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Updated: 1 hour 36 min ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 284: AMA With Derek Haas — Transcript

Fri, 01/20/2017 - 11:18

Craig Mazin: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin and this is Episode 284 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today you might sense a little bit of a change. For one, the microphone sounds weird because I’m, well, doing kind of a weird microphone thing here for a reason. And, also, there’s no John August. He’s not here.

It’s me, today, with Derek Haas, who’s been on the show twice before. Today though, special day, because today it’s Craig and Derek answering questions. Welcome to the show, Derek.

Derek Haas: Thank you for having me again, Craig. It is my third time.

Craig: Third time?

Derek: That makes me a friend of Scriptnotes, right?

Craig: Well, you’ve always been a friend of Scriptnotes, but now you’re a valuable friend of Scriptnotes, which is a little bit better. Last time we spoke with you, I think you had still only one show, possibly two, now you have 12?

Derek: I was in Chicago the last time, and John was in Chicago, and yeah, we had just Chicago Fire. And it had just started.

Craig: Amazing. And now you have Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D., and Chicago–

Derek: Med.

Craig: Med.

Derek: And Chicago Justice starts in a month.

Craig: Wow. We’re running out of Chicago nouns. It’s remarkable. Before we get into the meat of today’s show, we do have some follow up to discuss. Sundance Episodic Lab. If you are a long time listener to the show, you know that we’re big fans of the Sundance Labs. It’s where they bring in writers and filmmakers to workshop new stuff. Ilyse McKimmie was a guest on the show. And they tell us that every year a few of the projects come in because people have heard about the labs on our show, which is fantastic.

For writers interested in television, Sundance is now taking applications for the Episodic Story Lab until February 1. The application can be found at And, of course, we’ll put a link in the show notes.

So, the Episodic Lab, here’s what goes on there. You work with accomplished showrunners, as well as non-writing creative producers and studio network executives. And the fellows – those are the people that are picked to do this – participate in one-on-one creative story meetings, pitch sessions, writer’s rooms, and group conversations focusing on the key creative and tactical elements that are central to their success in episodic storytelling. This is pretty good.

We mostly know Sundance for their Screenwriting Lab, but they’ve also had success in a lot of other mediums. For instance, Lisa Krone won two Tony’s for Fun Home – by the way, Jeanine Tesori also won a Tony for Fun Home, but she wasn’t at the Sundance Lab. Fine.

And Barry Jenkins is having an incredible experience with Moonlight. And so there are some previous participants that we’ll throw some information on for you to take a look at. Rafael Agustin, Calvin Reeder, and Ebony Freeman, and Mike Flynn.

So, that’s our follow up. Now, we’re going to get into questions. So, Derek, I’m not going to do a lot of questions for you.

Derek: Great.

Craig: Because people have questions for us. We’ve gotten questions, of course, from our normal listeners, and then I asked some folks on Reddit to lob questions at us. So we’ll take a look through those as well. Derek, just to start with you for a second, are you ever coming back to movies, or you’re a TV guy now forever?

Derek: I don’t see in the foreseeable future when we would have time to write a movie, just the way Hollywood is working these days, where you are beholden to the studio for six, nine months at a time. We just don’t have time right now. We do have a movie that Brandt and I wrote prior to Chicago Fire starting that just got shot this past winter and I’m going to see a screening of it on Monday for the first time. But it was a foreign film, all shot in France, starring Scott Eastwood called Overdrive. And I, like you, am curious to see how it turned out.

Craig: [laughs] I’m not at all curious how it turned out.

Derek: Oh.

Craig: You’re not like me at all. No, I’m sure it will be excellent. But it sounds like we’ve lost you basically. Like we’ve lost so many people to television.

Derek: Yeah. Come on over, Craig. The water is fine.

Craig: Well…that’s what I’m hearing.

We’re going to start our questions with one from Kyle. And Kyle has an audio question that he sent in. And here’s what he asks.

Kyle: I’m a veteran, having served ten years honorably in the United States Navy. And I was recently awarded my MFA from a top college. I’ve been in LA since May of 2016 and I’m struggling to figure out how to get started. I’ve worked a couple feature films as a PA, but that’s not what I want to do. I want to write and direct. I volunteer at the WGA as often as I can, and I’m applying to any and every job I can find, but I’m not having much luck. What do I do? My savings are dwindling and I’m starting to worry. Is there some kind of secret? Is there some kind of website devoted just to writer’s assistants? Any advice you guys could have would be great.

Craig: OK. Well, Derek, what advice do you have for Kyle?

Derek: It’s the age-old question. It’s the hardest one to answer as a screenwriter. The most often that we talk to our friends about how they broke in we find that every story is different. In television, certainly the best thing you can do is be a writer’s assistant on a show that’s going.

Craig: But how do you get that?

Derek: It’s hard. I mean, you need to write a great spec pilot of a TV show. And then get it into as many people’s hands as possible. I’ve had four assistants since Chicago Fire started. One came as a recommendation of a friend who had gone to – like an alumni situation, where they had gone to the same college, and then slipped me her pilot. She then went on to work for NBC. She wanted to be on the producing side.

And then my second wanted to be an actor and came through from a Baylor recommendation actually. Baylor College, where I went to school.

Craig: Yep.

Derek: And then the last two have been through the Universal Writer Program and just reading resumes and reading scripts. And we’ve also promoted several of our writer’s assistants on to staff. To me, that’s the best way to break into TV. But, I mean, it comes down to write a great script and get it into as many people’s hands as possible.

Craig: Yeah, unfortunately that’s kind of the secret is that there’s no secret. It does come down to these things. Well, first of all, Kyle, thank you very much for your service to the Navy and to our country. I do know that the Writers Guild Foundation has a program for veterans. And I don’t know if you’ve taken a look at that, or not, but I would strongly suggest that you do. And you can speak to somebody, since you’re already volunteering at the WGA, just get in touch with somebody over at the WGA Foundation. I think their website is They have a writing program. I think it’s called the Veterans Writing Program.

And that may be a nice entry point for you. But, yeah, I think Derek is right. Unfortunately, well, let me just say, that Kyle you’ve been LA since May of 2016. That’s not that long.

Derek: No.

Craig: You know, you do have to be a little patient here. But, also, just be aware this is not for everyone. It’s barely for anyone, frankly. Not a lot of jobs. And it’s a fairly narrow skillset. So you need to, I think, first assess your skills honestly and accurately and if you feel like, yeah, you’ve got what it takes, then you’re going to have to persist a little bit here.

Derek: My one thing I’ll add is I see a lot of writers who write one script in a year. And then they wait on 20 people to read the one script. And they get notes. And they go back and work on that script. And I’m just telling you the more things that you can do, there’s no reason why shouldn’t have two to three scripts written in a year. Especially if you’re writing pilots. I mean, we do 22 episodes in a year. That’s like doing 22 short films on the show. And Michael and I write six to nine of them. And so – and that’s 60 pages. That’s two-thirds of what a movie script is.

Craig: Right.

Derek: You really got to put the nose to the grindstone and write as many as you can in the genres that you like, that you actually feel passion for, not what you think that the industry wants. Don’t write a comic book movie if you don’t like comic books. If you like thriller, write a thriller. Don’t try to guess what’s going to be great and write something great.

Craig: I think that’s excellent advice. And, certainly, Kyle, make sure if your savings are dwindling that you also have a job. Get a job, you know. It’s good to put money in your pocket. You can write at night.

All right, next question. This is from Dave Jenkins. And he writes in and says, “I’ve been working with a team of producers for the past six years on an original script of mine. During that time, we’ve had three different directors attached, four development cycles, one financier, and more drafts than I can care to count. This was a low no dollar/no dollar option, which I agreed to due to their names and past credits. The initial contract was for two years. Subsequent extensions were granted as attachments came on board with the promise that I would be paid when financing came together. Unfortunately, this has not happened and the current extension expires later this month. So, my question is this: when is it okay to part ways? Is six years more than enough time? And how in the F did I get here? The producers still want the script but are unwilling to pay for it. They feel they’ve worked on it thus far. And as a result, should be given more time.

“I have other parties who have expressed sincere interest – producers, directors, and managers. But have warned that I would be burning a bridge were I to part ways like this. Any advice or drinking recommendations would be helpful?”

Derek: Wow.

Craig: Yeah. So, Derek?

Derek: My advice is that they’ve had more than adequate time to work on it. You have been way, way, way generous with them. And you should send them a letter right now and say we’re done, especially as soon as the last extension expires. And go on and feel completely unencumbered to them. You can take it wherever you want. You own it. And it doesn’t matter what work they’ve put on it. And don’t let their mafia scare tactics keep you from getting your script finally realized.

Craig: Wow. That was definitive. I’ll be a little more circumspect. Slightly. Not much more. I do think that Derek is right. They’ve had six years. They can’t get it done.

Derek: And paid zero dollars, by the way.

Craig: Right. So you’ve gotten no money out of it, but I understand neither have they. So, the whole point of these things is that it’s a mutual assistance society, but they haven’t gotten it done. And I think if you have other legitimate people who have expressed interest who might be able to get it done, at some point I think you do have to cut bait. And I don’t think you’d be burning a bridge. Or, hey, look at it this way: maybe you are burning a bridge. That bridge isn’t really going anywhere. So, you know, everybody in this town is always worried about burning bridges. And sometimes you just get paralyzed. You have to light one on fire every now and again. You know?

