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: 38 min 27 sec ago

Writer Emergency Pack, now in pre-launch

1 hour 46 min ago

As I mentioned on the podcast yesterday, we’re getting close to launching a new project called Writer Emergency Pack.

The cover looks like this:

As the name suggests, it’s designed as a survival tool for writers. It’s not an app or a book. It’s more like a crowbar for getting unstuck. It’s for screenwriters, novelists, playwrights, students, writing teachers — anyone who deals with story.

We’ve actually been developing it on-and-off for four years, but it became real in the last six weeks. We’ve had a fun time showing prototypes to other writers and gathering feedback. It’s gonna be cool.

Because it’s a physical thing, we’ve had to plan and budget much more carefully than we do with our digital stuff. Atoms scale differently than bits. Make too few, and you run out. Make too many, and you’re sitting on boxes of inventory. Figuring out how to actually make and ship something like this is easily half the job.

When we launch — sometime after Halloween — there will be a short order window to get into the initial run. To make sure no one misses out, we’ve set up a mailing list to let writers know the moment it’s available.

If you’re at all curious, I’d advise you to sign up at Writer Emergency today.

You can also follow on Twitter, @writeremergency. (Tweet ‘Help’ for a teaser.)

The Tentpoles of 2019

Tue, 10/21/2014 - 08:03

Craig and John discuss the 31 superhero movies slated for the next few years. Is it good business or a trainwreck in the making?

How do you move from a vague idea to an actual pitch? We talk about what you say when you’re in the room pitching on a project, and why passion trumps plot in most cases.

We also look at copyright and how the current system is broken for everyone.

Next week will be Craig-less, because we’re recording live at the Austin Film Festival with a bunch of amazing guests.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 166: Critics, Characters and Business Affairs — Transcript

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 20:07

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode has the F word in it like four times because we read this letter aloud. So if you have your kids in the car, maybe don’t listen to this episode with the kids in the car because it’s kind of not safe for kids or for work. But it’s safe for almost everywhere else. Thanks.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 166 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig, this was a really busy week. I saw you a lot.

Craig: You did. We first delved into a cavern together that contained a Nothic.

John: Indeed. We did some virtual spelunking and did some D&D. It was fun.

Craig: Yeah, it was fun.

John: We kind of made a mistake with the Nothic.

Craig: We made a huge mistake.

John: I’m not sure we –

Craig: We made a huge mistake.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We have a tendency as a group. Not my character. My character is [laughs] to a fault wants to love everyone.

John: Yes.

Craig: But as a group we seem to want to just kill everything we see. And I don’t think we should have attacked that thing.

John: Perhaps we shouldn’t have. I mean, it looked gruesome and so therefore we killed it. But that may not have been the best choice.

Craig: Yeah, it was kind of racist.

John: Yeah, it could have been a little bit racist.

Craig: Yeah, it was racist because he had one eye.

John: Speciesist, yeah.

Craig: Speciesist, yeah. So we did that but then we also saw each other at the Live Slate Culture Gabfest event –

John: In downtown Los Angeles.

Craig: In downtown Los Angeles. And that podcast has already aired. They turned it around right quick.

John: They did. So that was a tremendously fun evening. It was at The Belasco Theatre. We had a good crowd. It was us. It was Jenny Slate. It was Natasha Lyonne.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There were the hosts. So thank you, Slate, for having us there. Thank you, Andy Bowers and Julia Turner and Dana Stevens, Stephen Metcalf. It was fun to be a guest on someone else’s show.

Craig: It was fun. They ask good questions and we had a lively discussion.

John: Mm-hmm. It was fun for me not to have to segue all the time so that somebody else could be the person responsible for “And now let’s move on to the next topic.”

Craig: Yeah, he wasn’t necessarily better at segues than you.

John: Well, I think it’s one of my true callings is the ability to get from this place to that place.

Craig: The Segue-ist?

John: I am The Transitioner.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But that transition is a good way for me to get into talking about today’s show which will feature our little package from the Slate Culture –

Craig: [laughs] You just did it, you did it.

John: I can’t stop transitioning.

Craig: The Transitioner.

John: [laughs]

Craig: That’s like Marvel’s worst movie in 40 years and they’re really just out of everything. They’re like, um, The Transitioner.

John: He’s really good at the cocktail conversation.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Or it can also be like, you know, it’s the next thing after Transparent which is apparently a really good Amazon show. It’s like they could make The Transitioner who’s like constantly moving from one thing to the next thing.

Craig: Oh, I like that.

John: So today, we are going to have the audio from our section. So in case you didn’t hear it in Slate, you can listen to it on our thing and then we’ll talk a little about what we talked about after that. But we have some new topics as well including something you and I talked about after our segment on the show which was that I was writing something this week and I realized that the problem I was having is I had sort of one character too many.

It’s a recurring theme that I’ve seen again and again, it’s like sometimes you have too many characters and rarely too few characters and figuring out what that problem is can be a real solution for many screen emergencies.

Craig: Yes.

John: And then we’re going to talk about business affairs.

Craig: Hmm.

John: And that’s going to be a happy conversation.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Hmm.

Craig: Argh.

John: But first, some follow-up. Tonight, October 14th, if you’re listening to this the day the podcast comes out, Tuesday, October 14th at 7:30 PM, I’m going to be talking with Simon Kinberg at the WGA as a benefit for the Writers Guild Foundation.

Craig: Nice.

John: And we’re going to be talking about X-Men: Days of Future Past, Sherlock Holmes, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the upcoming Fantastic Four movie, Star Wars Rebels and producing movies and writing things and it will be a great conversation. So join us if you’d want to join us. There’s still like maybe 10 tickets left?

Craig: Well, you should grab those tickets. Simon Kinberg is a rarity, I believe, in our business in that he is a very good writer, he’s a very good producer, he’s extraordinarily successful, and he’s really nice.

John: He’s a really nice guy.

Craig: How about that? Just a good egg. I really like Simon a lot. You know he’s English?

John: I do know that he’s English.

Craig: Yeah, but you wouldn’t know it because he has no English accent.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’m very –

John: Just like you, you had a New York accent growing up –

Craig: Right.

John: But you completely lost it.

Craig: Just completely lost it.

John: He shed his –

Craig: He shed it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He shed it, but that’s an extreme shedding.

John: It’s an extreme shedding. Well, you can’t talk about British accents without bringing up the Nolan Brothers because one of them is British and one of them is not British and it’s so odd.

Craig: I know. It’s weird. And I always think to myself, well, if somebody’s lost a truly foreign accent, that’s verging on sociopathic behavior. [laughs] They have the potential to be a villain.

John: They do or they are a Canadian actress because we actually had a Canadian babysitter this last week and I detected something like — something is — you’re really, really nice in a way that you’re probably not American. And she was in fact Canadian. But she was an actress and so she had very — I asked her like, you deliberately got rid of your accent? She’s like, yes, I worked really hard for a year to get rid of all my Canadianisms so that people can’t tell I’m Canadian.

Craig: Losing a Canadian accent is a bit like losing a New York accent. In fact, a strong New York accent is probably more violently different than standard American English than a Canadian accent.

John: A strong New York accent is pretty much an assault.

Craig: It’s an assault and I had one and then I lost it. So I guess I’m one of those sociopaths, too [laughs].But I’m fascinated by people… — We were talking about this, people who can and can’t lose accents. You know, there are people who have lived in, like Dr. Ruth Westheimer is a good example. Brilliant woman, speaks many languages, has lived in New York for decades, has the strongest German accent.

John: Another great example is Arianna Huffington.

Craig: Right.

John: Who, you know, incredibly successful in the US and yet, she’s thoroughly Greek in sort of how she talks and presents herself. And it’s become sort of her signature. You can’t imagine her without that accent.

Craig: Right. And then you have Madonna who spends four days in England and suddenly she’s like, [British accent] hello mate.

John: Yeah, there’s that middle of the Atlantic situation that happens sometimes when Americans cross over and it doesn’t all together work.

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: So last bit of follow-up is if you ordered one of the Scriptnotes t-shirts, they’re in and they’re actually out. Stuart and Ryan are packaging them up as we speak and so they’re going to be leaving the Quote-Unquote offices because that’s where — they really are offices but our company is called Quote-Unquote Films.

They’ll be leaving the offices today, so you should be getting them this week, the week that you’re hearing this podcast if you’re in the US, maybe a little bit longer if you’re overseas, but thank you so much for all the people who bought those because those help keep the podcast going.

Craig: And, of course, reduce the amount of money that we lose but not to zero [laughs].

John: Never to zero.

Craig: Never to zero.

John: All right, first segment. Let’s talk about the Slate Culture Gabfest. So let’s just set it up for listeners so they know what it is they’re going to listen to. Craig, could you set the scene for us, like let us know where it is that this event is taking place and what it feels like?

Craig: Sure. So The Belasco Theater is downtown, it’s a small theater but it’s very typical for Los Angeles downtown. You don’t know it’s there until you arrive. You walk inside and you think, oh my god, what a great space. It’s old, it’s obviously been around since I would guess the ’20s, gorgeous space, very dark and cavernous. There was a green room downstairs which, in fact, was illuminated entirely with red light bulbs, so it was a bit like, I don’t know, what I imagined No Exit to look like or something.

Large stage, very nice audience with a bar in back to keep people liquored up. And so we sat up there on stage with the hosts of the show. It was a little hard for me to hear. They didn’t have monitors. So when you’re on stage, usually you want a couple of speakers that are facing back towards the people talking so they could hear themselves.

All I could really hear was the echoey sound that was traveling above my head and out. So in a way it kept you on your toes and you had to really pay attention. But it was terrific. Jenny Slate was very, very funny and we did our thing and Natasha Lyonne was very, very interesting. So we had a nice chat and you can hear the audience, you know, fairly, they were –

John: Yeah, Craig got laughs and it was good that you got laughs. I liked that.

Craig: I got laughs, yeah [laughs]. Well, I was trying to, well look, I was trying to be on my best behavior. And I really did think I was on my best behavior. I got a couple of little shots in but they weren’t really shots as much as just –

John: Yeah, they were playful taps.

Craig: They were playful jabs. Playful jabs.

John: And so the other thing I should set up for our listeners so they understand is that each guest was up sort of in their own segment but not the other segments, so you’re going to hear me and Craig but you’ll also hear Stephen Metcalf, Julia Turner and Dana Stevens. So let’s go to that and then when we come back we’ll have a little recap and wrap up.

Julia Turner: I’m such a fan of your podcast.

John: Thank you.

Julia: It’s so fun to have you guys on the same stage. I’m sorry Stephen.

Stephen Metcalf: Please, dig right in. Actually, I want to start by saying I had my very — this is actually a true story. I had my very first Hollywood pitch yesterday.

John: So how did it go?

Stephen: Do you know the phrase, “Bought it in the room?” That didn’t happen. [laughs] You know what, I’ll give you, and I had another one today. I’ll give you a very honest response was, there was — I kind of loved it for the reason that it was like nothing I’ve ever seen depicted in all the silly movies that depict Hollywood. And in fact, they were just professionals who knew their business and it was no drama Obama.

Craig: No Weimaraners, no crack, no OxyContin.

Stephen: Exactly right. And no Jaws meets this or whatever. It was like very, very, very intricately smart people who understand the relationship between narratives that work and people who will pay money to go see them. I mean, right –

Craig: And so they rejected you? [laughs]

Stephen: Mazin. I just want to say, Craig, I love the movie Go.

Craig: Oh yes, I heard that.

Stephen: That movie is –

Craig: I heard, yes.

Stephen: Perfect, it’s like Swiss watch work.

Craig: It’s the most adorable thing you’ve seen ever.

Stephen: It’s Swiss clockwork lubricated by butter.

Craig: Yes.

Stephen: Just gorgeous.

Craig: John’s films are gorgeously lubricated.

Stephen: It went by like that.

Craig: No question.

Stephen: Anyway, we want to get into the subject of who authors the film which is a rabbit hole we can kind of go down, half down, or ignore completely but it’s an interesting one to me. But I want you to just, if it’s okay, really quickly to describe your careers and how you got where you are. You’re having a dream career. How did that come about? John, why don’t we start with you?

John: I was a journalism major. I went to journalism school at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. I realized halfway through that I didn’t really want that major but I loved the writing I was doing. I loved that sort of structured writing that journalism is. And I found out there was such a thing as a screenplay, that there was such a thing as film school and I applied and got into USC, moved out here with my rusted Honda and started, you know, reading scripts for people and I started writing. And I started writing Go, the screenplay that first got made, while I was still in film school. And so it was very much that experience of being 26 years old and seemingly immortal. And that became my first movie.

Stephen: That is fantastic. And the Weimaraner was suddenly seated next to you in the car.

John: [laughs]

Stephen: Craig, what about you?

Craig: I was a pre-med student in college and around my senior year, it became very clear that I just did not want to spend — I was going to be a neurologist and I just… — I still am fascinated by the brain and by neurology but not by people with neurological disorders.

It’s a bummer, I don’t know how else to put it. They do die on you a lot. And I was fascinated by the entertainment business. I was fascinated by entertaining people. I loved movies and I loved television shows. And so, and you had a rusted Honda, I had a rusted Toyota. I drove out here, I didn’t know anybody and I got a job because I could type and sort of worked my way into a position where I could pitch movies and write movies. And I’ve been doing it since 1996, now, 1995/1996.

Stephen: That’s amazing.

Craig: Yeah.

Stephen: Okay, so you’ve just watched a movie, let’s say the credits come at the end, you admire it, you think it was, you know, in some ways, narratively elegant, the characters were very alive, you got lost in the world, no fat to be trimmed, and the name comes up and it says, Screenplay by, you know, and it’s a single credit, a credit to a single person. How confident are you that what you just saw was authored by that person?

John: You don’t necessarily know whether that screenplay credit reflects what actually made it on to the screen or not. Credits for films are determined by the Writers Guild and there’s a whole process you go through. It’s as good as we can make that process but it’s still not perfect. That you’re competing, there’s two competing forces. You want the credits to accurately reflect who wrote the movie but you also want to not dilute the credit by sharing it among a bunch of people who, if 12 writers did little bits on it, you don’t want to sort of necessarily make it seem like 12 people did little bits on it.

So what I will say is different is when we see that credit going by, we already know. We sort of, actually everybody really does know who did the work on the movie. And so there’s lots of movies that will not have a certain writer’s credit on them but everyone in town knows they’ve worked on it and that’s very helpful for their career.

Craig: Yeah, I think it’s actually gotten better. We have changed. I’m one of three co-chairs of the credits committee that reviews the rules and then puts rules changes to the membership. And we’ve had about two or three rounds of rules changes that have been successful. And they’ve been good changes and I think that they have made the credits more accurate. It’s a difficult situation. There have been miscarriages, no question. But John’s point is absolutely true. We know who wrote the movie. We, who are in the business, we know.

Stephen: And what do you — I’m curious what you especially admire about a screenplay, what makes you wish you had written one when you get to the end of the film or you read it on the page? What elements of story or character or shape or –

Craig: Well, you know, when I think of movies where I’ve really zeroed in on what I thought was fundamental to the screenplay, it was a question of harmony of elements. That there were scenes that internally were using plot to reveal character, character revealing plot, plot and character revealing theme, conflict revealing potential resolution. And then taken as a sum, those scenes all work together to create some sort of thematic whole out of that. That often is what I admire, but sometimes I just am entertained.

And more than anything when I go to the movies it’s to be entertained.

John: When you read a screenplay, you recognize that it’s a form of incredible efficiency. You have to be able to convey with just a few words in 12-point Courier what this whole world feels like and what these characters are like and so every word counts in ways that doesn’t necessarily in a novel. A novel can spend three pages talking about how soft the sheets were. The movie doesn’t actually have those senses, you can’t describe things you touch or feel. It’s only what you can see and what you can hear. So you’re finding ways to describe and set up this whole world with just these very limited windows into it.

And so, the best screenplays I’ve read, they have these characters that take these amazing journeys through amazing worlds and you can’t believe that they did it all just on the page there.

Stephen: Give me a couple of names of movies that you wish you had written or that you especially admire?

John: You know, it’s one thing to see a movie on the screen because that’s the finished product and you have to remember that a screenplay is really the blueprint for this building that’s not built yet. And so one of luxuries, we sometimes get to read screenplays well before they’re filmed, or things that never got filmed. And so I remember in film school reading Quentin Tarantino’s original script for Natural Born Killers. And it’s just brilliant. And I got to the end and I flipped back to page one and started reading it all over again. It was incredibly important.

People, you know, these guys might not recognize that like Aliens is an incredibly important script for people in our business. We read that script and it actually transforms sort of like how you describe action on the page.

Stephen: And this is the second in that –

John: This was James Cameron’s Aliens.

Stephen: And James Cameron did the screenplay as well as directed it?

John: Yeah and so the way he described action was incredibly important and so all action movies from that point forward probably owe some debt to sort of what he was doing on the page.

Female Voice: Wait, so what was the innovation? What did he do differently?

John: There was innovation, there’s a way of talking about the camera, talking about like how we’re moving through things. Cameron wrote both a scriptment which is like a 70-page document of the movie without the dialogue, sort of. And then he wrote the full version of the script and sort of everyone of my and Craig’s generation who read movies at that time, read action movies, that was the one we sort of kept going back to.

Craig: Yeah. And, you know, John is making a really interesting point that the question that you’re asking is a little impossible because the truth is I never see a movie and think I wish I could have written that movie. You can’t write that movie. That movie is not just written, it was written and it was then rewritten and it was performed and captured and edited and scored, so it’s not possible.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But what we can do is we read screenplays. Jerry Maguire is one of the best screenplays I’ve ever read. Absolutely just perfect for me. Not objectively perfect, but for me, it was perfect. I saw Ocean’s Eleven, I saw Out of Sight, and I thought I would love to meet the guys that wrote this movie, you know, and I did, that was great. But I understand that it’s not possible to say, well, I wish I could have written that experiences.

Stephen: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Dana Stevens: That brings me to something that’s seems like, it’s key to your podcast which is really great for somebody on the critical end to read which is, I mean, to hear on your podcast, which is that, you’re sort of anti-auteurist, right? I mean, you are really not so focused on a movie as the production of one director and you really know from the inside out that it’s a collaboration and that vast numbers of people have to be on the same page in order to make a good movie.

John: There was a podcast that you guys did about two weeks ago with Jeff Koons, the artist and the visual artist, and you guys saw Balloon Dog and all that stuff. And it was amazing as you’re walking through with this curator and he was talking about sort of the intention and sort of how things came to be. It was a great episode. But it struck me that you can talk about a virtual artist that way because even though he has a team of people doing stuff, it’s really all his vision, like that thing is one person’s thing. And I think there’s this instinct sometimes for press and for critics to think about works as having a single creator. You guys are almost creationists sometimes.

And really the process of getting movies made is almost like this Darwinian survival thing. There’s all these movies competing to get made, and you’re only seeing the ones that sort of got made. And it doesn’t mean they were the best ones. It doesn’t mean it was like clean or pretty how they happened, but they are the ones that made it to the theater.

Craig: And even the product itself is the function of an internal evolution among a lot of people fighting. I mean, for instance, you guys just had a discussion about Gone Girl and you disagreed about some things. You really thought one passage was cool, you thought that was weak. You liked the parents, you thought they were not so great. These fights happen constantly on every movie except that one of you is the boss.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Okay. This is a problem obviously but some decision has to be made. The movie is — anybody who thinks that movies are authored by one person is higher than the highest crack can take –

Stephen: Has never gone anywhere near the moving-making process.

Craig: Yeah, they’re just so divorced from the process of what it means to make a movie.

Stephen: Okay, but I have a question for you. Sorry, I’m stepping on you, boss, lady.

Julia: Go for it.

Stephen: Because I’ll forget it if I don’t ask it right now. Okay, so we are all post-modernist Darwinian evolutionists, anti-authorship, you know, post-auteur, cognoscenti.

Craig: Stipulated.

Stephen: And yet, it begins with a room of one’s own. It begins with you doing the paradigmatic writer thing. You’re alone with the blinking cursor and your own conscience and the Internet and email and on and on and on. I mean, you have all the, you know, classic struggles of self-battling that a writer has. How is it to then also be in a medium that’s utterly collaborative and evolutionary and your darlings are going to get killed, but not even by you?

Craig: Well, it’s an endless struggle. And this is why screenwriters are stereotypically whiny. I mean, watch Adaptation, you know. It’s very difficult and it’s incredibly difficult because it’s emotionally painful. We are required to create something that we believe in that is entirely within our control and is in fact authored.

And then we are required by the nature of film making to cede control of it and to see it re-authored because unlike any other form of writing, screenwriting is not meant to be read, it is not meant to be consumed by anyone, it is meant to in fact be transformed into something else entirely. So we are always on the razor’s edge of this emotional pain. And then of course somewhere down the line after we’ve survived the many, many –

Stephen: You get paid $900,000.

Craig: I get to Dana’s review. That’s my reward.

John: [laughs] That’s the reward, yes.

Stephen: You made me laugh so hard that my gap flashed the whole room. That was good. Okay, well let’s end it on a positive note. I could talk to you guys all night but unfortunately we’ve got to move on. But Craig Mazin and John August, thank you very much for coming.

John: Thank you very much.

Craig: Thank you for having us. Thanks guys.

John: Great. So that was lovely and there were applause which is always a fun thing. I really enjoyed being a guest. It’s so nice to be able to have the chance to like make my own points and not have to elicit points from other people.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I thought it was very valuable. It was a good conversation to have. I think frankly the more that critics can personally interface with the people writing and directing movies, the better they will be at their jobs.

Craig: I agree with you.

John: I don’t think it’s going to make our jobs any better or worse but it’s going to make their jobs better. Frankly, one thing that kind of surprised me was the discussion was predicated on this question, what is it that we critics don’t know but should know about the way movies are made? And I found the question fascinating because, mostly because I thought why are you asking this now? I mean wouldn’t you have thought to ask it a decade ago or 20 years ago or whenever you started doing this?

There is such a gulf, I mean, even in the beginning of the show before we came on, Stephen and Julia Dana were talking about their, what they called LA alter egos and it was essentially their spin on what they thought Los Angeles is all about. And it was very cartoony, but you could tell really that they are quite proud of the fact that they’re out there and we’re out here and the gulf is cultural.

There is a cultural gulf. It’s interesting. It’s very interesting and worth studying.

John: I think it comes back to the question of intentionality is that you’re looking at this work as it’s finished and then you’re trying to ascribe intentionality for like this is what they meant, this is what they were doing, this is what the artist was attempting to voice or achieve. And ultimately I think that’s sometimes unknowable, or if it’s knowable, the only way you’re going to actually find that out is by asking the person who made the thing.

So instead what you’re really doing is you’re looking at your own reaction and saying, well, this is my reaction to this thing and that’s completely a valid experience but it doesn’t necessarily give you any insight into what the intention was behind something. It goes back to what we talked about before, the difference between journalistic writing and academic writing. In academic writing, you often find yourself trying to ascribe intention and motivation to things that are not really part of the text because you’re just desperately searching for something.

And so you find reasons to believe that the plot of this book is really about this other thing that you wouldn’t necessarily notice. And it’s like you’re trying to ascribe, trying to create logic after the fact.

Craig: That’s exactly right and what was driven home for me more than anything by interacting with them is how academic they are. And I imagine that for many film critics, I’m not even talking about reviewers but people who are doing film analysis, that their background is academic. And in academics, you’re precisely correct that the whole name of the game is to take some arena and find some angle on it that you can make your thesis and support it. So it’s rhetorical.

However, it’s a very poor instrument in my opinion, academic analysis. It’s a very poor instrument for something like movies which defy the meaning of which is really not in that kind of literary analysis or academic analysis, for me at least. And certainly the process of it makes many of the literary analyses absurd. And even, you know, I mean, you could see they’re trying, like… — By the way, it’s partly our fault in the business because when there’s a success, somebody will attempt to take credit for it and say, me, me, me, I am the author of this, it all comes down to me. But that’s not ever true.

John: The other thing I definitely noticed is you’re talking about cultural criticism, but culture is a thing that is constantly moving. So I sometimes get frustrated when I read a film review and they’re talking about current events in relation to this movie and seemingly unaware that this movie was green lit two years before those events came to be.

So there’s, you know, if there’s a school shooting and this movie comes out, it’s in reference to this school shooting or, you know, Gone Girl in the reference of like this domestic violence case. I understand that it’s cultural criticism because you’re looking at sort of how does this movie fit in to the current cultural conversation. But you can’t therefore take a time machine back and say like, well, that is the reason why this movie exists. The movie is coming out at a certain place and time but it doesn’t mean that this movie is reacting to those events or this place and time.

Craig: Yeah, I’ve, because I’m going to see Gone Girl this weekend and they have a big discussion about Gone Girl and I’ve been seeing essentially headlines of gobs of critical essays about Gone Girl and what it means about, or what its implications are for marriage, for misogyny, for the relationship between men and women, domestic violence. And all I keep thinking is these people are talking to each other. I don’t know who else cares.

The people that got to see, the people that read the book, appreciated the book for what it did for them, it’s a personal experience, it is not an academic experience. No one goes to a movie in order to contextualize the world around them. They go to a movie for the opposite, I believe, which is to contextualize something within them. It is a personal experience.

This is why movies are made the way they are. You can go see Argo and what you are taking away is something about what’s inside of you. It is a personal story set against the backdrop of the world. But a lot of times I think critics and film analysts ignore all that to talk really about what they’ve been trained to talk about. In the end, I think they are talking to each other. I think they are engaging in a kind of a cross debate.

John: Well, oftentimes, I think they’re talking about the conversation rather than the thing itself. And so in the case of Gone Girl, you’re talking about misogyny or what it means, or the feminist meanings or anti-meetings in the film. The degree to which it’s worthy to talk about in a culture context isn’t necessarily the film itself, but why we are talking about it.

So, the degree that Gone Girl being the incredibly successful popular movie out there in the world right now is sparking a cultural conversation, yes, sometimes by just the people who are writing these articles. But I also think just actual audiences are coming out of the movie thinking like, wow, I’m not sure how I feel about the characters I just saw and particularly that movie which has, you know, again no spoilers, but an unsettling ending and sort of a resolution that is unexpected does provoke things. And so the degree to which a movie can provoke a conversation, well, that’s a thing that’s happening in culture, so if your job is to write about culture, then it’s great to write about that movie. But you have to be mindful: are you really writing about the movie or are you’re writing about people talking about the movie which are sort of different things.

Craig: And the movie exists specifically to inspire people to examine their relationship with it. Individual relationship, how did that movie make me feel? Did I feel anything and if I did, what did I feel? Do I agree with it? Do I not agree with it? A good movie isn’t supposed to be like a good historical explanation of why things happen.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not supposed to be, whatever, a Doris Kearns Goodwin book explaining how Lincoln’s cabinet worked. It’s entirely about individuals.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I don’t think that’s the way they approach it sometimes. And they can’t because what does that come down to? It’s sort of exposes the fatal flaw here which is, well, so you have your opinion? Good. I do too, you know.

John: I guess, it’s a chance for people to listen in on what someone else’s opinion is and sometimes a very well-articulated opinion can get somebody thinking about what their own opinion is. So that is, I would say, as a defense of the kind of work that they’re doing both in writing and in the podcast is they’re having a conversation about their reactions to things and sometimes that may trigger a person to have their own reactions or give new thought to something else. And if that happens, then that’s a good thing.

Craig: I agree. It’s fun listening to smart people talk about stuff.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I tend to like to listen to smart people talking about things that are not cultural because I do experience culture in a very personal individual way. I like listening to smart people talk about politics, economics. But, and I was very struck by how their conversation between the three of them was no different than any other kind of conversation people have about movies.

I mean, essentially, regardless of the level of their vocabulary, they talked about the movie and then one person said, I really like this and then another person said, really? That was the part I didn’t like at all. Well, these are exactly the kinds of conversations we all have.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And ultimately, that’s all there is. There is nothing more to it. It’s supposed to be individual and personal, which, again, I think is the fatal flaw sometimes of the — it’s not of criticism, but rather it’s the fatal flaw of the critical style which is to say, this, let me illuminate you as to what is happening here. That is a fatal flaw because in fact, you can’t. Because what at least on our side, what we are intending to happen is for an individual to have an individual relationship with the movie. We know some of those are going to be bad and we know some of those are going to be good. But we also know there is not one illuminated correct response.

John: Absolutely. So, again, I want to thank Slate for having us on. It was just tremendously fun to be there and it was a really great event. And thank you for people who showed up for it because it was really neat to have some of our fans in our t-shirts out there in the audience.

Craig: For sure. Always good to see. And, boy, a very lovely woman came up to us afterwards and she — I won’t go into her story, but she said some very nice things. So she’s gone through some hardships and happily she’s better now. But it was very, very sweet. It’s nice to hear, and look, honestly, endlessly surprising to me that anyone listens to the show at all [laughs] but that for a lot of people who do, they really get something out of it. It’s very, very uplifting for me and I’m sure it is for you.

John: It is. Now just to cut into that tender emotion, I thought this might be a great opportunity for us to read a letter we got from one of our listeners.

Craig: [laughs] It’s the best letter ever.

John: It really is the best letter ever. So people sometimes will write in, sometimes on Twitter — I’m @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. Or they’ll write longer emails that they’ll send to And this is one that we got this week which I thought was great. So I shared it with you and you said in all caps MUST READ ON AIR IN TOTALITY.

Craig: [laughs] I know. So it’s a little long, so bear with us. The subject essentially is we talked a couple of weeks ago on the podcast about a video that somebody put on the Internet. It’s very funny. All they did was they stripped out John Williams’ score from the final scene of Star Wars: A New Hope where Luke, Han and Chewie are getting their medals.

And it’s a very long scene and there’s no dialogue. And so when you take away the score, it actually becomes this beautiful opera of awkwardness. [laughs] It’s fantastic. It’s very funny. And I thought frankly the spirit, I mean, we had a whole discussion about why it was interesting. And my whole takeaway was, hey, directors don’t panic when you see your footage that’s intended for score because it’s going to really look weird. But then look how great it will look when it’s done.

John: Yes. And so perhaps we didn’t stipulate as clearly that we thought the scene as it shows up in the movie is fantastic. And I would not change a thing. But Patrick from London, England did not take it that way.

Craig: No.

John: And in fact, well, why don’t you start, Craig?

Craig: Sure. “Subject: Star Wars Umbrage.

“Dear John and Craig, I have to take extreme umbrage at your mocking the final scene in Star Wars in your last podcast. I get that it’s mildly amusing someone took the music off the final scene and it seems strange because it’s so iconic. You could do that with any number of famous films and achieve the same effect.

“What is distressing is your assertion the final scene in Star Wars is somehow strange/weird/bad because it has no dialogue. That scene is one of the things that makes the film iconic for fuck’s sake!” Exclamation point. “Sometimes when I think about that scene it baffles the brain. What major blockbuster film would end on a scene driven entirely by visuals and score? None.

“We’re always told film is a visual medium, show don’t tell, blah, blah, blah, yet when a film achieves a satisfying conclusion through moving images and music alone like a silent movie, you mock it as strange/weird/bad. What more did the film need to do? They blew up the Death Star. Obi-Wan said the force will be with you always. Han came back and displayed some honor and loyalty. I emphasize displayed. He didn’t say it. The end. What more did you want?

“Did you want a speech like the end of Independence Day? We will not lie down. Today’s our independence day against the empire. God bless America, blah, blah, blah. Would that have approved the ending of Star Wars?” [laughs] You want to read the second half?

John: “I think the problem is you work in Hollywood where everything is decided by committee. So anything idiosyncratic or unusual is viewed with suspicion or derided as strange/weird/bad. I noticed on your Raiders podcast when you pointed out that today the opening five-minute exposition scene wouldn’t fly and would be watered down by committee. And that this was perfectly acceptable.”

Craig: [laughs]

John: I don’t think we said that at all.

Craig: No, I think the point was that it was not… it was unacceptable. [laughs] Oh man, this is great. Keep going. It’s awesome.

John: “When the final scene in Star Wars was produced, maybe someone said, err, is it strange/weird/bad?”I love the strange/weird/bad.

Craig: I know. So he –

John: I’m omitting the slashes –

Craig: I know. It’s this thing that he does when he goes strange/weird/bad all as one thing. And it’s like his mantra.

John: “That there’s no big speech at the end. And maybe George Lucas said, ‘It’s my film and that’s how I want to end it. So fuck you.’ Or George and Spielberg said, ‘We want there to be a really long exposition scene at the beginning of Raiders and if you don’t like it, money men, you can go fuck yourselves.'”

Well, so now we have to have this — I have to record a little warning at the start of the podcast –

Craig: I know.

John: Because he said fuck three times.

Craig: I know.

John: “Depressingly on your podcast, you seem to advocate conformity — “

Craig: Oh.

John: “And do not encourage idiosyncrasies’ originality. It’s kind of like don’t rock the boat. This is what is expected of you by the committee, so this is what you should do? The final scene in Star Wars should be something you celebrate, not mock. Star Wars is one of the most exciting and amazing films ever made and definitely the top 10 most influential. So it doesn’t need my or anyone’s sympathy or support. But it’s sad that one of its fun quirks is derided on your podcast because it doesn’t fit the present day studio formula you bow to.”

Craig: We bow to.

John: We bow to. “However, the controversy over why Chewie didn’t also receive a medal has not gone away and is a troubling aspect to the film’s conclusion up for debate.” Well, good. I’m glad we got to the Chewie of it all because that’s really what I’ve been focusing on.

Craig: [laughs] I like that this guy’s like, well, let me let you off the hook on the Chewie thing, great point.

John: “Anyway, end umbrage. I’d like to echo your other listener who praised the podcast for informing and inspiring people. It’s a great thing you do and an essential resource for anyone who’s interested in writing films. Cheers.”

Craig: Cheers. [laughs]. Okay. Well, Patrick –

John: Patrick is great. So, I genuinely thank you for writing this letter.

Craig: Yes.

John: We’re really kind of not mocking you but just one of those things we’re like, oh, I can’t believe you thought we were –

Craig: Yeah.

John: You know, slamming on that scene because we weren’t at all.

Craig: No, I think, Patrick, the reason I wanted to read this entire thing is because I think unwittingly you managed to satire an unhinged Star Wars fan. [laughs] Look, to be clear and I think it was clear because, frankly, out of all the people that listened to the show, you were the only person that had this issue or at least spoke about it.

No, we love the ending of the movie. All we were saying was that it was funny to watch it without the music because it is funny. And I remember specifically saying, in fact, I said — I sent that video to Rian Johnson. And I said, Rian, when you see your first dailies, don’t freak out, right?

Because a lot of times, science fiction, epics, when they don’t have all of the post-production trappings laid over it, can look ridiculous. I mean, for instance, there’s footage of Darth Vader when he first enters the diplomatic ship and he interrogates Princess Leia. And it’s the actual dailies. And so I think it was David Prowse I guess is the guy who was in the actual, so it’s his voice.

And it just sounds like a bunch of English guys and it seems ridiculous. And the point is, but okay, as filmmakers, we deserve to have faith that the full process will make it come to light. That was our point. I don’t think it’s weird/strange/bad. I don’t want everything to be decided by committee. [laughs] I don’t want there to be a speech at the end about God bless America. I do love –

John: I think it would be kind of great if there were a speech about God bless America –

Craig: God bless America.

John: At the end of Star Wars.

Craig: It actually would be cool.

John: I think Star Wars is not American enough.

Craig: Right.

John: I want to start a whole campaign about that.

Craig: Like there should have been –

John: No one is wearing a flag pin.

Craig: Like if they had unfurled a big American flag behind them as they got their medals, it would have been awesome.

John: Visual effects, we can do it.

Craig: Visual effects, we can — he can get back in there, you know, if Greedo shot second then we could do that. No, I love the, I wouldn’t change a frame of Raiders and I wish modern movies would take more time in their opening exposition. No, I don’t believe that John and I advocate conformity or discourage idiosyncrasies’ originality. Quite the opposite.

We don’t really like the committee. We do celebrate the [laughs] last scene of Star Wars. It’s amazing how wrong you are, Patrick. I mean you really are, I got to give you credit. You’re batting a thousand so far. [laughs] But really, why I wanted to read it out loud was this bit about Chewbacca because that was just — you’re like, okay, you got through your umbrage but then you’re like, well, now, granted there is a serious [laughs] debate about why Chewie didn’t get a medal. Dude, no one cares why Chewie didn’t get a medal, whatever.

John: Once again, racism.

Craig: Yeah, nobody cares. No one cares.

John: Chewie is the Nothic of the whole Star Wars saga.

Craig: You know why Chewie didn’t get a medal? Chewie don’t need no medals.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Chewie doesn’t care about medals. Maybe that’s why he’s yelling. Anyway, fantastic. Thank you for the kind words at the very end. Patrick, I’m sorry, you just got it all wrong here. But we love you anyway and we thank you for listening and please come on back and just know that the people that you want us to be, we already are.

John: Awww. So our next topic, so after we did our segment at the Slate Gabfest, we found this little outdoor terracey patio thing which is really nice at the theatre.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so you and I were just sitting and chatting for a bit. And I brought up that the thing I’m writing right now — we’re both in our first drafts. And the thing I was writing, I was sort of stuck because I was trying to — I realized it was because I was trying to service a bunch of characters and things just weren’t fitting right.

And so there’s an exercise I do every once in a while which I’d recommend to anybody is basically, what happens if I killed the hero? Like right now, what if the hero died? And I would go through it like, I thought through like what would actually happen if the hero were to die right now. And that didn’t help the situation so I just go sort of one by one and I kill off all the characters and sort of mentally run through what would happen.

And I realized if I killed off this supporting character, life would be so much easier and happier because it would force the other characters in the rest of these sequences to do more of the work. So I didn’t end up killing her but I ended up just getting rid of her because she could do her function that she needed to do and we kind of just didn’t care anymore. She had recurred, she was done, she’s gone.

And it was incredibly helpful and useful. And I thought in a general sense it would be great to talk about sort of how many characters you need because — so I read scripts that aren’t working. A lot of times I find they’re trying to service characters, too many characters too long in the script and they just sort of get muddled.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, have you found this to be the case?

Craig: I have. And this is another reason that I do like to outline beforehand because every character — I think that there’s times when we get a little, our appetites get a little big. You know, we have this idea of all these wonderful characters. And the problem is that every character has to be there very, very intentionally. They each need to serve some very important purpose.

Some characters are single-use K-Cup characters. They show up and then they’re gone. We talked about the Ghost –

John: I like, Craig, I have to single out the K-Cup metaphor.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Terrific.

Craig: K-Cup.

John: One shot and they’re gone, throw them away.

Craig: One shot. Throw them away. So they show up, they do their thing and they’re gone. Movies are full of great characters that show up like that. But for the characters that you’re going to be traveling with, they need each of them to have their story. They need to fill a place. They need to provide you with a tool to tell your story.

There are all sorts of tricks. I mean, some people will tell you, well, every character is just an aspect of the protagonist, which is, you know, it’s interesting. Sometimes I suppose in some kinds of movies that might be true. But for the most part, it’s not. So the questions you have to ask yourself are this. What does, for every character, what do they want? What’s their problem? Who are they really into? Who do they have a big problem with? How are they going to end?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then if I understand those things and on top of that I know what they do for the plot, they must do something for the plot, then, well, I’m not going to have a problem writing them am I?

John: No, you’re not. And in my case, you know, I had outlined up to a certain point. But I sort of knew who the characters were going to the last section, but I hadn’t thoroughly figured out sort of who was responsible for what things. And it was as I was trying to write the outline for this section that I realized like, argh, something’s not working right here.

And I wouldn’t have singled out that this character was the one who needed to go away because she served an important function and I thought I would need to bring her through to the end of the movie. What should have been my tipoff is that I didn’t really have any specific place I wanted her to end.

Craig: Ah.

John: There was no sort of great way to send her out of this movie. And that was a good sign that maybe she didn’t need to make it to the end of the movie, that maybe she could leave. And the functions that she would have been doing in this last section of the film, someone else could do them. And probably someone more important could do them and would have more reason to be in those moments because it’s a challenge for her to be performing these actions.

So a lot of times I’ll avoid having too many characters in a scene, but a lot of times if a scene isn’t working it’s because you have too many people in them because you’re trying to service these characters who don’t have enough time to speak. This was a case where I had too many characters in this whole sequence and one of them had to go away.

Craig: And sometimes in a circumstance like that you can fold some characters together.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: You can reassign a duty to another character which can help a lot. One of the danger signs that you’ve triggered here is the too many people within a scene because there’s too many people in general. But then there’s the other problem with too many people in one scene. And you can feel it when suddenly you realize a bunch of people aren’t saying anything.

John: Yes.

Craig: And on set, I’ve seen this happen and it’s a very scary thing. When you’re writing a scene, you may say the five of them sit down, you know, at the table. The person that they’re talking to begins talking and then the leader of the group begins talking back to them. And it reads fine because what these two people are saying to each other is fascinating and moving the story forward and all the rest.

And everybody is like, cool, great. There is a, you know, a second AD who’s going through the script and going, okay, let’s see, who’s in each scene because I need to make sure they’re there that day. Okay, they’re in that scene, they’re there that day. And there they are. And then everybody looks and goes, why are all these people here? And why are these actors sitting around? How do I shoot the scene so it’s not the most awkward thing in the world while a bunch of people are sitting there quietly?

Naturally, as an audience, if we see you, we want you to do something.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not like real life [laughs] where we sit around do nothing all the time. If the camera is on you, it needs to be on you.

John: Yeah. There has to be an intention.

Craig: Right. So that’s a warning sign that you’ve got too many people in your scene.

John: Yeah. And you’ll see that happen a lot. And there’s cases where you want all those people around that dinner table because that’s part of the stakes and the drama of that scene is people’s reactions to those things. Wedding Crashers has a great, really complicated dinner party scene where a bunch of people are around the table and each of those reactions is important.

And, by the way, if you’re trying to ever shoot one of those things, you will go insane because you’re having to shoot angles for everybody looking at each other and trying to match eye lines and you’ll go mental. But sometimes that’s really, really important.

Other times, it’s not and you need to look for ways to sort of get those people out of the room so you can have moments between two characters be between two characters or three characters. I think one of the reasons why we have this instinct to now add a lot of characters to things is we’re used to great TV dramas. We’re used to things like Game of Thrones where you have these giant casts.

Craig: Right.

John: Well, you couldn’t have that giant cast in the feature version of Game of Thrones. It wouldn’t make any sense at all. The feature version Game of Thrones would focus on like three guys and like Daenerys and John Snow and somebody else. It wouldn’t be all those people. It’s because you have 20 hours to explore all these characters that you can do that in a one-hour show. You can’t do it in a movie.

Craig: That’s absolutely correct. I mean, you’ve called out an interesting thing about the dining room scene because we’ve all done those. And for those of you, if you’re going to write one of those, obviously everybody needs to be there. And John’s right. Not everybody needs to say something, but everybody needs to have a reaction.

So if someone’s there and they say nothing, they’re there because they’re the person who’s going to deliver a key reaction and you should write those reactions. It’s a big thing with me. That’s how the actors even go, okay, I understand, I’m participating in this, I’m there for a reason, the camera will be on me and I have a job. Actors understand that their job goes beyond mouth moving, sound coming out. Reactions, I mean look, comedy-wise, people tend to laugh at the reactions to lines, not the lines themselves.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: So write those. Then what you’re talking about with Game of Thrones is interesting to me because in television, since you have essentially endless episodes — they’re not endless, but as many as you want — you get to carve your space up and then drill down. So Game of Thrones does have a hundred characters, but really it has four characters. And the four characters are the characters within that segment.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So if there’s a story going on with Tyrion, that has to do with Jaime and his father and his sister. Those are the four characters.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So they’re only, they’re reducing down as well. In movies, when you have large casts, inevitably what happens, because there’s no other way to keep people’s attention, is you have a protagonist, like at the top of a pyramid, right? And they have the most focus, the most depth, the most richness. Then underneath them are two people that have a little less. And then underneath them are some other people that are little less. And eventually you get to people that are one note.

So eventually, like for instance if you think about Police Academy [laughs], you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, so at the top you’ve got Steve Guttenberg and he’s, you know, for a broad comedy, he’s a typical broad comedy protagonist, a man-child who doesn’t want to grow up. He wants to crap out of this thing, but he’s kind of into a girl and lo and behold, he starts to find that he is going to grow up and he is going to live up to the expectations of all the people that believe he’s something special and he’s going to win the day.

At the bottom of the pyramid, you have somebody whose entire character is making funny noises. That’s it. Because that’s all you can bear after, you know, you’ve placed your 15 people in the script.

John: The story could not have withstood that guy having a whole plot line and whole thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If it were a TV series, yes, give them business, give them ongoing things that, you know, let us know who he is as a person. But for the feature version, he’s the guy who makes funny noises and that’s all you kind of need to know.

Craig: Like in the TV version, he goes home –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: We actually see that he’s got this like really tough life. He’s got a girlfriend, but she’s been, like she’s actually been sick and he’s taking care of her.

John: And she’s deaf.

Craig: Right, so –

John: So she has no sense of what noises he makes.

Craig: Which is really troubling. He tells her that he’s doing great there and everybody really is impressed with his intelligence, but he knows that’s not true. And then he sits there at night alone and learns new sounds because that’s what the guys kind of like.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But he’s so sad and morose because he really doesn’t feel like he’s good at anything except that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That would be, that’s a cool, that’s the –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Let’s watch it.

John: The saddest Police Academy movie ever.

Craig: I like sad Police Academy, so I should make that movie. [laughs]

John: And just to circle around again to the movie you haven’t seen, in Gone Girl, I’d read the book and I saw the movie, I like them both very, very much. Gone Girl, the author, Gillian Flynn, she removes one character, Ben Affleck’s best friend, from the movie entirely. And I didn’t even know he was missing until someone pointed it out. And that’s a great example of like that character was important for the book because it gave Ben Affleck’s character some grounding and lets you know sort of what was going on there. But he would have gotten in the way in the movie. He would have just been standing around for too much of the movie. So getting rid of him made a lot more sense.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. And so you can see there is a case of an author. It’s her book.

John: It’s her book. And she’s smart enough to know.

Craig: Yeah. She meant that character to exist, but she also understands that a movie is different. Now, there’s the opposite syndrome which is the not enough character syndrome.

John: We talked about that with Ghost.

Craig: Right.

John: Ghost feels a little light.

Craig: Well, yeah. So what happens is the movie begins to feel a little small. You’ll hear this from executives sometimes. And they’ll say, the movie feels small. They sometimes say this if the movie is, it’s very located in interiors. They’ll start to say it’s smaller, claustrophobic or if there aren’t enough characters, the movie feels small. And what happens is, if you’re telling the story of a movie and you’re shooting in the great wide world of planet Earth and you only have three characters that are really noticeable as human beings at all –

John: Yeah.

Craig: It starts to feel a little bit more like a play.

John: Mm-hmm, it does.

Craig: And that’s a little rough. I mean look, Ghost wasn’t off by much. I think it was really off by one, you know, one other character to make that red herring work and all that stuff. It would have been great. But if you start to feel like your movie is just three people and no one else feels real or fleshed out or purposeful to the story, you know, you have to sort of stop and ask yourself, are there enough obstacles here? Is this is world well-fleshed out? Who am I one-noting that really should have some life in this because a movie can bear more than that?

John: Yeah. These are challenges I think you find when you have too few characters in your story is that the audience just gets away too far ahead of you because we start to be able to figure out everything that those characters could do. And so then when they do them, it’s like, well, well yeah, we sort of knew that was going to happen. It becomes harder to surprise your audience because we kind of know who all these people are and what they’re capable of doing.

Craig: John, that is a genius point. That’s a genius point.

John: Thank you.

Craig: You’re absolutely right, because when we only have three people to look at, we are studying them so carefully, yeah, of course we’re not going to miss anything. Part of misdirection is shifting our focus, just like magicians are constantly misdirecting you, they’re waving their hand around or yapping while they’re stuffing a bird in a vegetable or something. [laughs] I don’t know whatever they’re doing, cutting up cards behind their backs. Your ability to misdirect people is vastly reduced. Excellent point.

John: Thank you. So our last topic of the podcast of this episode is business affairs. And this is something that you and I both talked about. So let me explain what business affairs is. If you are hired to write a movie for somebody, so it could be a first draft, it could be rewrite, it could be sort of anytime that you are employed as a writer for a studio, business affairs is the lawyers who make your deal.

So your agent and your lawyers are talking to business affairs at Sony or Fox or some place and trying to come to a deal for your writing services. And that may just be scale. You may not be getting sort of above the normal rates. But you have to get that all figured out, basically how long you have to write, what they’re going to pay for each step along the way, other sort of deal points. There’s boilerplate, but it’s not all one standard deal.

So these business affairs people are important. And they are vanishing. I’ve become increasingly frustrated. I think over the last few years, that it feels like takes longer and longer and longer to make deals. And it’s not because we’re being difficult or they’re being difficult. They’re just not there. They’re overworked. And it feels like there’s not enough business affairs people.

Craig: Yeah, this is the general squeeze down on the business. We know that there are fewer and fewer movies made, fewer and fewer executives. And yes, I’ve felt it too. I don’t have numbers obviously. We’re not privy to the payroll of the companies. But it does seem that business affairs has been narrowed through fewer and fewer attorneys. And it is frustrating. Look, it’s a frustrating thing to deal with business. The phrase business affairs is unique in our business because other than the fact that it sounds almost sexy and yet so it’s the opposite of sexy.

John: Ooh affairs.

Craig: Ooh, business affairs. It’s a great title for like a Skinemax movie, but in fact it’s not sexy at all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it has this incredible binary emotional impact. When you are trying to get a job or trying to sell something, when you finally hear okay, business affairs will be calling, you go hooray.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s happening. I’m getting paid. I’m being hired. I got a job. And then business affairs makes you hate them. [laughs] Because, you know, you have, and this is by design. Just as we separate creative from business by hiring agents, the studios separate creative in business. So the creative people say, we love you, we love your idea, love, love, love. Artists come here and let us kiss you all over your face. And the business affairs people are like, uh-huh, according to my spreadsheet you get half of what you think you deserve or so on and so forth.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then you start to grind your teeth.

John: But that’s how it, I would say that’s how it’s supposed to work in a weird way.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: And it’s supposed to be that horrible, uncomfortable, like it’s negotiation. And no negotiations are fun. That’s just the nature of it. What is frustrating is that I feel like the negotiation it just doesn’t even start because there’s just no one to actually even begin the negotiation or you end up waiting a really long time because those poor guys are just overworked.

Now why does this matter? Well, it matters because as a writer, you’re not getting paid. Well, that’s obviously a huge headline concern because you can’t get paid until the contract is figured out. They’re not going to cut you a check until there’s a contract to sign.

But more importantly, I think this is actually the bigger crisis in the industry right now is, you know, projects will just stagnate for a long time while these deals get done. And so you could go in and just like kill them with a pitch and it’s just fantastic and everyone is so excited to have you start writing this thing. And then it’s six months before they actually get these contracts figured out.

And in that six months, you haven’t been able to start because you’re not sure the deal is going to be possible to make. And that is awful because by the time you actually get to start writing the thing, it’s done, like your motivation has –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Has left.

Craig: I haven’t experienced that kind of lag, but I certainly have experienced more of a lag than has been there before. There are some tricks you can do. If all the major deal points have been agreed on then you can sign a certificate of authorship, get paid and then everybody works out all the inky-dinky details in the long form contract. But the wheel does seem to turn much slower than it used to.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, I do sympathize. Business affairs people are in a tough spot. They know that they have to be the heavy. They also know that sometimes they’re being used. So creative people will give everybody a big hug and tell them that they love and then turn around, call business affairs and say, we do love them but we can’t really, we don’t want to pay more than this. So can you please just be the heavy?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because the deal is, if we do end up making a deal, I have to work with these people and I don’t want them to be angry at me the whole time. I just want them to angry at you. [laughs] So –

John: Absolutely.

Craig: A little of that goes on. But yeah, it’s gotten slow.

John: Absolutely. I completely sympathize with business affairs people. I know they have to be heavies. I kind of in a way just want there are going to be more heavies. And I wish studios would hire more people to do that job because I think they’d be able to move faster and more nimbly if they actually could make deals for the things they want more quickly and get their scripts back faster.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So often, studios will say like, oh takes us forever to get this, we’ll make a deal and it takes, you know, eight months for us to get the script from the writer. It’s like, well you know what, it took six months for you to make a deal. So maybe you could speed up a little on your side.

Craig: And to give folks out there context who are maybe attorneys, these are not complicated deals.

John: They really aren’t.

Craig: They are nearly boilerplate contracts by the time you’ve been — either you’re a new writer and it’s fairly boilerplate or you’ve been around for a while and your deals have a ton of precedents and they’re fairly boilerplate. And what it really comes down to is how much are we paying you? The rest is baloney, you know, like how many tickets you get to the premiere and do you fly first class or business? I mean whatever.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not hard.

