know who they all are, right?

John: We do. So, the published the list with actual names for those dates. Because I had kind of mocked Marvel for like saying, oh, these are Untitled Marvel movie in this slot. And it’s like well that’s cheating. But they decided to stop — because of me — they decided they had to actually decide what movies they were going to make.

Craig: You are at the hub of our industry. You are the beating heart.

John: The same way that I look to you and Franklin Leonard, Kevin Feige says, “What does John August think?”

Craig: Yeah.

John: He probably wakes up in the middle of the night going, oh my god, what does John August think?

Craig: They call you the Eye. The Great Eye.

John: We’ve talked about Kevin Feige a lot and I realized that I actually met him a zillion years ago because on the very first Iron Man I came in and did just this tiny, tiny bit of work on it. And even back then I predicted success.

Craig: I also met him many, many years ago. He was super nice. I remember he was super duper nice. It was a general meeting and I remember he gave me his card. It was like a Marvel card.

John: Aw.

Craig: Yeah. Now look at him. Now look, our boy is all grown up. Yeah.

John: Exactly. So, the movies are Captain America: Civil War, which was predicted. Doctor Strange, which was sort of predicted, but it had been un-slated. Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Thor: Ragnarok. Black Panther. Okay, sure. Captain Marvel, which just makes things incredibly complicated.

Craig: Yes.

John: Idea wise, because Captain Marvel is the original name of Shazam and they’re also making a Shazam movie, but Shazam is DC and it’s confusing. But Captain Marvel is a female superhero with sort of — she does superhero-y things. So, that could be good.

Craig: You struggled through that a little bit, I think. You were like, “Who does…” You wanted to say female superhero-y things, didn’t you?

John: No, no, I was trying to say that she did Superman kind of things, but I perceive her as having flight and strength and stuff, but I don’t actually know the details and limits of her powers. I will confess my ignorance to that.

Craig: I’m right there with you. Honestly. Like for instance, I know that Black Panther is black. I don’t actually know what his — I’m kind of reaching the edge of my comics knowledge. So, I don’t know actually what his powers are, or Captain Marvel. I mean, I know Doctor Strange. Who else? Oh, yeah, Thor.

John: Thor.

Craig: I know Thor. He’s got a hammer.

John: He’s got a hammer. And we know that his evil brother is –

Craig: Loki. And his dad is Odin.

John: Yeah. But his dad is dead.

Craig: Right. Oh, yeah, forgot.

John: Yeah. The Avengers is a two-part thing, which of course, why wouldn’t it be a two-part thing?

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s the Infinity War. And so that deals with a lot of stuff that’s been set up in the universe so far. All those infinity stones and it’s been through all the different –

Craig: I don’t know, the infinity stones, I don’t know about those. I’ve never followed that story. I know that they’re there and they have something to do from Guardians of the Galaxy, but I feel like I’m totally — like obviously I didn’t know anybody from Guardians of the Galaxy. I honestly didn’t know about Hawkeye. [laughs] I just didn’t. There’s so many of them. I just don’t know.

John: But I think your life was pretty fulfilling even not knowing that. So, when you do know it, it’ll just be an extra plus.

Craig: I think there should be a team, like Guardians of the Galaxy was a team of people that theoretically most people didn’t know. But I think Marvel should make a movie of characters that most people do know, I just don’t. So, it would have Hawkeye and Captain Marvel. Like Ant Man? I don’t’ know.

John: No idea.

Craig: Does he get small? I assume he gets small?

John: Yeah. Yeah. We’re going to say small.

Craig: Small.

John: And, finally, Inhumans, which is November 2, 2018, and almost nobody knows the Inhumans since they’re a completely different thing.

Craig: Yeah, I don’t know them. [laughs]

John: The best description I heard of what they will represent likely in the Marvel universe is because the Marvel universe for Disney does not have X-Men, and they actually apparently can’t even say the word “mutant.” Inhumans apparently do — may serve a similar function in that universe.

Craig: I see. Okay. Well, they can be in the movie of characters that other people know that I don’t know. Which, as we can see, is going to be an enormous movie because I’m grandpa. This is a Craig as grandpa day.

John: Yeah. We divide the universe into two things –

Craig: What I know.

John: Things Craig knows. Things Craig doesn’t know.

Craig: It could be a great movie. Everybody knows who we are, except for Craig.

John: Final bit of follow up, last podcast I was talking about — the podcast we did together — I was talking about how I had had this phone pitch and then I had to go in and do the real pitch and sort of what the difference was between that first impression, everything happening on the phone, and having to really dig in and figure out story.

And so that digging in and figuring out story, that went really, really well. But, I listened to a podcast that actually had a guy having to give a pitch that was so smart. It’s such a good version of this that I want to share it with people. It’s a podcast called the StartUp. And it’s Alex Bloomberg, who was a reporter from This American Life and Planet Money, and he’s attempting to start his own podcasting company. And so he’s trying to raise money for it.

And so he’s going to investors and pitching his podcast company. And pitching a company, a startup, and pitching a movie, they’re different skills. They have different terms of art and sort of ways you do things, but what was so insightful in this first episode he’s trying to pitch Chris Sacca, who is a big investor guy, on his company. And to hear it go horribly, and then hear Chris Sacca pitch that same idea back to him in ways that actually mean something to him.

And it was just a great episode to listen to. The differences between how you perceive your own idea and how someone on the other end perceives your idea and what that idea could be. It was just a fascinating version and that happens all the time in Hollywood, which is where you are describing the story you think you see, and they will sometimes describe back the story that is actually meaningful to them. And you have to decide is that even a movie I would want to write.

Craig: Do you watch Shark Tank at all?

John: I don’t. But I know what that is. That’s the thing where people have these inventions and things?

Craig: Yeah. They have ideas for businesses, basically. Sometimes it’s an invention. Sometimes it’s a service. And they come in and there are five people there who have a lot of money, like Mark Cuban, who is a billionaire. And the individual investors make decisions about how much they are willing to invest, if anything at all, and how much of the company they want in exchange for their investment.

And it’s based on, there was an English show that my wife and I used to watch years ago called Dragon’s Den. And it looks like they just ported it over and called it Shark Tank for the United States. Same idea. And we’ve always loved it because it is people pitching and it is them telling a story. Everything comes down to some sort of narrative.

But there is that remarkable thing that happens where somebody comes in and they are inherently likeable. They are — it’s a single mom who has fought really hard. Sometimes they’re kids. It’s a 16-year-old who’s got this brilliant idea. It’s a man who has been downsized and he’s getting back on his feet with his own thing. And there are these very likeable stories, but there’s always that moment where they hear the story, they really appreciate the story, and they show this guy some empathy and love, or this woman some empathy and love, and then the wall just drops. And it becomes business.

And they couldn’t care about that at all. It’s amazing to watch it happen. Like you see it literally flick, like a switch. And I think the same thing happens in Hollywood. We come in and we have these great opening moments and I love you, and you love me, and everything is wonderful, wouldn’t this be wonderful. And then you pitch. And then they just flip a switch. And now it’s business.

John: So, what’s so interesting about that situation and what happens in the room when you’re pitching a movie is you start by talking why the story is meaningful to you, but at the same time you have to be able to describe it in terms that are going to be meaningful for them in terms of what their actual decision-making process is. And so you have to be able to talk about how it’s resonating with you, your personal connection to it, who you are, why they should trust you. But at the same time you have to be able to then flip it and say like this is why this is going to be a thing that needs to happen in the world. This is why this is going to be a movie you’re going to want to make and green light and spend all your money and all your time doing.

And it’s easy to figure out why something is meaningful to you. It’s hard to figure out sometimes why it’s meaningful to them. And it’s practice is what does it. You start to hear these investors talking about sort of what’s meaningful. You start to hear the words they use. Things like what’s your unfair advantage, which I’d never actually heard before until Chris Sacca said it. And then I was an investor pitch earlier this week and a guy slipped that in. I’m like, oh my god, that felt kind douche-baggy, but also wonderful.

The same way that we would use “end of the second act.”

Craig: Right.

John: Or at the midpoint. The way we would use those kind of terms or tent pole, they use these kind of terms and you have to be able to understand why they’re looking for those things because those are meaningful parts of their decision process.

Craig: Yeah. When you are pitching something, it’s great to start with that question you raised. Why should this movie exist? And you need to have a good reason for it. Not a good intellectual reason, but a good passionate reason. You have to actually believe your answer, because that’s what’s going to power you through writing the script. Only through believing your answer and having faith in your answer do you have a prayer of having them agree with you.

John: And one of the toughest matches though is sometimes you can pitch a movie that you actually have no interest in writing. And I’ve encountered this a couple times where I’ve gone in on a project and I can sort of see like, oh, there’s a movie there. I can see what that is. I can see what they’re going for. Or, sometimes I’ll be sent some adaptation and I’ll be like I see why there is a movie there, I just know I don’t want to write it. And I know that it’s the process of trying to write this thing is going to be terrible. And that same kind of thing happens in this StartUp podcast, where there’s a version of what an investor is looking for that is not at all what Alex Bloomberg is trying to create.

Craig: Right.

John: And he has to question himself, like, I see why they want this thing, I’m just not interested in doing that thing. I don’t think I’d be good at doing that thing. I think everyone is going to be miserable if I try to make that thing.

Craig: And then you have a choice.

John: You do.

Craig: Because, it’s funny, when Lindsay and I went around pitching the thing that I’m writing now, we had terrific success. A lot of people said, yes, we would like this. After about three, I think our first three meetings were big successes. And then the fourth one was just terrible. Terrible meeting. Not because they were being mean, it just was awkward from the start. It was a rough one. And we knew it wasn’t going to be a yes. It was going to be a no.

And in thinking about it later, I was just so grateful that that hadn’t happened to have been the first one.

John: Yup.

Craig: Because you just don’t, sometimes it’s just that’s the one person, or even if it’s the two people, and you have to ask yourself, okay, is it me or is them? And, of course, when you’re looking for a big investor, or in our case, when you’re looking for that one investor, all it takes is one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You just need one person to love it. You don’t need everybody to kind of like it.

John: Exactly. And sometimes that decision process of who do you go to first can be so important because, you know, sometimes it’s good to go to sort of the softer place that you’re not that invested in them saying yes or saying no, just so you can practice what it feels like to you telling it to somebody else.

And so in times where I’ve done TV pitches, I’ve noticed that I often do schedule the most unlikely place first, or the least exciting place first, because that way you sort of get all the butterflies out.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a little bit like you’re scheduling your movie, you always try and pick something that’s kind of a layup for day one. You know, oh yeah, we’re just going to shoot two people talking in a restaurant. That’s easy. Easy first day.

John: I was out a dinner with Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber who wrote 500 Days of Summer.

Craig: Great guys.

John: Great guys. Love them to death. And I had met Scott before, but this was the first time meeting Michael.

Craig: He’s the best, isn’t he?

John: They’re wonderful.

Craig: And he’s like, and Michael is like, he’s 12 as far as I’m concerned.

John: Yes.

Craig: So young. Yeah.

John: So young. So, one of them lives in Los Angeles. One of them lives in New York. And so they often have to do pitches or meetings on the phone with people. And they talked about how difficult it was to plan for it. And they had to actually sort of be really meticulous about who is going to say what, because otherwise they’re just talking over each other. And they need to make sure that all the points get made. It’s really, really difficult to do in person and then to try to it on the phone, too, it’s a challenging world we live in.

Craig: Yeah. I had lunch with — or coffee or something with Michael in New York and I was fascinated by this, how they managed to do it that way. But they do. I’ve spent time with both of them now, but never in the same room.

John: Yeah. So, this was my first time ever — they’re rarely together, so it was nice to have them both there at Austin.

Craig: I mean, but then again, look at us.

John: Look at us. We’re never in the same room. It works out fine.

Craig: Yeah, we’re the Elton John and Bernie Taupin of podcasts.

John: Oh my god. I think that’s a much better comparison that the Van Halen of podcasts.

Craig: Let me ask you a question. Which one of us is Elton John and which one is Bernie Taupin?

John: I’m Bernie Taupin –

Craig: No question.

John: You’re the flamboyant showman.

Craig: I’m the one in the boa and duck glasses. Yeah.

John: I’m Bernie Taupin because I have no idea what he looks like, but I sense he’s really the power behind the whole relationship.

Craig: He’s certainly the serious one. Yeah. He’s the one who’s like, okay –

John: He’s like, “Elton, no, got to get this done. We’ve got to finish this.” That’s completely my function. In Big Fish with Andrew Lippa, and I adore Andrew Lippa, but I always the one who had to say like, okay no, we’re going to sit down and we’re going to finish this song. We’ve got to get this thing happening because we promised these people. I’m always — that’s my job.

Craig: Yup. And I’m the guy in the Mozart wig and sailor outfit.

John: Yes. You put something on the show notes which I think is potentially fascinating, because it’s something that you’re writing right now. On the show notes you write, “Descending into darkness. When you have to write terrible, tragic moments.”

Craig: Yeah, I actually did it this morning. And I’m just going to be incredibly honest because this is the place where I’ve learned how to be honest, I think, on the podcast. I wrote this sequence this morning, and then I — honestly, I bawled. I bawled. I cried my little eyes out, because it was so sad. And it just made me so, so sad.

And if that sounds like something that you find laughable, maybe this isn’t for you. Because I do feel like this is part of what we have to do. It’s not something that’s come up frequently for me, because most of the movies that I’ve written over my career have been lighter fare. And while there are sweet moments or dramatic moments in lighter fare, it’s never quite so gut-wrenching. I mean, you just don’t want to kill — you don’t want to deflate the soufflé of lighter movies.

But when you’re writing a movie that has room for tragedy, sooner or later you’re going to come to that point where you have to go to a bad place, because you have to write something that is terrible. The sort of thing that if it happened to a friend, you’d feel it in the pit of your stomach and you would be horrified.

And it’s not easy. And I’m not sure, I sort of wanted to ask you if there’s anything you do particularly to prepare for those moments and how you go into those moments because for me it seemed like the only way to prepare was to not prepare and to just let myself experience bad things.

John: So, yes, I’ve had to do this actually quite a lot. And so Big Fish was sort of the most notable example, where that last sequence where you’re sort of taking Edward Bloom to the river and he passes away, that’s opening a bunch of veins. And writing that sequence, I’ve talked about this before and sort of not secret knowledge, what I would do is in my bathroom at my old house there was this big mirror and I would sit in front of the mirror and I’d bring myself to tears. And then I would start writing the scene. I would write it all by hand.