Derek: And movies do take a long time to get made. I mean, we’ve had movies that have been over eight years from when we started working on it, to when it got shot. And it’s true, however, after six years and four directors, they’re just flailing. And what they’re looking back at is we’ve put a lot of work into this. Now somebody else might make it and we’re going to get cut out.

Craig: That’s right.

Derek: And that’s what they’re operating from. But that’s not your fault.

Craig: It is. It’s not your fault. It’s not your problem. So, search your heart and ask yourself, do you still want to be married to this people or not. And if you don’t? Divorce.

We’ve got another question, an audio question, from Seth. Seth from Nashville. And here’s what he has to ask.

Seth: So, there’s a movie coming out that looks really good, but appears to share quite a few similarities to a movie that I’m currently writing. Is there any danger of me seeing this and it influencing what I’m writing? Would you avoid seeing it? Would you see it? Am I overthinking it? Is this really even a thing?

Craig: Well that’s an interesting question. Normally, people will say there’s a movie coming out that has similarities to what I’m writing, should I stop writing it. And we also say no. But this is an interesting question. Would you see a similar movie?

Derek: That is an interesting question. I would avoid it only – I don’t want anyone to think anything I did had anything to do with the other movie. So, I would avoid it until after you were done.

Craig: Yeah. I’m the same way. I feel like if you see the other movie, it’s not even that you would be tempted or would have some kind of subconscious lifting of material from that movie. More to the point that I feel like suddenly your movie would be a response to that movie.

Derek: Uh-huh.

Craig: I don’t want that. I want my movie to exist as its own, honestly, and without any kind of context of the other film. So, yeah, I think I would avoid seeing it. All right, we’ve answered that. Tice from Amsterdam – now, Derek–

Derek: Yes.

Craig: Tice from Amsterdam spells his name Thijs.

Derek: Ooh.

Craig: Now, when I saw that, I thought it was maybe Thigis.

Derek: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not.

Derek: How do you know?

Craig: I looked it up. It’s Tice. Well, it’s Thijs.

Derek: OK.

Craig: By the way, I’m going to Amsterdam.

Derek: My last name is Dutch.

Craig: That’s right. But are you Dutch? Or did you just steal a Dutch man’s last name?

Derek: Well, I think we must be somewhere on the Dutch/German border, because half the world pronounces it Haas – actually most of the world pronounces it Haas, which is the German version. And my family pronounces it Haas. I actually did that test where they swab your thing?

Craig: Yeah. 23 and Me.

Derek: I did the 23 and Me. More England.

Craig: Oh, of course. Look at your face.

Derek: Whatever.

Craig: I say. So I’m going to Amsterdam in the summer?

Derek: Are you going to see Thijs?

Craig: Thijs. I don’t know if I’m going to see Thijs. It’s necessarily – he was not on my list.

Derek: Maybe if you answer his question sufficiently, you guys could have a drink.

Craig: He might open his home to me. Thijs from Amsterdam writes, “For various reasons, I’m a bit of a slow listener and it seems I’m getting more and more behind. I’m currently listening to Episode 173, from December of 2014, which is great so far. I have 20 more minutes to go.”

I love Thijs. He’s a good guy.

Derek: Why are we answering this question? He won’t get to it for another two years?

Craig: Well, Derek, be patient. Watch what happens.

Derek: OK.

Craig: “Every time you mention on the show things like tickets for live shows, t-shirts, and goodies, I obviously have no access to that. I know you cannot help me, but could you do me a favor? Could you leave a message for me in a future show, so I have at least something special to look forward to? I’ll probably listen to it in two to three years’ time.”

Derek: Wow.

Craig: Thijs. This is your special message. We are recording this in 2017. Early 2017. By your own reckoning, it’s probably 2019 or 2020. I hope to god the planet is still here. Right now it looks a little shaky. We love you Thijs.

Derek: [laughs]

Craig: Do you have anything?

Derek: I just think it’s going to be weird now when you show up on his doorstep in Amsterdam.

Craig: [laughs]

Derek: And he has no idea what’s going on.

Craig: Why are you here? I mean, yeah, I listen to your show, but this is weird.

All right, those were some of the questions in our hopper, but I want to switch over to some Reddit questions now. Is there anything, by the way, that you would prefer to talk about, Derek?

Derek: I love answering questions.

Craig: So do I.

Derek: It makes it so easy.

Craig: I love it when you answer questions on Twitter and then sometimes if I see you doing it, oh…

Derek: Yeah, so I do regularly answer seven questions on Wednesdays and Sunday mornings. And I do it in the order received after I put the notice up. Mostly it’s questions about Chicago Fire or Chicago P.D. And then every now and then Craig, who does not watch either show, starts to answer the questions as though he is an authority on the show. And so you can–

Craig: It’s fun.

Derek: Maybe he’ll do it this week. You never know.

Craig: You know, you never know. So here’s a question from Reddit user Fighting Against Time. He says, “In a world where people are constantly looking for original voices and turning to web series to find them, like Insecure, Broad City, High Maintenance, et cetera, how the hell do you get noticed,” and this kind of goes back to Kyle’s question, “how the hell do you get noticed when everyone and their great aunt has some original thing on YouTube? The immediacy of film equipment and editing software has made it so anyone can put their ideas from page to screen with relative ease. But the oversaturation makes it so easy to get lost in the crowd. As an insider, what advice do you have to help great content be seen in a medium where somebody screaming at a cat gets five million views?”

All right, so Derek, how do you stand out?

Derek: Well, it depends, what do you want to do? Do you want to have your own television series? Your own web series? You still have to be original. Or you do unoriginal really well. I started watching this show Luther. Apparently it’s been on for a few seasons already, but I am catching up to the old. And it’s a cop show. It’s even got standard cop “I’m chasing a bad guy who is murdering cops, I’m chasing a serial killer who killed her parents, and she’s a criminal mastermind.” But they do it really well. The dialogue pops. The characters are interesting.

You can take something that’s already been done. You could do your own show about weed distribution like High Maintenance, but your voice has to pop. The voice doesn’t mean the original idea. The voice is the way you tell that story.

Craig: I agree. Look, there are ideas that are grabby for YouTube purposes, like somebody screaming at a cat. And I get that. But that’s not a destination for anybody. It is stuff that we sort of snack on. But it’s not a meal. And so the combination of things that has to occur to stand out, Fighting Against Time, is both a quality and a sense of extensibility. That there’s actually a show worth following. That there are characters worth following. That there are people’s lives that are worth investing in.

At that, to me, is the difference. It’s not so much how do I stand out. It’s how do I stand out and appear to be something that could go on. So, Derek is right. The idea sometimes is the least important thing. I mean, look, what’s the idea of Chicago Fire? Firefighters.

Derek: It’s a show about firefighters.

Craig: Right. What’s the idea about Chicago Med?

Derek: It’s a show about doctors.

Craig: Not only has there been a show about doctors before, there’s been many shows about doctors in Chicago.

Derek: Right.

Craig: So the idea itself, it’s the execution, and the voice, and the characters. Those are the things that make it specific.

Derek: I might have said this before, but to me, when you’re writing something, the goal on almost every page is you need to surprise the reader. I can’t emphasize it enough. You want them flipping the pages, but you also want them to – as they’re going, think they know where this is going, and then it zigs. Even within a dialogue line. Some sort of surprise is – when you’re dealing with these old ideas – is the way you keep it fresh.

Craig: Yeah. I also feel like sometimes I worry that the generation that is being raised on YouTube now, like our sons, and my daughter, that they believe that the measure of success is something going viral, or something seizing America’s imagination briefly. But that’s not the case at all.

Derek: Right.

Craig: That, in fact, what happens is those things pop for a moment, everybody freaks out for a week or two, and then they’re gone. Forever. And the people that made them are gone. Forever. Because it was just a thing that happened in a moment. In fact, it is this kind of strange workaday stuff that stays with us and I think gives you a career. I don’t see, with rare exception, I don’t see people getting careers because they screamed at their cat.

Derek: Right.

Craig: All right. So here’s a question specifically for you, Derek. It comes Redditer King Cartwright. And he asks, “Derek, what kind of material do you look for when staffing your television shows? Do you ask for specs or original pilots? And what important traits do you look for in writers that you want in the room?”

Derek: A great question. I know in the old days and some other shows might do this, they wanted you to spec their show. We don’t want that. We look at original pilots. We want to make sure that whoever is writing has their own ideas. Has their own characters. Has their own wit and can write with surprise and, for lack of a better word, write fiercely. Nothing that’s just lying on the page. And I think it’s too easy if you were just trying to write our style, the style of our show. You already have all of those characters laid out for you, so you’re just riffing off of our characters.

And we found that the people who write the excellent spec pilots end up being our best writers.

Craig: Makes so much sense to me. I remember when I first started in the business. It was still the era of writing specs.

Derek: Write a Seinfeld. Remember?

Craig: It was write a Seinfeld. Exactly. And it seemed to me that all this would do is just engender an employee pool of people that were doing almost parodies of your show really. Because you’re not writing the show. You’re writing a copy of the show. It’s a strange thing. So it’s like a caricature. It’s just magnifying all of these things.