John: And ultimately, you and I both had the experience where deals are dragging on for a long time then finally in one afternoon, there’ll be a bunch of phone calls back and forth and it will be done. And that afternoon of phone calls could have happened several weeks ahead of time. And it didn’t.

Craig: Yeah, which also makes me feel bad for business affairs because then I feel like they’re living their lives in a constant state of crisis because they’re understaffed. So the deal that they’re doing today is the one that’s about to literally blow up because they couldn’t get to it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So every day is a crisis. It’s no way, but this is what these companies have done. They’ve just cut, cut, cut everywhere. And, you know, the other thing that’s rough is like, it’s hard when you’re negotiating deals because, you know, if you’re like a new business affairs lawyer, you know, I don’t know what you’re getting paid. I don’t know what the starting rate is for a brand new business affairs attorney, but my guess is it’s, you know, I don’t know, a couple 100 grand or something? And, you know, some writer is like, “What, $300,000, screw you, you’re a jerk.” And they’re like, “Ugh, am I, am I the jerk?”

You know, it’s a tough gig. And I feel bad for them.

John: And do too.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. We won’t solve this problem, but I just wanted to bring it up and shine a spotlight on it. Craig, and it’s time for One Cool Things, do you have a One Cool Thing this week.

Craig: No. [laughs]

John: Oh you forgot about it.

Craig: I totally forgot.

John: Yeah. I’ll stall for you and I’ll tell you what my One Cool Thing is.

Craig: Okay.

John: Mine is this movie that I’ve meant to watch for a long time that I finally watched on the plane. I’m in Montreal as we’re recording this. I’m asked to give a speech at Çingleton which is a great conference. But on the plane, I watched Indie Game: The Movie which everyone had recommended and they were right. It’s a really good documentary about these guys making indie games, indie games for, in this case, Xbox.

And it follows the ups and downs and the travails. And even if you’re not a gamer or a person who would make video games, it’s a great look at sort of that part of the creative process where, you know, you’re living that delusion of like, okay, there’ s a game out there that I can make, that I can deliver and it’s going to happen and then you have a launch day and then you just see.

And that’s what the experience is of making movies and the experience of making Broadway shows and all sorts of creative endeavors is that you are so internally focused for so long and you’re killing yourself to make this thing and you’re exhausted and then finally that day comes and you can’t believe it’s finally here. But you have sort of both excitement and post partum depression and it’s all out of your hands. And the variables are unforeseen.

So it’s a really well-made documentary. If you watch it, then you can look up about the people involved. You’ll see there’s other controversy about sort of the nature of the documentary, but I thought it was just a terrifically a well-made thing. It’s on Netflix right now, so if you have Netflix streaming it is free for you to watch.

Craig: Awesome. Well, I guess my One Cool Thing, it’s, you know, we try to make One Cool Things accessible to people. This is not, but it is so so cool. So did you see that Tesla came out with the Tesla P85D model?

John: I have no idea what it is. So tell me all about it.

Craig: They took a Tesla. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: They took the model S. They added a second motor to it. So it’s now all wheel drive, two motors. They added a ton of driver assistance features that essentially make the car able to drive itself.

John: Great, love it.

Craig: It reads speed limit signs. It sees the lane markers. It keeps distance from the car — basically, I think Elon Musk said, “If you punch in your address and fall asleep in the car, it will get you there,” which is pretty amazing.

John: Wow.

Craig: But more importantly, it goes from 0 to 60 in 3.1 seconds. It is as fast as a McLaren F1. It is in fact a supercar.

John: Well.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So Craig, how does it feel to have a shitty Tesla now?

Craig: Well, the thing is I just already, [laughs] begun the process of seeing how it might work on a trade-in because –

John: Oh, that’s good. Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So we’re a very accessible podcast here. I talked about free movies on Netflix. And you’re talking about supercars.

Craig: I’m so sorry.

John: It’s fine. If you would like to ask Craig more questions about his supercar, you can tweet at him.

Craig: I don’t have it yet. I don’t have it yet.

John: He’s @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust on Twitter. Longer questions like the one we got today, well it wasn’t really a question? It was just a venting of umbrage.

Craig: [laughs] It’s so great.

John: You can send those vents to We’re on iTunes. So if you’re subscribing to us through iTunes, that’s awesome. If you’re not subscribing to us in iTunes, like maybe you’re just listening to us at the site, go over to iTunes and click subscribe and leave us a comment while you’re there because those are lovely.

You can find show notes for the things we talked about on this episode and almost every episode at We have a premium app on iTunes and for Android. There’s a premium site at If you sign up for that, you’ll hear all the back episodes and little bonus things that we do every once in a while. That’s also where you’re going to hear the dirty episode when we hit 1,000 premium subscribers which we’re getting pretty close. We are going to do a dirty episode. So people sent some really good suggestions for who we should have as a guest on the dirty episode.

Craig: I thought the funniest one was Mike Birbiglia because he’s so not dirty.

John: He’s not. He’s the sweetest, nicest, not dirtiest man.

Craig: I know.

John: But we’ll find somebody. I have some hunches about some really great people we can have on the show.

Craig: All right, good.

John: All right. And I think that is our show for this week.

Craig: Awesome. Good show.

John: Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: All right. Bye.

Craig: Bye.


Highland works great with Yosemite

Mon, 10/20/2014 - 13:50

We had quite a few inquiries from Highland’s support page this weekend, including:

Is Highland compatible with Mac OS 10.10 Yosemite? Of all the apps I’m running on my Macs, Highland is probably the most important. I won’t upgrade until you give the all clear signal.

Green light. The version of Highland in the Mac App Store runs fine under Yosemite.

In fact, we’ve been running Highland with the Yosemite betas for months, so the past few builds all run fine. Except for a few small UI changes (such as using the green dot to go full-screen), you won’t notice any significant differences.

We update Highland quite frequently. Version 1.8.2, now in review, addresses bugs that users helped us identify under both old and new OS versions. Highland keeps improving because we have seriously committed users.

If it’s been a while since you’ve looked at Highland, you may have missed out on its new line spacing options. You can now choose Tight, Normal or Loose line spacing in the editor view. This ability to customize the editor for maximum readability is one of the clear advantages to Highland’s just-the-words philosophy.

You can download Highland in the Mac App Store.

Critics, Characters and Business Affairs

Tue, 10/14/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig were delighted to join the Slate Culture Gabfest on stage to talk about the gulf between critics and creators. We have the audio from that, and additional thoughts on the issue.

Then, how many characters does your movie need? We talk about how to figure out the Goldilocks spot where you have enough characters to make your world feel real, but not so many that they’re tripping over each other.

Finally, business affairs, and how understaffed legal departments create problems for writers and studios.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 165: Toxic Perfection Syndrome — Transcript

Sat, 10/11/2014 - 16:31

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

Before we get started, I need to warn listeners that my audio in this podcast will be kind of terrible. It’s because of my own fault. I set a setting wrong. So, this is me speaking after the fact with a better microphone connected properly to my Macintosh. So, Matthew Chilelli has done a heroic job trying to make my audio sound better, but it’s a little bit worse than usual. My apologies. And we’ll be back to normal next week.

[Transition tones]

John: Craig, how are you?

Craig: I’m okay. I’m coming off of a cold, though. I think it went from my kids, to my wife, to me, but yeah, you know that day when you finally feel better? That’s the day you finally feel better.

John: Yeah, it’s sort of the 90% day. Where it’s like you’re mostly recovered. There’s still a trace, a little trace of that cold.

Craig: Yeah, that’s right. But not too bad. I might hack a little bit during this.

John: That’s fine. Matthew Chilelli will edit it all out. There will be sirens to cover it anyway.

Craig: Exactly. I’ll just time it when the sirens come by.

John: Nima Yousefi who is our coder for Quote-Unquote Apps who does Highland and all of our stuff, he was out sick all of last week with the flu. And so this is my annual reminder to everyone to get your flu shots, because the flu just is awful. And you shouldn’t get the flu. And you don’t have to get the flu. So just get a $20 flu shot.

Actually, to tell you the truth, our health insurance –

Craig: It’s free.

John: Free. So, just get your flu shot. The flu sucks.

Craig: Yeah, I know, the flu is stupid. Don’t get that. Is he sure it was the flu?

John: He’s pretty sure it was the flu. It certainly wasn’t a cold. He was out in a bad way.

Craig: Well, it’s probably the flu.

John: It’s probably the flu. And a reason to do it this year I think especially is because if you get the flu shot, you know, it’s not Ebola. So, it can be the situation where you’re like, oh, I’m coming down with Ebola. It’s like, no, you probably have the flu. But now you don’t even have to have those mysterious symptoms that you think are Ebola because you won’t get the flu.

Craig: It’s not Ebola.

John: It’s certainly not Ebola. And you won’t even be the flu if you get the flu shot.

Craig: Right.

John: Right. Today we’re going to be talking about Netflix and the Adam Sandler deal. We’re going to be talking about Turkey City Lexicon, which is this great compendium of science fiction terms and it’s also about writer groups. I thought it was just a great article that Craig linked to, so we’ll talk to that.

Toxic Perfection Syndrome, which is a Craig topic as well. And we’re going to talk about the WGA in 2014. Elections just passed and we should look at what the WGA should be doing and focusing on in the next few years. Big show.

Craig: It’s a big show. We’re stuffed.

John: We’re stuffed. But we have to start with some follow up, and the first bit of follow up is to thank Apple because Apple featured us this last week. They featured Scriptnotes as one of their top podcasts.

Craig: Boy, that made a difference. So, I never really look and see, you know, where we are in the podcast ranks, because of course we make no money off of this, so I don’t care. But we were like the number six podcast in the world for a bit there.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s pretty great.

John: We were number four at one point when Stuart was checking.

Craig: Oh my goodness. That’s awesome. Wow.

John: It’s just crazy for a podcast about screenwriting. It’s wonderful.

Craig: I didn’t even know there were that many podcasts.

John: Exactly. You’ve been on like three and that’s basically it, right?

Craig: Yeah, so I thought being number four was the biggest insult ever. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Yeah. Craig Mazin’s solipsism knows no boundaries. But it was very nice of them to feature us last week.

Craig: Yes, very nice.

John: If you are a new listener joining us from last week when we had Nicole Perlman on, stick with us please.

Another podcast you may want to tune into is the Slate Culture Gabfest because that is happening live tomorrow. If you’re listening to this on Tuesday, it is happening tomorrow on Wednesday. That is downtown in Los Angeles at The Belasco Theatre. Doors open 6:30. There is a bar. And there will be drinks. Craig will be drinking.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You’ll be drinking, right?

Craig: Pretty heavily I would imagine.

John: Yeah, because it’s a podcast. You got to get them before a podcast.

Craig: Right.

John: And the show starts at 7:30. So, if you do not have tickets, go to Slate right now and get some tickets. And join us, because it’s going to be really fun. And Natasha Lyonne is actually going to be the other featured guest. For a long time it was just me and Craig, and then when they got Natasha Lyonne, there’s now a giant picture of Natasha Lyonne and we are like — “and John August and Craig Mazin.”

Craig: That’s appropriate. That is.

John: This last week Slate and Vulture did a piece on The Simpsons. And they had a bunch of famous people talk about their favorite moments from The Simpsons over these gazillion episodes. And so they emailed me weeks ago and so they had written this very good intro, so I wrote a really good answer which was the Homer’s Enemy episode, which is the one with Hank Grimes — Frank Grimes.

Craig: Frank Grimes.

John: I can’t remember his first name because he’s just Grimes. And so I had written this good answer and I was like when are they going to run it. Well, they finally ran it this last week. We’ll put a link in the show notes. And there’s these much, much, much more famous people than me. So, I got like the bottom answer on it. But it was nice.

Craig: They’re asking you for your favorite joke?

John: No, favorite episode.

Craig: Favorite episode. And you went Grimes.

John: And of course, it’s like picking your favorite child. You could say Mr. Plow, come one, there’s so many amazing episodes.

Craig: It’s an easy one for me. I think it was the one where Krusty loses his show. And it’s the Krusty Farewell Special. That may be my favorite.

John: Yeah. I love The Day the Laughter D ied. I love Lisa’s Valentine.

Craig: There’s so many.

John: This could be a whole episode about our favorite Simpsons episodes.

Craig: Yes. Yes. True. True. But what is your favorite single Simpsons joke?

John: God, I would say actually, I’m going to bend that as saying favorite song, which is probably Monorail.

Craig: Pretty great. I think my favorite Simpsons joke is in the episode where Homer was dressing up as Krusty because Krusty was sort of franchising himself, when Krusty and Homer dressed as Krusty — both appear in the mobster hangout. And one of the mobsters rubs his eyes and says, “I don’t believe it. I’m seeing double. Four Krustys.” [laughs] That’s just –

John: It’s so good.

Craig: So good. Ooh, I don’t know how they think of that. That’s so good. Four Krustys.

John: Continuing our follow up, Austin Film Festival, Craig will not be there because Craig is going to be at a wedding. So, putting friendship above his duty to the podcast, which is completely unrespectable.

Craig: Yes. Yes.

John: But luckily Susannah Grant has agreed to fill in and take your place.

Craig: Well, she’s a much better looking version of me. And she’s smarter.

John: She’s kind of a terrific writer.

Craig: She’s smarter than I am. She’s more successful than I am. She’s better looking than I am.

John: There are a lot of reasons why she’s a better co-host than Craig Mazin.

Craig: I mean, she’s nicer than I am. [laughs] Oh, that’s a great get. I love it.

John: So, Richard Kelly will be a guest as will Peter Gould from Breaking Bad. Peter Gould who was my film teacher at USC.

Craig: Well, spectacular.

John: Also, there are some other guests to be announced, so that will be fun. We’re also doing a Three Page Challenge there which will be second rounders from the Austin Film Festival’s Screenwriting Competition. And the panelists on that one will be Franklin Leonard and Ilyse McKimmie, so Franklin Leonard from the Black List, and Ilyse McKimmie from Sundance. So, that is going to be a fun time, too.

Craig: Wonderful.

John: Craig, we had announced on our previous show that if we got to 1,000 premium subscribers we would do a dirty episode just for subscribers.

Craig: Yeah.

John: How close do you think we are?

Craig: I’m going to say that we picked up 600 people.

John: That would be inaccurate. But we are now at 906.

Craig: Whoa!

John: So within the next week or two I think we will be able to cross over that threshold.

Craig: Oh, that’s great.

John: So, if you’d like us to cross over that threshold, go to and sign up. It’s $1.99 a month. You get all the back episodes. You get the bonus episodes. And you get the dirty episode. But we need to figure out who should be our guest for the dirty episode. So, if you are a premium subscriber, please tweet at me and Craig and tell us who you would like to see as the guest on the dirty show.

Craig: On the dirty show.

John: Because it’s going to be good.

Craig: It’s going to be dirty.

John: It’s going to be dirty. Let’s get to today’s business. So, you linked to this article that Adam Sandler has made a deal with Netflix for four movies. Tell us about it.

Craig: Yeah. Well, it’s a pretty big deal, actually. I mean, you know, I’m the guy that’s always going, oh well, look, people are jumping up and down saying this is the new way of doing things in Hollywood and no it isn’t, but this might actually be the new way of doing things.

So, Netflix signed an overall deal with Adam Sandler where they’re going to make four movies and he essentially has, they’re kind of implying has pretty much control over those movies. And he’ll be given an ample budget. And I’m assuming that because, you know, he had a pretty lucrative deal and was making pretty big movies with Sony. And what’s remarkable about this is that Sandler is sort of saying and Netflix are both saying we think that big movies can now be piped directly to an audience and skip the theater experience completely.

And that’s a little earth-shattering I think.

John: So, the article you linked to, it was unclear. You think that they’re not going to even just do a token theatrical run? You think they’re only going to go directly to home?

Craig: Absolutely. Why would they do it in theaters? I mean, the whole point is to get people to subscribe to Netflix. So, no, I think it’s going to be exclusive on Netflix. And I have to say, you know, I’ve read a couple of articles that predictably said, “Oh, Netflix, what — Adam Sandler is stupid, blah, blah, blah.”

Yeah, you’re stupid. It’s not about what the movies are that you like or don’t like. It’s about Netflix having access probably to better metrics than anybody else in our business. If you think about what — their database of what people watch, where they watch it, how frequently they watch it. My guess is they looked at their numbers and saw that Adam Sandler movies are extraordinarily popular with their subscription base, which I should point out is international.

Adam Sandler’s movies tend to do extraordinarily well overseas, particularly for a comedian. So, I think they ran the numbers and they’re like we can’t miss on this. And it’s also intriguing to me because Adam Sandler movies aren’t really movies that demand a theater viewing. They tend to be more appreciated frankly in their ancillary release after the theater experience when Adam Sandler fans purchase them and watch them over and over, often while they get high. [laughs]

John: I was going to say dorm rooms. We were in the same brain space there.

Craig: I’ve got no problem with that. Or, or, that’s one kind of Adam Sandler movie. The other kind is a family movie like Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2, which are then watched over and over by kids. And so I actually think this makes an enormous amount of sense. And I suspect that a lot of agents woke up this morning or yesterday when this news came out and said, “Uh, I should probably get this for one of my guys.”

John: Yup.

Craig: And the question now is does this become something that we start to see a lot of. And if that happens, then the people that got to start worrying are the movie theaters.

John: Yes. So let’s think this all the way through. So, let’s first talk about who else is like an Adam Sandler and it would be another actor or be a filmmaker who makes a consistent kind of thing, because there aren’t a lot of actors I can peg and say there’s an Adam Sandler movie. Adam Sandler is very much identifiable with every movie that he’s in, as opposed to Kevin Costner who is like an actor in movies and sometimes a director.

Craig: Yeah, Sandler kind of runs his own little Sandler studio over there.

John: Melissa maybe?

Craig: Maybe, yeah. I mean, Melissa I think is starting to get that way. I think a guy like Tyler Perry –

John: Tyler Perry. Absolutely.

Craig: Could easily do something like this and probably should. I think he’d probably end up making more money. I mean, because remember, one of the things that happens when you make a movie is if the idea is I’m going to get paid some money and then get a piece of this movie, your piece of the movie is negatively impacted by anything that costs money.

Well, what costs a lot of money? Distribution. Marketing. Huge costs for distribution and marketing. Typically larger than the cost of the movie itself.

Well, unless you’re on Netflix, because then –

John: But Netflix is going to do tremendous marketing — they’ll have to promote the shit out of it, but then they don’t have to do all the other distribution expenses.

Craig: Well, yeah, A, they’re promoting it heavily on their own thing, right? Whereas even though, for instance, Disney owns ABC, Disney has to pay ABC to run ads. And they have to run ads on other channels, too.

Netflix can promote their own stuff on their own system which people are using frequently. And obviously they’re trying to get more of a subscription base. But the distribution costs are essentially zero. And that’s enormous. It’s a huge advantage to them.

So then if you’re an artist, you theoretically would be dealing with a much lower overhead situation where your percentage of the returns would trigger sooner and be against a larger base. So, guys like that run their own show, I mean, for instance Woody Allen, who I suspect is probably way too wedded to film and the cinema experience, but Woody Allen could do this if he wanted to.

John: Absolutely. If you have an identifiable brand. If you came in with like people know you and want to come see your things regardless. Kevin Smith maybe could do this.

Craig: Yeah. If you have a brand, I could see absolutely Netflix. Now, I think they’ve signaled with this deal it’s not going to be enough to be Kevin Smith. We we’re actually aiming for people that have and can make $100 million regular movie theaters. So, they’re making a big bet here but they’re also signaling to everybody else, hey, you know, come on over. It’s interesting. Really interesting, I have to say.

John: So, we could probably find the transcripts from when we talked about Netflix going into television, when it did House of Cards and Orange is the New Black. And that seems like, well, that’s foolish, or at least weird, because we had never really seen Netflix as being a company that was in the television business. And suddenly they were trying to be in the television business, well that’s crazy.

But it ended up being very successful for them. So, I wouldn’t bet against Netflix.

Craig: Yeah, well, Netflix is becoming the other HBO. And we know that HBO spends money on things that attract people to their subscription base. I mean, I think that probably what we had commented on was that Netflix wasn’t going to kill network television, and it hasn’t. It hasn’t come close to it. Nor do I think this will kill traditional film distribution.

But, this may be good news for those of us who are screenwriters because as we talked about often one of the things that’s really impacted us negatively is the reduction of feature films that are being made, because there are only so many theaters and only so many studios that make these things. If Netflix is serious about this, they could become a viable new option. I presume that they will make these movies under a WGA deal.

John: Yeah, it would feel really strange not to. It would feel strange because the people who write Adam Sandler movies have traditionally been WGA writers. And so for them to start to try to make these movies with people who are not in that stable feels really strange.

Craig: It would feel strange. And I’m guessing that Orange is the New Black is a WGA show. I presume as much. So, hopefully that’s the case. That becomes a very enticing thing. Suddenly there’s another studio making movies. But this is a really — it’s an interesting development. I’m — this one, of all the new media is changing the world stories that I’ve read, this one could mean something.

John: So, Craig, you write big expensive comedies. You haven’t written an Adam Sandler, but you could write an Adam Sandler comedy. I wrote a Kevin James thing that never got made. If we were to write these movies, what kind of deal would we be taking because, you know, in looking at this there’s potentially no residuals, correct?

Craig: Yeah.

John: There’s no secondary market. The whole market is for that. And are you writers as a made for television, or what’s the contract?

Craig: I think there are some residuals. I think if you make something that’s direct to video there is a certain formula for residuals on it, depending on the airings. I think. I would have to look into that.

But, essentially on something like this you would have to negotiate with the people making the movie who have a fixed budget for what percentage of portion of that budget you get. And, again, that’s why it makes sense with Sandler, because Sandler has guys that he writes with. He writes with Tim Herlihy, and he writes… — So, you know, they can sit down and go, okay, well here’s the money we have, this is what I’m taking because I’m Adam Sandler, here’s what we have left. I think we can carve this amount off for you. Okay, that sounds good. Great. Now, we’ll just go.

Because he’s not going to get into a thing where it’s like, well, we’re going to develop for awhile and then we’re going to hire another writer, and another writer. And it just won’t be that, you know.

John: Yes. So, my question which was also unclear in any of these articles it they’re going to make these four Adam Sandler movies, but is Adam Sandler free to make other moves at other places?

Craig: It appears that he is. Yeah, that’s what I read, that he’s not married to them. I don’t even know if it’s a first look or anything like that. He’s going to make four movies for them. And he’s kind of the perfect choice because he will make four movies for them, no question. I mean, it’s not like he’s ever disappeared for six years. I mean, the guy makes a movie a year, practically, right?

John: Yeah, I mean, he makes more than a movie, maybe two.

Craig: Maybe more than a movie a year, right.

John: And his movies are not complicated to make. I mean, because they are generally high concept comedies with kind of a rotating cast of the same — Rob Schneider probably, wow, I’m going to make more movies for Netflix. The same people are going to be showing up in his movies again and again. They know how to make those movies.

Craig: Right. And he has a stable of directors that he works with. There’s a whole machine in place. They are a kind of self-sufficient, they are a group of people, you know, Frank Coraci and all the guys that he works with, that you can kind of go, okay, money in/movie out. We don’t need to build a whole machine there. It’s built.

So, it makes sense for everybody. And my guess is that Netflix looked at some numbers and went we can’t lose. This is a zero miss proposition.

John: So, let’s take four Adam Sandler movies out of the business — basically pick one Adam Sandler movie a year out of the box office, it’s not the end of the world. Like, none of these movies are the top grossing movies of the year. But they’re profitable for most people to make them.

Craig: Well, maybe, that’s the thing. Some of them are and some of them aren’t. And the reason why is because it costs so much to market and distribute. So, you know, when you have a movie like Grown Ups, absolutely. Hugely profitable. When you have something like maybe That’s My Boy or, is that was it was called? I think it was called That’s My Boy. It just didn’t do that well at the box office. You put those earnings against what it cost to release, it’s a tougher proposition.

And so that’s why this is kind of a win-win for everybody. I’m fascinated to see how this works out. And I have to imagine that we’re going to see more of this.

John: So, second is an article that you lined to called Turkey City Lexicon. Where did you find this? Did someone send this to you?

Craig: Yeah, it was tweeted to me. And I just loved it. I loved it.

John: I loved it, too. So, what we’re looking at is an article from The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. And the blog post, this one is edited by Lewis Shiner. There’s a Bruce Sterling second edition here. But it’s talking through the science fiction writing workshops. And before we get into sort of the terminology of the Lexicon, I thought their description of the writing workshop process was really fascinating.

They described this process where you get the writers together. Everybody has to print out some of their short stories, science fiction short stories, and then you trade them and everybody sits and reads them and marks them up. And in the process of giving notes to people was very much like an AA meeting in a way, where you had to go around in a circle and you’re not allowed to sort of speak back until everybody has spoken their peace about your story.

Craig: Right. And it sounds awful.

John: Yeah, it does sound — it just sounds awful.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t like it. I understand how it could be very valuable for new writers, particularly new writers who don’t have access to decent criticism. But it sounds frankly like too much. I mean, it’s hard enough to hear one or two people go through a lengthy critique. But to have ten of them do it? It just seems like it would take forever. It’s boring. At some point it’s just too much. You start to shut down. [laughs]

I don’t know, I just didn’t like that part.

John: The only thing I could sort of say in its defense is it gets you to think sometimes critically about your own writing because you’re seeing the mistakes other people make.

Craig: Yes.

John: And as I started out as a screenwriter, reading a bunch of screenplays and reading a bunch of terrible screenplays at times made me recognize the things I never wanted to do. So, this may be an opportunity for people to take a look at writing that’s not the best Ray Bradbury science fiction writing of all time, but is sort of more on their level and see like well these are the mistakes that this person is making. I’m not going to make those mistakes.

Craig: Right. And so what they’ve done is they’ve compiled with very cute names some of the mistakes that keep popping up over, and over, and over. And some of these are very specific, I think, to science fiction, but some of them I think we could imagine easily occurring in screenplays.

John: Absolutely. And they’re just terrifically well named. I mean, from the very start, the Brenda Starr dialogue. Brenda Starr dialogue referring to the Brenda Starr comic strip which often had these speech bubbles that were sort of floating above the city. And it’s like, but who is that? And so this Brenda Starr dialogue refers to when there’s long passages of dialogue that seem unconnected to a place. It’s like you’re not really establishing a place where this speech is happening.

Craig: Yes, and we will see this in screenplays. I call it ticker tape screenwriting where it’s just streams of dialogue and where are they, what do they look like? So, there are things like this. Some of these things, again, they are more connected to novels, but in looking for some of the ones in here that work with our thing.

John: I like Gingerbread. So, Gingerbread is their — sort of when you use a really expensive, fancy words and fancy structures to do something just sort of like to distract you from the fact that there’s actually nothing there. And because in fiction you’re actually reading the physical words as the reader, you notice that. But sometimes that even applies to movies where you see like people did something in a really fancy, complicated way when there’s really sort of no reason to do it in a fancy, complicated way.

Craig: Right. And they have something called False Humanity, which I think is such a clever term. “An aliment endemic to genre writing,” and I would argue to a lot of screenwriting, “in which soap-opera elements of purported human interest are stuffed into the story willy-nilly, whether or not they advance the plot or contribute to the point of the story.” And I will see that in screenplays where suddenly people are talking about, you know, how they’re suffering from cancer and this has nothing to do with anything that’s going on. It’s just poking me in a button and making me supposedly feel something for them. It’s just irrelevant to anything else.

John: Yeah. It’s sort of spray on notion.

Craig: Right.

John: Like it’s not actually endemic to the nature of the story or to the scene. It’s almost like someone giving notes like I really want to love that character more. And so you sort of give them some weird backstory that has no bearing on the plot whatsoever. It’s frustrating.

There’s a thing here called Not Simultaneous, which is also kind of Ing Disease, I-N-G disease, which is that sense of, they describe it as “Putting his key in the door, he leapt up the stairs and got his revolver out of the bureau.” And sometimes you will see that in screenplays where you’re trying to combine a bunch of action into one sentence, but that’s not all happening at once. Screenwriting especially is such a present tense situation that those are separate things. Those are actually separate whole locations. And so you can’t just sort of bunch them all together in one sentence.

Craig: And then here is Signal from Fred. “A comic form of the ‘Dischism’ in which the author’s subconscious, alarmed by the poor quality of the work, makes unwitting critical comments: ‘This doesn’t make sense.’ ‘This is really boring.’ ‘This sounds like a bad movie.'” And I’ve seen this in screenplays where someone goes, “None of this, this doesn’t make any sense.”

There’s one screenplay I read where two characters are doing something that is physically impossible. And I go, wait a second, that’s not possible. And one of them says, “This doesn’t even make sense, does it?” And the other one says, “Eh, just go with it.”

John: Just go with it, that’s the sign.

Craig: Signal from Fred. I like it.

John: Other terms I loved were Card Tricks in the Dark. So an “Elaborately contrived plot which arrives at (a) the punchline of a private joke no reader will get or (b) the display of some bit of learned trivia relevant only to the author. This stunt may be intensely ingenious, and very gratifying to the author, but it serves no visible fictional purpose.”

And, man, I’ve seen that a lot where you were able to do something really, really clever, but it didn’t actually pertain to the story that I just saw. And Card Tricks in the Dark actually is a great description for that.

Craig: It’s so good.

John: We’ll see why that’s magic because there’s no lens on this at all.

Craig: Yeah, we don’t get it. One of my favorites is: You can’t fire me, I quit. [laughs] That’s an attempt to diffuse the reader’s incredulity with a preemptive strike, as if by anticipating the reader’s objections the author had somehow answered them. “I would have never believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself.”

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: [laughs] Yeah, except that you made him see it yourself and none of us do believe it. And I see that a lot, too. I mean, these are all, like some of these are versions of shining lanterns on things, but a lot of times it’s just — you’re just trying to get away with stuff, you know?

John: Yeah, with that last one you sort of picture the cutting to grandpa on the rocking chair on the porch like, “I never would have believed it if I hadn’t…”

Craig: Yeah. “It was one of those amazing coincidences that can only take place in real life.” Yeah, well, yes.

John: And this is a genuine concern for a lot of movies is Idiot Plot: “A plot which functions only because all the characters involved are idiots. They behave in a way that suits the author’s convenience, rather than through any rational motivation of their own.”

Craig: It’s just so true. And this happens all the time. [laughs] Idiot Plot. It’s so great. I mean, it really is –

John: Especially in comedies, especially if it’s a high concept where like people have to just go with it to establish that this thing could possibly happen, but I think if we have any recurring theme on this podcast it’s getting back to being honest with what characters in that moment would do. And if you need characters to do something that doesn’t fit your moment, you actually probably need to — you can either change your characters or change the moment. But just forcing them to do something that is not natural for them in the moment is never going to be a good choice.

Craig: It’s never a good idea. And then my last one I’ll give out is Funny Hat Characterization. “A character distinguished by a single identifying tag, such as odd headgear, a limp, a lisp, a parrot on his shoulder, etc.” And you do often see this in movies where somebody is just — they’re the one thing.

John: They are the one thing. And the one thing characters, I find them actually to be fine if they’re going to show up in one scene.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If that helps you remember them in one scene, or kind of if they’re going to be in two scenes that are long time apart, having that one thing lets you sort of remember them — that can be great. But if they’re going to be along for the ride, you got to find something else that’s going to distinguish them and make them feel like they’re integral to things, because so often that one thing is just weird.

Craig: It just becomes grating. I mean, you’re right, if it’s a day player and they’re job is to be the guy pumping gas who says three things, sure. Like a good example is in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles the guy that picks them up in his truck and he’s just sort of like [snort/snoring noise], you know, he does that thing with his nose, that’s a Funny Hat Characterization. But he wasn’t a big part of the movie.

Yeah, if you’re going to actually have somebody in there for awhile, yeah, you got to give us a little more than that.

John: An example of it done well for me is in Pitch Perfect. I can’t remember the character’s name, but the girl who sort of whispers under her breath.

Craig: Lilly. Right?

John: Lilly. Yes. And we talked about her on the show before. And she’s great, but there’s a build to it. It’s a rounding device. It keeps coming back to her doing things and then finally you get these little great bits and moments. It’s sort of her one trait, but it’s funny. And so you like every time that you get one of those little moments with her.

Craig: Yes. And you can, I think, get away with — you know, Pitch Perfect is a kissing cousin to Police Academy. The sort of ensemble broad character comedies where you’ve got seven people and each one of them has a specific talent, you know.

John: Yes.

Craig: So, that worked there. But, yeah. Anyway, this is a good list. I really enjoyed reading it. Anytime we pick up these lists of clichés it’s just fun to read. And a decent reminder to us all that people are watching, [laughs], and they know what we’re doing.

John: Yes. So, Craig, next topic, you described it as Toxic Perfection Syndrome.

Craig: Yeah. So, I was thinking about this lately. And, I could be wrong, but I think that this is something everybody does. Every writer does this, whether they’re professional or aspiring. And the idea of Toxic Perfection Syndrome is you write something and you begin as it’s being completed, perhaps in the time between your submitting it and your receiving feedback, you begin to daydream about this overwhelming positive response.

John: Yes.

Craig: In which somebody is going to call you and say, “This is the single greatest screenplay I’ve ever read.” And they are full of unconditional love and approval and it’s just a complete — it’s just “Don’t touch a word of it. It’s perfect. It’s amazing.”

The cousin of that is the Oscar Speech in the Shower Syndrome, where you very tearfully thank the Academy for understanding how brilliant and perfect the screenplay is.

I suspect that this is something that a lot of writers do naturally because it’s an offshoot of the psychological effort required to actually finish a screenplay. You need to believe that what you’re doing is good. And that part of it is fine. As long as we understand it’s not real once you turn it in, because what happens — the toxic part of Toxic Perfection Syndrome is the feeling that you get when you’re suddenly hit in the face with this icy blast that is nothing at all like the daydream.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Nothing at all. And it’s hard enough to accept criticism and to not judge yourself, but to do it when the context was that in fact this was going to be the biggest thing — it was prefect and everyone was going to love it. That’s wrenching. That is soul-wrenching, and that’s where it gets dangerous.

John: Yeah. So, let’s talk about that space between you’ve finished a draft and you are getting your first reactions back from people. And I know that feeling so well is that you have been through this marathon to finish this draft. And there were ups and there were downs. There were moments where you doubted yourself. And then you finally, you have this thing finished and you have poured everything you have into it.

But then you look at it and you’re like, wow, this is really good. This is going to be a fantastic thing. And then you start imaging like, well, how are you going to get it to these people, how are you going to get it to these people. It’s like, oh, what if this actor wants to do it, what if both of these actors want to do it. How can we…?

You just start to visualize all the things that are going to happen, but then like what if we do a sequel and then you start going forward, forward, forward, forward. And on some level it’s completely understandable that we as writers do that, because it is our job to imagine things that don’t exist.

Craig: Right.

John: And so we are imagining a future for this script we’ve written and it’s pretty understandable that given our process of writing the thing, that we would continue the chart of the success way up into the future. We think like, oh, it’s going to continue exponentially on this path into the stratosphere and it will be Titanic. We will be the unstoppable movie of all time.

And on some level that’s, I don’t know, I never want to sort of kill people from daydreaming because I think being a little bit delusional is required for success in almost any industry.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Particularly one that’s all about just making stuff up.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But how — I’m actually really genuinely asking the question — how do we bring ourselves back down to earth in a way so that when we do start to hear that feedback it isn’t just bewildering and shocking and seems like it’s coming from Mars.

Craig: Well, I think we do what you and I are doing right now which is essentially acknowledging that this happens. Because if we don’t talk about it, then we might think it’s just us. We won’t recognize that it’s a syndrome.

But you’re absolutely right when you say that we’re prone to this because we invent narratives for a living. That’s what we do. So, naturally we’re going to invent a narrative about our own work. And about ourselves and about our careers and how this is going to be received. And in that narrative we’re going to indulge in all of our dramatic tendencies.

The underdog wins. The bad guys lose. Somebody that doubted you all along is sitting in the audience just chewing their Oscar program, you know. And that’s wonderful. And we should feel to indulge in that because it’s a lovely fantasy, as long as we recognize that it’s a fantasy. That no movie that has ever done beautifully in the world started with a screenplay that somebody said, “This is perfect. Change nothing. You’re the best. Let’s shoot it. It’s perfect. Everything is great. Oscar. Legend for all time.”

It just doesn’t happen that way ever. So, if we can acknowledge that it’s a fantasy, then when we’re confronted by reality it won’t be so shocking.

John: Yeah. That makes complete sense, just emotionally and internally I’m trying to figure out how I would talk myself through that process and talk somebody else through that process, because you want somebody simultaneously to be completely passionate and engaged and they have fallen in love. It’s honestly a really good analogy for it is you had somebody wonderful and you are so excited to go out on that first date. Maybe like you met somebody on and you traded emails. And like, wow, this is going to be perfect — we click so well. Maybe you even talked on the phone.

But then you get into that sort of actual first date and it’s not what you think. And you had built this whole narrative about sort of like who he is and how it’s all going to fit. And then it’s just not that. And then you start to doubt, here’s what I think it is: is that you start to doubt that person, you start to doubt yourself, you start to question how did this narrative even come to be. And you sort of destroy everything rather than sort of acknowledging what was possible there.

Craig: Absolutely. And I think that the only solution to that, the only preventative is something that Dennis Palumbo talked about and that’s allowing yourself to indulge in the warmth and comfort of a fantasy without assigning real life meaning to it.

So, if you’ve discovered it’s a fantasy, that doesn’t mean that you’re a delusional idiot who knows nothing. It just means that you’re a human being that indulged in a very comforting fantasy. Similarly, if somebody who you in your mind fantasized would accept you and love you completely is in fact not doing that, but instead is providing conditional affection and criticism, that doesn’t mean they’re no good. They may be the best thing for you.

We just have to allow ourselves to do it but know what we’re doing. Toxic Perfection Syndrome is toxic if you don’t know that you’re fantasizing and you think, in fact, you’re predicting.

John: Yeah. I absolutely agree. Now, Craig, have you ever tried the opposite where you assume that it’s going to be terrible and that everything is going to go horribly, horribly wrong? I can’t sort of name the project, but there was one in which I was like well this is going to be just a disaster. This is not going to work well. This is doomed. I’m only doing this because I have to do this.

And weirdly, of course, it works out great. That may just be luck. But in a weird way it was sort of — I think by giving myself an emotional protection I never got my hopes up too high and I was probably a little bit more realistic with sort of what this situation was.

Many of the times rewrites are kind of that case, where I’m going in and I know like I’m not going to get this to an A. I’m going to try to get this to a B, because there’s not a way to get to an A. Emotionally that’s an easier thing for me to deal with.

Craig: Yeah. There obviously are some projects where you don’t have as much emotionally invested because you are coming along and helping to sweep up, mop up, finish the game, whatever analogy you wish. I will routinely while writing things think to myself, “Well, this is a disaster. I mean, I do this all the time.” Usually, though, by the time I get to the end I’m happy.

And I’ve tried to play the game of let’s do the bad fantasy, let’s fantasize the loss. But I usually stop because I realize I can’t — I’m not doing it well enough. This doesn’t match what actual bad news feels like. Bad news feels so much worse than this.

John: Yeah. Bad news feels like melting through the floor.

Craig: It does. It does.

John: It’s the worst.

Craig: You just feel — you feel like the inside of you is being flushed with something cold and dead.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s really — and that’s how you know, by the way. That’s how you know that you are a real writer. If you feel that terrible feeling, ugh.

John: Yeah, it’s a sense of like loss and no one died, but just like all this time that I put into this thing, it’s just like evaporating right before you and you see sort of no end to it.

When I described after seeing the first cut of Go, and I remember praying like maybe we will just never release it because it’s that bad. That’s what it can be. Sometimes it’s just like a phone call you get. It’s like, well, that was just awful.

I was coming into the office yesterday and I saw this look. Stuart had just hung up on the phone and I saw the look on his face. I’m like, oh no, something terrible has happened. And it was. He had just gotten a piece of bad news. And it’s just a physical, visible thing.

Craig: Yeah. And we have to acknowledge that. You know, when we get this bad news and we feel this, that it’s not precious to feel these things. It’s totally normal and it’s nasty. Nasty to feel these things. But, in a weird way once you kind of let yourself feel it, it gets a little bit better.

John: It does. And the other thing I basically said in Episode 99 with Dennis Palumbo is when you feel yourself getting these really strong emotions, I find it very useful just to turn on the record and see the little red light on the edge of your vision and just actually experience what it feels like. Because you are a writer and you’re going to be writing character’s with strong emotions. So, feel what it feels like to feel this emotion. And what does your body feel like? What does the world feel like? What are the words you would use to describe how you are feeling?

Craig: Right.

John: Because there’s going to be situations where you’re writing characters feeling this thing and you’ve got to have a memory of what that is like.

Craig: Absolutely. Or, alternatively, [sings] “Turn it off like a light switch.”

John: Just push it way, way down and never let anybody see it. That’s another really good solution.

Craig: Form it into a small tumor.

John: Let’s talk about the Oscar Speech in the Shower. I’ve totally been guilty of that.

Craig: Every writer has done this.

John: Oh, it’s so pernicious. When I’m not fantasizing about like my Oscar speech, and basically the order in which I’ll thank people, and I’ll be classy about it.

Craig: Wow. I love it.

John: Because you’ve got to be classy. How am I going to get done with my Oscar speech before they start playing the strings.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s tough. It’s really a challenge. And do you do the Soderbergh where you don’t even really acknowledge the film. You’re really trying to give a message to the world about creativity and writing? Or are you thanking your mom? Who are you thanking?

Craig: Right? Are you going to do the thank thing? I mean, after all, everyone thanks somebody. I mean, maybe I should do something different. Should I not thank people? I mean, but it’s so funny because the concern about, okay, I got to get this speech done before the time is such a writerly thing. I guarantee you no actor ever thinks about that. Ever.

John: No, exactly. They’re thinking is the camera on me? The camera is on me? Great. Everyone is paying attention to me? Awesome.

Craig: The actor is like what should my face be like? Should I be like bewildered by all the love? Like should I do the Sally Field bewilderment? Should I do graceful, calm appreciation? Should I act like I’ve been there before, or should I just let all of my emotions pour out?

Meanwhile, we’re like, all right, I need — I have 45 seconds. If I speak at a rate of four words per second…classic.

Yes, we all do it. We all do it. It doesn’t make you dumb to do that.

John: Yeah, it’s dumb. And you’re wasting a lot of water because you’re in the shower and the water is running.

Craig: But you’re dumb. But you’re not dumb. You’re sweet and human for doing it. And, you know, we are in a drought, it’s true. That is true. You could always reduce the flow of water while you do your Oscar speech –

John: Sure. A good time to write an Oscar speech, or fantasize about your Oscar speech might be like when you’re on the treadmill or you’re doing some other exercise that’s just incredibly boring.

Craig: Right.

John: Do it while you’re there. Because then at least you’re like you’re burning calories and you’re planning your Oscar acceptance speech.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. But I can’t imagine any screenwriter has avoided this.

John: So, when I’m not planning my Oscar speech, the other thing I found myself doing way too much of is figuring out like if Beyoncé were to sing the National Anthem at the Super Bowl, how she should do it?

Because it’s really, the National Anthem as we’ve talked about before, is a challenging song to sing.

Craig: Yes.

John: My latest theory is that you are asked to do it, so you’re Beyoncé, and you’re asked to do it. So, it’s really advice for one listener if Beyoncé listens to the podcast.

Craig: Obvs…

John: If you are Beyoncé and you’re going to do it, I think you actually start with America the Beautiful and then from “Sea to shining sea” you hold the Sea into “Oh beautiful.”

So, that first part can be — you can get some big energy out America the Beautiful and then segue that into –

Craig: Oh, that’s interesting.

John: Star Spangled Banner.

Craig: Well, yeah, that could work. I mean, but what if she’s Sasha Fierce? Then it’s a whole different — we got to give her a different vibe.

John: But I think that way you could actually get a little Sasha Fierce with like, because America the Beautiful is lovely. Star Spangled Banner is actually kind of militant. It’s kind of fight. And so then she can get a little Sasha Fierce and I think she’s done the “we’re all brothers and sisters together and now it’s time for let’s fight.”

Craig: The problem with doing the National Anthem is that Whitney Houston did it the best and it’s over.

John: That’s why I think you can’t do the National Anthem like the National Anthem anymore.

Craig: Yeah, it’s done. She nailed it years ago.

John: 100 percent. She just completely — that’s the best you can do.

Craig: You can’t do better.

John: Nope. Done. While we’re making sure that things are the best they can possibly be, the WGA, Craig. So, what does the WGA need to focus on in 2014?

Craig: Yeah, so we’ve got a new board, which is a little bit of meet the new boss/same as the old boss. I mean, mostly incumbents. We picked up a couple of new guys. Jonathan Fernandez, who is terrific. Shawn Ryan, who while he’s new to the board is not new to leadership. He was very active in negotiations for a number of years now.

So, I’m just thinking, well, okay, this is all great. And every time we have an election people talk about the same stuff. Read the book, I’m like here we go.

John: Here we go.

Craig: Here comes the list of all the things that are going to change suddenly when we elect these people and they never do. Ever. And I’ve started to ask this question in a fatalistic sort of way, but also in a realistic sort of way. What the hell can the WGA actually do different or better than it currently does? Because the answer may be nothing, which is a little bit of a bummer because it doesn’t function brilliantly right now, but I’ve been wracking my brain and, I mean, look, ideally enforcement, but they don’t seem to have the capacity for it. And the nature of our rules are such that they’re difficult to enforce.

John: I would say there are two things that I would love the WGA to focus on in this next round. And weirdly they are sort of two internal things and the two things that are so unique to us as an organization as opposed to any other unit. First off, we are the only union that is — we are actually hiring ourselves a lot. And so we’re one of the few unions where this showrunner is hiring these writers, and these writers are working for this showrunner. That’s a unique situation. And I think we have to have a closer look at sort of what that relationship is.

And sometimes the hiring practices that they encounter, both in terms of diversity of representation but also the way we paper team writers. It really comes back to how are we employing ourselves. How are we hiring our fellow writers in television. That feels like something that we need to take a look at.

And it’s not a going to be a comfortable thing to look at because if you are a showrunner, you’d love to have a bunch of teams of writers, but you have to make sure you’re actually treating them well, and you’re treating them fairly.

Craig: Yeah.

John: My second bit is also really about teams. You don’t hire acting teams. You don’t hire directing teams. You can hire directing teams, I guess, but it’s really rare. But you hire writing teams all the time, writing partners all the time. And it’s how you deal with them in features and how you deal with them in television. There needs to be a little bit more parity because right now when you hire a writing team for your show, you pay one salary, but you get two bodies. And how you are able to use those bodies is sometimes challenging. Even two brains, and sometimes you’re not supposed to separate them, but you send one person to set and you keep one person in the room, or send people to different rooms to break stories. That feels crazy. And I don’t think we should be doing that.

Craig: Yeah, you know, yes. Those are all true things and I hope they change. If I had like an overall complaint, like a very generic, generalized complaint about writers, it’s that when we are en masse we tend to be very brave. And when we are individual we tend to be very cowardly.

John: I agree.

Craig: And I don’t like that. And I think you see that where we’ll have showrunners band together and make a big deal of it during strikes, but then individually they just turn a blind eye to all this stuff, which is not cool. Things like paper teaming is just really bad.

John: So, for people who don’t know what paper teaming is, paper teaming is: oh, here are these two writers I want to hire; I’m going to tell them that they are now a writing team and we’re going to basically pay one salary to hire two of them.

Craig: Right. So, you should be paying two people a full salary. Instead you just said, “Hey, you guys are both going to be working like individuals, but I’m going to call you a team just for the hell of it so I can pay each of you half of what I’m supposed to.” And that’s just wrong and we should be fighting that like crazy. And we should call in every single showrunner we have and just say, “Explain yourself. Explain yourself if you are allowing this to happen on your show.”

John: So, it’s not that there needs to be rules against paper teaming and those rules got disbanded, it’s like there were changes in practices and the union was not able to step in and sort of acknowledge that this has changed and it’s not acceptable. This is costing our members.

Craig: That’s right. So, what you have is a situation where every year there’s an election and people say, “Here’s what’s wrong with the guild and here’s how we’re going to change it.” And every year I think to myself, forget what you’re going to do to make the union better. How do you stop the erosion? It’s just been a general, slow erosion and I don’t know if it’s just that there’s nothing sexy about saying, “I have no ideas how to make this union better. I just want to keep it as it is right now and not have it be any worse.” Maybe that’s not a very sexy way to win an election.

It’s dispiriting. And I don’t have the answer. I don’t. I don’t know what to say to the WGA to say here’s how you’re going to make a bright new future for writers. I mean, other than digging in, you know, and holding the line here and now. I’d settle for that.

John: Yeah. Are there any examples of places where you don’t think they are holding the line?

Craig: I think there was an opportunity when they saw that culturally two steps were shifting to one step. There was an opportunity, because it wasn’t a guarantee that there would be two steps. And our contract to maybe shore up two steps for writers who were earning less than a certain amount, which I think would have been a very positive thing.

The paper teaming should have just been jumped on. That should have just been all out legal war on that one. And, frankly, tremendous pressure on the writers who were turning a blind eye to paper teaming.

So, Scott Frank’s very good movie, A Walk Among the Tombstones, is out right now. Have one of the great, I love this tag line from the poster: “People are afraid of all the wrong things.”

The WGA is afraid of all the wrong things. While we were staring into the void and whipping ourselves into a frenzy about what would happen if the network got to air another episode of The Office on your iPad, people were literally losing half of their incomes. We’re afraid of all the wrong things. So, there’s a monomaniacal focus on the companies and these big moves that they do and then just no real attention paid to what’s actually grinding people in the moment on the ground.

John: So, I have a counter example that’s really from this last negotiating committee, which was options and exclusivity.

Craig: Yes.

John: It was a thing that actually did change. That is acknowledging a new reality on the ground with respect of writers on TV shows were being held under option where they couldn’t work on any other shows for a year at a time because the TV season had changed in ways that everything was just upside down.

And so this was one of the few things we really dug our heels in on this last time. And we made some progress. So, I would have loved to have seen that same attention being paid to paper teaming and to these other things, but that’s an example of something that did change.

Craig: You’re right. That’s an example of something that changed. And it also indicates the kinds of changes that I think the guild probably — if I’m going to anything sort of hopeful or constructive here, I think the guild should be focusing on what I would call quality of life issues for writers.

John: Agreed.

Craig: And focusing less on how to combat multinational corporations and internet neutrality and consolidation, vertical integration. Get off of it. We can’t stop any of that. It’s just a waste of time. It’s a huge waste of time. And every day while they’re wasting their time on that nonsense or trying to litigate old battles of old dead things, what they should be doing is addressing quality of life issues for writers because it’s hard enough to get jobs. Then you get them and then suddenly there’s this new world of pain you’re in. That’s what they should be concentrating on.

And that’s a good example of one.

John: Yeah. And so I would list the situation for writer teams to be a similar kind of quality of life thing, because it’s made it incredibly difficult for writing teams to even stay together, or just to make a living writing for TV shows.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you just have to be careful to not put a rule in that makes it even harder for them to get a job at all.

John: Absolutely. That’s one of those challenging situations where — but the fact is true I think for all union situations, isn’t it Craig though? Where the rule that could ultimately help the writers as a whole could hurt some individuals? And that’s just the nature of trying to do stuff union wide, is that you’re not always going to make the thing that’s best for this individual, but it may be best for the overall class of people trying to do this thing.

Craig: Well, yeah. And now what you have to be careful of is let’s say you said, all right, we pay a writer X. And we currently pay the two members of a writing team X divided two. Well, the new rule is we’re actually going to be paying a single writer X, and we’re going to be paying a team 1.5X.

Well, I could easily see people going, let’s just avoid hiring teams. Let’s just hire individual writers instead. The actual hiring wouldn’t change. It’s just that people in teams would suddenly be disadvantaged. And be disadvantaged by the very thing that was supposed to help them.

You know, that’s where you’ve got to be careful. And, look, we could certainly start with the paper teaming. Like that’s just so to me a quality of life issue that’s just got to stop.

John: The Directors Guild, who often frustrate me, and people who are genuinely writing teams get frustrated by the Directors Guild because Directors Guild does not want two directors on a project partly because they’re I think nervous of sort of this kind of situation happening, where two people are being forced to sort of share one job and to share one salary.

And so paper teaming doesn’t happen in the director’s chair because the DGA is very, very strongly opposed to it.