And it sounds very, very method, but in a weird way your brain switches to a different place when you’re in that kind of heightened emotion. And you can sort of capture that emotion when you are writing, sometimes when you’re feeling that same way.

And so I didn’t have to necessarily bring up horrible memories of my past. I didn’t have to do any of that stuff. But I let that moment be really real in my head to the point where it would bring me to tears, and then I would write through it.

The danger and difficulty of doing that is that same sense memory will come back every time you see or reencounter that scene. And so as I had to sort of go through the script again, and again, and again, I couldn’t get through that stuff, reading it sometimes, without evoking that same memory and those same tears.

Then, of course, I went off and did the Broadway version and to write that sequence with Andrew Lippa I had to bring us both to tears, and then we had to write the song, and then figure out the scene that goes around it and stage it and perform it ourselves like 100 times. So, that whole moment is deeply, deeply wired in to sort of how I experience the show, how I experience the movie.

And that’s not a bad thing, it’s just the reality. You have to remember that you are the first performer of this moment that you are creating. And so if it doesn’t have an emotional impact for you as you’re writing it, it’s not going to have an emotional impact for someone who is watching it.

Craig: That’s right. And in many ways while it is uncomfortable to feel these emotions as you’re writing these things and to cry over what you’re writing, it is the reward of a lot of good work that you’ve done before that. A lot of logical non-emotional work you’ve done. Because the only way you’re going to get to that place — tragedy ultimately while felt irrationally is constructed of rational things. Circumstances make things tragic. Not emotions.

And when the circumstances align in such a way, then they allow the emotion to occur. So, this is your reward. You’ve done your job. If you are crying when this happens, it means you have carefully constructed the proper recipe for tragedy. But then going through it, it’s interesting — I didn’t start crying before I did it. I just started doing it and then started feeling those moments where I would begin. And that’s how you know it’s true.

I mean, this is where I have to say drama is easier than comedy. Because when you write something funny, I don’t know anybody that sits there writing — any comic writer who sits there writing and then suddenly starts laughing as they type. I’ve never seen such a thing. It’s because it is so, I don’t know how to, I want to say intellectual.

John: But comedy is ultimately a function of surprise. Comedy relies on that sense of like something that you didn’t see happening happens, or someone says something that you didn’t expect, and it takes you by surprise.

Craig: And you know the surprise.

John: And once you know the surprise, it’s not going to be funny the same way. Same reason why you watch any movie that you love as a comedy, you may still love it, but it’s not going to be as funny the second time.

Craig: That’s right. And so you have to — the only way to write a funny moment is to know the surprise at the end and then it build it backwards like a magician designing a trick. But that’s dangerous work because there is no instinctive moment where you say my lizard brain has just informed me that this is impactful.

You know, when you cry, that’s not you. You’re not crying. The sense of who we are as people is all about our consciousness and our frontal lobe. This is the animal underneath. So, not only are you the first person performing this part, but then your limbic system is the first audience member listening to it, in a true sense different than you. And so you have to listen to that and you have to be on top of that.

And if you get to a place where you’re descending into the darkness, and none of this is happening, then you have to ask yourself if you’ve constructed all the circumstances necessary to make this moment tragic, or if you were just leaning on the moment itself. It’s not enough to watch somebody die. We have seen people die in movies 14 billion times. Why are they dying? What did they do to die? Who is watching them die? What does that person mean to them?

All of those questions are what makes something tragic as opposed to just henchman number four falling to his death.

John: It is your emotional investment in those characters that it makes those moments have stakes, have meaning. And so it’s not necessarily your emotional investment in a character who is dying, but it could your emotional investment in the characters who are witnessing that death who are affected by that death. That is what’s meaningful.

You’re absolutely right in that if in a movie you see a character die in a car crash, that’s not necessarily going to bring tears. It’s not necessarily going to have an emotional impact. Only to the degree that we love that character or relate to that character or see ourselves in that character, or someone else who we can identify with who we can feel that connection to the character. Then we can feel it. Otherwise, we don’t feel it.

And your point about construction of a joke is absolutely true with drama as well. And I often describe Big Fish as one very long joke and the punch line is tears. In that it really is very carefully constructed to set up this expectation of we know from the start that Edward Bloom is not going to live at the end. The question of the film and the question of the musical is what is going to happen with this relationship between Edward and his son, Will. And we are paying that off right at the very end and the surprise of the movie — I’m going to spoil everything for you — but the surprise of the movie is that Will actually finally does get there and is able to deliver that last moment.

And so it’s that happy tears thing can happen because you’ve spent so much time and so much energy making it possible to have meaning in that moment.

Craig: Right. Now, there is a danger hidden behind all of this. And the danger is this. You will write this and you will care deeply about it. It will be emotional for you. And sometimes it’s emotional for you because it has a resonance to you personally, separate from the story. However, you must remember that the audience, either the people in the theater or someone reading your screenplay owes you nothing.

John: Zero.

Craig: Nothing. And it is absolutely within their right to say this didn’t move me, or I think it would be better if this, or I think it would better — you don’t have to agree with them, but what you can’t do is hold them responsible for your emotions. Either you have managed to welcome them in to your limbic theater, or you haven’t. And so just be careful not to force people to be accountable for what you feel, just because you felt it.

John: Absolutely. And so sometimes you will encounter a script where there’s clearly supposed to be this emotional payoff and we’re not feeling it. We’re not feeling those moments. And something along the way did not click fully. And someone got off the ride. And if someone got off the ride, they’re going to see this moment and say like I should feel something, but I don’t feel something, and therefore I don’t like it.

Craig: Yup.

John: And that is really going to happen. And obviously the same thing happens in comedy, too. When you feel joke-oids or things that should be funny but aren’t funny, there’s something that’s just fundamentally not working there. And it’s your job to put aside your experience of that moment to really be the scientist to figure out why is this not working the way I thought it was going to be working.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: So, let’s take a look at these Three Page Challenges and see if we can get them working the way they want to be working. So, as always, if you want to read along with us, we have the PDFs for this Three Page Challenge are attached to the show notes at johnaugust.com. So, go to johnaugust.com and click on this episode and you’ll see the PDFs for these things so you can read along with us.

So, Craig, which of these Three Page Challenges should we look at first?

Craig: Well, the first on my pile, because I like to print these out, is –

John: Oh that’s right, old school.

Craig: Old school. It’s the signal by Cody Pearce.

John: Let’s go for it. Do you want to do it or should I do the summary?

Craig: I’m happy to do it.

John: Summarize!

Craig: Okay. So, opens with a pair of gloved hands. One of them is holding on to a leather satchel. The other is grabbing a large knife and hiding it within the folds of an animal skin coat.

We see the hermit, this is our hero that we’re following, moving out of a rustic cabin in the pines and then wearing a pair of earplugs. They put the earplugs in the ears. We don’t see a face.

The hermit moves through the woods, moving past some hidden bear traps. And then eventually arrives in a town, a small town called Pine Brush. And it looks like it’s been abandoned for decades, kind of post-apocalyptic.

As the hermit walks down a street we see a family coming. They avoid the hermit. Interesting. And then the hermit enters a general store which is run by Bob. Just this average guy. And he offers to help the hermit with something. And then the phone rings and a high pitched noise comes out of the phone and Bob suddenly stops being Bob and becomes controlled by something. He’s channeling some other voice and he attacks the hermit who is now revealed to be Michelle, a 30-year-old woman.

And the voice says, “Oh, Michelle,” through Bob says, “oh Michelle, you look terrible.” They have a fight. Bob is trying to pull out her earplugs and saying please let me help you. And eventually the fight ends when Michelle rams the knife in between Bob’s ribs. And that is our three pages from Cody Pearce. John, take it away.

John: So, I was intrigued by this overall. I was excited to read pages four through ten at least and see what this whole situation was going to be. Clearly The Signal is this thing that can take over people and the hermit, this character Michelle, has good reason to be isolating herself in the woods to do something.

I liked a lot of this. I was a little ahead of Cody. For whatever reason I tipped that the hermit is probably a woman dressed up under all this other stuff. But on the whole I dug it.

It was interesting to hear your summary where you say, so this is the bottom of page one. “The buildings of Pine Brush haven’t been updated in decades. Most are abandoned, businesses closed and boarded up. A few old, beaten-up cars scattered about.” Now, you read that and said post-apocalyptic. I don’t think that’s the intention. I think the intention is it’s just like a rundown town.

But, it was ambiguous, and that ambiguity hurts because those are two different universes. And I think a little bit more — I’m going to say that word — specificity could help us here. Because I need to know what kind of universe we’re in. Because I think I’m probably more right because Bob’s general store is running.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so it wouldn’t be running otherwise. But it was a reasonable choice and I read it both ways the first time.

Craig: I agree. Many, many promising things here. I always like to say, hey, you can do this to somebody. I think, hey Cody, you can do this.

Let’s talk about what works. The style here is right for the material. There’s a lot of whitespace on the page. Very short descriptions. I’m not hearing these overdone elaborations of what the pine trees look like and how the footsteps sound in my ear, all this stuff. It’s nice and punchy and good. I was completely with you that I was ahead that something was up with the hermit. Either it was going to be a child or a woman. And the reason why is because when you write something like, “Out steps…THE HERMIT, age unknown, wearing the animal skin overcoat, his face hidden beneath a large hood.” And then, again, “We do not see his face.”

Well, then it’s not a him. You’re kind of cheating on your misdirect. If it’s a big deal that this is a woman and that we can’t see her face and that we’re supposed to be misled, I would just underplay it here in your description. Finally we see this person’s face. And not make a big deal of holy gosh it’s a lady.

John: Yeah.

Craig: At first I was a little surprised by “Howdy. Can I help you with anything?” because that seemed so corny. You know, nobody really talks like that anymore. But then I thought, okay, once the little squeal-y sound happens, maybe that’s sort of Bob, that’s all that’s left of Bob’s personality. I don’t know.

John: See, I took this as Bob really was Bob from the start. And that was genuinely him. And then that Signal took over and he became a different person. So, I would want to take this as, and I don’t know Cody’s intention, but everything actually is fine and normal until The Signal takes over.

So, The Signal is specifically looking for her.

Craig: I see. Well, in that case “Howdy. Can I help you with anything?” is –

John: Howdy is a dangerous word.

Craig: Just bad dialogue. The action I thought was very well written. I understood what was going on. Personally, so okay, Cody has an issue here. There is a cinematic concept whereby characters that we see onscreen are occasionally going to be possessed by some unseen intelligence that will speak through those characters.

And what Cody says, what he writes for us is in brackets: “[NOTE: from here on out, whenever a character is under the control of the Signal his dialogue will be show " -- instead of shown, that's a typo -- "(tapped)]” And then in parenthesis tapped. And so as a parenthetical every time Bob speaks with the Signal voice it says, “(tapped) Oh Michele, You look terrible.” Again, another typo Y is capitalized. And then again, “(tapped) Please…Let me help you.”

I’m not sure that’s going to work here. We’ve got, I assume, at least 90 pages of this. A lot of people are going to be talking this way. Tapped is a very strange word for this. I understand that it may make sense later, but to see it over and over and over. Plus, you’re stealing your ability as a screenwriter to put a different parenthetical in if you need to. What if the Signal voice is sarcastic or angry? Or whispering? How are you supposed to do that?

So, my argument would be that instead maybe everything that is a Signal should be in italics.

John: That’s exactly my suggestion.

Craig: Yeah, it would just make more –

John: Yeah, I think it makes more sense. So, keep the same note, just say that when under the control of the Signal, everything will be in italics. We’ll get it. It’ll be fine. And I agree with you. Tapped, I think, is a weird choice of that word anyway because tapped implies a physical reaction, like something is actually physically happening and that’s not what’s happening.

Craig: Right. My last comment for Cody is this. As screenwriters, sometimes we get trapped by convention. One of the conventions of screenplays is that when we meet characters for the first time we present their name in capital letters, we give you the age, and then we give you some brief description. Devastatingly handsome. Plan girl next door with a light in her eyes.

Well, that’s what he’s done here. “MICHELLE, 30, cute but very tired. Bangs cover her forehead.” Here’s the problem: when we see her it’s because Bob, under the influence of the evil Signal, has ripped her hood off revealing her face. That’s the last point in a movie where you want your character to be described as tired. [laughs]

John: Well, it’s also the last point when you want to have her described as cute.

Craig: Cute.

John: Cute is not very helpful.

Craig: Right.

John: So, find some words that will tell us, might give us a sense of her size, but also her tenacity, whatever. Give us a little bit that’s going to cue us into the action sequence that’s about to happen.

Craig: I mean, and plus, it’s perfectly fine to say Michelle, 30 frightened, you know, blurry-eyed, scared, whatever. Something that’s appropriate for the moment. Unless her forehead is marked with some fascinating information, I definitely don’t need to know about her bangs at this point.

And even if it is a tattoo on her forehead of something brilliant, I still don’t need to know about the bangs right now.

John: Exactly. You can save some of these character descriptions till a moment after this bite has happened. And make it a story point. There’s a reason why she brushes back her bangs to reveal that thing if that’s an important story — because if something about her forehead is important, put a light on it. And you can do that after this.

Craig: Right.

John: So, she’s still going to have bangs in both places, even if you don’t say it.

Craig: Yup. But all around, I would say very good stuff.

John: Yeah. So, a couple things on the page that I want to talk about. Page one, middle of the page, “The hermit moves swift and silent through the dense forest.” So, classically that’s swiftly and silently because it’s an adverb, but this swift and silent works for this. Grammatically those should be adverbs, but we tend to sort of use swift and silent. I was fine with it. But I wanted to point out that it’s the kind of thing that you can do it right or you can do what sort of works on the page. And I felt it worked on the page really well.

Craig: I actually prefer this incorrect method.

John: Yeah. And then, top of page three, first line of real action, “Michelle hits Bob’s arm, causing him to let go of her coat. She pulls out the KNIFE she had hidden in her coat.” So, awkwardness here. Causing him to let go of her coat. That is really weak. Michelle hit’s Bob’s arm, breaking free of his grasp. Causing him to let go of her coat is just really weak and passive and it’s not indicative of sort of the action that you’re describing.

Craig: Right. He pulls away in pain. Something other than a very clinical description.

John: Exactly. And both sentences are ending with her coat which is just not ideal

Craig: Yeah, you don’t want to do that.

John: So, always look for repetitions between two sentences and there’s going to be reasons while you’ll want those repetitions, but most of the times you don’t want those repetitions. And this is a case where that was getting in his way.

Craig: 100 percent.

John: Cool.

