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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.

Should we make more Scriptnotes t-shirts?

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 10:27

We have very few Scriptnotes t-shirts left in the store. We’re considering printing a new batch, but we’re not sure which color listeners would actually want.

The first round of shirts came in Umbrage Orange and Rational Blue. The second batch came in only Basic Blacklist.

For the new t-shirts, we’re considering revisiting one of the earlier colors, or something new like WG Gray or Residual Green.

So, assuming t-shirts sell for $19, tell us:

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  • Rational Blue
  • Basic Blacklist
  • Umbrage Orange
  • Residual Green
  • WG Gray
  • Other
Vote View Results Total Answers 2 Total Votes 1

And if we make new t-shirts, should we stick with the typewriter logo, or do something new? We’ve talked about doing something that feels collegiate, or sports-ish, or blackletter death metal style.

So we’re not sure exactly what the style would be, but it we have talented design folks, so it would be solid.

Given that vague description, what would your preference be?

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  • The original typewriter logo
  • Something collegiate
  • Something sports-y
  • Something hardcore
  • Other
Vote View Results Total Answers 0 Total Votes 0

Finally, listeners have suggested other Scriptnotes gear. Are any of these things things you’d actually buy? T-shirts are really simple to ship. Everything else is kind of a hassle.

But we’ll certainly consider if it there’s a groundswell of interest.

#yop-poll-container-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { width:100%; background:#fff; padding:10px; color:#555; overflow:hidden; font-size:12px; border:5px solid #327BD6; } #yop-poll-name-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { font-size:14px; font-weight:bold; } #yop-poll-question-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { font-size:14px; margin:5px 0px; } #yop-poll-answers-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { } #yop-poll-answers-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 ul { list-style: none outside none; margin: 0; padding: 0; } #yop-poll-answers-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 ul li { font-style:normal; margin:0px 0px 10px 0px; padding:0px; font-size:12px; } #yop-poll-answers-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 ul li input { margin:0px; float:none; } #yop-poll-answers-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 ul li label { margin:0px; font-style:normal; font-weight:normal; font-size:12px; float:none; } .yop-poll-results-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { font-size: 12px; font-style: italic; font-weight: normal; margin-left: 15px; } #yop-poll-custom-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { } #yop-poll-custom-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 ul { list-style: none outside none; margin: 0; padding: 0; } #yop-poll-custom-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 ul li { padding:0px; margin:0px; font-size:14px; } #yop-poll-container-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 input[type='text'] { margin:0px 0px 5px 0px; padding:2%; width:96%; text-indent:2%; font-size:12px; } #yop-poll-captcha-input-div-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { margin-top:5px; } #yop-poll-captcha-helpers-div-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { width:30px; float:left; margin-left:5px; height:0px; } #yop-poll-captcha-helpers-div-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 img { margin-bottom:2px; } #yop-poll-captcha-image-div-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { margin-bottom:5px; } #yop_poll_captcha_image_7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { float:left; } .yop_poll_clear { clear:both; } #yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { } .yop-poll-results-bar-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { background:#f5f5f5; height:10px; } .yop-poll-results-bar-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 div { background:#555; height:10px; } #yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 div#yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 button { float:left; } #yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 div#yop-poll-results-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { float: right; margin-bottom: 20px; margin-top: -20px; width: auto; } #yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 div#yop-poll-results-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 a { color:#327BD6; text-decoration:underline; font-size:12px;} #yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 div#yop-poll-back-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 a { color:#327BD6; text-decoration:underline; font-size:12px;} #yop-poll-vote-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 div { float:left; width:100%; } #yop-poll-container-error-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { font-size:12px; font-style:italic; color:red; text-transform:lowercase; } #yop-poll-container-success-7_yp5405fe1ba2257 { font-size:12px; font-style:italic; color:green; }Other gear Would you want to buy any of these? (choose as many as apply)
  • Scriptnotes hoodie
  • Scriptnotes polo shirt
  • Scriptnotes mug
  • Scriptnotes travel mug
  • Scriptnotes notebook (Field Notes-sized)
  • Scriptnotes water bottle
  • Other
Vote View Results Total Answers 0 Total Votes 0

As always, you can tweet me if there’s something you’d rather see.

A Screenwriter’s Guide to the End of the World

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig spend the hour discussing the number one topic whenever screenwriters are done complaining about studio notes: the end of the world, and how to get ready for it.

From zombies to asteroids to plagues, we make so many movies and TV shows about the extinction of the human race. But why? What is it about the Death of Everything that is so appealing to writers, and how should we approach the genre when beginning on a new story? This is an episode about that.

We’re considering making new Scriptnotes t-shirts, but only if listeners really want them. Click over to and vote.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 159: The Mystery of the Disappearing Articles — Transcript

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 16:42

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

Craig, how is the writing going?

Craig: It’s going well. I’m on page 30.

John: Nice.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah.

John: And are you achieving your goals? Are you hitting things you wanted to hit in your outline? How is the process?

Craig: The process is going well. I’m doing this in a different way than I’ve written anything else in that as I write I give pages to Lindsay and then what we do is — you would hate this because it’s the extreme opposite of what you do. So, you do this kind of one draft all the way through kind of squirreled away in solitude and you don’t go back over the work, you just forward, forward, forward, forward, forward, and then you stop and you take stock of what you have.

In this, I’ll write some pages and I’ll send them to her and we’ll start on page one and go through it. And then I move the ball forward, I send all those pages, we start on page one, and we go forward. But it’s been great. She’s been terrific and the pages are coming out really well so far. I deviated from the outline as I always do, but in ways that make sense.

John: Yes?

Craig: I find that deviations from the outline are purposeful, though they are deviations, because they are reacting in response to the roadmap as opposed to just guess work.

John: Yes. You’re dealing with a situation on the ground. You’re not just the general who is like moving pieces around on the board. Now you’re actually on the ground and you’re seeing what the terrain is and what you need to do on the terrain.

Craig: Absolutely. And you begin to feel where you ought to be. You begin to feel that some things need to be compressed into one. Some things need to be expanded into two. There was a phrase that I used the other day; I’d never used it but now that I think about it it’s kind of a useful screenwriting concept. And it was owing a debt.

I felt that on page 25 or so that the script owed a debt to a concept that was going to become important later on. And the debt needed to be paid before it was time, you know. And I accrued this debt and I needed to kind of go back and say, okay, we actually need to pay that debt earlier here on page 15 and now again on page 25 because that’s going to just make everything feel better later on.

John: Now, I’ve been in your situation where I’ve been handing pages sort of as they’re written to people, and the wonderful thing about it is — we talked earlier about Good Boy syndrome. It makes you feel like a good boy. Like, look, I’m doing my work. Teacher, look at my work. My work is so good. And Lindsay Doran is the most lovely teacher you could possible give, because she’s so wonderful and yet she’s really smart. And if there are problems she’s going to point out what the problems are.

Craig: That’s right. And so you’re putting your finger on something that’s of the essence here. And that is if you’re going to work this way you have to trust this person completely. You have to understand beforehand that their taste is good, that they have an experience doing this kind of work and running this kind of relationship with a writer. And that they are going to have a conversation with you. That’s there is nothing imperious about any of this. And it’s been terrific. I’ve just been having a ball and so far so good.

Here’s the other interesting thing. When you do it this way, in particular with somebody like Lindsay who is a principled person, when you’re done you have a great ally. You have somebody that understands and has thought about every word the way you have. And that’s really powerful, because usually you don’t have that.

John: It’s interesting you bring up trust because I did a long blog post this last week about trust because that’s the central thematic issue of my script. And I was wrestling with what trust means. And the concept of trust and really the word trust, because it’s a strange word in English that we don’t have an exact synonym for it. We have words that are kind of cousins to it, like believe or hope or duty. There are words that sort of encapsulate similar ideas, but trust is actually a really fascinating concept because I decided that it’s inner motivation about an external person or something else.

And so I broke it down and my definition of it was trust is confidence in the reliability of someone or something.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And that’s a really strange thing because we think of trust as being a two-way contract, but really it’s not necessarily that. You can trust somebody who doesn’t necessarily trust you. And you can place your trust in things and yet when that trust is questioned — when they do something that breaks that trust, it’s not necessarily that they can themselves break it. They may not even have sort of known that bond was there. But what’s really shattered is that inner thing that you had about that person.

Like love, it’s a similar kind of thing. You can love somebody who doesn’t love you back. You can trust somebody who doesn’t trust you back.

Craig: How true. Unrequited trust is a little less painful than unrequited love. And sometimes unrequited trust is perfectly fine, because you don’t need somebody to trust you. You just need to be able to trust them. My kids don’t need me to trust them. I want to. In fact, one thing that parents are constantly saying to their children is “I’m trusting you now.” And as I recall as s child I thought, why?

John: [laughs] I’m not trustworthy at all!

Craig: If you want to. But if I break it, eh, what are you going to do? But as a child you must be able to trust your parents, which is where so many childhoods go south is when children can’t trust their parents. And I think your definition is great. It’s a confidence in the reliability of somebody to do something specific, so we don’t trust everybody and everything, but that feeling is the same feeling that I like to impart to people with whom I work, when you talk about working with studio executives or actors or directors, I want to inspire their trust. It doesn’t mean that I’m obedient or non-critical, quite the opposite. What it means is they can rely on me to do the best I can on the movie as opposed to letting other things get in the way.

John: That they can place a set of expectations on you and you will fulfill those expectations. And that’s honestly why people get paid above scale is that we think you’re a good writer but we also think you’re going to be able to deliver this thing and we can sleep better at night that you are doing this thing because we trust you.

And in some ways I think even this podcast there’s some degree of like trust contract happening here that we’re not going to suddenly spring horrible bad advice upon people and that we’re not going to sort of betray confidences and do things that are not in the best interest of our listenership.

Craig: And that’s where things go wrong. I mean, basically if we started doing that then people would leave.

John: Well, if you look at Twitter, I mean, Twitter has had these little flashpoint moments where they’ll change something and everyone is like, well, I can’t trust Twitter anymore. Like I can’t trust that the things in my timeline are the things I want to be in my timeline. And, well, yeah, that’s the nature of that sort of one-sided relationship. And you could go somewhere else, but could you really go somewhere else?

Craig: Well, right, and same thing with Facebook. They’ve had those moments. And it’s interesting to watch when people react to companies or corporations and they get really emotional about it, sometimes it strikes one as odd, but then you do realize it is about trust.

John: Well, I also think it’s because we take these corporations, like Twitter, like Facebook, like Google, and we are applying — in my post I say like you can’t trust a chair. You can sort of have expectations of that chair, but you can’t really trust a chair. You can only sort of trust things you things you think are capable of making independent decisions. You can’t really trust a baby. That’s sort of crazy to talk about trusting a baby.

Craig: I trust babies.

John: I trust babies all the time. I trust them to be adorable and I scratch their heads and smell them. They’re so good. But I think when we’re talking about trusting Google or trusting Google Maps, you’re really sort of personifying them. I think you are thinking about them as a person and therefore you’re applying all of your trust principles to that person, which is crazy because you shouldn’t really do that, because they’re not a consistent entity. They are this conglomeration. They’re this swarm of little desires. And they’re not a thing you can really trust, in my opinion.

Craig: I totally agree. And this is where I often find myself isolated from my fellow man and woman because I have an instinctive — it’s not a paranoid position towards institutions, but rather just simply a constitutional lack of trust. Not a presence of mistrust or distrust. Just a lack of trust. I don’t trust religions. I don’t trust unions. I don’t trust corporations. I don’t trust groups of people. I don’t trust them. Why should I? I trust individuals.

John: Yeah. That seems like a reasonable choice.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Today on the podcast we are going to hopefully instill some trust in our listeners as we discuss four different Three Page Challenges. These people were –

Craig: Four!

John: Four! These people were brave enough to send in their three page samples and trust us to read them and provide our honest feedback which won’t always be kind feedback, but will always be hopefully respectful feedback, helpful feedback.

Craig: I think helpful is always a good thing.

John: Helpful is always a good aim, on their three pages. But before we get to that, I want to do a little bit of follow up. I think I talked about this on the last show. On October 8 Craig and I are doing something in a public way that’s not a live Scriptnotes, but it’s something like a live Scriptnotes. As we’re recording this it’s not actually announced, so I don’t want to risk spoiling it, but just keep October 8 open on your calendar if you’re in Los Angeles.

Craig: What time of day?

John: I believe it is an evening.

Craig: Okay.

John: Yes. And evening Los Angeles, October 8, and it should be cool.

Secondly, a bit of follow up, Nick wrote in. We had talked about NRG last week and he says, “NRG is now known as Nielson for maybe the past ten years or so.” And so I always like it when someone writes in to sort of give us a correction or a suggestion. But really I will say that everyone in the industry that I talk to still calls them NRG.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, when I saw this in the notes for the show I kind of giggled because I’m like, oh, is that what people have been calling it for the last ten years? No. [laughs] Everyone calls it NRG. Everyone.

John: Yeah. And so I would say any filmmaker you talk to, they’ll say like, “Oh, I had an NRG screening.” They’re not going to say I had a Nielson screening, even though it’s technically Nielson/NRG is the company. We call it NRG.

Craig: Right. Yeah, I don’t know if this is one of those deals where this guy works at Nielsen, is kind bummed because people keep calling it NRG or what. But, yeah, it’s NRG. That’s what we call it.

John: That’s what we call it. [laughs] We call it the right thing this entire time, but that’s just what we call it.

Craig: That’s what we call it. I mean, you can say that it’s technically that, but you can’t say, “It’s been known as this for 10 years.” By the people at Nielsen maybe, but not by us

John: And I think Nick actually works for another company, like a rival company. I’m not sure.

Craig: Oh, well, in that case I’m sure this is far more on his radar than it is on ours. I actually did one test screening with a different company. Once.

John: And how was it?

Craig: It was fine. It’s weird, I was just like, wait, oh, you have Pepsi? Okay.

John: It’s basically the same.

Craig: It’s close enough. Yeah. You know. I mean, in the end it’s like, oh, whatever, they’re all adding up numbers.

John: Yeah. The last bit of follow up is Less IMDb is this plug-in we made for Safari and for Chrome. We made it four years ago. And, Craig, do you have it installed? Do you even know what I’m talking about?

Craig: I do. I think I had it installed once.

John: And so what Less IMDb does is if you go to IMDb and you’re looking at a page for a movie, or an actor, or writer or whatever sometimes there’s just a lot of ads and other junk on the page and all you really want to see is the credits. So, what this plug-in does is remove all the stuff that’s not the interesting stuff that you want to see, like the credits, and move stuff around the page. So, it’s been working great for four years, and then less month it broke and we fixed it. So, if you’re interested in Less IMDb, you can go to quoteunquoteapps/LessIMDb, but you can also find it in the show notes. And so it’s all fixed up now.

Craig: May ask is it, because I do use Ad Blocker. Is it different than that, or is it — ?

John: It’s better than that because it’s really fine tuned for exactly IMDb. So, it knows what the stuff is on the page and rearranges it in way that’s helpful and pretty.

Craig: All right. Installing.

John: Installing.

Craig: Installing. Installing.

John: Nice. Let’s get to our work for the day, which are the Three Page Challenges. So, if you are new to the podcast, you may not have encountered Three Page Challenges before. What we do is we invite people to send in their first three pages of their script. It can be a pilot, it can be a feature screenplay, it can be kind of whatever. If you would like to follow along, go to and look for this episode and we’ll have the PDFs up there so you can read along with us.

You can also find them in Weekend Read on the iPhone if you have that app. There’s a whole category for Three Page Challenges. And you can find them in there. So, let’s take a look at the four that got sent in this week. The first one is by Joseph Bodner.

Craig: Yes.