Craig: Yes. That’s correct. And they don’t like teams for a whole bunch of reasons. Maybe the prime one is that they feel that the single director is the thing that gives them this certain authorial respect. And they’re right. I mean, the singularity of the director does solve a lot of problems for people that are reporting on who made a movie.

But the Directors Guild has, to me, always been better about worrying entirely about quality of life issues for their membership. They are entirely about that. And the guild is not. The guild is entirely about some sort of political stance against corporations. As far as I can tell, that’s their focus.

So, for instance, if you direct a movie under a DGA contract, as I did, you are visited twice on set by a DGA representative who has a pretty involved discussion with you. And make sure that they’re following the rules and ask questions. And then stands and watches for awhile. Nobody come to you in the middle of a production and says, “Let’s go down and see how you’ve been…”

What they do is they call you after it’s over and say, “Hey, how were you treated?” Does it matter how I was treated? You know? Shouldn’t it matter how I’m being treated now? We don’t have that. We don’t do it. We’re just too oriented to a once every three years battle with the AMPTP. We’re too angry at these companies to spend time doing this other stuff. Yup. Yup.

John: Yup. Let’s get on to our One Cool Things.

Craig: Great.

John: Craig, what is yours?

Craig: So, John, begun the drone deliveries have.

John: Ah, I’m so excited about drones.

Craig: I know. So, they’ve been talking, it just seemed like the most ridiculously thing. I didn’t believe it would ever happen, but it’s happening. So, there’d been talk that Amazon was going to try and basically create a drone army of little mini helicopters that would deliver packages to you, because the Holy Grail for Amazon is to skirt around UPS and the US Post Office and FedEx.

Well, DHL, which we’re all familiar with, it’s a big international shipping company, they’ve begun this in a very, very small way. There’s this little island called Juist that’s off of the north shore of Germany. And they’re only accessible by a ferry. And so DHL has created a system of little helicopter drone things that now daily carry packages between the mainland and Juist.

And it’s automated. It’s an automated flight. And it lands in a designated spot where a guy that works for DHL put them all, all the packages on a truck and drives them around and delivers them.

I do think that this makes sense. That we’re actually going to live in a world where there is preserved air space for drone traffic and we’re just going to get stuff delivered to us by drones.

John: See, I think that this example where it’s landing in one place, that it’s a hub and spoke system makes a lot of sense. I think the drone coming to the house is going to be problematic. Just, I’m looking at my house, and we have a backyard, but it’s going to just be weird and uncomfortable. And so your two-year-old runs out there and starts attacking the drone. It just — there’s so many variables that I worry that in actual normal residential life it will be problematic.

Craig: I think they’re going to figure it out.

John: All right.

Craig: I do.

John: I don’t doubt the future. I just think the future is going to probably look a little different than what this is right now.

Craig: I don’t know. But I just like the idea of just streaming done traffic constantly above us, bringing us our stuff.

John: So, your drone could deliver my One Cool Thing. So, two or three weeks ago on the show you mentioned that you had a new razor that you love that has 19 blades and is, of course, great.

Craig: Swivel Thingy.

John: Swivel Thingy. And so sort of follow up to that, that same week I got this thing called Blade Buddy. And I heard about similar kinds of things and this one was well reviewed, so I tried it. It’s a $20 thing you get and it’s basically sort of like how you have a sharpening skill for like a fancy kitchen knife. So, just take the edge and the curl off of a blade, so it’s not like wet stone that’s taking the edge off. This thing is for sharpening normal Gillette kind of razor blades.

And so what you do, it’s this sort of rubberized little stand thing and you brush the blade against it 20 times. Takes like ten seconds. And it just takes the dents off the blade. And so you can use one blade quite a lot longer than you normally could.

Craig: And it works on multiple blades, like the kind you use?

John: Yes, it works great.

Craig: Buy now with one click. And done.

John: And done. But here’s the thing: I do find that the new razor blades are really good and they do make shaving delightful and comfortable. But they’re so crazy expensive.

Craig: They’re ridiculously expensive.

John: You can get, I mean, if you can double the life of one of those blade heads, that’s money very well spent.

Craig: Yeah, this sounds awesome.

John: So, anyway, you will try it out and maybe next week you’ll let us know how it is.

Craig: Great. Done.

John: And that’s our show. So, as always our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. Is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you like the show and want to subscribe to it, just go to iTunes and click subscribe and leave a comment there. But if you’d like to subscribe to the premium feed, which has all the back episodes and bonus content, you go to and click on the little banner thing. And it says Premium Stuff. And then you put in your information and then you can listen to us on the apps for the iPhone and for Android.

Craig: How much does that cost again?

John: $1.99 a month.

Craig: I mean, it’s insulting now if you don’t do it. And you know our pledge. What’s our pledge, John?

John: We are a money-losing podcast.

Craig: We will always be a money-losing podcast.

John: We will always be a money-losing podcast.

Craig: Don’t you worry.

John: If you have a question for Craig Mazin you should tweet at him, @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust on Twitter. Longer questions go to is also where you’ll find the show notes for today’s episode, so things about the drone helicopters and science fiction lists and Adam Sandler. It’s also a place where you can click to find tickets for the Slate Live Culture Gabfest which is tomorrow. And maybe we’ll even find something about why you should get a flu shot, because you should get a flu shot.

Craig: Yeah, get the flu shot.

John: Get the flu shot. Come on. That’s our show. Craig, thank you.

Craig: Good show. Thank you, John. See you next time.

John: See you next time.


Toxic Perfection Syndrome

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 08:03

Craig and John discuss that delusional period in which you’re convinced your script is the best thing ever written — and the inevitable heartbreak when someone tells you it isn’t. (TPS is close cousins to the Oscar Speech in the Shower.)

Also this week: SF terms and tropes, Adam Sandler’s Netflix deal, and what the WGA should focus on.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 164: Guardians of the Galaxy’s Nicole Perlman — Transcript

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 15:54

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

Craig, we are here in your office for the second time ever.

Craig: Yeah, well, no, not second time for me. I’m here every day.

John: Right.

Craig: But we, together, are here for the second time ever and it’s auspicious because the last time we were here, one of our best podcasts ever, it was so good I actually remember the number. I think it’s podcast 99.

John: It’s episode 99.

Craig: Which was Dennis Palumbo who talked to all of us and healed us all with his words of wisdom. And we’re back again with a guest here in Old Town Pasadena that I’m very, very excited about. Somebody that I learned how to kill people with.

John: Oh, fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: She is a writer. She’s a screenwriter from a movie that did relatively well this year.

Craig: Middling.

John: Middling.

Craig: Middling.

John: Yeah, called Guardians of the Galaxy.

Craig: Is that right, Guardians, I thought it was Guardians of the Galaxy.

John: I thought it was Guardians of Ga’Hoole, but I got it all confused.

Craig: [laughs] That definitely was not Guardians –

John: That was not the one.

Craig: You know the –

John: Well, I’ll ask her about that because that’s got to be frustrating along the way.

Craig: I have to assume that the people that did do Guardians of Ga’Hoole are like, oh my god, it was just like two syllables, that was it.

John: I wonder how people will have accidentally rented Guardians of Ga’Hoole and like, come on now, it’s available.

Craig: They went to Guardians of the G –

John: Natural.

Craig: A.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’ve done enough.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Enter. Buy.

John: Buy, yeah.

Craig: Buy, purchase.

John: iTunes purchased.

Craig: So we are here with Nicole Perlman, the co-writer of Guardians of the Galaxy which was not only the big hit of the summer, it’s been basically the big hit of the entire calendar year. Nicole, welcome to our show.

Nicole Perlman: Thanks for having me, guys.

Craig: It’s our pleasure. So just to be clear again, you did not write the owl movie?

Nicole: I did not, no. I did not write that nor Masters of the Universe which is what my uncle calls it. And, you know, Masters of the Universe would be pretty fun. He-Man. She-Ra. That whole group.

Craig: I think they are doing that. I mean, you probably have a pretty good chance of writing that if you want to.

John: Absolutely.

Nicole: A friend of mine is writing that.

Craig: Oh, that will be fun when you stab them in the back.

Nicole: That’s right –

John: Yeah.

Craig: You can do stuff like that now.

Nicole: Guardians of the Galaxy and Masters of the Universe.

Craig: Okay, so Nicole, you and I met in the strangest circumstances. It was a few weeks ago and another screenwriter we know named Will Staples who works in movies but also in video games has gotten to know all these military guys because he works on the Call of Duty series. And so he put together a group to go up to the Angeles firing range or whatever it’s called and we were there with a bunch of military guys, active duty military guys, the nature of which we are not allowed to discuss. [laughs] And –

John: Well, it’s the Coast Guard clearly.

Nicole: [laughs]

Craig: It’s a little bit better than the Coast Guard.

John: All right then.

Craig: A little bit better than the Coast Guard. And we got to shoot guns that you’re not supposed to shoot and it was awesome. I mean, we shot all day. We were just firing weapons from 9 mm up to a — it was a 50 caliber Barrett.

Nicole: Barrett, yeah, Barrett KCAL.

John: So what is your favorite gun to shoot that you shot that day?

Nicole: Oh, I really liked this Israeli gun.

Craig: That was the one.

Nicole: It was called, what was it, Toval, something like that?

Craig: Something like that. It was –

Nicole: It was pretty cool.

Craig: They have figured it out. I mean, the Israelis, they were like… — What was so cool about that gun was they dispensed with the conventional gun wisdom. You know, so they’re like, you know, normally you’ve got your trigger sort of back by your shoulder and then your hands up here and they’re like, nah, all the weight should be kind of like upfront. So the trigger will be upfront.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then it’s just a more natural way of doing it and it was…that gun was awesome.

Nicole: It was pretty awesome.

John: Do they teach you how to shoot sideways? That’s really the key.

Craig: They told you for sure to never do that [laughs].

John: Aw.

Nicole: That’s how they know that you’re faking it.

Craig: We learned a lot of cool things like for, and I know that we’re going to, trust me, everyone out there, we will get to Guardians of the Galaxy momentarily.

John: It’s not just a gun podcast.

Craig: It’s not just a gun show. But I learned a lot of things, I mean we both did. One of which I thought was fascinating was that movies get this wrong completely. We understand that when guys go to war, they have a machine gun, and then they go [machine gun sound]. And in fact, nobody does that. That’s a total, I mean, their weapons have a switch that enables that. They never use it because it’s basically just a way to lose all of your bullets instantly. So there’s no [machine gun sound], it’s always boom, boom.

John: You’re going to spray. You’re always –

Craig: You’re single shots, boom, boom, boom, boom. Yeah, we learned a lot of cool stuff from these guys. They’ve lived some impressive lives.

Nicole: Yeah. Also the idea of shooting a shotgun inside a car, from inside a moving car. It’s like it would burst your eardrums. It’s so loud.

Craig: I know.

Nicole: And every time now I’m watching television and I see something like that, I’m like just, god, where’s their ear protection, you know. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, that’s right. Like people shoot in movies and then they talk to each other and you’d actually be shouting and you’d be in a lot of pain.

John: Yes. Whenever we had guns on set, they always give you the little earplugs because it’s incredibly loud. I just remember in Go, the first time we had guns being shot. And like, you have to put those things in because if we’re doing take after take, those blanks are loud.

Craig: Well, and by the way, the blanks are usually what they call a quarter load or half load.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But regular bullets like the kinds we were firing are full loads and, that’s right, Nicole and I were firing full loads all day into the dirt. This is a –

Nicole: Head shots, too. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, head shots. We were firing full load head shots all day. But it was a treat to me that day not only because you’re a super nice person but because you happen to be in the middle of this incredibly exciting time and you’d achieved this incredible thing. So I know that you’ve done a lot of press and I assume there’s this — I could probably write the seven or eight questions that everybody asks, so I’m going to avoid asking any of those and then maybe John will ask some of them.

But I, of course, you know, we’re a screenwriting podcast. I’m always interested about how you go about this. And I’m going to start in the middle in a weird way. I know that you were working at Marvel and you were in their program and they basically said, “Hey, everybody, go through the library, find something.” You caught into this. And we’ll talk about that in a bit.

But I’m just fascinated by this immediate challenge because I always think about what would scare me. This is not like The Avengers where they’re bringing together a good amount of characters we know. We don’t know any of these people. There’s an enormous amount of exposition that has to occur not only for the world and the villains and the MacGuffin, but the heroes who then have to all meet each other and then you have to exposit the relationships that they all have. How did you go about getting your arms around that?

Nicole: Well, in a way, it was very freeing because the characters didn’t have a very established canon to them. I mean, they did, there’s plenty of comic books. But because they were such an obscure group of characters, there was a lot of freedom in terms of what to include and what not to include. We didn’t have to go too in-depth into any of the characters’ back stories. We just wanted to get the key sort of the important heart of where they were coming from without having to tell everyone’s lengthy story because there’s that sense that there’s time for that in the future.

But in terms of actually having to set up who these characters were, I saw it from the beginning as not an origin story of a single character or of all the characters. It was the origin story of a team.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: So it was less about where they had come from, except for the beginning on earth. And it was more about where they were now and how they were going to come together as a team. And that was really important and just having that freedom to do that and to try lots of different combinations.

I did so many drafts of this project where sometimes there were more expositions, sometimes there’s a little bit more on earth, sometimes there was less on earth. And in terms of Quill, like Quill’s character is completely different from how he is in the comics. That was really my, the contribution I feel proudest of was rebooting Quill completely. You know, he’s not a relic smuggler. He’s not this rakish fellow in the comics. He’s much more of a traditional leadership superhero character.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: So I thought it was important also to have him be relatable to earthlings, the toast earthlings, and have that background, that grounded background but also be fluent enough in the world of the universe that we were creating so that he could be our entry way into that.

So having to change the whole comic book background, I kind of threw all the traditional rules out the window of an origin story and I was like let’s just get into it and we’ll figure them out sort of as we go, give a little bit of heart to each character and then go from there.

John: So talk me through what it was like being in this Marvel writer program. So they bring you in and why did they pick you? How did you sort of get selected to be a part of this group of writers that they were working with?

Nicole: Sure. Well, I had sold a few projects and been doing some studio work primarily with subjects having to do with space or science or technology.

John: So you got a script from the Black List I saw and was that sort of what got you noticed the first time?

Nicole: Yes, that was part of this sort of whirlwind year that I had. I was living in New York and a script that I had written won the Sloan Grant with Tribeca Film Festival and –

Craig: Cool.

Nicole: It was the same one that got on the Black List and started getting me work. Actually, I was working before that happened but it was working non-WGA. It was very small production companies. But once that happened, I was able to start pitching studio level. I got my first agent. And that kick-started my career.

But because that was my sample and it was very technological and scientific, I was getting a lot of these sort of, you know, Sally Ride stuff and bio picks of various characters, the Neil Armstrong project at Universal, and that was fantastic, but there were — I think I did a Wright Brothers project for National Geographic Films.

Craig: A lot of aviation.

Nicole: A lot of aviation. A lot of NASA –

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: A lot of aviation, tons of, actually, another one too sort of based on the X Prize. So this was my world and while I loved it, I also wanted, you know, I wanted to do fun, colorful movies, larger scale, larger scope. And I would go out and pitch on these projects that usually were giant, fun projects with a little bit of science or technology. And they said, sure, let’s bring in this anomaly and see what she has to say. And a lot of times they would love my pitch but it was kind of like I didn’t have the sample, I didn’t have the experience.

So I was going to write a spec in this world and while I was working on that, I had a meeting with Marvel, a general meeting, and they said we’re going to do this random experiment and it’s going to be different from the Disney writing program and different from all the other ones that are out there, and would you like to join it.

John: So when you’re in this program, are you showing up to an office everyday and are you pitching what the things you want to do? Is there a person who’s in charge that you’re reporting to? What was it like?

Nicole: Well, it was interesting. First, I did it for two years. So the concept was you joined for one year and if they liked you and you liked them, you could come back for a second year. But it was a little unclear, unchartered territory for the first, I don’t know, seven or eight months that I was there because they didn’t really have anyone in charge of that program. It was just the producers on all the projects would choose a writer. And that would be sort of their pet, [laughs], you know, their pet writer who was on campus. We each had an office and we each had our project that we had chosen. And that was it. Like we were off on our own.

John: And are you being paid a weekly salary?

Nicole: Weekly salary, yeah.

Craig: And these arrangements fascinate me because, on the one hand, I think a lot of us get nervous when we feel like studios are doing things that are slightly throwbacky to the old days of the studio system where you have buildings full of writers and essentially everybody is working almost on a glorified salary but then something might emerge, something might not. But in this case, I have to say, your success has benefited you and them in such an extraordinary way. I assume that they are grateful.

I hope that they’re grateful. I mean –

Nicole: They’ve been incredibly nice and excited about the whole thing.

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: I think it was a bit of a gamble because there were four or five other writers in the program who are all excellent writers. Everyone there had sold things, set things up. I hadn’t had anything produced at that point, although several of them have by now. The question is, it’s a bit of a Faustian deal because they own you. For two years I was off the radar. I wasn’t allowed to take meetings. I wasn’t allowed to pitch on anything.

Craig: Wow, really?

Nicole: And I also wasn’t allowed to spec anything. So I couldn’t work on my own spec without there being a little bit of a question of who owns it, you know. And so this was the –

Craig: Wow.

Nicole: This was sort of the deal.

Craig: That’s a little restrictive, I have to say. I mean, I get 9 to 5, you want to own me 9 to 5, but to say that I can’t have a general meeting with somebody or I can’t spec something, that’s pretty –

Nicole: I mean they were, if you met somebody for lunch or for coffee, it’s not like they’re going to come after you. But I think it was just you couldn’t… — What was the point of meeting with people if you were off the table?

Craig: True, yeah, true.

Nicole: You know, you couldn’t really do it. You couldn’t talk about what you were working on. I couldn’t even tell people what I was working on for the first, you know, couple of years.

Craig: Even if you wanted to, if you said, look, on the weekends or in the evenings I’d like to spec this romance between two men in the 1840s France, you know. It’s not really a Marvel movie. They would still be like, “Eh, it could be.” [laughs]

Nicole: Yeah. That’s the thing. There was an aspect to that where they had a first look deal. They had a first look at whatever you wrote for a year after Marvel. They would have the right to buy it.

Craig: Wow.

Nicole: And that was funny to me, if you’re not writing a superhero, then what is the point, you know.

Craig: Right, yeah.

Nicole: So I just sort of assumed, better to play it safe. And I’m glad that it all worked out because you can’t show the people who’ve worked on things there, it’s not really legal for them to show the scripts that they wrote for Marvel during that time period. I mean, maybe they can slip it to somebody but, so, you know, it’s a gamble. But I thought that for what I wanted from the program which was to get a bit of a pedigree in that regard and also go through what ended up being kind of like boot camp because they could have you do a million drafts if they wanted to.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: They had a special deal worked out with the WGA. But it was really not too oppressive. It wasn’t what people thought in terms of like the old MGM system. They just sort of said, you know, write your drafts and when they’re done, send them in and we’ll give you notes and then, you know, write some more drafts, sort of play around, send us some ideas. It wasn’t weekly meetings. It wasn’t like everybody sitting around and brainstorming together. It was very much –

Craig: You got to write your script. It wasn’t like when we first read about Amazon Studios and we both freaked out because like some guy in Kansas can suddenly start changing your script or something. It wasn’t like that. It was –

Nicole: No.

Craig: So you got your own –

Nicole: Yeah.

John: So you pitched Guardians of the Galaxy, the title which I wasn’t familiar with and probably wasn’t one of the marquee titles at Marvel at the time. What is your pitch as you’re describing it to your executive? How are you describing the movie that you think could be there? What were your words? What were your images? What were your references?

Nicole: And part of it was that I had a little bit of a — it was already pre-approved. They showed us, I mean, I could’ve made a real argument for Squirrel Girl if I wanted to do, if I wanted to drag some random project out of the vault. So it was a little bit of a pre-approved. So they already, I didn’t have to pitch them the idea of Guardians. They said Guardians was on the list of a bunch of different properties.

Craig: Ones that we would accept if you –

Nicole: That we would accept. And there was a little question of which version of Guardians because there was — it started in the late ’60s, early ’70s and it was very different. It was much more earnest and, you know, as it was back then. And so, you know, there were some cool elements of that. So I did pitch a version of that but I very quickly and with their blessing jettisoned that and went to the more modern group, which is tons of characters, by the way, and very little to do with the actual comic, from the 2008 comics were the ones –

John: So in pitching them, was something like the structure of the movie we ultimately see in which you’re meeting [Quinn] and then you’re introduced sort of one by one to the other people who are going to be, the Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who come together to –

Nicole: I’m trying to remember what my original pitch was because there were so many, so many versions. I mean, so many versions of this project. I believe it was a two-hander at the very beginning between Quill and another character who I don’t know if they want me to say who that other character was. I did email them to ask and they haven’t responded. [laughs]

So I think the very earliest versions from like 2009, there was a two-hander element and then they meet up with everybody at the jail, at the prison. And that’s where they interact with everyone for the first time, except Gamora. Gamora was always, I believe, if I can remember correctly, Gamora was always somebody they interacted with on the planet where he tries to sell the Orb.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: So that is, I believe –

Craig: One of the four billion versions –

Nicole: One of the four billion versions.

Craig: Now, I’m always fascinated by it because there are movies where they necessarily go through the four billion versions. There are some where it’s kind of a straighter line, depending on the genre. But one thing that I always like to ask people is, what was the thing that you kind of had for a long time, at least that was there early on, that made it through? Because the process is such a churn, but there’s always something that makes it through that you love –

Nicole: Right.

Craig: Yeah, that really is like all about you and what you did and –

Nicole: Let’s see. So something that made it through a process of two and a half years, that list is small.

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: There were things that made it through to the movie. There were things that almost made it through, that made it to the second to last draft –

Craig: Okay.

Nicole: Of mine and then didn’t make it through. I loved the, and I’m really glad they included it with Groot releasing the phosphorescent spores, I think that was in all of my drafts. I’m pretty sure it was in all of my drafts. And then Groot protecting the group and sacrificing himself as a cocoon that –

Craig: Which is kind of the heart of the movie. I mean, in a way, like I always feel like at some point with these movies, something comes along that goes beyond entertaining people. And very often, it is some new version of the Jesus story. I talk of Jesus all the time on this podcast and that is, you know, so there’s the Groot Jesus moment. But that is kind of where the movie sort of transcends and is about more than, you know, wacky space pirates.

Nicole: The animators did such an amazing job for that, too. I was really moved when I saw that.

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: Just the combining of the leaves. Something about the leaves because I didn’t write the leaves into the script, the actual like making it soft and like a little nest. That little moment I thought just made it so much more thoughtful and beautiful. So anyway, I was happy with that.

Craig: Excellent.

John: Lindsay Doran, who’s a huge friend of the show, will often comment that, as an audience you’re rooting not really for the quarterback to throw the winning touchdown but for the quarterback to kiss his wife at the end. And that’s the emotional payoff that you have here in terms of Groot actually being sort of, making a sacrifice for this group is actually much more important than sort of the villain plot of the story ultimately ends up being.

Nicole: Oh, thank you.

John: So it was a really [joyous] moment.

Craig: The villain plot, let’s talk about the villain plot.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because I just still honestly have no idea what happened. But that’s very common with me. But at some point it seems like that’s almost part of the deal with Marvel. As I’ve been watching their movies is that they say, you know what we’re going to do? We’re going to present to you a certain kind of soap opera. And it is soap opera to me at least, the way that their villains interact and, you know, infinity gems and people and planets and who’s some stepdaughter and so forth and all the rest.

And their ideas, they go, you know what, we’re going to present this to you and we’re taking it super seriously and either you’ve read a lot of these comics and you know exactly what we’re talking about or you don’t. Either way, you’ll get it. Like, you get what you need. I mean, was there ever a sense of that or did you struggle a little bit to go, well, hold on, there’s a certain amount of complexity here that might be zipping over people’s heads?

Nicole: Yes. You know, mine was a little more simple and streamlined in terms of how many subplots there were. The whole thing with Ronan, in my version, it was always Thanos. And they told as I was handing in my last draft, they said, listen, for the feature, we’ve decided to hold off on Thanos.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: Hold him for later because he’s such a great cosmic villain. I mean, he’s the best cosmic villain. So, just so you know, we’re going to find some other character to swap in basically for –

Craig: We’ll do a sub-Thanos.

Nicole: Right.

Craig: To kind of stand in, to hold Thanos. And this is something that you deal with at Marvel in a way that I don’t think you deal with anywhere else.

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: Because they have an orchestration to these movies. I mean, you know it’s funny, like remember when synergy became a word and it was like 1996 or something?

John: Yeah, I do.

Craig: And some idiot in a corporate building came up with this word synergy and everybody rolled their eyes. But Marvel is the only company that actually I think has true synergy between their movies. That’s an interesting constraint for you as a screenwriter to be beholden not only to what works for your movie but apparently for future movies yet untold by other people.

Nicole: Absolutely. And in a sense, I was really relieved that… — I think it was considered a bit of a long shot from the beginning that Guardians would even get made. And so there was none of this like, oh, let me, read all the scripts for the movies that are coming out so you can make sure that yours fits in in a very specific timeframe the way that, you know, Agents of Shield has to –

John: Exactly.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: Has to work with it. They said, write whatever you want, write, write it like –

John: [laughs]

Nicole: In its own bubble, have it be a standalone movie. Don’t worry about what Iron Man is doing. Don’t worry about the earth being blown up or, you know, aliens or whatever. They’re like, just –

Craig: Wing it.

Nicole: Wing it, do your own version far off and, you know, just be on earth for a little bit at the beginning and then go into space, which was very freeing for me. Of course, I also felt like there is no way this movie is ever getting made [laughs] if they told me that, you know.

Craig: I always feel like when you start on a movie and you go, there’s no way this movie is getting made, your chance of that movie getting made just skyrocketed. I believe that because it’s, again, you’re like well they have to make this movie. That’s when everybody goes, “Are we making this because we have to?”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “I mean, this feels like one of those.” And this movie obviously took everybody by surprise. When you looked at that list, what caught your eye? Why this fair maiden as opposed to the others?

Nicole: I think part of it is that I knew that there had been so many superhero films. And I love superhero films but I was attracted to the science fiction element of Guardians. It felt different from everything else in that you could take it to some really fun sci-fi places because you’re given a lot of leeway because these characters are not earth-based. And I wanted to play with the fun of that. I mean, having a talking tree and a talking raccoon and having this very wacky group is something that was different than the rest of the characters which were mostly, I think with a couple exceptions, they were mostly not groups that were offered. It was standalone characters.

Craig: Standalone characters. And there’s something about the standalone character in the Marvel universe that forces you into a repetition. Even in this movie, there’s a mom dying in the beginning. I mean, it seems like there’s always a jettisoning, an orphanage involved somehow. But for the individual, they struggle, they feel isolated from the world around them. And you see bits and pieces of that. You know, so you have a raccoon wondering why am I not like all the other raccoons or the other people. And you can see those bits and pieces but you’re right.

Like I love what you’re saying about science fiction is kind of a, I mean, as I met you and come to know you that there is — it’s a very Nicole-ish kind of thing. It’s like the infusion of the sci-fi aspect and the science-y aspect into it as opposed to what we’ve come to expect I think from Marvel generally which is it’s always like the science happens to somebody and then it’s forgotten. Like I got hit by gamma rays and, bump, grr.

People are going to yell at me again.

John: No.

Craig: Any time I talk about the Hulk, I get in so much trouble but, you know, I liked that this was like everybody was living in a science world, you know. I thought that was great.

Nicole: Yeah. I mean it is definitely elevated and fun. And I think that one of the things that I was thinking while I was working on it was that this is not anything like The Dark Knight trilogy. Like this is never going, it’s not what’s hip right now. It’s not what’s stylish. Like what’s stylish is really dark, grounded, very gritty stories. And this is not any of those things. There’s no way you could ever make Guardians like really dark. I mean, I guess you could but then it would be very –

Craig: I mean, it would be bad.

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: It would just be bad. I mean, I always feel like Nolan has found the exact right spirit of what makes Batman great and what makes DC great. And Whedon really found this like heart of something in Marvel that kind of — it’s just a little more chaotic and a little more anarchic and fun. You know, it’s lighter. I mean I like that that was the approach that you took. I mean, that’s why it works.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Well, that’s one thing actually, come to think of it, that did make it through from the beginning through the end was all the ’80s references. That was something that was in all of my drafts.

Craig: Okay. Well, let’s talk about that because that really is, again, like when I think of Groot dying and then I think about the fact that this is a movie set in space with space creatures. Like many space creature movies we’ve seen, flying ships and battles and all the rest of it. But then, there’s this nostalgia for American ’80s –

Nicole: [laughs]

Craig: And earth ’80s. Why did you? Where did you come up with that to fuse that in there?

Nicole: Well, I think part of it was that I wanted Quill for all of his bluster to be homesick. I wanted him to be in a place where he’s on the other side of the universe. It’s something we’ve all felt, that feeling of missing home. And for him, the last items that he had were his childhood items. And we all have that nostalgia as well. But that was like where his experience with earth stopped.

So I just love the idea of being in this crazy other world and then having, you know, like a Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robot and things like that. My toys were a little different. I also had Star Wars toys. And Star Wars toys were big.

Craig: Oh man, that would have been awesome.

John: Now they could have done it, yeah.

Craig: That would have been so cool.

John: Oh, but that deal closed earlier. They could have gotten –

Craig: Oh my god, it would have been so cool if like — I can just see him, you know, in his ship –

John: Now there’s synergy, yeah

Craig: And he’s floating and like a little Yoda goes flying by. It would be so great.

Nicole: [laughs] Yeah, and I had a Darth Vader figurine.

Craig: Okay, well you got to get them to do that. You got to get them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know how now but –

John: I keep wanting to go back to sort of how you originally pitched it because you look at Star Wars and obviously you can’t make Guardians of the Galaxy without being aware of Star Wars. But rather than a Luke Skywalker character, you put a Han Solo character at the very center of the story.

Craig: That’s a really good point.

John: And so he feels like, or also Indiana Jones, he feels like he’s a Harrison Ford character rather than sort of the square All-American, you know, underdog good guy which is I think a really, you know, smart choice and not an obvious choice. I mean, it seems obvious now that the movie has made a bazillion dollars, but that couldn’t have been the easy obvious choice.

Nicole: Well, I remember having a conversation. I think it was with Nate Moore who was, after the first few months of the program he came on to be the shepherd of the program. And so things started running more on time once he got involved. But I remember having a conversation with him about the whole idea of a two-hander. I was like it’s just not as much fun to write the Luke Skywalker character. It’s a lot more fun to write the Han Solo character. And I was like, this is the freedom that the program did give, which was, all right, do a version with just Quill as the lead. And I was like, sweet, you know.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: So that was great. And there were versions that didn’t have Rocket because there was a fear that Rocket, early on, before, the very, very first few drafts, I wanted to put Rocket in and there was also a little bit of a fear that he would come across cartoony.

Craig: It’s too broad.

Nicole: It’s very broad.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: And so Kevin Feige fortunately was like, go ahead, do Rocket, like Rocket’s awesome. He was a big fan of Rocket. So it worked out and –

Craig: What’s interesting that what you’re describing about the program, it’s a double-edged sword because in the one hand, I could say, look, it’s tough for professional writers to be in a situation where essentially it’s open-ended and you can just write and write and write and never stop writing and you’re getting paid some amount, but it doesn’t expand or contract.

Nicole: Right.

Craig: On the other hand, it does provide a certain freedom. You know, when you are being paid per draft and you say I want to do one now that’s just like this. They’re going to be like, “Uh, we can’t really afford to fund your experiments,” you know.

Nicole: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Craig: So there is a certain, I mean I like that the… — I mean, look, it sounds to me like that program is spectacular if you’re Nicole Perlman and you write Guardians of the Galaxy.

Nicole: That’s right.

Craig: It’s a great, great program.

Nicole: It worked out really well.

Craig: If you’re not, I’m not sure it is a great program.

Nicole: Yes, yes.

Craig: But it sounds great for Nicole Perlman. That’s for sure.

Nicole: Well, the program was short-lived. The thing is it was only around for three-and-a-half years I think.

Craig: You’re kidding? It’s not there anymore?

John: Done.

Nicole: Not there anymore. And the reason is that Marvel only makes two movies a year, maybe three.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: And there’s a very good reason for that. I think that’s why their movies are high quality is because everything goes through a very specific bottleneck of Kevin Feige and the creative committee and everything gets approved by various levels. And if they were doing more movies, they would not have that much control over them.

So basically, with all the success of Avengers and Cap and all these properties that hadn’t — when they first came up with the idea for the program, they only had a couple of movies out.

Craig: I see.

Nicole: They didn’t know how successful their movies were going to be and how there were going to be all of these sequels.

Craig: There’s no room.

Nicole: There’s no room.

Craig: Because they have sequels now.

John: Yeah

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: They have, every one of these movies, there needs to be like — I mean how many Guardians are…? I assume –

Nicole: Tons.

Craig: Tons.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not like it’s –

Nicole: Endless amounts of Guardians.

Craig: It should go on and on. And then there’s going to be side Guardians. Well, it’s like X-Men. I mean look how Fox has done it with.

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: Marvel is really just such an extensible universe more so than DC.

John: Yeah, it is crazy when you think about, you know, Marvel obviously has Marvel which is the Disney property now. But of course, they have the X-Men at Fox. They have Fantastic Four now at Fox.

Craig: At Fox.

John: They have the Spider-Man franchise –

Craig: At Sony.

John: At Sony.

Craig: Right.

John: Punisher I think is still, I don’t know if it got –

Craig: Poor Punisher. No one can make Punisher.

John: I think that got pulled back. I don’t know if it got pulled back –

Craig: You know why?

John: I don’t know if it got pulled back. Dare Devil got pulled back.

Craig: Because Punisher is a dick.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Again, I don’t know why we’re talking about comics because it just ends up blowing up in my face. But really what it comes down to is Punisher is not a good guy. It’s hard to root for Punisher. I mean I remember –

Nicole: Tragic.

Craig: Well, when I read… — Yes, he is tragic.

Craig: All I know Punisher is what I read when I was in like 1983 and the idea was that if you killed somebody, Punisher would kill you. But also if you like threw your garbage out on not garbage day, he would kill you. And I just thought like –

John: Yeah, his binary sort of sense of like –

Craig: Right. Like that’s not cool.

John: They’re not dead. Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, that’s not cool at all, man. You’re violating what we understand about the basic tenets of justice.

John: And Nicole on this podcast we often answer questions that readers would send in. And I’m wondering if you could answer some questions that they sent in. But we will all take a crack at some of these questions.

Nicole: Okay.

John: Are you ready to go, Craig?

Craig: No, but you should do it.

John: All right.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, what was the, this is a question from Michael. What’s the worst movie idea you’ve ever been pitched by a producer or an executive?

Craig: I know exactly what it is.

John: Michael says, “I’m sure you’re going to hem and haw about not wanting to say. But come on, have some fun for once in your life.”

Craig: Hold on. I have fun all the time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: What’s this guy’s name?

John: Michael. Michael thinks we don’t have enough fun.

Craig: Michael, how dare you.

John: We started about how much it was to shoot guns.

Craig: I was literally shooting. We were firing 50 caliber rifles at watermelons.

Nicole: You don’t want to say Craig is no fun because he’s really good with guns.

Craig: Thank you. Exactly. I’m deadly. She saw me.

John: He’s a Punisher.

Nicole: He’s so much fun.

Craig: I got Punisher skills. All right, this was the worst I ever got pitched. I won’t say who pitched it, but I will say who it was for. And this person didn’t know. It was an idea an executive or a producer pitched me many, many years ago and he said, “This is going to be a great Adam Sandler movie.”

And I said, okay, and Adam Sandler had nothing to do with this. I just want to be clear. I don’t think he’s ever heard this probably. This was the idea. Adam Sandler plays a guy who works at a magazine. It’s kind of like a magazine that men read. And his boss is this legendary publisher. And he’s married to a woman who is in a building across the street. And she runs a magazine that’s for women.

So you have a magazine for men and magazine for women. Now, whoa, but if that were it? No. Sandler works for the guy, okay, and Sandler is a sexual harasser. That’s his thing. He’s constantly harassing women and he’s constantly being brought into the office like, Jimmy, how many times have I told you? “Well, I can’t help it. I got to grope ladies.”

Well, the husband who runs the magazine and the wife who runs the magazine, they’re going through a bad divorce.

John: Uh-oh.

Craig: And the husband wants to ruin the wife’s magazine. And he has a great idea. I know what I’ll do. I’ll send over Adam Sandler to work for her and he’ll just be sexually harassing all those people and that will somehow cause lawsuits and…

Okay, so Adam Sandler goes over there and sure enough, he starts to do his thing, but then what happens, and this is why this would be a great movie guys –

John: Body switch?

Craig: No. It’s, but there is a switch.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The women start to harass him.

John: Oh wow.

Craig: The women starts, the tables are turned. The women start all harassing him and he learns.

Nicole: What a life lesson.

Craig: Yes, he learns. And I’m just sitting there, like my meter of things that are wrong with this has broken. It stops at 999. It doesn’t go to a thousand. But I ran into 999 problems with that terrible idea.

John: And a pitch ain’t one.

Craig: Well done, John, a pitch ain’t one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I got 999 problems and a pitch ain’t one. You just got your title for the podcast. That was the worst idea I’ve ever been pitched. I was aghast. Aghast.

John: My idea worst idea ever pitched to me, it’s sort of like a whole class of ideas because in my early career I was adapting a lot of kids’ books. And so people would come to me with kids’ books, like, hey adapt this kids’ book.

And I remember one of them one was a movie that’s come out like this week or something like that, Alexander and the Terrible, Not Good, Horrible, Very Bad Day.

Craig: Yeah. Horrible, Very Bad Day.

John: And so the movie that I actually see as a trailer, well, that’s how you would make that movie.

But they would just send me the book, and I was like but there’s nothing here. It’s just a kid that has a crappy day. And there was no movie there. But also things like, you know, it’s a friendship between like a mouse and a toad and it’s like five pages long. I’m like well, there’s not a movie here. I mean these are charming illustrations, but there’s actually no movie here.

And so it was, unlike Craig’s thing, which was a like a fully developed terrible idea, I would get sort of the like, well, here’s kind of a poster and –

Craig: Here’s an animal and another animal.

John: Exactly. And they could do something.

Craig: Right, but you fill it in.

John: Fill it in. It basically writes itself.

Craig: What about you? What’s –

Nicole: That is very, that is so common. I try to tell people that I’m always getting pitched stories with a straight face that aren’t stories.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: They’re just, so for example, my husband is an aquatic designer. So he designs water parks and swimming pools, like complex –

Craig: Your husband is so cool.

Nicole: He’s super cool.

Craig: That’s a real job?

Nicole: It’s a real job.

John: Oh man.

Craig: I thought that that was like a movie job that people have.

John: That’s a great movie job.

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: So what I am always getting when I tell people that is, that’s a movie. And I said, what is the movie?

Craig: Yeah, where is the movie?

Nicole: They’re like, no, that’s a movie. That’s a movie. That’s Slip and Slide the movie.

Craig: Slip and Slide. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Water Parks, the movie. I’m like, you guys are just saying words now.

Craig: Those are nouns.

Nicole: Those were just nouns. Well, this is the other thing. The other one I was going to say wasn’t my story, but it’s a friend of mine who’s a TV writer. Told me that he was given a list of nouns that a producer sent him and just like random nouns that he thought would make a good movie.

Craig: Wow, yeah.

Nicole: And he said this isn’t a story. This isn’t a property. It’s a just a list of words. And his agent is like, “Look I’m sorry, but…”

And I actually talked to his agent and –

Craig: These words are hot right now.

Nicole: And she confirmed that this is a real story that, so it’s –

Craig: Wow.

Nicole: It was a list of nouns.

Craig: I once sat with a producer. I will not say who, but he is a legendary producer in many regards. And he, you know, you register titles with the MPAA. And one of the things that he would do is just come up with ideas for titles and register them, not to ever make the movie, but rather on the presumption that sooner or later, somebody would make a movie with that title and then have to pay him money, which had words.

And I remember one of things, and he goes, “You can do this if you want if you come up with an idea. One of the titles I own is Body Bag.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I just, oh my god, that you sat there one day and went I know what to do. I’m going to fill out paperwork now to own the title Body Bag.

Nicole: Wow.

John: The second Charlie’s Angels was called Charlie’s Angels Forever, but that didn’t test well. And so TriStar, Sony TriStar had a list of names that they had either pre-cleared or basically had and said like we always wanted to make a movie called Full Throttle. So now it’s Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Craig: Done.

John: Done.

Craig: Great. It’s better than Charlie’s Angels: Body Bag.

Nicole: [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: Or Charlie’s Angels: Slip and Slide. No, Slip and Slide –

John: Yeah.

Nicole: That would be cool.

Craig: Hold on. My interest just went up.

John: Brandon in Houston wrote a question. His was, “You had an episode about the end of world a few weeks back. And that got me thinking. Everyone in the planet knows that Hollywood is the capital of the film industry, not just in the US, but worldwide. But what city is number two? Or put it another way, after the big one hits and the entire Greater LA area falls into the sea, where would the film industry rebuild?”

Craig: Where would I like it to be or where would it naturally be?

John: Where it would naturally fall?

Craig: New York, I would imagine, right?

John: Probably New York. I mean New York does a lot of TV. But you can’t shoot everything in New York.

Craig: Well, they do shoot a lot there. You need space. You need sound stages.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: You need tax breaks, too.

Craig: You need tax… — Well, we don’t have them here.

John: We don’t have them here. I wonder, Florida, maybe.

Craig: Oh god, please no.

Nicole: Florida has a good film program/film school down there. I know they do a lot of shooting.

Craig: It’s so hot.

John: It’s so hot.

Nicole: Detroit maybe because there’s all that empty space.

John: They have a lot of empty space in Detroit.

Craig: A lot of gun play though.

Nicole: That’s true. They need –

John: That’s a good plot. Like Detroit like conspires to cause an earthquake so they can take over the film industry.

Nicole: They need a new industry.

Craig: Here’s the truth, if Hollywood, and this is sad. It’s 2014, this is the way the economy works. If Hollywood were wiped off the map, the center of film production would likely be the Zengcheng Province of China.

John: Oh yeah.

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. That’s where they’d do it.

Craig: That’s where the iPhones are built and that’s where you’d go.

John: Yeah, Australia maybe, too. I mean, Australia has some good film facilities. It’s too remote, though. It’s too remote from the American market.

Craig: I’d go there. I’d live there. It seems very nice. It’s basically Middle Earth as far I’m — that’s what I’ve been told.

John: That’s New Zealand, not Australia. They get really upset about that.

Craig: Oh no, I want to go to New Zealand. That’s right.

John: Okay.

Craig: Actually, I want to go to New Zealand. I want to live in Middle Earth.

Nicole: So the Shire is the new Hollywood.

Craig: The Shire. Every time someone says shire, I always think of –

John: Talia Shire?

Craig: No. I think of the Shire, I think of the actual shire, but then I think of one of the Ringwraiths. One of the nine, the Nazgul saying, [snarling sounds].

John: Kent writes, “You both mentioned that you feel like your IMDb page is a complete misrepresentation of you. And I have to say, I completely agree. For example, getting to know you both over 100 plus episodes, I can say that my impression is very different than what I would draw based on your credits. I’ve been so happy — “

Craig: Craig is not an idiot at all.

John: Exactly.

Craig: He’s not a blithering moron.

John: And Kent actually said some really nice things about both of us. But I’m going elide those from the podcast today.

Craig: Sure, sure.

John: Because you’ve already –

Craig: I pretty much, yeah.

John: “I’ve been so happy and ready to dismiss or pigeonhole a person once I’ve seen their IMDb page, which is pretty crappy for reasons I know. I wonder who’s behind my favorite or least favorite movies. I wonder if some folks are a little clever or more capable than I once thought. I’m in a tailspin here.”

So my question, and a question for you, Nicole, is you have Guardians of Galaxy as a producer credit. Do you have other producer credits?

Nicole: This is my first producer credit.

John: So it seems, so someone who would just like look you up, it’s like, well, she’s pretty lucky. She’s done exactly one thing. But you haven’t done one thing. And your IMDb credits page doesn’t really represent you. So if you could present yourself the way you would like to be seen, what would you say that you did?

Nicole: I could have the list of all my projects that didn’t get made, but that were sold or –

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Or that I was assigned to. You know, most of them are, again, space and science related. I had –

Craig: Aeronautical.

Nicole: Aeronautical.

John: Yes, exactly.

Nicole: Yeah, Challenger was my first script. Just go re-optioned, so maybe we’ll see what happens with that, which was a story about the Richard Feynman, his role in the investigation of The Challenger disaster and then I did a Neil Armstrong biopic for Universal. So I actually got to meet him and spend some time with him before he died. And have a project at Disney which is a sort of secret project, which I don’t think is going to get made, but that’s a science fiction project called Care Incognita. And a…oh, I’m like thinking for the list of dead projects. Oh, so painful.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: I totally ran an outlier called Kiss and Tango that was the first studio job I ever had. And I did work on Thor. I didn’t try for credit, but I did a lot of the geekery of that movie.

Craig: Which Thor?

Nicole: The first Thor.

Craig: First Thor.

Nicole: Yeah, first Thor. So that was one of the other sort of plus sides of the Marvel writing program is they can snatch you out of your office.

Craig: Do a little Thor work.

Nicole: Do some Thor work, which was cool. Oh god, what else? We did a whole bunch of stuff on there. But again, it’s sort of like do you want that stuff on there? Do you want it to — it’s the story that is most people who are at my beginning sort of stage are they have a lot of projects that don’t make it.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: Before they do.

Craig: That never goes away. You know, I understand that people will look at an IMDb page particularly if there are bunch of credits on it and say, okay, well, I understand who this person is. You don’t. I mean, what you understand is what projects they wrote that other people were willing to make.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s it. You don’t know what the projects were that they cared the most about. You don’t know what the projects were that they did the best work on. A lot of times, we of course do work on movies that are made but we’re not credited for it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But regardless I guess I would say to, who asked this, Josh?

John: This was Kent.

Craig: Kent. I’d say, Kent, don’t judge anybody based on a stupid IMDb page anyway. It’s just that’s not who people are. That’s a facet of who they are and you just simply don’t know. And God, how many lessons do we have where we think we know what a kind of person is and then they eventually turn out to be this entirely different person artistically or creatively. We just see this other side of them.

I mean , you know, one my favorite example is George Takei. And we only think of George Takei now in a certain way. He’s this fascinating guy who’s full of life. He’s obviously a huge supporter of marriage equality, but more importantly he’s like the best example of what it means to be a cool, old man.

John: Yeah, absolutely.

Craig: Right? But when I was a kid, he was just the fourth banana on Star Trek, you know, who had that one time he got to fence with his shirt off. But most of the time, it was just, you know, Sulu was the other guy, he was the guy. He didn’t matter, you know.

Nicole: Right.

Craig: And who would have thought anything? You just don’t know people from their credits. That’s not who we are as people, so stop it.

John: Yeah, it’s interesting because I’ve been hiring a new person to work for me. And when you look at real resumes, they actually fill in like sort of all the different jobs they have and you sort of see like the years and you sort of see where gaps are. But IMDb is sort of, it’s only showing these little bits that are sticking above the surface. You know, all the gaps sort of feel like, well, he wasn’t working at all during these times.

Craig: Right.

John: What Kent probably doesn’t know is that in the industry you actually do know what people were doing during all that other times. The agencies have all that information. And producers who are trying to hire you, they know what else you’ve been working on.

Craig: Right.

John: So there’s all that stuff is sort of silent and buried. Everyone else in the industry kind of does know what that stuff is. And so people will know that like, oh, he had a kick ass draft of that thing over there and didn’t get credit on it. But he’s good for that reason.

Craig: Right.

John: Or she has been super busy doing this thing. Or, you know, Nicole dropped off the radar for two years because she’s been in the Marvel writing program, but that’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

Nicole: Right.

Craig: They also know the future. And those of you who just look at the IMDb don’t. So they’ll know, okay, there’s four things this person has done that are all going.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they are all of a certain kind of thing. So we know who this person is becoming.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So we know, okay, nobody at home knows who Nicole Perlman is and nobody at home has ever heard of Guardians of the Galaxy. But we know who she is and we know what Guardians of the Galaxy is and we know it’s going to be a big hit, so let’s start talking to her as soon as Marvel let’s her out of her indentured servitude.

Nicole: My basement –

Craig: Yeah, exactly.

John: Our last thing is actually someone had some really good news. And so Craig asked, if he could read it on the air. So this –

Craig: Oh yeah, this was very nice.

John: This is from Josh.

Craig: This is from Josh. Okay, so Josh wrote John and me and here is what he said. “Young writer here, I’ve been listening to the podcast for years since its inception probably. Even as I was going through film school listening to Scriptnotes was like the bonus course that I never had to pay for.”

Side note, we will always lose money.

“I had tremendous caring professors. The debt I owe them cannot be measured. But you guys provide an insight into the industry that aspiring writers can’t get anywhere else. I eagerly await the Tuesday mornings when your podcast is posted.

“I made the official move to LA from Chicago about a year ago. I got part time job working in an elementary school.” That’s nice. “Which gave me the hours and flexibility to write and just barely survive. Long story short, these past few months have been a whirlwind. I found representation, made it to the Nicholls finalist round and just sold my first project.”

John: Aw.

Nicole: Aw.

Craig: “So I just wanted to say, thanks, John and Craig.”

Well, thank you, Josh, for writing in. I mean it’s kind of cliché, but this is why we do it.

John: Yeah, it really is.

Craig: Yeah. You know, I mean we’re not… — I think that sometimes we’re talking to each other and sometimes we’re talking to our friends and people like you who’ve made it and have hit movies, but there’s still things we’re trying to figure out and always will be.

But obviously a lot of time we’re talking to people that are coming and we are well aware that the great majority of them will be washed away by the tides. But the ones who get through, you know, like those fish that manage to get on land and sprout little legs, I think it’s just great that they’ve been sort of following along with us all this time. And I love that this is how this works and I hope that Josh keeps going, you know. It’s exciting.

John: You had a script, your first script or the first script that people got to know you for showed up on the Black List. And that was the Black List which is the list of like the best live scripts, so not the site that you paid in, but people read your script, they loved your script. What was it like to get word that your script showed up on the Black List?

Nicole: Well, I was so new. I was, you know, I was only out of school for a little while. I thought it was a bad thing.

John: Oh no!

Nicole: So I was like, oh no.

Craig: You thought you were blacklisted.

Nicole: I’ve been blacklisted! I’m just starting. What did I do? Who did I piss off, you know?

Craig: That’s awesome.

Nicole: And my immediate thought was because there were some things in there that were slightly critical of NASA. I was like, oh god, NASA blacklisted me.

Craig: Awesome.

Nicole: And then I was assured, no, no, this was a good thing.

John: And what was the transition from sort of getting that notice to starting to get an agent and starting to get meetings, starting to get people talking about hiring you because you said you had done some non-WGA writing before then.

Nicole: Yeah. I had my first job before I had an agent. That was something that I had won some contests when I was in school and had a little blurb written up about me in Script Magazine, like a paragraph, you know.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: It was something very small and a company reached out to me and said, oh, you like science-y things and space things? Well, we have a space project. And I remember, I was working some like crap job and I got the call. And I came and I pitched on it and I got the call and they’re like, “We will pay you $11,000.” I’m like, oh my god!

Craig: So much money.

Nicole: So much money. I was like doing a silent dance at my desk, you know. And I was just –

Craig: Don’t forget that feeling by the way.

John: Oh absolutely.

Craig: You don’t forget that.

John: I know that feeling.

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: I was so thrilled. And so then after I sent my paperwork. They’re like, so just so you know, we totally screwed you. So you should probably get an agent.

Craig: Oh my god. That’s like –

Nicole: They didn’t say it in that many words.

Craig: That’s like…thank you?

Nicole: But that was definitely the under current. And so they were actually very helpful. The director of development there knew an agent and set me up.

Craig: That’s sort of nice of them.

Nicole: Yeah, it was.

Craig: It was the second nicest thing they could have done.

Nicole: [laughs] Yeah, exactly.

John: It was the right thing to say and really bad timing.

Nicole: Right. Exactly.

Craig: Perfectly bad timing.

John: So one of the traditions on the podcast is we do a One Cool Thing and we’re talking about something that we really like this week. So I’m going to cheat and sort of do two but they’re kind of very closely related two things.

Craig: He’s a show up.

John: Such a show up. Well, they’re both examples of taking an existing movie or a couple of movies and looking at them in a complete different way. So the first is, and a bunch of people tweeted me this, Steven Soderbergh took Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Craig: I’m so glad you’re doing this so that they can stop sending the tweets.