Craig: All right. What’s next, John?

John: Next let’s do Eric Webb’s script and I will attempt to summarize this. Immortal Coil.

We’re starting in Seattle, Washington, sunset. Winter scenes of the scene transition into night, intercut with the sun setting behind the Olympic mountains. We’re seeing sort of details of the city, Pike Place market, college students, the sun dips, we hear a jingle, jingle, jingle off-screen. In the central district of town, we’re at dusk, there’s a pockmarked street with shabby apartment buildings.

Inside the bedroom of one of these apartments a form is shifting under heavy covers. The only other light in the room is a temperature controller for an electric blanket. So, there’s somebody in here asleep. Moments later, the person gets out of the bed, opens the drapes.

We’re going to meet Kaleb and Kaleb is covered in blood. Let’s see what the actual description is. “He is half undressed, his crumpled clothes twisted at awkward angles around his frame from having been slept in. He is covered from head to toe in SPLATTERS OF BLOOD, but no wounds are apparent.”

He’s going to be taking a shower in the bathroom and we notice after the shower there’s a faint glimmer of reflectivity can be seen in the pupils of his eyes.

More details of his apartment. Getting dressed. He tells himself you forgot something. He puts on a charming smile and drops the smile and say a word that we’re not going to say on this podcast because it’s PG-13. And then he goes out into the street. It’s night. And as he’s walking through the snow he seems to be enjoying and sort of soaking up the energy of the people around him.

He seems like he’s potentially a dangerous person. And that is the bottom of our three pages.

Craig: So, I can’t say that I was in love with these. Most of the issues have to do with the content as opposed to the style, but there are some style issues as well that we need to discuss. So, I guess I’ll start in with those.

We’ve got the first half of page one, for all intents and purposes reads like the introduction to a Christmas movie. We’ve got a sun setting behind the Olympic mountains. Businesses in Pike Place Market being shuttered. College students building snowmen.

And then a cell phone alarm that says Jingle Jangle Jingle, which in my mind means Christmas. [laughs] It’s just Jingle Bells. Jingle Jangle Jingle. I just think like, oh, we’re on our way to a Christmas party or something. And now we’re into this — then he reestablishes, he goes from sunset to dusk which is — I know that DPs know the difference, but the average reader doesn’t.

And actually we went from sunset to dusk to dusk. I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter.

Obviously the sun setting is the important part because we’re dealing with a vampire. And I know this because Jingle Jangle Jingle, which I know realize, okay, yeah, for sure, this is not a Christmas movie anymore, there’s a guy who’s hiding from the sun under this bed.

Now, at the bottom of page one we have a five line action block which in my mind becomes mush.

John: It’s five lines, but actually almost nothing happens.

Craig: Exactly.

John: I think that’s really the tragedy of the five lines. It’s not describing this amazing moment from a war. It’s basically like there’s somebody under the blanket for five lines.

Craig: Right. He’s under the blanket and he’s turning his alarm off, which we’ve seen a billion times. So, now he wakes up and, I’m just going to read this because it just doesn’t work. “From behind, we see the occupant of the bed throw open a set of black-out drapes revealing make out a man’s silhouette against the battered blinds that cover the windows.”

Guys, this needs to be like sewn onto a pillow as what to not do. Obviously there’s a mistake in there, but it’s a run-on sentence. You’re missing commas. We see the occupant of the — you never want to say something like we see the occupant of the bed throw open, because people just see bed throw. The words don’t go together. It just — what’s wrong with just saying the man throws open the set of drapes. We see a silhouette.

John: Yup.

Craig: It’s just so over-written. And now he’s parting the flaps of the blinds close on his eye. You want to capitalize CLOSE for me, otherwise people are going to read it as close on his eye. As he peers out at the last embers of daylight in the west. This is just — you and I talk about purple. This is purple.

Okay. But the point being at this point I’m for sure I know we’re dealing with a vampire. And I’m already a little annoyed because his name is Kaleb with a K. And this is starting to just feel very YA and very well-trodden ground. He is described as “in his early twenties with pale skin, a slender build, and long jet-black hair.” AKA, every YA vampire ever.

And, this is really where — ugh — I started to get a little squirmy. “He is covered from head to toe in SPLATTERS OF BLOOD, but no wounds are apparent.”

First of all, don’t tell me no wounds are apparent. He has just woken up. If he’s covered in blood, he’s okay. It’s not his blood. He’s been sleeping all night. He’s not screaming. It’s not dripping. He looks at himself in a mirror and we see “there are channels cut into the crusted mask of blood that covers part of his face, carved by tears when the blood was fresh. New tears now trace those same paths.”

Forgive me, but at this point I’m starting to feel like I should be laughing. Because that’s so over-the-top, I’m not sure what to do. And then he takes a shower and we are told, all capital letters, “THE BLOOD WAS NOT HIS.” We know. We know. We get it. This is making so much more of something that frankly we’ve seen.

John: My biggest challenge overall with these pages is it is totally valid here is a vampire in Seattle, great. But this introduction — benefit of the doubt, maybe it’s not a vampire movie. There’s some special details about this that it’s a different kind of supernatural thing we’re going to go into, so it’s taking the vampire tropes and it’s going to push against them. But from these three pages it feels like a vampire wakes up. And that’s sort of all we got. A vampire wakes up and takes a shower.

And I wasn’t seeing special things that let me know what kind of movie I’m in. Well, I sort of knew what kind of movie I was in, and I was not excited to be in that movie because I’ve seen this movie before.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It felt like too familiar of a setup and everything to begin with. And the writing felt like book writing rather than screenwriting. It felt like the kind of sentences that are trying to very painterly, you kind of over-describe everything because you’re trying to paint these whole scenes that you don’t really need to do in screenwriting because screenwriting is about this happens, and this happens, and this happens. It was too much at all times.

Craig: Yeah. You have to remember that we, Eric, we control time as screenwriters. We can present things in a remarkably compressed manner, or we can drag them out so that they are painfully slow. And there are times when you want to do one or the other. And there are times when you want to just move at a general neutral speed.

What you’ve done here is you’ve dragged time out to the point now where you’re describing the color of the wallpaper and the color of the carpet and how the carpet smells, none of which is relevant here whatsoever.

The only information that I get from this is that there’s a vampire in Seattle and it makes him sad that he has to kill people to eat stuff. And that’s fine. It’s not new. And I’m certainly not — look, if it were me, god, I would much rather prefer this thing open in a bar and a woman is there and this guy comes along and starts talking to her and they’re actually getting along great. And he really likes her. And we can tell he really likes her. And then he kills her. And then he cries.

I mean, just get me into this somehow other than vampire wakes up looking just like a vampire doing vampire stuff like hiding from the sun. And then he’s got vampire blood on him. And, bummer.

John: Well, honestly, it’s the two kind of tropes that happen so often in these movies which is sort of like here’s the vampire and he’s being a vampire. And here’s a character waking up, here’s a character’s alarm clock going off the first thing in the morning and that’s how the movie starts. And so it’s weird that you’re sort of doing both things at once, but not weird in a fantastic way.

And Seattle is an interesting place to set, and maybe this can be some kind of artisanal vampire thing happening. That there can be something very specific about it that could be great. But Twilight is also set in the Seattle area, so that’s not even…

So, the only thing I want to say that I think is really useful for talking about craft is on page two, we’re in the bathroom, and there’s these stacked scenes where it’s like moments later, angle behind mirror, this type of thing. And it’s an example of making things much more difficult than they need to be.

And in real scripts that shoot, you’re going to find this stuff is simplified greatly. Each of these little moments, you could slug them individually, but you could also just sort of just talk through them in paragraphs. Because if it’s just a time cut within one little space and it’s just a montage of things that happen, you can call that a scene and everyone will figure out what’s supposed to happen in it.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the good news is clearly you guys, you, Eric, sorry, saw this scene in your head. You saw all of it. You did what you’re supposed to do. You imagined every detail of the moment, down to the colors and smells and angles. But you can’t actually then just go and dictate all of that out. You have to decide where and what to let other people in on. It’s important for you to know everything. It’s not as important for the reader to know everything.

John: Much more important than sort of this geography stuff, and so the color of the walls is what it feel like. And I didn’t get a great sense of what it actually felt like and what this is supposed to feel like to a person. So, like, does this apartment feel like an old grandmother’s apartment that someone inherited? Does it feel like the most seedy rock club you’ve ever been in? What does it feel like? Just give me that one line of description. Would have done a lot more good for telling the story than all the stuff that I got there.

Craig: Yeah. Tweaker pad. Flop house. Unfurnished corporate apartment. There’s so many ways to just get this out there and I get it. By the way, hipster vampire is not a bad idea. Like if you just did a movie about just like bearded flannel-wearing, mutton chop, handle bar mustache vampires who sort of quibble over like who they drink blood from. Like are they on antibiotics. Like I don’t drink blood from anybody that’s been vaccinated. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Absolutely. The anti-vaccination vampire.

Craig: The anti-vaccination vampire is awesome.

John: The last thing I want to point out, so this script is called Immortal Coil, and it’s written by Eric Webb, story by Eric Webb with Casey Ligon. And the “with” is just a really weird thing. And it’s not an actual thing that exists in the world. And would be what that would look like.

Craig: And.

John: With doesn’t exist as a credit in film land.

Craig: All right. Our last three pages is called Nexus and it’s written by Carlos Aldana. And I put the hard stop there because I really want to say Carlo Saldana. Carlos Saldanha is the director of the Rio movies. But this is Carlos Aldana. And it’s called Nexus.

I shall summarize thusly. SUPER: “November, 2014″ We’re in darkness and then the sound of metal screeching. A big door opens up revealing Lucy. She’s 35 years old. And she’s telling some people to hurry and four people running after her, just silhouetted. She guides the group up an emergency stairwell in a building. They all carry guns. They’re all dirty and tired.

Ryan, who is 39, Ashley, 17, Earl, 44, and Eddie Jeong, 23. And they’re asking how much longer. And Earl is saying you better haul ass if you don’t want to get caught by one of those things.

John: We’ll come back to that line.

Craig: We’re going to come back to a lot of these lines. So, then we get in to the office. Something is growling. And it turns out, oh, it’s not a monster. It’s just a dog. This is an abandoned office. Lucy opens up a safe. Rather, she tells Jeong to open up a safe. And Ashley says mom. So, that turns out to be Lucy’s daughter, Ashley. And she’s looking at the Los Angeles skyline, except the buildings are destroyed and abandoned. I think I’m now safe to say this is post-apocalyptic.

John: Yeah. I think it’s fair. I think there’s been a recession. There are issues. But I think we’re now safely post-apocalyptic.

Craig: Right. So, Lucy is reminiscing about a Los Angeles that once was. And Jeong opens up a safe.

Now, here’s what’s in the safe. A disk the size of a quarter, a key card, and six high tech pucks called either DITs or D-I-Ts. It’s hard to tell. And they are futuristic objects that stick together and also do not stick together and also stick to concrete. And she throws them at a wall. There are some geography issues. The point being that they create a portal. That these things open a portal up. And the portal appears to reveal another place that’s just like the place they’re in. It’s like a mirror, but a mirror into another place.

You know, if I’m running out of juice on the summary, you know there’s some trouble. [laughs] I’m not really sure what happened. That’s the god’s honest truth, John. I’m not exactly sure what happened.

John: So, I thought the idea of you throw this thing at the wall and it opens up and forms a portal, yeah, I’ve played the game Portal. I like the game Portal. So, maybe there’s something really great to do there. So, I wasn’t nuts about the description of it, but I was intrigued enough to say like, well, what kind of movie is this.

The thing that obviously intrigues me right from the start is it says November 2014. And it’s like, well, that’s now. That’s actually today. But it’s a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. So, something has changed. Either the timeline has changed, or Carlos actually wrote this a couple of years ago and made some bad predictions.

Craig: Well, but on his front page he writes May, 2014. And also copyright 2014, which by the way, Carlos, not necessary to write.

John: Not necessary. Also not necessary to have the comma after May, but that’s fine.

Craig: Correct.

John: So, something has happened. I think it’s a deliberate choice to say this is an alternate timeline. There’s something else going on. And given that we’re able to bend the laws of physics in order to create these portals, maybe the time has moved, too.

Unfortunately, while it’s generally great to start in the middle of action, that’s usually a really good thing to try to do, I don’t think it’s helping us so much here because I don’t know who these characters are in a useful way. And I’m not particularly intrigued, just based on the little bits of dialogue that I’m getting.

And so, “How much longer? Almost there.” Okay. Fine. “You better haul ass if you don’t wanna get caught by one of those things.” I don’t know what this world is, but these people seem to know what they’re doing, and no one would say that if they’d been through this before.

Craig: Yeah. Why would you say that about the most important and dangerous thing. Like if you were working in the Ebola zone, and you saw somebody, like one of your fellow doctors without a surgical mask on, would you say, “You better put your surgical mask on, or you’ll catch Ebola.” That’s the equivalent. I mean, it’s just crazy.

John: It is truly the equivalent. And so that felt weird and it just took me out of the movie because it so made it clear we’re in a movie.

Craig: Well, if that didn’t make it clear that you’re in a movie, how about these descriptions. And talk about these descriptions for me, please, these character descriptions.

John: Okay. Let’s read through them. So, Lucy is 35, petite and brunette. That’s all we get.

Craig: Petite and brunette. I think you’ve got to just stop there. We cannot — I get that we have lived in a world where men have reduced women in movies frequently to the girl. We can’t do this anymore. You cannot define a human being by their physical height and then their hair color.

John: Well, to be fair, Lucy is 35, petite, and brunette, while Ashley is 17, petite but tough.

Craig: [laughs] Okay. She’s tough. Okay. Fair enough. She’s also petite, though.

John: So, women in this movie so far we’ve learned can be brunette and they can be tough.

Craig: You certainly can’t be both.

John: And it’s possible they can be both. So, what we’re really saying is that Lucy is the first person we’re introduced to. We need some description of her that tells us what she’s like, not what she looks like.

Craig: Correct. Unless Lucy dies on page four as a big shocker and Ashley has to become the hero of the movie, we need more from Lucy, because right now she feels like the hero. And it it’s true that Lucy dies suddenly and Ashley has to become the hero of the movie, then we need more about Ashley. Either way, nobody — the script has given us no information about who we’re supposed to be concentrating on.

John: So, two things about this. First off, is the misdirect is that Lucy’s going to die on page four, the misdirect has to happen on the page, too. So, give us a little bit of stuff about her so we have sense of who she is, because then it’s actually going to be rewarding for us that she got killed off. So, give us a description that sort of lands for us and anchors us.