John: And it is called…

Craig: Joan.

John: Joan. Do you want to set up Joan for us?

Craig: Sure. Yeah. So, the show is called Joan and this is a three pages of a pilot. And the title of the pilot episode is Savior. So, we begin on black and we hear whispering. A girl is whispering these numbers six, 15, 46 over and over and over. And then we reveal that she’s in a warehouse. She’s 19 years old. Looks a little bit like a young Liza Minnelli from Cabaret, short black hair, androgynous. She’s naked, her body covered in tattoos, and she just keeps saying a bunch of numbers over and over.

She’s got a Mickey Mouse lunchbox filled with drug paraphernalia and some drugs. A couple of guys are with her and they are freaking out. They think something is wrong with her.

We now are in a hospital. We flat jump over to an emergency room. She is on a gurney. She keeps saying these numbers over and over but oddly enough she seems like, as this says, she seems like a drug overdose, like she should be comatose, but she keeps saying these numbers. Her heart rate is going crazy.

She’s now in the operating room. They are hitting her with a defibrillator because her heart has apparently stopped but she’s still saying these numbers. Then she kind of contorts her body into this crazy backwards arched position and then her body collapses. She stops saying the numbers. She is dead. She is pronounced dead.

We then see that she is in the morgue with a bunch of dead bodies. And she wakes up and pukes. And then realizes that she’s alive, confused, looks down at her abdomen to one tattoo in particular, a series of horizontal and vertical lines. They mean something to her. The lines shift like puzzle pieces rearranging and they turn into the show title, J-O-A-N. Joan. The screen goes white. And those are our first three pages.

John: So, on the whole I liked it as a teaser. I could definitely see this as a teaser for a one-hour show. A one-hour show that is about this supernatural person who has been sent back for some reason, who has some special ability. So, this could be the teaser for a Heroes kind of show. There’s something like maybe Darren Aronofsky’s Pi and made that into a show. It feels like that kind of thing. But I think I was more a fan of the kinds of things that were happening then sort of how it was written on the page.

Craig: I agree with you that it does everything a teaser is supposed to do. It gives you a very confusing, mysterious set of circumstances that interests you. I’m interested in her and why she’s saying these numbers. I’ll tell you, where I got caught up, there were frankly two things essentially that sort of stopped me here. One was that the hospital sequence felt like it was just, that somebody hit a macro on a keyboard and came up with patient in emergency room having heart problems. “Clear. We’ve lost her. Time of death.” You know, all that stuff that was all done very, very — in a very hackneyed style.

But my bigger hang up was that this is a woman doing something extraordinary. She’s repeating, verbally repeating numbers and yet her heart is stopped. That alone should get some sort of reaction and shock from these doctors. And when her body contorts like that and then collapses, the doctors don’t seem to have any interest in the fact that a dead person with a dead heart was talking, then did this crazy thing. They’re just like, eh, well, I guess that’s it. Lunch time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, those two things really kind of stopped me in my tracks here.

John: So, if you look at the beats in this teaser, I think it reads really strongly as like the one sentence version. So, Joan has overdosed, in hospital, she has seizures, keeps speaking numbers, she dies, she wakes up in the morgue and her tattoos have changed. Those are good little three beats in that teaser.

I think what you’re focusing on in the hospital is the key crucial beat that sort of — it’s the signature cinematic moment which is like her arching her back and that stuff could be really cool. Where I thought it kind of worked is in page two we sort of start to shift into her perspective. As the doctors are moving in and around her, “We HEAR the familiar, ‘CLEAR’ — jolt — ‘CLEAR’ — . But our focus remains on — JOAN. Still reciting those numbers. Her small frame convulsing up and down.”

I think it’s interesting to perceive this sort of clichÈd situation of like, you know, the defibrillator cart from the perspective of the person who is actually having it done to them.

Craig: Right.

John: And to the degree that this show is titularly it’s the Joan show, I think it’s interesting to have it all be about her. And the degree to which the doctors can be kind of walla walla walla, that may be fine because it’s really about the spectacle of what it feels like to be here.

I thought we gave some short shrift to the numbers themselves. If we’re going to have her be talking numbers this whole time, give us a few more numbers. I thought the dialogue glosses were a little bit short and I didn’t have a good sense of whether she was repeating the same numbers or just random numbers each time.

Craig: Right.

John: It didn’t help me that in her first dialogue block is “Six. Fifteen. Fourty Six,” all spelled out, which is good, except forty is not spelled that way.

Craig: Correct.

John: And should have hyphens in it.

Craig: Hyphen.

John: So, again, not urgent, but the first line of action, real line of action says, “TEASER. OVER BLACK. Whispers. Quick. Fast. A GIRL. And she’s whispering — “

Craig: And she’s whispering. [laughs] And then Joan — he should have just added in parentheses (whispering) just in case. You got to triple up on that whisper.

John: So, yeah, I think we need to remove that last whispers. But up until we got to that last little bit of that first sentence it’s like, oh, that’s okay. Snappy. Little quick things. But then you don’t need to say “numbers” after it. I sort of get like, oh, they’re numbers. Yeah, those are all numbers, aren’t they?

Craig: Right.

John: It felt a little first drafty I would say overall. I think it’s the right kinds of beats for a teaser. It definitely sets the hook , which is what the goal of a teaser should be. It makes us interested about sort of what this world is going to be and sort of what is going on. These are wonderful good things.

I don’t know a lot about Joan, but that’s okay.

Craig: Yeah, we’ll find out.

John: We’ll find out. I could love a little bit more specific interesting bits about her little drug culture life, because the guys she’s with, “SHAW (25, shaved head, shirt off), and RUSS (20, skinny, in his underwear),” they’re just people with names. And so I don’t have any sense of whether I should be invested in them coming back into the form or if they’re just disposable.

Craig: Well that’s a tough one in three because, you know, maybe on page six she shows up at her apartment and they’re both there again and then we get to know them, you know?

John: Yeah. It’s entirely possible. I’m not sure I would want to have a longer beat before she has the overdose.

Craig: Well, their dialogue isn’t doing Joseph any favors here. “What’s she doing? Why is she — ?” “Can you hear us? Joan! Goddamnit!” “Cut it out! Quit messing with us. Joan? What the — “

That’s not very good. I’m a little concerned here because, all right, so Joseph, some good news. You right action very well. I love the way you spread things out on the page. You give stuff that’s appropriate white space. It’s a compelling style of writing. I’m a little worried because all of the actual spoken dialogue feels clunky. So, this may be an area for you to look at. It all feels a little wooden. But the scenario and the way you’re describing the scenario is pretty good. I like that part.

I think you definitely need to ask this question about what the doctors, how the doctors are reacting to this extraordinary thing that this woman is doing. The only other thing I would say to you is while I know what you mean by Liza Minnelli in Cabaret because, you know, I love musicals, that’s tonally totally off for what you’re going for her.

When you say “think Liza Minnelli in Cabaret” I’m like, [sings] “I used to know this girl named Elsie.” I’m not thinking about this.

John: Describe it as like an anime heroine, then I get that.

Craig: Or even just short black hair, androgynous look.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: For now, I think that will work. Yeah.

John: Yeah. Another point is on page two we introduce Dr. Osborne. So, this is how we get to know Dr. Osborne. Joan is talking and “She can’t stop, DOCTOR OSBORNE at her side, wheeling her in.” Dr. Osborne has dialogue. “Blood pressure 140 over…” So, Dr. Osborne is given a name, and sort of established, but we don’t know anything about her, him or her. Osborne could be a man, could be a woman. And we keep calling this Dr. Osborne but it doesn’t sort of matter.

So, again, if this is going to be a character we’re going to see again, like maybe as Joan is leaving the hospital that same doctor sees her or something, then it is important to give that person a name. But if you’re going to give that person a name, give us something about who that person is.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You can’t just throw a character name there without some information about the person.

Craig: Yeah. The bare minimum as we all know is gender and age. And we have neither here. This is total cipher to us. Not helped either by the name which is about as generic as it gets.

John: I agree.

Craig: And just to really think about how sophisticated audiences are now, when a patient is having some kind of, okay, so here she’s got tacky cardio and her heart rate is accelerating, they’re not — they see this 20 times a day. They’re not like, “Heart rate 190. 200! Bah.” No, they’re not.

This is what happens, [laughs], you know. They’re doctors. It’s an emergency room.

John: Yes. So, on the whole again I would wrap this up by saying I think it’s a really interesting teaser. I think it’s doing its job in terms of story point wise getting me interested to see what’s going to happen next. I just think the writing itself can be sharper. So there should be no reason to sort of quibble with it and sort of doubt that it’s going to be working well.

Craig: I agree.

John: Honestly, again, it does sort of come to trust. So this aspect of are you going to make it worth my 45 minutes to read your pilot, well the more typos we see, the more little sort of nagging things the less we are going to be trusting that you are going to get us to a good place. And so cleaning up those mistakes on those first couple pages are really important.

Craig: I agree. That’s why I singled out the bit where the doctors weren’t reacting to the fact that this woman who is dying is screaming clearly and shouting numbers because it violates my trust in the tone and the world and what I know about reality. So, those things need to be looked at carefully. Definitely do a dialogue pass here. Let’s be sophisticated. A little less melodramatic and wooden.

But encouraging overall, Joseph. I think you can do this. There’s a certain inviting style here. And good descriptions and it’s an interesting concept. I mean, what little we know about it is interesting to me.

John: Yeah. I agree.

Craig: All right.

John: All right. Our next one is called The End of Things and it’s by Lisa [Mecham] Mek-am, or Mech-am.

Craig: I’m going to go with Meach-am.

John: Oh, see, there are many choices for her name pronunciation.

Craig: Right. All three of those may be wrong.

John: It could be Meh-cum.

Craig: Meh-cum. [laughs] That’s horrible.

John: Let us open on a Midwestern suburban street. And this is the Knoll’s house where Dr. Sarah Knoll, she’s dressed in business slacks and a blouse and she’s on a ten-speed bike. She’s adjusting her helmet as she heads down this suburban street. She passes Laurie Miller on her front lawn who is picking up her newspaper.

We follow Sarah as she pedals past, a series of vignettes going through the business district: the shoulder a four-lane expressway; a blighted industrial area. And when she finally gets to the place where she’s at we are at a vehicle impound office. And she’s talking to the young police officer, he’s 21, and he’s not agreeing to release her car. So, she doesn’t have the right paperwork, so her car has been impounded.

She says she absolutely needs to get her car. She has to get her son to school, “We have no other car.” The officer says that these are the rules, this is procedure. She finally convinces him to maybe let her get the car out with license and registration.

And when he sees the license he says, in a low voice, “You’re the lady who killed her baby.”

Back at the Knoll housemaster bedroom we see Peter Knoll, her husband, he’s 32. Ethan Knoll, their five-year-old son bursts in. He’s wearing dinosaur pajamas and tennis shoes. Wakes up his dad. He plops down, shows that he’s able to tie his shoe, poorly, all by himself. And that is the end of our three pages.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Where to begin? Well, I suppose I should start with the general and then maybe move to the specific. Although, no, I’ll start with a specific because it was the first thing that struck me. I feel — this is Lisa — I feel like someone told Lisa that you’re not allowed to use the words A or The. Because we have the strangest way of doing things. “The gray dawn light casts pallor on THE KNOLL’S HOUSE. ” That would be casts a pallor.

“Garage door GROANS open on a car-less garage” oddly, and then “she pushes off down driveway, onto street.”

“Next-door neighbor LAURIE MILLER…clutching bathrobe.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Laurie eagerly scanning front page.”

John: You know, I didn’t notice that. Something was tracking weird, but I didn’t notice the lack of articles.

Craig: Yeah. There’s a lack of articles and it’s so pronounced that I honestly feel like somebody told her screenwriters just don’t use articles. But that’s not true. We do. They’re an essential part of our toolkit.

John: Yeah. That’s so interesting. So, as we started the thing, before she gets to the impound lot, it felt like an opening credit sequence. And then we get to END CREDITS near the bottom of page one it’s like, oh, well, let’s START CREDITS. I’m a big fan of like if you’re going to show credits just tell us that we’re starting credits because then the series of vignettes has a point.

Craig: Correct.

John: As credits begin we start a series of vignettes and then those bullet points are actually nicely done. They do the job. It’s not the most exciting way to start something, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

We’re all leading up to this moment on page three, halfway down page three where the young officer says, “You’re the lady who killed her baby.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And then it’s like, okay, something very fascinated just happened. Yet, to cut away at that moment felt like maybe not the best choice. What is her reaction to someone saying that? That is overwhelming and yet we’re cutting to a happy suburban moment next. I don’t know that that’s going to best serve the story.

Craig: It’s not. It will not best serve the story. I mean, first of all there’s a strange thing here. She’s a doctor. Now, the audience may not know this, but we know it. And she is dressed in her business slacks and blouse, one presumes going to work. She’s riding a ten-speed bicycle which the script tells us is her husband’s, although we probably won’t know that unless we know the difference between male bikes and female bikes, which has something to do with the bar around the –

John: But let’s think about what visual cues could we give that would tell us that it’s her husband’s bike?

Craig: If you want us to know that it’s definitely not her bike, that she’s borrowing a bike here, yes, we need some sort of clue like it’s just too big for her or something.

John: Or let’s start with we see her adjust the seat down a lot.

Craig: There you go. Like clearly this isn’t her bike. Perfect. She then does this very long bike ride. Why she’s on the shoulder of expressway on a bike, really, I was like, wait, what? You can’t ride a bike on the expressway. You’re not allowed to do that. So, that stopped me sort of dead in my tracks. But –

John: See, I actually bought it because if you look at that whole sentence, “Shoulder of a four-lane expressway. Sarah has pulled over to check directions on a cell phone as cars, trucks roar by. All are blinded by fierce, rising sun.”

Craig: By A fierce rising sun.

John: That’s true. Where’s the The?

Craig: Oh, there’s so many of them. “Dismounts at closed metal gate for…” She does not write A or The, ever.

John: It’s fascinating.

Craig: It’s amazing.

John: But I took it as she is following sort of the driving directions on how to get there and isn’t thinking about like, oh, I’m actually on a bike.

Craig: Well, yeah, but she’s a scenting human being who would know that you really don’t drive our bike on a freeway. You’re going to get killed. There’s nowhere to drive. I mean, have you ever in your life seen someone on a bike on the shoulder of a freeway?

John: No, but here’s the opportunity. If you’re going to do that, maybe hang a lantern on that and let somebody acknowledge that like, lady, you’re not supposed to be on the freeway.

Craig: [laughs] I guess. Although now I’m questioning where she got her medical degree. But regardless, the bigger issue is this: where she ends up is the vehicle impound. And so, okay, she was riding her bike because her car has been impounded. Hey, take a cab? I feel like this whole thing has been rigged. I don’t buy it.

John: I get it. Yeah, if they have enough money to have a suburban house –

Craig: A house. I mean, you can’t — nobody rides their bike to the vehicle — unless you’re truly dirt poor. But she’s not, so that was puzzling to me.

This conversation with the, so this was a young officer. Now, I’m not sure that vehicle impound offices are manned by actual police officers.

John: I would agree.

Craig: So this is an area where one must do and talk about like a stickler for research. You can’t slip anything by Lindsay Doran. Like I was on Twitter asking people this question because there’s a character who is the Vicar of the Church of England church.

John: Is he naughty.

Craig: He’s not a naughty vicar, no. Well, eh, well actually. We’ll see, won’t we?

John: I think your movie has sheep in it, that’s the only reason I ask.

Craig: He’s done some naughty things. I can’t give away who did the naughtiest thing of all. But do you call him reverend, the reverend. We had a whole research thing on this. Okay, so do your research. I don’t think police officers man these things. Young officer is kind of a tough one to keep looking at over and over. Let’s give him a name if he’s going to be talking for a whole page.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And she says, “I’m not leaving without the car.” That should be my car. I mean, that just seems natural to me. I’m not leaving without my car.