John: So Soderbergh took Raiders of the Lost Ark and he took away all the color, made it black and white, took away all the sound and then put a Trent Reznor music underneath it. So you can actually look at it just as the compositions and the frame compositions. And it really is stunning and beautiful. It’s an incredibly well-made movie.

And you don’t think of it as being — all of what we think about the Raiders of the Lost Ark is sort of Indiana Jones and the character and the story and we had a whole podcast where we talked about Raiders of the Lost Ark. But it’s fascinating to watch it just as a pure visual experience. So I highly recommend that.

The second is this recut of Star Wars by the script called Auralnauts. I’m not even sure who they are. So what they did is they took the first three movies. So the bad three movies and –

Craig: You mean the prequels.

John: The prequels.

Craig: Right.

John: So they took the prequels and they revoiced them in sort of like a bad lips reading kind of way. They have new voices in them. But they actually just recut them completely for content. So this is about young Anakin Skywalker and his mentor who are just like these drunken frat boys who are getting in all sorts of trouble. And Jedis are sort of like, they’re like the idiots. They’re the frat boy idiots. And the Empire is actually just like they’re reasonable sort of like, you know, reasonable sort of middle management and it’s just hilariously done.

And so it’s an example of sort of taking –

Craig: I’m going to watch that.

Nicole: Yeah, me too.

John: Yeah, it’s great. So there’s three episodes so far. The same people did a video, you may have seen this last week, which is the final scene in what we think as Star War Episode IV.

Craig: Oh the ones who took the –

John: They took the John Williams music out the award scene.

Craig: It’s amazing. Yeah.

John: So the final scene in Star Wars where Leia is giving them their medals. So they walk down and the crowds part and she gives them all these things. Well, they took that same thing, but they just took the John Williams score out of it, so it’s just silent and then you hear creaks and –

Craig: And bad Foley of just like –

John: And you realize that it’s bizarre that no one is talking. I mean like –

Craig: Right.

John: Why is no one talking?

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s really uncomfortable.

Craig: Because it was designed for music. And actually is in a weird way it was very comforting because I felt like, this is what happens when you shoot movies because you have this plan like and then we’re going to do this and it’s going to be this big thing with music and fanfare. And then you get in the editing room and you’re like, what have I done? This is the worst…what is this?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, put some music on it, it’ll be okay. It will be okay. It will be okay.

John: John is working on something.

Craig: Yeah, John has nailed it. [hums] And you know, okay, we’re good again. But my god, it’s… — By the way, you also realize how long it is.

John: Yeah, it’s incredibly long.

Craig: It’s so long.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The Spielberg thing is great. He has just a genetic level ability to know where to put the camera and to know how to move people through it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The frame. I mean just the very first shot, where the camera is is kind of odd, just this weird low angle, but it’s like perfect. And then the way he has bodies crossing through and then how he has people turning and looking back, like when what’s his face. Is it, throw me that, I’ll give you the whip…

John: Yeah, yeah, that first guy, yeah.

Craig: Yeah, when he looks back, he looks scared.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Then the next guy who eventually is revealed to be a rat, looks back, he’s angry. I’ve actually already learned everything. It’s a oner. It’s perfect. Oh, so good. So good. Who wants to go next? You want to go next?

Nicole: Sure.

Craig: Okay.

Nicole: So should I something that I think is awesome, just random thing that’s awesome or should I say something that’s cool and sort of helpful and on task?

Craig: It’s your choice.

John: It’s your choice.

Craig: You could do whatever you want.

John: It’s your Cool Thing.

Craig: This is your moment.

Nicole: This is my moment.

Craig: Yeah.

Nicole: Okay. Oh well, something cool and at the risk of sounding like I’m shilling for an organization that I’m involved with. There’s this thing called The Science & Entertainment Exchange which –

Craig: I just took advantage of them.

Nicole: Which is super cool and they love being taken advantage of repeatedly.

Craig: Yes.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: They are an organization that’s related to The National Academy of Sciences. And they basically exist primarily just to be a free service to connect filmmakers to scientists or 1-800-DIAL-A-SCIENTIST basically.

And so anybody who is making a movie or a television show or a web series and wants to have some expert help, it’s free. And they live to serve, so they will put you in touch with an expert in your branch of science. And it could be FBI profiling. It could be psychological. It doesn’t have to be straight up chemistry, you know, microbiology. But they will. And it’s volunteer. The scientists have contacted them because they want to help with their expertise.

So it doesn’t have to be a straight up, you know, obvious call. Man of Steel used the exchange for some of their consulting. So it’s a very, very great service. And the guy who runs it is a good friend of mine.

Craig: Very good. Good stuff. Well, my One Cool Thing is really more of a one scoldy thing this week. It’s a one nanny thing this week. My One Cool Thing this week two-step verification.

Nicole: Oh yes.

Craig: Which I know, it’s sort of like we’re in the ’70s and everyone is like, seatbelts? What? This is the seatbelt of today.

Two-step verification. I know it’s annoying. If you don’t what it is. Very simply, when you’re changing passwords or doing anything that involves the password of any sort of secure account, you can’t actually change it until you respond with a code that’s sent to another device that you’ve linked to your account like a phone. And that’s how they know it’s really you and not just some person testing passwords.

And as we saw in the last few weeks, people just went bananas hacking phones. That’s not going to stop if anything. It will just stop going. So every major email service, iCloud service and eCloud or rather cloud service has two-step verification. Turn it on and use it. It’s good for you and maybe also think carefully about what you have on your phone.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, but two-step verification. Put your seatbelts on, guys.

John: I agree.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: Nicole Perlman, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. It was a tremendous delight.

Nicole: My pleasure. Thank you. It was fun to do it.

John: If you want to know more about Nicole and the things she talked about and all the other stuff that came up in the show today, you can go to the show notes, they are at You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a comment. Craig, people left us new comments and they’re very nice.

Craig: Oh fantastic. I’ll check them out. I like to read nice things about myself.

John: [laughs] Exactly. Because it doesn’t happen in other places.

Craig: Oh, no. No.

John: No.

Craig: Not even in my house, usually. Yeah. Every now and then, one of the kids will come up and give me a random hug. I like that.

John: Yeah.

Nicole: It’s like the Deadline comments in my house.

Craig: Never read Deadline comments.

John: Never. No, never read below the fold.

Craig: Never read the comments.

John: You can listen to all the back episodes. This Episode 164. We have many, many back episodes through You can find them all there. There’s also apps for iPhone and for Android so that you can listen to them.

The show is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yay. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Woo, woo, woo.

John: Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth who –

Craig: I don’t think you’re pronouncing that right. Where is that? Rajesh Naroth.

John: All right. Listen to what Craig said.

Craig: Yeah. But it could be Naroth. Rajesh Naroth.

John: Rajesh, thank you very much for a very cool outro. If you would like to send us an outro for the show, you can just send it to

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s also the great place to send long questions like some of the questions we read here today on the show. If they’re short things for me or for Craig, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Nicole, do you want people to tweet at you?

Nicole: Sure. I’m @uncannygirl.

John: @uncannygirl. And that’s our show this week.

Craig: Good Twitter handle.

John: Well done.

Craig: She is uncanny.

Nicole: But I don’t tweet that often. But I need to do more. There’s so much pressure.

Craig: You’re fine the way you are. You’re beautiful as God made you. Thanks for coming, Nicole.

John: Thank you so much.

Nicole: Thank you. I appreciate it.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.


Last call on Scriptnotes t-shirts and brad hoodies

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 15:46

Tomorrow morning, we’re placing the order for Scriptnotes Tour shirts and Brad Hoodies.

Illustrated by Simon Estrada, the Scriptnotes Tour Shirt is the stadium rock band shirt made for people who listen to weekly podcasts about screenwriting (and things that are interesting to screenwriters). Although the artwork is hard rock, it’s actually the softest shirt we’ve ever made.

Our first-ever hoodie is spun from the same downy tri-blend threads, and features an embroidered brad logo.

Hoodies are the fundamental outerwear of the modern screenwriter: dressy enough to wear to a water-bottle general meeting, casual enough to wear while walking your dog at Runyon Canyon. We deliberately picked a lightweight fabric, perfect for an over-air-conditioned theater when you’re watching Gone Girl.

As always, we’re only printing what people order, so if you want one, you have to order by midnight tonight (Tuesday, September 30th, 2014). You can find both shirts in the Store.

Guardians of the Galaxy’s Nicole Perlman

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 08:03

Craig and John talk with Guardians co-writer Nicole Perlman about the development of this summer’s blockbuster, and her two years as part of Marvel’s in-house writing program. It’s a great look at how movies get started, and the dozens of drafts you didn’t see on the big screen.

Nicole stays with us as we discuss which city would take over if Hollywood fell into the sea, why IMDb credits rarely reflect a writer’s real career, and the worst ideas we were ever pitched by a producer or studio executive.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 163: Ghost — Transcript

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 17:12

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

Now, Craig, on previous episodes we talked about Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Craig: Yes.

John: We went deep on Frozen.

Craig: Yes.

John: We talked about Groundhog Day.

Craig: And The Little Mermaid.

John: And The Little Mermaid. Actually, The Little Mermaid was our first one.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So, it’s another one of those, and this was your idea from last week.

Craig: It was my idea?

John: I think so. We said Ghost and you said we should do that.

Craig: Yeah, we should do that.

John: We should do that right now. So, our episode this week is talking about the 1990 film Ghost.

Craig: Ghost.

John: And talking about it in sort of the kind of depth that only we would want to talk about it in.

Craig: Only we can do what we’re about to do.

John: Yes. We will unchain our melodies and get into Ghost.

Craig: [sings] Ooh…my…


John: But first a little bit of follow up. John Miller wrote in and said, “What is the 12 Days of Scriptnotes I see on the back of the sexy new t-shirt?” So, he’s talking about the Scriptnotes t-shirts. Craig, we sold a whole bunch of these Scriptnotes t-shirts.

Craig: I’m not surprised. It’s a great t-shirt. I think everybody should own one, whether they listen to the podcast or not.

John: Well, it’s the softest t-shirt we’ve ever made. And if you remember the first batch of t-shirts we made, they were supposed to be just the world’s softest things. And they were really incredibly good. But I challenged Stuart Friedel that, you know what — we need to make an even softer t-shirt. And Stuart’s sense of softness is just remarkable. And so he found the t-shirt. He says the paragon of softness is this American Apparel shirt from 2008 that doesn’t exist anymore.

Craig: That was the 10 on the scale. That’s the diamond –

John: Absolutely.

Craig: I see.

John: Yeah. And so like nothing can actually, like if you were to scratch something against it, it couldn’t even scratch. It can scratch nothing.

Craig: Yeah, it’s maximum soft.

John: I think the reason they don’t make that t-shirt anymore is they use it to swaddle newborns.

Craig: Because air scratches the shirt.

John: Yes. So, the closest we were able to come to it is actually not an American Apparel shirt. It’s the next level shirt. It’s a blend and it’s kind of great. And so I tested it and it’s really a wonderful shirt. So, we’re making them only in gray, only with or sort of Sons of Anarchy tour band, just sort of world tour logo kind of thing. So, they’re only available for one more week, so people need to click on them to get them. So, and you can order them.

And they run sort of in American Apparel sizes. So, if you are between a medium and a large, you get the large, so aim up is what we’re saying.

Craig: And what is it actually — do we know what it’s made out of? Is it some kind of chemical? How else is it so soft?

John: It is a blend. And so that’s the thing, to make really soft t-shirts they can’t be 100% cotton. They have to be a blend of cotton and two other fibers. So, it’s a tri-blend.

Craig: But they won’t say, because those fibers are — they’re made in a lab, deep in a lab under micro –

John: No, I think actually, I’ve listened to another podcast that was talking about sort of how fabrics were made, because I listen to a lot of other podcasts, and so it’s actually not –

Craig: Wait, there are other podcasts? [laughs]

John: There are other podcasts in the world.

Craig: I thought this was it. I thought this was the –

John: There’s us and the Slate Culture Gabfest, then one that we’re –

Craig: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah.

John: October 8.

Craig: So, there’s two now?

John: So there’s now two podcasts.

Craig: Great.

John: And so it must have been on the other podcast where they were talking about how fabric is soft or hard, sort of how fabric works is really about the way you’re twisting the fibers. So, it’s not about the things that it’s actually made of. It’s how you’re twisting it that makes the biggest difference.

Craig: Well, I’m educated.

John: You’re educated now. So, remember, pre-orders. If you want this t-shirt, you have to order this week or else you’re not going to get one because we’ll only print as many as people order for them.

Craig: Now, what is the answer to this question? What is the 12 Days of Scriptnotes on the back of the shirt?

John: So, we were trying to figure out what to put on the dates. The back of the t-shirt has all of the live show dates that we’ve done in the past and in the future, because we didn’t want this to sort of immediately be out of date, because a real tour shirt is talking about the future events, the future live shows.

And so we knew we had Austin, so that’s on there. We knew we would have the Slate Live Culture Gabfest. But we knew there was going to be some kind of Christmas show, and so we had to figure out what to call that Christmas show that would be funny on the t-shirt. And so we had all sorts of discussion around the office, and so one of the top contenders was The Passion of the Craig.

Craig: I can’t believe that didn’t…

John: So, my argument against The Passion of the Craig is that that’s really an Easter thing.

Craig: Well, that’s true.

John: So for the Easter show we can call it The Passion of the Craig.

Craig: Yeah. That’s true. Technically, theologically, that’s correct. Although –

John: I want to be a theologically correct podcast.

Craig: I mean, as long as I’m compared to dying Christ, then I think it’s accurate. It’s fair.

John: Craig died for our sins.

Craig: Every day.

John: Every day.

Craig: Every day.

John: Another correction. On the last podcast we were doing questions-and-answers and there was a question from John Schurmann, the Playwright, but it wasn’t John Schurmann, The Playwright. It was John Schurmann the TV Writer. So, he had deliberately in his question said, “I’m not the playwright, I’m the TV writer, and I completely reversed it. So, anyway.

Craig: Well, that’s a disaster.

John: Yeah, so I apologize to both John Schurmanns.

Craig: I assume we’re getting sued?

John: Well, actually we fixed it in the transcript so that when they Google it it will never actually show up wrong.

Craig: Oh, thank god.

John: So, I should say, the reason why we sell t-shirts in the first place, sort of to back into this whole the thing is we are a money-losing podcast. We don’t have ads or anything like that. So, we sell t-shirts, and the t-shirts really help pay for things like the transcripts, the hosting, and for Matthew who does such a great job of cutting our shows. So, it’s kind of the only way we kind of pay for what it is that we do.

So, if you’d like a t-shirt, it helps us pay for the whole show.

Craig: And just be aware, if you buy five shirts, if everybody you know buys a shirt, don’t worry, we’ll still be losing money.

John: We will still lose some money. Even if you are a premium subscriber for $1.99 a month, we will still manage to lose some money.

Craig: Yeah. That is our promise to you, the customer. We will never be profitable. [laughs] We will always lose money.

John: Yes. We will always meander for a long time before we get to our actual stated topics and we’ll always lose money.

Craig: [sings] Ooh…my love…

Okay, so Ghost.

John: The film Ghost is written by Bruce Joel Rubin and directed by Jerry Zucker, which I always forget that he directed this movie.

Craig: It’s Jerry Zucker [pronounced Zooker].

John: Oh, Z[oo]cker’d it instead of Zucker’d it.

Craig: It’s Z[oo]cker. I don’t know, okay, so I have the new iPhone, this is awesome. I have the new iPhone 6 and you know how they have this thing where like you can tell Siri to start talking to you without pressing any buttons?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, I said something that made it think that I wanted Siri to come on and it, oh well, that’s interesting.

John: Jerry Zucker sounds like Hey Siri.

Craig: It’s Jerry Zucker.

John: Zucker. I’ll never get –

Craig: Zucker. So, the first time I met David –

John: So, David is David Zucker.

Craig: David Zucker, his brother. I was talking to a guy who works for him and I said, well this is very exciting meeting David Zucker and he said, “It’s Z[oo]cker. Rhymes with Hooker. If you say Zucker it’s going to go poorly.”

John: Ah! Yeah. Because Zucker rhymes with another word.

Craig: It does. And they’re very finicky about it.

John: Okay.

Craig: They’re very finicky about it. So, it’s Jerry Zucker. Yes, directed by Jerry Zucker, coming off of all the spoof movies.

John: Airplane!

Craig: Airplane! And Top Secret! And I don’t know if The Naked Gun had — had The Naked Gun come out prior to this?

John: I think Naked Gun is after that, because Naked Gun happened after the TV show, didn’t it?

Craig: It did. Yes. So, this was after Police Squad and Kentucky Fried Movie. So, obviously not at all continuous with his other work with David, his brother, and Jim Abrahams.

John: So, this movie comes out in July 13, 1990. It’s a long movie. It’s 126 minutes. I looked up budget and box office for it. So, back in 1990 it was budgeted at $22 million, which inflations up to about $40 million.

Craig: Right.

John: Box office, it made $505 million, which in modern terms would be $900 million.

Craig: Wow. Unbelievable. And that is a worldwide number I assume?

John: Uh…yes. I think it’s a worldwide number.

Craig: That’s just unbelievable. Can you imagine a $40 million movie today making nearly a billion dollars? Wow.

John: So, Whoopi Goldberg went on to win the Oscar, the BAFTA, the Golden Globe for her performance, and Bruce Joel Rubin, the screenwriter, won the Oscar for Best Screenplay.

Craig: Well deserved by both.

John: So, I also wanted to look and see how was this movie perceived when it came out. And so challengingly it’s actually kind of hard to find the reviews from that time, because a lot of times there will be links to those old reviews and they’ll be completely dead. So, when you try to go through everything sort of disappears.

But I was able to find the Ebert review and Peter Travers. So, Peter Travers first. His little quote, he talks about sort of the antecedents for Ghost, which I think is actually useful framing for this. He talks about “Blithe Spirit, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands, just to name three classic movies with the same theme. And there have been many sentimental botch jobs, including Kiss Me Goodbye, Chances Are and Steven Spielberg’s dreary Always.”


Craig: Yeah, okay. All right, Peter.

John: But I think it’s worth noting that Ghost wasn’t the first time we ever had the sort of romantic movie with the Ghost and the living woman.

Craig: No, it is not. And The Ghost and Mrs. Muir probably the closest, although they’re not — what this, this one is very different than The Ghost and Mrs. Muir because she’s sort of inherited a ghost. And she falls in love with a ghost because it’s like she has a meet-cute with a ghost and then they fall in love. Peter Travers says, and I quote, “Ghost belongs with the treacle…Zucker dutifully pushes all the buttons — romance, thrills, laughs, tears — that have been pushed before by more assured hands…There is little else to admire other than Whoopi Goldberg, except for some nifty special effects,” which in the lens of today not at all nifty. “For the rest, Ghost succeeds only at being insubstantial.” And I think with this review we can say that Peter Travers, once again, has succeeded only in being insubstantial.

That’s just a dumb review of a much better movie than what he’s talking about.

John: I think it’s a better movie than he’s seeing, but we do have the benefit of knowing that it became this incredible phenomena and sort of touchstone movie. And he had to review it in the week that it came out. And so sometimes –

Craig: But then to be fair to us, we were alive in 1990. We were young adults. I was 19 years old. And I loved this movie. I remember loving it in the theater, crying and laughing in the theater, and feeling like it was one of the best movies I had seen ever. And it wasn’t my kind of movie. And I loved it. I just loved it. And I watched it again in preparation for this, and I still love it, and it’s so — I mean, we’re going to talk, obviously because we’re a screenwriting podcast I want to talk mostly, I’m sure you do as well, about Bruce’s script. I’m going to call him Bruce even though I never met him, and how good it is, and how sad it is to read some dumb review like this.

This review, you have to dig up and find in some dusty archive, look at it and laugh at it as an absurdity. And happily the movie lives on and I haven’t shown it to my daughter yet, but I bet she will love it. This is her kind of movie. She will love it.

John: The thing that really struck me as I watched the movie again is you can take a look at the movies that came before it, but what I think this really paved the way for is movies like Twilight. It’s really one of the first breakout supernatural romances that sort of had audiences, especially women audiences, going to see it ten times in the theater.

And it just hit all of those notes exactly the right way so that people loved it and that people wanted to see it again and again. And they wanted to sort of live through all of those experiences again and again with the movie.

Craig: Yeah. Ghost, to me, is a masterpiece of tone. Bruce Joel Rubin is writing and his entire oeuvre seems to be centered around questions of death. So, he wrote Jacob’s Ladder, and I believe there was another movie called My Life I believe which was also — which are meditations on death and how we handle our own mortality.

And obviously this movie has a supernatural fairy tale approach to death, but it concentrates on the living to some regard. So, you have this very deep tone of a dead man and the woman who loved him and they cannot be apart. And it’s a tragic romance. You also have a comedy. You also have sort of a crime/caper mystery. All of those things are handled perfectly well by his script. And where I think Ghost triumphs is in its precision point tone.

John: I agree. One of the criticisms of the film as I looked through sort of people who are not fans of it, they say that it shifts gears too often, or shifts tones too often. But what I think is interesting is you talk about the different things that it needs to do. It needs to have this much plot so that it makes sense. It needs to focus on the romance in these ways. It needs to have humor so that you can sort of have the relationships between Whoopi Goldberg and Patrick Swayze, and Whoopi Goldberg and Demi Moore, and sort of what’s going to happen. And it manages to do those very deftly.

The comedy works in the ways it needs to work without going so big that it eclipses the actual threat and it makes it feel like this isn’t a serious movie where people could be facing true harm.

Craig: Well, what Rubin does so well is avoid — so he avoids a mistake that I see all the time in screenplays that I get sent. And he embraces the opposite. And that is a question of reorientation to extraordinary events. A character faces an extraordinary event and the — sometimes I read scripts and the characters simply don’t behave in ways that you or I would behave in the middle of an extraordinary event like that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s no time for them to behave. This movie takes its time and has no problem saying, okay, you’ve just been killed. We’re just going to spend 10, 15 minutes with you absorbing that. We’re going to spend 10 or 15 minutes with your not-wife but your girlfriend, your surviving girlfriend, absorbing what this means.

When you discover someone who can actually hear you, and a wonderful choice to make the psychic a fraud until this moment, she’s going to spend time just absorbing the fact that this is real. He’s going to spend time absorbing that she can hear him. Everything is allowed to just breathe and people are allowed to react the way I think you would normally react. And that’s why we go along for the ride, even when it gets wild.

John: It would be fascinating if we could somehow take a development executive and remove Ghost from their experience, so basically they’ve never seen Ghost, they have no idea Ghost exists. Then give them the script, because I really do feel like their instincts are going to be to make huge cuts to the first act and really the start of the second act. And basically get plot started much faster. And they would want Patrick Swayze’s character killed as soon as possible.

Craig: Yes.

John: They would want to skip over a lot of the little sort of comedy beats and sort of get things going and really ramp up the tension and the stakes and all the things that you’re supposed to do. And it would really be to the detriment of the film.

Craig: I think also that they would force a genre on it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They would say, look, either this is All of Me, which was, you know, All of Me was a similar kind of movie that was all about being a comedy.

John: Yes.

Craig: And all about a dead person moving inside of a live person’s body. So, either do All of Me and make it a total comedy, or so this is a sad, weepy tragedy. But what’s this whole thing about where you want to have your cake and eat it too? Well, you can, as long as you give the characters time to absorb what’s happening. [laughs] Then I think it’s okay.

John: So, let’s start in. I have the movie here in front of me. I’m going to be skipping through some things, but I really want to see how the movie unfolds as it plays because it’s not what I remembered it being, and it begins in a very different way than I expected.

So, it’s a Paramount movie. You’ve got the stars flying in. Then we’re fading into what seems like we’re in a scary movie.

Craig: Right.

John: And I did not remember this at all. And I don’t know if you remembered it when you saw it, but it’s dark, it’s shadowy, we’re not quite sure what this place is that we’re in. It’s a pretty font, so it doesn’t look like scary murder font, but it’s one of those long opening title sequences.

So, it’s dusty and what we’re ultimately going to see is that Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore, and Tony Goldwyn are sledge-hammering down this wall to open up this new loft that they’re going to be moving in to.

Craig: Right. And as we’ve talked about, these opening moments, this is why even though we don’t insist that your first three pages be the pages you send in for a Three Page Challenge, it’s good often that they are because those are the pages that are teaching us how to watch the movie. So, when the title comes on, it comes on with a jarring jump scare tone. And then the credit sequence is giving you a horror movie vibe. And by doing so it’s saying, hey, take this seriously. This is not going to be what you’ve expected from Jerry Zucker before.

John: True.

Craig: It’s not the just light romance or romantic comedy. We’re actually taking this real. When we say Ghost we don’t mean like Wocka Wocka Ghost. We mean there is going to be some serious stuff going down. And when the credit sequence ends, what we are revealing is essentially three of the four people that are in this movie. And this is a movie with very few characters.

And here we are meeting three of them and learning very quickly that Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore’s characters, Sam and Molly, are together. And then there’s this friend that they have, Carl, who is played by Tony Goldwyn.

John: Yes. So you see the three of them smashing through the wall. Essentially they all have weapons. They’re not using them on each other quite yet. It’s sexy. I mean, Tony Goldwyn is in really great shape here.

Craig: I mean, both of those guys are ripped.

John: They’re ripped. I mean, Patrick Swayze you always sort of knew was the, but I mean Tony Goldwyn, this was his moment. And so it’s going to be this love triangle between the three of them is the sort of central drama of this thing. And the music sort of threw me, but I think you make a good point is that starting in this movie, if you had sort of the more romantic sort of music, or if you had the comedy kind of music, you would be expecting this to be a funny movie right from the start.

So, in a weird way the misdirect of sort of the — it’s not Aliens, but so it’s Maurice Jarre, sort of his more sort of mysterious — it’s an interesting way to start the movie. And it sort of gets you taking the movie seriously.

Craig: Right.

John: We meet our three main characters. So, Patrick Swayze’s character is named Sam Wheat. Wow. There’s a name.

Craig: It’s just a bad name. It is, especially because it’s said over and over and over. I mean, look –

John: Has anyone in the world ever been named Wheat?

Craig: I mean, I’m sure there are people named Wheat, but Sam Wheat sounds like a bad cereal. So, I mean, look, these are the things you point out when you love a movie because there’s like little things that stick out as wrong. And there’s very few of them, but I’ll point them out as they come. But Sam Wheat is just a dumb name.

John: Molly Jensen, which is sort of a perfect name for a Demi Moore character.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And then Carl Bruner.

Craig: I mean, what a great villain name, right?

John: It’s sort of a great villain name. It sort of tips that he might be a villain.

Craig: Everything tips that he might be a villain.

John: And it’s Carl with a C which is especially — you don’t really see that in the movie, though.

Craig: It’s like a Nazi name, you know, Carl Bruner.

John: Yes. So, she is an artist. We don’t sort of know that she’s a potter yet, but they are living in scary New York, not sort of modern New York. And it’s going to become important that they’re living in a not yet gentrified neighborhood.

Craig: Right, so in the late ’80s, or this movie comes out in 1990, so they shot it in the late ’80s, downtown areas, downtown that we think of as super hip now like Meatpacking or even Tribeca or so, were kind of scummy. Alphabet City, totally off-limits. And it seems like they’re living down there. Yeah.

John: So, we see their new loft and sort of the plans for the new loft. They’re moving in together for the first time.

Craig: Right.

John: Next scene we’re seeing Carl and Sam in the elevator. They’re dressed up in suits and we see that they work in Wall Street banking, some sort of financial thing. It’s a first comedy bit really which is faking that Carl has a terrible disease in a crowded elevator and they make everyone really uncomfortable. So, we’re seeing that they’re buds, and they feel like kind of frat boy buddies.

Craig: That scene is the one thing I know for sure is that that was not Bruce Joel Rubin’s idea. That was something that Jerry, and Jim, and David would do themselves in elevators to entertain each other. I think that goes all the way back to their time in college. And I’ve actually been in elevators when they’ve done it now, which is even scarier because they’re older now. So, god knows what they’re hacking up. So, Jerry just has these two guys do it.

But what I love about it is that it is essentially pushing a button in the audience’s brain. And it’s saying here’s kind of a cliché scene of two guys yucking it up. And while it is cliché and has nothing to do with story, doesn’t move the plot along at all, what it’s doing is it’s tapping you in a spot that goes, oh, these two fit into this cinema box of wacky buds. And that’s going to help kind of misdirect us until the movie can’t bear any more direction in part because they seem to be missing one character. [laughs] I feel like the movie is short one red herring character.

But, regardless, that does help quite a bit.

John: It does. So, the elevator takes us into the financial offices which are the saddest financial offices I think I’ve seen in this kind of movie. It’s just such a little set. And it feels more like a bank in Wichita than a high stakes financial office. Partly, the fault of movies is movies really kind of, from the time of Wall Street, but really as long as we’ve always thought about big New York City corporate movies, they always have the glamour shot, like windows that look out over the city.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s always this high power thing, and this is not that at all. It’s like they sort of ran out of money for like trans lights or things, so that you don’t really see out the windows. It was odd to me that it was just such a boring office set.

Craig: It is a bizarre space. There’s a weird lavender carpet. It probably actually is more accurate to what those spaces look like, because real estate is a premium in New York and only enormous firms can afford these super fancy looking places.

But, I have to say that while sometimes the movie does seem a little cheap, and frankly it wasn’t made for a lot, I mean $40 million today is not a lot of money to make a movie like this, there was some already — even before we got to this point, or maybe, I’m sorry, just following there’s going to be some really nice directorial touches. You can see that Jerry is pulling some cool moves.

But in this sequence, we learn a couple of facts that are fairly nicely layered in.

John: Agreed.

Craig: We learn that Patrick Swayze’s character, Sam, seems to be a little more senior than his buddy, Carl, and that Sam is in possession of certain codes that allow the transfer of money and, in fact, he’s changed one of those codes and maybe there’s a little bit of that later, but we’re learning at least there’s a hierarchy here. They’re in charge of money. And Sam has a code.

John: Exactly. And so this ability to put stuff into accounts is something that Sam has and something that Carl needs. And we’re going to learn down the road that Carl put some money into an account and then can’t get it back out. And that is the reason for the plot of Ghost in terms of the villain plot of Ghost is just about this code got changed.

Craig: Correct.

John: So, we see their offices. We see what that is. There’s the Japanese. We are coming back to the beautiful loft apartment which Molly is fixing up.

Craig: And is this where the angel is being…?

John: Yeah, the angel.

Craig: Right. So, it’s a nice little visual thematic thing. They’re hoisting this wooden angel up. You know, and listen, foreshadowing comes in all sorts of flavors. Sometimes it’s punch you in the face foreshadowing, but I didn’t mind it so much here. There’s a nice moment where we see Sam go to help get the thing in and you almost think like, oh my god, is he going to die here? But he doesn’t die here.

There’s a very nifty little shot that Jerry does with a mirror. I don’t know if you noticed that or not. I liked that one a bit. But, again, we see they’re all together and they’re all buddies.

John: Yeah. It is actually a very clever shot. I was playing it right as I’m watching this right now. So, essentially Sam’s helped get the angel inside and there’s a shot which you think is real but is actually in a mirror that’s being carried back away from you. And that took probably half a day to choreograph, but it does help give you sense of the space really nicely.

Craig: Yes.

John: So this is our first apartment together. It’s all about sort of their love and sort of their being together. It’s the first time we have the I Love You words spoken, I believe.

Craig: Yes.

John: And the lack of that.

Craig: Yeah. So, there’s this exchange that they do here, and we’ve talked about this before. You can’t write great dialogue. You can’t. You can write dialogue that becomes great. But you can’t sit down and say now I’m going to write an iconic line. I can’t sit down and say I’m going to write, “You had me at hello.” I love you and Ditto became a thing.

It was just so perfect because it wasn’t as blatant as I love you and then, “Oh, you know, you mean so much to me, too,” and this very on the nose thing. He’s saying ditto and she’s laughing. It’s their gag. But there’s a little something missing there and transitions into this very interesting expression of pessimism from this character. And maybe that pessimism kind of gives a hint as to what his little journey is going to be all about. But essentially saying every time things are going well for me it seems like — he’s kind of discussing the sort of Damocles and the idea of the other shoe dropping and he’s worried just that the good times will end.

John: Yeah. If I had a criticism of the movie up to this point is that I haven’t had a very good perspective on what he wants. And I know he has a job. I know he has this beautiful wife — or not wife — girlfriend. This is one of the few moments where he’s talking about his inner life, but we don’t get a lot. And it would be better to see sort of what his flaws are before this moment. But, movies only have so much time.

Craig: Well, that’s true. And I would also say that I’m not sure how I would have done it differently, because in the way the movie is going to work we know that what he’s going to want is such a big want. I want to save the woman I love from a terrible end, that that would dwarf anything that comes before it. And so what he’s expressing here is an inability to just be happy with what he has.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I think that that’s a nice thing to do for a character that’s going to lose everything and then appreciate even the smallest thing, like being able to just touch the person you love.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I thought that was a good choice actually.

John: So, 13 minutes in is where we have our iconic pottery scene.

Craig: [laughs] Right.

John: And so what’s so funny, obviously everyone knows this scene. But watching it again, I had never realized how incredibly phallic it was. Because I always think about it being like sort of sexual touchy, but you realize she’s crafting a giant penis in front of her.

Craig: That’s right. Uh-huh.

John: And then the penis will collapse.

Craig: Yeah. What she’s doing is she’s jerking him off in this scene.

John: Yes. She is. And the young me did not recognize that.

Craig: No. I don’t think young me recognized it either, [laughs]. But in watching it now, it couldn’t be more obvious. She’s masturbating him. But, so a very — there’s just so much about this scene that’s fascinating to me.

Okay, first of all, again, does absolutely nothing to move the plot forward. And when we talk about rules and how rules are rules until they’re not rules, this is a great example. This doesn’t move the plot forward. It doesn’t even really move the information of their relationship forward because we already know he loves her. Or, he may be conflicted in not being able to express it, but he certainly likes her a lot. They’ve moved in. They’ve been hugging and kissing.

So, what is this for? And ultimately it’s for a feeling. It is a scene that evokes something that is more than just information. It makes me believe that these two people are soul mates.

John: Well, the moment is actually genuinely cinema. It’s not just story. It’s the thing that can only be captured by sight and sound and the great music playing underneath it. It’s all those things put together as a package.

And reading this on the page would not have anywhere near the impact of seeing these two attractive people rubbing their hands all over this clay and being intimate with that song playing. It is truly a cinematic moment.

Craig: It’s gorgeously done. I love what she’s wearing. It’s so sexy. You know, that kind of like overall but no shirt underneath. It’s great. And the music — when you get a song like this, and it doesn’t happen often. This is an old song, Unchained Melody, had been around forever. It was from the ’50s. And yet it was one of those “what’s old is new again” songs. I love the way that they have the old style jukebox moving the record around, which is gorgeous.

But, a song like that you get like I Will Always Love You, from The Bodyguard, My Heart Will Go On, from Titanic — it’s just one of those things that is so right for the moment that the movie becomes defined by it, you know?

John: 100 percent. And so sometimes they’re songs. Sometimes they are poses. Sometimes they’re just little snippets. I mean, Flashdance, she pours the water down on herself. That’s the iconic image from it. It’s not that it was the one sheet, but it sort of had to be the one sheet, because that is the thing sort of encapsulates what the experience of the movie is. And the pottery/clay moment is that moment here. And it’s interesting because if you look at the posters for it, a lot of times it’s like Patrick Swayze all glowy, but that’s not really what the movie is about. It’s about the two of them, and touching is what you want to see them be able to do, because of course we’re about to take away their ability to touch each other.

Craig: And, again, you could play the what would the studio executive say game, and they would probably say, “Well, yeah, but this should end in a fight. Somehow move the story, Make a change in this.”

But, no, this scene is why the movie works. I really believe that in my heart. We would not care so much if we didn’t see the two of them actually have sex without having sex. And it’s like great sex. It’s great movie sex. It’s spectacular. And it’s the buy-in for women, for men, for anybody that knows what passion is, this is the thing that gets your heart pumping for these two characters so that when they are rendered asunder it matters.

John: Yup. Immediately after this scene it is daytime and we’re going to a new plot moment. So, like we’ve had our love and now it’s plot. We are close in on a green CRT monitor and someone is trying to access an account. And stuff has been changed. And so this is where Patrick Swayze suddenly looks like, wait, something is wrong. There’s too much money in this account. He has to change the codes on things. So, he’s going to fix this thing and he’s going to tell Carl, huh, I’m going to have to stay late tonight to figure out what is wrong with these codes.

Craig: Right. And Carl is asking, oh, I could do it for you. No, no, I’ll do it. No suspicion there whatsoever. I don’t think we’ll ever understand, we’re ever made to understand why there is extra money in the account, where it came from.

John: Yeah. The sort of thrown away explanation is that Carl is laundering drug money. And so whoever the people are, they’re incredibly dangerous. But, we never see them. They never become a real threat. Apparently they’re enough of a threat to Carl that Carl is willing to do terrible things. But, we don’t know this yet.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the fact that we never see them is probably a good thing because it would just end up being a guy. Carl’s plan to use these accounts to launder money is not a particularly good one if it could be that easily discovered, plus in order to launder the money I would think you would need to be able to actually move money around, which he doesn’t have the ability to do. So, there’s a lot of issues with that and we don’t care.

John: We don’t care.

Craig: No.

John: It’s one of those things where it has to be — it’s movie logic. Do you believe that it could kind of happen? Yeah. Is it crucial to your understanding? Nah.

Craig: I mean, yeah, it’s like one of those things where, well, it’s possible that if you work for the SEC this movie just wouldn’t work for you, but most of us don’t. And we understand essentially that there’s a crime going on here and it doesn’t flout logic, it’s simply leaving things out. Essentially the movie is saying you don’t need to know.

John: Many science fiction stories sort of do that sort of shorthand with science where it’s like, okay, we’re skipping over 15 steps and because we’re skipping over all these things it’s actually impossible, but most people say like, “Yeah, that feels good enough.” And that’s what it probably feels like to anyone who has any sort of accounting background. It’s like, wait, no, no, that’s impossible. And yet…yeah. Because it’s not important.

Because what’s going to happen next is that Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore are walking through their dangerous neighborhood. A guy comes up to them, insists on his wallet. He’s going to hand it over, but a scuffle breaks out and suddenly Patrick Swayze is collapsed to the ground.

Craig: Right.

John: He gets up. He chases after the guy. And as he returns he sees Demi Moore huddled over his body and he is not himself.

Craig: Right. So, a good misdirection here. There’s a struggle. We’re on Demi Moore when we hear a gunshot go off. And then the next thing we see is the bad guy running away, followed by Patrick Swayze chasing him. We presume in that moment perhaps the gun just didn’t hit anyone and was just a random.

But then when Patrick Swayze comes back, he experiences something on his face and then we see what he’s experiencing. That’s the way to write movies like this, I think, so that everything is through the perspective of a character and we’re watching them absorb this. And this is the first moment where I was so grateful that the movie said what would people actually do. You know? What would they actually do?

And what they would actually do is spend a lot of time doing nothing except watching and feeling what’s happened to them. And that’s exactly what this movie does. A great choice by Bruce Joel Rubin.

John: Yeah. So, a moment of glorious light comes. Patrick Swayze has the opportunity to follow that light and leave, but he does not want to leave. And so he stays with Demi Moore. And ends up in the hospital, which is where we’re getting a little bit more of the sense of the rules behind things.

Craig: A little bit, yeah. So, what we see is that another person dies and he goes into the light. So we understand that that’s an option. And Patrick Swayze encounters another ghost, so we know he’s not the only one. Which, again, you’d think like, well, okay, there’s this other ghost that shows up. He’s like an old Jewish man. It’s played for comedy, which I love by the way that it’s played for comedy.

But it’s a very smart choice. It’s not just a random thing. Because these are the little questions that sometimes we forget to ask when we’re writing a movie. We know the movie is about a ghost and da-da-da. Well, here’s a question: is he the only one?

John: Yup. Can ghosts talk to each other? Can anyone see ghosts? Can ghosts walk through things? Yes. But it’s not easy and it’s not necessarily easy to walk through things. They can’t magically appear places. They actually have to travel and walk places.

Craig: Right. And all of those things are answered in the scene without really being expository. It’s a very different kind of scene than what we saw, for instance, in Beetlejuice, where they go into a place and someone delivers a whole bunch of exposition to them. They literally sit at a desk and are told things.

This is much more impressionistic. Somebody just sits down and just starts talking to them, an old man starts talking to Sam as if he’s known him his whole life. Says a bunch of things that are cryptic and yet informative. And then he’s gone.

John: Yeah. So we see another patient die. The patient goes up into the glorious light. The old man says, “Oh, it’s better than the other way.”

Craig: Right.

John: So the sense of like, oh okay, so there is a heaven and a hell concept in this universe. A guy with a gurney walks right through Sam and it’s horrifying, because he sees sort of all inside the body. And then we’re not rushing the plot ahead. We’re not — Sam’s not looking for his killer. He’s just sort of hanging out with his wife.

Craig: He’s doing exactly what somebody would do. The whole point is I’m not ready to move on, and by the way, I don’t believe in any of this baloney, but it’s fun for the movie. He’s not ready to move on, so what would you do? You would stay there and just stare at your girlfriend while she cries. And that’s exactly what he does.

And by doing that, our heart already starts to go — because we’ve put ourselves in our shoes. And every person in the audience was imagining this with their partner. Guaranteed.

John: So, we are — this is classically the end of the first act, start of the second act. And this is sort of where you would expect this to be time wise in the movie. We’re about 30 minutes in. And so Patrick Swayze is dead. He is in this new land of being a dead person and sort of having to learn new rules which is what it’s like to be a ghost among these living people and what other ghosts are like.

He is looking at his life from the outside, so he sees his beautiful girlfriend going through his stuff. He sees his best friend there to help her out. He is sad. He’s lonely. He’s despondent. Demi Moore is sad, and lonely, and despondent. And neither is able to help the other one.

Craig: Exactly right. And we feel it and we buy it, we believe it. We have absorbed with ease the supernatural incursion. And we’re perfectly happy.

John: One bit of rule logic we’ve encountered is that their cat is able to sense him. And so the cat knows that Sam is around and does not like it one bit. So the cat will hiss and snarl at him. This becomes important because Demi Moore and Carl, or Molly and Carl go off, leave the house. They leave Sam in the apartment. And the guy who killed Sam shows up at the apartment. He’s going through things.

So, suddenly we are back in a thriller. This is actually a point of danger. Who is this person? Who is this person who is in our house. Molly comes back. She is now in danger. He is powerless to keep her from being in danger.

Craig: Right.

John: And that sense of really emasculation is incredibly frustrating. So, he’s able to use the cat to scare off the intruder, but it’s the first sense that the A plot has not ended because he’s dead.

Craig: Right. So, obviously some big information is learned here. The person that mugged him and killed him was not just a mugger. Something else is going on. He was- – this was intentional. And if you haven’t at this point already figured out that Tony Goldwyn is involved, your brain isn’t functional well because, again, he’s the only other character in the movie. Who else could it be.

But the emasculation you describe, that’s dead on. And a lot of what’s going to happen now is watching someone be frustrated their inability to save the person they love. And this is a very lovely escalation because when you die that’s enormous, right? That’s a huge problem. How do you top that?

Well, I’ll tell you how you top it. You’re going to have to sit there and watch the person you love mourn you. Oh my god. Well, how do you top that? Ah-ha, you’re going to have to watch passively as somebody tries to hurt them.

John: Yes.

Craig: And that’s a great escalation. I mean, talk about how do you escalate something that’s already fairly well escalated? And, of course, the wonderful concept of stakes comes into play. When you have a movie where your hero is dead and cannot die what are the stakes? Somebody that he loves dying.

John: Yup. Just thinking aloud here, I mean, if you look at this first half of the movie as basically being the emasculation of Patrick Swayze’s character. It’s all about sort of like he’s bringing this big statue into his apartment, building this clay phallus that collapses. He’s being killed. He is powerless to stop this person from hurting his girlfriend. And he’s giving chase to this guy who he can’t even sort of stop.

So, it’s a frustrating thing. And I think you’re exactly right. You would think like, well, there can’t be anything worse than dying. It’s like, oh yeah, there actually can be something worse than dying. It’s dying and being powerless to fix the things around you.

Craig: Mm-hmm. And this is also where I think when you talk about a movie that makes what the equivalent of today’s billion dollars, you don’t make a billion dollars off of one gender or the other. This is where I think men are watching this movie and completely involved.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because there’s this protective instinct that has been — either it is innate or it is a gender role and a construct. I don’t care. All I know is that it’s there. And this is tweaking that in men. This protective instinct and the inability to protect is enough, I think, to make every man in the theater lean forward in their seat and be involved.

John: Yes. So, in giving chase to this guy who invaded his apartment, he goes into the subway. And so one of the weird rules of this movie is like he can take the subway to get around places. And it’s on the subway that he meets another ghost, a really crazy sort of aggressive ghost, Vincent Schiavelli.

Craig: Vincent Schiavelli.

John: We’re not sure [how to pronounce].

Craig: Well, Schiavelli would be the proper Italian pronunciation.

John: But we’ll see how he pronounces it.

Craig: Yes.

John: If he’s still alive. I have no idea.

Craig: He is not alive, sadly.

John: Sadly.

Craig: No, he died actually fairly young. Vincent Schiavelli’s character emerges here. And this is maybe my favorite scene in the movie and it’s very, very short. And it’s followed by another Vincent Schiavelli scene later, which is terrific, but I love this scene. I love the way that Rubin did it.

So, up until this point it’s been fairly procedural. Our ghost is wandering around, following people, and we understand that in some ways he has this omniscience. He can be anywhere and hear anything. But on the other hand he has this powerlessness. He can’t actually touch things or move things or impact the physical world around him. So, it’s an interesting collision of ability and disability.

He’s following this guy, but for what? What could he possibly be able to do? Well, he’s following him because he wants to know the truth, I suppose. And he’s on this train and we are completely in that moment and then suddenly out of nowhere this other ghost starts screaming at him in the most frightening way, “Get off my train,” and it’s frightening.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And he pushes our guy, not only pushes him off the train, but as he pushes him off the train breaks physical glass, which is making us think, wait a second, perhaps there’s more that ghosts can do. Tonally speaking, it was a reminder for me in this movie that we’re dealing with serious stuff and potentially very scary stuff. And Vincent Schiavelli is so — his face is frightening. The way he yells at him is frightening. The whole thing is creepy and it’s very Bruce Joel Rubin. It’s the closest scene in this movie to the sort of creepy stuff we see a lot of in Jacob’s Ladder.

John: Yes. So, following the subway moments, we get to the mugger’s apartment where the mugger is on his phone, his sort of powder blue classic rotary phone, which is so great. It’s one of those things like your daughter would see it, it’s like, “But what is he talking on?” Oh, that’s a phone. Phones used to look like that before the iPhone 6.

And so he’s saying, he’s calling someone and saying, “I wasn’t able to get it,” and basically letting us know that he wasn’t a random — obviously we knew it wasn’t a random thing because it’s the same guy from before, but he’s in cahoots with somebody. And who that person he’s in cahoots with, that’s the question.

Craig: It’s probably the other character in the movie.

John: [laughs] Exactly. There’s almost no one left. And so –

Craig: There’s no one left.

John: And so if you were to add in, because I was thinking like sort of how do you put in a red herring there. I wonder if there is some way to take the character who is the banker, who is going to show up later in the story that Whoopi Goldberg has to deal with. If you could somehow bring him into the story earlier on, like somebody who is fulfilling that function so you think like, oh, there’s another person who it could be.

Craig: I’m with you 100 percent. That’s the way to do it. You take that guy and you put him in the beginning of the movie as a jerk. As a bad guy. And he should be a bad guy. He’s just not a criminal but he’s a jerk. And he’s sleazy. And there’s something off about him. And we just assume it’s him and it’s not him at all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You need, I mean, this movie really could have used that red herring because when the big reveal comes it’s such a, well yeah.

John: Well, yeah. There’s no, “Oh my god.” Even in the moment I’m sure it didn’t have that kind of impact.

Craig: No, we’re literally out of people that have names [laughs] by the time we get to that.

John: Another sort of small criticism, there are a lot of like single use characters in this. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but like Stephen Root shows up as a police detective and, well, he gets one scene.

Craig: Yeah, he shows up in one scene. And curiously in that scene he is accompanied by a female cop who has I think one line, which I don’t know, maybe they were doing somebody a SAG favor and then that was it. It just didn’t need to happen.

Although, because I know David and Jerry, I know that for instance the woman at the bank who — we’ll get to Oda Mae — does her signature card with, that’s their mother. And she’s always in –

John: That’s awesome.

Craig: She actually does a very fine acting job I have to say.

John: No, she’s great. I have zero complaints. And so that’s not a blanket dismissal of using characters and then never seeing them again. That’s completely good and valid. I just felt like there was an opportunity to take one of these characters from later in the story, pull them back earlier, and let them be useful in your story.

Craig: I agree. It would have helped.

John: So, one of the things I found fascinating, which I hadn’t remembered until rewatching the movie, is that Patrick Swayze encounters Oda Mae, this is Whoopi Goldberg’s character — well, first off, he encounters her quite late in the story. We are about 40 minutes into the story before Whoopi Goldberg’s character shows up. And it’s just location coincidence. It’s right across the street from the mugger.

And you say like, well, that’s just really convenient, but it ends up becoming very, very useful because later on in the story she’s in danger because she’s right across the street from the mugger.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, it’s one of those things where it feels convenient in the time that you first introduce it, but then it ends up having a plot consequence that’s actually genuinely helpful.

Craig: So, Oda Mae Brown is this fascinating character. And, again, the confluence of good choices. Physics in movies, I mean, look, they could have just gone the easy way and he gets in touch with a psychic and so forth, but she’s a fraud.

She’s not only a fraud. She’s a fraud with a backstory. She’s a fraud, but her mother, and her mother, and her mother who we presume before her, the whole line was supposedly had the shining as they say. And she doesn’t. She’s never had it. She’s a complete fraud until suddenly she can hear Sam. And they play it for comedy. And we believe it because, again, they let Oda Mae, they let Whoopi Goldberg react as somebody actually would. And they let her play it.

Everybody in this movie is constantly denying the call to action as cowards would and then finally getting pushed into it reluctant. Everyone feels like a reluctant hero to some regard.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that was a great choice because we believed it. We also then understood that she had absolutely no idea how to navigate this.

John: Yeah. So, I think Whoopi Goldberg is fantastic in the movie. I think it’s a really good character. Looking back at the reviews at the time, and sort of the reviews since that time, there’s criticism that her character sort of falls into the magical negro problem. And very quickly summarized, it’s when you have an African American character in a story whose function is to sort of help the white people do their things and sometimes teach them a wise, valuable lesson. But they’re supposed to put their entire life on hold to help the white people.

And you can level that to Oda Mae Brown, but I think she actually transcends it in ways that are really interesting. She seems — she wants her own things. We don’t know her whole life, but she didn’t just show up at the start of the movie to help the white person. She would have had a whole story if Patrick Swayze had never entered into that room.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t think she fits. I think that she fits only nominally in that she is African American and she is magical, which you would think would be enough to fit the checkboxes of the magical negro stereotype. But, she isn’t magical. The point is that she’s not magical until this moment. And so that surprises her as much as it surprises him.

She clearly has her own volition. She does not exist to serve this guy, and in fact, doesn’t want to. And is continually convinced to continue to help him because she’s in danger. She makes choices based on what is good for her. Granted, she’s presented as a kind of sexless woman living a spinster life with her sisters, which is — that is magical negro territory. But she’s not particularly wise. She’s not coddling this character. She doesn’t particularly like him for most of the movie.

What I was struck by, actually, was how different her performance was here than what we would come to see from Whoopi Goldberg as her career went on. And interestingly, I found at times that when she was doing some of the comic runs that at times she seemed like she was copying Eddie Murphy a little bit. Certain Eddie Murphy intonations and moves that she was doing, because he was like at the height of his powers.

And it felt like she was kind of doing some Eddie Murphy stuff here and there, particularly just the way she would say certain words, or kind of pull a couple of things. But so much of it then is her own deal and it is that — she is a unique character. And watching her relationship with him develop is one of the pleasures of the movie.

And one last thing. Another argument against magical negro-hood for this character of Oda Mae Brown is that she gets something from him. And that is a realization that she actually is more than she thought she was.

John: And that in helping people, ultimately she’s going to help not only him but sort of other ghosts who need to contact the living, she has a purpose to her life, which is a good thing as well.

Craig: Yes.

John: One of the other things that’s remarkable about her performance, which you sort of can easily forget because she does it so well, is that the rules of the movie is she doesn’t see him. She can only hear him. And so whenever they’re having a conversation, she has no eye contact with him. And so we have to believe that she’s hearing him and yet not seeing him and being fully engaged with the people around her instead.