So, I think it’s actually great that you guys for original stuff. And then for writers that you want in the room, I mean, personality-wise? I mean, personality is obviously a huge thing for you guys, right?

Derek: Yeah. It’s funny. I think the more and more I get into it, the room part of it for me, personally, is overrated. We have a lot of smart people and a lot of people throwing out great ideas. But essentially the ones who can execute the ideas are the ones that stay around. And so having good ideas is definitely one part of it, but to me it’s a third. And the two-thirds is can they write. And I’d much rather have someone who was a bump on a log in the room who turns in a script that I realize I don’t have to work on.

Craig: Right. Yeah, see, that’s the misery of the showrunner is that you have these people in the room, you’re relying on them, but if they don’t do the job well, you have to do it.

Derek: Yep.

Craig: And that’s just a disaster. OK. So, here’s a question from Huge 67. “What are the demographics of working screenwriters you know or know of? With a lot of fellowships specifically targeting diverse writers, have you seen a shift or predict seeing a bigger shift in the near future?”

Derek: Well, unfortunately in the time that I’ve been in the Guild, which is 17 years, I don’t think that there’s been much of a demographic shift. If it is, it’s been within two or three percentage points. But, I do know there are a lot of programs targeting diverse writers and a lot of programs targeting female writers, and specifically even that bilaterally, just based on gender. And so I know that it’s a problem within the Guild. And we’re certainly looking more and more for ways to diversify the staffs on the four shows that we have.

I’m hoping – hopeful – it’ll get better. It’s definitely – you definitely felt in the last three to four years a shaming that’s been going on.

Craig: Yeah.

Derek: Public shaming of the Guild and staffs. And I know there’s been a positive response toward it.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, in terms of the demographics of screenwriters I know, I do think there has been a notable increase in female writers. I’ve seen a notable increase. I’ve seen a notable increase just among people I’ve met, just offhand. And a notable increase of women being credited on films. So, that means that they’re being hired more frequently and writing more frequently.

So, I don’t know if the statistics yet reflect this, but it seems to me like there’s been an improvement in that area. That doesn’t mean that it’s where it should be. But, I just anecdotally I sense this. I need to look at the data to see if, in fact, that is true.

Derek: Right.

Craig: But, in terms of seeing more black writers and more Latino writers, and more Asian writers, I have not seen.

Derek: Right.

Craig: Now, because I’m a screenwriter, you know, I’m a lone wolf out there. You have a much better sense of it because you have staffs. So, it sounds like things are maybe slowly improving?

Derek: Yeah. And it’s funny, too, because when we ask for scripts when we know what are needs are going to be for the next year, we get scripts sent over from the agencies. And Michael and I and Matt Olmstead, who also is a showrunner on Chicago P.D., when we look at – we just look at the scripts with names on them. We don’t know – you know, you can usually tell what the gender is just by the name. But then once we’ve read the script, then we say, OK, these are the ten people we want to meet.

So, we’re not even thinking that way, but we do ask for the agencies to make sure you send us a diverse mix.

Craig: Would you ever consider something, I know some people do this, where they get scripts and they don’t see – they don’t even see the names?

Derek: Yeah, I’ve never thought about it, because I’ve never seen that done. I mean, we don’t ask for it that way.

Craig: Right. Well, that’s because you don’t care. [laughs]

Derek: [laughs] I just want the best.

Craig: I hear you, Derek. All right. Here’s a question from Redditer Bottom.

Derek: OK.

Craig: Bottom.

Derek: That’s the name? That’s like Shakespearean, right?

Craig: Bottom.

Derek: From Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Craig: I’m sure. I’m sure that’s what it means. Take that, Princeton. Baylor, woo! Here’s what Bottom wants to know. “I’ve listened for a while now. I notice that you and John are very good at having different POVs, even if you have opposing views. You’ll express them to each other clearly before dismissing John as a robot.”

Now, listen, I don’t dismiss him as a robot. I accurately label him as a robot. Bottom continues, “I direct and write, so I’m paid for my opinion. Sometimes I find myself in an awkward situation where my employer and I have opposing views, and sometimes I’m passionate about changes, or left dumbfounded about absolutely ridiculous suggestions. And it can be difficult to keep my cool. Do you guys have any suggestions, techniques that you use, either consciously or otherwise?”

Well, how do you keep your cool in these moments, Derek?

Derek: It’s experience. I think early on in my career, I felt the way you do, which is any change or suggestion that I didn’t feel merited a response from me would be met with haughty derision. But now I’ve just learned, one, good ideas can come from anywhere. And the best ideas should win. Two, you don’t have to get heated if your response is logically laid out. If you have the best response, it’s going to win. And if you don’t, sometimes you take one step backwards so you can take two steps forward.

I think you were the first one, Craig, to tell me that your first answer doesn’t need to be no. Your first answer should be yes, and then you take the time to figure out, OK, what’s the best way. Because maybe the way they suggested isn’t the best way.

Craig: Right. And so also when you say yes, even if you know the answer is no, saying yes gives you some time to then come back and say, all right, I’ve thought about it. It’s actually no, but here’s why.

Derek: Right.

Craig: The difference is being heard. You know, so I would say, Bottom, that the key here is to first ask yourself what is it that you’re trying to achieve. Because when I’m thinking about these things, what I’m trying to achieve ultimately is make the script better, make the project better. Get it made. Right? All these things I want to do. But really at the end, get a movie made that does well.

My emotions in any given moment have nothing to do with that. Nothing. My pride and being right has nothing to do with it. My anger, my frustration, has nothing to do with that. So, what I try and do is put those in second position. I have feelings, you know, and there are times when you get that sinking feeling, and you just have to sort of say, OK, I’ll deal with that after. I will curl up in a ball after. Right now I have to be clinical about this. And I have to be part of a team that’s working on a movie together.

And if it gets to a point where they’re making suggestions that would destroy what matters, then, you know, I trot out my favorite line, which is, “I just don’t know how to write that.”

Derek: Uh-huh.

Craig: Which usually stops them in their tracks. Because I think everybody giving notes underneath it has maybe the suspicion that they’re wrong. You know? Like they’re a little worried, like, am I right?

Derek: Right.

Craig: So, people want to be heard. So, concentrate on hearing them and being respectful in that way. Put your feelings second. And I think you’ll find that actually you can keep your cool easier if you recognize that losing your cool has nothing to do with what you actually want.

Derek: And I think the moment you hit on is that time in the notes where you just say, “OK, give me time to think about that.” They’re not always expecting you to have an answer right there in that meeting. You write down the note. You say, “OK, give me time to think about that.” Then, when you come back with what you have thought about, a lot of times you’ll have solved maybe one of their problems without even knowing that that’s what it was. Oh, it’s the note beneath the note, as they say.

And, also, they really do judge you based on not only how you do on the page, but do I want to spend a year with this person? And if I’m in meeting one and that person is already fighting me tooth and nail on the most minor suggestion, then I’m going say, “When can I get rid of this person?”

Craig: Yeah.

Derek: “At what point can I get rid of this person? How much do I need them?” Anyway, it’s a collaborative business. I’ve learned that over doing this for a long time. Every part of it is collaborative. Unless you’re going to animate a movie that you’re voicing the characters, and you’re drawing the illustrations, and you’ve written it, and you’re directing it, then you’re going to have to collaborate with everyone. And so, work on it.

Craig: It’s so true what you’re saying that, you know, making movies, making television shows, it’s very hard. It’s arduous. The last thing you want is to be going into battle with somebody that is just fighting you all the time. There’s something that screenwriters do, or television writers, that I think is really counterproductive, and I always urge them to not do it.

Everybody involved in the making of something is talking about making the thing. A television show or movie. The only person not talking about that, at times, is the writer who is talking about their script. That script is not the thing that people are making. They’re making a television show or movie. So, I always caution writers to not get into a place where you become a defender of a document, because whether they love the document or hate the document, or love you, or hate you, the document is not the end point.

Derek: Right.

Craig: So, everyone now shares a goal, except for you – that becomes, oh, well, yeah, OK.

Derek: [laughs] Right.

Craig: So, try and get in the same mind frame with everybody. Counterintuitively, by concentrating less on the document, you will end up being a better defender of the document. A more capable defender of the document.

Derek: Plus, I’ve found out that all these arguments you have in those first six months on a project, once the green light happens and you’re actually making it, all of those arguments go out the window. And now you’ve got a new thing that’s being made, which is the movie. And that argument you had six months ago about whether or not the guy would be eating a hot dog, that scene is gone. The hot dog thing that you argued for is long gone. And you will have time to put things back that you liked and all of those kind of things. But just get to that green light.

Craig: That’s right. You’re absolutely right. And this is something producers understand. This can be sometimes frustrating for writers when they feel like a producer is sort of going, oh yeah, we don’t have to do that. The producers just want to get to the place where they’re making the movie.

Derek: Right.

Craig: They’re smart enough to know, and then we’ll do what we kind of want. That’s the big secret. This is the thing that studios don’t want us to know, but of course we all know it. The second that the movie gets made, you know, green light happens, they have lost a massive amount of control.

Derek: Right.

Craig: Merely all control.

All right, so here’s a question for you, Derek. Derek, this is from Woodward or Bernstein.

Derek: This is Craig addresses me any time, by the way. If he calls me on the phone, “Derek! Derek!”