“My commanding officer will be here around ten.” I mean, unless martial law has been imposed, this seems very odd for a policeman.

John: It feels a little forced.

Craig: Really forced. But this is my biggest problem, and so this one, Lisa, this is the line I want you to look at and really think about. The young officer says, “Lady, I’m coming off the overnight shift and I’m real tired.” And Sarah says, “I have to get things back on track. My son has to go to school. We have no other car.”

“I have to get things back on track” is the definition of what we call on the nose dialogue.

John: Yeah, you’re speaking your subtext.

Craig: It is never something that you would share with this guy in this way. You could certainly — what we try and do instead is, “My son has to go to school. We have no other car,” and then just suddenly tears are welling up like the emotions underneath are mismatching the circumstances, you know, something there. But we really want to avoid stuff like that. And I completely agree with you — worst cut ever. “You’re the lady who killed…”

I don’t even know if he’s saying it to her, or murmuring it to himself. You know what I mean?

John: I do know what you mean. So, let’s take a look at the top of page two. So, or like we’ve just gotten into the vehicle impound office. So, let’s say we figure out whether that person is an officer or whatever the employee is that she’s dealing with.

What if we cut the first sentence he speaks. He says, “This isn’t the official paperwork we need to release the car.” For the first thing he speaks, “It should look like this yellow copy here.” We get the context, we get the conversation is already — we just jumped ten seconds into this conversation and it’s helped us. Cut down to, “I’m not leaving without the car.” Cut all the dialogue down to, “My son has to go to school. We have no other car.”

Give him a new line. Then get to the police. Just like get to it quicker. And then you’re going to get to the reward of the, “You’re the lady who killed her son,” or killed her kid. And then let that moment — be in that moment. It’s so incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. That’s drama. Just let’s be in that drama.

Craig: Correct. Now, there is another possibility here which is, and we don’t know where these pages go. But the other thing to think about, simple question, would this really happen? Constantly ask yourself this? Would this really happen? So, this guy looks in a folder, sees her name, connects it to the news story he just read which we presume is the same one Sarah’s neighbor has read. And then looks back at her, either says it to himself, which is bizarre, or looks at her and says, “You’re the lady who killed her baby.”

No one says that. Because it’s so awkward and weird. You could certainly look at her and go, “You’re…” and then she just walks out and gives up on the car. Or, realizes her name and has a moment and then she recognizes that he recognizes the name, so there’s a mystery there. But it’s so odd for somebody to just turn around and go, “I know who you are. You are the lady who killed her baby.”

John: If he were to say something it would be something like, “What you did is unforgivable,” or something like, you know, if he steals the courage to actually say that. The other opportunity is like is there a second clerk, is there someone else he can talk to or like someone else has to come over. Basically if he can’t do it himself but someone else has to come over and it’s that second person who is like, it’s between them, it’s like, “Oh, that’s the lady who killed her baby.” Then that’s a moment that can actually play.

Craig: Yes. Yeah, we’ve seen that moment in movies where the guy walks back into the office to get, you know, a waiver on the form and the guy looks at it and then he recognizes something and then he picks up his newspaper and then he shows it to the guy. And they both look up at her and squirrels on out of there.

But this one is tough to just have a guy announce this like this.

John: Yeah. The last little thing I’ll point out here is on page three, this is the thing that happens, just people need to look out for it. Ethan’s dialogue, “Look! I did it all by myself.” If you look at the margins on that, it actually fell into parenthetical. So, I’m sure she’s in Final Draft or something like Final Draft and she had it as a parenthetical but without the parentheses and so that’s why the margins are all messed up.

Craig: Correct. Also, minor thing. “The air is stagnant.” And this, by the way, this paragraph she went back to using, she introduced The which was nice. “The air is stagnant, the only movement from floating dust mites until…” You don’t want the word dust mites there. Dust mites are microscopic. I think you’re looking for floating dust motes or floating dust would work.

John: Wow. I learned something today. Motes and mites.

Craig: Yes. Mites are the microscopic bugs that feed off of dust. And they live on us. They don’t float in the air.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get on to our next script by Patrick McGinley. Do you want to do this one?

Craig: Sure. Destination: Earth. That’s Destination: Earth, written by Patrick McGinley.

So, we begin, oh, we’re on black again. Title on black. So, we open with just — I guess it’s a white title.

John: I would always bet on black.

Craig: Always bet on black. “Aeons from now,” and I’m wondering if Patrick is English because he spelled eons with an A in the front which those of us who do crossword puzzles are always on the lookout for.

John: But he didn’t do it with the conjoined AE.

Craig: Probably because he didn’t hit the option thing before it. You know, he just spelled it out. But, anyway, I always like to see aeons spelled old school like that. Aeons from now. And now a voice over, over black. The voice over says, “We’re losing this war. Mankind, I mean. We’re not going to last long.”

We then smash cut to a human face, frozen in agony, dead. We reveal that this face belongs to a dead body in space floating away. And we now reveal the aftermath of this huge battle. Three spaceships have been cracked open. We lost some kind of war. The narrator, his name is Spin by the way, is telling us that there’s been this endless war with these creatures that we call the Gray. And we see one of their dead bodies float by, too.

And the Gray have been fighting with humans over possession of the habitable planets. They are ruthless and smart and they’re taking their worlds away. And the scope of the battlefield is there are 40 million inhabitant worlds, but the Gray are slowly taking them all and this guy is saying we’re outnumbered, we’re outgunned, and we’re doomed.

And then says, “Well, I better shut up now. They’re about to find me,” which is interesting. And then we cut to the inside of a space freighter on the bridge. We have two characters, Gears, 30s and overweight, and an officer with red hair who will be known as Red Hair.

And what they see on their — so they’re basically scavenging this battlefield looking for bits of metal to reclaim when they see a blip of a life form. Gears takes a shuttle over, finds this escape pod, gets inside and discovers this little boy. He’s about five year old hiding with a dog tag around his neck. And the dog tag is some name, but the only letters visible of the first name are S-P-I-N, hence Spin. And the boy is very scared.

John: Yes. So, before we get into the actual substance here, I want to point out a little thing about form. This is written in Courier Prime. And it just looks a little bit better. So, Courier Prime is the typeface that we make and it’s free to download. So, Courier Prime, I like Courier Prime –

Craig: [laughs] I love that you know.

John: And it does look — you will admit, Craig, it does look nice on the page.

Craig: It does. I use it. And you know me, it’s not like I use every one of your products.

John: No, it’s true. But he likes the Courier Prime.

Craig: I love Courier Prime.

John: So, Courier Prime is quite nice. The pages look really good. I didn’t fully engage with these pages and part of it was the voice over, but part of it was just things just felt very familiar in these pages, which is ultimately we are finding a kid on an abandoned ship and that kid will ultimately become our narrator. We don’t know that in the three pages. The audience wouldn’t know that in three pages. We know it just because we’re seeing the name of the guy who is giving the voice over.

There’s the instinct to have — voice over can be lovely. And I have no general qualms about voice over. If voice over is giving us perspective and tone that is surprising and interesting. So, in this case the voice over from Spin Braddock is described as “world-weary, dry, cynical – yet a sly sense of humor shines through. The owner of this voice would tell a killer campfire story.” Okay, but I didn’t really feel that in the actual dialogue that followed.

I couldn’t hear that voice that is being described saying these words. Instead I got some really confusing information that made me think too much about numbers. So, here’s his first bit of dialogue about numbers, “You’d figure, a galaxy of 400 billion stars is big enough for two sentient races. But these guys don’t think so,” which setting that up.

Later it’s like, “Grays breed like moon roaches and they are equally hard to kill. But unlike moon roaches, they’re smart. Ruthless. One by one, they are taking our worlds.” Well, who is our? Is it human world? Is this earth? Where are we? I just got confused.

And then later on there’s numbers: “That’s the problem when your battlefield is 40 Million inhabited worlds. Even if you’re losing, it’s going to take a helluva long time until you’re finally defeated.” I’m just having a hard time picturing the timeline of this war and where we’re at in it. Where is this voice over happening. I just — I was having a hard time getting seated in the movie.

Craig: I’m with you all the way here. Courier Prime is not magic. So, here’s what’s going on. You cannot — John, you and I have said many times we’re not of the school of voice over is terrible. The reason that, I think we talked about this in our last podcast, the reason that you constantly hear this admonition against voice over is because people who read screenplays are often reading bad voice over.

This unfortunately, Patrick, is bad voice over and I’m going to tell you why. It’s not even because it’s expository, although it is aggressively expository. Because if you look at the opening voice over that Cate Blanchett does in the first Lord of the Rings film, it couldn’t be more expository, but it’s beautiful, it’s lyrical, it’s dramatic, it’s creepy. And this is none of that.

So, the mistake here is that you’ve done some very expository VO but you’re doing it in a kind of almost snarky tone. And you’re telling us he had a “sly sense of humor shines through.” Well, now it just sounds like a folksy guy talking about this kooky war. And I don’t care. I do not care.

And if I had any little bit of caring, it was obliterated when you told me, “That’s the problem when your battlefield is 40 Million inhabited worlds. Even if you’re losing, it’s going to take a helluva long time until you’re finally defeated.” You know what else is going to take a helluva long time? Me caring. Because it’s too big. 40 million? Is this movie going to be a thousand hours long? It’s too much.

John: You’ve sort of told us not to care. In some ways you have like taken away a ticking clock, you’ve taken away stakes because it’s like, well, okay, so it’s not going to resolve in this. You’ve set expectations kind of so low for the movie that we don’t kind of engage.

Craig: Yes. I think we talked about the problem of the endless bigifying of stakes, you know, so it used to be a person, and then it was a family, and then a town, and now it’s full cities. And now we’re at the world. And soon it will be the galaxy. But this guy, he’s like, oh, I’ll show you. [laughs] The stakes are 40 million planets. Well, the stakes are so big that they are simply not stakes anymore. He has over-bigified them.

The description of the villains here, let me say this. And, Patrick, I don’t mean to beat you up, but honestly I have to tell you there is not one original idea in these three pages. The aliens, the Gray, I’ve seen it. The floating dead body in space. I’ve seen it. Humanity fighting a race that is best analogized to insects. Seen it.

Wait a second, there’s a life form. What? I’ve seen it. The cracking into what might be an abandoned lifeless spaceship with a flashlight and it’s all creepy. And then you find a little child in it. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen all of this. I think I’ve seen all of it multiple times. And that is not good.

John: No, it’s not going to help you there. It’s not going to get the reader to read page four, and five, and six, because we feel like, well, we’ve kind of seen this movie before and we’re not eager to keep pushing forward.

Some little small things that could be helpful in the rewrite and for other people who are reading through these pages. In general, you should spell out numbers in dialogue. It’s just a good idea to make sure that people are saying what you actually want them to say. So, forty million, four-hundred billion. But honestly, take away those numbers because those aren’t good numbers.

Another example of places where your red pen is going to help your dialogue be better, if we’re keeping this, but there’s a life form. “I’ll take the shuttle and check it out. Maybe it’s a survivor.” “What if it’s theirs?” Gears takes a blaster from the rack on the wall and checks the charge. “I’ll kill it.” Well, you just said that by taking the blaster. So, it’s an example of many times the right answer to a question is an action rather than actually saying something.

Craig: Right.

John: Many times the right answer to a question is another scene. Because if you can leave a scene with a spin of energy, then hooray, you’re into your next thing. And that’s the right thing. So, someone asks the question, “Where’s Tom?” And you cut to Tom someplace. That’s the answer to your question. Where if you said, “Tom’s in Denver,” and then you cut to Tom in Denver, you’ve lost energy.

Craig: Totally agree. I totally agree. Sorry man. Look, you have to do better than this. This in and of itself, I don’t want you to be discouraged by this, because sometimes like I was saying in the beginning it’s what you react against that gets you where you need to go. You don’t want to write stuff that feels like it’s aping things you’ve already seen. Because other people are doing that. And as we mentioned before, by the time you see the movie it’s already been — a lot of quality has been boiled out of it just through process. So, you have to start better to get to that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You start at that, you’re going to get to something worse.

John: I would agree. Craig, did you end up seeing Guardians of the Galaxy?

Craig: I haven’t yet, but we’re going to have Nicole Perlman on the show –

John: I’m excited to have her on the show.

Craig: And so obviously I will be getting to the theater to see said film before we entertain her.

John: That would be great.

All right, our next and final script for this episode is the Legendary Knights of Yore by Todd Bosley. So, I will do the summary here. We fade in on a battlefield at dusk. Corpses of soldiers as far as the eye can see. Various sections of the field smolder. The battle is over.

We’re at a impenetrable fortress of stone. Rows of archers, a drawbridge, a moat of fire. Some charging, “To the last man!” Archers ready their bows. Soldiers are yelling, “Down with the king!” There’s a whole drama with the drawbridge that comes down. They’re trying to jump up onto the drawbridge. They fall, plunge to their fiery death. The main title card: Legendary Knights of Yore.

Next we cut to a dungeon at night where a torch-carrying guard drags a prisoner, a 20-year-old prisoner by a chain. They walk across several grates on the floor. Opens a pitch dark hole and shoves him down into the pit.

In the pit, the prisoner holds his head in pain and we meet Dicky, 50s, a scrappy — sorry, a craggy, filthy, emaciated, bearded man who hobbles towards him. He’s saying, “Lord be praised, I have a roommate! I was afraid I was going to die alone in sorrow and agony down here.” Dicky is a talkative sort. The soldier doesn’t really respond to him very much but gives him his name. His name is John.

Dicky says that John is a really common name. Summons the guard over. The guard’s name is also John. Dicky is talking about the different jobs that the guards have, including like removing the bodies and sort of stuff like this. The guard’s job is just to take the buckets of shit out of the jail.

Craig: [laughs] Right.

John: And there we’re at the end of our three pages.

Craig: End scene.

So, this is, from the very start what I liked about this was that it told me exactly what it was. Right? I mean, there’s a brief moment of misdirection where we see this medieval battlefield with dead bodies and then one soldier — one — who has been left alive apparently is running towards this enormous fortress. And he is all full of confidence that he is going to take this fortress down himself, despite the fact that every other person in his army is dead. And he is so super confident that he jumps to try and reach the right raising drawbridge and ends up plummeting into this fiery moat. And I’m like, okay, so we’re kind of in Life of Brian/Holy Grail territory.

And the Legendary Knights of Yore is a very funny title for something like that. I like the seriousness of it. And this discussion in the pit was funny. Dicky is a funny guy. And the guard is a funny guy. And in general, I mean, who knows where this goes, but it starts well. I kind of felt like I was — at least I felt like Todd knew exactly the kind of story he wanted to tell, the kind of tone he wanted to employ, and he stuck to it.

So, so far so good.

John: It’s so fascinating that the tone worked for you, because I actually wrote on page three like, “Tone?” Because I didn’t catch that tone on the first page. And so I had a little hard time getting into it because as we start, “FADE IN: On a desolate — BATTLEFIELD — DUSK. Corpses of soldiers as far as the eye can see. Various sections of the field smolder. This battle is over. Then, in the distance, a SOLDIER runs toward — A massive, seemingly impenetrable FORTRESS of stone. The soldier, still tiny in the distance screams out a rather unthreatening battle cry as he unsheathes his SWORD.”

Craig: [laughs] I’m already laughing at that.

John: But the challenge is I got, you know, many lines into it before I realized that we were in medieval times at all. So everything that I was reading up to that point is like a soldier. I thought we were in Fallujah. I thought we were in like, I was seeing modern day.

Craig: Good point. That’s a good point.