And she does that incredibly well and that’s not a simple thing.

Craig: No it’s not. It’s completely believable. And you have to give Jerry credit for keeping everybody on point there with that and moving Patrick Swayze around so that Whoopi’s eye line doesn’t change, but Patrick’s position changes quite a bit. It’s done very, very well.

You know, occasionally the shtick between them gets a little recycled.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: She has a tendency too often to go to the well of the joke of I’m talking to you in front of somebody else who doesn’t know that you’re there, so I sound crazy.

But by and large it feels natural.

John: Yes.

Craig: And so it doesn’t grate.

John: If I were to have a — this is a terrible thing to say about an actor who is no longer here with us, Patrick Swayze’s character I feel is better than Patrick Swayze’s performance. And watching this again, there were moments where I could imagine, wow, a different actor, that could land better than it did right there. He felt sometimes just a little light for the movie.

Craig: I agree. And it is — listen, never speak ill of the dead. This, at times, he was not able to convey what I would call the most convincing agony. He struggled with the agony part. The confidence part, the romantic part, nailed it. The agony at times felt a little forced.

Now, interestingly with Demi Moore, let’s talk about her performance for a second. It’s not screenplay stuff but… — So, I mean, a couple of moments here and there where, okay, particularly when he died she seemed a little too dead for the moment. But, throughout the movie she actually does what I think is a terrific job of quietly expressing this grief. And she cries better in this movie than just about any actor I’ve ever seen in any movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s about seven times where she very naturally produces like two or three tracks of parallel tears from her eyes, moving at like a perfect uneven — it’s gorgeous.

John: Her tears have this amazing viscosity of sort of how they fall. It really is remarkable.

Craig: It’s amazing. And she’s so beautiful. And I love her hair in the movie. And I talk with Lindsay Doran all the time about hair. Because Lindsay, you know, her whole thing is, you know, all the stuff that we do, if it’s bad hair the movie is dead. She’s got great hair in the movie. Much better than his hair. And her crying is just like, it’s so good. It’s hard to do that.

John: Have you met Demi Moore at all?

Craig: No, never met her.

John: So, my only experience with her was for the second Charlie’s Angels. And so while we were writing the first Charlie’s Angels I said if we ever make a sequel, the villain is, her name is Madison Lee and it has to be Demi Moore playing an angel from the ’80s. And everyone was like absolutely that’s what’s going to happen.

And so then we got Demi Moore and it was great. And so I had a meeting with her over at the Peninsula Hotel with McG and it was on my birthday I just remember because it was my birthday. And we were just sitting around the Peninsula Hotel and she managed to drink like three large Starbucks coffees. She’s just a person who drinks a lot of coffee.

But she’s really — she’s really cool and fascinating. She was ultimately I think, because it was at the time of the Bruce Willis — she had split from Bruce Willis. She was there with Ashton Kutcher. She ended up overshadowing the movie in ways that wasn’t helpful. But she’s still kind of great. And in the right things she’s an amazing actress.

Craig: Someone once said, I don’t know who said this. Ted Elliott told me this, but I can’t remember who he was quoting, that we don’t cry when we see actors crying. We cry when we see actors trying to not cry.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: And when she’s crying, she’s trying to not cry. You can tell. So, it’s so real and so all that’s sort of — all you’re getting are the two tears that slop over the resistance, which is just beautiful. I mean, she just does such a good job. All right.

John: All right. So, we’re 47 minutes into the movie and Patrick Swayze has convinced Whoopi Goldberg to go to my apartment, tell my girlfriend what it is and I will tell you things that only I will know. And so this is a moment that happens. Whoopi Goldberg is yelling up to the apartment. Demi Moore finally comes down. Says Sam’s here. I’ve got this information.

And Demi believes him. I mean, Molly’s character does seem to believe that this is real in this moment.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so if everything had gone exactly this way, the movie would be over. Well, actually, Patrick Swayze doesn’t actually have information. Doesn’t know how her life is in danger. Just saying her life is in danger.

Craig: Yeah. There’s still this plot that’s going on. But what we’re playing now is this reconnection between these two. And this is where I think Roger Ebert lost his mind in his review where he was complaining that, “Well, this is what people do when they’re dead? They come back and start telling people about what shirt they were wearing to prove that they’re really there?” Yeah. I think so. That’s probably what they would do, because they care about the people they love and they want them to know that they’re still there and they’re trying to warn them that they’re in danger. Yeah. It’s totally okay. I love this stuff. I think it’s great.

I mean, and by the way, absolutely necessary. I won’t like her if I think she’s just a nut that naturally believes in ghosts. I only like her if she’s convinced. Similarly, she becomes unconvinced when Tony Goldwyn’s character kind of does a number on her, and then also Stephen Root shows her that Oda Mae is basically a criminal. She’s a fraud with a record. And so, yeah, of course this is emotionally you’re going to be caught between wanting to — am I fool for believing this? Or am I fool for not believing this? It’s a very normal, Demi Moore plays it perfectly. I believed it the whole way. And so enough with these critics who don’t understand how the human mind works, frankly, or the heart.

Because, again, I’ll just point to a billion dollars of people loving this movie. I mean, it’s just.

John: Yeah, people who love it. Another example of how this movie feels like it’s missing a character is like Demi Moore has no friends. It does feel a little bit strange that like there’s no one else she can turn to for help other than the guy who is ultimately going to be the villain of the story, Carl, who comes by, very deliberately spills off his coffee, and takes off his shirt.

Craig: He does. So, here he’s going to do the seduction. But you’re making a very interesting point. This is under-populated movie in a large sense. As we’ve said, the movie opens on three characters. We’re going to add a fourth character in Oda Mae. And that’s it. There’s the bad guy, Willie Lopez, who is just, you know, he’s just a bad guy. He’s not a real character.

And there’s no one else in the movie.

John: Yeah. And this may be partly why it’s so successful.

Craig: I was going to say that. Exactly. Because really the movie is boiling down a certain kind of tragedy to its barest essence. It’s just mainlining it into your veins. There’s no reason for funerals. You know what I mean? There’s no funeral, no burial. Oh, there is, I’m sorry.

John: Oh, there’s a burial, yeah.

Craig: You’re right. They did a quick funeral and burial. And actually a very beautiful moment where this one ghost sort of smiles at him and walks off, which I loved. But there’s no like we don’t — all the people at that burial, we never meet them again. Although one of them is Jerry’s sister I know. [laughs] So, the Zuckers show up. The entire family always shows up.

But it’s under-populated for a reason and I kind of think it works that way. It’s very atavistic. This is the romantic man. This is the romantic woman. This is the snake. And this is the sage, I guess, you know. This is the wise — even though I’m now going against my whole thing about how she wasn’t that wise, but regardless.

So, now, in order to crank this thing up yet even more, not only is Tony Goldwyn a murderer who is placing her in danger, he’s now also seducing her sexually which is just like — and poor Patrick Swayze has to watch.

John: Yes.

Craig: And now he realizes –

John: This is the hell he’s in.

Craig: And now because the stakes have been ratcheted up even more, and because the frustration is ratcheted up even more, he now pays off my favorite scene in the movie. He goes and he finds Vincent Schiavelli.

John: Well, importantly, before he goes to find Vincent Schiavelli, he’s so angry that he dives across and ends up knocking a photo off.

Craig: Yes.

John: And so it’s the first time where he’s actually been able to affect the physical world. And there’s a light bulb moment like, wait, this is something I can do.

Craig: It’s something I can do, but I can’t reliably do it.

John: Yeah. How do I do it?

Craig: I don’t know how I just did that. How do I — wait a second, where have I seen that before? That’s right, that lunatic ghost on a train who scared the hell out of all of us and this is Bruce Joel Rubin. This whole thing with Vincent Schiavelli is so Bruce Joel Rubin to me.

John: So this would the training montage. In other movies this would be sort of like the wax on/wax off, this is how you do your thing. There’s that moment that I think Patrick Swayze does a really good job with, because it suits his physicality really well. And so he’s learning how to move things, how to make things as a ghost affect the world around him.

So, kicking the can, hitting the signs. He’s gradually learning how to touch things.

Craig: Right. And I like that the movie makes a choice to reduce him down to this very, very tiny thing. You’re going to be able to just now move things around in small ways, but we’re going to force you to go through that. We’re going to start with a bottle cap and work our way up to bigger things. But, of all the scenes, I think this is the one that may be the most useful to consider for those of you who are screenwriting and getting into screenwriting and trying to make your scripts better.

Here’s a ghost, an angry ghost, who tells you, okay, if you want to learn, you stubborn son-of-a-bitch, I’ll teach you how. You have to focus all of your anger and emotion and then you push the thing. And Patrick Swayze pushes a thing and it’s a success. Good job. That could be pretty much the end of the scene. I think a lot of people would have ended it there and Vincent Schiavelli would have said, “All right, kid, go get ‘em.”

That’s not how it ends at all. How it ends is that Patrick Swayze asks him have you been here, how long have you been here. And suddenly Vincent Schiavelli makes this angry speech about he was pushed and he was pushed onto a track in front of a train. And Patrick Swayze says, “You were pushed?” And Vincent Schiavelli says, “What? You don’t believe me? You think I jumped? You think I jumped!”

And you realize, oh man, this is what happens to you if you never resolve your life.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He obviously did jump. He can’t handle the fact that he killed himself, and now he’s stuck here forever. And that is scary stuff.

John: So, the lesson, I think, the take home for this is obviously the purpose of the scene is to teach Patrick Swayze how to do these things. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that the scene needs to only be about that, or has to end there. It should have some other secondary story purpose as well.

So, not just functional, but really fill in the sort of tonal details, the themes of your piece. And ending it that way is exactly the right choice there.

Craig: Yeah. You can feel everything coming together and working hand in hand here. It’s not enough to give your character a tool. When we watch movies and somebody goes somewhere and someone says, “Here is the blade of blah, blah, blah that will slay the dragon,” and you walk out of the cave with it you think, oh, well, good. I’m glad I got the blade of blah, blah, blah. Was there anything else there except that you needed him to go get the blade of blah, blah, blah?

Well, this is that scene. He’s going to basically be taught how to move stuff around, but then you get this thing that impacts his understanding of his own circumstances and does so in a tragic way. And the tragedy of failure here as relayed through Vincent Schiavelli’s character is palpable. And it’s disturbing. And it’s exactly right. It’s so smart the way that Rubin wrote that and Vincent Schiavelli — it’s the performance everybody remembers. He was a character actor that was in so many things, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I think a lot of people remembered him from that. But this one, this is the one I think people remember and always will.

John: The other nice thing about sending off his character that way is we don’t ever expect to see him again in the movie. So, it’s a nice way to like that was his moment, he’s gone, he’s done, let’s keep going with our guy.

Craig: That’s right. And thank god the imaginary studio executive that we keep proposing didn’t exist, because that person would have said, “And then at the end of the movie can we see him come back and he’s happy now and he goes into the light?” No.

John: No.

Craig: [laughs] No we can’t.

John: So, Patrick Swayze now with the ability to move things goes to find Oda Mae Brown and Oda Mae Brown has a very crowded room because a bunch of other ghosts have shown up now because with her ability to really see ghosts and talk with ghosts now, a bunch of ghosts want her help to contact their loved ones.

Craig: Yeah. Exactly. And she’s frustrated with this whole thing. And this is a scene where we learn some information. One of those ghosts occupies her body and it’s funny. We do bits, you know, again, this is an Oda Mae bit.

But when he falls out of her body, he’s on the floor, he can’t get up.

John: Exhausted.

Craig: He’s exhausted. And another character says, “Don’t you know that occupying bodies wears you out, and that’s not good.” That was a not good moment where somebody just announced a rule that we just saw. And announced it in a way where we thought, right, so Patrick Swayze will be doing that later and it’s going to be a problem.

John: It’s hanging a little lantern on that.

Craig: And I’ve got to say, also, not necessary.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think if we had never seen that happen and if she had just said, “Why don’t you come into my body and let’s try this,” and he had done it, and then been exhausted from it we would have just assumed it’s part of it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It just didn’t need it.

John: I agree. We can’t sneak in there and cut it out of the movie.

Craig: Well, no, we could.

John: We could. Totally can.

Craig: I spent time with Jerry and David and Jim talking about how they were re-cutting Top Secret!

John: Good.

Craig: Yeah, maybe we can re-cut this, too. [laughs] Just get rid of that line.

John: So, meanwhile Carl Bruner is back in the really boring office and he’s freaking out. He’s sweating. He’s on the phone and he’s got to get that money. He’s got to get that money transferred. He has a plan for transferring that money which involves putting it in this other account and he’s going to open an account with this other name. So, that plot is still happening. But things are ticking.

Craig: Yeah. So, here’s where, I mean, at this point in the movie you would imagine the plot sort of starts to take over. And it does. And it’s all fine. It works out well. Basically, he goes to the apartment, gets the code that he was looking for. You know, a little convenient that he just walks in, opens a box gets it. But fine. He then follows instructions to put the money an account under the name Rita Miller. And that he’s going to transfer it at this certain time. And, of course, Patrick Swayze is there to hear it, so when he goes to Oda Mae he’s able to say, look, I have a plan.

And their plan is simple. And, again, it involves comedy. Pose as Rita Miller and following the instructions I’m going to be whispering into your ear, go ahead and essentially withdraw all that money so that Carl won’t have it and then he’s going to face a terrible end. And that’s exactly what happens.

John: And what is fascinating about this moment is that it’s played as comedy. There’s suspense in the sense of like will she get found out, but race underlies all this as well. So, not only is she really flamboyantly dressed, but she’s this black woman impersonating a presumably white person, or fictitious person, in this all white establishment bank.

This is a case where like the bank really looks like a bank. You know, that stock office didn’t look like a good stock office, but this totally feels like a bank, and a big old, fussy bank. And she is the bull in the china shop in the ways you sort of want her to be in this comedy/suspense moment.

Craig: Yeah. And this is the scene where I felt most like she was kind of doing a version of Eddie Murphy because it felt very Beverly Hills Cop. A black guy in the middle of wealthy white territory kind of flimflamming them and with sort of a fast talking attitude and getting away with it, but it works.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, it works. It’s the funniest stuff in the world, but there’s so much charm to her, you know. It’s remarkable how charm can get you by. And she’s so goodhearted. You can just tell, like the character and Whoopi Goldberg herself is just so goodhearted about it. There’s a wonderful moment where she smiles this beautiful smile and it just makes the whole scene work.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think it’s to Jerry Zucker’s mom, I think. She just smiles this great smile.

John: So, they’re able to get the money. They get a cashier’s check for the money that was in the account and Whoopi Goldberg thinks she’s rich and Sam convinces her, no, no, you have to give it to the nuns because it’s not your money.

Now, I don’t think you would necessarily give it to the Catholic Church.

Craig: [laughs] And that actually did feel very Jerry Zucker to me. The idea of nuns. Those guys have always found nuns funny. And just the idea of nuns on the street somehow representing the best use of a $4 million charitable donation. But, you know, it’s a little dated. The moment is dated. And there’s a button on it that is, you know, you can see coming a billion miles away. But, again, it’s charm. You know, there’s just a charm to it.

John: Yes. Well, with the money withdrawn, Tony Goldwyn’s character is not happy. He’s looking at this monitor and all the money is gone. And he’s going to smash his monitor. Now, that monitor probably cost $3,000 in those days.

Craig: And incredibly expensive 10-inch green CRT monitor. But in this scene now, finally it appears that Sam Wheat has full possession of his Vincent Schiavelli learned powers. And he can knock things around. He can make his presence known and he uses the computer keyboard to let Carl know that he’s there. He says murderer and then his own name — Sam, Sam, Sam, Sam. So, now he’s all confident.

He feels like he’s done it. He’s won. And that carries through when Carl returns to Molly because now he’s freaked out and he wants to know if this is real, is Sam real, what did that lady tell you. And Patrick Swayze is kind of acting out here. He’s pushing him around. He’s proving to Carl that he’s real. And Carl makes this threat basically because now Carl knows that Oda Mae was at the bank and she took the money. And he says to nobody but assuming that Sam is there — I’m going to come back at 11 and if the money isn’t her I’m going to kill her.

So, now, once again, we have that final escalation. And we can feel that the movie is essentially presenting us with our climax. That at 11 o’clock everything will be figured out, for better or for worse, but before 11 o’clock comes Sam knows that the first thing Carl and his henchmen, Willie, are going to try and do is kill Oda Mae and get the money from her.

John: Yup. So this is a very classic sort of screenwriting thing you do is you state a destination or a time. And so you publicly say what needs to happen before this or we are going to this place. And it gives the audience a sense of, okay, I know where we’re headed. I know what to expect. And I can sort of forecast the time ahead of me and therefore the stakes feel increased because there’s a clock ticking.

Craig: Right. So, it’s not particularly great screenwriting to have a character say, “I’m going to come back here in four hours to finish this when I could just probably do it now, or maybe in an hour,” I don’t know why 11 is so important. But one thing that it really provides the audience with is comfort that this is ending. Just so that everybody knows like, okay, if you’ve gotten a little squirmy in your seat, don’t go pee now, this thing is pulling into the station. It’s going to happen. Everybody settle in for the big final showdown.

John: Yes. And this big final showdown is going to happen because Sam is going to have to go get Oda Mae. Oda Mae’s life is in danger. Of course, she lives right across the street from the mugger. The mugger is going to come after her. This is a moment where Sam Wheat gets to use his powers to harass and sort of throw the mugger around. Honestly some very clever sequences where opening doors, closing doors, riding on things, making this guy think that he’s crazy. Ultimately our mugger is going to get hit by a car, smashed, and he will himself die, be a ghost. And then we see what happens to a bad person.

Craig: Right.

John: They get dragged by the shadows into the abyss.

Craig: The Rotoscope shadows. And I have to say as cheese ball as the Rotoscope shadows are, it made me kind of yearn for those days because the more realistic you make those things oddly the less threatening they seem to be. I just find that like perfectly rendered CGI shadow demons are just not as scary somehow. I don’t — isn’t that odd?

But we can’t go back. We can’t show like lame-o Rotoscope shadow demons anymore, so we’re kind of in this weird middle ground. It is interesting that the movie very carefully follows a certain PG-13 ethic of only really bad people murdering. So, for instance, when Carl shows up and meets up with Willie Lopez for the first time in the least climatic reveal of the bad guy ever, he announces that all he intended for Willie to do was just to mug Sam and steal his wallet so that he could get the code. He never meant for him to be killed.

Similarly here, this is a classic movie trope. Good guy chasing bad guy. We want the bad guy to die, but we don’t want the good guy to kill him, so let’s have the bad guy run in front of a car. Which they always do. And he gets killed. But again, they let it play and I like the way they let it play. And they let Willie have his moment.

John: Yes. So, the witching hour has come. Sam and Oda Mae show up at Molly’s house, Molly’s apartment with the news “You in danger, girl.” And this is sort of the iconic moment of, oh, that’s right, she can be possessed. And this is the one moment in which Sam will be able to touch the love of his life.

Craig: Yeah. So, we bring back this little bit of nice foreshadowing. The very beginning of the movie when they break through the wall they find this old jar with an Indian head penny in it. And then sort of in the middle when Molly has had her experience with Oda Mae and then I think she’s already been to the police and they’ve told her that Oda Mae is a fraud and she’s starting to question whether or not any of this is real, she rolls that jar down some stairs where it smashes.

So it’s this idea of like the lucky penny and all the rest of it has kind of been going on through the movie. And here, in order to finally prove to Molly that he’s really there, he has Oda Mae push a penny under the door and he lifts it. And it’s beautiful. It’s just so small. Sometimes when you can focus all of this tragic loss and yearning into something as simple as this penny, and then as the penny is floating across to her, because we see him carrying it. And then the reverse is just the penny floating, because of course he’s invisible in her perspective. And she starts to do that perfect two-tear thing. That’s when I think everybody starts balling for the first time. It won’t be the last time in this climax.

John: Yeah. The original tag line for Ghost was Believe. And this is belief. I mean, it’s a way of visualizing that sense of even though I can’t physically see this thing in front of me, I believe it’s there. And it’s a way of just cinematically showing something that you cannot otherwise see.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, it’s love. It’s faith. But belief is sort of the combination of the two of them here. And so it’s a single shot in which the penny floats in towards her face. And, again, I’m watching this right now. She’s got the perfectly –

Craig: Perfect.

John: Viscous tears that are clinging in her eyes.

Craig: And they’re real, by the way. Those aren’t like glycerin. Those are real. You can just tell.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Even if they’re not real, then whoever came up with them is a genius. But they just seem so real to me. I mean, god, it’s so good. So good.

John: So, here’s the trick. You tilt your head up, the tear falls down, and right as it touches the edge of your mouth you sort of taste it a little bit. That’s a great cinematic tear.

Craig: So good. She just is the best crier. And we do believe it here. This is, by the way, one of those moments as a screenwriter that can be very frustrating for us because we see this so clearly. We understand that he will be there, we’ll see him lift the penny, we’ll see him carry the penny, and then we’re going to do a reverse shot — so she’s not in that frame. And then we’re going to come around and then he’s not in the frame that’s on her on her single. And the penny will float to her. And he’s invisible. And I cannot tell you guys how many times we will write scenes like this and people will go, “Wait a second. Why can we see him sometimes? Why can’t we see him other times?”

It’s like oh my god. This is where it gets so frustrating because you know, you’ve seen the movie, you know it works. Of course it works that way.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, I’m so curious to hear if they ran into those kinds of frustrating discussion when they were writing this. Because it’s exactly the way it should be done. It’s gorgeous.

John: Yes. Because what it is, as you’re looking at the moment from Demi Moore’s point of view, that’s why he is not in the frame and the penny is floating by itself. And it’s so obvious.

Craig: So obvious.

John: And yet before you shot the scene, if you were to try to describe it that way, you would encounter resistance.

Craig: You would encounter resistance, confusion. It’s amazing how — look, there’s a skill to screenwriting and directing. And I would imagine that this is where it’s like, okay, if Bruce and Jerry together were like, “No, no, no, we’ve got this. Trust us on this,” everybody would be quiet. But when it’s only a screenwriter, sometimes people are like, “Wait, I don’t get it…”

It’s the worst.

John: Oh, the classic thing I stole from somebody and I say a lot is that you have to remember that as a screenwriter you’re the only person who’s already seen the movie. And so your job is to reflect on the page that movie that you see, but oftentimes you will have to go back many, many times and talk through people so you can make sure you are seeing the same movie that they are seeing.

In this case, clearly Bruce Joel Rubin and Jerry Zucker –

Craig: Well done.

John: Did see the same movie, especially at this one moment which is crucial.

Craig: Yes. So, following this there is this — we’ve been told that they’ve called the police. The police never show up, by the way, because again New York in the late ’80s –

John: [laughs] They’re in a bad neighborhood here, so –

Craig: There’s a bad neighborhood and there’s crack and, you know, they’re busy.

John: So the police never show up, the drug dealers never show up.

Craig: The drug dealers never show up. None of the people that are supposed to show up show up. But, in this pause, he occupies Whoopi Goldberg’s body. She lets him, which is a big deal because she’s starting — now that she knows that these two are together and they believe, you can see her just softening and giving herself up to it.

And in that moment it’s done perfectly. And, again, Roger Ebert completely wrong, felt that this should have been done with — the entire thing should have been done with Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg dancing together and caressing each other’s faces, which is ridiculous.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They did it exactly the right way, which is start with Whoopi’s hand and Demi’s hand intertwining to understand what was happening there. And then to go to a single of Demi, and then bring in actual Patrick Swayze, which we know is — her eyes are closed, which that’s key. That’s what direction is, by the way. That’s great direction. Bad directors would have had her eyes open and then it wouldn’t have made sense. And, by the way, I’m sure that Bruce called that out in the script as well.

And then , so this is her imagination, Roger Ebert. It’s her imagination! That’s why it works.

John: Yeah. It’s her point of view on what the moment is. And that’s crucial.

Craig: Right. Why would we give a damn watching her dancing around with Whoopi Goldberg? That would have been bizarre.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It just would have been so dumb. So, of course, now we’re just crying because finally at last they’re holding each other and they’re together. And, of course, what do they do? He starts playing — and it’s an interesting choice — he starts playing Unchained Melody. That is Jerry starts playing Unchained Melody. And now, what’s the word? Is it like…what’s that…Stochastic? Diacaustic? Diastolic? What’s the word for — ?

John: Oh yeah, when something plays in the scene.

Craig: Right. So the first time we heard the song it was playing on a record in the movie. Now it’s score. It’s imposed from above by god, which is an interesting choice. Regardless, it works. We all just start balling because it’s paying off that moment from before. And we believe it and it’s gorgeous. And then as we knew it happened because of the bad line, [laughs] –

John: I’ll be back at exactly this hour.

Craig: Exactly. He comes back at this hour and the other bad line that says when I fall out of a body I’m weak, he falls out of the body, he’s weak and helpless at the worst time because here comes the bad guy with the gun to chase Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg.

John: Yes. So, the chase goes outside the window up to another level. And I honestly got really confused at the geography because I started feeling like, wait, is this still their apartment? Is this the apartment above them that’s half done up? It felt like the set that I saw originally when they were first moving in. I got a little bit confused about where they actually were in this final sequence.

Craig: I had the same confusion. And I think what’s intended here is that it’s just this building is a lot of those rooms. Like old boarded up rooms. Again, different time in New York when there were just empty lofts available for anybody. But, I think that it was meant to say like, oh no, it’s on a floor above.

So there’s this chase and Tony Goldwyn grabs Whoopi Goldberg and he’s got a gun to her. And I want my money. We already know she doesn’t have it. He doesn’t believe her and he’s going to kill her. And then like Han Solo, here comes Patrick Swayze who has, I guess, gathered up enough of his energy. And he starts slapping Tony Goldwyn around, knocks the gun out of his hand, pushes him backwards. Tony Goldwyn tries to escape, or gets thrown into a window. And, again, I’m going to chase you and then you’re going to get yourself hit by a car –

John: Exactly.

Craig: I’m going to chase Tony Goldwyn and you’re going to get yourself gutted by a falling piece of plat glass which, folks, you really shouldn’t have.

John: You should not have plate glass. There’s a thing we’ve learned in movies. You should not have plate glass.

Craig: Plate glass, super dangerous. You got a put a film on that or replace it with tempered glass. [laughs] But anyway, he dies. He comes out of his body. He sees his friend. Patrick Swayze gives him an “Oh Carl,” like, “Oh, boy, this isn’t go well for you.” And the shadow –

John: The shadow comes and Tony is dragged back by a dolly and then handed over with shadows.

Craig: Dragged back by a dolly, painted over with shadows, and now we get our final moment where Patrick Swayze is okay with going into the light now because he’s done his job. And this is just about the best way to end the movie.

John: Now, it takes a while here. And so I will say that watching this movie again, looking at this ending, so Demi and Whoopi are sort of huddled together. And so Sam comes over. First he talks to Demi. Then he talks to Whoopi. Then he talks to Demi. Then the light comes. And then he goes. And it feels like a stutter step and yet I understand why ultimately they did it. Because you need to wrap up both of those relationships and it feels weird to sort of start with Whoopi.

Craig: Exactly.

John: So you kind of had to do it.

Craig: That was the only way to do it. And, you know what? It was a stutter step but it worked. I mean, there’s a small uncomfortable moment when he turns to Oda Mae and sort of says kind of “I’ll miss you most of all, Scarecrow,” kind of moment. And you think, but your wife. Your almost wife, she’s still there. Why are you talking to Oda Mae, you just met her?

But then he comes back to her and delivers one of the great, I mean, first of all they kiss.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s so gorgeous because you know that they’re not really touching, but they are. And he’s now — now he’s a ghost. He’s not like fake ghost, but he’s like an actual glowy ghost, and she can see him, which is awesome. And they kiss. It’s so romantic and it’s just so right. And they’re committed to being super sentimental about this, which is what it should be.

And then he says this great, great final line, which I just love. “It’s amazing, Molly, the love inside you. You get to take it with you.” Which is a really nice refutation of you can’t take it with you, the idea of the things you can’t take with you, but that you get to take love with you.

And with at line, what he’s saying, and this is why it’s such a great line. Not only is it nice in and of itself, but he’s giving Molly permission and the audience permission to not be sad.

John: Yeah.

Craig: To be happy that he’s going, because he’s taking all this love with him and it’s over. Naturally I feel terrible for whoever the next guy is that has to date the character of Molly Jensen, because how do you beat that?

John: That’s tough.

Craig: It’s tough! But it is the perfect end because he’s giving everybody permission to feel good about the fact that he’s leaving.

John: And he’s walking away into Close Encounters of Third Kind.

Craig: He walks away into Close Encounters of Third Kind, which is appropriate, because the movie is giving that moment dignity. It’s saying this should be awesome because the truth is after all the kooky stuff that’s gone on, we are suggesting that there is some great, beautiful thing waiting for us all. And the movie takes it seriously so that we can take it seriously.

John: Yeah. I agree. And we get the final Demi Moore tears, which are crucial.

Craig: Perfect.

John: Those are perfect. So, this is Ghost. And, you know, it’s so fascinating because I think we’ve — obviously when a movie is this incredibly successful it has an impact that resonates, you know, sort of kind of forever. And we are making movies differently because of this movie.

So, some things you can see in this movie is like, well, that’s obvious, but they weren’t necessarily obvious when Ghost was made.

Craig: Yeah. They’re obvious because Ghost was made. They’re obvious now because Ghost did it. But like I hope that people get a sense from the way we’ve talked about this that there were a hundred ways they could have gone wrong. So, we see what’s right, we don’t see all the ways that it could have been wrong, whether characters weren’t reacting appropriately or at length enough to the moments. Or whether the rules had been discarded. Or whether some scenes had just been sort of on the nose like, here, let me teach you how to move things and not layered in with tragedy and that character being a real character.

All those choices made this thing great. And if there’s a lesson for today, I think it’s this: original movies can make a ton of money.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And this movie was not a book. And it was not a remake. And it was just original to itself and it connected in such a huge way. Romance has been taken over at the box office by YA. And this is an adult romance.

John: Yeah, it is.

Craig: And I would love to see some adult romance come back. I think it’s gorgeous.

John: I would argue that it’s an adult romance, but it’s not — I mean, their love is real and they’re kind of grownups, but they’re also kind of — they’re a little simplified versions of grownups. The same way that the movie feels like there’s not enough people in it. They’re somewhat perfected grownups. I think it’s part of the reason why it is so successful. This feels like a great YA novel before there were great YA novels.

Craig: Yeah, but they’re not teenagers.

John: They’re not teenagers. That’s exactly 100 percent.

Craig: They’re 30 years old in the movie I expect, something like that. They feel like they’re 30 years old. They have jobs and lives. You’re right. They don’t have children. They don’t have friends. They don’t seem to have like — they don’t go to doctor’s appointments or, you know, and they are idealized.

And, you know, it’s funny. As you go back, even 1990 which to you and I, I expect we feel similarly about this, that doesn’t seem like that long ago at all. It is long ago. It’s nearly 25 years ago. And just as movies 25 years before 1990 felt old fashioned and kind of fake, this feels fake in that regard, too. Like they’re not as real as we ask our characters to be now. But unfortunately this overdose of reality has kind of killed romance a little bit in movies.

So, it would be nice to see something like this again, I would think.

John: I agree with you. So, Craig, thank you so much for talking through Ghost with me. This was really fun. It was a good sort of spontaneous suggestion last week. And it’s still a good movie.

Craig: It is. It was fun to watch again. I thought that Jerry and Bruce did great work. The cast did great work. And, by the way, great to see a screenwriter win an Oscar for a movie that at least was partly a comedy.

John: And a movie that was hugely successful. Because so often the screenwriting award kind of goes to this was a really, really good movie that we’re not going to give other awards to, so therefore we’re going to give it to this. So rarely does the most commercially successful movie reward with Best Screenplay.

Craig: Yeah. We used to give Oscars to big Hollywood movies. And now we find that distasteful somehow. We have to give an Oscar to the small Hollywood movie, or the small not-Hollywood movie.

John: Exactly. And we give it to really great movies, but it’s also nice to celebrate great movies that are also huge successes.

Craig: Yeah. Fun. Fun. Good stuff.

John: So that’s our show this week. You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there subscribe and also leave us a comment. We love those. If you would like to listen to all of the back episodes, including the Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Little Mermaid, and Groundhog Day, you can find those at There’s a subscription for $1.99, the premium subscription, that lets you listen to all of those back episodes and bonus episodes. You can also listen to it on the apps for Android and for iPhone.

I think there’s a new iPhone app coming, which would be great because the current iPhone app is not fantastic, but it’s out there.

If you would like to say something to Craig or I, Craig or me –

Craig: Say something. To Craig or me. To Craig or me.

John: I said that aloud. You can write to Craig. He’s at @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Longer questions are at

You can find show notes for the things we talked about at as well. is where you need to go if you’re going to get a t-shirt. Because you should get a t-shirt, because why not get a t-shirt.

Craig: Yeah.

John: While you’re there, we still have a few more of the USB drives which now have the first 150 episodes of Scriptnotes on them.

Craig: Damn.

John: You can buy those all at once if you’d like to. Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. And we have outros every week, so if you want to give us a new outro, just send that to

Craig: Oh, yeah, baby.

John: Hooray.

Craig: Woo-hoo. By the way, this movie was edited by Walter Murch.

John: I know! Isn’t that sort of amazing?

Craig: Amazing.

John: Famous for many other things.

Craig: Many, many other things. Great book, In the Blink of an Eye. I believe it’s called In the Blink of an Eye. A great book on editing by Walter Murch.

John: Yes. He’s also one of the first proponents of Final Cut Pro. And so he was one of the first people to cut features, big features, on Final Cut Pro. Craig, thank you so much. We’ll talk to you next week.

Craig: Thank you, John. Bye.

John: Bye.



Tue, 09/23/2014 - 08:03

Craig loves the 1990 blockbuster Ghost. John? Ditto. Written by Bruce Joel Rubin and directed by Jerry Zucker, Ghost set the template for the modern romantic drama. It was Twilight before Twilight, Titanic before Titanic. It won hearts, weekends and Oscars, including best screenplay.

We tackle Ghost scene-by-scene, imagining all the terrible notes that must have come up in development, and how fixing some of the film’s shortcomings would have created new problems. Ghost isn’t perfect, but it’s remarkably good — and worth taking a closer look.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 162: Luck, sequels and bus money — Transcript

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 15:09

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

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

Craig, did you buy your iPhone last night?

Craig: You know I did, at 12:01.

John: Did you go to Apple or where’d you go?

Craig: Verizon. That’s my secret move.

John: We went to Verizon as well. So we tried the Apple move, it didn’t happen, so we went out on Verizon.

Craig: Apple, even when I went to bed at 1 o’clock –

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Oh, we’re working on our story, we’re going to…” I’m like what is going on with? So did you watch the –

John: The live stream –

Craig: Oh my god.

John: Was just a mess.

Craig: Did you do it through Apple TV?

John: We did both through Apple TV and also streaming through the computer, yeah.

Craig: On the web. Okay, so I didn’t even bother with the website. I just went down to Apple TV.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When it finally started to work –

John: It was beautiful.

Craig: It was awesome. But that was well into it, like 40 minutes in or something. So if you could even get it to work, it would work for 20 seconds at a time and there was a Chinese woman speaking over the whole thing. How did they not get that right?

John: Yeah. That TV truck.

Craig: Oh man.

John: What I love about the time that we live in is that the TV truck had its own Twitter feed within like the first three minutes of that going on. And the TV truck was just like tweeting out some good stuff.

Craig: Oh, they were, like “We know…”

John: Yeah. Or no, just like TV truck just like, you know, hey guys, what’s going on? It’s like, you know, did something happen today? [laughs]

Craig: [laughs]

John: And we live in a glorious time.

Craig: Or somebody invented the TV truck.

John: Somebody invented the TV truck Twitter feed.

Craig: Oh, I thought there was actually somebody on the TV truck who’s like, we know, we’re working on it.

John: No, no, no, it was just –

Craig: So an Apple TV truck that came out there and –

John: I love that they anthropomorphized the TV truck.

Craig: That’s so funny.

John: And they’re like, what’s going on?

Craig: Hey guys, why is everyone upset?

John: Yeah. I think it’s pretty cool.

Craig: And it was very annoying.

John: [laughs] But the Chinese woman next to me is so sweet.

Craig: Right. [laughs]

John: She won’t stop talking.

Craig: There’s a Chinese woman and then the Chinese woman went away, which was amazing, but then a very quiet German man started –

John: Snuck back in there, yeah.

Craig: Yeah, did you hear him?

John: Yeah, it’s good.

Craig: And then it was start and stop and start and stop. But then finally, they got it and it was working great.

John: Whenever you do something where like everything has to work perfectly immediately with no practice, you’re going to run into some issues.

Craig: But it’s Apple. I mean, just to put it in perspective, they have more money in reserves than probably 50% of the nations on earth.

John: Yeah, but I mean –

Craig: And yet they can’t get that right?

John: Well, they’re not a broadcaster though. So it’s one thing if you’re like NBC and you’re running the Super Bowl.

Craig: Right.

John: Like you’re going to have a lot of people with tremendous experience, but to have to be able to do this and then be able to keep it all secret, that’s the challenging thing they were trying to do.

Craig: I get that. That is exactly what the guy who just got fired said –

John: [laughs] Absolutely.

Craig: Right before he got fired, because you know somebody got fired.

John: If my Tim Cook impression were ready –

Craig: Right.

John: I would explain it in Tim Cook words about sort of how –

Craig: “It’s really unacceptable.”

John: Unacceptable, yeah.

Craig: “So interesting how you failed.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs]

John: So the important thing is which iPhone did you get.

Craig: I got the “small.”

John: Yeah, that’s what I got.

Craig: The iPhone 6, the non-plus version, which is still bigger than this one. So they had a very useful graphic on the website where you could see, okay, here’s what it looks like now, here’s the 6, here’s the 6 Plus. Well, that thing just looked ridiculous to me.

John: Yeah, but it won’t look ridiculous a few years from now. We’ll have come to accept it that –

Craig: You think so that everyone’s going to walk around with these –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Dinner plates, as Rian Johnson calls it?

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Ryan got the dinner plate.

John: Yeah, of course.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Because he loves to read scripts on his phone. And one of the things we had to do this week is scramble to get Weekend Read to work right on the big phones. And so –

Craig: On the Plus.

John: Yeah, and also on the 6.

Craig: Oh, right, because –

John: It’s also bigger, so.

Craig: Was it really hard to do?

John: It was challenging to do because Apple hadn’t given you a good warning that — they give you a warning that bigger screens were coming in a very general sense.

Craig: Right.

John: Didn’t tell you how big the screens were and they didn’t tell you that you had to sort o recreate all your graphics at three times resolution.

Craig: Ah.

John: And so that was a lot of scrambling to get that to work.

Craig: Right.

John: And make sure — and you’re testing these apps when you don’t actually have the phone to put them on. And so that’s really challenging.

Craig: But were you able to do it?

John: We were able to do it.

Craig: Well, that’s interesting.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And how many people work here? [laughs]

John: Oh, we have about three and a half people who work here.

Craig: Three and a half people work here, huh?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I wonder how long it will take Final Draft.

John: Ah, we’ll see.

Craig: Probably a couple hundred years.

John: That’ll be fine.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’ll be fine. Today on the show, we are going to answer a whole bunch of questions. But first, we need to do a little bit of follow-up. Last week, we talked about the possibility of new t-shirts.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And t-shirts are going to happen. So if you’re listening to this podcast on Tuesday, likely hopefully the store should be open,

Craig: That fast.

John: That fast.

Craig: Wow.

John: To preorder your t-shirts. So we’re doing the same thing we did before. Basically, Craig is nodding his head towards Stuart. This is basically Stuart’s realm. Stuart will have to be taking all those orders and he writes them down on little tickets and he puts them on little hangers.

Craig: That’s right. [laughs]

John: So what we do with our t-shirts like last time, we do preorders for two weeks. And then at the end of those two weeks we see how many t-shirts we need to make. We make those t-shirts and we ship them out all at once.

Craig: Stuart sits in — there’s a basement here and we give him a little visor, a little green visor and he’s got one of those little adding machines like the guys in Brazil.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And it’s real dusty down there.

John: Well, the pneumatic tubes though, I think that was really the innovation and –

Craig: Right.

John: It’s quite good. So one of the little things comes in and he has to sort them into their little things.

Craig: And then he hits a belt, ding, and then –

John: There’s a crow who we trained who sort of helps him out and who could sort of like recognize the types and he can come put them into the different boxes.

Craig: That’s what that crow does? I thought it just squawked at him to keep him motivated. [laughs]

John: Well, also it takes care of like the other rodents down in the basement but it’s just, you know –

Craig: It’s just him and his –

John: His companionship.

Craig: Right.

John: I mean, I’m not a monster.

Craig: It gets cold down there and he asks for extra coal and we say no. [laughs]

John: [laughs] No. Like sell more t-shirts and then you can have more coal.

Craig: But he’ll never get more coal.

John: So if you’d like to keep Stuart warm, you can check out and see the t-shirts we have for sale.

Craig: [laughs]

John: So there’s a Scriptnotes t-shirt that Craig just saw, the pencil sketch version of the design.

Craig: Oh, so cool. I mean, I can’t say what it is, can I?

John: Oh, people can go to the site to see. I think we can describe because we’re a podcast of words, so we should be able to use our words to describe, so describe it.

Craig: Well, this is so cool. And who did this?

John: This is done by Simon Estrada who is just the best.

Craig: Okay, so Simon Estrada, well done. So it’s in the Sons of Anarchy style. It’s like a motorcycle t-shirt. It’s really cool. It’s got Scriptnotes in that crazy motorcycle script and then what appears to be an exploding typewriter on fire which is so cool. [laughs] And then underneath it, it says, “The podcast of umbrage and reason.” It’s just bad ass in the most ridiculous way. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: I mean, because what’s funny about it is that nobody is less bikery than screenwriters.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, a screenwriting biking club would be pathetic.

John: Yeah

Craig: That’s why I like it.

John: The Venn diagram of screenwriters and hardcore motorcycle enthusiasts.

Craig: Yes.

John: It’s not much overlap there.

Craig: No, but that’s why I think it works.

John: Right.

Craig: That’s awesome.

John: So if you’d like to check that out, you can go to the store and see what that looks like. Also in the store we’re going to have Highland t-shirts. If you want a Highland t-shirt, we’ll have those. And we’re going to try a hoodie. And so we can’t do — a Scriptnotes hoodie doesn’t really make sense because there’s — we wanted to do an embroidery, like a little embroidered hoodie thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And there’s no way to sort of do a good Scriptnotes logo that could actually fit in embroidery that would translate. We’re going to try the Brad from, my little logo for my site.

Craig: Okay.

John: So if you would like one of those hoodies, you can get one of those hoodies. The only warning I’ll say about the hoodies is that we have to hit a certain minimum in order to actually make those hoodies. So there’s a chance that you could order that hoodie and we could say, you know what, we’re not going to make those hoodies, we’ll refund your money.

Craig: Got it. And that basically comes down to Stuart again, just can he –

John: How –

Craig: Can he spin enough flacks?

John: Exactly, his little hands that work on it.

Craig: We don’t give him a wheel, you know.

John: So orders start today, Tuesday, September 16th. Orders end Tuesday, September 30th and then we are going to be shipping the shirts starting October 8th. So you’ll have it in time for Austin.

Craig: What an empire. Oh yes, and so you’ll have to report back to me and let me know how everybody — oh, there’s your cat again.

John: Yeah. That’s not my cat. That’s Patricia Arquette’s cat.

Craig: Got it.

John: That’s Patricia Arcat.

Craig: That’s Patricia Arcat.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s right. I remember Patricia Arcat from last time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think she and I have the same birthday.

John: Oh how nice is that.

Craig: Did I mention this last time?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I can’t –

John: You know, you don’t see movies, so you haven’t seen Boyhood yet, have you?

Craig: I have not seen Boyhood yet, I’m sorry. I did see…I saw…I’ve seen some lately.

John: [laughs] You saw Guardians of the Galaxy?

Craig: Yeah, I saw Guardians of the Galaxy. I watched actually, this is embarrassing, so I haven’t seen Boyhood but the other day I wasn’t feeling, you know, I got the stomach flu.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I was in my office and just feeling very bad. And I sat on my couch and I went to Apple TV and I dialed up All About Eve.

John: I haven’t seen All About Eve for so long. I love All About Eve.

Craig: It’s great. It’s just great.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s great. They don’t make them like that anymore.

John: Yeah. And so when I watch All About Eve, I’m like, someone should make a musical version of All About Eve. And of course, they did. It’s called Applause and –

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s apparently not a good musical.

Craig: No, but there’s a couple of good songs in Applause.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But yeah, no –

John: But it lends itself so well to that sort of backstage drama. A great version of an All About Eve musical is a great musical.

Craig: Absolutely, yeah. It is a shame that it didn’t kind of go better for them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But great stuff.

John: My Apple TV this week was Match Point which I had somehow never seen, which I loved. You know, that Scarlett Johansson, I think she has a real career in front of her.

Craig: You know, we’ll see. We have to wait.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I like to wait at least 20 or 30 years.

John: Just to let us know.

Craig: Like just last week I thought to myself, I think Jodie Foster, she’s okay.

John: Yeah, so you put her on a casting list.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Like let’s take a look at this young woman and see if –

Craig: She’ll stick around.

John: I think she could be really good.

Craig: Yeah. Dustin Hoffman?

John: Oh, there’s one to watch.

Craig: No, no, I think he’s crossed over to good.

John: Okay.

Craig: He’s good but I can’t, you know, these new ones like Brad Pitt or whatever, I can’t –

John: No, no.

Craig: No.

John: Yeah, whatever happened to the classics, whatever happened to the classic actors? [laughs]

Craig: [laughs]

John: I completely flamed out, I’m like, who’s any actor who’s of the time before that? He’s no Charlton Heston is really what I’m going for.

Craig: I wish that you could have all seen, [laughs], the panic on John’s face as his brain moved super fast.

John: You can see the panic on my face if you join us at the Slate Live Culture Gabfest.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: On October 8th at the Belasco Theater. There’s still some tickets left for that. So Craig, in the midst of his stomach flu this week, he emailed me to say like, man, is the Slate thing still on? I’ve got bad stomach flu, I don’t think I can make it.

Craig: For some reason I thought I hadn’t –

John: You’re a month off. You traveled though time.

Craig: I had it in my calendar that it was this week.

John: Yeah, it’s not. It’s October 8, so you can come join us for that.

Craig: October 8. Well, hopefully I won’t be throwing up and –

John: So there’s a link in the show notes for that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So let’s get to these questions.

Craig: Throwing up is the worst.

John: I haven’t thrown up since sixth grade. I’m not sure I physically can. I’ve tried.

Craig: That’s amazing to me.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So you haven’t even gotten gastroenteritis or any food poisoning or anything?

John: I’ve gotten some food poisoning but it never came up that way.

Craig: Really?

John: Yeah.

Craig: But you didn’t feel even nauseated?

John: Yes, I felt incredibly nauseated and really wanted to throw up, I just can’t.

Craig: Oh, you’re one of those.

John: I actually can’t throw up. I can put my finger down my throat and do everything but I cannot actually get it to come up.

Craig: Really?

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s the best proof we have yet that you’re not human. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Indeed.

Craig: You’re entirely synthetic.

John: All my little robot parts would come spilling out.

Craig: You’re just completely synthetic.

John: Yeah.

Craig: All right, let’s hit the questions, shall we?

John: All right.

Craig: All right.

John: Ryan from Chicago writes, “Given the trend towards sequels, why are stories based on existing material still being shoehorned into single features? Ender’s Game is a good recent example. The story is naturally broken into two parts, pre and post battle school, and the extra space would have given the filmmakers time to explore some of the more interesting aspects of the novel.”

Craig: Good question. There’s a risk reward analysis that has to go on here. You’ve got a book that theoretically you could tell in two movies. But what that means is that the first movie ends with sort of a cliffhangery thing.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: The ending is a big part of the experience of the movie. So Star Wars: A New Hope is the first of a trilogy but it ends. It’s got an ending. If that had been a book, people would have been like, why is this book ending so soon? Why isn’t there more book? Okay, I see, we’ll start it up again.

And Ender’s Game may have not had, you know, it says it’s naturally broken into two parts but does that first part end in a satisfying way?

John: Exactly.

Craig: And if it doesn’t, then basically you’re saying, come back for the rest of the story and people might go, no.

John: The last Harry Potter was split into two parts. And there was a lot of — tremendous amount of material was — the ending was sort of cliffhangery but you could sort of do it at that point because you already made seven movies, you’re going to come back for the eighth. You’re already that committed. I think my sort of two points.

First is, adaptations in general are really tough. You have to look at sort of, this is a book that works really well as a book. But what parts of this book are going to work really well as a movie? And they may not translate very directly. And so –

Craig: Right.

John: I’m not familiar with Ender’s Game and sort of how it worked as a book. But they made their choice about sort of what they thought people wanted to see from that, what they thought would work.

The second sort of big fundamental issue is you can’t make two movies until you make one movie. And so, to come into it saying like we have to make this as two movies, well good luck with that.

Craig: Right.

John: And so you have to pick the movie you’re going to make and you’re probably going to try to make one movie before you can plan the sequel.

Craig: Yeah, unless you’re dealing with an existing property that is already divided up.

John: Yeah, Lord of the Rings is a classic example.

Craig: Lord of the Rings. Now even in Lord of the Rings, the Weinsteins had the rights and did not want to roll the dice and say, yeah, we want to do it as three movies because you’re right, you’re green-lighting three movies, not one. And if the first one is a disaster, what are you going to do with the other two? Just not make them and they just never get continued? So eventually Peter Jackson left and went to New Line and New Line rolled the dice on that and obviously to great success, so.

John: Going back to Harry Potter, Steven Spielberg was originally interested in directing Harry Potter and so he was involved with the very early versions of it. Apparently, he really wanted to combine aspects of the first two books and J.K. Rowling said no.

Craig: Right.

John: It has to be the books as the books. And so that’s an example of like trying to rearrange things that you think would make a better movie and the author of the book say, no, it has to be this way.

Craig: It’s remarkable. You know, good for her.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean it’s tough to say no to Steven Spielberg and I suppose I would always in the back of my mind think, well, what would that have been like though with Steven Spielberg. One of the most remarkable directorial achievements I think ever in film history is Christopher Columbus’s casting of the first movie.

John: Incredible.

Craig: Incredible. I mean, to get three kids, each one of them perfectly right not only for the first movie but as human beings who would then be able to not fall apart [laughs], bloat, do drugs, go crazy, look the right way the whole way through. Incredible.

John: Yeah, I think you also have to, you know, credit Chris Columbus but also David Heyman, the Producer to –

Craig: True.

John: Sort of keeping that ship running and keeping it intact. Because beyond those first three kids, you look at like the Neville Longbottom we got. Look at all those kids –

Craig: Right, perfect.

John: You know, all those kids –

Craig: Perfect –

John: You know, Malfoys.

Craig: Yeah, Draco, perfect.

John: The adults, they kept coming through –

Craig: The adults. Perfect.

John: Even when they had to change out Dumbledore, seamless.

Craig: Seamless and perfect.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The casting was outrageously good top to bottom. They made no mistakes. And I also give Christopher Columbus a lot of credit for setting the look of the movies. Did he make the best of the Harry Potter movies?

John: No.

Craig: No. And I don’t think Christopher Columbus would say, “Yes, I’m, you know what, Alfonso Cuarón is, I’m just as good of a director.” No, some people are better than others. Alfonso Cuarón is one of the best ever –

John: Yeah.

Craig: At everything. I’ve never seen a bad Alfonso Cuarón movie. But Christopher Columbus did so much right in that first one, so much. And they were there supervising the initial music by John Williams. I mean, all these decisions that were made were right.

John: Yeah. Well, looking at a giant franchise like that, you really are starting like a company, a business that is going to go on — it’s like Apple Compute. And you have to make these fundamental decisions quite early on and sort of live with the ramifications of these decisions.

Craig: Live with them.

John: And in the case of these kids, they had to pick these kids and then they decided, you know what, we’re just going to open a school and we’re just basically have to educate these kids the whole time through because they’re basically always going to be working on these movies. So those kids, you know, they’re in school most of the day.

Craig: Right.

John: Especially, you know, having made Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in London, you get those kids for like two hours a day. And so it’s really tough to –

Craig: It’s hard to make those –

John: Make your schedule.

Craig: But my god, the way that they just, everything worked out for them, incredible. All right, next question. Wade writes… is this all Wade’s question?

John: Wade has a long question.

Craig: Woo-hoo. Well, I’ll kind of…yeah.

John: But I mean, leave in Wade’s question because I think it’s actually interesting.