Craig: Derek! “I’d love to hear how Derek balances the demands of a career as a novelist,” oh boy, here we go.

Derek: Oh god.

Craig: “Balances the demands of a career as a novelist with those of a screen/TV writer, and especially if he has any tricks for how to easily switch between projects and mediums if he has to work on both a script and book during the same time period. I ask this as someone who has a first draft script assignment due in just a few days, and I am also handling notes from my book agent before she sends my manuscript to editors. Thanks.”

Derek: Great question. Yes, I’ve written five books while I’ve been doing this, and I have a sixth one that’s due in March, so I’m in the middle of that. As we speak, I don’t know how other people do it. I get up early in the mornings, before my kids get up. I get up at five in the morning. And I work for an hour and a half on writing a book. And then when that hour and a half is done, I’m done with it for the day. It’s the only way I can do it. I don’t know how other people do it.

Because then my kids get up, I make them breakfast, I get them off to school. Then I come in and I do my job that I’m supposed to do, this show-running on Chicago Fire. And I would never have somebody walking into my office and see me working on a book while I’m supposed to be working on the show.

That’s the only way I do it. I compartmentalize it. I’ve never had a problem flipping back and forth between projects, and as a TV writer, especially if you get in a position where you’re show-running, you will be flipping back and forth between episodes where something that happened in the past – you’re now in the future, then you got to go back to the past. And you have to write new scenes. And so that’s a skill that you should really try to master.

I mean, Craig, I know you’ve worked on multiple screenplays at the same time in totally different genres.

Craig: Yes. Yes. The only way that I’ve been able to do it is to make sure that they’re at different stages. So, every project has a lifespan. You begin breaking a story, you write a script, then there’s revisions of the script. Those are three different things. I can’t break two stories at the same time.

Derek: Right.

Craig: I can’t write two first drafts at the same time. I can write a first draft and then do revisions on something, or break a story and write a first draft. But, it’s hard. Honestly, it’s hard. I don’t like doing it and I feel like, I don’t know, sometimes I feel stupid, like I’m probably costing myself opportunities and things by saying I’m too busy and I can’t, but then I think, no, actually the reason that you get opportunities is that you actually concentrate on the jobs you have.

Derek: And you do a great job on them.

Craig: You try to–

Derek: If you spread yourself too thin, then you won’t be, yeah.

Craig: At that point, and we know writers who kind of have famously done this. You know, they went bananas and took every job. And then suddenly they failed at every job. How could you not? I panic if I feel like I don’t have enough time to do a good job. I literally start to panic.

Derek: Yep.

Craig: All right. Well, hopefully that helps you out, Woodward or Bernstein. Here’s a question more for me, but it’s for you as well. This is from Austin B, otherwise known as Time Machine 1994. “I’m curious on your thoughts on a few things, of which could be summed up in one answer.” That is an amazing sentence.

Derek: I want your thoughts on a thing–?

Craig: I’m curious your on thoughts on a few things of which could be summed up in one answer.

Derek: That might be a robot that wrote that.

Craig: [laughs] Maybe. But the rest of it sounds right. “I’ve heard before on the podcast that you, Craig, tend to look down on screenwriting pitch festivals. Have you changed your opinion on them? As a screenwriter from Florida, it’s hard to rub shoulders to get the deal, so pitch festivals seem like a really great way to get work out there. And if nothing, just to get practice at pitching and sharing your idea with strangers. Are pitch festivals a hopeless endeavor? A business to take advantage of writers? Or can there be a differentiation between pitch festivals that offer real growth, versus ones looking to make a quick buck? What would you like to see at a pitch festival?”

All right, well that’s a good question. I generally think that in fact they are a hopeless endeavor and also a business to take advantage of writers. And the reason why is precisely for what you just said, Austin. You’re a screenwriter from a Florida. It’s hard to rub shoulders to get the deal, so pitch festivals seem like a really great way to get work out there. The keyword is SEEM. They are aware that they seem that way. That’s why they exist.

I do not know of many success stories that come out of these things, or any success stories, but regardless, I always feel like if you had something that was worthy of being purchased by reputable people, it would have been purchased anyway one way or the other. I think pitch festivals by and large are kind of hokum and bunk. And, also, that’s not really how our business works. I mean, I judged the pitch contest at the Austin Film Festival, you know, the screenwriting conference this year. And it struck me that these people were mastering an art that simply doesn’t exist in Hollywood. There is no pitch something in a minute and a half art.

People really don’t pitch that much stuff like that anywhere anyway. That’s more like what movies tell you Hollywood is like. It’s actually not like that. There are much more substantive, lengthy discussions involved than these kind of rat-a-tat advertising sales-type pitches.

Derek, what’s your feeling about all this?

Derek: I couldn’t agree more. It feels like that was something that was done in the ‘90s and nobody does it anymore. I mean, if you look at what the studios make, they’re not making movies off of original pitches. And they’re certainly not going to hire you unless they know you can execute that idea.

Craig: Right. I’m with you on this. I just feel like it’s a little bit of a blind alley. And they are taking advantage of the fact that you don’t have a lot of opportunities, so they’re dressing themselves up as one. So, I would still say, yeah, be very, very cautious about spending money on these things.

Derek: Do you know I’ve never been to one. Even at the Austin Film Festival, I never sat in on those. I don’t even know what it is. It sounds like you’re doing a standup comic routine for a minute thirty.

Craig: Almost. So I judged the final round of it with Lindsay Doran and they get a minute or something and they come up, and it is a very practiced rat-a-tat patter. And it’s at this packed bar.

Derek: So it’s like log lines? They’re giving you basically?

Craig: It’s like, Jim is da-da-da, and blah, blah, blah. And the thing is some of them are really good, but they’re really good as a kind of strange kind of haiku that isn’t necessarily, I mean, ultimately you would say, oh OK, that’s a really interesting story. You seem like a funny, interesting person. I would read five or ten pages and see if it were any good.

Derek: Right.

Craig: But the point is, we live in a time now where you can just put your script online. You can write a synopsis. It’s there. I don’t know.

Derek: And it seems like buying pitches is for people who have already sold scripts. Like they know that you can execute, so then they’re apt to hear your pitch, as opposed to I’m just going to buy your idea and hope you’re a good writer.

Craig: That’s right. So, if I say, look, I have an idea. This is what it is. I’ll just have a casual conversation about that. But, it’s not, yeah, you’re right. It’s not like studios are saying, whereas they did in the ‘90s, “Oh sure, yeah, I’ll have a meeting with so and so because they have an idea to pitch.” That just doesn’t really work that way anymore.

I think that the benefit of crafting these pitches is just maybe forcing you to think about your story in a structured way.

Derek: And public speaking, nothing is wrong with trying to be better at public speaking. It will help you in life.

Craig: I think that’s absolutely true. All right, here’s a question from Semi-Fake. “What questions should you ask when choosing an entertainment attorney?” And his second question, or her second question is, “What’s your favorite guilty pleasure movie?” Derek, questions to ask when choosing an entertainment attorney?

Derek: It’s funny, I was so young, and I’ve had the same one for 17 years, that I didn’t ask any questions. I didn’t even know what to ask. I barely knew what Hollywood was, so I’m the wrong person to ask. But I feel like they should be telling you about themselves and what they’ve done and who their clients are. And so you don’t need to be asking questions. You should just know by who they’ve worked with whether or not they’re legit. That’s how I feel.

Craig: I agree. Same situation for me. I’ve had the same attorney for 23 years now, or 22. And, yeah, the question I asked was what can I do to thank you.

Derek: [laughs]

Craig: You know, I mean, and also what questions can you ask? Like how good are you at law? I guess do you have a degree? I mean, I don’t know.

Derek: Who are your other clients? That’s what I would ask.

Craig: Sure. But then they’re like, what do you care? You’re right. I mean, look, the thing about an entertainment attorney is if they do a good job, you keep them. And if they don’t do a good job, you change.

Derek: Right.

Craig: It’s as simple as that. Now, what is your favorite guilty pleasure movie?

Derek: Oh, do I have to feel guilty about them?

Craig: No.

Derek: I love Adam Sandler movies. And I have since they started coming out. Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison and Water Boy. And it’s great because my kids are now 11 and 10 and so I’m getting to show them, again. And they hold up. My kids are dying laughing at the same stuff I was laughing at 15 years ago.

Craig: That’s a good one. Favorite guilty pleasures. See, I would call those non-guilty pleasure movies.

Derek: Yeah, I don’t feel guilty about it.

Craig: I will watch Battlefield Earth if it’s on TV. I will watch it. I will watch it every damn time. Because it’s incoherent, but it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s just kind of remarkable in its badness. And so I’ll just watch it. I don’t know.

Derek: It’s good bad, versus just painful. Painful bad.

Craig: It kind of is good bad.

Derek: Yeah.

Craig: All right, we’ll do a couple more.

Derek: Scientologists everywhere are writing in to the hotline. Do you guys have a hotline for very serious urgent questions from podcast listeners?

Craig: We have Twitter?

Derek: No, no, no, but I mean, is there a line that rings?

Craig: Oh, like a red phone?

Derek: That you pick up and they say, “Craig, how do I break into the business?”