But, the bigger issue here I think, in addition to the specific choices of the words we’re using to describe these characters is you’re shooting us, all four of them at once. There’s that shotgun approach. Here’s four characters and they’re running and doing things. That’s really hard to be great in any circumstance, because we don’t know what we’re supposed to pay attention to. And we’re desperately looking for things, but you have them running and doing all this other stuff. It makes it just very hard for us to relate to any one of your characters because you’re giving us four all at once.

Craig: I mean, this is what you’re suggesting. Screenplays are proposing to an unseen, unknown director, what to shoot. What you are proposing here that the director shoots is Lucy guiding people up stairs. And as they walk our camera just sees each one of them. And none of them say anything until the last one. So, we’re just literally watching this lineup of four people.

This is ultimately what we know. Lucy is petite and brunette. Ryan moves and carries his gun like a pro. Definitely military or police. Ah, okay. We won’t know that in any way, shape, or form. Ashley, petite, but tough, looks a bit old for her age. We won’t know her age, so none of that matters. And then, Earl, 44, big muscular black guy in mechanic overalls. Lastly, Eddie Jeong, pale and skinny Asian, clearly tired going up the stairs.

Not only does this read like the kind of group you see in B-level zombie videogames, but it’s a bad version. It’s kind of racist. It feels like — like what race is Ryan? What race is Lucy? What race is Ashley?

John: That’s a very good point.

Craig: I guess they’re white, because you don’t mention it.

John: The default is white.

Craig: The default is white and that’s just not cool. Like, especially if you’re going to end in big black guy and skinny Asian dude land. Eh…

John: Yeah. So, let’s talk about, let’s say that you needed to introduce these characters in the stairwell. A way you might want to do that is if Lucy’s in front, we meet Lucy, and she’s like, “Hold up.” And she’s looking for something. We’re on her for a moment and she’s talking to unseen people. And then she finally gives the go ahead for them to follow her up. And so then we have a moment with her. Okay. Here’s a spotlight on her. And then she’s going to move up. And then we can meet one or maybe two more people and see what their dynamic is. And then we’re finally going to meet those last two people.

But right now getting all of these people on screen at once, it helps nobody.

Craig: It’s impossible to do well. The truth is you kind of need somebody to say something before you give a damn about who they are. Or, they have to do something before you give a damn about who they are.

So, if it were me, I would probably have Lucy and Ashley together, talking quietly with each other. Nobody else. And then when they make sure the coast is clear, they open up another — like they’ve wriggled through a window and now they open up a door and there’s a guy saying, “What took you so long?” Some terrible movie line, but the point being, okay, and now we can see who that is.

John: Or, they split up in two groups. So, two of them are searching one place and two of them are searching another place. And then they’re going to cross paths again and they’re looking for something. Obviously they are looking for something, so separate them and then bring them together. And establish stakes that way. So, we don’t even know what the relationship is between these people. Are they on the same side or opposite sides? Just create some tension there by not giving us all these team together at once.

Craig: And you know you have a problem when already on the top of page two, just page two, you’ve now shorthanded the most important human beings in your movie to “our group.” That’s bad. That’s a bad sign.

John: So, I want to talk a little bit about some of the word choices on page one. “A gap opens and light shines at the camera.” Okay. So, we’re talking about the camera, but did we need to? A gap opened. A light shines through. Ah, I got rid of the camera. “The door finally gives in, the light floods in and we see the silhouette of LUCY.” I’m not opposed to we sees, but there’s a lot of we sees here. And we don’t need this we see. The door finally gives in, light floods in. The silhouette of Lucy. Better description for Lucy.

“They rush up a set of emergency stairs in an unnamed building.” [laughs] In an unnamed building? It’s unnamed because you haven’t given it a name.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You can’t say that you’re not telling us something because you’re not telling us something. Rush up a flight of stairs in an office building. In a something building. Give us something.

Next paragraph. “We can barely see them in the dark. But we can tell they’re tired and dirty.”

Craig: What? What? How?

John: Yeah.

Craig: How? If we can barely see them, how are we supposed to tell they’re tired.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And dirty.

John: But we don’t need those two we cans. There’s ways to write around that so you can save those we’s for when they’re actually really important.

Craig: Right.

John: So, that’s my stumping for — I hate the script rule say you can never talk about the camera and you can never say “we see” or “we hear.” You can do all those things, but you have to be really judicious about when you’re going to pull out those tools, because sometimes there’s no better way to do it. So, you use those things. But in all these cases there were ways to just describe things and not have to say we-s.

Craig: I agree. I mean, in general, if I’m going to use we see, it’s because we are seeing something shocking, or I want the screenplay to let the reader know that we in the audience are seeing something that the character on screen is not.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: But you’re right, this is just sort of peppered in there. If the other stuff were working I wouldn’t mind that stuff so much. The building that has no name is described later as, again, as a generic office building. And, again, sunlight floods and blinds — we’ve got a sunlight flooding in at people. Not sure why. It’s kind of unmotivated sunlight.

The bigger issue is what the heck is going on on page three. I mean, let’s just jump ahead. [laughs] Because, you know, first of all, let’s talk about this description. You’re introducing new technology to us. We’re in a zombie movie, presumably, or something like a zombie movie. But, also, you have a twist which is portals. Okay. Fine.

So, what comes out of the safe is some mysterious disk which we’re not going to address at this point, a key card which is a key card and we won’t have to deal with it at this point, and “six high tech pucks called DITs.” What the hell am I supposed to think from that? Like, all right, I’m the prop guy. What’s a high tech puck? What is that? You’ve got to give me more.

John: Because I don’t know. I saw pucks and I didn’t think about the high tech of it all. I bet they’re glowing LED pucks.

Craig: Are they? Are they?

John: I don’t know.

Craig: Are they glowing? Do they have buttons? They have grooves? Are they metallic? Are they intricate? I mean, these things are central to the movie. You’ve got to describe.

John: Yeah. Do they look like human technology or some sort of alien artifact thing? Yeah. I agree with you there, Craig. And it’s obviously going to be central to our story, so it’s worth a little bit of time right here to do. This just wasn’t the best way to do it.

The only other thing I was to point out on, halfway through page three. “The 4 pieces spread until the light rectangle is about the size of a door.” He used the number four rather than the spelled out four. Just follow general kind of AP rules. Numbers that are less than ten, spell out. Numbers that are in dialogue, kind of always spell out. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get people to pronounce things properly, the way you expect them to be pronounced. But there was no reason to use the numeral here. It slows you down.

Craig: Yeah. No reason at all. Take some time to make us love the DIT. I think you’ve got to — help me out here. Is it a DIT or is it a D-I-T? Also, don’t tell me what it’s called if these people aren’t going to say anything. If someone is going to talk about it later, that’s when I find out what it’s called. I don’t need this information now because it’s not being used by me or the people in the scene, the name of it. See?

John: Yeah. And it would be a simple thing that I would actually buy if the character opens the safe and is like, “Got ‘em. Six DITs.” And it’s like I see there are six things. They must be called DITs. I know what to call those things now.

Craig: Exactly.

John: So, it’s very doable. This is always a fun process because people send in these pages and they are being incredibly brave to show the work that they’ve done and let us talk about. In the case of two of these scripts, we dug in and we didn’t like sort of what we were seeing on the page, but it’s still incredibly useful I hope for other writers to look at their own work and see, oh, these are the kinds of things I’m doing that work or don’t work. And maybe I can make some different choices.

Craig: That’s right. And for those of you today, the two of you who kind of got a little bit of a beating, and even our other guy who got a little bit of a beating, just take comfort in this: these are the beatings that we give each other. And these are the beatings we get ourselves.

Lindsay Doran and I spent, I don’t know, an hour the other day talking about two paragraphs, two small paragraph descriptions. And if it were clear, or how to make it clear where somebody was standing. This is the kind of OCD level of detail that you need. And you need to love it. And this is part of the game.

John: Well, it’s that crucial ability to see this is what my intention was and this is how it’s coming out on the other side. So, for these people who sent in these pages, they clearly had an intention. There was a reason they wrote these pages. And they didn’t land with us the way I think they thought they would land. And so that is hopefully a valuable experience. So, that’s why we do Three Page Challenges. That’s why we did it in Austin and why we’re doing this one.

But I need to thank these writers for sending them in and all the writers who send in Three Page Challenges. We have like a 250 script backlog of these samples. And, honestly, Stuart picks the ones that are pretty good. So, that’s a sign that people are, you know –

Craig: Yeah. They’re struggling out there.

John: They’re struggling and they’re also making choices that can hopefully be improved by just having someone take a look at them and really look at them critically.

Craig: Yeah. And if you are playing the home game, take a look at your first three pages and ask yourself how would this go with John and Craig? [laughs] You know? Because, honestly, we are not particularly hard on this stuff. I really do believe that. I know it feels that way, but this is the name of the game out here. It’s the way it goes.

John: So, if you have three pages of your own script that you want to send in to have us take a look at, the proper URL to send them to is johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out. And there’s a form you fill out and you check some boxes and you attach your file and you send them through.

We still call it the Three Page Challenge, it’s really meant to be like the first sequence of a movie. But three pages ends up being about the mountain we can actually talk about usefully in a show. So, for now we’ll stick with Three Page Challenge.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Mm-hmm. So, Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?

Craig: Yeah. We’ve got a big long show, so I’ll be quick about my One Cool Thing this week. Yosemite, the new operating system for Macintosh, has an excellent new feature that works in concert with their new version of iOS and it’s called Family Sharing. And I find this incredibly useful because I used to give my kids an allowance of, I think I gave them $10 a month to spend on apps. And then they would do that, but I didn’t really know exactly what they were getting.

And then, inevitably, if they wanted something that was more expensive or two things, and they were worth it, they’d have to come to be, and it was annoying. So, Family Sharing is great because now every time they want to buy anything, if it’s an app, or a song, or anything, they request it. And the request comes to me on both my MacBook and also on my phone and on my iPad and on Melissa’s phone, and on her iPad, and her computer.

So, either one of us can hit approve or deny. And therefore we’re in charge of all of it which I find very satisfying.

John: That is a really good thing. Mine is also short. It’s this collection of Aesop’s Fables that have been rendered as web pages using Google Fonts collection. So, Google Font’s, like Typekit, has all these amazing typefaces. And so these designers took the Google Fonts and told the stories using these amazing typefaces. And it’s a great example of sort of how expressive type can be on the internet now. And this is all real type. This is isn’t just picture graphics. This is actually — you can select every word there and it’s just done programmatically with fonts. It looks great.

And so it’s a good inspiration for anybody who is designing something on the web in 2014/2015, to really look at the expressive power of typefaces.

Craig: Mm, good show.

John: Good show. Good long show.

Craig: Good to be back. Feels good to be back.

John: Back at my place.

Craig: You know, I can smell all these people, John. They’re aiming for my job. They’re gunning for me. I know Birbiglia wants this gig.

John: Oh, he absolutely wants this gig. And Susannah Grant was great. She put in a great audition.

Craig: Yeah, Susannah, actually, I think would be better than I am.

John: Susannah is pretty great.

Craig: She’s awesome. But Birbiglia. Huh.

John: He’s got that comedian thing. It’s dangerous.

Craig: It’s Steal-giglia.

John: Yeah. I confessed to Mike that I actually wrote him in as a part in this one thing I’m hoping to do. And so I’ll get to work with him regularly if that were to happen.

Craig: That’s very clever.

John: See? You should do that, Craig.

Craig: No, I’m not going to do it. He deserves nothing. [laughs] Nothing.

John: He deserves nothing. He’s a job poacher.

Craig: Exactly.

John: As always, you can find some links to things we talked about in today’s show at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. If you go to scriptnotes.net, that’s where you can subscribe to all the back episodes and all the bonus episodes. We’ll have two bonus episodes coming up really soon. We have an interview I did with Simon Kinberg for the Writers Guild Foundation.

Craig: Nice.

John: And we’ll have the Three Page Challenge we did at Austin. So, both of those will be going up as bonus episodes, so if you want to listen to those. We are so super close to having a thousand subscribers at scriptnotes.net.

Craig: Dirty show.

John: For the premium feed. And, Craig, off recording I will tell you the best inspiration I had for a guest for the dirty show. So, people, sign up.

If you want to subscribe to our normal feed, that’s in iTunes. While you’re there, leave us a comment. It’s because people left so many great comments that iTunes featured us as one of the best podcasts, which was just so nice of them to do.

I am @johnaugust on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions you can send to ask@johnaugust.com.

If you are interested in Writer Emergency, those decks of cards we are starting to do in Kickstarter, go to writeremergency.com and there will be a link to our Kickstarter campaign for that.

Craig: Wow.

John: That’s a lot.

Craig: So much.

John: Stuart Friedel produced the podcast. Matthew Chilelli edited it. Thank you, Matthew. And he has a Kickstarter campaign, too. So, there will be a link up in the show notes for Matthew’s Kickstarter campaign for –

Craig: Ugh, god.

John: A movie he’s doing. Craig, you’re going to be the last person with a Kickstarter campaign.

Craig: Uh, yeah.

John: You are going to start a Kickstarter campaign to shut down Kickstarter.

Craig: [laughs] I might. I just might.

John: Yeah, it’s going to be good.

Craig: That’s dividing by zero.

John: [laughs] Good stuff. Thank you. Have a great week.

Craig: You too. Bye.

Links:

In praise of flat adverbs

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 16:45

Emily Brewster of Merriam-Webster offers a cogent defense of “drive safe,” “take it easy” and other cases in which adverbs seem to be missing their -ly ending:


It’s not simply a matter of do-what-you-want. These words really are adverbs, they just look like their related adjective forms. A good example is “near.” It’s an adjective, a preposition and adverb — even though there is also an -ly form.

It was a near miss. [adjective]

I work near the train station. [preposition]

The deadline draws near. [adverb]

Christmas is nearly here. [adverb]

They’re all related, but you can’t use them interchangeably.

Last night, Stuart corrected something I wrote in a Kickstarter update. Instead of “look close,” he suggested “look closely.” Both work, but there’s something I really love about the flat form.

Thanks to Bryce Edmonds for the link.

Development Emergencies

Mon, 11/10/2014 - 11:58

Vineet Dewan, who was nice enough to co-star in the Kickstarter video for Writer Emergency Pack, decided to film his own version pitched at development executives:


So, yeah. Sigh. I can imagine Writer Emergency Pack being used this way, as a shortcut to actual notes about an actual script. But these wouldn’t be the worst notes I’ve gotten in a meeting.1

If pulling a card from a deck fosters a good discussion about the script, at least it’s about the story and not useless minutiae.