John: You could say like Medieval Battlefield. Dusk. Then I know, okay, we’re in swords and horseback territory.

Craig: Right.

John: So, this soldier, I like it as an idea, but let me know that I’m reading it right. And so give me just a little bit more saying like “Despite the hopeless situation, this one guy just won’t say no.” Give me one of those action lines that let me know how I’m supposed to read it.

Craig: I don’t know. I have to disagree with you on that. Because I think part of what makes — if this is going to work it has to work with confidence. It just has to sort of put itself out there like neither the script nor this character are willing to acknowledge that this character is absurd.

John: Did you take this soldier as being the same guy, the prisoner that we’re seeing in the — ?

Craig: No, he’s dead. That guy is dead. Oh, for sure. No, because the moat is made of fire. [laughs] He jumped into the moat of fire. I just like that he kept saying, “To the last man!” like he wasn’t the last man. There’s just a lot — the only actually joke-wise, Todd, the only thing I would suggest is I wasn’t, in terms of the structure of what you were doing here comedically I didn’t love the archer because the archer was taking him seriously by readying the arrow. And I kind of want just the archer to be looking at this guy like, “Uh, what?”

And he’s got his arrow sort of loosely in the thing and then maybe the archer starts with the tense and then kind of just un-tensions it, because this guy is never going to even get to the bridge, much less get into the castle, much less kill any of them. And then he dies. And then I think where you have the archer stands down his bow, I think the archer can sort of shrug and, you know, just shrug. And then, boom, Legendary Knights of Yore. I like that title.

John: Yeah. I like the title a lot, too. So, what you just described in terms of the archer tension can be really funny and I can totally picture that, but I wasn’t picturing it in reading that first page. I was reading that first page serious. And so something needed to change there because it didn’t click for me and I suspect it wouldn’t click for many readers that it’s what that comedic tension is.

Craig: I agree. I think you make a great point that we need to definitely establish from the top this is middle ages, middle age battlefield, swords and horses and lances and so forth.

I sense that true to any sword and horse movie that this is in England, so everything is funnier when you say it with an English accent. Dicky is funnier because he’s speaking in English. So, the overeducated, disgusting prisoner is, you know, it’s a funny thing, even if I’ve seen it. But I did like the guard saying, “I hope one day I’ll move up to corpse dumping.” [laughs] That made me laugh.

John: So, did you read Dicky’s dialogue as sort of good medieval English, because I didn’t.

Craig: Oh, okay.

John: Yeah, so it was interesting. Let me try to do it. [English accent] “Lord be praised, I have a roommate! I was afraid I was going to die alone in sorrow and agony down here. It’s a relief to know that now…” Yeah, maybe so.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, to me it’s like Eric Idle or Terry Jones. I liked “I was afraid I was going to die alone in sorrow and agony down here. It’s a relief to know that now I’ll die in sorrow and agony and solidarity with a friend. Unless, of course, you die first. In that case I suppose I’ll eat you. I’m Dicky.” [laughs] It just made me laugh. I liked his name, and I don’t know, I thought that this “Shut your mouth, you diseased rat. I’ve got shit buckets to clean out.” That, to me, is very Monty Python. The whole thing feels very Monty Python.

So, it was working for me and it was making me laugh. These are hard movies to write. Very hard movies to write because you don’t — you really struggle to find how to care about people because it’s so absurd. But if this were to sort of go in The Princess Bride direction where it was very arch and absurd, but then there was a romance or a hero story that we could connect to in kind of a serious way, that would be terrific. Or, it’s just got to be insanely hysterical in an almost sketch style in the way Monty Python did it.

John: Yeah. Or the Robin Hood: Men in Tights, where you’re throwing all the gags you can at it, but it doesn’t feel like he’s trying to do that.

Craig: Yeah. This isn’t a parody. It’s not playing like a Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker or a Mel Brooks parody. This is playing more like a Monty Python comedy of the absurd.

John: Yeah. So, any time you’re doing a movie that’s in a genre, so this is both meant to be period and sort of the fantasy comedy kind of genre, you have to deal with all of the expectations that come with that. And so you get a lot of things for free, like you get a lot of stuff about horses and dungeons and all that stuff. The challenge is then you have to use those things in ways that are interesting. And find new ways to sort of show us how to do this stuff that is going to make it rewarding for us to see it.

I would also say the same thing about the space movie. If you’re going to do a space movie where there’s an intergalactic war, you get all this stuff for free about space travel and warp engines, but you have to find some new way to tell us that so it’s not feeling like the same movie again, and again, and again.

Craig: Totally. And if there’s one little tip that keeps cropping up as we read these pages, it is this: if you are writing a screenplay that takes place in some simulation of the real world as we know it, not a pushed thing like our medieval till, you have to constantly ask this question of yourself, particularly if you’re a new writer and you’re growing your muscles. Would somebody say this in the situation really? Would somebody do this in the situation really? Would somebody react like this in this situation really? Because if we can sniff fake on the page you can’t imagine what it’s like on screen.

John: Yeah. If you look at the challenges we had with Lisa’s script about the baby-killing doctor, we know what the real world feels like. And so therefore we are going to look at it with those critical eyes. But in these other ones that have these more pushed — or actually the same with the doctor — we sort of know how doctors would react in that ER. And so if they’re not acting that way we’re going to call bullshit on that.

In these pushed worlds, you know, you have to ask would this character behave this way in this world that I’m creating? Because if the character reacts in a way that we don’t expect, then we are forced to sort of change our expectations about what the world is and maybe that’s not what you want either. And so the good thing about setting things in the real world is like at least you get the real world kind of for free. If setting it in these pushed worlds, any choice the character makes or anything the character does or says might change that world in ways that you don’t necessarily want it to change.

Craig: That’s right. And if you’re creating a world where people are going to behave in ways that you know are intentionally foreign to what we expect, you have to teach us.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: You have to teach us through normal behavior, rather I should say the behavior that is normal to that world before you start showing them behaving extraordinarily. We need to see just average behavior that is strange behavior to us and we will learn.

John: My instinct is that in this movie, this sort of pushed Monty Python-ish medieval movie, the straight man’s character is going to be incredibly important. The ordinary guy is going to be incredibly important because the world itself is so askew. And so while Dicky may be incredibly enjoyable, I bet the movie doesn’t hang very much on him.

Craig: No.

John: Because it has to hang on this other guy. And I feel like we maybe have done some short shrift just in setting up this other guy and at least what’s interesting about him. We don’t even give him a name for awhile. I think we should probably start with that.

Craig: I do agree, because I’m with you there’s no way that our twenty-something, that is to say hero-aged prisoner isn’t the hero here. We should have a name for him. I know that there is this bit where we reveal that his name is John, but frankly you can just call him John and have the guy call him John and then have him say, “How do you know my name?” That’s fine.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s no need to hide that from us.

John: Yeah, it is interesting because on page two, “The guard drags along a prisoner, 20s, but a chain.” We’re given nothing about the prisoner. So, if that prisoner is important, who I suspect he is important, let’s give a little bit more service to him.

Craig: Agreed.

John: Agreed. So, if you — we need to thank our four people who sent in these Three Page Challenges. It’s always so brave. And thank you for doing it.

If you have three pages that you want to send through to us, the URL you want for that is It’s all spelled out in three page. And you’ll see there’s a little form and you say, yes, yes, yes, you can talk about it on the air. And then you attach your PDF and it magically goes into a little box that Stuart checks. So, if you are interested in doing that, please send in your pages.

Craig: Yes!

John: Yes!

Craig: Yes!

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

Craig: I do. I have a One Cool Thing and I’d like to thank everybody on Twitter that’s always lobbying potential One Cool Things at me. It’s very nice of you guys to take care of me because as you know I struggle with that. Today, I got a suggestion from Austin Bonang – Bonang — who is @abone114 on Twitter. And he suggested, he just put a link, Sugru. So, I clicked on it and lo and behold it was awesome and I spent some money today.

So, let me tell you about Sugru. The stuff is amazing. This woman, she is a chemist of some sort, and she invented this stuff and it basically looks like — a little bit like Play-Doh, remember that, what did they call it, Fun Tack?

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, when we were kids, or like a Plasticine modeling clay. But it’s not. It’s only that for about 30 minutes. So you can take this stuff and blog it around and stretch it and make it any shape you want for about 30 minutes. At that point it begins to cure and I guess what it’s doing is reacting to moisture in the air. And give it a day, about 24 hours, and it becomes a tough, flexible silicone. So, it is now permanently formed and shaped. It adheres, forms a strong bond to aluminum, steel, ceramics, glass, wood, and other materials like plastics, and ABS, and rubbers.

So, it becomes this incredible, it’s like you basically have your own plastic factory, your own rubber silicone factory in your house and you can pretty much patch stuff and put cool grips on things. You can do anything you want with this. It’s awesome.

So, I bought some.

John: And you haven’t gotten it yet, so, is this again a One Cool Thing where you’ve seen the video of it and now you’ve ordered it and eventually you can tell us whether it actually works?

Craig: Yes.

John: Yes. So, I clicked through the website while you were talking about it and I have seen write-ups of this. There’s a link I’ll put in the show notes for Cool Tools, which Craig you would love. Kevin Kelly who created Wired has this newsfeed called Cool Tools and every day or every week, a couple times a week, they put out Cool Tools. And they had mentioned this stuff because it’s really good for grips on like gardening tools and handles and that kind of stuff. People love it.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, it looks awesome. And you get a whole — oh, like my favorite thing that they, because this happens all the time in my house. We have these little ceramic jars where we put our sugar and salt and flour. And inevitably somebody pulls one of the lids off and then drops the lid and that knob at the top of the lid just cracks off. Well, you can mold yourself a new knob, stick it on there, and then it’s awesome. It’s so cool!

John: It does look good. My One Cool Thing is a TV show. It’s a show called, you would actually really enjoy this, Craig, called Please Like Me. It’s an Australian show created by Josh Thomas who also stars in it. And most of the write-ups about it have compared it to Girls, which is kind of fair because it’s the same situation as like Lena Dunham created and stars in Girls. Josh created and stars in Please Like Me.

There are six episodes of the first season. They’re running the second season right now. You can find them all on iTunes. It’s also on this TV channel called Pivot which you probably have but you don’t you know that you have it. It’s a really good little comedy. It’s a half hour and it’s Josh, this 20-year-old gay guy and his housemates and his family, his parents, his bipolar mother who is spectacular. And it’s really, really well done. And so I would say it’s probably more of a comedy-comedy than Girls is, but really smartly done and put together. And definitely something that people who are interested in writing should check out.

Craig: I will check that out. I find that Australians are very funny people. I tend to be impressed by their output as a nation. They have such an interesting — they find an interesting tone. I mean, Chris Lilley, he just did that incredible work. But even like Baz Luhrmann, sometimes I watch Baz Luhrmann’s stuff and I just think where — how did his mind function here to… — My daughter watched Strictly Ballroom the other day, because she’s really into dancing now, and I hadn’t seen it in a few years. I do love it. And I was just sitting there like how did he — why did he put the camera there? How did he know that that would be awesome? It’s so weird. So cool.

John: At lunch we were talking about Australian shows and Canadian shows. And the challenge that Canada has, because Canada has its own homegrown stuff and some of it can be really good, but Canada gets all of the North American stuff sort of in real-time and so culturally they’re always sort of being force fed US programs as well. Whereas Australia, they are isolated, and so they get our stuff but they can really have their own thing.

And so this show is set in Melbourne which is even not in Sydney. So, it really is its own unique little microcosm, but it’s completely recognizable to our experience. They just talk about university in very different ways than we would.

Craig: Please Like Me.

John: Please Like Me.

Craig: Like me. Please like me.

John: It’s really the Craig Mazin story. That is our show for this week. So, Scriptnotes is edited by Matthew Chilelli and is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Our outro this week is by Matthew, but if you would like to send your own outro music, we would love to hear it and play it on the show. So, you can send those to our general email address which is That’s also a great place to send longer questions.

If you have a short question for me or Craig, or a suggestion for Craig’s One Cool Thing, Craig is @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust.

If you are on iTunes, click subscribe for Scriptnotes. Or just search for Scriptnotes and click subscribe so we get you as a subscription. Leave a comment if you like. We love those comments. They’re lovely.

Craig: Love ‘em.

John: Also in iTunes you can download the Scriptnotes App which gives you access to all of the back episodes. So, this is 159. There are 158 back episodes that you can listen to. It’s $1.99 a month for the premium subscriptions. A bargain.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, honestly, you could buy so much Sugru, but you can’t buy any Sugru for what it costs to just have all those podcasts. You’d get like a tiny little blip of Sugru.

John: Yeah. It’s completely a different experience.

Craig: It’s a different experience. [laughs] And by the way, our podcast never cures. It’s always malleable.

John: It’s always malleable. Interestingly, I’m looking at the Sugru site right now and one of the things they recommend doing with it is actually very smart. You know how sometimes cables will fray at the point where it connects.

Craig: Yes! I saw that.

John: You wrap it around that and get a little extra insulation. I can see that being very useful for some people.

Craig: Yeah, and by the way, it is electrically insulating as well.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, this lady, honestly lady, it’s funny, I can’t find her name on here. I was looking for it. But madam, you are smart. You’re my hero. You really are.

John: Of course, we’re going to find out in like two years it’s actually cancer-causing and it’s made of death.

Craig: Good. Good.

John: In the meantime your grips will be nice and springy.

Craig: I won’t stop using it, even if that — I don’t care.

John: Craig is that stubborn.

Craig: They’ll take my Sugru from my cold, dead hand.

John: All right. Craig, thank you, and I’ll talk to you again next week.

Craig: See you next week, John.

John: All right, bye.


The Mystery of the Disappearing Articles

Tue, 08/26/2014 - 08:03

John and Craig take a look at four new entries in the Three Page Challenge, ranging from galactic drama to medieval comedy. Along the way, they talk about the nature of one-hour teasers, trust, plausibility, and how to properly address religious authorities.

Screenwriting is often described as a compressed form of writing, but one can take it too far. “The” and “a” are often useless articles — but you notice when they’re gone, as we did in one of the entries.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 158: Putting a price on it — Transcript

Fri, 08/22/2014 - 14:40

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: Here, man, my name is Craig Mazin. Right?

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

Craig, we are trying to record this episode live. It’s nearly a week before this episode will come out, so it’s probably one of the most in advance episodes we’ve ever done.

Craig: Well, and also we’re doing this, so we’ve got these people listening along with us on So, they’re cheating basically. They’re hearing this early. Plus, they get to hear all the nonsense that we cut out, which I should say most of which is you saying things like, “Blah, blah, blah, that was terrible.” [laughs]

John: You’ll see all the false starts and the do-overs. But in many ways the 25 people who are in the chat room, they’re living slightly in the future, because they get to experience the Scriptnotes episode before anyone else on the planet gets to experience it.

Craig: That is exactly right. This is fun. I’m reading along with the things they’re saying. This is great. I’m going to have to stop because it’s going to be distracting.

John: You’re going to have to stop. It’s going to be very distracting.

Craig: It’s going to be very distracting. So, I’m leaving the chat room, but I’m excited that people are listening along with us as we do this live and not live at the same time.

John: So, today we talked about our topics and it’s going to be about the price of things. It’s going to be about Amazon versus Hachette, Amazon versus Disney. They’re all wrestling over what things should cost and what price people should pay. We’re going to look at the Weinstein Brothers putting a price on a free internship.

Craig: Yeah, man, there’s going to be a price for it, all right?

John: We’re going to look at animation studios who are trying to hold down the prices that they’re paying to their workers. And finally we’re going to try to answer some questions from the people who are sitting around in the chat room very patiently waiting while we figure out how we’re actually recording this episode.

Craig: So much. So much.