Craig: Okay. Wade writes, “I’ve been a writer-director for over a decade now and I’ve done everything I can think to do. I went to film school, crewed for free, written nine spec scripts and polished them to death, picked up three options, two of which I did for free. And all of which died before they garnered a budget.

“I started a production company and produced two feature films using my own money. Several of my scripts are placed in the quarter finals of decent competitions. And my first feature took awards at both festivals that it aired at. So I’ve been given just enough hope over the years to affirm my suspicions that I’m not delusional, I’m actually good at what I do but not enough to really drive the point home.”

Okay, so that’s part one of the Wade question trilogy. Part two. “I recently saw a lead that a literary manager of note was looking for contest winners, so I sent my first blind query in years and got a nibble. But in the end, he passed, commenting that the script was engaging, had some pretty strong writing but he wasn’t passionate enough to fight or get the story made. My second feature that I produced myself on a shoestring budget is about to finish and hit the festival circuit and once again I’m reminded that I have no friends or ins or powerful allies in the industry. I have lots of friends in the industry that I deeply respect but they’re all scrappers like me fighting to make it happen. And my friends are getting younger as I’m about to cross into that magical 40s era of my career that you both have been chatting about of late.”

It’s funny that 40s is now a good thing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Whereas when we started it was considered old and bad. Okay, the exciting conclusion of Wade’s question, “It’s possible that my second feature will open doors but it’s also possible it will meet a fate similar to my first film: get a little recognition but ultimately not sell. I’m trying to avoid the emotional wreck that would be made of me if that happens. I feel like I’m a little stuck. I don’t think I can afford to pour my family’s resources into a third produce-it-yourself project and have no prospects to introduce me to real managers or agents. How the eff does someone with no friends in the industry acquire,” I think he means effing, not offing, “effing representation in this industry?”

Oh my, well, what do you think, John?

John: The reason why I wanted to have his questions sort of in full is that I think it tells, you know, an interesting and full narrative about sort of people who I don’t think we hear from enough, which is that frustration of like, it’s not like somebody just wrote a script and like, eh, screw it, I’m not really a screenwriter. This is a person who’s been plugging at it for quite a long time and he’s had some success but hasn’t had enough success to sort of keep rolling.

And so this is a person who classically has been doing the kinds of things we talk about doing. It’s like he didn’t just write one script, he wrote nine scripts. He went off and made a feature. He went off and made another feature. And it’s still not all clicking. And I think sometimes we see the success stories and we see sort of like, oh these are the people who did all the right things and then it all worked out. And we don’t see the not success stories.

Craig: Right.

John: And so I wanted to sort of talk through Wade’s sort of real situation and sort of what the possibilities are here.

Craig: It’s frustrating to obviously to think about. And first of all, thank you for sharing all that with us. A couple of things come to mind. I’ll take the second one first. Ultimately, real friends in the industry is an overrated thing. I think you’re looking at that as the piece of the puzzle you’re missing and therefore that is the piece of the puzzle that is at fault here. And it’s not actually.

You said you placed in the quarter finals in many decent competitions. Well, if you had been a winner of one of those, you wouldn’t need these friends. Friends would come find you. That’s just sort of the way it goes, you know. You took awards at a couple of smaller festivals, which is fine, but if your film had gotten into one of the larger ones, again, you wouldn’t need the friends, they would come to you.

So the real question then is to evaluate what’s going on with the work and why, for instance, a literary manager said, yeah, you know, engaging, pretty strong writing, but he wasn’t passionate enough to fight to get the story made. Okay. I’m going to take you at your word that you’re pretty good. And I think that that’s actually quite possible. I’m not shining you on. I think a lot of people out there are pretty good.

The frustrating part about our business is that it’s not enough to be pretty good. You have to take a pretty good person and have them do pretty good writing on something that is an idea that fits them right. You know, like on American Idol they’re like, that song choice, it’s all about song choice because they can all sing and then it really is about song choice. Like what opens you up and shows your personality and is fun and interesting and effective. It may be that you’re writing the wrong things. That’s one possibility.

Then the other one, which is a little dimmer admittedly, is that pretty good isn’t good enough and that you have to be a lot good and that you have to be special and that you have to write things that people look at and say, okay, well, nobody else could write this.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know, what do you think, John?

John: I think there’s some aspect of luck that we’re not talking about maybe enough in the show which is that as I look back in my own career, I worked really, really hard, I wrote good things and people liked them. But there were certainly moments of which I had sort of good luck. And it’s very easy to imagine, having just seen Match Point, I’m going to use the metaphor that Woody Allen uses in that, which is that the tennis ball hits the top of the net and it falls over one way or it falls over the other way and the whole game is won or lost based on that.

Craig: Right.

John: And there are some situations which the right person read the script at the right time, it was just everything sort of worked out just right. And so Go was an example of that where like everyone had passed but one person said yes and that one person who said yes was just enough to get it sort of going and rolling. You haven’t had that luck. You haven’t had that lucky break.

But it’s also possible that, looking back, you haven’t created situations which you could be lucky. You haven’t met those people who could have sort of read that thing or you have been reluctant to show that thing or you haven’t reached out and read someone else’s script to sort of help them out. You haven’t sort of done all that work. But that’s all the past. And I think some of what I’m reading here is kind of that sunken cost fallacy which is that sense that in writing these nine spec scripts and making these things, you’ve built this identity for yourself as a writer-director and you are incredibly reluctant to give up on the very specific nature of that dream that you’ve had for a long time.

But if you were to be able to start fresh here now and say, “I can do anything I want from this moment forward,” what would you say? And if you want to use any of that stuff from before, that’s awesome. But you also have permission today to move forward and decide what is it you’ve most want to do right now because you’re not burdened by all those things in the past. And that can be a good thing, too.

Craig: Yeah, all of the things in the past are necessary to get you to wherever you are now. And either the cumulative experience is what ultimately synthesizes into something that people really love and gets you a lot of attention or it synthesizes into a decision that actually you want to try other things and that this is not how you want to keep going. That’s up to you obviously. That’s a very personal thing.

You know, I’m not a big luck guy but I am a probability guy. I’m a math guy. And I think that every script has a certain factor to it, a percentage factor, a probability that somebody will like it. And as we’ve said before, actually in a weird way, the odds are on our side because we just need one hit. That’s it. One hit. You swing a hundred times, if you connect once, you win. Just like on Go.

A lot of these things have, I assume, been seen by lots of people and read by lots of people and no one’s hit. That means that there’s, it’s just the factor there wasn’t happening. That it’s less about luck and more about the material, which by the way, this is why people cling to those stories. The, you know, Confederacy of Dunces story. Nobody wanted it, everyone hated it, I killed myself but then, Pulitzer Prize, you know. Okay, you know, once in a century but [laughs] –

John: Yeah. That story is notable because it is the exception and there’s a hundred other examples –

Craig: That’s right.

John: Ten thousand examples that didn’t happen.

Craig: Yeah, I think that your advice to give yourself the permission to start fresh is exactly what you need, is exactly what Wade needs, because regardless of how competent you’ve been till now, it’s not working.

John: Yeah. There’s a screenwriter we both know and I was talking with her and she said she had sort of hit a point in her career that she was getting really frustrated. And so things were getting made that she wanted to get made and she was having some issues and so she decided to take a real honest hard look at her writing. She read a lot of other people’s writing and she decided, you know what, my writing may not be as good as it was and I’m going to work on getting my writing better, which is one of the only times I actually heard a screenwriter say that. But it was a really honest self-identity questioning move on her part.

And she said it really worked, it really helped, and it really made her look at sort of what are the words she’s putting on the page, what are the stories she’s trying to tell, what are the choices she’s making. And in some ways, it is that break from who she was before and what she wants to be doing next.

Craig: Yeah, that’s exactly it.

John: Next question comes from M. Robert in Texas who writes, “Years back, a movie came out that was based on a very popular TV series. Needless to say, the movie did not do well. I’ve begun writing a movie, which I believe tells the story from a different perspective. Am I wasting my time without first getting permission from the creatures of the TV series itself?” Well, creators of the TV series itself. I think it would be great if one of the creatures of the TV series…

“Or do I need to have a screenplay written before I approach them about a second go at this franchise? This happens all the time with the Hulk movies. But at what point am I working for not because I need to gain permission to pursue my vision?”

Craig: This does not happen all the time. I don’t know what he’s talking about. The Hulk movies were not written on spec by people. They were commissioned very carefully.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, this question comes up a bunch.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Made me kind of curious about, first of all, like M. Robert, like is it monsieur Robert or like M. Robert? Anyway, I like with the way it opens, “Years back, a movie came out that was based on a very popular TV series. Needless to say, the movie did not do well.” Why is that needless to say? I think that’s needful to say actually.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not like, oh those TV series, they never work out.

John: No.

Craig: No, nobody ever, The Addams Family movie, bomb.

John: Bomb, yeah.

Craig: Well, it did pretty well.

John: Yeah, it did.

Craig: I think that you aren’t going to get permission from the creators or creatures of the TV series itself. They don’t know you and there’s no reason for them to give you their precious intellectual property. You can absolutely write a spec screenplay based on this. Just be aware that you have now narrowed your potential buyers to one.

John: Yup.

Craig: One.

John: One.

Craig: [laughs]

John: And so there is a track record of writers doing this. And so there was like a spec Wonder Woman feature that sold. It didn’t get produced but it sold and sort of that happened. Aliens vs. Predator, there was like a spec script that got purchased at a certain point. Jon Spaihts’s movie that became Prometheus had some kind of thing like that. It wasn’t really directly based on it but it was sort of got pulled in. I don’t know what the whole history of that was.

Craig: Yeah, I think that was one of those where he wrote a script and then they incorporated it into the, but this happens. I mean, look, Kelly Marcel wrote Saving Mr. Banks.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Only one possible buyer.

John: That’s absolutely true. And that turned out pretty well for everyone concerned.

Craig: On the other hand, all these people that we’re talking about are professional writers with track records who have sold things before, they have agents, you know. It’s not like they’re saying, “I have a script here that I can only sell to one person, but first I have to figure out how to get that person to call me back.”

John: Well, realistically, if you’re writing the script, you’re probably not writing to get that specific movie made. You’re getting that script written because it could be a good script to read. And so ultimately you’re reading this as essentially a writing sample. You have to really go into it thinking like it would be great if Warner Bros wanted to make this thing that they own and control, the S.W.A.T. movie or whatever. But realistically, you’re writing this because you want to have a great writing sample.

Craig: Okay. Well, if you’re writing it for a great writing sample, then that’s a different deal because then really what you have to do is write something that’s creatively ambitious, something that turns a familiar icon on its ear. If you just write sort of a faithful adaption of something then –

John: No one’s going to care.

Craig: Nobody’s going to care.

John: This is actually an interesting trend because in television for many years it’s been common place for writers to write a spec episode of an existing TV show. So I want to write a one hour drama so I’m going to write a one hour, an episode of The Good Wife.

Craig: Right.

John: And that will be my writing sample.

Craig: Right.

John: And so writing, doing that as a feature is sort of a more ambitious step, but there is potentially, you know, clutter-busting in the sense of like, did you read that incredibly insane version of The A-Team that that guy wrote?

Craig: Yeah. Like if somebody wrote The A-Team and it was just The A-Team on their day off –

John: Yeah.

Craig: And this weird drama between the characters just to sort of say, look how, you know, post-modern and interesting I am.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I suppose, I mean, I remember years ago when I first started in Hollywood, there was a story of a guy that got a job on Northern Exposure because he wrote a Northern Exposure spec in iambic pentameter.

John: Great.

Craig: Which is like, okay, cool.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, it’s like all these interesting things. But that’s not — I don’t think what’s going on here.

John: No.

Craig: I think that Monsieur Robert from Texas is saying, “Look, I know a better way to write Wild Wild West as a movie, so I’m going to do it.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, basically, it’s not going to work. I don’t think…that does not sound like a good strategy to me.

John: Okay. Yeah.

Craig: Okay. Next we’ve got John Sherman The [TV Writer].

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: That’s not John Sherman comma the [TV writer]. His name is John Sherman The [TV Writer].

John: There’s many John Shermans, so this is The [TV Writer], John Sherman.

Craig: This is The [TV Writer], John Sherman.

John: Yeah.

Craig: John Sherman The [TV Writer] asks, “I was listening today about your contemplation of new t-shirt colors and, full disclosure, I’m a proud owner of one in rational blue. I’ve also suggested the color indebtedness red.” That’s not bad. I like that.

“This evening, I came across a tidbit aka titbit about Hanx Writer.

John: Hanx Writer.

Craig: Who’s Hanx Writer?

John: Tom Hanks has this iPad app that looks like a typewriter.

Craig: Really?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Tom Hanks?

John: Tom Hanks, the Tom Hanks.

Craig: But it’s spelled Hanx.

John: I know, it’s crazy.

Craig: Hanx, and I pronounced it honks like, because to me –

John: [German accent] Hanx Writer.

Craig: Well, because it was like, you know, Hans Blix.

John: Mm-hmm, totally.

Craig: Yeah, it’s just like, it was like Hans Blix smashed together.

John: Yeah.

Craig: “And then I started wondering, Craig, you love technology. John, you make technology. You are clearly both forward-thinking people even going so far as to openly questioning contemplate exploding the slave to pagination format of the screenplay itself. So why the typewriter? Don’t get wrong, I’m all for paying homage to the struggles of our forbearers, but that was for them. This is for us. Anyway, what I’m getting at is there are no better icon to represent us as writers today.”

What do you think, John?

John: Yeah, it’s interesting because like the new Scriptnotes t-shirt has still a typewriter on.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s sort of exploding typewriter, but it’s still a typewriter. I guess when we were thinking about the logo for Scriptnotes, we wanted some sort of icon and it’s very hard to find an icon that feels like a screenwriter because any writer could be a pen, but like what is that pen doing? That pen could be writing anything.

Craig: Right.

John: And so screenplays sort of came in a typewriter age. And so therefore –

Craig: Yeah.

John: We think about typewriters, but I’ve never typed a screenplay on a typewriter.

Craig: Yeah, it’s retro, bro.

John: It’s real retro.

Craig: Yeah, just chill out man, it’s retro. It’s cool.

John: Yeah, we’re typing a lot. He does point out that, “And more than the icon, I’m bothered by the use of the clickety-clacky typewriter sound that dominates the theme song for Showtime’s comedy series Episodes since the show is so much about present day writing and that sound is just an audio artifact. It is very much a needle scratch kind of thing.”

Craig: Right, it’s needle scratch.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Everybody still knows what needle scratch is.

John: Yeah.

Craig: My daughter has never once played a record on a turntable. She knows what the needle scratch means.

John: I’m sure I’ve said this on the podcast before, but my daughter is reading Curious George. And I said, what is that thing that Curious George is spinning on? She’s like, “I don’t know.” It’s a record player. Yeah.

Craig: Oh, I thought it was a pottery wheel.

John: Yeah. I watched Ghost this week also.

Craig: Oh, Ghost.

John: Have you seen Ghost lately?

Craig: Yeah, it’s great.

John: Yeah, it’s great. It’s so different than you think. Whoopi Goldberg just like in Aladdin how Robin Williams shows up 40 minutes in.

Craig: Right.

John: She shows up super late in the movie, but then she’s incredibly important in the movie.

Craig: Got an Oscar.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Maybe we should do that one.

John: Let’s do that one. I’m happy to do that one.

Craig: I mean Ghost is like — I mean Bruce Joel Rubin, woo, the Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder.

John: Yeah.

Craig: How about those two? Totally different movies. Both brilliant.

John: Yeah.

Craig: All right.

John: Right.

Craig: Put that one on the list.

John: Maisha in Toronto writes, “I’m an aspiring writer with absolutely no money. No exaggeration, I just withdrew the whole $2.25 from my checking account and the bus home is $3 and I’m at the Apple store right now waiting for my mom to pick me up.”

Craig: This is awesome.

John: “Worst, my computer is completely broken. I want to know if it’s theoretically possible to write with Fountain on your iPhone. My idea was to buy an Apple keyboard and download the Fountain app, but I want to know which program would you suggest writing in first.”

It’s Highland.

“Using a little iPhone, the keyboard might look really silly, but if it’s possible to do it, I will. Any suggestions on how to use Fountain with the iPhone or what programs to write in would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.”

So did your page just get broken?

Craig: No, no, no, I just feel so bad for Mysha.

John: Yeah. So Maisha is broke. So what’s interesting is that people get broke. And because you’re broke, I think we have this image of like a starving artist. And an artist is just like a painter who’s like, you know, giving money to draw paints, or it’s like drawing or busking. That’s all sort of romantic, but we think after this typewriter and computer discussion, we think that, well, you have to typewriter and a computer to be a screenwriter. It’s like, no, you really don’t. You have to have a piece of paper and a pen and some place where you can type up the things you’ve written.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think if you want to type on your phone, you can do that. Apparently, Fifty Shades of Grey was written on a Blackberry.

Craig: Yeah, I believe that.

John: Yeah. So you can write in any medium you want to write in. So you can handwrite these things. You can type these things. You could type in notes on your phone if you had to.

Craig: She wrote the novel, Fifty Shades of Grey in a Blackberry?

John: I think that’s true. Kelly Marcel will be able to tell us.

Craig: That’s hysterical. [laughs]

John: I think it’s amazing. I think it’s just wonderful. I think it’s an indication of where we are in this time because like it feels feels so right.

Craig: I’m done. I’m done. I want to be flung off the planet. I want –

John: [laughs]

Craig: I don’t want –

John: Turn up the speed, Craig. We’re ready to go.

Craig: Centrifugal force no longer applies to me. I’m good.

John: Right.

Craig: I’m good. I could fire down space. You know, Maisha is Canadian.

John: Yeah.

Craig: She’s in Toronto. First of all, I didn’t know that Canada let people get this poor, but okay. One thought I had was this: even here in antisocialist United States, we have public libraries that have computers connected to the Internet. If you have public libraries there in Toronto with computers connected to the Internet that you are allowed to use for a span of time, WriterDuet is a free program, I mean at least the, you know, the limited version of it is free. It saves your stuff on the cloud and it’s a fully functioning screenplay formatter. And then when it’s all done, it exports out to, you know, all the classic formats.

So that could be something. Just go to a place with a public computer and just do your script in WriterDuet. You just log in and out, so nobody can read your stuff. That would work. And then you don’t have to buy a keyboard. I mean, like if you have and you’re saying, you have negative 75 cents.

John: Yes.

Craig: You’re so poor, you can’t afford to have nothing.

John: [laughs]

Craig: You can’t afford free things.

John: Yes.

Craig: Because you have negative 75 cents. So don’t buy anything. Don’t buy an Apple keyboard because you don’t have — you have negative 75 cents.

John: Yeah, don’t buy that keyboard. I will say specifically like you have an iPhone and like it’s hard to imagine sort of life without an iPhone, so I would say keep your iPhone. WriterDuet is a possibility. I think Google Docs might be a more –

Craig: Yeah, sure.

John: More immediate possibility because you’re going to be able to access that on your phone as well as on a public computer and sort of all your stuff can sort of be there in the cloud and it’s essentially going to be free. You can write in Fountain, on anything that can like generate letters, you can write in Fountain on.

Craig: Right.

John: So you can write that in Google Docs.

Craig: I feel like it’s so hard to write on a small factor device.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It just, it’s just hard, you know. There is something about the thumbs of it all and not doing a proper keyboard, it’s just –

John: The other thing I would say is people have this sense that I have to buy something in order to do something or I have to, you know, I have to have all this gear, this accoutrement. The same thing when people have a baby, they always think like, oh, I need to go Babies R Us and buy all these things.

Craig: First baby.

John: First baby. First baby, they think that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And the second baby, they don’t think that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And second baby, you realize like, god, just borrow stuff from other people who already have stuff. And so someone in your life Mysha probably has a keyboard you can use or honestly just like a crappy old computer you can use because you don’t need any kind of good computer to be able to write the screenplay.

Craig: The crap we bought when my son was born and then when my daughter was born we were like –

John: Did you have heated baby wipes? That’s the indulgence.

Craig: I actually put my foot down on that one. I was like, no. No heated baby wipes. We didn’t have that. But we did have like all these fancy like crib bumpers and like 14 different mobiles. In the end, you don’t need any of that stuff, you know.

John: You don’t.

Craig: All of the warm, the lights and the things and the baloney.

John: It’s all baloney.

Craig: Baloney. You know what kids like? Whatever is within their hand’s reach and then they shove it in their mouth.

John: That’s great. A block, they love that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: A good wooden block.

Craig: Wooden block.

John: The only thing that I’ve always constantly been told is like, oh, you can’t get that second hand is a car seat.

Craig: I know.

John: But I’m not sure I entirely totally believe that either because like last year’s car seat was –

Craig: I know because, technically you’re like, “You don’t know if it was compromised in a crash.” Like, I kind of do know.

John: I kind of do know.

Craig: And I mean I bought a new, well, the other thing was that between the time my son was born and my daughter was born, they had kind of perfected that latch system.

John: Yeah, the latch systems are so much better.

Craig: So I had to get a new one anyway just because the latch system is great. I mean, putting in that first car seat was –

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean –

John: It’s such a horrible like sitcom cliché, but it’s actually incredibly hard.

Craig: It’s hard.

John: And you’re always scraping your fingers and doing just awful things.

Craig: The seat is designed… — Now, that I’m telling you, somebody comes along and does like a proper design of a car seat.

John: Like the Nest people, the Nest people do a proper car seat.

Craig: Yes, they will make a ton of money because car seats are the — everybody with a kid must have one and they are crap. They’re crap, all of them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They’re ugly and they’ve got scrappy bits and then the prices.

John: I know it’s expensive. The one other bit of car seat advice I’ll give because this is really a podcast about car seats –

Craig: Yeah, car seats and –

John: And child safety.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If you’re traveling some place with a kid who’s still in a car seat, you get this roller thing that attaches to the car seat and so you can push the kid through the airport. So they basically can sit in their own thing –

Craig: Yeah, we had that thing.

John: It’s a wheely thing. It’s just –

Craig: Yeah, that thing is pretty cool.

John: The best.

Craig: But, you know, I don’t have to worry about that now because my kids walk.

John: Ah, you’ve got walking children.

Craig: Both of my kids have braces.

John: Yeah. That’s nice, well done.

Craig: How about that?

John: You’re bragging there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because I can afford braces.

John: “I have braces for both of my kids.”

Craig: Both of my kids have braces.

John: They don’t have to share. They each have their own braces.

Craig: But no, I’m saying that’s how old my kids are now. They’re both braces age.

John: Yeah. Oh.

Craig: Sick. Okay, let’s see. Last but not least, we’ve got Chris from LA writing, “I have a couple of related questions I was wondering if you guys could help me with.” We will see.

“I have a script that is being optioned by a producer with a director attached that everyone seems to agree has good commercial potential if done right. Since this is all happening this week, there is no financing yet. But we are looking to shoot it in the $500,000 to $1 million range. Since I don’t have an agent, lawyer or manager…” And I’m already getting nervous…

“It’s up to me to determine the conditions of my deal with them.” [laughs] I’m sorry, I’m not laughing at you, although, technically, I’m in fact laughing at you.

“So here are my questions. One, is it appropriate for a screenwriter to ask for a producing credit if they’re going to be heavily involved in development and production? If so, is there a certain credit that’s most appropriate. I want to stay involved in production for all the reasons you would think.”

Let’s see. “Producing credits, I’ve been told, can be pretty arbitrary and I don’t expect full credit as producer, but would asking for a co-producer or associate producer would be acceptable or is that taboo if you’re already the credited writer? What percentage of backend is appropriate to ask for? Since this is a low-budget project, I think it’s smarter to take a minimum fee upfront — I’m not entirely sure what that is in a project this size — and have some stake in the finished product.”

This question is a bit like, look, I’m not a doctor, but I’ve opened myself up.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Now, can I take out my spleen? Do I need the spleen? Do I clamp the spleen off? Also, there is blood pooling. Do I sup up the blood? Or is it good that it’s pooling? What do you think?

John: So what I think, Craig, is that the phrase to underline here is $500,000 to $1 million range. And that’s a smaller movie than you or I have actually ever made. And so –

Craig: I made one that was that small.

John: You made one that small?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Okay. So at that level, it’s not unheard of that this person doesn’t have a writer’s agent or a manager. This person should have a lawyer to go through these things.

Craig: Yes.

John: And the lawyer, and you’re going to pay a lawyer to go through this thing and sort of — and you want the lawyer who does this deal all the time because this is a very specific kind of movie you’re making. And the person that you hire, she will know what is sort of typical, what’s possible and will make sure that everything gets done, the to the degree it needs to get done.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I can answer some of your questions. Yes, it’s appropriate to get a producer credit if you’re going to be involved in the production of the movie. On Go, I was as a co-producer. Co-producer, associate producer, that’s good and fine. You could be a producer-producer if you’re actually producing the movie.

Craig: I would avoid associate producer because on films that really –

John: It really means post, I think. I think it means post production. What do you think it means?

Craig: Oh to me, it means sort of the producer’s main assistant.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So associate producer is not a great credit for you as the screenwriter.

John: I would agree.

Craig: Yeah. No, you can ask for producing credits of course. And then in terms of backend versus upfront fees, that is a very complicated situation. Backend just doesn’t mean anything.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s all about the definition of backend.

John: So classically, the tiny movie that actually had a backend that was meaningful is The Blair Witch Project.

Craig: Right.

John: And the people who were, you know, the actors who were involved with that backend on that did tremendously well because of this. It was actually genuinely a profitable movie. Your movie will not be profitable, almost no chance that your movie will classically turn a profit, but that’s okay.

Craig: Right. That’s not what it’s about.

John: That’s okay. The goal is that you’re going to be able to make a movie. So Chris and this question is probably a month old, so maybe well past this point.

Craig: Right.

John: But you need to find a lawyer who does this kind of thing a lot.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: And so what I might look for is if you’re going through the trades and you’re looking for little tiny movies that sold places, look for who negotiated those deals. That might be a person and when you call or email that person just like, hey, I have a movie being set up with this production company that’s a known production company. I really need someone to figure out my deal for me.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s how you approach that.

Craig: The other way to go is to talk to your director and say, “Hey listen, I need a lawyer to do my stuff. Is there somebody at your lawyer’s firm who would take me on?” You must have a lawyer to do this. You cannot do this on your own. It’s foolishness.

John: Yeah.

Craig: True foolishness.

John: I mean don’t spend more money that you’re going to make on the movie for your lawyer. Clearly, you have to set some limits there.

Craig: You won’t need to. It’s not rocket science. It will take them two or three hours. And you should not have a principal at the firm. Get a fairly young lawyer who understands basically what the deal is and maybe you’ll end up spending $1,000 or something.

John: Yeah. And the reason why they hopefully will want to make your deal is because they want you as a client from this point forward.

Craig: Right, exactly. That’s how it works.

John: The other thing I’ll say is that movies of this scale, you don’t think of them as being WGA movies, but they totally can be WGA movies.

Craig: Yes.

John: And so another place that you should take a look at is the Indie deal that the WGA has.

Craig: The low budget agreement.

John: And so the low budget agreement should be able to cover this kind of movie.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And with this kind of movie, there may be options which they don’t pay your money upfront. They could pay your money in the backend. But they can give you credit protections. They can give you things like potentially residuals or health for this project which would otherwise seem impossible.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So definitely worth looking at whether this movie can be done under the low budget agreement.

Craig: Agreed. Agreed. Agreed.

John: Cool. It is time for One Cool Things.

Mine this week is a website that I fell into a great click hole for this last week. Every Insanely Mystifying Paradox in Physics: A Complete List.

Craig: Oh, neat.

John: And so basically it’s just a webpage that has a link to all the Wikipedia articles about the crazy sort of paradoxes. And so we talked about Fermi’s Paradox on the show before which is why we don’t see evidence of alien cultures when they should be out there, but they’re not.

Craig: Right.

John: There should be clearly tremendous number of alien cultures, but we don’t see them. So there’s reasons why we may not be seeing them. But the other paradox is a lot of them involve time travel, so obviously it’s sort of the father paradox, the grandfather paradox, the twins paradox.

But some of them are, and Schrödinger’s cat. But some of them are like actually just completely new to me. And so –

Craig: Give me a new one.

John: What was one of the most recent new ones? Bell’s theorem which is a quantum physics, quantum physics violates other things that, you know, sort of –

Craig: Yeah, I love it.

John: Yeah. And so it is really challenging in the sense that a lot of these also involve sort of time zero in the sense that all of our equations, they should be able to work the other way around. And yet some of them can’t work the other way around. And so what is it and so why do we always perceive time as moving forward when it really could move the other way as well? Second law of thermodynamics should, you know, indicate the direction time zero, yet things go crazy.

Craig: It’s so sick. The universe is so sick.

John: Well, it’s also, we may fundamentally be asking the wrong questions. We have this perception –

Craig: We don’t get it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We just don’t get it. We know we can’t see it.

John: We don’t, we’re smart enough to realize like, oh the sun is in the center of the universe, and yet there may be some fundamental things that we’re just like not getting and we may not really have the mental capacity to figure them out.

Craig: Well, my favorite one is the whole this is a hologram.

John: Yeah, and how do you prove it?

Craig: We are essentially a computer simulation. I believe that.

John: My daughter who’s nine, she’s going to bed, and she’s like, “Papa, I really think that maybe this is all like a computer game and that we’re all just living in it and that we’re not real.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I’m like, well, good night.

Craig: There you go. That’s right.

John: That’s right.

Craig: That’s right.

John: That’s right. Click.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But the game has rules.

John: The game seems to have rules.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. But I mean sometimes the rules seem to be violated. And that that’s what this website is about, so these sort of questions like, oh yes, but these things don’t quite make sense.

Craig: If we were a computer program and let’s say things got upgraded, we would never know.

John: No.

Craig: And it would happen in the blink of an eye.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We would literally never know that the color, like I look at this table in front of us and it’s yellow.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: But yesterday, it could have appeared a totally different way to me. I may not have even existed yesterday.

John: No.

Craig: All my memories, all of them. Wow.

John: Yeah, so there’s another thing that sort of propagated through a couple of months ago which is arguing that rationally we probably are a computer simulation. And the computers are simulating us in order to sort of perfect their own programming. And so that we’re basically constantly being wiped and sort of restarted so that the computer intelligence can become more intelligent.

Craig: I’m okay with that. It’s fine.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s better than…I’m just glad that we’re living in this stage of the software as opposed to like the Middle Ages.

John: Mm-hmm. Well, if the Middle Ages happened, Craig?

Craig: Yeah.

John: We have no idea the Middle Ages happened.

Craig: Correct. Obviously, it couldn’t have happened. That’s just ridiculous.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, my One Cool Things are so much more mundane, which is, this is a great contrast this week. So John, are you a big shaver? You’re not as much of a shaver –

John: I don’t grow a big beard.

Craig: You don’t grow a big beard. So, I have my Mediterranean blood and I grow a big beard, but I shave it. I don’t like having a beard. It gets super itchy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I shave, but I hate shaving. It’s annoying. The worst way to shave your face is with an electric razor. That’s just dumb. I don’t understand people who use electric razors. They hate themselves and the way they look as far I’m concerned.

John: [laughs]

Craig: That should be like Gillette’s shaver. They’re motto should be, “You hate yourself and the way you look.” Okay. But Gillette makes very good razors, like proper razors. And so, there’s the thing like they keep adding razors. Soon there will be like 20 razors.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And every time they come up with some big new thing, I’m like, shut up. And then I use it. And it’s like, oh it’s better. So this new one, the Gillette FlexBall, it’s so dumb because it’s just basically –

John: Oh yeah, I’ve seen the ads for it.

Craig: It rocks back and forth.

John: It’s like the Dyson Vacuum cleaner.

Craig: Correct. So they put it on little pivot head. And it doesn’t pivot in all directions. It only pivots left and right. But then the head will pivot up and down. So effectively, it’s pivoting in a certain rotational range. It’s better.

John: I’m sorry.

Craig: No, it’s better. You know, I used to get cut under my chin every time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Now I don’t. So Gillette FlexBall razor is a very good product. Along with that, is a very cheap product and one of the greatest things available to any man and woman.

John: Right.

Craig: Because women shave their legs and armpits and so forth. And so forth.

John: And so forth.

Craig: A styptic pencil.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Everyone, every adult should own a styptic pencil. I don’t know what’s in styptic pencils. I know that I have one that I’ve had — I think I got it in college. It’s like a stalagmite.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think I paid $0.89 for it. So the styptic pencil business to me is the worst possible business because you make a product, you sell it for a dollar.

John: And no one ever needs it again.

Craig: And no one ever buys it again.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it essentially cauterizes any small cuts on your body within seconds. And it’s so useful.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’re running at the door and you’ve got 14 –

John: There’s the toilet paper stuck to your face.

Craig: Well, I don’t even do the toilet paper.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I just take out my old crusty like –

John: Dab yourself with it.

Craig: I mean I just dab, dab, dab. And you feel it burn. And the burn is wonderful and then you’re good to go.

John: I’m looking up what is a styptic pencil made of because I want to know what the elemental –

Craig: I mean it seems like it’s some sort of salt. It’s like a crusty salt.

John: Yeah, what they are and how to use them. So it’s any short medicated stick generally made of a powdered crystal from an alum block. So it’s alum, so like pickling. You’re pickling your face.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Yeah, that’s fair.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s a reasonable choice.

Craig: Face pickling.

John: Now, do you have to shave with shaving cream or can you just wet, dry, wet, whatever?

Craig: No, I shave with shaving cream.

John: Yeah, see I don’t even need to do that.

Craig: Wow.

John: I can literally just like, I can be in the shower and like [slip, slip, slip], I’m done.

Craig: You shave like the way I shaved when I was 12.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Oh, here’s a hair. But I can see, you have like a little mustache.

John: Well, that’s three days of me not shaving.

Craig: Are you kidding me?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I hate you.

John: Yeah. I can’t grow a beard though, so –

Craig: This right here is 50 minutes of me not shaving. Yeah, I shaved 50 minutes ago.

John: That’s our whole show this week. This is quick and easy.

Craig: I mean that was fun.

John: Yeah. Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Boo.

John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Yahoo!

John: If you have a question for Craig or me, you can write to Little short questions are great on Twitter.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig is @clmazin and I’m @johnaugust. If you would like a Scriptnotes t-shirt, you should go to and see the t-shirt designs there. It’s a Sons of Anarchy thing that Craig seems to like and I like a lot too. You only have until September 30th, so don’t dally on those.

If you would like to join us for the Slate Live Culture Gabfest, you should come. And that is happening in Los Angeles. It’s downtown. And you can find the date and all the details if you click through the show notes here. That would be fun.

And finally, if you would like to have a dirty episode of Scriptnotes, you should become a premium subscriber. You can go to and that is where you can log in, and it’s $1.99 a month, you get all the back episodes.

You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, subscribe and you can leave us a comment. We love to read your comments.

Craig: How are those comments going by the way?

John: They’re going well. You know what, we have a little time. Let’s pull up some iTunes here and see what people have written. Cory Orion wrote, “Fantastic. Five stars. The podcast is the best. Best investment of my time. Best investment of my money in their subscription app.”

Craig: Well, this guy obviously loves it.

John: This guy loves it. So we talked about sort of if we hit a thousand premium subscribers –

Craig: Right.

John: We’re going to do the dirty show.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that so far, we’re rocketing up.

Craig: Oh really?

John: So I think we’re going to have to do the dirty show pretty quick.

Craig: People love dirtiness so much that they’re now — now, they — we knew this.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We knew this would happen.

John: So if you would like to become a premium subscriber, you’ll get some occasional bonus episodes including one from last week. So the bonus episode from last week is the overtime stuff from the Aline show.

Craig: Oh, it was pretty funny.

John: It was pretty good.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. I listened to that.

Craig: Drunken chit chat.

John: Yeah. Drunken chitchat about all sort of things. Spanx.

Craig: Spanx.

John: And D&D.

Craig: And people are like cancel subscription.

John: Cancel subscription.

Craig: Cancel and cancel and cancel. Spanx and D&D. Oh, those go together.

John: But the premium subscribers get all the back episodes, back to episode one which is fun. So you can hear it back when we didn’t know what we were doing.

Craig: Right, according to Aline we didn’t know what we were doing

John: We had no idea what we were doing.

Craig: Right. The boss of the podcast.

John: Oh lord.

Craig: What’s with her?

John: What’s with her? Hi Aline, we love you. You scare us.

Craig: Yeah. Dude, now you say this. Now you talk. Hey.

John: Hey.

Craig: Hey.

John: Hey.

Craig: Hey. We know what we’re doing.

John: Other bonus things, like we’ll have this interview Simon Kinberg coming up. So there’s other stuff on there.

Dan Jammon writes about episode 153, “Long time listener. As if I didn’t love you enough, your Björk digression from this particular episode had my howling in the gym with delight. Such a pleasure to hear you both share your thoughts and your mutually exquisite taste confirmed yet again. This time in a manner very close to this listener’s heart. To prove I listened, I decided to share this comment with you on iTunes as mojo rather than tagging you both on Twitter. Much love to both of you from the Windy City.

Craig: What did we say about Björk?

John: I don’t remember.

Craig: Human behavior.

John: Yeah, [hums].

Craig: Yeah. She’s very strange. [hums] It’s probably what we did last time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: [humming] God, I love that video. And it was like a big, it was a big bear. Wasn’t the bear eating somebody? Eh, we already did this digression.

John: “Craig Mazin is super cool, but I find John August really intimidating, like a high school principal. That said, it’s great to hear two working writers tell war stories in such an intelligent, informative, and passionate way. There is no show that comes close to these guys. I learn something every time I listen.”

Craig: [laughs] A high school principal.

John: Oh no, that’s fine. Someone’s got to make sure the school runs properly.

Craig: That’s right. I appreciate your comment. It will be filed. Please, now, back to class.

John: Yes.

Craig: Back to class. Principals are always telling you to go back to class.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You are a little bit like, I can see that. You would be an excellent high school principal.

John: I’d be an excellent high school principal.

Craig: I would be the worst high school principal.

John: I think you’d be really good. I think –

Craig: Oh really? I think I would be dragged in front of the school board on a weekly basis. “Did you say this?” Yes.

John: Yes.

Craig: Yes. “You called this kid an idiot?” He was. He’s an idiot.

John: I mean school counselors can call a kid an idiot, cant they?

Craig: I don’t think they’re allowed. I don’t think you’re allowed to call a kid an idiot.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Particularly the school counselors. Now we know you’d make the worst school counselor ever. You think your job is to belittle them. They come in and they’re like,” I’m being bullied and picked on.” Well, it’s because you’re an idiot.

John: You can say that you made an idiotic choice.

Craig: Yes. [laughs] But still that’s the worst job of being school counselor ever. So –

John: You made an idiotic choice.

Craig: And then you just look at them.

John: To throw that rock at the child.

Craig: You look at them totally calmly with sort of dead eyes. “Well, you’ve made an idiotic choice.” “Wah-wah, I want to transfer.”

John: Yeah, I’m now like Gotham villain. I’m the principal.

Craig: The principal. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that’s right. You’re the principal. You’re Batman’s newest foe.

John: Craig, thank you very much for a fun podcast.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.


On Being Somebody

Wed, 09/17/2014 - 13:23

Reading Notch’s letter about how the burden of public scrutiny led him to sell Minecraft, I’ve been thinking back to an essay I wrote in 2006 entitled Are You Somebody?

As I’ve done more publicity, and talking-head interviews on various DVDs, I’ve found that random people are recognizing me and saying hello with increasing frequency. It’s once a month or so — nothing alarming — but it always comes when I least it expect it: shopping for strollers, in line at the movies, at breakfast with the woman carrying my baby.

The hand-shakers are invariably polite, so I can always genuinely say, “It’s nice to meet you.” But what’s fascinating is how everyone around us reacts. Remember: as a screenwriter, I’m not actually famous. Yet suddenly someone is treating me like I am. I love watching that double-take as bystanders try to figure out who I could possibly be.

Once a nearby woman actually asked me, “Are you somebody?”

Almost apologetically, I said I was a screenwriter. Her face showed a combination of confusion and disappointment that would have been devastating at another point in my life.

That was 2006. Eight years later, I’m still not famous the way movie stars are famous.

Back then, I wrote:

Here’s an example of someone who is actually famous: Drew Barrymore. A few years ago, paparazzi took pictures of us having lunch. In the caption, I was the “unidentified companion.”

This happened again last year in New York. This time I was carrying Drew’s kid, and I didn’t even merit an “unidentified companion.” So when I say I’m not famous, I have proof.

But over the last eight years, I’ve become more widely known within a subset of people, most of them writers and tech folks. Because of Scriptnotes, my voice is actually recognized as often as my face. Because of Twitter, I end up interacting with strangers much more often. And because of both outlets, people who recognize me know a lot more about me — at least, a version of me who hosts a popular podcast about screenwriting.

That “version of me” aspect can be challenging. Jason Kottke writes about his experience:

I realized fairly early on that me and the Jason Kottke who published online were actually two separate people…or to use Danskin’s formulation, they were a person and a concept. (When you try to explain this to people, BTW, they think you’re a fucking narcissistic crazy person for talking about yourself in the third person. But you’re not actually talking about yourself…you’re talking about a concept the audience has created. Those who think of you as a concept particularly hate this sort of behavior.)

Because I can’t hide behind my writing, I’m probably more “myself” on the podcast than I am in blog posts like this. I rewrote this sentence five times; on the show, I can’t ponder and perfect.

But the podcast is on some level a performance. It’s me with the dial turned up. It’s not who I am when I’m making dinner or struggling to make a scene work.

Kottke references Ian Danskin, whose video This is Phil Fish deftly explores how we treat “famous” people more as concepts than as individuals. Even if notoriety hasn’t changed someone’s behavior at all, perception has:

The dynamic between these two people is viewed completely differently as soon as one of them becomes famous.

If there’s a takeaway from this — and there needs to be, because John August is professorial — it’s that the time to think about how you’d behave if you got famous is right now.

That fuck-you tweet to @RandomCelebrity may seem like no big deal — hell, they’re rich and famous. But if that rich-and-famous celebrity tweeted the same thing, you’d think, “Wow, what an asshole.”

Here’s the mind-blowing truth: The person who sends the fuck-you tweet is an asshole, regardless of her pre-existing level of fame.

Tweet people — even famous people — the way you’d want to be tweeted. Yes, this is basic Golden Rule stuff, but we always forget it in the world of internet fame.

Beyond that, be careful of internet pile-ons. People do stupid stuff, and it’s often appropriate to call them out on it. But it’s almost never a good idea to take a random person who said something stupid and hoist them up as a symbol. You’re forcing fame — infamy, really — on someone who is likely no worse a person than you.

Internet fame has a multiplier effect that’s hard to anticipate. You can hurt people far more easily than you realize. And long after you’ve forgotten your outrage, the focus of the blast is left picking up the pieces.

Dressing like a screenwriter

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 18:11

Scriptnotes is a proudly money-losing podcast, with no ads or sponsors to defray the cost of editing, hosting and transcripts. So once a year we offer t-shirts to help fill both our coffers and your closets.

In past years, we’ve sold the Scriptnotes t-shirts in various colors. They’re lovely shirts, but three colors is plenty. This year we wanted to do something different.

So we made the Scriptnotes Tour shirt.

Illustrated by Simon Estrada, it’s the stadium rock band shirt made for people who listen to weekly podcasts about screenwriting.1 For the first time ever, there’s printing on the back: a list of all the live shows, past and near-future.

Although the artwork is hard rock, it’s actually the softest shirt we’ve ever made. Stuart Friedel, our resident t-shirt expert, describes it thusly:

The softest shirt I ever touched was the American Apparel gray-tag tri-blend from 2007. Nothing has come close until this. It’s like wearing a daydream.

Stuart’s sense of softness led us to an entirely new garment: our first-ever hoodie. It’s spun from the downy tri-blend threads.

We were originally going to make it a Scriptnotes hoodie, but the complicated typewriter logo translated poorly to embroidery. A much better choice was this blog’s brad icon: simple, iconic, and specific.

Hoodies are the fundamental outerwear of the modern screenwriter: dressy enough to wear to a water-bottle general meeting, casual enough to wear while walking your dog at Runyon Canyon.

We deliberately picked a lightweight fabric, perfect for an over-air-conditioned coffeeshop when it’s 100 degrees outside.

Our final bit of new schwag came to us from an email by George Gier:

You may never know how much I appreciate Highland, but it turned reformatting hundreds of pages of garbage into two clicks of perfection. It rules. If you make a Highland T-shirt, I will be the first to buy one and wear it proudly.

George Gier, this is your shirt (but everyone else can get them too):

For the Highland shirt, we went back the same tee we used for the Karateka shirts: strong and simple, 100% cotton. It’s a deep indigo, reminiscent of Dark Mode.

Making the Highland icon work on a t-shirt was an interesting challenge. The “real” icon uses gradients and shadows that wouldn’t translate to screen printing, so Ryan Nelson flattened everything down.

I kind of love it. Mac icons are still supposed to have depth and shadow, but don’t be surprised if future versions of Highland move a bit in this flatter direction.

If you’re wearing the Highland t-shirt, you’re not only promoting a great screenwriting app. You’re literally wearing the future.

Getting the gear

Both the t-shirts and the hoodie are available for pre-order starting today. Pre-orders end September 30th. We only make enough to cover orders, so if you want one, you have to get your order in.

Note: Hoodies are a special case. Because the embroidery setup costs are higher, we can only make hoodies if we hit a minimum. If we don’t reach the threshold, we’ll give refunds to anyone who ordered one.

All orders ship beginning October 8th. You should have them in time for the Austin Film Festival.

  1. …And things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Luck, sequels and bus money

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 08:03

This week, Craig and John tackle listener questions.

Why do some giant books get crammed into a single movie, while others get split into multiple films? How do you write a movie if you can’t even get your computer fixed? What should a screenwriter do if, after nine years of trying, he still can’t catch a break?

We don’t always have simple answers, but at least we have t-shirts. The new batch is available for pre-order starting today, so don’t wait.

If you’re in Los Angeles, the only chance to see us live this fall is at the Slate Culture Gabfest on October 8th. Check the link for tickets below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 161: A Cheap Cut of Meat Soaked in Butter — Transcript

Thu, 09/11/2014 - 17:39

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 161 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig, this is our third anniversary.

Craig: Whoa!

John: Three years we’ve been doing this.

Aline Brosh McKenna: Oh my god.

Craig: Wait, wait, who’s that? [laughs]

John: Well, we couldn’t do a three-year anniversary without the third voice in Scriptnotes, Aline Brosh McKenna. Hi Aline.

Aline: Hi, here I am.

Craig: What did I always call her?

John: The Joan Rivers of our podcast.

Aline: The Joan Rivers. Ooh, let’s take a moment.

Craig: I know. Poor Joan.

Aline: I’m sad. I saw her in January here live.

John: Oh, how great.

Aline: I saw her. She was so funny.

Craig: She was the best. You know, I always feel like my One Cool Thing, I’m the guy that dedicates my One Cool Thing to people that die, so I’m not going to do it this time. But she is like the coolest thing ever. And Joan Rivers, what a legend. What a pro. What a pro! Like they don’t make them like that anymore.

Aline: But I like what you said which is that she was too busy being a working comedian to be a legend.

Craig: It’s true. Like she never did the victory lap. She didn’t have time for people to celebrate her and talk about how great she used to be. She was like, “No, no. I’ve got to go do my E! show. And then I got to do a web thing.” She never stopped. Amazing. And funny.

Aline: And she really, truly had the respect of her peers.

Craig: For sure. Well, for a bunch of reasons, but you know, the truth is for all of the, you know, people will say, well, she opened doors for women in comedy and that’s all true, but the fact is I think more than anything she was funny. She was funny. She was funny in her 80s. And that is not — honestly that’s not common.

John: It is not common. She came to Big Fish while we were in previews and she came backstage and she was so nice to the cast and crew. She was phenomenal. And she was like, “The guys to the left of me are crying, the man to the right of me is crying. You guys are going to run for ten years.”

Craig: Wow.

Aline: So not prescient.

John: No, she was not correct, but she was lovely.

Aline: Didn’t she tweet?

John: She tweeted that she loved it.

Aline: Yeah, I think I remember I emailed you and said now you’re done.

John: Now we’re done.

Aline: You got the Joan Rivers’ thumbs up.

Craig: Joan loved you. I mean, my wife watched the Fashion Police. She watched every episode of Fashion Police. I don’t think she’s ever missed an episode of Fashion Police. And I would wander by and then inevitably I would get sucked in because [laughs] Joan Rivers was so foul and screwed up, like her jokes were so insane, but they were great though. I mean, she just didn’t give a damn.

Aline: Yeah, I was just going to say the great thing about her, I agree with what you’re saying; the thing I think she really innovated was she just didn’t give a rat’s A.

Craig: She didn’t. She was from that –

Aline: She just said whatever and if you didn’t like it then you could…you know what you could do with it.

Craig: Yeah, she didn’t care. There is like a school of comedy that I guess you would call brave comedy where you just march into the lion’s den, say whatever you feel like, and if people don’t like it, their problem. And she just, boy, fearless. Loved it.

John: Well, today we are going to be saying the things we want to say and not caring about it because it’s our third anniversary. We can do whatever we want. And we have Aline here. Plus, we’re recording this at night. I have glass and a half of wine in me.

Aline: John’s drunk. John’s drunk.

John: I’m just a little bit drunk, so it’s going to be fantastic.

Aline: He’s lit up.

Craig: You think we got Austin John August?

John: Not quite Austin John August, but we’re getting close.

Craig: Okay, okay, we’re getting close.

John: Tonight we are going to talk about Brooks Barnes and the summer season.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: We’re going to talk about flipping the script, which is Aline’s topic suggestion. We’re going to talk about scene geography and why that matters. We’re going to talk about emotional IQ and why screenwriters need it. And we’re going to offer other special little incentives at the end.

But first there’s follow up. Last week on the podcast we talked about t-shirts and we asked whether we should make more t-shirts. The response was, yes, we should make more t-shirts.

Craig: Oh, great.

John: So, we will. So, details next week about how you can order them and how you can get them, but they’re going to be cool. So, there will be more Scriptnotes t-shirts coming.

Craig: Awesome.

John: We also on the last episode talked about throwing vegetables. That sort of randomly came up, throwing vegetables. And Craig wondered how did that tradition start. Fortunately a smart reader who listens to the podcast sent us a link and it’s actually been a very old tradition, obviously, and political figures were the first people to be pelted with vegetables.

But the first reference to throwing these rotten vegetables at bad stage acts came in 1883 New York Times article, “After John Ritchie was hit with a barrage of tomatoes and rotten eggs by an unpleasant audience in New York. ‘A large tomato thrown from the gallery struck him square between the eyes and he fell to the stage floor just as several bad eggs dropped upon his head.’”

Craig: Dropped upon? So there were even people up where the lights are directly above him. [laughs]

John: Yes. Perhaps those side balcony things.

Craig: I see, side balcony. But I love that they were like — I have to feel that John Ritchie, whoever he was, was so bad that after opening night everybody left and said, “We got to come back. We got to come back — “

Aline: With something gross.

Craig: Yeah. “Let’s bring some stuff to pelt this guy with. He’s the worst.” Because people don’t walk around waiting for that moment. They have to plan it.

John: So there will be a link in the show notes to this article, but the article points out that the tomato is actually the perfect thing to throw because it’s baseball size. You can get some distance on it. It’s got good squish factor. So, you can understand why rotting vegetables, but particularly the tomato.

Craig: The tomato.

John: Technically a fruit, but yes.

Craig: It’s a fruit. And it’s not going to — probably won’t harm someone.

John: Probably.

Craig: Probably. Thank you.

John: Final bit of follow up tonight is about my One Cool Thing from last week which is The Knowledge, which is this book about if civilization falls apart and you have to sort of restart everything from scratch, how do you do basic things like make steel and deal with diseases.

So, Lewis Dartnell who is the author of the book wrote me to say like, thank you for mentioning the book, but there’s also a whole website with videos about how to do all this stuff. And it’s actually really good. So, one of the videos I watched today talks about the simple sort of chimney thing you make over a small fire that makes it burn much, much hotter. It’s like a primitive stove. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that you think in Mad Max times they should be using because it is just much more efficient.

So, there will be a link in the show notes to this thing, but it’s basically just And you can see all of these videos, which is quite cool.

Craig: I’ve got to be honest. If it really comes down to this where we’re going to need to build our own stoves and stove, I’ve got two options personally: option one, blow my brains out; option two, sell my body. I’m just going to sell my body. I feel like that’s where I would be most successful.

Aline: I will already be in space.

Craig: What, you will have ejected yourself?

Aline: I will already have been relocated with the special elite people that are going to be relocated to space.

John: That’s right. Because the magic space planes that they’ve developed just for the exodus.