Meanwhile, the real Writer Emergency Pack is roaring ahead on Kickstarter. With 10 days to go, it’s fully funded, with 2,400 backers. Huge thanks to everyone who’s joined us.

  1. The worst note I got was, “She should be a flight attendant. Women aren’t airline pilots. It’s unrealistic.” This was from a female producer.

Scriptnotes, Ep 168: Austin Forever — Transcript

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 16:31

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Susannah Grant: I’m Susannah Grant.

John: And this is Episode 168 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

We are live at the Austin Film Festival and, Susannah, I cannot believe you and I have done 168 episodes.

Susannah: 168. It’s been such a long road together.

John: It’s been kind of amazing. Like, what were your favorite episodes that we did?

Susannah: [laughs] You know, there was one guy who came once, I think his name was Craig, he was really kind of nice. I liked having him –

John: Yeah, he was belligerent.

Susannah: Unpleasant, but in a nice way.

John: I mean, I think my favorite episode was Episode 34 with Aaron Sorkin where he went on that long rant about robots.

Susannah: Right. That was great.

John: It was so odd, but he really had a passionate defense for why robots should be ruling society. Then the last year we had a live show and it was Callie Khouri and Vince Gilligan. They got into that rap battle.

Susannah: Right.

John: I had never heard –

Susannah: That was a good one, too.

John: I’ve never heard such profanity from Callie Khouri.

Susannah: Really?

John: Yeah, well, yeah.

Susannah: You need to talk to her a little more.

John: All right. She can throw down. She can throw down and she can drop a beat. And that was the crucial thing I learned. This episode of Scriptnotes, this live show, probably won’t have as much profanity because we are in a church.

Susannah: Yeah. So watch yourself.

John: Yeah. It’s odd. We’ll paint the scene for people who are listening at home. There’s literally stained glass all around us.

Susannah: Beautiful stained glass.

John: It’s really, really pretty. It feels kind of inappropriate for our podcast, but I think we’re going to make this one PG-13. There will be no F-bombs dropped in this sanctuary, I hope.

Susannah: Really? Okay. I can do that.

John: All right. Now, usually Craig Mazin would be here. And the official reason for why Craig is not here is that he is at a friend’s wedding, and so therefore could not come to the Austin Film Festival. The official reason is not necessarily the most interesting reason. So, I thought one thing we might do is let’s draw a card and pick a different reason for why he’s gone.

So, this is a thing we’re experimenting, we call it Writer Emergency. And it’s when you sort of get stuck on an idea.

Susannah: You’ve come up with a bad solution like he’s not there because he’s at a wedding. And you know that’s way too boring, so you have to come up with instead he’s the victim of a zombie attack.

John: Yes.

Susannah: Much better.

John: It’s a much better thing. So, someone who eats Craig Mazin, and eats Craig Mazin’s brain, is that a more powerful zombie? It’s an angrier zombie.

Susannah: [laughs] Angrier zombie for sure. I think the zombie army is stronger with Craig Mazin’s brain.

John: I’m going to pick on. I just want to say Craig Mazin is not here because…stop talking is the one I got. So, that would be a good lesson for us, and also perhaps why he couldn’t be here is because he’s been struck mute by some strange reason.

We are going to bring up our first guest who is Richard Kelly who has been a frequent guest on the podcast. Richard Kelly, come up here. Richard Kelly, writer and director of films such as Donnie Darko, The Box, Southland Tales. Today on the show I really want to talk about the experience of being a writer and a director. When do you stop writing and when do you sort of put on your director hat as you’re approaching a project?

Richard Kelly: I’ve found that the writing process never stops. That it’s endless. Literally it’s in your head forever. I’m still rewriting movies that I directed years and years ago. I’m still editing them in my mind, you know. So, there’s what’s happening in your mind, and then there’s the limitations of the real world and as you get older and as you mature as an artist, hopefully you’re good at setting parameters for when you need to be finished with something and when you need to transition into the next phase and move on.

So, what I’ve found, in the past I would not have enough discipline, I think, in terms of editing the screenplay and getting it to a point where it’s more or less locked. And the actors can do a little improvisation. There are going to be some surprises on set that are going to be wonderful surprises, we hope, but in the past I would just keep adding stuff.

I would be caught up in the moment on set and you’re only there for a limited number of hours. And you have all of these wonderful tools at your disposal. And sometimes I would get caught up in the moment and I would just keep adding more material and adding new scenes. And, you know, that’s fine, but then it becomes a real headache in the editing room because you end up with just way too much material.

And then maybe that time might have been better spent really focusing on what’s essential. So, as you get older as an artist you hope to become more efficient and be able to compartmentalize things, I guess. So, compartmentalizing the writing and then compartmentalizing the directing.

John: Susannah, you’ve written and directed. Is that your experience that you keep trying to write even though you’re in your directing mode, or do you break off?

Susannah: I think there’s an interesting tension in what you’re talking about because that spontaneity can sometimes yield the best piece of work in the whole piece. I don’t know, I find that kind of exciting. Like it could be a colossal waste of time, and it could be the thing that puts it over the edge, which is kind of interesting, you know. You feel like you’ve gotten better at knowing which it is?

Richard: Yeah. And I also, having ended up with like a three-hour rough cut that I want to open up a vein thinking about how to cut an hour out. It’s so hard. And sometimes my movies end up, they’re like algebra theorems sometimes in terms of like a science fiction logic and they’re really hard to sometimes deconstruct because without one component the whole thing doesn’t make sense. So, I don’t know. It’s trying to make room for those surprises, and make room for improvisation, but at the same time just try to always improve my level of discipline in terms of making sure that I’m focused on keeping everything in the correct timeframe. And that I’m not going to just end up with a lot of superfluous material.

But at the same time, you do want those surprises. You do want them, but this is also — excited to hear Cary talk, because when you’re dealing with something like television, boy is there time to play in television. Boy, is there just an extended canvas where you can have the shoe leather and you can have the quiet moments or the deleted scenes in movies end up becoming some of the best scenes in television, you know, because you have the time, the breathing room I guess.

John: Susannah, you’re just out of the editing room from shooting this TV pilot. So, are you able to sort of look at the stuff as a writer, or are you looking at this as the producer has to make the show going forward? What is that like for you?

Susannah: Because you go into it knowing you’re going to be shepherding it, you know, you’re going to be the authority on it all the way through. It felt like all of a piece, the work all felt like it was feeding into each other. But I ended up with exactly what you’re talking about. I ended up with a feature-length pilot initially and it took a lot to get it down into shape.

I think it’s partly because you’re looking ahead at what could be a pilot and it could be seven years. So, you’re thinking I’m going to have the time to play this stuff out. And that’s a real luxury. So, you’ve got the long view from the get go with television, you know.

John: In the moment as you’re shooting a scene, whether you’re the director or you’re the writer who is on the set, you’re watching the thing, I find the thing I have to keep reminding myself is what is the scene actually about. Because it’s so easy to get caught up in the mechanics of how you’re filming something. There’s that one little thing that’s annoying you that’s so easy to forget this is why this scene is in the story at all. And sometimes it’s a function of a writer, whether you’re the writer-director, or just the writer who happens to be on set, is the person who can remind everyone that this scene is important because of the thing that happened before and the thing that happens after.

Because when you’re just on the day shooting a scene it’s so easy to forget why that scene matters and why it exists. What the storytelling purpose is in that moment.

Susannah: I have a friend who is a writer-director and before she shoots anything she takes every scene, puts it on a little note card, punches a hole in it, and she puts them all on a little ring and attaches it to her hip. And on it she writes “the point of this scene is,” because as soon as you’re in it there are so many other factors and something can really excite you and she always has that and then she just rips it off when she’s done with the scene.

And I think it’s a really smart thing to do.

Richard: Well it’s also good to always remember what comes before and what comes after. I actually, I usually do a big diagram of the movie. I’m all about drawing diagrams. And a lot of it is the timeline of the movie and the characters and the sort of tension flow. It’s good to show the actors that and to have this diagram for the actors because you often have to shoot things out of chronology.

And so this is what happened to your character yesterday. This is what’s going to happen to your character tomorrow. So that you can keep them anchored in the timeline. And if you can have actually a visual reference, whether it’s something like she described — note cards on a belt, or a diagram of some kind — even if the actors can have some sort of visual access to the macro world of the movie and where they exist within that timeline. It can be really helpful. I mean, even going back. I remember working with Jake on Darko. That character goes through a really intense journey. And we had to shoot a lot of it out of sequence and do block shooting for the dinner table stuff, because we just had no time.

And so it was really important that I could just remind him. It’s like, you just saw the bunny rabbit, or you’re about to meet Grandma Death, you know. You’re about to have a schizoid attack. It was a lot to balance, but chronology and I have a friend who is always reminding me, and I do this in my scripts, to remind your audience what the chronology of your story is.

If your story takes place over a month, a week, a day, make sure that your audience understands the timeframe of when the story is taking place. That’s important.

John: I think one of the challenges we all face as we are going into production on our projects is the experience of reading a script is like the experience of watching a movie. Things move forward in time and it’s all very natural. You start here, you end up there. The experience of production classically is not that at all. And so you’re shooting things completely out of sequence. And so what you’re describing in terms of being able to talk with an actor about like this is what just happened, this is where you’re going to, you’re trying to give them a map for sort of this is what the journey is. Here is where we’re at on this journey, even though we’re sort of skipping around how we’re actually filming it.

And it’s a hard thing to appreciate until you’re there on the set and it’s two in the morning and they don’t understand sort of why this moment needs to be this moment. It’s a challenging thing.

You brought up TV. And we actually have two directors here who are fantastic TV directors. So, I want to ask those kind of questions. Let’s get them up here and send you back.

Richard: Excellent.

John: I want to invite up Cary Fukunaga from True Detective. Director of True Detective. Writer and director of Sin Nombre. Jane Eyre, which I just loved. So, thank you very much. This is such a weird space, because I know when we sit down we’re sort of hard to see, and so we’ll just stand. I also want to welcome up Peter Gould from Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul. Peter Gould.

All right. Bigger canvases. Longer stories. Things that don’t have to fit into small boxes. And yet they’re shorter, they’re episodes, and there are constraints on how long a thing can be. As you’re approaching a Breaking Bad episode, you know what’s happened in the series before then, but you haven’t necessarily even seen that thing being shot. So, you have a sense of where things are going, but you have to prepare this thing that isn’t quite a moment yet. Can you talk us through prepping an episode of Breaking Bad and sort of when you come on board, whether it’s something you write, or something you’re just directing. What is the process for getting an episode together.

Peter Gould: Well, for me the process centers on the writer’s room. And it centers on a group of writers, some producers, writer-producers sitting around a table and asking that question: what just happened? What will be the result of that? And we often will have things that we want to have happen. We have goals. We have brainstorms. We have crazy ideas of things that we’d like to do, but ultimately we have to earn them. And so we want to be true to what’s just happened as much as we can.

So, in some ways, having the previous episodes or having the pilot is a lot like you’re little deck of cards. It’s like you have writing prompts that are embedded in the work you’ve already done. And you have writing prompts embedded in the things you know about your cast. And then when you start watching dailies you see things that work or don’t work. And those also become kind of writing prompts in their own weird way.

So, for us, and just the approach that we used, it’s very much about figuring out the story. It’s what Richard was talking about, too, is trying to figure out, trying to pre-visualize the episode as much as we can. And so sometimes we’ll ask ourselves, if we get stuck, it’s like what’s the first shot in this scene? What’s the transition between these two? Is this a new costume?

We try to think — and John, you and I met at USC and I was your teacher at USC. And it was all about making movies that weren’t necessarily dialogue centered, which a lot of people had a hard time getting their heads around. And for us, and the approach I like, is to really think about the story and to think about how little you can do.

As Susannah was talking about pilots, and I think the challenge with a pilot in a weird way for the audience, it only has one goal in my mind which is to get them to watch the next episode.

Susannah: Right. Come back.

Peter: Come back to the next episode. But on the other hand, there are a lot of impulses that people have. Let’s do everything. Let’s show the entire scope of what we’re intending to do, all in one 47-minute episode.

Susannah: Let’s take every character on a journey.

Peter: Yes.

Susannah: And get them to an endpoint.

Peter: Yes, go big moment, big moment. I’ve heard the phrase, thank god we never hear it with the folks that we’re working with, but I’ve heard the phrase “keep turning cards over.” Keep turning cards over. Keep making. Keep switching it up. And I think that’s actually antithetical to good storytelling to my mind. And that didn’t answer your question at all.

John: No, but it was a very good start to it.

Peter: It works out.

John: I want to switch over to Cary because you had the pilot-less experience. And so talk to us about True Detective and sort of your coming into the project and this wasn’t going to be made in a normal way.

Cary Fukunaga: Yeah. I was listening to Peter’s experience and I couldn’t even imagine what that would be like actually to have to — I would feel insecure just talking to the actors about how they accomplished some scene in a previous episode because there’s that communication, the one-on-one dialogue between a director and an actor. And, of course, in a longer running series the actors essentially know their parts. But there is a director there still for a reason.

So, like what if you’re saying something completely of, you know.

John: But it happens.

Peter: You wouldn’t do that. You would never say something off!

Cary: Never. No.

Peter: But also you have to have the freedom to, well, obviously this is my belief: you have to have the freedom to make an idiot of yourself at all times. So, but you had the experience of directing, was it 10 hours, eight-hour movie?

Cary: Eight hours.

Peter: How did you even — I just have to ask — I just came off of shooting one episode of television which kicked my ass by the way. I can’t even imagine how you would even prep. Is it just because you have enormous prep while you’re shooting? How did it work?

Cary: Basically what happened is the last three episodes weren’t quite ready yet to prep. And even if they were, you could really only prep about five hours ahead of time before people lose their capacity to retain all that information. And whether that be index cards with the intention of the scene written on it, or graphs, everyone sort of had their personal system to try to order the information. And since we’re dealing with a crime story, clues and character clues as well are essential, I mean, in terms of logically adding up.

And maybe it helped having one director in that sense that we didn’t have to educate four to eight other directors on exactly what was going on. It was just sort of one chain of communication. But then you had an overload of responsibility. And what ended up happening by the last half of the shoot is that we were scouting for locations for the last episodes before and after shooting, having production meetings at lunch. I would go home to the edit after those location scouts, after shooting, and then edit for a couple hours because we had to turn in episodes before we were done shooting. So, I was getting like four to five hours sleep a night, and then moving on to the same thing next day.