John: But first off we should start with some follow up and really some corrections. I always love in newspapers when they talk about the mistakes they’ve made and regretting the error. Well, in our last podcast we got to kind of do that because there were some significant errors at the end of the podcast last week.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I’ll blame it on jetlag, but anyway we need to sort of address them. So, you were talking about a Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder.

Craig: Right.

John: And the actor in that is Jefferson Mays.

Craig: Right.

John: But I said Jefferson Davis.

Craig: Correct.

John: Who, of course, was the role played by Sherman Hemsley in Norman Lear’s comedy The Jeffersonians.

Craig: Correct.

John: So, completely confused that.

Craig: Great 1990s era sitcom.

John: And Jefferson Davis, of course, was the president of the Confederacy, or you sad that it was Jefferson, he was the president of the Confederacy. But that’s not right at all. That was Robert E. Lee Daniels who was the director of films like Precious, Based on the Novel Push by Lyle Waggoner.

Craig: Right.

John: So, we really messed up a lot of stuff there, but we regret the error. And we try to fix our mistakes when we see those mistakes.

Craig: Well, the good news is that we do. I mean, we take the time to get it right. We may not get it right the first time, but the second time around we’re very good.

John: We’re really good. We aim for clarity and just perfection.

Craig: I would actually say we’re the best.

John: We are the best. Yet, another mistake we made is that we said that we’re going to both be at the Austin Film Festival October 23 to the 26. That’s not actually accurate, is it Craig?

Craig: It’s half true. I’m sorry, guys. I can’t go this time because one of my best friends in the whole world is getting married that weekend and it’s a small wedding and I and my wife will be in attendance. It’s on that Saturday.

And I thought about trying to squeeze in, like maybe if I just fly out Thursday night and I leave Friday afternoon or Friday night, but it was turning into a disaster and I couldn’t figure out how to make it work. So, unfortunately this Austin — it will be the first one I’ve missed in a number of years, but I’ll be back next year for sure, no matter what.

John: But we already promised them a Scriptnotes episode. So, we talked about sort of who would be the perfect person to take Craig’s place if Craig could not be there.

Craig: But that person was not available so you got…[laughs]

John: We got Kelly Marcel.

Craig: Yeah!

John: And so I’m so excited that Kelly Marcel will be co-hosting the live Scriptnotes that we’ll do in Austin.

Craig: Yes, it’s good. You guys are a great team together and it’s always good to — she’s very good at the podcasting thing. Not everybody is, by the way. Although we’ve never actually had a bad guest, I don’t think. Even Richard Kelly, it’s a little tough with Richard Kelly sometimes because he’s Richard Kelly, but that’s the way Richard Kelly is. You know when you get Richard Kelly that that’s what you’re going to get. You’re going to get Richard Kelly. So, that was actually great. But we’ve never had a bad guest.

But she’ll be very good and very funny and you guys will be — you’ll do well together.

John: While we’re talking about podcast guests, is there anything you want to tell me, Craig?

Craig: Okay, so listen, you’ve done this to me and I didn’t say a word. Okay, not a word. Am I proud of what I did? No. [laughs] But I think that I deserve at the very least the forgiveness that I gave you when you whored yourself out there like a trollop to The Nerdist podcast and to god knows what else. I mean, I think you’ve done 12 podcasts.

John: I’ve done a few podcasts.

Craig: So, I strayed and I happened to do one. I was in New York and I did Brian Koppelman’s podcast. By the way, so Brian Koppelman’s podcast is called The Moment. And I knew that, but I had never thought twice about it. I just thought, okay, well Brian Koppelman has a podcast called The Moment. And he asked me to come on to The Moment and I said, great, I’ll do The Moment. And I showed up for The Moment and we started talking and he was asking me questions and he kept asking questions like, “So was that the moment do you think when…”

And then I realized, “Ooh, oh The Moment is actually about a moment.” That’s the point of this whole thing is that he’s talking about a moment. But I had no idea because, of course, I don’t listen to any podcasts. So, I found out what The Moment was during The Moment.

John: So, I would have guessed that his podcast was six seconds long based on his Vine videos. But apparently it was 90 minutes.

Craig: It’s lengthy. And I don’t know how he worked this out. I think it’s because The Moment, which sounds vaguely, I don’t know, there’s something intestinal about it, but whatever, like I’m having a moment.

John: I was thinking it was sort of more like a moment of orgasm: a moment of just like clarity and sweat and light.

Craig: [laughs] That’s exactly what happens to me when I have an orgasm. First comes the clarity. Then the sweat. And then the light. The light is the weirdest part.

His podcast, The Moment — clarity, sweat, light — is associated with ESPN and Grantland. And because it’s ESPN and ESPN is part of the Disney family, we recorded this thing in a proper recording studio at the ABC building in Manhattan. So he’s got like a pretty professional setup, or so I thought. But here’s what happens. You’ll love this.

So this guy brings you in and you have to get your identification and sign in and go through the thing, and go up the stairs, and a man meets you in a lobby that’s essentially a man-trap frankly, because you can’t get down and you can’t get out.

And then an engineer meets you and he says, “Hi, how are you doing, my name is so-and-so.” Great. And he takes you into this proper control both and you go into a proper recording room and you have real microphones and headphones and all the rest. And the guy hits some buttons and then he leaves. He leaves.

So, really what they’ve done with Brian is they’re like, “Here you go buddy. We’re going to hit record and then we’re out of here. And then you just hit stop.” So, it’s kind of professional but also kind of like, “Somebody hit record for Brian, and then we go home, get a beer.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. But it was fun. I enjoyed it. And once I learned what The Moment was about — the moment — then I had a nice moment.

John: [laughs] Well, it’s very good. Brian Koppelman is a talented screenwriter and certainly a person who has the best interest of screenwriters at heart. So, if you’re going to cheat on the Scriptnotes Podcast with anyone, Brian Koppelman is the right person to do it with.

Craig: Yeah. I feel like we both have hall passes for Brian Koppelman.

John: Next bit of follow up, a couple of weeks ago I talked about Goodnight Moon and a terrific piece written about Goodnight Moon and sort of how it’s really very smartly written. Listener Randy Mack pointed me to a McSweeney’s piece by Sean Walsh which I thought was fantastic called A Sparknotes Guide to Goodnight Moon, which is one of those sort of classic study guides to Goodnight Moon, which is of course much longer than the actual book of Goodnight Moon. So, I’m going to put that in the show notes.

But this was a quote from that that I thought was terrific:

The moon in this piece acts as a traditionally feminine sign. Here, the bunny’s final “goodnight moon” demonstrates his completion of his rite of passage and his development into a full man bunny. The moon, which visually appears on every page, grows larger and more pronounced is a chanting feminine voice, haunting and disturbing his world. Just as he must overcome his sexual desire for the woman who says “hush,” the bunny must resist the impending femininity outside of his safe confines.

Craig: [laughs] That’s exactly what my kid said to me when I read the book to him. He’s like, “Daddy. Daddy, I have to overcome my sexual desire for the woman who says ‘hush.’”


John: Uh-huh.

Craig: Uh-huh. That was very funny.

John: What I love about that writing is it reminds me so much of those papers I wrote in college where like I got to keep filling up pages and so you try to dry a meaning out of things that are just completely meaningless.

Craig: I have to say, just as a side note, it just kills me to witness the death of clear writing in academia. It wasn’t always like this, but it certainly was like this when you and I were in college. And I think it’s just become calcified into something that’s permanent in a dreadful way. And I don’t know who to blame, other than academics themselves, for buying into this nonsense.

But very famously there were some guys that wrote a computer program that essentially assembled an essay that was grammatically correct in some strict sense, but full of nothing but argle-bargle nonsense academia words. And it was accepted for publication by a number of very fancy academic journals. It’s just embarrassing. It’s embarrassing. And this would be, if I were in charge, I would be a benevolent dictator, but not with this. With this there would be some kind of terrible purge by fire.

John: Yeah. When I was in college I was split between my English major, which was writing those argle-bargle papers, and like my post-modernism class, and I was a journalism major. So you had to write incredible clear things for journalism. And that was much better training, I thought.

Craig: That is far better training. Far better. There’s really no function. There’s no purpose, function, or value in that kind of over dense fruitcake writing. I don’t mean fruitcake in the la-di-da. I mean fruitcake like something that has too much mass for its shape. [laughs] It’s just — it’s just too much. It’s too much.

John: Yeah. It’s too much candy, fruit, and nuts and not actual substance.

Craig: It is. You could make a list of words, I mean, semiotic — semiotic means something. That is to say it used to mean something and now in an ironic way it is a signifier but it actually means nothing. It means nothing anymore.

John: Yeah. It means that you can stop paying attention.

Craig: That’s right. You can turn your brain off. Yup.

John: Our last bit of follow up is a question from Mario who writes, “In the excellent…”

Craig: Mario!

John: Mario.

Craig: Mario!

John: “In the Rocky Shoals episode during the discussion on the topic of tone, Aline brings up,” Aline Brosh McKenna, the best, “she brings up that she will sometimes write things characters might be thinking but are not saying in order to help make the tone clear.”

Craig: Yes.

John: “How do you go about properly formatting this kind of thing? Do you put it in parenthesis? Quotation marks? Do you italicize it? Or is the fact that it’s written in a block of action and not in dialogue enough for readers to understand what it means?”

Craig: That’s a good question. I do this, too. And it depends on the moment and how I’ll do it. I won’t put it in quotation marks or italicize it, but I will choose typically between either a line of action or in parenthesis. For instance, this very day I wrote an exchange where someone says, “I’m from London.” And a woman and a man are listening. And the woman says, “Oh?” But in parenthesis it says (Ooh!). And the man says, “Huh?” And in parenthesis it says (I hate you). So, that will give the actors plenty of context. Certainly it will give the reader plenty of context as to what’s going on there. But you could also do this is action, too.

You could write something like, “John is disgusted. John, ‘Well that’s just terrific.” You know, sure, no problem.

John: Yeah. So a parenthetical is perfect if you’re trying to color the delivery of a line. And so if what they’re saying may not be obvious based on the word choices, because they’re trying to express them and that’s not how they’re actually feeling. But that intermediary line of action is a great place to express what’s sort of really going on.

Because if you’re watching the movie you would see that he’s disgusted. You would see that he’s like, you know, shooting eye daggers. That’s all a valid choice.

So, rarely do you have to format anything special.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Craig, a question for you, though. This is something I just ran into in the thing that I’m writing. I needed to sort of ellipses a line of dialogue but I needed to make clear what it was that they were going to say.

Craig: Ah.

John: Have you ever done that? Where you put that in brackets afterwards, like the part that got cut off at the end of the sentence?

Craig: I’ve actually never done that.

John: It was the first time I’d ever done it.

Craig: But I’ve seen it. And I can see in certain situations where it would be of value. But I always feel like, well, it’s hard to act that. You know, I always think about the actors and I can understand how to act putting in parentheses (I hate you) and then the line is “Oh, that’s interesting.” But I don’t know how to act “I’m not sure if I…” and then in brackets [can marry you].

I think in part it should be somewhat evident from the first part of it. But I can imagine a specific situation where you’re kind of jammed into where it’s like, yes, actually, this is appropriate. The actor would understand why I put that there, etc.

John: So, the exact situation I was in is there is a police officer, there is a woman who has come on the scene, and there is an hysterical woman. And our hero character is saying to the police officer, “Can you get rid of this woman.” And so it’s just, “Can you…” but in brackets [take care of her].

Craig: Get rid of this woman. My instinct, what I would do, and what you did there is absolutely fine. I think what I would probably have done is say, “Can you…” and then a line of action “He signals his partner to get rid of her.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it’s the same. And, frankly, you know, it’s all about just how to get things to.. — The only thing I would advise is if you’re going to do it in an action block, it’s good for it to kind of be descriptive as the third person omniscient.

If you’re doing it in parentheses or in brackets then it is good to do it as unspoken dialogue, dialogue that they’re thinking in their heads like “I hate you” as opposed to “He hates him.” That kind of thing, you know.

John: All right, let’s get to our topics of the day. So, Amazon is having an interesting week, or a couple weeks. They seem to be having disagreements with several of the people who are supplying them things.

First off is Hachette, a big publisher. And this has been an ongoing fight where they are disagreeing about the price of eBooks. So, Amazon has tried to price books, eBooks, at $9.99, because that’s what they want to sell things for on Kindle. And they have stopped selling certain Hachette, a big publisher’s titles, because they cannot come to an agreement on price.

And so we’ll have a couple links to different articles about this in the show notes. But, Craig, I’m curious what your first thought is when you see this dispute between Hachette and Amazon.

Craig: I have grown increasingly wary of Silicon Valley’s disdain for content. They are so unconcerned with anything that isn’t about an increasingly efficient capital machine, something that generates profits for them. And I don’t begrudge them that. That’s what businesses do. But they are ruthless and ruthless almost in a self-destructive way. They’re kind of devouring the very basis of the things that supply them.

And this is an example. I understand why they want to do this, but look, the fact of the matter is Hachette is also a business. They’re allowed to make money. Their authors, more importantly, are allowed to make royalties. And just because Amazon wants to sell something at a price doesn’t mean it gets to.

John: I agree with you. So, I generally approach this from the perspective of like, well, that’s business. And so Hachette and Amazon have probably been negotiating and arguing about this for a long time. But I get annoyed when it spills out into the public and they try to fight in public.

And I got annoyed the same way with Comcast and CBS, or was it Time Warner and CBS? Anyway, the cable company that was fighting CBS in New York City, where they tried to make it a big public battle rather than sort of the private negotiation that business actually is.

Business is about you have certain costs of making something. And you are going to look at those costs as part of your price and you are going to charge a certain price to people. That price may be a price that a retailer is willing to accept. It may be a price that a retailer is not willing to accept. Amazon totally has the right not to sell Hachette books. Hachette has the right not to sell Amazon its books for the price Amazon wants.

But this whole public campaign, Amazon went off with this Readers United website.

Craig: Oh please.

John: And they’ve quoted Orwell and sort of misquoted Orwell. And they’re trying to make the case that books, eBooks, should cost $9.99 because they have so much lower cost than a hardback book would be, or even a paperback book would be. But it’s interesting because to me you never really comment on the costs of things unless you’re saying that things should cost less.

Craig: That’s right. They’re not making an argument of value.

John: No.

Craig: They’re looking — what they’re doing is they’re looking at books as widgets and they’re saying, listen, uh, yeah, somebody sprinkles magic fairy dust on wood pulp and glue and I suppose that’s what makes words that people are interested in. But really what we’re talking about is wood pulp and glue. And you guys have eliminated the wood, pulp, and glue, so you should charge us less to run these books on our website and retail these books.

And the answer is no. No, that’s not what gives the book value. Frankly, one could argue that books have been undervalued for a long time and that this is a way to return value to them. The value is in the content. It’s not in the card stock or any of that.

God forbid the price, the real price — not the adjusted for inflation price — but the real price of content should go up. God forbid. God forbid that creators should make more money. That’s like — that’s literally something that never enters the algorithm of these people. But it’s true.

And, you know, if Amazon feels so strongly that books should be $9.99, they should sell them for $9.99 and make no money off of them.

John: Well, that’s honestly what’s been happening though is Amazon has been buying them and selling them at a loss to try to establish a price in people’s heads that $9.99 is the right price for them.

Craig: Well, they made their bed. That’s it. They made their bed. By the way, Amazon does this all the time. There was a really interesting — I read an article about a guy that decided he was going to sell diapers online. It was actually a pretty interesting business of selling diapers online. It was just something people weren’t buying online and he figured out a way to do it. And Amazon basically offered him a bunch of money to buy his company. He said no. We really like our model and we’re doing very well.

So, then Amazon decided to compete with him and to destroy him. They began selling diapers at a loss because it was more important for them to carve out competition and create another monopolistic beachhead than it was to actually make a profit.