Craig: Yes there is. [laughs] All right, here’s a question for Derek. This is from Ethan. “I was wondering how many drafts of a script you will go through before you are satisfied with the result? Have you ever found yourself doing too many drafts and just had to say enough is enough?”

Derek: Well, not the drafts that we write for ourselves. Michael and I send scripts back and forth. We typically do two to three drafts before we’re ready for somebody else to look at it. After that, you know, if it’s a manager who looks at it, or your representatives, or you’re ready to give it to a producer and you say, “Will you give this a quick read,” kind of thing. And then it’s on to notes.

But typically two or three drafts. But I’m not one of those who is doing 15 different versions of what… – If it’s not working at that point, that’s probably not the best way to spend your time.

Craig: Yeah. I think probably because I’m in this routine of writing screenplays for studios, I don’t really have the luxury of–

Derek: Right.

Craig: You know, now, interestingly when I worked this script with Lindsay Doran, I wasn’t really doing drafts as much as pages. So there was no sense of a draft thing. And we would just rework, rework, rework.

Derek: Right. But you were also being paid, right? That was an assignment?

Craig: Yeah. I was being paid.

Derek: So it’s not a spec situation.

Craig: Correct.

Derek: I mean, when you’re on a movie, I think on Wanted we probably had 75 drafts before, you know, as we were shooting.

Craig: Geez Louise.

Derek: Yeah, I mean, like you said, it would be a scene here. And that constitutes a new draft.

Craig: Oh, well sure. Yeah.

Derek: You know, at that point you’re on all services, so you’re just doing whatever is needed that day.

Craig: Right. It’s a tricky thing to know when it’s done. You know? I mean, sometimes, you just have to look out for, I think Ethan, the syndrome of being afraid to show it, which can sometimes lead you to think, oh, I’ll just keep rewriting this forever. And then I don’t have to face the music.

Derek: The other big thing is that you get bored with your own idea. So, the scene that you wrote that when somebody read it they were shocked, surprised, whatever, well, on draft 10 they’re not surprised anymore, and all of a sudden that becomes vulnerable. And you have to tell yourself and your producer, “Remember how you felt when you first read that? That still holds.” I’m sure that’s even more for jokes.

Craig: Oh yeah. For sure. Yeah, jokes, exactly.

Derek: People who are dying laughing on the first draft, now they’ve read it 40 times and they’re like, “Don’t you think we need a punch up here on?” That would be hard.

Craig: Yeah, it is unfortunate, as some of stop writing jokes now.

All right, let’s go for – we have time for a couple more. Here’s kind of an interesting little specific craft question. This is from Flirsee. “How wary or aware should you be as a script writer…“ I love it when people call it script writers.

Derek: I like script writer. I’m a script writer. It sounds more British.

Craig: Well, and it’s also accurate.

Derek: I’m a script writer.

Craig: I’m a script writer. Script writer! “How wary or aware should you be as a script writer for weird repetitions in dialogue? For example, a line like, ‘Well, that went well,’ really bothers me because of the repetition. And I spend time looking for alternate words for either ‘well.’ Is this effort worth it? Or am I wasting time I could be spending elsewhere?

Derek: Oh, no, it’s worth it. I can tell you, we go through the scripts on our shows and if you see the same word three times, even like alternate character’s dialogue, I just think – it hits the ear wrong. And so, you know, if somebody says, “Really?” And then the next character says, “Really.” And the next character says, “Really,” you circle that. And you give it back to the writer. Find something else there. And I know you’re using “well” and “well” differently, but even that I would be like, it would hit the ear wrong.

Craig: Absolutely. I think this is probably the best sign that you’re a writer, Flirsee. Because that’s exactly the kind of thing we’re constantly looking for. And if you listen to our podcast and you hear some of the Three Page Challenges we do, we call people out on that all the time. Repetitions of words feel like glitches in the Matrix. It’s supposed to seem effortless and smooth. And it’s not effortless and smooth if you hear those repetitions. It’s just, yeah, your ear snags on it.

Derek: This sounds so obvious, but you should read your scripts out loud to someone. Read it to your wife, or your girlfriend, or your husband, or your mom and dad. Because you will find yourself as you’re saying words that you wrote out loud that looked so good on the page, and then they just make your mouth move in weird directions. Make you mealy-mouthed is what I was trying to say. Read your scripts out loud.

Craig: Absolutely. We recommend this all the time. Here is an interesting one. “My question is this,” from Croon 23. “Do you find screenwriters succeed making a living purely as writers, or do they often meld into directing, producing, and other aspects of film? Is this any more beneficial to getting your work made?”

Derek: The writers I know, most of them make their living just as screenwriters. But, what’s your passion? Do you want to direct? If you want to direct, and write and direct, then chase that. But if you’re just doing it because you think, oh well, I could do that, too, then you’re not going to be successful.

Craig: I agree. I don’t think there’s much value in asking a question like is this any more beneficial to getting your work made. It’s not beneficial if you’re not supposed to be directing your own work.

You know, look, I prefer to have somebody that is a better director than I am direct the things I write. I like that. So, you know, Mark Webb is going to be directing a movie that I wrote. He’s a better director than I am.

Derek: Right.

Craig: By far. This is good news for me. Yeah, most of the screenwriters I know make their living purely as writers. A bunch of them as they get older will start to direct. Because, you know, the other thing about directing movies is you go away for a while. So, when you’re younger, you have younger kids. They’re in school still. It’s a little bit harder. But as you grow up, you know, and you grow older, then the opportunity maybe is a little more clear to direct. And there are some that are producers, too. But, yeah, there’s plenty of people that are–

Derek: But nobody is doing it calculatedly of career longevity. Yeah, if you don’t have a passion for doing the other things, then don’t do them.

Craig: I’m with you on that one. All right, let’s ask one last question here. “What’s the one thing you told yourself when you were just starting out that kept you motivated, even in the toughest of times?”

Derek: Let me think about that one. Do you have an answer?

Craig: No, because I didn’t tell myself anything. I was mostly just scared. It wasn’t like a mantra that I repeated. It was just my, “Uh…ugh.” That was it. That’s what I told myself. “Uh…ugh.”

Derek: [laughs] I’m trying to think. I mean, my thing is don’t be so hard on yourself. I think people try to be – they take every little slight – you have to have thick skin. I can’t say this enough. This business requires the thickest skin imaginable. The level of Internet trolling that goes on is nothing compared to just one note session on your script. And if you’re – you just have to be thick-skinned about your work and, I don’t know how else to say it.

Craig: Yeah. I think you said it beautifully. God, I wish I had something inspiring to say there. But the truth is, when I was first starting and I was trying to get going, I was mostly just scared. And panicky and nervous. And ambitious. And so I guess as I was telling myself was, “Mm…go. Work.”

Derek: Yeah.

Craig: Get.

Derek: Yes, work hard.

Craig: Work hard.

Derek: I know Michael and I were always – we were definitely always trying to do the unexpected. We were trying to zig when somebody would zag. We weren’t chasing what was the next thing that was going to be popular. You know, we weren’t trying to write a vampire movie because vampires were popular. We just tried to do things that interested us and we liked. And then always trying to surprise the reader. And then hopefully the director. And then hopefully the audience.

Craig: And now you have 20,000 shows on television.

Derek: [laughs]

Craig: Truly amazing.

Derek: We did just cross the – now Michael and I have produced over 200 hours of television.

Craig: Damn. That’s amazing.

Derek: It’s crazy.

Craig: You guys are like, you’re going to be in museums, right? In the Museum of Television and Broadcasting?

Derek: I don’t know.

Craig: Don’t you get like some kind of Hall of Fame thing?

Derek: I don’t think so.

Craig: A plaque?

Derek: No, I don’t think so.

Craig: Really?

Derek: No. I don’t think we’re going to get–

Craig: Do you get an island?

Derek: That would be…no. We were up at the Writers Guild doing that gambling, or what was that night? That poker night.

Craig: That was for the Veterans Program.

Derek: That was for the Veterans Program. We were doing this poker night. And they have a script library, which I just hadn’t been on that floor of the Writers Guild. I don’t spend a ton of time up there.

Craig: It’s the Foundation Library.

Derek: But I saw this library of all these scripts. And I’m looking, you know, and it’s in alphabetical order. And then I see the Chicago Fire pilot. And I look over and I see the Chicago P.D. pilot. And then I saw Wanted and 3:10 to Yuma. I was like, I am somewhere! I’m at least in the Writers Guild Library.

Craig: You’re in the Writers Guild Library. It’s huge.

Derek: [laughs] It’s huge.

Craig: That’s huge. Whenever, I don’t know why this is, but I’ll get these emails from the Motion Picture Academy saying, “We would love a copy of your screenplay for our library.” Like we would love a copy of Identity Thief for the Academy Library. And I’m like, oh OK, really?

Derek: [laughs]

Craig: All right.

Derek: OK.

Craig: All right. Did you see it? You want it for the Academy? OK. Anyway, oh, you want Scary Movie 4 in the Academy? OK.

Derek: Somebody is going to study this.

Craig: They’re completionists. You know, what can I say?

All right, well, that was an excellent show. Normally, we do a One Cool Thing, but you know, I’m always like trying to avoid the One Cool Thing.

Derek: Oh, OK. Well, you’re putting me on the spot.

Craig: No, no, no. I’m saying we don’t have to do it.