Susannah: So you had no break in production?

Cary: We had our “hiatus days.” Weren’t breaks. They were just getting caught up on –

Susannah: But you weren’t shooting for a couple days?

Cary: We only had about I’d say three or four hiatus days the whole time.

Susannah: Good lord.

Peter: Can I ask a geeky question? Did you cross-board? Did you shoot each episode complete? And then move onto the next one? Or were you at the same location shooting several different episodes?

Cary: We pitched the series to the networks as we’re going to shoot this like a feature. We’re going to shoot this like a long form story, so we’re going to cross-board locations. What that means, you know, producers like to hear that because that means they can shoot out an actor within a week or two, or shoot out a location and then you’re not kind of holding these places over the course of five/six months of shooting.

And I think everyone quickly realized that’s really impossible. So, I think this next season is not going to be shot that way. They’ll probably do it in blocks, like one or two episode blocks. Stop. Regroup. Go again. Which is the normal sort of humane way of doing it for all involved.

John: Well, it’s an opportunity for course correction, though, too. Because I feel like that must be one of the real challenges. When you’re making a show in a more traditional schedule, like Breaking Bad, if something is not working, you can see like well that’s not working, so we need to — could you? I mean, if you sense that like, wow, this character is not doing the thing we wanted to do, how quickly could you fix that? Or is that naÔve of me to think?

Peter: I’m trying to think of a situation where we had that.

John: Well, everything was perfect the first time. That’s the luxury.

Cary: Tell us about what didn’t work in Breaking Bad.

Peter: You know, it was a comet, lightning bolts. We were very lucky. But, you know, you do — sometimes you do. I mean, sometimes there’s an actor who is not available. Or somebody is not, or a location changes, or something. And then you have to do some frantic rethinking. But that’s the worst. Fortunately the producers, the physical producers, really protected us from having to do that an awful lot.

Susannah: Did you guys have the entire season mapped out before anyone went off to script?

Peter: No. I wish.

Susannah: No, right.

Peter: I wish. No, no, we were always — it’s television. The treadmill of — and on Better Call Saul, which is in some ways is more like True Detective in one sense is that we didn’t have a pilot. We shot the pilot and literally the day we wrapped the pilot we were shooting episode two. And Vince and I would talk and say, you know, if we had really thought about it, maybe we would have taken a little break there and cut the first episode so at least the other directors would have had something to look at.

And as it was they mostly had just us wind-bagging at them in a long meeting. Then they would go and make something wonderful.

John: I had friends who did a show for Netflix and the model for it was kind of clever in that they got a 13-episode order. But they shot the first episode and then they had three weeks off deliberately so they could cut it and if something wasn’t working right they could course correct.

Peter: Do this.

John: Do this. It’s a good idea.

Cary: Does that just mean firing people, or?

John: Yes. They would recast some people. If things weren’t working- and in some ways it allowed them to be bolder, because they didn’t have to make safe choices. They could make a bold choice and if a bold choice didn’t work there was a chance to fix it.

Another option I’ve seen is another 13-episdoe order, they shot the fourth episode first. And then they went back and shot the first episode figuring that they would understand the show better by the time it came back to shoot the first episode.

Susannah: What show was that?

John: It was one of David Goyer’s things. Da Vinci’s Demons I think did it.

Susannah: That’s interesting.

John: Which was an interesting choice, again, where that fourth episode, maybe some things aren’t going to work quite perfectly, but you’re going to know your show better by the time you’re actually shooting your pilot, or shooting the first episode that’s going to air theoretically. So, choices.

Cary: I would say if I were an actor or even from the director perspective, I would much rather start chronologically somewhere from the beginning, if the fourth episode was jumping back to some prior moment. Because I do think for the actors, even for like Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in True Detective, I was really pushing to have the interrogations as far back as possible. We were going to shoot them last, but we sort of needed them to start constructing episodes and make sure they were working.

But, there were so many things they were going to go through over five or six months of shooting that in the bubble that is production, which sometimes time moves at a completely different rate, and one month can seem like an entire year. The experiences you have do affect your performance on all parts. And I was still learning about how I wanted to shoot the show by the fourth week of shooting. So, I’d much rather start at the beginning, I guess. But I see, it’s an interesting experiment.

John: So, talk to us about writing these episodes, you were deeply involved in the creation of things. What is your conversations and with crew about intention. I find it fascinating to listen to how directors talk to people about what a scene is about. What kinds of words do you use to describe — after cut, what do you say to an actor? What’s your extinct for getting the thing to the next level? You, first, Cary.

Peter: You go.

Cary: Me first. I mean, it’s pretty intimidating the first time you’re working with like a Fassbender or a Judi Dench, you know, like what do I say to someone who has worked with the best directors in the last 50 to 60 years. Incredibly, you still find something to say. If you know what you want out of the scene, usually these great actors are delivering it. But there’s minor adjustments you can give them. Or even they want to hear something. They might prompt you for a question.

But typically I think with some of these sort of high caliber talent it’s all kind of conversations that took place ahead of time. And it’s even conversations that are worked out while we were blocking and rehearsing. So, once we’re shooting, I just kind of give them the space to recorrect themselves. They know what they want to get to and they know when they’re not quite getting there. So, we’ll just go again until I’ve got everything I want and they’ve got everything they need, unless obviously it’s not always that ideal obviously. But, you’re being pressed for time, but as much as we can get in that period of time.

Peter: I sometimes make them go first. How do you feel about that? And then sometimes, I’m not an experienced director, but as a writer-producer on the set, sometimes you end with a little huddle with the director and with the actor, and especially when I’m not the director I try to say the least possible directly to the actor. It’s just more respectful and it’s more useful, I think, for the director to do the directing.

But, you know, I’ll say to the director, isn’t there a little — usually, it’s interesting, because people, especially in television are so used to a headlong rush. They want to get through the moment so quickly. They’re used to scenes. And you’re working with feature folks, and maybe it’s a different deal. But in television, there seems to be this drum beat of going faster and faster. Oh, we don’t want to bore the audience.

So, frequently the work for me is saying isn’t there another moment there? Have we gotten everything out of that? And the actors will sometimes be — actually I had Robert Forster tell me, “You’re the only director I’ve ever had who told me to go slower.”

Cary: There’s like certain rules they say, like when you’re in film school you’re not supposed to say, you’re not supposed to give a line reading to an actor. You’re not supposed to say like faster or slower. But incredibly quite often that’s all you need to say. Like can you just do that a little bit slower, or faster often, because you’re like stuck in the edit with someone taking an incredibly long time to walk around a corner.

Peter: Yes!

Susannah: I heard an interview with Paul Newman at one point talking about that faster direction and he said whenever somebody says to me faster, I translate that in my head to fill the moment. If he’s asking me to go faster I’m not filling the moment. So he would then do a take in which he would fill every moment and find ones he hadn’t been filling. And he said inevitably somebody says cut, print. And you ask the script supervisor how long it was and it was longer.

So, you know –

Peter: That’s beautiful.

Susannah: Yes. It’s a really great story to hold on to.

Peter: And it’s something you notice when you’re cutting. When you’re cutting, the performance that is more specific is easier to cut. And you can watch with a wonderful, like a Bryan Cranston, or a Bob Odenkirk, there are just these natural places to cut. You can get the scissors in, you can see when things are resolved. You can see when the ideas cross their faces. And we’re so reliant on these guys.

John: Peter, you were talking about that you made television and he was making movies. And you’re both making shows that are broadcast on boxes, and yet do you perceive Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul as television?

Peter: No. I see them as movies. I mean, we talk about it as being one thing, but it’s not — it’s interesting because there’s the sense that people have that if you didn’t work it out at the beginning, if you didn’t have the whole thing worked out from soup to nuts, the moment you started, that somehow it’s less legitimate.

And the truth is that I think all writing to some extent is an active improvisation. I mean, no matter what you’re improvising. So, it’s a question of when are you improvising. Does that make any sense? I’m not answering your question. I’m just going around it.

Cary: You were asking earlier about the writing hat and the directing hat and that’s all about preparation really. And Richard had said that you never quite take it off which is true, but then you also start feeling at a certain point like you’re neglecting other responsibilities. You’re noodling with the screenplay. And I found, I just did a film, we spoke about outside, Beasts of No Nation in Africa, and we had all kinds of complications heading in to production and then within production.

And I was having to write because actors were in jail or something. And I had to rewrite their roles, or parts in the script, and hoping that it all added up and not really sure till we got to editing that it did. So, the fluidity between the directing hat, the writing hat, and then having to make executive decisions was all happening at once. Ideally though you’re able to prep as much as you can ahead of time and then you can just focus on the creative aspect. But I guess that’s what makes film exciting, too, is all the problems.

Peter: Is it okay if I ask a question?

John: Ask a question.

Peter: Could you talk about your directing, specifically what kind preparation you do as a director? When you have a script and you’re working by yourself, what is your approach? What kinds of things are you doing with the script? What kinds of preparation do you do?

Cary: Gosh. I always start off with an outline, first off. It’s sort on the hero’s journey. And that’s my index card in a way because then I know my steps that are there and the scenes that are sometimes combos of things and sometimes individual scenes that mean something, or getting the character to a place.

Then once I’ve written the screenplay to switch into directing aspect, mainly I actually it’s in casting. And that’s not only casting the actors, it’s casting the heads of department who are going to help me bring this to screen. And that’s, you know, when you talk about reordering stuff, and stopping to reconfigure, it’s essential when you find weak links to get rid of them. Because you’re working as hard you can to get it done. And when you know there’s always one person or a couple people that are slowing down the process, and it’s an unfortunate thing.

It’s not always their fault. Sometimes it’s chemistry. Sometimes they’re just not right for the material. But, getting rid of those people so that everyone is sort of in line is one of the most brutal lessons you have to learn, I think, being a director. Otherwise, you know, the creative aspect of it, that inspiration, that spark, we’ve all had it since we’re children. Every human has. So, I guess it’s kind of learning to be discerning and harder.

John: Peter, can you talk about your preparation for an episode? So, whether it’s an episode you wrote yourself or someone else’s episode that you now need to go off and shoot, what is it like when you get the script and you have to figure out — what is your prep for that? So, obviously you’re going to meet with, there will be a first AD and you’re going to scout locations, but what is your actual work with the script to figure out how you’re going to do it?

Peter: Well, you know, we had the advantage that we have spent on any episode at least two weeks, sometimes as long as a couple of months breaking the episode in the writer’s room. and so we’ve talked through every single scene in great detail, annoying detail, navel-gazing detail.

John: Can you just describe the writer’s room? So is this all up on a whiteboard? Or how does Breaking Bad work?

Peter: Breaking worked and Better Call Saul works, really it’s based on a system I think that Vince Gilligan learned from Chris Carter on X-Files, which is it’s a very rigid, apparently rigid system where we end up with 3×5 cards on a corkboard. And I think it’s insane.

John: Is there a color code?

Peter: There’s no color code. They’re very neatly written. They’re somewhat comic booky descriptions of each scene and sometimes even a scrap of dialogue. Sometimes there will be little pencil notes in there. And there’s a certain amount of space you have for each act. We work, we think about acts and teasers. And because –

John: Because you actually had –

Peter: We shot the show for commercials. The show had commercials, which was very intimidating to me before I started because I had never, I think only once had I ever worked on a project that had commercial breaks, because most of my work before that had been cable movies.

But what I learned was that almost any well structured story, there are moments where you just wonder what the hell is going to happen next. Hey, that’s a good act break. So, it’s not as insane — it’s not as difficult or as ridiculous as it sounds. Although I will say I think once you get — is your show on ABC, Susannah?

Susannah: Yeah.

Peter: And how many act breaks do you have?

Susannah: Oh, it’s five acts. No teaser though.

Peter: No teaser. Oh, so we have a teaser and four acts. So, it’s –

John: Let’s talk through what that means, because I think some people might not know sort of what the terminology is.

Susannah: It means you break four times for commercials.

Cary: What’s the teaser mean? Like what are the wants of a teaser?

Susannah: Well, Breaking Bad a really great, like that little piece in the beginning that’s just intriguing enough to make you go, what?

Cary: Like a cold start?

Susannah: Yeah, yeah.

Peter: And then there would be the titles.

Susannah: Right. It’s the pre-title thing.

Peter: In the first couple of seasons there would be no commercial, and then hey, there was a commercial there. So, we had to pay the rent.

We had the advantage of talking it through in detail. And also, you know, there’s also the familiarity of knowing the DP, production designer, costume designer, because we’re working with those folks constantly, even when we’re in Burbank or Toluca Lake as we are now, there’s a constant interaction. We’re looking at every costume. We’re looking at props. We’ll look at ten different frying pans for every scene.

And the directors will be also. There’s a familiarity with the people you’re working with which is great. But, personally, my preparation, I just sweat over the script a lot. I keep wondering if it’s right. I keep going over it and finding little things that I want to change. And then I’m fascinated by trying to keep things as visual as possible. And I’ll do thumbnail sketches. There are sequences that I’ve actually worked with storyboard artists on which I love to do. If I had more time I’d do even more of that.

But you’re really racing the clock in television because you essentially have seven days, as a director you have essentially seven days of prep with the script and then eight days of shooting. And where the weekends fall become very, very important to you. You really hope that you get an episode where you shoot Friday and then you have the weekend.

Susannah: Two weekends.

Peter: You have the weekend to recover and kind of plan out some more. So, that’s — and casting, of course. But in a television series you have this stable of regulars and usually in some episodes you’ll have one or two roles that are very, very important. In fact, I just finished an episode where we — and I don’t want to give anything away — but the casting of this one character became so — who was not in that much of the series became so pivotal that that was my great anxiety. I was bugging — every time I was on the phone with our casting people and I said we need to see more people for this. When are we going to start seeing this guy?

And then, of course, we saw the guy and he was incredible.

John: On your shows, did you have the chance to do table reads where you could read the whole script with your actors? Cary, did you get that?

Cary: Yeah, we didn’t always have the whole cast there because we were doing it in New Orleans and some of the cast were having to travel. So, we had the local actors come in and read multiple parts. But for everyone that was sort of around and can be featured, we brought them in and we did a table reading of the first four scripts, right at the beginning, and then we did a reading — I can’t remember if we did the last four, or broke it up two more times.

Susannah: You did all four together?

Cary: Yeah.

Susannah: Oh, nice.

Cary: It was a long morning.

John: Talk to us, did things change based on that reading? Because especially when you have these two powerful actors and –

Cary: I can say yes. One particular role definitely changed after that reading.