And, frankly, Amazon struggles with profits from what I understand because they seem more interested in just selling everything and eliminating competition than they actually are interested in making money. So, they’ll do things like this. They’ll sell books for $9.99 because they imagine some world where eventually everybody will have to sell them for less to Amazon, right. But that’s not the way it works. And I hope, honestly, that Hachette and all of the authors they represent stick it to Amazon on this one.

I’m so tired of Amazon. By the way, I buy stuff from Amazon every day. So, I’m the worst. [laughs]

John: Yeah, I want to talk about the hypocrisy of that because –

Craig: The worst. I am such a hypocrite.

John: No, I would argue that there’s hypocrisy but there’s also reality. And so I buy stuff off of Amazon and so I had a tweet last week about my frustration with this Readers United thing and said like, you know what, I’m not going to be buying any Kindle books for awhile until this gets settled out, because that part of the business is frustrating to me.

And yet at the same time there is Amazon links on my website.

Craig: Right.

John: I bought some composition books for my daughter on Amazon. I don’t fully disagree with all that. Lord, I had a meeting at Amazon this last week. I had a meeting at Amazon on Monday. So, I think there’s parts of the business that are fine and good.

Another blogger made the point that basically there are no good airlines either. Like no matter what you’re going to have a bad experience with an airline. So, if you sort of refuse to go on American Airlines, eventually you’re going to run out of airlines, because you’re going to have a bad problem on every airline. It’s the same kind of thing with Amazon. Eventually you are going to probably want to buy something and Amazon may be the best choice for it.

Craig: Amazon, I just wonder if one of these days Amazon doesn’t find itself in the situation that Microsoft found itself in. Which ironically in the prologue to the era of Microsoft’s waning, they were nabbed for antitrust. And they went through a very long, difficult antitrust litigation with the United States government, more severely with European nations.

And the whole time they were like, wait a second, you don’t understand. We’re not a monopoly. We’re doing this stuff because we have to survive and we’re going to die. And everyone was like, shut up, you’re Microsoft. And it turns out actually, yeah, they really were kind of in a little bit of trouble.

I think Amazon is going to run into the same thing. I’m not sure that this whole price thing — somewhere, something in the back of my head says that there’s something funky about this, that deciding you’re not going to — you’re going to sell some people’s products for this price but not other people’s products because you don’t like them or something. I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s — we’ll have to ask some antitrust lawyer what he thinks. Or she.

John: Luckily because we have people in the chat room, the blogger I mentioned is actually Marco Arment. So, I knew there was someone, so the point I was making about you can run out of airlines to fly, that was Marco Arment whose post I read.

Craig: Good job, Marco.

John: Good job, Marco.

The more recent and sort of more directly affecting screenwriters aspect of this is Amazon’s disagreement with Disney about pricing of DVDs and Blu-rays. So, this comes to Captain America, a big hit movie. And Million Dollar Arm. And Muppets Most Wanted. All the Disney movies they have disagreements about what price they want to sell those movies at.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So, it’s worth talking about what a list price is, because the list price is not the wholesale price. Amazon is paying a certain amount for those discs. And Amazon as a retailer can negotiate what price they’re paying for it. If they don’t like the price they’re paying for it, they can choose not to sell it. And, again, I think that’s fine. There’s no requirement that they need to sell it. But it gets frustrating when it gets public that they’re not doing it, or when they pull the buy buttons off and make it seem like a movie is not coming out, that’s a challenge.

And it’s a challenge because they’ve become so dominant in the home video industry. If you’re not selling your movies through Amazon, that’s going to be a problem. It’s going to cost you.

Craig: That’s right. And, again, acting like a bully and that’s part of the nature of capitalism and competition is. It’s hard to blame them for this. It’s also hard to blame Disney for taking a hard line on this. I think the trick with these situations is that the retailer giant, so in the case of say walk in and buy, that would be a Walmart, and online it’s Amazon. The retail giant is one entity. There is a group of people, publishers, or movie studios that are creating a product and they really can’t combine forces the way that Amazon can be consolidated with one policy.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Because that’s antitrust.

John: That was exactly what happened in the publishers with Apple. It was decided that they were colluding in making their deal with Apple and they all had to pay fines.

Craig: That’s right. Now, what we’ll see in another topic we’re about to approach is that frankly there is a lot of squidgety dealing going on between what ought to be free and clear competitors in the entertainment business. And I suspect that that’s probably the case here, too. I mean, look, Warner Bros got into it with Amazon. Now Disney gets into it with Amazon. I would be shocked if they hadn’t shared some information. Frankly, the guy that used to run Warner Bros is now running Disney. [laughs] I imagine Alan Horn knows a little something about what happened to Warner Bros. So, anyway, it’ll be interesting to see.

Obviously I root for the studios in this case because the more they get paid for a DVD, the more that you and I get paid for residuals.

John: It will also be interesting to see what’s the landscape five years from now. Because if you noticed, Disney has their iPad app now. So, your kid can watch all the Disney movies through the iPad app. And that’s a way for Disney to get around having to deal with retailers. They can be their own retailer.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. Amazon won’t be here forever. That much I know. But things will change. Sears once roamed the earthy like the mighty dinosaur. But, you know, they’re not going to be here forever. And they certainly can’t survive forever as this kind of monopolistic pressuring giant because eventually people just get so angry. And they begin to turn to other things. And as other things become easier and easier to access, they’re going to run into trouble. Plus, they have to make money somehow, right?

I mean, you can’t just keep undercutting everybody.

John: Well, but there’s also the aspect that they can just keep growing. And sometimes it’s just being able to keep growing in new directions in new areas is a substitute for actual profits.

Craig: That’s right. And, by the way, that’s exactly what they’ve done. I mean, they have been cancerous in their growth, which like cancer, cancer is a very impressive cell. You know, a cancer cell will just go and go and go. But eventually it unfortunately kills the person that it’s growing in. And I’m just kind of curious to see, at some point they’re going to run out of this growth space. These kinds of practices are going to start to alienate the people that support their pipelines of products and content.

I don’t know. I mean, look, they’re going to be around for awhile. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here saying Amazon is going to be falling apart any day. But they’re starting to act like jerks in a way that companies act about five or ten years before things start getting bad.

John: Speaking thematically, I wonder if the truism, the dramatic question and irony that power corrupts ultimately can be played about a corporation. And so the way corporations are people, classically in literature you see someone who rises up and he’s a good noble hero and then there’s a corruption in the third act. You see that in Game of Thrones. You see that in classic mythologies.

I admire Amazon. And I admired Amazon’s arrival Jeff Bezos I think is really, really smart. I admired Google’s beginning. I admire sort of what they were able to achieve. And yet I look at both Amazon and Google and I have concerns about what happens down the road with them.

Craig: I think that’s a good point. I mean, when these companies begin they begin as antitheses to what is the standard. They exist in opposition to something and struggle with something. They are in defiance of something. And they grow in that principled way. And they attract people because they’re principled and because they’re saying not “we’re great,” they’re saying “we’re better.”

Right? Everything that you’re used to, these big slow-turning Titanic like giants. We’re better because we’re smarter and we’re new and we’ve figured it out. But eventually they become the big giant. It’s inevitable. And their stance becomes defensive and they’re entirely about stifling what is new because their business model is tied to the infrastructure that they have intertwined with, you know?

John: In the Readers United piece they cite George Orwell. And you usually think of 1984 with George Orwell. And in fact Amazon famously a couple years ago pulled 1984 off people’s Kindles because they didn’t actually have the rights to it. And that was a huge brouhaha where like they had literally reached into Kindles and pulled that book back.

But maybe the better analogy is George Orwell’s Animal Farm. Because if you look at the end of Animal Farm, the animals had this revolution and they had all these great ideals and they published their ideas on the barn wall. But ultimately they end up sort of betraying their ideals. And I’ll be curious whether five years, ten years from now we are applying those same lessons to these companies, or companies that I admire like Apple right now. I wonder if we’re going to be seeing that same kind of thing happen.

Craig: It’s interesting. Apple for whatever reason, I mean, listen, there’s plenty about Apple to be concerned about and to not like, but there’s a certain rebellious nature to them in some way. Amazon and Google feel — this is all feeling — but they feel like the man right now. They feel like the man. And they feel like the man in part because they’re doing stuff like this.

Apple has always stood apart from all these other businesses because they have made their own software and their own hardware that are meant to work together and that’s it. Right? Microsoft was always about jamming together 4,000 companies worth of tiny bits of plastic to sell to you at a lower price. And, if it works it works. And Apple has always been kind of pure about that sort of thing. Granted, you know, I’m not saying they’re perfect. They are –

John: I’m not saying they’re perfect either.

Craig: No.

John: Another company that has strong ideals is the Weinstein Company.

Craig: “Yeah, oh wow man. Thank you. Here. I’m really glad to hear you say that, all right.”

John: So, a friend sent a link to this thing which I thought was terrific. So, Charity Buzz is a site that — I would actually encourage everyone to go to Charity Buzz. There are auctions on Charity Buzz and you can win these auctions and sometimes they’re really great experiences. Classically Tim Cook was a person you could have a 30-minute meeting with Tim Cook as a Charity Buzz auction that went for a tremendous amount of money. But even like local schools, like my daughter’s school will have Charity Buzz auctions for things.

We Charity Buzz auctioned backstage at Big Fish.

Craig: Cool.

John: Well, the Weinstein Company for some charity did a charity auction of an internship, an internship with the Weinstein Company. And you can bid on your chance to become an intern for the Weinsteins.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: Craig, how much would you pay to be an intern with the Weinsteins.

Craig: Oh my god, I suppose I would pay up to negative $100,000. [laughs] I mean, I guess down to negative $100,000.

This is unreal.

John: So, the estimated value according to Charity Buzz is $50,000.

Craig: Hold on a second.

John: Let me read you what actually happened.

Craig: Who comes up with that number, by the way?

John: It’s the person who is supplying it.

Craig: Exactly.

John: So here is what you’re getting. “Bid now on a special three-month internship at the Weinstein Company in New York City or Los Angeles.”

Craig: “Either city. You can go either New York or Los Angeles. Whatever one you want, man.”

John: “And in the department of your choice and learn all the ins and outs of the movie business.” So, a three-month internship with them.

Craig: [laughs] That’s it. All of them. All the ins and outs of the movie business, all of them, three months.

John: So, this is an unpaid internship.

Craig: Yeah. Unpaid.

John: Student must be enrolled in college. Intern can receive college credit. Travel accommodations are not included. Start date is TBD and based on a mutually agreed upon time. It’s valid for one semester for US residents only. Cannot be resold or re-auctioned, transferred, and travel accommodations are not included twice.

Troubling, I think, because we’ve talked before on the podcast I think about the challenge of internships. And that unpaid internships tend to favor the wealthy, honestly, or kids who don’t need to work because they can afford not to work.

Craig: Right.

John: But this is sort of a rare case where like you have to pay to have this internship.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a little sick. I mean, look, it goes to charity and anything something goes to charity everybody kind of goes, ah, you know, it’s for charity. So, some rich guy wants to set his kid up at the Weinstein Company for three months because he thinks that’s going to help him in the movie business or something. And he wants to pay, I mean, currently at time of recording the current bid is $13,000 after six bids. But we’ll see where it goes.

Okay, fine, you’re going to give a bunch of money to — this supports the American Repertory Theater. Fine. Where’s the harm? Where’s the harm?

Well, you know, here’s the harm. It’s not really harm, it’s just a lack of good. I wish honestly that the Weinstein Company would have said, hey, you’re not going to enjoy a three-month internship. You can enjoy a three-month, I don’t know what you’d call it, like an insider’s look where you can participate or you can sit in on — some promise of doing something other than making copies all day and getting lunches and coffees because your dad paid $40,000. You know what I mean? There has to be… — Look, I did an internship that was when I was a junior in college, that summer after my junior year I did an internship through the Television Academy.

And it was a competition. There wasn’t obviously money involved or anything. It was a competition. And to their credit, they gave you a stipend of $600 a month for two months which was enough to pay my rent. And they placed you with interesting people. And, for instance, I was placed at Fox Broadcasting at the network. And while I often did do things like copy stuff and so on and so forth, I also got to go to the big meeting with Barry Diller and Peter Chernin and Jamie Kellner and watch as these people debated and argued over how they should craft their slate and what the ratings were and all the rest of it. And that was fascinating. And access to that was kind of unimaginable for a 19-year-old kid to have.

This is not going to be that. [laughs] This is not going to be that at all. I mean, look, god bless them for giving this money, but I just think they could have offered something a little better than an internship. First of all, enjoy a three-month internship at the Weinstein Company is like, [laughs], you know, enjoy your nine-month stay here in Abu Ghraib. [laughs]

John: Yeah, it feels wrong to me. I think internships are, and we talked about this on the show before. I think internships can be very valuable for the interns. I think they can be valuable for the companies, probably to a lesser degree, but valuable. I think they can be valuable overall for the industry because it’s a chance for people who think they may want to work in the industry to see what the industry is actually like.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And the people who discover that they love it, hooray, they love it. And they are going to be motivated to work in the industry and the people who discover that they don’t really want it, they can go off and do other things. So, I think it’s a really — internship overall is a really good thing for the industry and for the people involved.

But paying for access to it feels not especially great.

Craig: Creepy. Also, look, if you’re a studio and you really are interested in giving people — giving young people a taste of what Hollywood is like and how the business works, don’t do it for people that do this. Do it for, you know, I would have been much happier to see somebody say, hey, you know we’re going to donate money and we’re going to send some kid that doesn’t have access to this kind of thing, who isn’t, whose dad or mom isn’t wealthy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because, I mean, look, the internship thing is out of control. And this leads lovely to our — lovely into our next topic. Loverly.

John: Yes. Which is something you had highlighted for this episode which was this revelations that in the bigger Silicon Valley wage suppression lawsuits there was actually stuff that came out about people working in animation.

Craig: Right. So, there’s a real problem here. We know that animation, feature animation, is not union. It’s not WGA. I don’t even know if it’s SAG to that extent. There’s a small amount of animation that’s covered by the WGA. That would be some primetime animation like The Simpsons and Family Guy and so forth.

But there’s this case now. They’re calling it the “Techtopus” — as an octopus — Techtopus wage-fixing cartel scandal. And they thought that they had come up with a settlement for this thing and the judge had kind of thrown the settlement out implying this isn’t good enough. And essentially what they’re talking about is the revelation that there has been what these businesses have called a no poaching agreement between the major animation companies. So, we’re talking about DreamWorks, Disney, Pixar, very specifically I think between DreamWorks and Pixar. That was kind of the big one.

And the idea of the no poaching thing wasn’t just, hey, don’t steal our people. It was, hey, don’t offer our people more than we’re offering them, because that’s going to start an arms race where we’re going to offer your people more than you’re offering them. And suddenly, oh my goodness, we’re paying these people according to the principles of competition which of course they love unless it applies to their workers.

And this is not cool. That is not allowable. That’s an illegal cartel. That’s why we have laws about things like that. And this wasn’t even something they were hiding, frankly. They were emailing each other back and forth quite openly and then when Sony started making animated films, and they weren’t aware of this, everybody called them up and they were like, hey Sony, did you not know how this works? We don’t do this, all right?

John: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a nice animation studio you got.

Craig: Yeah, shame if anything should happen to it. You know, Zemeckis starts up Image Movers and everybody is like, you know, he hires some guy. And pays him a little bit more. And then Ed Catmull at Pixar emails Dick Cook at Disney and goes, ooh, we got a problem with Zemeckis. He don’t get it. [laughs] And it’s just wrong. It’s wrong.