Aline: Yeah. You have to apply, but I did great. I had a great interview. So, I’ll be in space.

John: Well, but you had another interview today, because today, the reason why we’re recording this at night is because you went and had your Global Entry visa.

Craig: Yes! One of my One Cool Things.

Aline: I had my Global Entry thing and the guy was so nice.

John: Talk us through this process. You go down to LAX to do this interview?

Aline: Well, yeah. I Uber’d down to LAX so I wouldn’t have to park. And then you go right in, it’s right in there in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.

Craig: That’s right.

Aline: They took me right on time.

Craig: They keep to their schedule.

Aline: Keep to their schedule. The guy could not have been any nicer. He asked me a couple questions and they take your fingerprints and my hands were not moist enough.

Craig: Ew.

Aline: And so he gave me –

Craig: Did he lick your hands?

Aline: [laughs] He gave me this little, you know what, I really should have boiled my hands. He gave me this little pot of cream to stick my hands in to moisturize them. And he said, “No, no, no, it’s good that your hands are not moist. It means you’re clean.” But not after I stuck my hand in that jar of moisturizer. Just so that it would conduct.

And so he gave me a tip which is when you get off the plane put a little moisturizer on your fingers so you don’t get — otherwise the fingerprint thing won’t read you. Isn’t that weird?

John: But it’s cool. I’ve actually had sensors doing that, the whole Global Entry, where like one sensor just wouldn’t read my hand. So I’d go down to the next one in line.

Aline: It’s moisturizer. But the other thing I didn’t know is that you don’t have to fill out that customs form.

Craig: You don’t have to fill out the customs form.

Aline: Well, so all the bother, the money, the website, the traveling to the airport at rush hour — all worth it just so that when they come around with the forms you’re like, “No, no, I don’t need to deal with that.”

Craig: You’re like, “Piss off.” It’s the best. If you’re traveling overseas it’s like amazing. That part is pretty great, but the best part is when you get off the plane there’s a 4,000-foot line and you skip it.

Aline: Yeah.

Craig: But also even for regular domestic flights you’re always going to get the TSA pre-check. You want a pro tip Aline?

Aline: Yes.

Craig: Pro tip. Okay. To get the pre-check stuff through your Global Entry you’ve got to look at how your name is. Usually on your Global Entry the way you’ve registered for it, it will be your first, middle, and last name. You’ve got to go now to your frequent flier sites and make sure that your name appears that way. So, you need to have your first, middle, and last. If you’re missing your middle name a lot of times the system will go, nah, we’re not quite sure it’s the same person. No pre-check for you.

Aline: Oh interesting. Because my whole thing is all messed up because I’m a three-namer. I’m not a hyphenate. But you know what? I did not have a middle name.

Craig: Okay. So, if you don’t have a middle name on your thing –

Aline: So now I do. Now my middle name is Brosh.

Craig: Okay, well, so, just make sure it all adds up. And then also on your frequent flier stuff, there’s a spot where you can put a known traveler ID. That’s where you put your Global Entry ID. Boom.

Aline: Boom.

Craig: Boom.

John: We’re set. So, our first topic is the summer movie season. And there have been many articles about how this season, this summer, was a disappointment. We are down from last year’s numbers. It’s the end of the film industry. The sturm und drang.

There are many articles about this. In my opinion, the worst of these articles was written by Brooks Barnes for the New York Times.

Craig: Again. [laughs]

John: So, Craig, Brooks has been sort of a familiar ghost over the last three years on this podcast because I think we’ve discussed his journalism several times.

Aline: Is he a bugaboo?

Craig: Several times. He might be a little bit of a bugaboo. Well, Brooks actually, our history with Brooks — you and I both blogged about Brooks years ago when he attempted somewhat pathetically right about residuals. I think he called them royalties and screwed it up completely.

I don’t know what’s going on over there at the New York Times. I’m sure Brooks Barnes is a great guy, but I don’t know how this guy got the job to cover one of America’s most enduring and dominant industries for the national paper of record as they say and he just simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’m just blown away by this guy every time. Let’s walk through the article.

So, his thesis is: “American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: We are tired of more of the same.”

Well, that just sort of flies in the face of everything we actually know about the way American moviegoers go to movies. They seem to reward sequels, reboots, and so forth. But, fine. And then he says, “But don’t entirely blame the sequels and superheroes,” so at this point his thesis is American moviegoers have sent a clear message that isn’t at all clear. So, far Brooks you’re batting a thousand.

So he says, “The film industry had its worst summer in North America…since at least 1997, after adjusting for inflation,” and that we’re 15% down from the same stretch last year. John, tell me why that stat isn’t particularly interesting.

John: Because last year was a record year.

Craig: Right.

John: Last year was the highest ever box office gross.

Craig: Right. So, yes, naturally we have fallen off a bit from the highest ever. And, of course, when you say movies have had the worst summer since 1997, you’re implicitly stating that this is the tail end of a long, sad trajectory when in fact, no, just last year they set records.

But here’s where he gets really weird. So, he says, “Tom Cruise’s futuristic Edge of Tomorrow, for instance, looked like a hit — and that was exactly its problem.” Huh?

John: What?

Craig: “The title was too similar to The Day After Tomorrow, released in summer 2004.” I’m sorry.

Aline: And see I thought it was too similar to The Edge of Night which was a soap opera I used to watch.

John: I thought it was a terrible title.

Craig: It’s a terrible title for the movie. It’s a good movie. It had a bad title.

Aline: It is a good movie.

Craig: But surely the problem was that the title was too similar to a movie that was released ten years ago. I mean, nobody said, “Oh, this looks too much like that movie that might be out also at the same time if it’s ten years ago.” It just doesn’t make any sense.

Anyway, he says, “Despite stellar reviews, Edge of Tomorrow took in $99.9 million.” So he’s citing Edge of Tomorrow as an example of the problem, although I’d like to, again, refer you to the very first sentence, “American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: we’re tired of seeing more of the same.” In fact, Edge of Tomorrow was an original movie and it wasn’t more of the same.

John: No. Later in the article he says that Edge of Tomorrow had a title that seemed familiar, it had robot-y kind of things that seemed kind of familiar, but he’s reaching there.

Craig: He’s reaching, because the robot things, he cites Pacific Rim and Real Steel. Well, Real Steel came before Pacific Rim. It didn’t do that well. Pacific Rim came between Real Steel and Edge of Tomorrow and actually did pretty well.

John: So, the only thing I will give him credit for is Oblivion which is similar enough that I can see people sort of saying like, “Oh, I saw Tom Cruise in a futuristic movie that appears to have a twist in it.”

Craig: Sure.

John: That’s great. It’s a ridiculous article for so many things that it leaves out. And that’s — we can say like last year’s record summer is one of the things it leaves out. But the two big headlines of what it’s sort of not shining a spotlight on is that we knew it was going to be a bad summer, or a down summer, anyway because two of the giant movies of the year got pushed out of the summer. So, Fast and the Furious 7 was supposed to be out this summer; it couldn’t come out this summer because Paul Walker died.

Craig: Right.

John: So it will come out next summer, it will be a giant hit.

Craig: Yes.

John: So hurrah. Secondly, there’s a Pixar movie that was supposed to be here that’s not done. So, that got pushed out of the season.

Craig: Exactly.

John: If both of those movies had opened as they were supposed to do, is there any article, is there any trend to find?

Aline: What happens if next summer it goes way up again? What’s the trend?

Craig: Well, it will go way up again and Brooks Barnes won’t write an article. And that’s what kind of drives me crazy about Brooks Barnes and The New York Times is that you can feel them working to sneer. You can just feel it.

Like, “Well, Disney’s Maleficent became a runaway hit. Not bad for a film that one Wells Fargo analyst earmarked in the spring as a ‘too weird to succeed bomb.’” And then he says, “Well, the characters are familiar but it offered a revisionist storyline.” He’s just saying like, look, I have this idea now that only different movies do well, so even a movie that’s just a retelling of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty rather I’ll say is new. He’s just making stuff up.

I just feel like this is an example of this fake journalism where somebody goes, “Well, we need a story. The numbers are down. I have no idea why the numbers are down. I really don’t. My guess is if I cared enough I would figure out that they’re just sort of naturally down as part of like, you know, the way that trend lines have little saw teeth in them and this is a little down saw tooth. But I have to write a story, so let me just make up a bunch of stuff and use examples that don’t make any sense.”

John: A couple weeks ago we talked about the difference between journalism and sort of academic writing, and how academic writing got to be just these weird things where you’re searching for things that aren’t really there. And this is an example of like journalism that has become academic writing where you’re looking for a trend where there actually really is no trend beyond the facts.

And so these are the four facts I think you can draw from this summer’s box office. First off, it’s down from last year’s record summer. Second, this downturn was expected ahead of time because two big tent poles had moved. Number three, no movies cleared $400 million domestic. And only Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy cleared $300. And last year we had two movies that did that.

There were no out-and-out disasters. There was no Lone Ranger this season, but there were disappointments. The Edge of Tomorrow, a disappointment. Transformers, kind of a disappointment. Spiderman 2 — they all underperformed.

Craig: Well, Transformers made $244 million. I mean –

John: But it made a lot less than the previous Transformers.

Craig: Well, sure, but it made $244 million. It’s going to make money. And obviously that’s just here in North America. It doesn’t include overseas. But again, my whole issue is, look, everything you’re saying is clearly true and I think Brooks must be smart enough to know it. He works at The New York Times, for god’s sakes. But how does he get away with stuff like this: “What separated the few winners from the many losers? For the most part, the winners convinced ticket buyers that they were not just more of the same.”

Example, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was distinctive by using a bold advertising image of a machine-gun-wielding chimp on horseback.” What?!

John: That was not the main image of the movie. That drives me crazy.

Craig: A. B, how can you use Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to a movie that is a reboot of a series. I’m sorry, that was a reboot of a reboot of an exemplar of not just more of the same. It makes no sense. I have umbrage for this.

I would like to say, by the way, next summer is going to be, I think, huge. Because next summer you’re going to have Fast and Furious 7 and The Avengers and Mad Max and Jurassic World and the new Fantastic Four. And Ted 2. And Minions. I think next summer is going to be crazy.

John: The last point I want to make on this is that we talk about the summer as if the summer is really this clearly defined thing. So, we pick these arbitrary dates for when summer starts and when summer ends. And I guess you have to do that if you want to declare a season. But you look at a movie like Captain America 2, that was a giant hit and it feels like a summer movie, but they opened it in April.

So, if you look at the whole year we’re not down that much.

Craig: I totally agree.

Aline: Also tell you the other trend that’s not publicized, I mean, that wasn’t discussed in the article is that these big movies have gotten to be really good. I mean, all those movies you mentioned, Apes is really good. X-Men is amazing. Guardians of the Galaxy is a hoot. A hoot. I don’t think I’ve ever said that word before.

Craig: All right. Thanks, Grandma.

Aline: And Captain America 2, I mean, these big tent pole movies have gotten really quite good. I mean, good writing, and good acting, and I kind of think you could point to this year as the year that there were a lot of really well executed genre movies. Another trend piece you could write.

Craig: John is correct though, also. This is an important thing. When we talk about the summer, the summer is not the calendar summer or the solstice summer. The summer in fact does now begin in April. That’s a fact. The movie studios look at it that way. The summer is now April, May, June, July. August is no longer summer.

So, to me those are the four months of summer that we have to look at when we think about how movie studios release movies. Because if you’re going to compare… — By the way, who cares? What do I care if the summer, “Oh yeah, the summer is down.” Well, what about the fall? How did the spring do? What was winter like?

These people. I just can’t take it anymore, John. I can’t. I can’t do it. [laughs] I can’t do it. I can’t have it.

John: Craig, they need to be able to report about something before Toronto. And Toronto is happening this week, so they needed to have an article for last week and it has to be about the summer box office.

Craig: Well, I just have to say, Brooks — Brooks, you have to be better than this. I know you are. I believe you are. He should come on the show. I feel like I could just say, Brooks, there’s no way you think this is good journalism, this artitorial or whatever the hell it is. There’s just no way. It’s just terrible. Terrible.

John: All right. Terrible.

Craig: Terrible.

John: Aline, please pull us out of this morass. Let’s talk about your topic which you’re calling Flipping the Script. Set us up.

Aline: Okay. Well, the topics I love the most on this show are the crafty topics that give me things to think about in my daily practice. And one thing that happened to me recently that I thought might be helpful to people, and then I have a suggestion.

I was working on a passage of this script and it was about a 15-page passage that was just — it was functioning, but I felt like it wasn’t advancing the story narratively or emotionally and that the characters had kind of frozen. So, just for fun I took this sequence and I took the motivation of one of the two characters and I just made it exactly the opposite of what I had written.

So, instead of resisting the other character in these scenes, he is pursuing her. And instead of being angry with her, he’s solicitous of her. I just changed the dynamic of every scene just to see what happened. And all of a sudden, you know, we complain so much about writing and it’s such a misery and it’s so true. And the moments of true flow are really not that frequent, but I had this moment where I was sitting at a table, sun was shining, breeze was blowing, and I had two and a half hours of reversing the dynamics in the script.

And all of a sudden it changed everything that was going on in those scenes and then it really informed the movie from then on. And it was sort of a breakthrough moment in writing this script and finishing this script. And I kept stopping and looking around and saying like, “I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe that this actually feels as organic and enjoyable and fun.” And it was because I had reversed this thing that had been so set in my mind.

And I think one of the reasons that it really freed… — If you had asked me before if this was a good idea I would have said absolutely not. He can’t do this because of XY and Z. And then once I did it I found a way into it and into this character that really transformed all the writing for me. And it was a great moment.

John: I’ve been in situations like that where I’ll get just jammed up on like I don’t know how to make these things fit together and I can muscle my way through the sequence, but I can feel myself forcing this thing to happen in ways that just doesn’t really want to happen.

And a lot of times it’s great that you have this sort of inner motivation to have this epiphany, but often I’ve been in meetings with an executive and they’re just like, no, you can’t do this. And basically they’re forcing me not to do something. And I’ll fight them. And suddenly I’ll say, “Well, if I had to do it that way then all these things would change.” But then they’re like, “Oh, but all these other things would change, too.”

It’s almost like a wrinkle in the carpet, and as you start to sort of push it one way you’re like, oh but it’s not, oh, I could just push it all the way out of the whole script. Well, that’s just lovely.

And so sometimes those things are so terrifying, you sort of run towards them and hooray, you actually sort of get to a new place.

Craig: It’s such a common thing to feel yourself laboring through something. And because we are taught, I think, in part by the world, and also in part by our own failures and successes that persistence is so important, it’s natural that we want to persist, that we don’t want to quit. We don’t want to give up. Just go, “Well this part seems hard all of a sudden, I shouldn’t just give up on it. I should muscle my way through it.”

Aline: “I should grind through it.”

Craig: Yeah, but you shouldn’t. It turns out that actually that’s the script telling you stop. It’s a little bit like when they say in the gym if it hurts, stop, you know, like the bad hurt. And that’s the bad hurt. We always get afraid when we are lost and we don’t know where to go. That’s a terrible feeling. So, when we’ve been like, well, the only way out of this hedge maze is to push through these hedges, at some point you realize that’s not right. I shouldn’t push through these hedges, but I actually now don’t know where to go.

And what you’re talking about that’s so useful I think, Aline, is the idea of examining your givens and questioning if they’re really given.

Aline: Right.

Craig: Because when you give them up, while that may seem radical, it is often easier to make a radical change that puts the wind at your back than to maintain all that is given and write with the wind in your face.

Aline: Yeah, and it’s true. It’s funny, I think a lot of screenwriters were people who were good students and you know handed their papers in on time and a lot of writers are. And I’ve really noticed that one of the things I had to train myself to do when I became a writer is to feel and not think. And when you’re writing just to feel how does this feel to be in this movie. And it just didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel revelatory. It didn’t feel interesting. It felt sloggy.

And there’s an interesting thing that happens as you become more proficient is that you can write sloggy stuff so that it reads okay. But you know in your heart that like I’m just greasing it here, you know. I’m just pouring sugar and butter on this thing. There’s no nutrition here. I’m just — the steak is kind of — this is a very cheap cut of steak that I’m now soaking in butter so it’ll have some flavor.

And I really had to stop and say like where is the joy in this, where is the discovery in this, and that’s the thing that takes you beyond just craft, you know, that takes it from just being a table that will hold weight into being something that has dimension and interest in it. And even if it hadn’t worked, I think it would have been helpful to me just to see how the characters would talk in these scenes. And I think John is a proponent of these sort of word game type approaches. And I think if you can have the characters adopt each other’s emotional strategies, or change geographically where they are or what they’re trying to do.

Anything, just take the characters for a walk and do something different with them, you have a shot at uncovering a moment like this.

John: The script I’m writing right now, there are two characters who are sort of, they’re not handcuffed together literally, but they sort of have to work together to do something. And one of them is able to achieve her goal at a certain point and that all felt really good and that scene was really good. And as I started writing past it I realized like, wow, she has nothing she wants. And I know that there’s going to be a thing that she’s ultimately going to be on his side a few scenes later, but there’s just going to be this gap of time where like her movie is over.

Aline: She’s completed. That’s the worst.

John: She’s completed her quest. And so the kind of thing I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed on the outline. It would have felt like, well we’re going for that, and then we’re getting into his stuff. But then I realized as I was actually writing the scenes there’s moments there were like she’s just kind of dangling. And so why is she still around.

And so it made me sort of go back and think like well how can I take away that thing that she thinks she just won. And so how do I let her have that little victory and then be able to take it away. So it ended up making the scene much better because it was a reversal within that course of the scene where the thing she thought she had gotten is a way again and sort of together they have to go to the next stage and they both still have a goal and they’re still at cross purposes which is certainly a very useful thing for where I’m at in the story.

Craig: Yeah.

Aline: I have one more suggestion for flipping the script. I think, particularly in genre movies, if you look at the call sheet there’s such a preponderance of male characters. And I think if you get stuck writing a character that you feel stuck or feels familiar, sometimes just changing the gender of the character can really unlock really interesting things.

So, you know, the crooked cop is a woman. Or the baby nurse is a man. And you don’t need to call a tremendous amount of attention. It’s not about the fact that they have a different gender, but it will inform the storytelling with some, because we’ll fill in the blanks. And when I was watching Planet of the Apes I kept thinking what if that character that was played by the Zero Dark Thirty Jason guy, if that had been –

John: Jason Clarke.

Aline: Jason Clarke. If that had been a woman who had been a civil engineer and had lost her spouse, and had a child and was trying to — just, you know, sometimes when you find that there’s blocks of unigender characters, sometimes just changing the gender or the background or the — something that you, you know, when it falls out of your brain in a very stock form, sometimes just changing one thing that could be a detail but actually makes the whole thing more interesting is another thing I could suggest to people to make stuff feel fresher to them.

Craig: That’s exactly why I think that works when you said it falls out of your brain in stock form. When you make yourself, force yourself to go in a direction that is not familiar, it’s like your mind doesn’t have that soporific thing with all the filled in blanks. Suddenly none of the blanks are filled in. And it’s fun to fill them in. Now you’re building a person. It’s exciting. If you say to me, okay, the villain is an army sergeant who is following orders because he believes that the enemy must be crushed at any cost, there’s so — I’ve got like five million movies behind me now. Oh, well, I guess he’s got gray hair and he barks orders. He might have a mustache. He’s very grim.

[laughs] You know, it’s like it’s already — I can’t get away from it.

John: Well, you picked that character, but also I think a good way to segue to the next topic is you picture where he is in those moments. You picture sort of what it is to feel like those moments and what is around him. If you stick a character in those moments you’re maybe going to stick him to some different places, stick her in some different places, and then you’re really writing brand new scenes where you have to figure out everything else that’s around them and that seems really crucial.

Aline: Scene geography is actually where people are in scenes. Where they physically are?

Craig: Yeah. Where they physically are. Where things and people are in a scene.

Aline: So you’re talking about how you do that?

Craig: Well, I’m talking about why it’s important and how you do it.

Aline: Okay. Do it. Hit it.

Craig: Well, it’s something that I think we elide generally. No one is asking us to provide them a plot map where everyone is going to stand. On the day we’ll be in a location and a place that will be designed. The director, and the cameraman, and the actors will work out where they’re standing and how they’re moving, but we can do a lot of helping along the way.

There is a, of all the things that can happen in a scene that tell the story, typically screenwriters think of dialogue. That’s the first and most obvious tool. Then there’s actions. What do the people do? Are they punching, shooting, running, kissing? But there’s also space. How close are they? How close are they to each other? How close are they to the thing they want?

If they’re moving towards it or away from it, how hard or far do they have to go? If they’re hiding from somebody, how are they hiding? Are they hiding really close them? Can they hear the other person? All these physical dimensions help us tell the story of the scene in interesting ways.

One thing that I’ve discovered along the way is that a lot of times we’ll do this work in our mind so that we know it makes sense, but we either don’t include the detail sufficiently in the scene work, or we do it in a way that is not clear enough. And I am repeatedly surprised how frequently people will read a script and get hung up on geographical issues. They don’t understand how somebody could have said something and not be heard by somebody else. They don’t understand how somebody could have said something and be heard by someone else.

And they will stop and we don’t want that.

Aline: Well, one thing I would say is that, you know, a mark of a not very proficiently written script will be like “He stands here, he’s holding a cup, he looks in this direction, 20 feet away is this.” Doing it in language which is too detailed where you feel like you’re reading a continuity and not a script. So, I think it’s always best to think of those things, translate them into emotional language. So it’s like, “He sees the dog around the corner. He leans towards it. It’s so close. It’s only three arm lengths away. It’s only five steps away.”

If you can describe it through the lens of the character, how they’re experiencing it, as opposed to trying to objectively describe it from the outside. It enhances the reading experience.

John: Yeah. You’re using your words that can hopefully have both emotional meaning and sort of logical meaning. So, like “Just out of reach. There in the distance he can barely make out.” Give a sense of sort of where people are in space.

This thing I’m working on right now, there’s one house that’s incredibly important to it. And without sort of giving you a floor plan, I want to at least walk you through some parts of it so you understand how close certain things are and how far certain things are.

Craig: Right.

John: There’s a staircase that’s very important. The dining room is sort of close to there. Sometimes it’s as simple as I will use a scene header, a slug line, that is both Stairwell/Dining Room, so you know that from the Dining Room you can actually see the stairwell. That’s an important thing, so you don’t make them feel like they’re physically separate spaces. You can walk continuously from one to the other.

If you hear somebody screaming at the other side of the house, well, we see them reacting to hear the scream and we see them running up the stairs and through that hallway so we have a sense of how these places connect together.

Aline: It’s also really important when you’re describing where people are in space to vary your sizes. So, things go from being a speck on the horizon to close on the fist opening. Because you want to vary your sense of scale most often because it will get monotonous if everything feels like it’s the same size in every frame.

Craig: Well, we’ve talked about that when we’ve done transitions. I mean, that was a big simple transitional device, big to small, small to big. But I think that there is something worth considering when we’re creating scenes to ask, just as we ask how can we allow an actor to convey an emotion without saying a word, how can we create suspense when no one is talking?

Suspense is a great example of how to properly use geography to your advantage as a storyteller. When you think about the scene in Jurassic Park where the raptor is moving through the kitchen. And the girl is hiding behind the counter. These are the ways that you should ask what other tools do I have. Well, I know I have action. I know I have dialogue. I know I have music. And I know I have the camera, but what about space? What about where people are? There is something great about saying, okay, in an intentional way I want Dustin Hoffman banging on this big window that’s far away. Right?

So that here is this girl getting married and he wants to be with her and he’s far away, but he’s banging on this thing so we hear this distant thumping. And there he is tiny in that space, so that people can get that picture and they understand it. Because the thing is if you don’t spell that out clearly, 99 times out of 100 they’ll go, oh, he’s like right there. There’s like a window that’s right there. That’s creepy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s not at all what you meant.

John: So, I think I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. In general, you’re trying to evoke the experience of seeing a movie just with your words on the page. And sometimes you can just use little things like right and left. And they’re telling you what I see in my head is that like the phone is on the right, the phone is on the left. But sometimes you’re just creating a very general space.

And there’s a scene in Big Fish, in the movie Big Fish, where he goes to make a phone call to tell his mom that his dad has died. And I saw the scene and was like, wait, that’s wrong. In my head I have always seen the scene in my head with the phone being on the other side of the bed. And it’s such a weird thing that like it doesn’t matter at all, but it completely matters to me.

And so the take home from this is that the scene still worked because I created a space with which there was logic in there. There was geographic logic in there. It didn’t matter that it was ultimately on the left or on the right, but it mattered that it was close enough to this space, so the emotional connection was still there. The scene ultimately made sense, it just didn’t fit the way I had it in my head.

Aline: It’s interesting because screenplays are a form of concision, you know, they’re a form that’s organized around concision and brevity. You don’t have a lot of space. And I’ve always thought, pretentiously, that screenplays were more like poems than like novels. And I think a lot of people approach their scripts with too much of a novelistic point of view. Almost too much of a complete vision in a way. And you want to have the complete vision, but you want to pluck out just those details that are the most evocative. And the most evocative detail of that Dustin Hoffman scene that you cite is that we’re very far away from him and we can’t hear him as he bangs on the window.

And so I think training yourself to find the most important detail that really gets across what the scene is trying to do, and being concise about it, I really have notice that the more I do this in a funny way the less I — just the less.

John: The less overall, too. I’m a much more concise writer now than I used to be.

Craig: Yeah. I try and be very concise with my action description. And the simple rule is do they need to know this? Do they need to know it? And if they need to know it, then put it in, and put it in in an interesting way. And if they don’t, don’t. But, part of I guess what I’m getting at is sometimes they don’t need to know certain geographical things that they do.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up on a set and thought, oh man, I should have mentioned this. In my head it was obvious. But now this — why is this nightclub cavernous?

Aline: Oh yeah. Right.

Craig: They’re so far away from where I want them to go. It’s just not intimate anymore. It’s not what I wanted. [laughs]

Aline: Well that’s why you have to be, you know, it’s so true sometimes things that are obvious to you, they’re just not self-evident. And that’s why it’s a collaborative medium and you’re trying to share your vision or how you see it with everyone else in. So, if it’s really important to you, you have to find a way to make sure it’s on the page.

John: That’s why ideally you’d love to be the screenwriter who is involved through the process, so as the director is picking locations and finding stuff, you can be there to say, “Okay, just so we know, the scene that I wrote is meant in a much smaller, more intimate nightclub. And I worry that we’re going to lose some of the comedy or the drama or some of the whatever in this by having it be so incredibly — “

Aline: It’s so crazy to me that like, you know, sometimes they’re making moves and the person who wrote it is long gone. They don’t even have their phone number.

Craig: Sometimes? Of course.

Aline: You’re so 17 — you’ve made so many, it’s like when we were kids and they would run it through the ditto machine. You just run so many dittos on that thing that it just doesn’t make any sense anymore.

Craig: Did you call them dittos or did you call them mimeos?

Aline: We called them dittos.

John: We called them dittos. You called them mimeo?

Craig: I think we had mimeos, because I think that was a New York term.

Aline: And sometimes you’d get a test and it had been dittoed so much that there was like no blue ink on it at all.

Craig: Yeah, that’s right, because when I moved to Jersey it was ditto, but in New York it was mimeo for mimeograph. And did you guys have the purple ones?

Aline: Yup.

John: Oh yeah. It smelled so good when it came fresh off the ink.

Craig: Snort it.

Aline: And it would be wet.

Craig: You’d snort that wet mimeo.

John: If I remember correctly, the one that was in our elementary school office was a hand crank. It wasn’t –

Aline: Yeah, it was a hand crank.

Craig: Oh absolutely.

Aline: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got to go ditto it.

Craig: Yeah, because it was like that purple roll, and somebody would just [cranking sound]. Oh my god.

Aline: Bringing the dittoes.

John: I kind of want one now. Because you feel like if civilization collapses –

Aline: On eBay there is ditto machines for sure.

John: For sure there are. Because you think about it, if civilization collapses, the printing press is a challenging thing to get made again, but I bet ditto, you could do that more quickly.

Craig: I’m looking up mimeograph on eBay right now. I think we should all get one.

John: By the way, Craig, Aline brought us presents for our third anniversary. And so I have mine here. Do you want me to spoil you what our present is, or do you just want to see it yourself?

Aline: No.

Craig: No, what? No which one?

Aline: No, he’s going to send it to you and you’re going to open it up and you’re going to have the thrill of opening it.

Craig: Great. Thank you, Aline.

John: We are pro mimeograph.

Aline: Yes.

John: We are pro scene geography. But we’re also pro concision. And so the balance here, I was thinking about this anecdote which could completely be apocryphal. I heard it in relation to a class they teach at Apple University. They talk about Picasso and how Picasso would start by drawing a bull. And his first drawing would be really, really detailed. And like look like a bull. And then like he would just go through a series of drawings and get less and less and less –

Aline: What’s the essence of it?

John: Yeah, what is the essence of a bull? And so it was a single line. It was like, oh, well that’s a bull. And it really is –

Aline: And then later in production they’ll be like, “Does it have a tail? Does it have hooves? What kind of bull? Does it have a — “

John: Exactly.

Craig: I know.

John: And so you may have created this beautiful line of poetry that sort of describes what this thing feels like, but maybe it won’t have the detail that actually gets the right location picked or makes people cross the right ways. It is a real challenge.

Aline: Yup.

Craig: Man, these mimeographs are pricey. [laughs]

Aline: Are they really? What does a mimeograph machine go for?

Craig: Well, like I’m looking at one that is an antique vintage, but of course I think that means from the ’60s, which is probably the ones that we were looking at. An antique vintage AB Dick, that’s the actual name, AB Dick Fluid Duplicator. It’s a Dick Fluid Duplicator.

Aline: [laughs]

John: [laughs] Love it.

Craig: So an antique vintage AB Dick Fluid Duplicator.

John: It is viscous?

Craig: [laughs] I don’t know. But it’s $277.

John: That feels like a lot.

Craig: That’s a lot. I guess these things are — like people must collect these things.

John: Probably most of them were thrown away.

Aline: But you had to interact with your teacher’s handwriting.

Craig: That’s right. That’s right.

Aline: So you knew which teachers had good handwriting and which ones, it was like scrawled and badly dittoed, and then you were like I’m stuck with this.

John: I have no idea what this is.

Craig: I can’t read this dick fluid. [laughs]

Aline: [laughs]

John: [laughs] Speaking of like auctions of things that were otherwise lost or destroyed, I’m going to put a link in the show notes of this guy has tried to get all the VHS copies of Jerry Maguire. I may be remembering this completely wrong.

Aline: Oh yeah.

John: Yeah, and so basically he’s trying to buy all of them.

Craig: Why?

Aline: Why is that?

John: Just as an art thing.

Craig: Ooh…

Aline: Yeah, I read about that.

John: And so they were on display, I want to say they were at Cinefamily, but it’s –

Aline: That’s such a Cameron Crowe thing to do. It really is.

John: It’s just the perfect choice.

Craig: What an odd thing.

John: So I really applaud that crazy kind of thing.

Craig: Why not?

John: Oh, Craig, I just realized that this episode is going to come out on Tuesday morning. Do you know what else is going to come out on Tuesday morning?

Craig: What?

John: The iPhone 6.

Craig: Uh..Ooh…jizz.

Aline: Dick fluid! Dick fluid! Dick fluid.

Craig: I just started singing Jizz in my Pants.

John: Viscous mimeograph fluid in your pants.

Craig: I just AB Dick fluid’d in my pants.

Aline: [laughs]

Craig: I’m so excited. Well, first of all it’s not just the iPhone 6.

John: It’s everything.

Craig: It’s everything. So, there’s probably going to be a watch, or a wearable as the nerds call it. And obviously the iPhone 6, and a whole bunch of other god knows what. And one more thing! I’m very excited. Do you now, I assume you do this, I do it. I actually sit there and watch the live thing.

John: Yeah. Actually the whole staff is coming in. We’re going to watch it live.

Craig: [laughs] You guys make popcorn. You’re so cute.

John: It’s actually our business to make this thing.

Craig: That’s true.

John: So I will, god, I will hate myself for making this prediction, but we rebuilt Weekend Read kind of behind the scenes, and so the version that’s on your phone right now should theoretically scale up and everything should look perfect on the new iPhones. Lord knows if we’re actually correct.

The Scriptnotes app, by the way, which we don’t actually make will probably be a disaster on the new iPhones because we don’t make it. So, I hope it works. God, I hope it works. But we won’t know until we know.

Craig: [sings] God, I hope I get it!

John: Yeah, I hope I get it to. Speaking of hope and emotions, talk to us about emotional IQ.

Aline: Wow, that was a good one.

John: I try.

Aline: That was good. No, it’s good.

John: I think over the course of the three years –

Aline: Yeah, you’ve gotten really good at it.

John: Aline went back and listened to the very first episode of Scriptnotes. Tell u about the first episode, because I have not listened to it –

Craig: You mean like today?

Aline: No, I bought the premium subscription.

Craig: Oh, thank you, Aline.

Aline: Which was impossible to figure — I had a little trouble. But I got it. And I went back and listened to the first episode. And the most notable thing about it is you guys are not funny at all. You’re not relaxed. You’re very earnest and you’re talking very seriously about things that are interesting to screenwriters. And it’s cute.

And I listened to the first half of the second one, and by then you’re starting to get a little bit of the banter going. But I’m a completist. So, I think I started listening like 60 episodes in or something. So, I’m looking forward to listening to the first –

Craig: Well I think the first of things are fascinating to me. Like if you ever watch the first –

Aline: Oh the pilot of Seinfeld is fascinating.

Craig: That, or the first six episodes of The Simpsons where you’re like what is this crudely drawn unfunny thing? [laughs] This thing is weird.

Aline: Yeah.

John: But The Simpsons actually has two starts. So it has the Tracey Ullman things, which are just bizarre.

Craig: Bizarre.

Aline: Yeah.

John: And then it has the real episodes which are, you know, also bizarre.

Aline: Which are very different.

Craig: Even then they were bizarre.

Aline: Yeah, they really were.

Craig: The early one where Penny Marshall plays their murderous babysitter. It’s just dark and not that funny.

Aline: Yeah, it took them awhile. All right, I wanted to talk about EQ because I’ve really found over the eons that I’ve been doing this that there are many talented people, we know many talented people who are great at writing, but screenwriting as you point out many times is a social endeavor. And it kind of amazes me how many times I find that people are their own worst enemy, myself included.

And one of the things that I’ve learned over time, if I’ve learned screenwriting skills, one of the things I’ve learned is to sort of manage my own feelings and the feelings of people around me and to understand what’s happening emotionally, to read the room, as they say, and to understand how you’re coming across to other people, what’s actually being communicated to you, and I found that it seems to go with writing there’s a lot of blaminess, victimness, almost a nihilism. People get to a point where they feel like, you know, you often hear people complaining a lot about other people’s success. There’s a lot of schadenfreude.

And I really have noticed that the most successful people that I know are positive and intuitive and productive and the way I’ve come to see it that everybody has a narrative for their own life. We’re all telling a story about ourselves, to ourselves, every day. And if the story you’re telling yourself is executives and producers are stupid and I’m a victim, it’s just really hard to get anywhere. And I just find that so many times when people will come and say, well this guy was dumb, and that guy was an idiot, and this guy said something stupid, and I always think like, “Is that what happened? Or was the script not very good? Or were you being obstructionist?”

And I think being successful in this business is as much about learning those things. And I know it’s sort of crude to say that, because we want to think it’s just based on pure what you can get on the page, but you’re a vendor and you’re somebody that has to do something on a regular basis in social interactions with people. And I’m not telling people to be charming, because that’s not what it is. I think that’s sort of a little bit of a misconception that you need to be a networker. I never understand when people talk about networking. I don’t know what that is.

But it’s about understanding that these other people also want your thing to be good. Their careers depend on it, too. And you need to be a participant and a team player and understand that things will be said to you that are maybe not framed in the right way or you’ll say things that are controlled by your emotions, but you need to learn how to control. And I mean I’m sure every business is like this, it’s just that what we do is so personal and emotional, but I find that a lot of screenwriter’s narratives that they construct for themselves schmuckify themselves unnecessarily.

Craig: Schmuckify. I like that word.

Aline: Yeah, it’s a thing I call “schmuckifying.” And I find that there are people, you know, I have been friends with people who they can schmuckify themselves anywhere. They can schmuckify themselves at Denny’s. You know, they can be insulted and feel put upon and criticized anywhere. And if you’re someone who your personal narrative is dumb people are picking on me, that’s going to be fed back to you. That comes back in a loop.

Craig: It’s also not going to help you advance the cause of your artwork.

Aline: Right.

Craig: I mean, what’s hard for us is that we are — we should, I think, have all of the emotional squishiness and angst of an artist, because that’s what we are, but then we have to stop and say, okay, but down past that I do have a goal. And my goal is that I want the closest thing to my expression to be seen by as many people as possible. At least that’s — for many of us in screenwriting that’s what we want. We want as many people as possible to see our movie.

And how do I get there? And how will it — and how do I get there without compromising what I want? And that’s a dangerous path to walk that we must walk. But there are times when I stop and say I am allowed to feel put upon. I am allowed to feel insulted by this. I’m allowed to be angry, and frustrated, and hurt, and sad. But, if I use that to direct what I now say and do immediately next, I’m going to actually get in the way of my own goal, which is to get my movie made.

Aline: Right. No one is going to make your movie because you deserve it, and you’ve been really nice and you’ve tried really hard and you’ve worked really hard. It’s about being excellent. And part of being excellent is listening to other people and being productive and being positive. And I think sometimes there’s this — people just lose sight of how to be smart emotionally. And that that’s — you’re trying to get somewhere. You need to learn how to collaborate with people and tell a story which attracts people to you.

John: Well, it sounds like you’re talking about the same kind of emotional intelligence that you have as a writer. Your ability to have insight into your characters. You need to have that same kind of insight into yourself and what your motivations are.

Aline: Right. It’s true.

John: And what the people around you, their motivations are. And be able to sort of construct this narrative outside of the script you’ve written about how you get this movie made and how this career progresses.

Aline: And just by its very nature, your work and you, you have to attract people to you. You have to attract directors. You have to attract buyers. You have to attract actors. You know, you have to be someone who attracts other people and being sensitive to other people’s emotions is a huge part of it.

I was lucky enough, I had an amazing, the woman who was my agent for 17 years was a great guide to me in sort of how to comport myself, and I was quite young. I was 26 when I started with her. And I remember I was working on a project where the script wasn’t very good, but people were also behaving in a way that I thought was making me unhappy. And I just got on the phone with her and I was complaining, and complaining, and complaining. And she said, “Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to hang up the phone and you’re going to get over yourself. And then you’re going to call me tomorrow and we’re going to come up with a strategy for how to deal with this.”

Craig: Right.

Aline: And I was so stung in the moment, and then I thought, god, she’s right. I am not currently in a state to make any decisions or any game plan because I am just up my own ditto. I really need to… — And you know what? A lot of times you’ll be in situations where as Craig say, you know, you bring your little squishy little thing that you made and you’re so proud of. And you take it to people and they say things which are shocking and hurtful to you because you thought it was great, or you thought you were communicating something, or it meant a lot to you.

And you’re going to get notes which are going to feel like you’ve been slammed over the head with a sledgehammer. And part of your job as a professional is to take a deep breath and not transmit that to other people and really take in their viewpoints. And really, that’s part of what being a good collaborator is and understanding that nobody means to drown your puppy. They’re just trying to give you their opinion.

And it’s really one of the hardest things. And now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I kind of see that the people who make it are not just the best writers. They’re the people who are the most emotionally resilient and confident. And I think you can learn that. I really do. I think that’s something that you can learn. And it’s important to have people in your life who tell you, hey, you know what, I think it’s time for you to get over yourself.

Craig: Well some people, I agree, respond to what we would call tough love, like your agent delivered some tough love. But this may surprise you, I’m going to stand up a little bit for the squishy folks out there. The emotional pain that we experience is quite real. And it can be profound at times, and very confusing, and I don’t want anyone to think that this is yet another part of their life that deserves shame. And that this is more evidence of their weakness, because it’s not. I just think it’s –

Aline: But I’m not really even talking about that. I’m talking about things where, you know, you’re a struggling writer and you get a meeting with someone and they reschedule it seven times. And instead of being like, blech, talking to the assistant and being like, “Um, really? So, you know, because I am busy and I do — “

It’s just being like going with the flow and being okay with it, even if you then have to hang up and kick the dog.

John: Yeah. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.

Craig: Ha! Well, I think that that’s fair. And I do –

Aline: And also like things we’ve talked about, like when you’re approaching someone that you’d like to work with, don’t be creepy. Don’t be, you know, all of that stuff.

Craig: Some of the things, like when you say don’t be creepy, or don’t care so much about that, some people are creepy and some people I think are just wired to be injustice collectors and that’s their vibe. And then if, okay, look, if that’s your vibe, if you know you’re just not necessarily the most socially appealing person, or that you do get hung up on these things, at least be aware of it. And then just say, okay, I’m going to put that in the box of stuff that is naturally me. It’s not evil. It’s not bad, but it’s also not going to help.

Just as there are other parts of my life that don’t necessarily help me with my writing, that’s not going to help me with my writing. So at least be aware of it, because there are some people out there who are — I mean, I’ve met some writers who are odd. I mean, really odd. And they’re brilliant and they do really good work. And they’re super successful. So it’s possible.

Aline: I’m not even talking, that’s what I’m saying. Like I don’t mean be charming. I don’t mean have great meeting patter. Some odd people really have great EQ. They understand, okay, that’s how I need to behave. I need to show up early. I need to be prepared. I need to be pleasant. I need to remember the names of everyone here. I need to turn this in on time. I need — just anything that you would do to be a good business person.

And I just feel like we sometimes lose sight of that because we want to be artistes. And a lot of times when someone is complaining to me about their career, what I’m hearing is they’re putting things into the universe that are allowing people to schmuckify them.

John: Let’s speak some truth here. I think that the writers who are successful, who are just socially not great, the ones who succeed tend to have partners. And that may be a solution for a lot of these people is that like if you’re a really great writer, but you just can’t sort of figure out how to get along with other people, find one person you can get along with and partner up. Because that may be a way that you can have a career and get movies made that work really well.

Aline: In partnerships there’s almost always a sunny one and a not so sunny one.

John: But I too, like Craig, I want to stick up for sort of the weirdos, oddballs, and the ones who just sort of don’t get it, because sometimes they make the most brilliant amazing things. And sometimes if that makes it harder for them to make it in the Hollywood system, I hope they get to make cool movies outside of the Hollywood system and sort of do things on their own, because I want those movies to exist.

I want them to find somebody who can champion them and recognize their weirdness and their difficulty and help make those movies. Some great producers can do that. And that’s a good thing.

Aline: But I’m really less talking about being weird than I am about the sort of we’re going to sit around and complain and blame and talk about how dumb the executives are. I don’t know, I just think it’s so boring.

Craig: Sometimes that is about blowing off steam. I think that there are — I have met writers and, frankly, they, to fit your thesis, they don’t really make it, or they don’t last, or they really struggle. Writers who seem far more interested in blaming the world for the difficulties that they’re having, but I always feel like they’re actually not really blaming the world, they’re just essentially trumping this up because it’s easier to do than to admit the truth, which is that they’re either scared, or they don’t know how to do it, or it’s just too hard for them to do, or they don’t even want to do it anymore.

But somehow or another a lot of times I think what we’re hearing is the symptom of some other real problem when people just lose themselves in anger and resentment toward a system that frankly we all know is not fair. Nobody could possibly wander into Hollywood and go, “This is going to be a wonderful meritocracy and everyone is going to be quite lovely and rational.” No.

Aline: Right. Who told you it was not going to be like this? And that’s the thing, it’s not like you read a lot of books about how we’re all sort of carried around on silk pillows and treated awesomely.

Craig: Yeah, everybody knows. Everybody knows. So, when I find somebody who is acting like this is somehow new, I think you already knew this. This isn’t about that. But, you know, then again, I do tend to want to dole out a hug.

Aline: I was talking to a friend of mine and he had cribbed a phrase from a friend of his. I said so how are things going right now and he goes, “Well, you know, I’m working on stuff. I’ve got a lot of irons in the freezer.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: That’s funny.

Aline: And I have been handing that out like Halloween candy. I just love — that just really sums up Hollywood. Got a lot of irons in the freezer.

Craig: Wow. Terrible business.

John: Ooh, what a fun third anniversary episode.

Craig: Third anniversary. We’ve been together for three — what is the third anniversary, John? What is it, paper? Wax?

John: Isn’t paper the first one?

Craig: Or, it’s dick fluid. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Aline: I remember very clearly seeing Craig and him being like, “John called me. He wants me to do this thing. I have no idea what it is. I have to get on the phone with him and talk about stuff. I don’t know. I’m just going to go and see what it is.” Like he was mystified.

Craig: [laughs] I don’t know, I still don’t apparently know what a podcast is.

John: You’ve been on several podcasts and you still have no idea what they are.

Craig: I’m not really sure. Are we live on the air right now? What’s happening? John, where is the antenna?

John: So, we, against all odds, our podcast is going really well. About 25,000 people listen to us every week, which is nuts.

Craig: Wow. Crazy.

John: And of those 25,000, about 800 are premium subscribers who are subscribing to the app. Premium subscribers like Aline Brosh McKenna.

Aline: Me among them.

John: You’re paying us $1.99 a month to listen to all the back episodes and occasional bonus episodes.

Aline: I’d give you $2.99 a month.

John: Do you?

Aline: I would.

John: Oh, thank you.

Aline: I would give you $5.99 a month.

John: Holy cow!

Aline: Yeah, I would give you a flat $75 for the year.

John: You can’t see it because it’s an audio podcast, but she’s raising her paddle. It’s like the auction is going on.

Aline: But it’s got to give me that thing where I can listen through, what is it called?

John: Yeah, so apparently the Scriptnotes app right now, it won’t play in the background, so you actually have to have the app open for it to play. So you can’t like check your email when it’s playing.

Craig: Well that’s no good.

John: It totally should be possible.

Aline: My whole airplane thing is listening to old Scriptnotes and playing Scrabble at the same time. So, it’s a problem. Look into it. Look into it!

John: We’ll fix it. We’ll try to fix it for Aline. If we can fix it for Aline we will.

Aline: For anyone.

John: But I just emailed Craig about this, because we have 800 premium subscribers. I’m curious whether we can get to a thousand by Christmas. And it seems like we probably could. But if we get to a thousand subscribers, I think you and I, Craig, should do a special bonus episode that is just for subscribers that’s absolutely filthy.

Craig: Yes! I agree.

John: Because we attempt to make the normal show fairly clean, so you can listen to it in your car with your kids.

Aline: I want in. Come on, guys. I’ve got to get in there.

John: We’ll have special guests like Aline Brosh McKenna just being filthy.

Aline: Well, I think Kelly and I could do a segment where we really –

Craig: Oh, that’s just far too much. [laughs] I mean, we said dirty, we didn’t say horrifying. I mean, come one. The last time John, and I, and Kelly got together –

John: People’s eye balls will melt.

Craig: I mean, we reduced John to a vegetable. I mean, it was just tragic. It was just tragic. That was easily the filthiest one we’ve ever done was the one that you and I did with Kelly.

Aline: Was that the one where you played games?

Craig: Yeah, we played Fiasco.

Aline: I don’t know. I’m a completist, but that one, I was –

John: Yeah, a lot of people –

Aline: Head scratching on that one. Also, the audio was weird.

John: It was a little bit weird, yeah.

Aline: John was so much more upset, by the way, Craig, that I just said the audio was weird than I said the show was weird. He would have been much happier if I said, no, the show –

John: The audio was brilliant.

Aline: Perfect. Yeah.

John: But the content was terrible.

Aline: That’s what he wanted to hear.

Craig: I could have told you that that would have been the reaction.

Aline: Are we on to One Cool Things?

Craig: No, we’re not done yet, Aline. You’re not in charge of this podcast. You’re not the boss of us!

Aline: Neither are you?

Craig: No, I am. Well, I’m second in command. [laughs] I’m the Gilligan of this boat.

John: You’re the Riker of this enterprise.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So, if we get to a thousand subscribers, Craig and I promise we will do a bonus episode that’s only for subscribers. So, if you’d like to subscribe go to, or you can subscribe kind of through the app, but it’s kind of frustrating through the app.

Anyway, you should subscribe because you get all the back episodes and some bonus stuff, too. And I’m going to be doing a special Q&A thing at the Writers Guild with Simon Kinberg.

Craig: Ooh…

John: All of our friends, Simon Kinberg.

Aline: What?

Craig: Yeah.

John: And we’ll have the audio for that, too. So, you should come for that.

Aline: Nice.

Craig: Excellent. Great. Love that guy.

Aline: He’s the best.

Craig: He is.

John: One Cool Thing, Aline Brosh McKenna.

Aline: I have one. So, Breaking Bad is not on the air anymore –

Craig: What?!

Aline: And True Detective is not on the air anymore.

Craig: What?!

Aline: But you know what has been on the air this year which is quite good is The Honourable Woman which is a TV series that’s on the Sundance Channel. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in it. Stephen Rea is in it. It was written and directed by a gentleman named Hugh Blick. I’m making that up.

John: Sure.

Aline: Something like that. Something British like that. Hugo. Hugo — look it up. John is looking it up. It’s so good. It’s really a very good thriller. The title is not great. The title makes it sound like it’s a 19th Century.

John: It sounds like an “eat your spinach” show.

Aline: Yes, it sounds like a 19th Century thing where people wear corsets. But it’s actually –

Craig: Well, I like that sort of thing.

Aline: A very well done thriller, contemporary thriller, about — she’s in parliament played Maggie Gyllenhaal and she’s Jewish and she owns a company that has investments in the territories. And it’s about Israeli/Palestinian relations. And it’s obviously very relevant right now. It’s very well done. It’s very well written.

I think there are eight episodes. We’re about six into it. It’s just really good. It’s the kind of movie that I feel like Hollywood used to — it’s the kind of story that Hollywood used to do kind of on a regular basis and does less frequently. And if you like intelligent thrillers… — The one thing I will say is the first 20 minutes of the first episode, we had no idea what was going on. And we kept all, I watched it with my son, and we kept saying who is that, what’s going on.

But I really love that about it actually because it gave us so much credit. What’s the name of the guy?

John: Hugo Blick.

Aline: Hugo Blick. He’s really so talented. It’s got such scope. Such scale. It’s smart. And it gives you credit. And I highly recommend it.

Craig: [British accent] Who is that? Who is that? What’s going on? Who’s that one now?

Aline: You’ve just described me watching Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones for me, the entire second season was me leaning over to my husband and going, “Who is that? Which one is that?’

Craig: Was that the one from before?

Aline: And he would say, “He’s the one who wants to take over the kingdom,” which was really not helpful.

John: [laughs] That’s not helpful at all.

Aline: There’s about 11 of those.

John: I love Game of Thrones. But Game of Thrones, I really don’t know the names of most of the characters. I can sort of identify them by general type and sort of like I think it’s a Lannister. There you go.

Craig: Well, the Lannisters are easy because they’re blonde.

Aline: Yeah, but there were a lot of blondish men of about 43 years old in that second season that were all trying to take over the kingdom.

Craig: Was that the one from before who had, with the lady? I can’t keep — I don’t know who these people are.

Aline: The Honourable Woman, Sundance Channel, Maggie Gyllenhaal.

John: And it’s Honourable Woman with a U in it. I just looked it up.

Craig: Of course it is.

Aline: It’s all Brit like.

John: It’s all Brit like.

Craig: Honourable. Yes. Honourable.

John: My One Cool Thing is a follow up on an earlier One Cool Thing. So, early on in the show I had One Cool Thing Untitled Screenplays, which is a Tumblr of like little snippets of screenplays that are like ridiculous.

Aline: Oh yeah, it’s funny.

John: Sort of deliberately ridiculous. And so the person who created that Tumblr, C.W. Neill, has a book, like a published book you can buy called This Movie Will Require Dinosaurs.

Craig: [laughs] That’s a great title.

John: And so it’s available in the world right now. It’s a physical book. I actually bought the iBook store version of it, which is good and fun, too. So I would highly recommend people check it out.

And there’s actually a live reading happening as well. I don’t have the dates in front of me, but there will be a link to that in the show notes as well.

Craig: Who’s that one?

John: Who’s that one?

Craig: Oh, he’s with the sword.

Aline: She’s the one with the dragons.

Craig: Oh, oh, from last time?

Aline: Mm-hmm. With the boobs and the dragons.

Craig: My grandmother used to do that stuff. I loved it. I can’t keep — my grandmother talked like this. “I can’t keep up.” Such a sweet lady.

Aline: She wasn’t Jewish though?