Susannah: Because the casting was wrong or — ?

Cary: Yeah. The casting was wrong and HBO felt out of that reading that they’d seen enough to make a change.

John: So HBO is watching this, so it’s both for your benefit, but also so they can see what the show, a preview of what the show is, right?

Cary: Yeah. Script readings are funny.

Susannah: Everyone is auditioning all over again.

Cary: It’s auditioning, but sometimes tone is strange in a script reading. And it tends to lean towards the comedic and that could be really misleading. I’m always in favor of people seeing as little as possible until we’ve got a cut of something. I wasn’t even in favor of the casting choice. This isn’t a change, but it was okay. It worked out in the end.

John: So, for Better Call Saul, you had a table reading before the pilot? Do you do it for every episode? What happens on that show?

Peter: It’s just not logistically possible for us to do a table read for every episode because everybody’s shooting and they’re exhausted. And the guest cast often flies in like moments before their costume fitting. It’s just in time manufacturing. We will do the table read at the beginning, and you know, it’s interesting because I don’t feel — I hate to say it — I think it’s always fun and it’s a great crystallizing moment for everybody to get together and say, hey, yeah, there’s a show here and this is an interesting story.

But I have to say I don’t think I’ve ever learned — this is a terrible thing to say — I don’t think I’ve ever learned an awful lot from it.

Susannah: Really? I feel very differently. I feel like I, you know, I’ll hear a table read of something I’ve written and think how could I not have seen how false that rings. It’s a real bullshit detector for me because, you know, I know that I can do that. It shows me my flaws before you’re having to stand up, stop the whole crew for 15 minutes while you figure out to make it real, as opposed to fake.

So, I find them really helpful as a writer.

John: I find the most helpful thing about a table read is it’s evidence that the actors have read the whole script at least once, because otherwise they will honestly just read their part.

Susannah: No, but you know what, if they’re only living that part of it, sometimes that’s fine. If as the character you’re now aware of all that other stuff going on?

John: But there are some actors who will make sort of selfish choices because they don’t understand the world in which they’re living in.

Susannah: Oh, right, the tone and the demands of the piece.

John: So it gives them one chance for them to be able to see sort of what the whole thing is.

Susannah: It’s not all about them.

John: But your point about something being — there’s times where I’ve been forcing a lot, I’ve been faking something. It just isn’t there. And it’s so much better to have that realization or that conversation with the actor around a table than like with the whole crew watching.

Susannah: It’s a much cheaper place to fix it.

Cary: It’s too bad they don’t have like better voices for the Final Draft talk feature.

Susannah: Right. That would be really good.

Cary: Ways as like Terry Crews, you know, [unintelligible] turn left or right. And be like, Terry Crews like, “Interior Bus Station.”

Susannah: That’s actually a great idea for Final Draft.

John: I think there’s an app to be made with just Terry Crews doing that.

Susannah: They should cast that, man. You should be able to cast your Final Draft read, you know.

Cary: The Final Draft guys are around here somewhere. I’m going to pull them aside.

Peter: I think maybe Highland needs that feature.

John: Yeah, we’ll do it in Highland and Weekend Read. It will have a little read aloud feature. It will be good. It’ll be fun.

We actually, our next guests are here because they’re going to do a reading. So, maybe we should wrap this up and bring them up. But, guys, thank you so much for this and we’re going to have questions at the end, so stick around because we’re going to answer some more questions at the end, okay?

Cary: Okay. Thank you very much.

John: Thank you very much. Our next guests are here because they’re doing a reading tomorrow afternoon, I believe. So I want to welcome up Dan Sterling and Mike Birbiglia. Come on up. So, Dan Sterling here is a writer-producer-director. He did projects including the Sarah Silverman Program. I’ll make things up and tell us which ones are lies, okay? You did, let’s see, The Office?

Dan Sterling: True.

John: You did Breaking Bad.

Dan: That is a — that’s true.

John: You did Breaking Bad?

Dan: No, no. I just wanted to see if I could get a reaction. No, no.

John: But you’re here because you have a feature that you actually wrote that he is going to be reading it. Is that correct?

Dan: Yeah, that is true. And this is Susannah Grant.

John: Susannah Grant.

Dan: This is very exciting.

John: And this is Mike Birbiglia who has actually been on the show before. Yeah, we’ll introduce you anyway. So, Mike Birbiglia is a writer-producer-director-comedian-actor. Actor, that’s true. Can I say that you’re in that next season of that show?

Mike Birbiglia: Yeah. Orange is the New Black.

John: He’s in Orange is the New Black, next season. Fault in our Stars. Lots of things. But also –

Mike: I’m an avid listener to the show.

John: Yeah, he’s an avid listener.

Mike: And I wanted to say, and of course we won’t keep this in the final cut of it, but the show without Craig is phenomenal. I mean –

John: He’s essentially been –

Susannah: You’re advocating a permanent change?

John: The anchor that’s been dragging the show down this whole time.

Mike: And I just feel like today’s episode really lacks an antagonist.

Susannah: That’s rarely a good dramatic choice.

John: It’s all happy smiley.

Mike: And also I wanted to ask the gentleman who wrote and directed True Detective whether he enjoys the True Detective Season Two memes. They’re all over the internet all the time, or speculation about who is the cast of season two. Also, I want to urge Scriptnotes listeners to create a John and Craig True Detective Season Two.

John: We would be pretty amazing.

Mike: Does that already exist?

John: I’ve seen one of them.

Susannah: Really?

John: Where they pasted us together. Yeah. Because really good cop/bad cop. You know, there’s a lot of stuff going on between us. It would be fantastic.

Mike: Does he think it’s funny? Do you think those are funny?

Cary: Me?

Mike: All right, he doesn’t think they’re funny, even though he’s saying he does. I can see it in his face. But it’s all loving.

John: It’s all loving and it’s all good. So, you are a writer-director yourself, and you often have to direct yourself in a movie.

Mike: True. Yeah.

John: Is that good or bad? Are you a good director to yourself?

Mike: I’d like to think so. So much of what I believe in as an actor has to do with relaxation and just existing and living in a moment. And not doing acty-acting. And so I feel like if I were doing something in an extreme genre, or something that required a lot of acting heavy lifting, I don’t know how I would do that. But like I directed Sleepwalk With Me. And some other shorts and things. It’s not that hard because the type of acting I enjoy is sort of like just throw it away.

Susannah: Do you watch your takes on playback? Between?

Mike: I do, but only when I’m about to move on.

Susannah: Just to make sure?

Mike: Yeah. After five or six takes. Just like let’s just make sure we have one that looks good enough and then we’ll move on.

Susannah: How often do you go back after watching playback?

Mike: I’d say like one in three. Yeah.

John: So, something like Sleepwalk With Me, or even My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, those are based on things you’ve done a lot. So, you have the rare case of being able to — you performed these ideas before. You’ve been able to practice them in ways that writers normally don’t get a chance to practice their ideas.

Mike: Yeah. And also, and this speaks to sort of why I’m here with Dan this weekend, we’re doing a reading of his script called Flarsky, which is such a funny script. And one of the reasons I was interested in coming to do the reading, I love the process of work-shopping stuff through readings. And I feel the way that you were saying earlier. So, I’ve been having readings at my house all summer of a screenplay that I’m working on to direct my next film. And I always find I just — I’m hitting myself during the whole thing. Just going, oh my god, that rings so untrue. I can’t believe I even wrote that on paper.

And then I fix it. So, I was glad to be sort of an instrument for Dan’s reading.

Susannah: You can also hear the other thing, which is how did I not open that next door? You know, how did I not walk in that next room? There’s an obvious next step for this. And how didn’t I see it? I find them incredibly useful.

Dan: Although writers that are here today are so mature and disciplined, because I just dread table readings because I don’t want to have to change anything. I’m quite satisfied with all the things that I wrote and they’re all so precious. And I’ve always resented table readings. They were always super important, but I dreaded them.

Susannah: Do you love them after you hear them, too? Do you stay in love during the whole process? Or do you turn on yourself?

Dan: Well, I go through a process of denial where I assume that it was the performance that the actors are reading it cold and that they didn’t… — But, you know, basically whatever happens, every piece of criticism and notes from an executive or whoever that I’ve ever gotten just always makes me go and do what I think turns out to be something better. I just don’t want to. I’m lazy.

Mike: I also want to say because I know like I’m a listener to this podcast and I know a lot of the listeners are people who write and want to create things or do create things. And I think having readings like with your friends is one of the most cost-effective things you can do because they’re super fun. You order pizza. You hang out. You read a thing. And then you socialize afterwards and you learn. And it’s free.

And one thing about making movies is it’s so expensive. It’s like bleeding money. It’s literally like you got shot with a machine gun and you’re just bleeding thousands of dollars a minute. And you can’t even believe how much money it costs to make a movie.

And so having readings I think is a phenomenal thing.

John: So, you don’t like readings, and yet you came to Austin, Texas to have a reading of this script. So, tell us what this script is. That might be a useful setup.

Dan: I mean, I could not actually be more excited about this reading. It’s a hugely flattering thing to have a bunch of people come and read your thing for no money and probably at their own expense getting here.

Yeah, I wrote this, I’ve been a television writer and showrunner for a bunch of years, and then a few years ago I wrote this spec script, because I wanted to start to transition into movies. And so I wrote this script, and then Seth Rogan sort of picked it up and that began our relationship and we’ve since made another movie together that’s coming out in Christmas.

John: That’s The Interview, correct?

Dan: That’s The Interview with Seth Rogan and James Franco. It’s crazy. They go to North Korea and try to kill Kim Jong Un. I won’t tell you how it ends. But, yes, so –

John: Does it end in North Korea going to war with us? That’s the meme.

Susannah: I think it ends in some diplomatic challenges. [laughs]

Dan: Yeah, too much. I guess I hope not, though. I always just want my work to make an impact of some kind. Nuclear war seems like it would be very memorable. I would go down in the canon, which is super important.

John: That’s true. I mean, who’s going to remember anything else we do, but they’ll remember a war because millions of people will die.

Dan: In theory, yes.

John: If nothing else, you killed millions of people. That’s really the accomplishment.

Mike: You will be so remembered if that happens. People will be like what idiot thought it was a good idea –

John: Poking the bear.

Dan: I hope so. It’s possible that, you know, the screenwriter, how many people remember. Maybe they’ll just credit Seth to that.

John: [laughs] That’s true.

Dan: I’ve been saying that if death threats really start coming in and they only go to Seth and not to me, I’m going to feel very left out.

John: Yeah. It’s a danger. Tell us about Flarsky. So, what is the inspiration behind Flarsky? What is this movie that you’re trying to get going?

Dan: Well, so I just wanted to write something that was sort of partly personal and partly political, because that’s sort of what I’m attracted to. And it’s a screenplay about this very down and out newspaper opinion columnist who’s writing for like the equivalent of the LA Weekly or something and has maybe got some drinking and pill habits and stuff.

And he is encouraged by his insanely optimistic friend to pursue the most powerful and glamorous woman on the planet, the married Secretary of State, who would be a youngish, beautiful woman, and who is married to a senator. And when I was starting to write I was just trying to — for some reason I was thinking about, this is going to sound very pretentious, but I was thinking about Candide. Because I just always love this idea of like there’s this guy who grew up with a philosopher who told him every day these very positive things and all this for the best and the best of all possible worlds.

And then the rest of the book is nothing but rape. And they go out into the world and see that, no, everybody is being raped and enslaved and chopped into pieces. And so I wanted to have this sort of conversation between two best friends, one how is very pessimistic and one who is optimistic. And then in the movie the friend encourages the pessimistic friend to go and pursue the most glamorous, powerful woman on earth.

John: So, Mike, to get ready for this role you had to start drinking and pill-popping and really inhabit the character, right?

Mike: Yeah. I grew out my beard. That was it. And then I’ve just been drinking quite a bit, yeah.

Susannah: Austin is good for that, right?

John: It’s a good town for that. So, in doing this reading here, is this for kicks and giggles? Is it for you to learn more about it? Is it to build momentum for making this into a movie? What are the outcomes of doing a reading like this?

Dan: Well, I’ll report back to you on the outcomes if anything does come out. But I’m doing it because they asked.

Mike: The Black List, right?

Dan: Yes. This script got on the Black List. The Black List invited me to do it. And I’ve just never done anything like this because this is a reading to some extent to entertain. I mean, I’ve done table reads for television and stuff like that where there’s just a few executives. But this is actually totally sort of new ground for me. I mean, we’re going into our first rehearsal in a couple of hours, so I don’t know what to expect. But I did see a Black List reading a couple of weeks ago and it was really fun. I mean, it was a comedy and it was really well paced. And also the Black List told me that doing this — a lot of people who have done these Black List readings — these scripts have gone on to be made.

So, that was appealing. In this case, the script, it has maybe some attached cast, so it’s got producers and stuff and we’re sort of trying to figure out a director. So, I don’t even know whether this reading, other than to help me see where it’s working or where it’s not, I don’t know what other outcomes beyond that except my ego.

Mike: I was promised that the film would be made and that I would be the star.

John: [laughs] That’s good. There’s also, pizza was promised to you. And that’s a crucial thing, too.

Mike: A lot of things were promised and now I’m learning that it’s meaningless.

Dan: There is a real pizza thing in Mike Birbiglia’s work I’m noticing. I mean, one of this great quotes, or at least I think is about falling in love is like eating pizza flavored ice cream. It’s too much joy to process.

John: Fantastic. Because we have an audience here, I want to open it up for some audience questions. And so it can be questions for the people who are up here, the people who were up here before. It can be about television. It can be anything.

The only thing I would ask is it actually be a question. And so let’s just –

Susannah: I’m going to demonstrate. This is a question. Mike, much of your work has been work that you’ve done in another form. Do you have a hard time breathing new life into it when you turn it into a movie? How does that happen?

Mike: That’s a good question.

Susannah: Like that.

Mike: Oh, it was a question. Yeah, it is hard. It’s challenging. I mean, Sleepwalk With Me, it was a book, and it was a one-person show that I developed over about seven or eight years. And so it had grooves to it, where it had things where I’m like I know this will work. I know this will work. I know this gets a laugh. I know this has some kind of pathos or relate-ability to it.

And then you move to cinema and cinema is an entirely visual medium. And so it was very, very challenging. Actually, it was so challenging that right now the script I’m writing that I was just saying I’m doing reading of it in my house is completely from scratch because I wanted to build it from pictures this time.