John: It is wrong. And so this is talking about animation and classically WGA writers aren’t covered in animation, so it’s been very hard for us to get any sort of leverage in terms of our prices being up. But when you’re talking about specialists who are doing very specific computer animation things, they are really valuable. They can do really amazing things, but their value is not — there’s no free market for them because if there’s only four shops that could pay them and they’ve all agreed not to pay any of them more, then that’s suppressing wages.

Craig: No question. And if you think about what we do, how terrible would it be — I mean, this was essentially the system that we as screenwriters got away from in the ’50s and ’60s with what they called the old studio system where you were owned by a studio. And some other studio wanted to hire you and there was kind of a gentleman’s agreement that you wouldn’t do that, or that you would put an actor out on loan as they said. But the idea being that you kind of capped the competition for wages by limiting the opportunity of the people that earned the wages. So, here’s an exchange in his deposition, Ed Catmull of Pixar says the following.

They’re asking him, the plaintiff’s attorneys are saying what do you mean by all these emails where you keep on talking about not hiring other people because of wages. And finally Catmull says, “Well, them hiring a lot of people at much higher salaries would have a negative effect in the long term.”

And the attorney says, “On pay structure?”

And he says, “Well, I’m just saying that if they… — I don’t know what you mean by pay structure. The, for me I just, it means the pay, all right? If the pay goes way up in an industry where the margins are practically nonexistent it will have a negative effect.”

And my favorite thing then is Ed, he finishes saying this and his attorney says the following, “This might be a good time for a break.”

And I can imagine that this woman, his counsel, drags him outside and beats him within an inch of his life for saying this, because it’s basically handing them the truth. But I really want to zero in on this: of course they’re trying to suppress wages, but what I love is this nonsense. “If the pay goes way up in an industry where the margins are practically nonexistent…”

Dude, come on! Come on! That is — why is it that Hollywood gets away with that nonsense more than any other industry. “Oh, we’re not making any money over here. Everything loses money.” Get out of her. Oh, yeah, Frozen, how much did they lose on that? Oh, yeah, Pixar, boy what a string of duds. I mean, come on!

John: Yeah. They can barely keep the lights on at Pixar.

Craig: Barely. The margins are practically nonexistent. After all of the movies, after all the Toy Stories and the Cars and the merchandising and the Bug’s Life and Up and yada yada, we’ve added it all up and what we’ve made so far here at Pixar is $5.

John: Yeah. Pixar apparently in their cereal bar they had to start going to like generic cereals. They can’t afford the brand names anymore.

Craig: Oh the humanity. [laughs] I mean, get out of here.

John: Craig, this is a very specialized world of the animation films, but I’m wondering to what degree the same kind of thing is happening in our world and it’s sort of the normal future in the television world. Because we are covered by the union, so we have scale. And scale is the minimum people can pay you for things.

Craig: Yes.

John: And lord knows I was on the negotiating committee. Scale is important and we want to make sure we can protect scale. But I do wonder if these same kinds of conversations are happening that are limiting over-scale opportunities for people in film and in television. It’s the way that you, in television you keep people from moving up from staff writer, to story editor, to producer. Where you just sort of have this tacit agreement like, yeah, yeah, please don’t hire them as something more than their previous thing because we don’t want to give them that bump.

Craig: Yeah, no question. They will always, just as water will try an seep through any crack available, the companies will always try and play whatever game they can to reduce their costs, reduce the wages that they pay. They will often do so by wriggling around inside of the rules. Sometimes they bend the rules to the point of stretching them to meaninglessness.

One trick is they’ll hire two writers for television staff but tell them we’re making you a “paper team.” You’re not a writing team, even though you don’t know each other, and you’re not writing together, we’re making you a paper team so that we can pay each of you half what you should be paid, because in a writing team the team gets paid what one writer gets and they have to split it.

Well, I mean, so there’s an example of cheating. What we have to prevent this kind of thing from happening that’s apparently rampant in the animation business, we have the union, and perhaps more importantly we have agents. So, there is this other industry that the studios hate, the talent agencies. And the talent agencies are motivated entirely by creating competition for wages, an upward pressure on wages because that’s how they make their money.

If I were a very talented person working — by the way, I’ve truly put myself on the “will never be hired” list at Pixar now, but okay — if I were a talented animator, storyboard artist/animator, etc, I would start trying to figure out a way to organize and to create a union. They desperately need a union. And then from the union I think the agents would then start to swoop in. Agents need a union. The union makes it so that the writers, the creators, the artists are earning enough to be attractive to agents. Then the agents come in and push it all upward, right, upward.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So right now they’re being pushed downward without any protection. It’s terrible.

John: It’s a frustrating situation. Paper teaming is a real issue that happens in television. And I was just talking with a young writer who got the call saying congratulations you’ve been hired on this one-hour drama, we’re so excited. And then half an hour later he got a call saying like, oh, and we’re going to team you up with this other writer who is also a brand new writer who is great.

And he, to his credit, had the balls to say, “No. That’s not going to happen.”

Craig: Good for him. Good for him. And, by the way, you have to. You have to say no.

John: Yeah. And so on some level, well, they called his bluff and they gave him the job just for himself. That other writer didn’t get a job, but on the whole I think it’s better for everyone that he stood up and said like, “Listen, I’m not a team. You can’t do that.”

Craig: Absolutely. I don’t want a business where they spend the same amount of money but spread it among five times as many people. That’s not the goal.

John: Not good for anyone.

Craig: No, it’s not good for anyone. Exactly.

John: Because you’ve created an unsurvivable job.

Craig: That’s right.

John: If no one can make a living doing this task, then you’ve made it worse for everyone.

Craig: And, boy, I’ll tell you, they are getting dangerously close to that place right now. They really are. Especially in features, it is — don’t get me started.

So, the people in the forum now that are listening to us can ask question live.

John: Yes. CD Donovan writes, “Hi John, hi Craig, love the podcast very much. Appreciate what you guys do every week. I just moved here to LA, the third day in Los Angeles now. Here for grad school.”

Craig: Welcome, great.

John: “Screenwriting at UCLA. Any advice for surviving in LA and making the most of these next two years?”

Craig: Oh, that’s good. Well, you know, everyone is different. Everyone’s survival tactics and strategies are different. I can only share with you what mine were. You’re at UCLA, wonderful school, wonderful campus, great part of town in Westwood. Study, obviously study hard. See movies. Get to know people that are in your program. Gravitate towards the people that seem like they are substantive rather than the people who seem popular.

Popular people eventually go on to be like the third guy in charge of development at some company and the substantial people end up being multimillionaires. And the other thing I would recommend is to drink way less than everybody else is and get high way less than everybody else is because it’s just not going to help you.

John: You’re here in a graduate screenwriting program, so write. And you should look at these next two years as your writing years. And you’re never going to have another opportunity to write so much, be able to share it with the people in your little group to get feedback, to get going. So, write.

Try to take advantage of the fact that you’re around a bunch of film people to make some movies, because if you are just writing scenes you may not actually get the experience of shooting things and film school is about shooting things. You can crew on some things. You will learn so much from it.

Craig: That’s true. Well, we’ve got another question here from Ian Workheiser who says, “What movie or two would you say delivers the best lessons to screenwriters to read the script and watch?” So, I think he means to simultaneously read and watch or watch and then read, etc. What do you think, John?

John: I’ve said it many times on the podcast. The first script that I read along with the movie was Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape. And that was — it’s a good movie. It’s a good script. They both work well together.

But I keep coming back to Aliens which was so important and seminal to me where I really could see the movie on the page. And then you watch the movie and it’s like, wow, you did what you promised you would do on the page. So, those are two examples for me.

Craig: That’s great. I think I may have mentioned this before. I am a big fan of Jerry Maguire. I think it’s a great example, I think, because Cameron Crowe wrote it and then Cameron Crowe directed it. So, you know that there is a purity of intention from the page to the movie and it’s beautifully done, just beautifully done. And, also, entertaining.

There are movies that are brave, there are movies that are subversive, that shake up the traditional storytelling and they’re wonderful, but when you’re starting out sometimes going down that path is a little bit like just being the punk band in high school that only knows two chords, but hey, it’s punk. Yeah, but also you suck, you know.

But Jerry Maguire is how to do a traditional narrative brilliantly and artistically and impressively. Such a good script. Such a good read. Really well done. So, that’s the one I would recommend.

John: Great. Josh Ernstrom writes, “Are there still paper scripts going around, or is it all digital?” It’s almost all digital.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, I would say the only times I’ve gotten paper scripts have been something that’s really locked down and so they have it printed on — you cannot photocopy this — it has watermarks. It’s on red pages. But even those are much rarer.

The most extreme example I got was a rewrite on something and they sent it over on a locked down iPad, so it was actually impossible to sort of get it off of the iPad. But it’s essentially all digital now. And I kind of miss, Craig, I don’t know if you miss this, but there used to be a number of years where you would call and say like, “Hey, send a messenger,” and then you would print your script and then inevitably you would like find a typo and you’d be scrambling to fix, get the new page in there before the messenger got there.

Craig: I know.

John: But there was something actually really refreshing about sort of like you have the script there, it’s sitting on your doorstep, you see the messenger come, and then you’re free. It’s no longer in your possession. And the email just isn’t the same.

Craig: Unfortunately the nice things about paper, they are no longer with us. You felt like you had achieved something when you printed your script out for the first time. You could hold it. It looked like a thing that other scripts looked like. There was weight.

But, yeah, the only time you’ll see physical scripts now are at roundtables, as far as I can tell, when people have to sit there and actually — you know, nobody has brought 12 iPads to a table. And for table readings when you’re about to shoot and you have your actors come in and read the script. Other than that, it’s all digital.

John: Yeah. Dee Mower writes, “I am close to landing an agent at UTA to rep my screenplay. Assuming he can place, how likely is it that I could get my agent to help me land an assignment based on a pitch? Are such assignments rare?”

Craig: An assignment based on a pitch? Or you mean sell a pitch? Oh, I see, he means like — or does he mean an assignment where you’re coming in and pitching on their assignment?

John: I think that’s what he means.

Craig: Okay. How likely is it that you can get your agent to help you do that? Well, if they’re your agent that’s kind of their job.

John: I wonder if he’s talking about the agent is sort of representing the script but hasn’t really agreed to represent him.

Craig: Oh I see.

John: But there’s a hip pocketing kind of thing.

Craig: Yeah. Then probably a long shot there because you can assume that that agent has plenty of other clients who are asking the same thing. Many of whom even have credits. I mean, we’ve talked about this before, but the contraction of both the amount of movies that are made and then the tremendous contraction of the ratio of development to production, which is approaching one-to-one has made it so that there is enormous competition for these rewrite jobs. And a lot of times, frankly, there is no competition. It’s just we want to rewrite this and we want this person to do it.

John: But I think he’s really talking more about the open writing assignment. So, how likely is it that they would send him out on an open writing assignment?

Craig: It’s not likely, I don’t think.

John: I think it’s likely if they really — if they’re really representing you and you are the right kind of person for that job, they totally will.

Craig: But if it’s –

John: If it’s just a hip pocket, then no.

Craig: No. I don’t think so. Yeah. All right, so we’ve got, let’s see. “Hi John and Craig. Can you talk about various writing teachers and gurus hating on VO.”

John: Yeah that voiceover problem. So, here’s the thing about voiceover. Voiceover is often terrible. Here’s what it is. Terrible movies often have voiceover. And because terrible movies often have voiceover, you start to believe that, well, voiceover is what made it bad.

No, voiceover was probably a patch applied very late to try to save a bad movie. But voiceover itself is not necessarily a bad thing. There’s many great movies that have voiceover.

Craig: Of course.

John: So, teachers do it because they don’t want to read voiceover in their student’s scripts, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with the idea of voiceover.

Craig: Let me be slightly less charitable, John. Writing teachers and gurus say this because they’re dumb. And they’re dumb and lazy. Okay, they’re dumb because they’re confusing — John is exactly right. Voiceover is a tool like any other. It happens to be the kind of tool that magnifies bad writing. Because there’s something about the narrator’s voice that demands a certain quality of writing. If you’re going to tell me that I’m supposed to listen to a disembodied voice, that disembodied voice better be pretty impressive. It should be good, right?

So, even a movie, like a broad comedy like Ted opens with voiceover. Patrick Stewart is doing the voiceover and it’s wonderful voiceover. It’s spectacular. And it ends with a great joke that honestly makes the movie work, right? But as a tool if you don’t write well, your voiceover will really stick out as awful.

So, on the one hand I think the writing teachers and gurus are dumb because they’re confusing voiceover with bad voiceover, but I think they’re lazy also because what they don’t want to do is then explain to you how to write good voiceover. And they can’t do that because they don’t know how. That’s the truth. They just don’t know how.

I think voiceover can be awesome — awesome! — if done awesomely. What a shock. What a shock. Eh.

John: Yes.

Craig: There I go. There I go.

John: If this were a podcast about cinematography and one of the things like teachers said like you should never use lenses below a 15 because it’s distorting, well that’s just crazy talk.

Craig: It’s crazy.

John: Because obviously there are times where you want to use a really wide lens.

Craig: Right. You want a fish shot. Yeah.

John: It’s a very long lens.

Craig: You want to do a fisheye lens. They’re instruments. And, yes, it’s true that there are things that people know can be overdone, of course. And if you overuse slow-mo you’re going to look silly. And if you overuse dialogue, long speeches of dialogue. But, you know, voiceover is such a — here’s the deal. These people are always looking for rules to give you because that’s what gives them the aura of knowledge. They are able to deliver something to you in exchange for money. That’s the real problem here. You’re paying them and they need to give you something.

If you pay me, here’s what I’m going to give you. You shouldn’t have paid me, because the truth is you can do this or you can’t do this. I can give you some help here or there, right? But really you don’t need to pay me. But they need to give you something, right, because they’re ripping you off. So, what do they do? They give you nonsense rules. “Never use voiceover. Never say we see. Don’t put things in parentheses. Never tell the reader where the camera goes.” Blah, blah, blah.

It’s all nonsense. Nonsense. Oh my god! [laughs]

John: The people who joined us for the live chat were mostly joining for that umbrage. So thank you for giving it to them Craig.

Craig: Woo-hoo.

John: I think it’s time for One Cool Things.

Craig: All right.

John: My One Cool Thing is a podcast called Crew Call by Anonymous Production Assistant. And the reason I found out about this podcast is because Stuart Friedel, my assistant, the producer of this podcast, was actually a guest on this podcast.

Craig: [laughs] Wait, I’m sorry, what?

John: Stuart was a guest.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: One of the Stuarts was a guest.

Craig: The world is changing so rapidly. I can’t keep up with the world anymore. Unbelievable. Good for Stuart.

John: Unbelievable.

Craig: God, amazing.

John: So, honestly what I like about the podcast is we talk about people who work in other parts of the industry, this is about people who work in other crew positions and who are so incredibly vital. So, to have a podcast for people who are interested in all of the other crafts and trades that go into making film and television I think is incredibly important.

Craig: It’s spectacular.

John: So, I salute this podcast. And Stuart’s episode is terrific, too. So, you can listen to that. He talks about making Scriptnotes and what he does on the show and running out and getting me coffee. And he only embarrasses me two or three times, so it’s pretty cool.

Craig: Oh, that’s wonderful. Oh, only two or three? Was I embarrassed at all? Because you know I don’t listen to podcast so I would never –

John: No, you weren’t embarrassed at all. He doesn’t say anything about you.

Craig: Oh, good. I prefer to be ignored.

Well, how could my One Cool Thing this week not be Robin Williams, the great Robin Williams who tragically took his own life. And this one — this was a hard one because it not only was tragic in and of itself because any suicide is tragic and because the suicide of a terrific artist sort of robs us all of something.

But he was really the first comedian in my life, you know. For those of us who are in our early 40s, Mork & Mindy came along and Mork from Ork came along and I wore the rainbow suspenders and he was that first, I know — [laughs]

John: I’m just picturing Craig with his rainbow suspenders. It’s great.