Derek: Don’t do it. OK. This microphone is cool.

Craig: This microphone is cool. Our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. And our outro this week comes from Bleak Gilliam. I feel like–

Derek: These are great names.

Craig: Like none of those names are real.

Derek: I want to steal some of these names.

Craig: Well, Godwin and Matthew are definitely real. But Bleak Gilliam. Amazing. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. For shorter questions on Twitter, I am @clmazin. And John is @johnaugust.

We are on Facebook, apparently, according to John. Search for Scriptnotes podcast. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment. And, Derek, do you know why people should leave us a comment?

Derek: Why?

Craig: John loves comments. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at That’s also where you will find transcripts. We try and get them up about four days after the episode airs. You can find all of the back episodes of the show at And also on the Scriptnotes USB drive at

That’s where John steals money from me, Derek.

Derek: Wow.

Craig: How much money do you think he’s making on this show?

Derek: How much money do I think John August steals from you? Well, here’s the way – I look at the raw numbers, OK. You guys have about 400,000 regular Scriptnotes listeners.

Craig: I don’t think that’s accurate.

Derek: Yeah. 400,000. Dude, we’re in a post-fact America.

Craig: Oh, right. Well, make it higher.

Derek: 400,000 each week. For a total of about 8 billion a year users. Now, if you consider maybe 10% of those buy t-shirts.

Craig: Of course.

Derek: What’s 10% of 8 billion?

Craig: Derek went to Baylor University. That’s Baylor University.

Derek: I don’t know math.

Craig: In Texas. What’s 10% of 8 billion? Really?

Derek: 800 million? I don’t know.

Craig: Very good, Derek. You just move the decimal. [laughs] Well, this was the best ending of the show of all time. We’re keeping all of that in there.

Derek: How much do agents make?

Craig: [laughs] This is why Derek’s agent is taking so much of his money. Derek, 10% is all of it. Thank you very much, Derek. You were a terrific guest. Thank you to all the people who wrote in questions and all of the folks on the Reddit Screenwriting Sub-Reddit that asked questions. We hope we gave you good answers. And we will be back next week with Mr. John August.

Derek: Yay!

Craig: Bye.

Derek: Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

AMA With Derek Haas

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 08:03

Craig and Scriptnotes friend Derek Haas answer listener questions ranging from getting started in Hollywood to interviewing entertainment attorneys.

We also leave a message for a Scriptnotes listener to hear years in the future.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 283: Director Disorientation — Transcript

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 14:34

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 283 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. We are starting off the New Year with a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we take a look at three samples from listeners and offer our honest feedback. We will also be discussing the DGA deal and its impact on writers.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: But first, really important follow-up. Craig, the t-shirts are back. People can order the Scriptnotes 2016 shirts for about one more week. So, they’re doing a second printing because people wanted them.

Craig: People wanted them.

John: If you want to get a replacement shirt for Melissa, this is your chance.

Craig: You know what? I probably should get a replacement shirt for Melissa. You’re right. Because I messed up that one. That’s a great point. Ah, I just got to remember now what she wanted.

John: Yes. I think she wanted a shirt that fits properly.

Craig: Yes, of course. And I like ones that are tighter. Okay.

John: Yeah. But, anyway, we’ll stop the podcast right now so everyone can order their shirts.

Craig: Yep. Good job everyone. You did it.

John: You did it. Some more follow-up. A few episodes we talked about reality and fiction and fact and our responsibilities. Will from Albany, New York wrote in to say, “One thing which drives my fiancé and I insane: empty coffee cups. It feels like on every television show and movie scene where a character has a takeaway coffee cup, the cup is so obviously empty that it’s painful to watch them pretend to drink from it.”

Craig, this annoyed you as well. I thought it had. And it turns out this was one of your previous One Cool Things.

Craig: Yes. So there’s an entire award for – Empty Cup Awards. And strangely enough I was watching television last night with Melissa, and that’s strange because I just don’t watch television, but she said, “Oh, the Menendez brothers. They’re doing a follow-up show on the Menendez brothers.” So I was like, all right, I’ll watch the Menendez brothers. Because I did in fact go to school with Lyle briefly before he got kicked out for plagiarism.

John: You went to school with everybody. It’s crazy.

Craig: Yeah, yeah. He was at Princeton. And then he got kicked out a second time for murdering his parents. Regardless, in betwixt the segments on the Menendez brothers, there was an ad for McDonald’s coffee. It was a very bad ad, I might say, because the premise was ridiculous.

There’s some sort of hip company and they’ve sent out their new intern on a coffee run. And he comes back with coffee from McDonald’s. And they’re all like, “Wow, this coffee is great and you saved us money.” No, in the world what would happen is if an intern comes back to the office with a bunch of coffees from McDonald’s, they throw them in his face and burn him.

John: [laughs] And then there’s a lawsuit, but yes.

Craig: Clearly.

John: Because the coffee was too hot. Yeah.

Craig: But the coffee cups were the most empty of all coffee cups I’ve ever seen. And Melissa said, “You know what else? Watch luggage commercials. Or just anything. Shows where people are picking up suitcases. Always empty.” Always. So, you’re not alone, Will. You’re not alone.

John: You’re not alone. Two episodes ago we talked about homeopathy and Jonathan Hall wrote in to say, “I was a little bothered by the way in which a distinction was drawn between science and other forms of knowledge. In particularly, religion and narrative. You explicitly linked homeopathy and religion, which I thought was problematic, as homeopathy makes pseudo-scientific claims about the physical world, claims which you – as you rightly pointed out – are scientifically falsifiable. But the key claims of religion are precisely not claims about empirical reality that can be falsified with physical evidence. Religious ways of knowing are rigorously distinct from scientific ways of knowing. So they shouldn’t necessarily be lumped together with pseudo-science.”


Craig: Uh…what? I mean, look, if you are a religious person and you believe, you believe. You should not be concerned about my lack of belief. It doesn’t impact you at all. But I think it’s crazy to suggest that religion does not make claims about the physical world, or what you would call pseudo-scientific claims. Religion, in fact, claims how the world was created. It claims that the world is overseen by this presence of a god. There are an enormous amount of people in this country who believe that man and dinosaurs walked around at the same time and they were all on Noah’s Ark.

Of course, I mean, what? In Catholicism, they have an entire branch of just investigating whether miracles have occurred. The whole point of a miracle occurring is that something has happened in the physical world that is miraculous, and therefore not scientifically provable.

I’m sorry, Jonathan. I disagree.

John: I think my frustration is that when you ask people to take something on faith, they can take more things on faith and it just keeps snowballing. So, while I agree with you that people’s religious beliefs and religious faiths can be wonderful things, I think so often that same muscles that they’re using to have religious faith, they are trying to apply the things that can’t be scientifically tested, and that is my frustration with homeopathy.

Craig: Correct. I’m not really sure what a religious way of knowing is, so I don’t know how you can make it rigorously distinct from scientific ways of knowing. I know what scientific ways of knowing are, because science spells them out very clearly in steps. These are the steps you follow to pursue truth and knowledge. Religion has no such thing. I think you’re supposed to pray or look inwards, or imagine stuff. Sometimes people hear the voice of God talking to them. Sometimes they see God talking to them. Sometimes those people are highly respected, and sometimes they’re wandering around the street yelling at their own hand.

What is this religious way of knowing that’s so rigorously distinct? I don’t know what it is. That may just be my deficiency.

John: I believe there are scientists who are very, very good scientists who are also deeply religious. And they have found a way to sort of keep these worlds separate in ways that are meaningful.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Fantastic. That’s awesome. I hope that they are not practicing homeopathy, because that would make me question their scientific rigor.

Craig: Deeply. And speaking of which, we got another letter in. Letter. I’m old fashioned, aren’t I? Something else came over the transom. From Jennifer Fisher. And she writes, “If there’s an archetype for the cynic/skeptic/devil’s advocate” – three different things – “that’s me. But I think you may be wrong about homeopathy.” John, are you ready?

John: I think I might be ready. I might be wrong. So prove me wrong.

Craig: This is Jennifer now. “I’ve taken certain homeopathic potions without knowing what the side effect symptoms are or even that symptoms were to be expected. And experienced specific textbook symptoms. I’ve also had great success with Oscillococcinum, both before I knew anything about homeopathy and afterwards. Its effects then and now are exactly the same. You will probably put that down to the placebo effect.” Correct. “Which I also strongly believe in.” Not really. Sorry, I’m editorializing as I read the question.

“But when I first started taking Oscillococcinum, I highly doubted it would work. Call me an idiot, as I expect you will.” We’re almost there. “But I was surprised that as two creative beings you were so condescendingly dismissive of other folk’s beliefs and practices.” John?

John: Yeah, so I didn’t want to edit that down, because other folk’s beliefs and practices, that’s the religious aspect of it all.

Craig: Yes.

John: Yeah, come on, you’re stepping on my beliefs. It’s like, well, you know what? Science–

Craig: You’re beliefs are stupid. [laughs]

John: There’s science. And so let’s unpack some stuff in here. Placebo effect, yes, it’s meaningful. Oscillococcinum, like oh it worked for me. Well, what did it actually do? Did it cure your cold? The cold that was going to go away anyway? That is, you know, sugar pills can do that. They can do exactly nothing and that nothing will actually work because you were going to get over that cold anyway.