Craig: Oh my god. She was, every amount of Jewish that you could have. Her DNA was a thousand percent Jewish. She was the mother of all Jews.

So, have I — John, have I done N3TWORK, the app N3TWORK? Have I done this one yet?

John: I don’t think you’ve ever done N3TWORK.

Craig: Okay. So, my One Cool Thing, an app called N3TWORK. It’s free. If you want to get it, it’s certainly available for iOS. Probably for — I can’t imagine it’s not for Android. N3TWORK. Not Twerk as in Miley Cyrus but Twork, N3TWORK. And it’s a very smart little app.

So, the theory behind it is there’s a ton of really good content publicly available on YouTube and similar sites, but there’s no way to curate it. I mean, you can go to YouTube’s home page, but it’s sort of useless, and a lot of it is ad-supported and promoted. And there’s just a ton of crap out there. And the one thing that networks always did for us was curate. They just would say, okay, well we at least think this is good, why don’t you check it out.

So, this app basically sucks up all this video and you just start saying I am interested in videos about this topic, and this topic, and this topic, and they just start piping them to you. And as you watch it, you can go, no, don’t like this one, just swipe it away and it’s gone. Oh, I do like this one, I’ll watch it a little longer. And, of course, like all big brother apps it’s learning and so it starts to be able to send you things that you might like. And you can sort of download them for offline viewing. It’s a really cool little app.

I haven’t used it too much just because I hate watching things, as you know. But for those of you that enjoy watching things, and think that you might be missing out on some really cool things out there on the YouTubes and so forth, check out N3TWORK.

Aline: Does your music on your iPod get smarter? Like when you use shuffle, does it know like I listen to this song a lot. I tend to listen all the way through this song. This is a song I like. Because, my god, it keeps trying to give me like the most obscure thing in my — it just is insisting on giving it to me on shuffle.

Craig: I think it’s pure random on shuffle.

John: I think shuffle is purely random. I think Genius, if Genius is still part of your thing, is attempting to sort of navigate towards things. But that’s why Beats is supposed to be — that’s one of the ideas behind the Beats app is that –

Aline: Knows what you like?

John: It knows what you like, or you’re telling them what mood you’re in and therefore it’s going to sort of put stuff together that is going to fit that mood.

Craig: Angry.

John: Angry. Always angry.

Craig: Angry.

Aline: Schmucked.

John: And that’s our episode this week. I want to thank Aline Brosh McKenna, our wonderful co-host for this.

Aline: I’ll still be Joan Rivers. Listen, I’ll still be Joan Rivers forever.

Craig: Ooh.

John: Thank you very much. Joan Rivers forever. If you have a question for Craig Mazin, you should tweet at him. he is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Aline is at nothing, because she’s not on Twitter.

Craig: No.

John: If you have a longer question for any of us, you can write to is also where you can find the notes for today’s episode and for all of our episodes. Transcripts are also there.

If you are on iTunes, you should subscribe to the show. Look for Scriptnotes and subscribe there. You can also leave us a comment. We love those comments.

If you would like to listen to all those back episodes and perhaps be that 1,000th subscriber to the premium channel that gets us to our very filthy show, you can do so at There’s also an app in the iTunes app store and in the Android app store for listening to it on your phone. So, that is our show this week. We will be back next week. But, thank you all.

Aline: Thanks for having me.

Craig: Thanks guys.

John: Thanks Aline.

Aline: Bye Craigy.

Craig: Bye.

John: Thanks Craig. Bye.


A Cheap Cut of Meat Soaked in Butter

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 08:03

To celebrate the third anniversary of Scriptnotes, John and Craig invite Aline Brosh McKenna and her limitless analogies back to discuss box-office journalism, scene geography, emotional IQ and flipping the script.

It’s a jam-packed episode. In fact, there was so much we cut part of it out as a bonus Overtime show that will show up for premium subscribers later this week. In it, we make predictions, re-invent Spanx, and detail our love of D&D. If you want to sign up for the premium edition of Scriptnotes, head over to

If we hit 1000 premium subscribers, we promise to do an NC-17 show that you should definitely not play in the car with your kids.

Tickets are available now for the Slate Culture Gabfest Live on October 8th. John and Craig will be guests, and it should be swell. Links below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 160: A Screenwriter’s Guide to the End of the World — Transcript

Thu, 09/04/2014 - 17:36

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

Craig, you and I are both writing scripts. We’re both in our first drafts. I just crossed page 60. Where are you at?

Craig: Oh, well, see, you’re lapping me because this is really where the difference in our processes is driven home.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because you like to go kind of get a fast draft out and then you go back, whereas I am painstakingly whistling this thing. So I am currently on page 41, I believe but feeling –

John: Okay.

Craig: Feeling very good about it, feeling very good.

John: Yeah, it’s important to have a good 40 pages.

Craig: Yes, yes, I’m –

John: That’s nice.

Craig: Happy with the 40.

John: Today on the podcast, we are going to be talking about the end of the world, which is one of my favorite topics of all things to discuss. But before we get to that, we have some housekeeping to take care of.

First off, Craig and I were both on the nominating committee for the WGA board and we were the people who interviewed people who wanted to be on the WGA board and sort of asked them why they wanted to be on the board. And it was four nights of fun and hilarity.

Craig: [laughs] Yes, yes, high –

John: At the WGA headquarters.

Craig: High stakes fun and hilarity.

John: So on previous podcasts, you and I have endorsed candidates. We said like, well, these are some people who are running and these are people who we think are fantastic and you should vote for.

Craig: Yes.

John: But this year we cannot do that.

Craig: No.

John: Specifically because we are on a committee, we are not supposed to endorse anybody. So the only thing we can endorse is that you should absolutely vote for the candidates of your choice. If you are a WGA member, you have received a packet in the mail that has all the candidate statements along with statements from people who are endorsing those candidates. You will not see me or Craig’s name on any of those endorsements, but we definitely think you should vote for people because it’s an important election. It’s always kind of an important election. There’s always stuff to get done.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You should read those candidate statements and really think about who you want to be representing you. And you actually have an opportunity, if you’re listening to this podcast on Tuesday, tomorrow, Wednesday, there is a Candidates’ Night at the WGA, so you can go and listen to them speak and ask them questions.

Craig: Yes. You can listen to them and point your finger at them and boo and cheer. It’s like a zoo. It’s great.

John: Yeah. You know, weirdly, like a lot of people bring fruit to it. I don’t know that’s a good idea but –

Craig: Rotten vegetables, yeah. Why did people throw rotten vegetables? First of all, the forethought like, okay, we’re going to go out to the theater tonight in 1920 and we paid, you know, paid money for this but we’re expecting that at least one or two of the acts will be so bad we’ll want to hit them with stuff. So who’s going to bring, but we’re poor and vegetables are kind of hard to come by in the Lower East Side, so whose got just rotting cabbage?

John: Well, I think rotting cabbage isn’t that hard to find. If there is cabbage that doesn’t get consumed or cabbage that you could pull out of the ground and the maggots have already gotten to it –

Craig: Right.

John: That’s the kind of thing you bring to the theater.

Craig: Do maggots eat cabbage though?

John: No, they really don’t.

Craig: No.

John: It’s some sort of like — there’s probably a cabbage worm.

Craig: Oh, like a fungus rot?

John: Yeah, that too, yeah.

Craig: So you just gather it up and then you’re like, “Oh yeah, where are you going? I’m going to the theater that’s why I have this bag of just stinking refuse.”

John: Yeah, because, you know, I’m broke and poor but I’m going to pay for a ticket to see –

Craig: Well, I still love the arts, yeah. [laughs]

John: I still love the arts.

Craig: But I –

John: I mean, you have to support the arts.

Craig: But I also hate the arts so much that if somebody just doesn’t make me happy, I’m going to [laughs] hit them with stuff.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: It never really happened. I think that was just made up in the movies, right? I mean, nobody ever did that for real.

John: I’m sure people threw garbage at, like, candidates they didn’t like or like political figures they didn’t like.

Craig: So great.

John: But I don’t know. I mean, The Gong Show was an extrapolation of that idea but –

Craig: Yeah.

John: The Gong Show was just a unique cultural moment that never needs to be repeated.

Craig: Oh, I don’t know. I mean we’re trying, right, because America’s Got Talent, they have their little “Eh” and there’s an X or something like that which is really just a gong..

John: Yeah, that’s true.

Craig: But The Gong Show was great because there was an enormous amount of power in any particular judge. Anyone hitting the gong, that’s it, right, you’re done.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Craig: So if Jaye P. Morgan’s not into you, it’s over.

John: Yeah. Yeah, the old game shows were different and in some ways better. I mean Kitty Carlisle could just postulate about sort of what someone’s profession was. I’m guessing it’s Kitty Carlisle. I’m sort of making that name up but, to tell the truth.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that was kind of a fascinating show because like who are these people, the people on Password, like we don’t have kind of that level of celebrity anymore.

Craig: No, I know. There was all this wonderful sort of, where a celebrity became a professional game show person.

John: Yeah, Paul Lynde.

Craig: Paul Lynde or Charles Nelson Reilly, I mean they were just kind of… — Or who’s the woman on Match Game who really was just famous for being on Match Game. I don’t even know what she was famous for.

John: Is she the one that Kristen Wiig is sort of impersonating or like –

Craig: No, no, she’s, you know, I wish that [TS Fall] were here. He would know.

John: TS would know something.

Craig: TS would know. Yeah, you know, the old game shows were great. I don’t know, these new things, they’re. I don’t know. I really, oh, you know, it’s funny, The Gong Show, Rex Reed was on The Gong Show a lot. That was before he became an enormous asshole.

John: Yes.

Craig: Yeah. An enormous drunken asshole.

John: Yeah, it was certainly good training.

Craig: In my opinion, in my opinion. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: I don’t really know if he is. That’s just my feeling.

John: Yes. It’s also possible that everything was just better back then because it was our youth and everything seemed better –

Craig: Yeah.

John: If we actually were to look and compare it on The Game Show Network, we’d say, oh you know what, it was actually kind of terrible. You know, another thing that was better in our youth was Scriptnotes t-shirts. And so we used to make Scriptnotes t-shirts and we sold them to people who liked them and it was nice. And so our first batch of Scriptnotes t-shirts were the Umbrage Orange and Rational Blue.

And we sold a whole bunch of them and people really liked them. And we also did a batch of black. But that was about eight months ago. And so my open question to you, Craig, but really to the audience is, should we make more t-shirts? And so if you would like to have more t-shirts, on, the same place where you may be listening to this podcast, there’s just going to be a poll saying like, hey, should we make more t-shirts. And if we should make t-shirts, what color should they be because we’re happy to do them if people actually want them.

But we won’t do them if people don’t want them. So that is a question I am positing to the readers. You can also chime in on Twitter if you would like but we are considering making t-shirts in time for, possibly Austin, but more likely for the holiday season. So if you would like a t-shirt, that is something you can weigh in on.

Craig: Is Jaye P. Morgan still alive, do you think?

John: I think of JP Morgan being the banker. Is that a different person we’re talking about?

Craig: Well, it’s Jaye, J-A-Y-E P. Morgan.

John: Oh.

Craig: So she was a –

John: It’s a she?

Craig: Oh yeah, Jaye P. Morgan. Oh my god.

John: Well, I’m Googling this right now because this is –

Craig: Jaye P. Morgan.

John: Fascinating information.

Craig: Yeah. No, see, Jaye P. Morgan is still alive. She’s 82 years old. She lives apparently, oh no, she was born in your home state of Colorado.

John: Yes.

Craig: And she was like a singer and an entertainer. You know, back in the day, you could be an entertainer. That was your job.

John: Well, looking at the Google Images, she’s having a conversation with Kermit the Frog which seems like exactly the kind of thing an entertainer would do.

Craig: Absolutely. So Jaye P. Morgan is still alive. If you guys out there say, yeah, we should go ahead and make some t-shirts, we’re sending a free t-shirt to Jaye P. Morgan.

John: Well, that was never even a question.

Craig: She made me so happy.

John: Aw.

Craig: She did.

John: Yeah, anybody who makes Craig happy rather than angry –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Deserves a t-shirt.

Craig: Deserves a t-shirt.

John: A place where people could wear their t-shirts if they wanted to is the Slate Culture Gabfest. We can actually announce what this thing is now. So on October 8th at 7:30 PM in Downtown Los Angeles, we are going to be joining our friends Julia Turner, Stephen Metcalf and Dana Stevens from Slate for the Slate Culture Gabfest.

And so it’s a fantastic podcast. It should be a fantastic night. Tickets are on sale now. So it’s actually their event. We are just going to be guests, which I’m so excited not to have to host something.

Craig: Yeah, we just show up and we’re brilliant, huh? Is that the idea?

John: Yeah, that’s the goal. So we’ve back and forthed about what our topics are going to be. I think it’s going to be fun. A chance to talk about what it’s like to be creators of content versus critics of content and consumers of content. So I’m excited to have this chance to be on stage with them.

Craig: Yeah. For those of you who might be thinking, ah, I’m on the fence, should I go or not, let me just underline for you: I’m going to be on stage with a film critic.

John: That’s true. Fireworks are promised. And the whole thing is sponsored by Acura, which is just kind of great and odd but wonderful.

Craig: Acura. Oh, that’s right –

John: Yeah, we never have sponsors on our show, [laughs] so it sort of feels — it feels fun to sort of say like, brought to you by Acura.

Craig: [laughs] We’re such namby pambies.

John: [laughs]

Craig: That the only time we’re ever sponsored by anybody, it’s a charity. We never make any money for any, like we’re so… — It’s funny because it’s not like you and I are particularly anti-corporate or anything like that.

John: No.

Craig: We’ve just kept this whole thing very, very pure. And it’s so odd, yeah, that Slate, liberal Slate, will be sponsored by Acura this evening. The Japanese Daibutsu.

John: Julia actually emailed like she’s like, “I know you guys don’t like to take sponsorships, is it going to be a problem?” Like, eh, like it’s no problem.

Craig: It’s your show, so.

John: It’s your show. We’re happy to be there.

Craig: Oh, I said Japanese Daibutsu, I didn’t mean that. A Daibutsu apparently is a giant Buddha, [laughs] so I mean the other thing, like what’s the word for the Japanese business, word for corporation?

John: I have no idea.

Craig: I’m looking it up right now.

John: Okay.

Craig: It’s like Zen — it’s zaibatsu.

John: Ah.

Craig: Okay, that’s a totally, totally reasonable mistake. So I said Daibutsu and I meant zaibatsu.

John: Yes, but in Tokyo, that could get you shunned or killed.

Craig: I mean, no one’s going to kill — I think the whole point of Buddhism –

John: I guess, no, if you call the corporation a Buddha, they’re probably not going to kill you.

Craig: And Buddhists just don’t kill you. That’s why they’re the best.

John: Yeah, but the thing is that they’re not Buddhas. They’re zaibatsus, not Daibutsus, so.

Craig: Well, the zaibatsu people may also worship a Daibutsu. This is the best episode we’ve ever done. And I have to assure people, neither one of us is high right now.

John: No, god, no.

Craig: No.

John: We’re recording this at 1:24 in the afternoon.

Craig: On a Friday.

John: Yes. So let’s go to our main topic because this is a thing that I’ve definitely noticed for a long time and you and I have gone through this topic before. And I would posit that there’s actually a thing I would call, a variable I’d call the Armageddon delay which is how long it takes a group of screenwriters gathered together to not talk about the end of the world.

Craig: Yup. I have witnessed

John: It’s this thing that just inevitably comes up.

Craig: It does.

John: And so we’ve had long online conversations about, specifically the longest one I remember is what do you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse. And I blogged about this. Basically, what is your plan when the zombies attack. And you are way out there in La Cañada, so you have a completely different game plan than I do here in the center of Los Angeles.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. So last week or a couple of weeks ago, I joined a writer named Will Staples.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: He wrote a few of the Call of Duty games. And –

John: Yeah. And he has the best name ever.

Craig: Will Staples.

John: Yeah. He’s heir to the Staples fortune, right?

Craig: I don’t think so.

John: No?

Craig: I don’t think so, yeah, or the Staples Center which is also the Staples fortune, nor the Staples Sisters. I think –

John: I just think it’s bizarre that there’s an office supply place called Staples that’s named for staples.

Craig: Well, it’s also just seems like a dumb name because I mean the whole point is like Amazon, look, we’re as big as the Amazon.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Staples. It’s pretty much what you would think. We got Staples.

John: Another Los Angeles chain, a food place, a food service place is called Smart & Final. And it’s like, that’s weird. It’s like it just feels sort of like two adjectives. No, it was named after a man named Smart and a man named Final.

Craig: Are you kidding me?

John: No, it’s real. There’s a Smart and a Final. And they were grocery stores and they became this sort of warehousey thing over time.

Craig: And, you know, Ralphs is not Ralph’s.

John: No.

Craig: The man’s name is Ralphs with an S. And then keeping with the whole Smart & Final thing, the Outerbridge Crossing, which is a bridge connecting Staten Island to New Jersey, it’s named after a man named Outerbridge.

John: Yeah. It just happens to be a bridge –

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s named after Outerbridge.

Craig: How about that? Anywho –

John: Wouldn’t the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis say that, you know, that the word itself sort of creates the reality? You know, essentially having your name be Outerbridge means that you were destined to –

Craig: Design bridges?

John: Design bridges perhaps?

Craig: Perhaps. I mean it certainly doesn’t explain you or I, although our names are nonsense.

John: My name’s made up. My name’s made up, so.

Craig: Well, your name’s made up but your real name and my name are very similar actually.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Craig: And they’re just nonsense. They mean nothing.

John: No, mine does mean something. My original name is a kind of bird in German.

Craig: Yeah, but that’s German. We –

John: Yeah, we live in America.

Craig: We’re in America, man. We won the war, bro. Anyway –

John: Back to Will Staples.

Craig: So Will Staples puts together this group of writers. I was there, Alec Berg of Silicon Valley –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And Nicole Perlman.

John: Oh yeah, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Craig: Guardians of the Galaxy and we’ll be having her on the show soon. And we all went out to the Angeles gun range –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Which is out in like by the Hansen Dam. You don’t know where that is.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But anyway, we were joined by some military folks. I cannot say of what type. And they’re active duty military folks. And we just –

John: They were not Nazis, they were –

Craig: No, they’re American military folks –

John: Okay.

Craig: Of a certain stripe. And we were instructed on shooting all sorts of gun, sniper rifles and .50 caliber Barretts and Israeli machine guns. It was amazing. It was just an incredible day. But it struck home how my strategy, my surmised strategy, is absolutely the correct strategy for where I live. Get up into the Angeles Crest Forest, it’s just full of gun nuts. [laughs] Get around some gun nuts, hunker down, it’s mountainous territory.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: You can see a lot. So, you know, in warfare, you want the high ground. So we get up high, load up on guns and ammo, look down and theoretically I think we should be okay.

John: Yeah. That’s a very reasonable — you know, you’re picking a defensive location. You are, you know, barricading but you’re barricading smartly. In the middle of the city, it’s tougher to say what is the right choice to do because certainly for an earthquake we’re well set up for, like we have our supplies and we can get out and –

Craig: Right.

John: And lord knows we have solar panels, we can sort of do a lot of stuff here at our house for a good long time. But it’s not ideal for a zombie apocalypse because I live like in the heart of the city, so.

Craig: That’s right, John.

John: I think we’re going to have to just bail and just get out of the city.

Craig: And my feeling is always that if you live like where you live, your primary strategy should be an efficient painless suicide.

John: [laughs]

Craig: Because you’re not going anywhere. I mean, you’re just not.

John: Yeah, our emergency kit definitely has the cyanide in it. So I want to talk about sort of why — I’ll just give a quick rundown of sort of what we’re talking about when we’re talking about the end of the world because it’s just such a dominant theme in all of our recent literature really, movie literature, TV literature, written literature.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So 28 Days Later which is very much the scenario we’re describing, World War Z, The Road, Revolution which is just like all the power goes away, The Walking Dead, End of the World, Shaun of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Terminator which is basically the rise of evil robots.

Craig: Yes.

John: Planet of the Apes which in this most recent version, is essentially –

Craig: Dead dirty apes.

John: An outbreak that kills everybody.

Craig: Apes.

John: Did you see the most recent Planet of the Apes?

Craig: What do you think, John?

John: You see nothing. You just see nothing. The Hunger Games in terms of, you know, in the movies, it’s not especially clear what has happened to the world that’s put in this place. I guess in the book it’s more clear sort of what happened but like there was I think an environmental catastrophe that sort of led to the world falling apart in that specific way. Outbreak, again, is an outbreak of a disease. The Day After Tomorrow, climate change again. Terra Nova by our friend Kelly Marcel –

Craig: Yes.

John: Which is basically not… — Well, the world is ending but therefore we’re going back to a primitive time.

Craig: With the dinosaur she did not want.

John: Yes, yes, lots of quality dinosaurs.

Craig: Yes.

John: Mad Max, you can’t get sort of more end of the world than Mad Max.

Craig: Yes, very, very end of the world.

John: And then there’s the things that are sort of in between. So like The Leftovers, which I’m enjoying the series, it’s not the end of the world but it’s just the world is bent in a way that is so irrevocable that it feels like everything has changed.

Craig: Right.

John: And then to some degree you can also even look at like the space epics like Battlestar Galactica which is about the end of the world and the migration to a new place. So we do this a lot and I sort of want to talk about why we do it so much.

Craig: Well, there’s something I think inherent to the human condition. We are fascinated by our own mortality for obvious reasons. We also contain a certain amount of inherent self-loathing.

John: Yes.

Craig: And I think that’s part of the human drive to improve the world around it and to improve itself, right? Humanity is constantly trying to make humanity better, trying to make the world better. We occasionally screw up as we do it but we have that instinct. And that instinct I think is driven in part by the opposition of our self-loathing. I hate the way humans are now. Let’s fix things.

John: Yes.

Craig: So we will dwell sometimes on the parts of our nature that is awful and come up with ways in which humanity has destroyed the world. Very frequently in the movies you’ve cited, humans have caused this.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Even when the machines rise up to beat us, it’s because humans made Skynet and got lazy. And you can see this over and over that really it’s our fault. We did it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then, of course, when it comes to the idea of zombies, we are externalizing time.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And particularly when the traditional zombies are slow-moving zombies, they’re just time. They’re just sands in the hourglass. We are all of us running from this very slow zombie called death and it starts shambling after us once we are born and it eventually catches up to us and bites us.

John: I think you’re hitting on some of the key themes that are going to be, you know, endemic to any discussion of the end of the world which is mortality, which is the sense of we all know that we’re innately going to die but we want to apply it to everyone at once. And so it’s mortality, but it’s also scale in the way that movies and TV shows and books, they take — generally, they take ordinary experiences and then they heighten them. They push them beyond sort of normal expectations. And so an individual person dies, well, that’s sad and tragic but what happens when everybody dies.

Craig: Right.

John: Well, at a certain point, it stops becoming just, you know, exponentially more tragic and just becomes, wow, it’s completely new framework for how you have to think about sort of what’s there and what’s next.

I think you also hit on that sense of it’s self-loathing but we also have this inner question about like, well, what would I do if I didn’t have all these things.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: In sort of a stoicism that kicks in where I don’t need all these trappings around me. If I can get back to a primitive, more simpler time, I could be great. I could be a king in an earlier time.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And that I think is a fascination as well. It’s that question of, what would it be like if I were in a time back before we had all these things.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: Even back to Twain’s like, you know, a Connecticut Yankee at King Arthur’s Court, that sense of like what it would be like to be transported back to a place that was simpler.

Craig: And this is particularly seductive for writers.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Writers typically don’t grow up as the head of the cheerleading squad or the quarterback. When writers sit down to imagine starting with a blank slate, they very often drift into a classic conflict between might makes right, and rationality and what we would call enlightened wisdom.

John: Yes.

Craig: And of course, the screenwriter, the novelist, they [laughs] tend to represent the power of the mind and goodness as opposed to I’m going to hit you over the head and drag you away. If you want to look at the cleanest, simplest version of that, screenwriters are Piggy in Lord of the Flies and the people that used to beat up screenwriters are Jack [laughs] from Lord of the Flies.

John: Yeah. Even if you take a look at Lost, which is not the end of the world but it functions the same way where people are stripped away of all of their normal things, it’s a chance to take a look at those archetypes in very clean circumstances because in normal daily life, none of us are like a hero or a villain and we’re all like in line together at Starbucks. But when you take away all the trappings of society, you’re able to look at those stereotypes as archetypes and those drives much more cleanly because there’s not everything else surrounding them. So, you know, by stripping away everything else, you can sort of see what is there.

Craig: Yes. Yeah, you know, it’s a truism that so much of what we do during the day is an expression of how we survive. Our survival instinct. Almost never in a day are we making a decision that actually impacts our very survival, but the survival instinct is always there. Is your survival instinct to create a consensus and an alliance based on mutual respect? Is your survival instinct to lash out and defeat? [laughs] Is your survival instinct to lie and cheat? Is your survival instinct to be noble and heroic? That will come out so much more clearly when in fact every choice you make impacts your actual survival.

John: I think the key point is that in daily life, your decisions kind of don’t matter that much. Really they don’t. Like, you know, are you going to invest in this or in this? Are we going to have takeout or are we going to cook food at home? It just doesn’t matter, whereas in the scenarios that we’re describing, every little decision matters tremendously because your survival depends on it.

And so you look at, you know, Rick, Lee and the group in The Walking Dead, you know, literally the decision to do we go into town to try to get some more food or do we wait until, you know, some later point, all the decisions are life or death all the time. And in our daily life, we don’t really experience that. And I think there’s an attraction to feeling that danger. That’s the reason why we go to movies and to watch TV shows is that sense to escape our daily life and to imagine ourselves if those decisions we made were actually important, mattered.

Craig: Which, by the way, that’s why I’m not a huge fan of the zombie genre, the survive the apocalypse genre. When the genre creates a situation in which every decision is a matter of life and death, I get fatigued by it.

John: I do too.

Craig: You know. I like the stories where, I mean, like even a Mad Max, I mean he’s driving around, he’s pretty happy and then he runs into some trouble, you know.

I like situations where there’s some sort of stasis. I mean, a typical zombie movie just gives us the world, everything is fine, you fools you don’t know what’s coming, you fools. It’s very anti-human. Zombie movies hate humans by the way. That’s the point of zombie movies is that humans are stupid. But oh, these two or three are noble and so they will continue the humanity forth. It’s very confused. But everything’s fine and then everything goes to hell and then a few people make it out. But it’s all fatiguing to me. And I recognize other people love it but –

John: Well, I think part of the fatigue is the futility of it all is that in most zombie stories there is no perceived end to it, like it’s going to suck forever.

Craig: Right. [laughs]

John: And therefore like, you know, you were joking about sort of like the suicide pills, but like in many ways, like that probably would be the most reasonable course of action because there’s no destination to get to that is actually going to be safe.

Craig: Right.

John: And that becomes an exhausting aspect of two characters who are living in it but also the people who are, by proxy, living in it through watching your story.

Craig: Yeah, there’s nowhere safe and there’s also nowhere interesting.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: I mean the world now, the best you can do is find some terrible, uninhabited island that zombies can’t get to where you’ll just sit there for a while. And then, by the way, you’ll die anyway one day. So it’s such a direct metaphor for mortality that it’s just kind of vaguely depressing. And I’ve already accepted that I’m going to die one day anyway, so, you know, meh.

John: Meh.

Craig: Meh.

John: So another kind of end of the world scenario tends to be climate change like some, the cataclysmic event has happened to the world, so either an asteroid has smashed into us, there has been an extinction level event that killed everybody but like they’re not walking around as the dead. And that I find more interesting in some ways because you’re adapting to a new reality but that new reality is not trying to kill you at every moment.

Craig: That’s right. I’m totally with you. I’m fascinated by people’s responses to things. It’s interesting to watch characters respond in various ways to a disruption of stasis that can be overcome.

John: Yes.

Craig: One of my favorite books from childhood was — did you go through your Heinlein phase?

John: I didn’t really read the Heinleins. I read like short bits of things but I didn’t go through a big binge.

Craig: Well, so you didn’t soak in adolescent space fascism the way that I did. But he wrote this great book called Tunnel in the Sky. I loved this book. And I can’t believe no one’s done this yet. So producers listening to this, somebody go and get this book. Get the rights to this thing and make a series out of it. It would be an awesome series.

So the idea is that in the future, people have to go leave earth and colonize other places because earth is really crowded and that’s the way it goes. And there are special groups of people that go to new planets and kind of are the frontiers people to see like, okay, can we actually live here and if we can, then other people can show up. And so our young hero, he’s a senior basically in high school. All these kids are like really hardened teenagers and they’ve taken this super awesome survival class, right?

And what’s the final exam? They open a tunnel in the sky, a space portal, and they send you somewhere to a planet that no one has been to before or maybe they’ve scouted briefly and you have to survive.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: If you come back alive, you pass.

John: Yes.

Craig: If you die on the planet, you fail. And so they go there and of course something goes wrong. The tunnel doesn’t open back up in time and they’re marooned there and they must truly survive there. And what was so fascinating to me about the book was that they had to form some kind of society. And, you know, Heinlein was so like, you know, he was such a nut about that stuff.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So it was really interesting to watch these people like create a constitution and it was very cool. Anyway, I like that sort of thing.

John: Well, I think, part of the reason why I like that type of fiction is that the villain is not this faceless thing that’s always going to be there. The villain or the antagonist is going to be someone else who’s in that same situation who wants different things, which is true in real life is that, you know, your antagonist just wants, it has cross purposes to you. And it could be the other group leader who is trying to get your stuff.

And you see that on The Walking Dead. We see like, you know, the real villains become like the mayor of that town or the sheriff or whatever his name was who is much more dangerous honestly than most of the zombies in the world. And yet, ultimately, you feel the fatigue of like, but there’s always going to be more zombies out there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so in the scenarios in which like everyone has died and you’re starting to create a new society, Stephen King’s The Stand is an example of that.

Craig: Yes.

John: You’re trying to create a new society and so you don’t have to worry about the dead people. You only have to worry about sort of what happens next. And so as I read The Stand, or reading the sort of unabridged The Stand, I was so excited to see these groups coming back together and trying to figure out how to build society from scratch, which is a good segue to this book I’m reading right now, which I’m loving, which is The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch. It’s by Lewis Dartnell. And it’s talking about exactly that topic which is if everything did go away, how would you start everything over again?

Craig: Well, you’d use Sugru.

John: The Sugru would be, obviously, the first thing you would go to because you need to have good grippy handles on all the tools, the hoes that you’re now using for agriculture.

Craig: You’ve got to have hoes in a new world.

John: You’ve got to have hoes in probably two — two dimensions of hoes.

Craig: When things go bad, the first thing I go looking for, hoes.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And the guy with the most hoes obviously is the most powerful.

John: Because his agriculture would be unstoppable.

Craig: [laughs] Because his soil will be so well tilled.

John: [laughs] Yes. He will have fertility.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs] Oh god, this is the worst.

John: Terrible.

Craig: This is either the best or the worst that I can remember.

John: Terrible metaphors stacked upon each other. So Craig –

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think, before reading this book, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I always had this sort of vision in my head where I did get like transported back to year 0.

I’d be like, wow, you know, I would know so much and I would be able to therefore rocket, you know, science ahead, like people would benefit so much from everything I could tell them.

Craig: What year have you gone back to?

John: Let’s say I’d go back to year 0 or year 1.

Craig: Oh, they would stone you to death almost instantly.

John: Oh, they would stone me to death. But let’s say I’d go back to some place that likes me and –

Craig: No, you want to be somewhere in the, I would say, the 1600s, 1500s would be nice. Anything before that, if you start talking about atoms –

John: No, I don’t think even talking about atoms. I think you can talk about some sort of fundamental things. First off, you and I know, we know that there’s a new world. We know that there’s a –

Craig: Right.

John: We do know some fundamental things that could be very, very useful to people. But what’s challenging is we don’t know some fundamental things, like you and I don’t know fundamental things that are super crucial like, how to make steel?

Craig: Right.

John: How to sort of make furnaces. I kind of know how to make electricity. But I don’t know how to make the wire and the magnets that we’re going to need to forge the electricity.

Craig: No, what you’re describing is the difference between creators and consumers. We’re consumers of technology.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We’re not creators of technology. So it’s literally of no use. It would be like if you went back in time and you were a very well-read person, you’re not going to be able to cheat Mark Twain by writing Huck Finn instead of him. You won’t be able to do it, you know. We will be, look, if I go back in time, I don’t care where I’m going. I’m just going to keep my head down, [laughs], try not to get burned at the stake, you know, I’m Jewish which is already an issue.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, I’m just going to like keep my head down. Certainly, if I were going , like if you sent me back to a time when I thought I could do some good, I would try to do good. I would.

John: Right. So just so we’re clear, zombies, you head for the hills.

Craig: Right.

John: To the past, you keep your head down low.

Craig: Keep head down low. Keep your head down. Remember, those people are not like us at all. Speak of the dumbest mob on the planet currently. Go to whatever country you feel has the dumbest, most ignorant people. Find them at their worst. That’s everybody back in the day. That is the entire world in the year 500.

John: The other challenge, I think, and I haven’t gotten so far in the book to know whether he actually addresses this, is clearly you need a critical mass of people in order to do any of the kinds of bigger projects that he’s talking about. So you can’t build a dam with just, you know, five people. You can’t make steel with five people.

But so much of what we’ve done historically has been on the backs of slaves. And so could you go back in time and, or yes, even go forward in time like let’s say everything falls apart. Could you rebuild civilization without slavery? And I would hope so.

Craig: Yeah, I think so.

John: But certainly it would be challenging.

Craig: I think so. But how awkward for us if the answer is, no, you can’t. Like, oh man.

John: Yeah, that slavery is just like a key, crucial component at certain point.

Craig: You know, we’re really progressive people, but ooh.

John: Ooh, but, [laughs] I’m going to have to make you my slave. Sorry.

Craig: I’ve got to own humans now. Oh well, sigh.

John: Sigh.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah, you know, I think we could do it without slaves. I feel pretty good about that.

John: Yeah, so a zombie situation or any situation in the future without medicine. So what do you do without, not just even without the technical knowledge but without the actual medicines and what do you do without the technology to be able to look inside a person? And so this book goes through like how to create x-ray machines, but that’s –

Craig: Oh no.

John: No. Challenging.

Craig: No, no. Yeah. The way to kind of handcraft an x-ray machine probably involves the cancerous death of the crafter. I don’t know. [laughs] I mean if the zombies come and I’m up in the hills, you’re going to want some basics, you know. There are medical basics which should keep you alive for awhile. But there’s simply no way to avoid the fact that even if no zombie ever breaches your perimeter –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Life expectancy is going to plummet.

John: It is because mortality is not just, you know, that zombie biting you. Mortality is all the things that could kill you, but wouldn’t kill in normal society because there is disinfectant and there is a doctor and there is simple surgeries. So that impacted tooth could kill you.

Craig: Childbirth.

John: Childbirth, incredibly dangerous.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah, I wouldn’t recommend it.

Craig: No, there’s [laughs].

John: [laughs]

Craig: I’ve personally, I’ve watched it and I caused it to happen. But I –

John: Yes, and I’ve cut cords.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I wouldn’t want to do it in a non-medical setting.

Craig: No. No, I’m just befuddled. Again, I really do believe this. The same instinct that makes people want to write stories about how humans have destroyed the world, it’s the same thing that leads them to say, I think a home birth is better for my baby than a hospital birth. I don’t think the baby cares.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s like a weird thing where people want to turn away from the modern because they suspect it. They feel that it’s all tainted by something quote- unquote, “unnatural”. But there’s nothing unnatural about humans doing stuff. We’d been doing it forever.

John: So I think that keys in to sort of my final point here, which is that, all these dystopian scenarios that we’re laying out, I think underlying most of them is this utopian ideal that’s there. And what you describe in terms of like, oh, it would be so much better without modern medicine or if, you know, we’ll be able to have natural things, the people would just chew willow bark instead of taking drugs.

Craig: [laughs]

John: There’s a utopian idea there. And I kind of applaud that utopian idea. But at the same, we need to recognize that that’s, you know, that’s not realistic. And you can’t get some of those few utopian ideals without all the stuff that feeds into making those possible. You can’t have perfect representational democracy and still get those power lines lit. Ideals are wonderful things, but the reality on the ground can be quite a different thing.

Craig: I completely agree. I think that one of the interesting things we see from culture and from stories about the end of the world and the recreation of a new world is that we tend to give more credence to dystopian visions. Because we feel like a self-critique is more valid, whereas utopian ideals seem sugary and silly and corny. But the truth is they’re both dumb. There will never be a perfect world nor is there going to be some horrendous awful world.

The world we have will continue to get better. I think things are better now than they’ve ever been before, as bad as they are. And I think things will get better. But there’s no utopia.

John: No. And there are dystopias in the modern world. But luckily, they’re pockets of dystopia that hopefully can be eradicated and they will show up somewhere else. So like, Somalia seems like a dystopia at times.

Craig: Liberia.

John: Liberia, yeah absolutely. And, you know –

Craig: If you go Liberia and Syria.

John: You look at some of the things that are happening in Iraq right now, there is huge pockets of terribleness, but that’s not the general state.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But let’s talk about it from a writer’s point of view in terms of you are creating a story that is taking place in one of these worlds. And what of the crucial things because the world building you’re doing here is very important and there are useful short-hands and then there are some really dangerous short-hands. And, you know, we talked about expectation. And so if you’re doing a zombie story, you get a lot of zombie stuff for free. We sort of know basically how zombies work.

Craig: Right.

John: And you have to be clear about the things you’re changing. So it’s no longer a spoiler, but in The Walking Dead series you don’t have to be bit, you know this right, you don’t have to bit in The Walking Dead series to become a zombie. You just will become a zombie when you die. And so that’s an important rule change they had to make. But kind of everything else with zombies they got for free.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: Or 28 Days Later, like they are fast zombies. They have to make that clear. But that’s an easy thing to make clear.

Craig: We can see it, they’re fast, yeah. Those basic monster rules, sure.

John: Basic monster rules. But yeah, I think you have to extend beyond those, then take a look at like what is the overall world in which your story is taking place. And that could eat a lot of pages as you’re trying to describe it. And so you have to be very, very smart about what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: The initial images you’re showing will lead us to believe whether this is a Mad Max world or a Hunger Games world. And those aren’t the same thing.

Craig: Yeah. Or a world of your own making that’s just fresh and interesting. I mean, Snowpiercer, the entire world is a train.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah, you know, there are movies, I mean Blade Runner obviously was a huge influence on anybody that was trying to write some sort of dystopian future. I thought that Rian Johnson did a great job in Looper of just casually setting up a world that wasn’t, I don’t think of it as dystopian.

John: It’s not dystopian, no.

Craig: It’s just it’s kind of just the world. It’s just –

John: Yeah, it’s messed up in a way that would be realistic for the world to get messed up in.

Craig: That’s right, exactly, but not a dystopia per se. Yeah, you want to make sure if you’re going to write a world, a dystopian world, that you have some sort of point. And here is where I think a lot of dystopian movies go awry. They’re just too on the nose.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, humanity must work together and stop killing the planet. I mean we get it. We know. Yes. Absolutely. [laughs] But surely, there’s something else to say.

John: So you have to look for what is the, you know, your movie can’t just be about this world you created. This world you created has to support the story you’re trying to tell. And so I think an example of a movie that does it really well is The Matrix.

Craig: Yes.

John: And so The Matrix is this, obviously, it’s sort of two levels of dystopia. Like Neo is in this sort of messed up world to start with. But then you realize like, oh it’s actually much more worse than you think. And it’s Neo’s story. And so that’s the backdrop for this journey that he’s going on throughout the course of the story. And it’s exciting because it works. But if it had just been that cool world, who cares?

Craig: Exactly. And part of what I see sometimes is that the dystopia is a straw dummy set up for the screenwriter to knock down. Elysium, the concept of Elysium was that very rich people lived on this space station floating above the planet. And then all the have-nots lived on the planet where they suffered. Well, that’s just, it’s too simple. You know, so you want to get –

John: It’s way too simple.

Craig: Yeah, if you want to get angry at the 1%, it could have been like space 1%. It’s just too obvious. And the whole movie feels like a rigged job for people to basically tell rich folks, you stink, which often times they do.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Of course, the people making the movie are all super rich. And the movie was made by a mega corporation. All of which just seemed very odd to me.

John: Yeah. But you compare that movie, it’s the same director to District 9, which actually had fascinating things to say.

Craig: Ah-ha. Yes, exactly.

John: And so District 9 could talk about immigration and squalor and –

Craig: Racism.

John: And racism. And it focused on a character who could move from one world into that other world and actually become a part of that world which Matt Damon’s character never did in Elysium.

Craig: Well yeah, and so part of what made District…9?

John: District 9, yeah.

Craig: District 9. I always want to say District 7, I don’t know why. But District 9, part of what made it so good was that it was getting into this really greasy stuff about what it means to be a policeman.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And to be a policeman in a bad neighborhood. And to feel like you are both a part of and at war with the community around you. You have this sympathy and then this repulsion and disgust. Some of those people, you’re there to help. Some of those people are there to hurt you. You start to hurt them. That stuff is good, greasy stuff to get into.

John: Yeah, because they’re deep human themes but also completely relatable to modern experience.

Craig: And there’s conflict to it, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You can see how a human being becomes torn by the dilemmas of all this. But, you know, if you just get too on the nose with your conceit, then it’s just like, no! It’s a little bit, you know, I mean it goes back to The Time Machine, Eloi and the Ewoks, or whatever the other ones were. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Well, I want to step back for a second, when you say like you see the dilemma. Dilemma is another word for a choice. And the dilemma is you’re forcing your protagonist to make a choice between this way of doing things and a new way to doing things. And the choice that you want them to make is generally the one that’s going to cause them the most pain but is the one that’s going to lead to an outcome that’s rewarding.

Now I would also state that like the dystopia doesn’t have to be the thing itself. In some ways it can function like a MacGuffin. And so if you go back to Terminator, you know, Terminator is coming to kill Sarah Connor. So while we see these moments of dystopia before John Connor , wait, no.

Craig: Yes.

John: John Connor comes back, we see these moments of dystopia where like, you know, tanks are crushing human skulls. Most of the story is not that. Most of the story is this chase movie set in the real present day things against this incredibly dangerous killer robot.

So that dystopia is an incredibly important piece of set up and is a thing to avoid, but in order for the movie to resolve successfully she has to win and defeat this one thing. She doesn’t have to stop the apocalypse. That’s a part of what she’s doing. That’s the overall goal is just, you know, she learns to, she’s going to be carrying a baby who’s going to be this important leader. But she herself doesn’t have to stop Skynet within the course of this one thing. And it lets it be much more contained and let’s it be a story about human beings rather than this grand Skynet.

Craig: Yeah. And The Terminator is I think the best version of the zombie story anyway. You know, he can’t be reasoned with, he can’t be defeated. He will never stop no matter what. Very zombie-like, right? It just keeps on coming. You chop him in half, he keeps on coming. But he is defeatable.

And ultimately you can defeat it. And that’s why Terminator is I think a more interesting story ultimately than the general zombie story because we like stories where we triumph over death. At least, if I’m going to do a fantasy story, and all science fiction is fantasy. Terminator is fantasy and zombie movies are fantasy. If I’m going to do a fantasy story, I might as well — I’m an optimist, so I like fantasy stories about triumphing over death, even of course, in the end, though, everyone dies.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah, everyone does die.

Craig: You die, she dies, they all die.

John: To wrap this up, I would say that, you know, you and I are both fans of life with a purpose. And therefore, hopefully death with a purpose as well. And so if in crafting these stories, you’re able to make that character’s existence meaningful in the course of the movie’s world, that’s success.

Craig: A good purposeful death is a wonderful thing.

John: I agree. Craig, I think that’s the end of the world for us here in the end of our show. Do you have a One Cool Thing?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah? [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. I’m trying to decide between two. I think I’m going to go with this one. Have I talked about this, I don’t know, I always feel like I’m app heavy. So I was thinking like, you choose, do you want a One Cool Thing that’s an app or One Cool Thing that’s something you can hold in your hand and put in your mouth?

John: I’m going to pick an app for myself, so why don’t you do the thing you put in your mouth?

Craig: Okay. So I was over at Chicago Fire/PDs creator’s home, Derek Haas.

John: Yes.

Craig: His wife put out all this –

John: His wife is the best.

Craig: She’s the best.

John: I love Kristi. She’s the best.

Craig: She is the best. So Kristi put out all these things because we had all the kids together and she put out these things. And it was boxed water. Have you seen this?

John: Yeah, I’ve seen boxed water.

Craig: Yeah, boxed water. Okay, well you live in fancy town. I live, you know, in Mormonville where we don’t have boxed water. And so I thought it was pretty genius. I hate bottled water. I hate the concept of bottled water. I hate the bottles. I don’t understand why we don’t just drink water out of the tap. I’m the one guy left in LA that drinks water out of his tap.

John: I only drink water out of the tap. Out of the tap or out of like the filtered pitcher.

Craig: Okay, exactly. So I don’t understand, I mean, understand occasionally if you’re serving people or things and you don’t want keep filling stuff up, maybe then. Or if you’re going somewhere I guess. But people, it makes me nuts. Anyway, at least with boxed water, you’re not just filling the trash with all these bottles. It’s much easier to recycle. And you can squish it down. And it’s not a petroleum product. I just don’t … — What is the story with bottled water? Why did that happen? Why?

John: I think bottled water serves a crucial need when you cannot count on the safety of your water supply. And so for those purposes, I think bottled water is a great thing. And I guess if your choice is between drinking a soda and drinking a bottled water, the bottle water is healthier for you to be consuming. But in general, I completely agree with you. And that’s why we don’t have any bottled water in the house. And I either drink directly out of the faucet, well, I drink it in a glass.

Craig: Right. I will do it out of the faucet.

John: Every once in a while, I will do the, you know, the two-hand scooping thing.

Craig: Oh really? No, I just do the sideways head, like [lapping noise], like a dog.

John: Like the dog lapping.

Craig: Where you’re mostly just drinking air, but it feels good. I mean when I was a kid, we used to just drink water out of the hose.

John: Yeah. Yeah, you shouldn’t do that honestly because the plastics in a hose are not –

Craig: Oh, get out of here. Look at me, I’m as healthy as an ox.

John: [laughs] Yes. They actually make hoses, though, that are designed for drinking water that are safe.

Craig: I’ve just had it with this. You know what, now I want the world to end. Now I hate the world. Oh, your hose, we’ve got a special hose for your special body. I used to drink out of some nasty hose that was –

John: I used to drink out of puddles. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Yeah. And like our garden hose was smelted in the basement of some weird prison. And it was all coils and nasty chemicals and stuff and it was hot.

John: And we liked it.

Craig: It was delicious. And the end was like a rusty nozzle.

John: That’s good stuff.

Craig: Yeah. And look at me, strong.

John: Strong.

Craig: Strong like an ox.

John: You could not be stronger.

Craig: Strong like ox.

John: My One Cool Thing, I don’t think I’ve talked about it in the show before. And I’m curious whether you use it. It’s Waze. Do you know Waze?

Craig: I use Inrix.

John: Okay, so same –

Craig: Inrix was one of my Cool Things many –

John: That was your One Cool Thing a while back.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I finally got converted to Waze because I kind of didn’t understand the point of it and then I took a meeting at Amazon which is on the West Side in Santa Monica in the afternoon. I’m like, oh, why did I do this? I’ll never be able to get home. So people who don’t live in Los Angeles, you should understand the east/west divide in Los Angeles isn’t a we hate them and they hate us. It’s that it’s actually physically impossible to move from the West LA to East LA at certain times of the day or vice versa.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It takes forever.

Craig: It’s also impossible to move North and South in various spots. It’s just impossible to move.

John: Yeah. It can be very, very challenging to move. So in my life, after about 4 PM, so like 4 PM to 8 PM, I will not try to sort of go out to Santa Monica or something like that. It’s just madness. But I took this meeting, I’m like, oh, crap. So it was only an hour, so I get out and it’s like, you know what, I’m going to try Waze.

And so the idea behind Waze is it’s like Google Maps or Maps on the iPhone where it’s telling you which way how to go expect that in real time it’s updating it based on how fast and slow these streets are moving, partially based on other people who are using Waze and calculating their speeds.

And so Waze will send you in these crazy ways, literally ways, to get you to your destination. But it actually works. And so I got home in like 35 minutes which is just impossible.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I took like the weirdest streets imaginable. So you just have to trust it, but it works.

Craig: Oh yeah. No, that’s the same thing with Inrix. I’ve been using it forever. And particularly for me because I live a bit a further afield than you do, it’s absolutely essential.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s nothing that feels better than getting into my car, putting in, you know, and I’ve saved all the various locations that I want, but I can always put new ones in, and I go, “Okay, what’s the fastest way to get home?” And they show me the way I would have gone home which is a disaster and their way which is like 20 minutes faster. Oh, it’s the nicest feeling.

John: Blessed be.

Craig: Yes, yeah.

John: Alright. Well, that’s our show this week. So if you would like to talk to me or Craig about the end of the world or our plans for it, you can reach Craig, @clmazin on Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Longer questions and statements can be directed to We are on iTunes and so you should subscribe to us there. And while you’re there, you can leave us a comment and let us know about the show and what you think. You can also subscribe to Slate’s podcast there if you feel like it because that would be a nice thing to do.

The show is produced by Stuart Friedel who’s out sick right now. So I’m hoping he’s feeling better. Oh, Stuart.

Craig: Oh no!

John: Yeah, basically everyone in the office is sick except for me. So I’m just, yeah, yeah. So if they all, if it becomes an extinction-level event, it’s just going to be me doing the podcast, I guess.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’ll have to do it myself.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Matthew Chilelli edits the podcast. Thank you, Matthew for that. I think our outro this week is going to be the one from, it’s actually the jingle from Stride gum which is exactly the same melody as the Scriptnotes melody.

Craig: Stride gum?

John: Wait, no, it’s actually Orbit gum. But anyway, I’ll put that on as the outro. But we would love more outros from our listeners. So if you would like to do a riff on our [hums], you can send it to or put it up on SoundCloud with a #scriptnotes and we will do it.

Craig: I was listening to a bunch of those. They’re really good.

John: They’re really good.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So Matthew Chilelli who cuts our show has done a lot of the really great ones. But there is some competition there. There’s some really good people out there who’ve done amazing things.

Craig: Yeah, no, I liked a lot of them. I’m always impressed that people even do it all but they can do it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s amazing. Can we do a, find like, I don’t know, Stuart is out. Maybe Matthew can dig up a little clip of Jaye P. Morgan for the very end there.

John: We’ll try to find a little clip of Jaye P. Morgan being her Morganist.

Craig: So pretty.

John: Pretty in that old way. The way that people used to –

Craig: That glamorous old way. Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The way people used to be pretty. They’re not anymore, it’s true.

John: So our last reminders. People should vote for the WGA board. If you would like a t-shirt, you should let us know that you would like a t-shirt. And just go to There’s still a few leftover t-shirts from way back when in the store but this is really a question for what t-shirt should we make next if we want to make t-shirts. And you should buy tickets for the Slate Culture Gabfest because it will sell out and then you will not get to see us. So there’s a link to all these things we talked about on the show at

If you would like to listen to all the back episodes of Scriptnotes, those are available at and you can also get them through the app which is for Android and for iOS.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, have a great week.

Craig: You too, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.


Unlikable heroes and genre expectations

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 16:45

Chloe Angyal has a great look back at My Best Friend’s Wedding:

[T]his movie is, in many ways, radical. It’s an anti-rom com. Jules spends much of it running around like a crazed rom com heroine, pulling ridiculous stunts and operating under the assumption that you can lie, trick, and manipulate a person into falling out of love with their fiancée and into love with you. It doesn’t work, and George, who is half walking gay stereotype and half The Only Sensible Person in This Movie tells her on multiple occasions to give it up and act like a grown up. She is, after all, TWENTY-EIGHT.


But the line I find more telling is what he tells her while she’s still chasing Michael through the streets of Chicago in a stolen truck while talking on a cell phone. “You’re not the one,” he says. You’re not the one. These four words fly in the face of almost every rom com ever made, because the central premise of the genre is that the heroine is the one: the one woman who can get the ungettable guy, who can turn the beast back into a prince, who is worth traveling through time for, whatever. The One. Jules is not the one. She doesn’t get the guy. She does terrible things to try to get him, to try to “win” him. She follows all the laws of rom com world, but the laws don’t apply here. Kimmy calls her two-faced and Michael calls her pond scum, and though they ultimately forgive her, those assessments are correct.

When I saw My Best Friend’s Wedding in 1997, I remember being struck by just how selfish the Julianne character was — and yet how perversely relatable that made her for me. Real people do stupid things because of love and fear. It’s not “likable,” but it’s honest.