Craig: it’s adorable. It’s adorable. What I did not know were my gay pride rainbow suspenders. But he was the first standup comedian in my life and he was amazing and wonderful. And what I also — personally what I always appreciated about Robin Williams was the very thing that he often got criticized for, which was his sentimentality.

You could tell that he was very aware of his own pain and the pain of the world. He had an almost direct access to it, an emotional access to it. And he was able to convey that. And, yes, if sometimes some of the movies felt overtly sentimental or mawkish, it’s because sometimes life is a bit sentimental and mawkish.

Go to a funeral and see if you’re not sentimental and mawkish, but that’s part of life. And if it’s honest, I think it can be beautiful. And he sort of ran the gamut from the ridiculous to the gorgeous to the subtle to the dramatic. He could do anything.

Personally, my favorite Robin Williams movie is Awakenings. Maybe because I was a premed kid on his way to being a neurologist and I loved Oliver Sacks and all that. But I just though how amazing that this guy who could be Mork from Ork and who could do those incredible live performances where he would just go and go and never stop. And his mind would move a thousand miles a minute, to go from that to holding his own completely with Robert De Niro and delivering this beautiful portrait. And, a kind of character I always appreciate. A character in a movie who is the hero even though you don’t know he’s the hero.

You know, you think you’re watching a movie about a man overcoming this affliction, but you’re watching a movie about a human being figuring out how to be human. And he was just unbelievable. And, folks, go hug a funny person, you know.

This is — it’s sad. What funny people often do carry around this terrible hurt. And he will be terribly, terribly missed. A great, great, great performer and artist, the late Robin Williams.

John: I completely agree. So, by the time this podcast comes out it’ll be nearly a week that the news has past. And I hope that one of the things we take with us out of his passing is not just his legacy of great work and all that stuff we have there, but the real lesson of what depression is and that it’s a rough thing to struggle with. And if people can be more appreciative of what it is and the challenges people face when they are dealing with depression, hopefully we can help the people around us.

Craig: No question. No question. I had a friend recently who went through a really rough patch and, you know, got a little close to this situation. And suicidality and suicidal ideation is a very, very serious thing. And I think, frankly, people are starting to get it. I really do.

I think people are starting to get, the stigma is going away. I think the casual dismissal of depression is something that weak whiners do is going away. I think people are starting to get it. I can’t imagine, in a weird way, anything you could do that’s braver or stronger than harming yourself. Think about just what it would take to harm yourself. What you’re really saying is I’m in so much pain I’m willing to do this extraordinary thing to make the pain go away.

But, of course, there is a wonderful way to make the pain go away that has nothing to do with suicide and that gives you your life back. And I suppose that is really the strongest thing you could do, which is to fight. And to fight through it. And there are terrific medications that do work and there is therapy that does work and there are people that care for you that do very much understand this and who have been through it.

So, if you are depressed, do not be ashamed. Talk about it. You are not weak.

John: Yeah, if anything, if the shame of depression can be diminished through the acknowledgment that it really is out there and it’s a real thing that people are wrestling with on a daily basis, that would be progress.

Craig: It would. And it’s sad that it would take something like this to bring people’s awareness to it, but this is a problem that so many people are suffering with. They’re suffering with it silently. You don’t even know what’s going on. This is why we get surprised by these things. But I defy anybody — anybody in the United States — to say, no, there’s nobody in my extended family that has either been depressed or committed suicide. I don’t have a friend or anybody.


John: No, not true.

Craig: No. It’s everywhere and it can be fought and it can be overcome. And I think at long last people are taking it very seriously. And, frankly, honoring what it means to be depressed. It deserves a certain amount of honor and respect as something very serious the way you honor and respect heart disease, or cancer, or anything like that.

John: That’s our show this week. The things we talked about on the episode, there will be show notes at, so links to many of the things we talked about. We’ll include some links about depression and people who’ve written brilliant things about their own depression over the course of this last week. But also the Weinsteins Charity Buzz.

Craig: [laughs] Talk about depression.

John: An Amazon and everything else in this epic episode we did this week.

Craig: Yes.

John: Thank you to everybody who listened in live on Mixlr. That was fun.

Craig: That was fun.

John: We’ll try to do this occasionally.

Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you are a new listener and want to catch up on back episodes, we have a whole zillion of them. We have 156 prior episodes at You can get to all of those back episodes for $1.99 a month.

Craig: $1.99 a month!

John: That’s a bargain at any price. You can spend $13,000 on a Weinstein Charity Buzz auction, or $1.99 a month.

Craig: $1.99 a month!

John: Pennies a day.

Craig: Pennies!

John: If you are a subscriber to those premium episodes, you can also listen to those on the iPhone app and the Android app. Look for those in your app store.

If you are on iTunes, please click subscribe and also leave us a comment because that helps people find our show. There is potential that we are going to be doing a live show later this fall.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So nothing official yet, but maybe stay in Los Angeles is all I’m saying. Maybe stay in Los Angeles from now until the end of the year.

Craig: Yeah, just don’t go anywhere, at any time.

John: There’s a possibility, just in case.

Craig: Don’t go anywhere.

John: No. I am on Twitter @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. If you have a longer question for us, you can write to And, Craig, I’ll see you next week.

Craig: See you next week, buddy.


On trust, drama and corporations

Wed, 08/20/2014 - 14:50

The project I’m writing centers on trust. The more I think about the word and the concept of trust, the more complicated it becomes.

Most definitions of trust contain some combination of “confidence” and “reliability,” both of which often include trust in their own entries. Circular definitions are not especially helpful, so let’s try to pull them apart.

Confidence is an inner conviction, a firmly-held belief often (but not always) supported by facts or prior experience. I have confidence that it will not rain today, because it’s below zero outside.

Reliability is the quality of being able to depend on something to consistently perform as expected. They’re expensive, but the reliability of these hard drives is unmatched.

Combining these two ideas, we can arrive at a pretty good definition of trust:

Trust is confidence in the reliability of someone or something.

Or, in longer form:

Trust is the inner conviction that someone (or something) will do what you expect.

When you look at trust this way, you see several fascinating characteristics:

  1. Trust is something internal, a personally-held belief.
  2. The focus of trust is something external.1
  3. The focus of trust is something that can take its own actions. You can trust your neighbor or your dog. But it’s weird to talk about trusting a chair or a newborn.2
  4. Trust is a prediction about the future. Even in the past tense, it’s referring to the then-future: “I trusted him, but then he slept with a barrista.”

Trust has many thematic cousins — faith, hope, belief, honor — all of which can be explored in fiction. But for the screenwriter, trust is better.

Trust is dramatic.

Trust works well on screen because it’s about a relationship between two characters, and can be explored with actions rather than just words.

The rival soldiers who find themselves stranded behind enemy lines? Trust.

The husband whose wife snoops through his email? Trust.

The scorpion and the frog? Trust.3

Like faith, hope, belief and honor, there’s an internal aspect to trust, but it manifests outwardly. You don’t just trust; you trust someone. And the process of one character growing to trust another character lends itself to interesting scenes and conflicts. Often, late-story actions reveal whether that trust was well-placed.

We often speak of trust when it’s broken. Or shattered. Or destroyed. Worth noting: when we lose trust in someone, it’s rarely described gently. It’s almost always smashy and violent. In fact, we often discuss trust using crystalline metaphors:

Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that motherfucker’s reflection. (Lady Gaga, Telephone)

Trust means drama.

Impersonal trust, and corporate anthropomorphization

Trust is also supposedly at the heart of the sharing economy we live in, but what does it mean to trust Facebook, or Amazon, or Uber?

In the case of Uber and Lyft, the companies have a human face: the driver who picks you up. You have a pact of unspoken trust between you. You trust the driver to deliver you to your destination; she trusts you not to vomit in the back seat.4 Both of you trust the service to handle all the money details.

But with Amazon or Google, there’s no person in front of you to trust or distrust. When Stuart says he “trusts Google Maps,” what is he actually trusting?

I’d argue he’s trusting an anthropomorphized entity he’s created in his head. He’s already granting it a sort of consciousness: “Google Maps wants me to take the 10, but that’s crazy, right?”

The Supreme Court was criticized for recent decisions that treated corporations like individual persons, but the truth is we do it all the time. It’s a useful shorthand (“Apple fears Android growth”), and allows us to distinguish the employees of a corporation from the corporation itself. “I admire the engineers at Google, but not Google.”

And we’ve always done it with countries. (“France wants a carbon tax.”)

In personifying abstractions like countries and corporations, we’re able to talk about whether we trust them. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing overall.

Maybe if we looked at them for what they are — a collection of moving pieces, more like a swarm than a single entity — we’d be more prudent. Can you trust something that is constantly changing and reassembling itself?

That’s a good dramatic question. I call dibs.

  1. In a phrase like, “trust my own eyes,” the eyes are not the person speaking. Even in phrases like, “trust yourself,” it’s still a transitive verb. I’d argue the “you” you’re supposed to trust is a projection of an idealized person.
  2. Can you trust a robot or a zombie? The answer depends on the degree to which you believe it’s making its own decisions. If it’s just following its coding or brain-chomping instincts, the best you can do it predict it, not trust it.
  3. And overdone. Can we please stop referencing the scorpion and the frog?
  4. My last Uber had paper bags, much like you’d find in airplane seatbacks, ready for drunken Saturday night customers.

Less IMDb gets unbroken

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 12:24

We love IMDb, but man, there’s a lot of clutter on those pages. That’s why one of our very first coding projects was Less IMDb, a browser extension that rearranges IMDb pages to emphasize credits and minimize everything else.

For the past four years, Less IMDb sat in the righthand margin, quietly doing its job. Occasionally it would encounter an odd IMDb page that didn’t play nicely — often a themed page with oversized ads — but for the most part it worked as intended.

Then last month Less IMDb broke altogether. So Ryan Nelson dusted off the code and got it working again.

The Safari version of Less IMDb has been updated to 1.3.1 and is available here. He’s working on the Chrome version now.

Unfortunately the auto-updaters for both Safari and Chrome won’t work properly, so you have to download and install it yourself.

For best results, uninstall your existing version of Less IMDb first. (After all, you don’t want More Less IMDb.) You can find it in Preferences > Extensions.

Then download the new one and follow the instructions. (There is also a video walkthrough.)

What’s New:

  • The sidebar is back when Less IMDb is turned on.
  • Fixed formatting of release date, genre, and runtime information.
  • Added retina display support to Less IMDb controller icon.
  • Fixed bug that hid ratings even when Less IMDb was set to off.
  • Changed extension permissions to allow Less IMDb to run on any subdomain for better international support.
  • Fixed bug that prevented video from playing.
  • Fixed bug that prevented ratings from working.
  • Future versions will automatically update once 1.3.1 is installed.

Known issues and notes:

  • Older versions of the extension will not automatically update to the latest version, and should be deleted before using the updated extension.
  • Pages with heavily-branded content may look funky, particularly those using dark backgrounds.
  • Photos and video thumbnails don’t always load when Less IMDb is turned on.
  • Apple’s Safari Extension gallery doesn’t yet link properly.
  • The Less IMDb page is old and FAQ is out of date (update coming).

Once Ryan get the Chrome version finished, we’ll be open-sourcing the whole project. We’d love for coders to springboard off what we’ve done to build a Firefox version, for example, or incorporate it into some of new WebKit goodness announced for Yosemite.

Less IMDb continues to be a useful little utility, something you don’t notice until it’s gone. If you haven’t tried it, give it a shot.

Putting a price on it

Tue, 08/19/2014 - 08:03

From Amazon to animation, there’s drama this week about prices for books and movies and even internships. John and Craig take a look at what happens when companies wrestle over how much things cost, and the effect it has on people trying to make a living as writers.

We recorded this episode with a live audience listening in online. It went well enough that we’ll try to do it occasionally.

Craig won’t be able to make to this year’s Austin Film Festival, but never fear: Kelly Marcel will take his place at the live Scriptnotes show.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Texting in film and television

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 17:53

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

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

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

Secrets of Highland’s Dark Mode

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 16:09

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

In Dark Mode, you get this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CGFloat selectionAlpha = 0.2;

NSColor *invertedBackgroundColor = [NSColor colorByInvertingColor:backgroundColor];

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

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

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

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

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

One-Star Amazon Reviews

Mon, 08/18/2014 - 11:19

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 17:38

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: No, I haven’t.

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

John: Yes.

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

John: There is no toothpaste left in the tube.

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

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

Craig: “Uh…’

John: That’s great.

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

John: Yes.

Craig: Uh…uh…[laughs]…uh….

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

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

John: Both, yes.

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

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

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

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

Craig: Spectacular.

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

Craig: So much. So much to talk about.

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

Craig: Right.

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

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

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

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

Craig: Love.

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

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

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

John: It is about Thomas Ligotti.

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

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

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

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

Craig: Exactly.

John: That would be kind of great.

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

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

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

John: It’s an ethical crime.

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

John: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, that’s not helpful because –

Craig: No.

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

Craig: That’s right.

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

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

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

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

Well, you see what I’m saying?

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Craig: Right. That’s right.

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

Craig: It’s good to have –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: I hope there wasn’t.

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

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

John: That’s a lawyer.

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

John: You get that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: Yeah.

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

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

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

Craig: [laughs] Yeah.

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

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

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

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

Craig: Yeah.

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

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

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

John: Fox owns Direct TV, don’t they?

Craig: Oh, they do?

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

Craig: I don’t know if that’s true.

John: I’ll look it up right now.

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

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

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

Craig: That’s correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: That’s right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: Yeah.

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

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

John: Yes.

Craig: But, there is a finite chance.

John: Yeah. There’s always a chance.

Craig: Always a chance.

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

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

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

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

John: Bad.

Craig: Disaster.

John: Yeah.

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

John: Which is a good thing.

Craig: For us it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: National Research Group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: That’s awesome.

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

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

Craig: It’s time to yell.

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

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

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

John: Yes.

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

John: Below that you’re in trouble.

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

John: Oh yeah.

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

John: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: That’s right.

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

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

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

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

Craig: You have fifty cents coming your way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: Yeah.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: It’s great.

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

Boy, when it goes bad. Oof.

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

Craig: Oh yeah.

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

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

“So, what do we do to fix it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: Yeah.

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

John: Blogger.

Craig: Blogger.

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

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

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

Craig: No, they’re not saying Aboot.

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

Craig: Right.

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

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

John: I think you’re very close.

Craig: House.

John: Yes.

Craig: It’s about.

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

Craig: House. [laughs]

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

Craig: What was going on there.

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

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

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

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

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

John: [laughs] That was good.

Craig: Thank you, buddy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: So he’s not a Broadway star?

Craig: No, no. He’s not even alive.

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

Craig: Yeah, they might bring him back.

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

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

John: That’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craig: Now it’s passed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

John: He could take the reins.

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

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

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

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

Craig: Right.

John: I just thought it was really interesting.

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

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

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

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

John: Where are you on this?

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

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

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

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

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

John: Ooh, its’ so –

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

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

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

John: Oh that’s true. Yeah.

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

John: I don’t remember what it was.

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

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

And everyone goes, “Ooh….”

John: “Ooh…”

Craig: “Ooh…I was so close.”

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

Craig: They love Mormons.

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

Craig: I love Mormons, too.

John: Oh, God, I love them.

Craig: They’re nice people.

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

Craig: Oh my god, so many.

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

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

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

And I think that’s it.

Craig: You get to go to bed now.

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

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

John: Thanks. Bye.


No one cares about manufacturing costs

Thu, 08/14/2014 - 11:04

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

Question: Who cares about manufacturing costs?

Answer: Manufacturers. And that’s it.

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

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

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

That’s business.

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

That’s business.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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