Craig: What do you do with this person?

John: I don’t know. I mean, here’s the frustration. She’s very bright. She’s articulate. She’s able to explain her case to a point. But at the same point I can’t do anything with this. Basically you’re saying like I know it may be a placebo, but it works for me. Well, you know what? Maker’s Mark whiskey works for me, too, but I’m not claiming it has any scientific validity. I’m just saying it’s helpful.

Craig: Well, Jennifer kind of gives it away at the end when she says, “I was surprised that as two creative beings,” and somehow being creative we should, I guess, we divorce ourselves from reason. “You were so condescendingly dismissive of other folk’s beliefs and practices.” And there it is. She felt that we were condescending to what she felt was true. This is her belief and practice.

Jennifer, you do not have a right to a belief and a practice without also somebody looking at it and saying, “That’s stupid,” if, in fact, the belief and practice is stupid. If you tell me that you strongly believe in ghosts, I’m going to tell you that is stupid. I’m not saying you’re stupid. I’m saying that is stupid. Because it is. Because there aren’t any ghosts. Nor are there Oscillococcinum shimmering microbes. Nor is there anything in an Oscillococcinum pill other than lactose and glucose.

You believe something that’s dumb. And so, yes, I am condescendingly dismissive of it because it deserves condescending dismission. Which is not a word.

John: But it should be a word, because we all know what that word means.

Craig: It should be a word. Exactly. So, first of all, you say that you’re an archetype for the cynic/skeptic/devil’s advocate. Those are three different things. Cynicism is not skepticism. Skepticism is not devil’s advocacy. You seem like a devil’s advocate, kind of, but mostly you seem like somebody who believes what you want to believe and you don’t want other people making fun of it. But we can make fun of it because it’s stupid and wrong. We’re allowed to. That’s part of our gig as reasonable people. Just as you point at other people who believe absolute nonsense and say, “That’s stupid and wrong.”

You say you’ve taken certain homeopathic potions. The use of potion is remarkable to me. Without knowing what the side effect symptoms are, or even that symptoms were to be expected. I don’t believe you. Why would you take something without knowing what it does or why it does it? Why would you do that? You just randomly drink stuff? I don’t believe you. You’re not running double-blind experiments on yourself. That’s ridiculous.

You’ve had great success with Oscillococcinum. I don’t know what that means. You can’t define it. [sighs]

John: Yeah, she’s random study out of a group of one person. Yes.

Craig: And then here’s the deal. Exactly. You are literally doing the thing that science is designed to prevent. Right? If you take a – imagine, Jennifer, a 1000-sided die. That’s a big die. Two dice. But let’s take one die. One thousand-sided die. And you roll that thousand-sided die and it comes up 1,000. And then you roll it again and it comes up 1,000 again. The odds of that happening twice in a row is a million. One in a million. It’s going to happen. Do you understand?

Science is there to aggregate an enormous amount of things to rule out these little blips and blobs. Your individual experience with homeopathy is meaningless. The fact that you think it’s meaningful is not my problem. It’s your problem. So, if you thought I was condescendingly dismissive in your beliefs and practices before, I’m sure at this point now you are ready to delete us from your podcast list.

But since we don’t get paid, it’s all right.

John: Yep. The last point I would like to make is that if a person individually chooses to take homeopathy, I think that’s really dumb. But whatever. They’re making their own choice. My frustration is sort of the whole back half of that episode which is that like there’s actually a cost to those choices. And there’s a societal and an economic cost, billions of dollars cost, to this. And it’s precluding other valid treatments from the funding and the awareness that they should be getting. And that is my real frustration with her reply here is that I’m dismissive of her beliefs. Well, I’m actually concerned that by taking homeopathy seriously, it’s like selling ghost insurance. You know what? Some people really believe in ghosts, so do we need to have ghost police out there? Because some people really genuinely believe in ghosts, so maybe the police need to start responding to ghost emergencies. I don’t think they should.

Craig: You’re being condescendingly dismissive. [laughs]

John: Yes. And so, yes, I’m being condescendingly dismissive by comparing it to ghost emergencies, but I think they’re equally real and valid.

Craig: That’s right. That’s right. Literally, there is as much chance of Oscillococcinum being an effective medicine as there is ghosts.

John: We’re going to get so many ghost emails after this.

Craig: Good. Good. By the way, let’s weed you all out. I don’t care.

Look, you know who ends up losing money on this gig? John August. Because he’s the one making all the money. We know that. This whole t-shirt thing. [sighs]

John: All right. Let’s get to happier news. Back on Episode 238, Dana Fox was our guest. And she was amazing. And so she talked about how she planned on segueing from being a writer-producer to being a writer-director. And this past week she did just that. She directed an episode of New Girl which aired this last week. And it was fantastic. So I’m just so happy and so proud of Dana Fox.

But it’s also a great segue to the other bit of news that happened this last week which was the DGA deal. So, the Directors Guild of America negotiated a new deal with the AMPTP, which is the group that represents the studios, which “more than triples residuals for members working on original content in the highest subscriber tier, among many other adjustments.” So, it’s basically how much the members are going to get paid for different things for the next three-year contract.

Craig: Right.

John: Why this matters to our listeners is the DGA deal tends to set the parameters for what the WGA deal is going to be. And that’s heading into negotiation right now.

Craig: Yeah. Well, it doesn’t tend to set it. It sets it. This is the deal. The way the AMPTP, that’s the consortium that represents the studios, they put together a package. There are all these terms in the package. Your minimum earnings. That number will raise a little bit. And how we pay out residuals. We’ll raise that a little bit. Here they’re saying instead of all these residuals getting pushed into a big pie and then split up equally among say Netflix shows, if your show gets really, really subscribed to you get more.

But all of that payment is one big number that they’re saying over the next three years, because these contracts are three-year contracts, we’re going to pay out this much money. That’s the number. Now, when the WGA sits down, it can figure out a different way to divide that number up. But that’s basically the number. You know, makes sense, because it’s not like the DGA is going to do this and then the WGA is going to get a better number, because the DGA will turn around and go, “What? What? No. Why would you give you them more?” So, that’s the number.

John: If the numbers are the numbers, what ends up being sort of fascinating about these deals are the things that aren’t about the numbers, which are about sort of specific concerns that an individual guild raises. And this is the one that sort of set off some alarm bells this last week. So, this is also from the DGA press release. “Another focus of the DGA was to address the lack of opportunities for those who aspire to become career directors by seeking to curb the practice of gifting limited first time directing experiences to individuals who are not serious about a career in directing.”

So, this is a new provision that’s in the contract that all first-time television directors in drama, who do not have prior directing experience, or who have not completed and enrolled in a studio-sponsored television director development program, or attend an orientation program provided by the DGA before their employment begins. Basically you have to be in one of these sessions in order to be a first-time drama TV director.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, Craig, you and I don’t work in TV, but a lot of our friends do. And a lot of them were really pissed off at this.

Craig: Yeah. Well, so this is absolutely a thumb in the eye of showrunners and to a lesser extent staff writers. The DGA resents, I think, systematically the fact that writers are in charge in television. And writers hire directors, specifically the showrunners, who are this hybrid of writer-producer. So, writer and employer. They hire directors. They determine who gets a directing job. And they will often give first timers a shot, whether they are writers on staff, who they say, okay, we’re giving you an episode to direct, or sometimes the actors. They’ll say we’re giving you an episode to direct. Sometimes those actors turn out to be fantastic directors.

Jonathan Frakes, you know, who made one of the best Star Trek movies. He started by getting episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation to direct. They don’t like this so much because they feel like writers are now gifting – they’re saying – gifting these gigs. And they’re putting this in as this weird kind of roadblock. It’s a somewhat impotent roadblock. I think that there’s some nervousness about how frequently this orientation day is going to be offered. If they offer it every single day, it’s not much of a roadblock. If they offer it once a month, it’s a huge roadblock. Because they’re saying, okay, we offer this on the first of the month. If you decide on March 2 that you want your writer to direct the episode two weeks from now, they can’t until they come here and do our orientation program. And god forbid you’re shooting in Louisiana. They got to fly them to New York or LA.

So, it’s an anti-writer, anti-showrunner thing. A lot of people are concerned that it is going to basically limit the opportunities of people that could be new directors. A lot of those people are women, are people of color. It’s going to keep a lot of the jobs in the same old pool of the standard DGA director who tends to be a 55-year-old white male. We, I believe, unfortunately can do nothing about this right now. It’s done, as far as I can tell.

John: So let’s talk about a little bit more of the problem, and then we’ll talk about the remedy. So, the reason I’m bringing this up in relation to Dana Fox is like Dana Fox was a first-time director of a television show. It’s a comedy, but if the same sort of basic rules apply. She knocked it out of the park. She did a fantastic job. But she and Aline Brosh McKenna theoretically would have had to have gone through an orientation to be allowed to direct an episode of the show. In the case of Aline, to direct an episode of the own show that she has created.

So she has been supervising directors all this time, but to direct the episode she’s supposed to get clearance from the DGA and go through this orientation to do it. That’s kind of crazy.

Craig: Yep.