Susannah: Because I would imagine chasing, I mean, it’s always hard to chase a laugh you got the night before, right? So, to do that after seven years must be really hard?

Mike: Yeah. And I have to say like one of the reasons I started writing these one-man shows was because I was a screenwriting major in school and then I got out of school and realized that screenwriting is a profession you can apply for. Isn’t that a wild realization? Like you can study it and then you’re like, oh, I guess there isn’t a job.

John: No.

Mike: And then I was doing standup comedy, I was pursuing that –

Susannah: Right, because that’s an easier –

Mike: That’s a job. And people do it. And I was working the door at a comedy club, and that’s a job too. And so then I moved to New York City. My writing professor actually said, from college, actually gave me advice. He goes you should just put on a one-man play because it doesn’t cost anything. It’s just you and two or more people in the audience.

John: Low thresholds.

Mike: Yeah. That’s the rule of theater is there has to be more people in the audience than on stage. And it’s a glass of water and a stool. And you know how to write a play and I taught you how to write a play. And so go do it.

And that’s how I started writing Sleepwalk With Me. And then from there I did My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. And from there I made Sleepwalk With Me, the movie.

But it’s funny because I listen to the podcast a lot. It’s very encouraging. But one thing that I feel like people, it’s hard to grasp sometimes is that for someone like me, I wanted to make a movie when I was 19 and I wanted to direct a feature when I was 19. I directed my first feature when I was 32. And I think that’s totally fine. I’m comfortable with that. But, yes, it’s good for people to know that that’s sort of marathon duration of how long things take.

John: All right. Some questions. I see a first hand was right there. Sir?

The question is how do you know that you’ve found a third act? How do you know you’ve found an ending to your story that is satisfying? Susannah, in writing your features, when do you feel like this is the ending? Do you know your ending before you’ve gotten there, or is it only the process that’s taken you to that point?

Susannah: I kind of know the destination. I hope I don’t know the specifics. I mean, I have kind of this rule of thumb with any scenes. I don’t think it’s done until I’ve written something other than what I went in to write, until I’ve surprised myself in it. And then like how do you know when it’s — I mean, it’s never really good enough, right? But then maybe it is. I don’t know.

You just kind of, it vibrates right or wrong within side you. I don’t think there’s a formula.

John: Peter, talk to us about it. You got to end the whole series. So, what is it like leading up to that thing and how early on in the process did you sense like this is where we’re going to end this show with these characters? This is how we’re going to get to that moment? Was there an ah-ha moment in the writer’s room where it all came together? Talk us through that, please.

Peter: Wow, I’ll try to remember it, because it’s all kind of a blur to be honest with you. It was a lot of pressure. You know what it is? I think the big thing is just to explore every freaking thing you can possibly think of. And that’s one thing — if there’s any method to doing this, it was just to try to think, okay, what if Walt is in… — Well, first of all, we have things that we’ve set on the show which we know that Walt’s got cancer. We know he’s going to have a giant machine gun. And we know he’s going to probably use the damn machine gun. And who is he going to use it on? That was a big question.

So, we really, I mean, it’s almost like just by talking the different possibilities through, eventually one just starts emerging and things start connecting to it. And you start seeing that that’s, okay, that character is, that’s going to help resolve that character’s storyline. And that’s going to — it all starts snapping together, but it doesn’t start snapping together until you’ve talked through everything you can possibly think of.

And so we had versions where Jessie was in prison and Walt came with a giant, the machine gun, and he blew away all these prison guards. And it went on and on and on. Just any bizarre idea you can think of was at least given serious — I think maybe that’s the trick is to give honest consideration to pretty much anything that occurs to you, no matter how freakish.

But then at a certain point it starts narrowing down and then you start feeling your way through it. But, you know, it’s also it’s easy for me to say because ultimately on Breaking Bad we were all talking through it, but it was ultimately Vince’s choice. And we knew that Vince was going to write and direct that last episode. And so we knew he was going to use the machine gun, so.

John: Chekhov’s gun.

Peter: Yes.

John: Another question? Her question is how do you become confident, which is kind of a valid question. Because I’ve been incredibly non-confident, especially as I was starting. And maybe we could sort of talk through those early awkward meetings. Because I remember my first water bottle tour of Los Angeles where you go and you have the general meetings. And it’s so incredibly awkward. And you feel like the imposter syndrome, where you feel like I don’t belong in this room and people are going to figure out that I have no idea what I’m doing.

That never went away for me. I don’t know if other people have that same experience. Dan Sterling, are you confident?

Dan: Well, you know, Thursdays at 4pm I have this standing appointment with a woman with a degree in psychology and I sit and I talk to her. And, I mean, I’m getting closer. Only because I’m having some success, but you know, I mean, I had my first show-running job, and it was completely absurd. I was like, I tricked them. I don’t belong here at all. And there’s nothing to do but sort of rely on that very cliché but true thing of, god help me for saying it, fake it till you make it.

And I think faking confidence is super important in a lot of areas in life and I’m probably doing it as I speak, but –

Mike: Yeah. I totally agree with Dan. I recommend this. If you haven’t listened to it, this Charlie Kauffman speech, is it BFI? The British Film Institute? And he just says this thing that I think most writers relate to which is that all you have to give to writing is yourself. And that’s — I mean, I’m paraphrasing it in sort of a terrible way, but he very eloquently says it. And that he doesn’t call himself a writer. He calls himself a person who has written some things and is going to try to write some more things.

Susannah: Yeah. I have this moment when I finish every script. I always look at it and think, god, who cares? And then you realize, well, everybody cares. Everybody cares about each other, basically, so just put yourself there. Don’t worry about it. Ignore that question. I mean, everybody has that feeling of like who cares about me and what I think, you know?

John: So, my first experience with you, Cary, was at the Sundance Labs and you were talking about Sin Nombre and how you had gone and done all this research. You were riding on trains with people. And I remember thinking like, wow, that kid is really, really brave. But that sort of carries through in the other stuff you’ve done. You’ve made sort of brave choices. Back then when you were making your first movie, did you have confidence? Were you faking it? Talk us though — these people want to make their first movie. What did it feel like and when did you feel like I belong to be behind this camera making this movie?

Cary: I’m going to have to agree with everyone else here that ignore that question because no one ever 100 percent feels confident in what they’re doing. And fixed income they do, they’re definitely lying. Or if they say they do, they’re definitely lying. And if they are really confident in what they’re doing, they’re probably not doing anything that deserving of confidence.

So, I think with Sin Nombre what happened was it was a bit by bit process moving into that story. I started off with a short film based on a real event that happened in Victoria, Texas, where a trailer filled with immigrants was abandoned and many of them died. And in doing research for that story I learned about the trains.

So, when I went down ultimately to do research in Mexico on the trains and travel with immigrants, at a certain point you start to accumulate experience. And then with the people you meet you start to feel a sense of responsibility then to tell that story, so maybe you can replace that confidence with a need to tell a story now that you feel the most equipped to tell it.

And definitely when I was making it, you know, with my crew members and educating them on the aspects of the journey that I knew about and, you know, as my production designer started to fill his room with references and pictures of what the gang areas would look like, or immigrant areas would look like, I felt pretty confident that I knew most of the nitty gritty details.

And maybe it just comes with doing the work as well. You know, it’s confident enough.

John: One more question. Who has a hand — we’re going to take over here. Gentleman?

Male Voice: The question is for Peter. You said that Breaking Bad feels like one big movie, but was it, or felt more cinematic. Was it each season felt like a movie, or the whole thing?

Peter: What do you think?

Male Voice: Each season?

Peter: You know, I think that’s absolutely legitimate. I always hoped — I remember early on talking to Bryan and saying, it was season two, I didn’t know what I was talking about. I said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we have a story and there’s going to be a row of DVDs and it’s going to be a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it’s going to come to a conclusion.”

And Bryan was absolutely convinced that that was going to happen. And he was right. So, to me, it’s one story, but what makes it that. To me, cinematic, it’s visual. That’s really — that’s the thing that makes it most cinematic to me is just that it’s visual. And I’m standing here next to some incredibly visual filmmakers. So, I’m a little intimidated by that. But that’s really — that was the thing that appealed to me about the approach that we used on Breaking Bad is that we tried to tell the story using pictures.

And if it feels cinematic, I think ultimately that would be why.

John: Great. I want to thank our amazing guests for coming up here. This has been great. Thank you very, very much. Susannah, thank you very much for co-hosting this with me.

Susannah: Thank you for having me. I’m sorry I wasn’t as cranky as Craig.

John: You were awesome. So, a thing that Craig and I would normally do at the end of the episode is a One Cool Thing. And so do you have a One Cool Thing ready for us.

Susannah: I have a One Cool Thing and I’m not alone in this. But if anyone here does not have Birdman on your list, put it on your list. I loved it.

John: So, what is it about Birdman that is so great? This is the Michael Keaton movie. IÒ·rritu.

Susannah: It is, well, first of all I love the idea of it which is what does it take to regain your authentic self once you’ve sold it away. And how close to death do you need to come to find it back. Which, to me, is a great question to play around with. And then it’s everybody working at so the top of their game. Everyone involved in the movie is just firing off at such a high level. And you go to it and think, yeah, there are a million things wrong with the movie business right now, but if I can pay $12 and see this, there are also some things working right.

John: That’s fantastic. My One Cool Thing is Serial podcast, which probably a bunch of people here are listening to. It’s really good. And so it’s that kind of thing where like everyone says it’s really good and you’re like, uh, but no, it’s really, really good.

And the best part about it is you’re not that far behind. And so you can actually just download all the episodes and stick them in your queue. And I listened to half of it on the flight here to Austin. So, I highly recommend it. I love it. And as a person who makes a podcast, it’s so fascinating to see what the art form can become, because it really does feel like its own new thing. The same way that Breaking Bad is telling a story over all these episodes and it’s cinematic, it’s sort of cinematic podcasts, which is such a n unusual thing.

And so the fact that it’s happening live in front of us is kind of exciting to see.

On the topic of live and in front of us, I’m The Transitioner, so I have to always transition from one thing to the next. This has been great to have you guys here with us. I want to thank the Austin Film Festival. Let’s give them some applause here. You can find us at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. We’re also on iTunes, so you can click subscribe there and listen to this.

And, thank you guys so much for coming. Thanks.

Links:

Writer Emergency Pack, and the secret history thereof

Tue, 11/04/2014 - 16:01

After four years of discussion, three complete do-overs and two print runs, we finally launched Writer Emergency Pack.

It’s a deck full of useful ideas to help get your story unstuck.

Here’s a video we made to explain it:

It’s on Kickstarter. It’s already fully funded. It’s been an exciting 24 hours.

How we got here

Writer Emergency Pack was originally called Unstuck, and it was supposed to be an iPhone app. In fact, it was our very first app, built by me and Nima Yousefi before I’d even met him in person.

Here’s an early drawing I did for the launch screen:

The original idea was that you shook your phone, Magic 8-Ball style, and a suggestion would appear.

When I hired Ryan Nelson as my Director of Digital Things, we re-conceived the app, giving it a vintage survival guide vibe. Here’s Ryan’s mockup for the iPad version.

We built it. We hated it.

It was sort of a book, but not really. Something about pulling out your phone to deal with story problems felt wrong. When you’re writing, the phone is a distraction, not a solution. Once you’re looking at that little screen, you’re tempted to check email, or Twitter, or play a quick game.

The iPhone was the wrong tool for the job.

So we never released it. Instead, we focused on the apps that would become Highland and Weekend Read.

But there were aspects of Unstuck we loved. Ryan Nelson had designed amazing artwork inspired by vintage Boy Scout handbooks. I’d written a bunch of the suggestions for the app. And we’d commissioned terrific illustrations by David Friesen.

And then we lost the name Unstuck. Technically, you can’t lose what you never owned, but it still felt like a loss. A self-help project called Unstuck took the URL and started making apps and registering trademarks.

Nameless = aimless

Our Unstuck was basically dead. Every week at our staff meeting, Unstuck would be at the bottom of our list of projects. “Yeah, that’s still kind of a good idea,” I’d say. Then I’d remember there were lots of other projects we were working on, and this one didn’t even have a name. So for three years, it was always the lowest priority.

But two ideas arrived together to make us look at the project again.

First, the idea of using playing cards. JJ Abrams’s company always sends cool holiday gifts, and one year they sent a deck of custom Bad Robot playing cards. A few months ago, I found the deck again and marveled at it. “How expensive is it to make custom cards?” I wondered aloud. Some googling led to the answer: playing cards are very expensive to print unless you’re printing a bunch at once.

Then at Jordan Mechner’s wedding, each guest received a limited-edition deck of cards. The design was terrific; the printing was extraordinary. More googling led me down a rabbit hole of card designers and collectors, many of them connecting through Kickstarter. There was a whole community making cards. If they could do it, we could do it.

Cards felt like an appropriately tactile solution to story problems. After all, screenwriters use index cards all the time. And unlike an iPhone, if you’re pulling these cards out, you’re focussed on writing, not Twitter. I started to think about how I could rewrite my suggestions to fit in a smaller format.

Then, on episode 161 of Scriptnotes, Aline Brosh McKenna joined us and described how she’d recently solved a nagging script problem by deliberately upending her own expectations about one character. It was exactly the kind of suggestion I wanted Unstuck to provide.

If Unstuck existed. Which it didn’t.

I asked Ryan to mock up his drowning-man artwork as a playing card box. He did. It looked great.

But of course, it couldn’t be called Unstuck, because there were a lot of other trademarks in the way.

The drowning man felt like a screenwriter being pulled underwater. He was a writer having an emergency, and this object was a pack of cards.

Putting it all together, we got Writer Emergency Pack. Once we had a name, we had a unifying concept: a survival kit for “writer emergencies” — stalled stories, confused characters, plodding plots, alliterative et ceteras.

From there, it was still a tremendous amount of work to figure out how to actually do it. We printed demo decks. We showed them around. I rewrote everything. But we finally had a clear destination — something we were lacking for four years.

Quite appropriately, making Writer Emergency Pack has been a lot like writing a screenplay. When you’re trying to fix a broken idea, it’s a thankless grind. When you’re executing an idea you love, it’s a treat. It’s been tremendously fun to figure out how to make these cards.

And now that we’re funded, we’ll get to make a bunch of them.

The Kickstarter phase of the process is a very quick 16 days, so don’t miss out on the chance to preorder. There’s no guarantee we’ll have any extras, so this may be the one opportunity to get them.

You can find Writer Emergency Pack exclusively on Kickstarter. Choose “Back This Project” to reserve your deck.

Pages