John: So, I tweeted about sort of my frustrations over all this and Paris Barclay, who is the head of the DGA, tweeted back at me saying like with a link to this is the sort of the backstory of why we’re doing this. And it was this diversity report the DGA did. I didn’t really buy it. They’re basically trying to claim that like, oh, because first-time directing deals are so important we need to make sure that it comes from a pool of diverse candidates. And it looked very much like a solution in search of a problem. It was a way of sort of defending what I think is ultimately going to result in fewer first-time directors being hired for these projects because it’s not just that I need to pick a director to direct that episode next week. Directors for TV series are slotted out months, and months, and months in advance. And are you going to be able to say to this first timer, like, can I guarantee that you’ll actually have had that orientation session when I’m hiring you for something that’s six months away. Maybe you can’t. And so therefore you have to go pick somebody safer. And I worry that it’s going to actually preclude opportunities rather than opening opportunities.

Craig: It certainly seems like it to me. I can’t imagine how they can argue with a straight face that this is in order to promote diversity. They’re saying we don’t want new people. We want to just use the people we have. We prefer to have the people we already have. The people you already have are not as diverse as the population of the United States. That’s a fact.

So, on its face that is just wrong. It’s a wrong claim. And there’s no possible way that this is somehow going to – I mean, they’re saying we want to make sure that the pool – what does that mean? I don’t even know what that means.

First of all, to be clear, they can’t tell the companies who they can and can’t hire. It’s not like you show up at this orientation and they go, “You’re not the right kind of person. You can’t do this.” You’re doing it. You just literally have to sit there. You can play Candy Crush on your phone all day during this thing. There’s no grade. They can’t flunk you. They’re not allowed by federal labor law to prevent you from working if you pay your dues and you sign a contract.

In fact, if they really impose this and it becomes a huge problem, I think what you’re going to see is a lot of first-time directors becoming Fi-Core non-members of the DGA. And then you don’t have to do this damn thing at all. Yes, you still need a DGA-covered contract, and you’ll have to pay a slightly reduced rate in dues. You’ll still get residuals. You’ll still be covered by the DGA contract. But you won’t have to do this other stuff. Because it’s stupid.

Sometimes unions, man, they just – argh.

John: Yeah, it is frustrating. So, let’s talk about what the remedies are here. So, because writers are the most frustrated by this development, you could imagine becoming a point of discussion in the WGA negotiations, but it’s not really part – it’s not part of our contract. So, it doesn’t seem like a useful thing to sort of try to argue with the AMPTP while we’re doing our own negotiations. If it manifests in a way that it feels like it is precluding who studios can actually hire, then that is an actionable thing. And that feels like it’s a whole separate lawsuit situation. That’s like a labor practices kind of thing.

But it’s not a negotiation you go into a room and talk it out.

Craig: No, we don’t really have standing to argue about this in negotiation. First of all, the people that are most aggrieved are the showrunners, but they’re aggrieved in their capacity as producers. A union doesn’t represent employers. It represents employees.

Now, we can certainly say on behalf of our employees, on behalf of writers who want to be first-time directors that this seems onerous. And the companies can say, “Well, sorry. We’ve done it. That’s it.” They’re not going to get involved in some sort of tit-for-tat war. They’re not going to give the WGA some sort of return clause that allows them to mess around with the directors. Frankly, the AMPTP likes the directors far more than they like us. That’s why they make the deal with them first. And these are the little kinds of rewards they get. You know?

They’re going to keep chipping away at these things. And the only way to prevent, honestly, is for the WGA and the DGA to make amends and achieve some sort of detente. I cannot emphasize how apart the two unions are right now in terms of their leadership and philosophy. So, believe me, I don’t say this lightly. I’m not saying, oh, and it could happen next week. No. No. It won’t.

John: If the same kind of thing were presented but it was the WGA rather than the DGA, there would have been fire in the streets. Like basically that any writer who is going to be hired to do something has to go through an orientation program ahead of time, no one would have put up with it. And it’s so strange that we look at directors as a different class of things. This was a thing that the DGA could do that the WGA could never do.

Craig: Well, they have been flexing their muscle about this TV director thing for a bit now. In the last negotiation they were getting terms about scripts. That the director needed a chance to have the script with enough time to prepare. They know that in features the director is treated like royalty and in episodic television, which is – as we all know – that’s where all the employment is right now, the director is not. And so they are clearly pivoting to fight on behalf of the television directors. It’s interesting how both unions are becoming more television-oriented. That is why I think you’re going to start seeing more and more of this.

The DGA does not like the fact that writers are in charge in television.

John: Yeah. So, one of our very favorite features on Scriptnotes podcast is the Three Page Challenge, where we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their screenplay, or their pilot, and we take a look at them and offer our honest opinions. You can read along with us if you’d like to because all of the scripts we’re going to be talking about, the PDFS can be found in the show notes links. Just keep scrolling or go to You can see these pages.

So all three of these writers or writer teams sent in these things asking for our honest feedback, so we are going to be very honest as we do it.

Now, oftentimes it’s just me and Craig talking, but it’s always much more fun when we have a very special guest on. And so I’m so excited for our very, very special guest. One of our favorite people in the world, Kelly Marcel, welcome back to the podcast.

Kelly Marcel: Thank you. Hello everybody.

John: So, Kelly Marcel, you are the writer of many movies, but the one that we sort of like all fell in love with you for was Saving Mr. Banks. What have you been working on? I hear you’re working on a project with a certain fella.

Kelly: With which certain fella?

John: A certain fella who you have romantic feelings for? A certain former Scriptnotes guest, Steve Zissis. I hear you’re working on a project with him. Is that accurate? Fair to say?

Craig: Yeah, you guys have been cooking something up?

Kelly: We’ve been working on a project together. We’ve actually been working on two projects together. So, we just finished – workwise we just finished Cruella for Disney. And in real-life we’ve been working on making a miniature Marcel-Zissis.

Craig: Oh. Mini-Ziss.

John: The product of this things is about to hit the air, and we’re so excited for you.

Craig: To extend the analogy, we are going to have some notes. Congratulations on your new baby. It’s a great start. However, we have some concerns. Is that the penis? Is that what it’s going to be? Or–?

Kelly: He’s terrible Greek-looking.

Craig: Already. But he’s not born, you know. You know what? We like the Greek. It’s just too much Greek.

Kelly: Yes, can we tone the Greek back a little bit?

John: I think really the audience testing is showing us, like the top two boxes are strong, but there’s definitely areas we can work on. We can tighten some things up.

Craig: Yeah. We love, I mean, the feet we love. So let’s not even talk about those. Those are great.

John: Oh, god. Baby feet are the best.

Kelly: Feet good. Snout good.

Craig: The snout is terrific. Tests very, very well. It’s just…it’s the Greek. So, we’ll – we have work to do. [laughs]

Kelly: I’ll let Steve know.

Craig: I hope he has Steve’s eyes. That’s really the only important thing. Honestly, you know, the blimp face eyes. I mean, for those of you who remember back in podcast whatever it was when we it was our live show in Austin and we came up with a pitch for a lonely blimp that had floated away. I think it was the best movie idea we’ve ever come up with on the fly in one of these shows.

Kelly: I still think we have to write that movie.

Craig: We probably should. And Steve did this face of the blimp. And his poor – like his puppy dog eyes. He’s blimpy dog eyes. Well, congratulations. That’s very exciting.

Kelly: Thank you.

John: We’re all very excited.

Kelly: Thank you.

John: All right. Let’s get to our work. We have listeners who have written in with some three pages for us to take a look at. Let’s start with No Man’s Land by Julian von Nagel and Gathering Marbet.

Craig: We have some amazing names today. Everyone. I think all three of them we have awesome names. I don’t know if Godwin is like, look, my name is Godwin Jabangwe, so I need people to kind of match with that. Like Julian von Nagel and Gathering Marbet.

John: So good. I went with the Marbet. But Marbet is another fair guess for that name.

Craig: It depends on how Frenchie they want to be about it.

John: Yeah. So everything is French to me now. Let me read the synopsis for this script for people who do not have it in front of them. So, we open inside a hospital room in an alternate universe with ‘80s cyber-punk feel. Rusted tubes pump a murky liquid into the back of a middle-aged woman’s head. She lies motionless, slack-mouthed, and covered in sores.

The window opens. Eli, in his 20s, enters, a satchel slung over his shoulder. He pulls a makeshift device out of the satchel, switches it on, and shows it to the woman who we learn is his mother. He mentions he is pretty damn close, thanks to the poor rats. Eli proceeds to apply medicine to his mother’s sores. He tells her how security around the hospital has tightened up, but nothing can keep him out.

He promises to get her out of the hospital soon, before slipping out a window as a nurse enters the room.

We pull back to reveal Quo has been watching Eli all along. He instructs the security officer not to block Eli’s access to the hospital. On his way up to the hospital rooftop, Quo debriefs an unseen voice on Eli’s progress with the device. The voice asks about Eli’s father. Quo assures him that Eli’s father is dead. Quo watches Eli disappear into the streets below, vowing to pick him up. And that’s the bottom of our three pages for No Man’s Land.

Kelly: Ohhh.

Craig: Mm.

John: Who wants to start? Craig, do you want to get us going here?

Craig: Happy to. Happy to. We have some issues, Julian and Gathering. I got a little tripped up right from the very first line. Alternate universe, ‘80s cyber-punk aesthetic. You don’t necessarily want to announce to me that it’s an alternate universe with an ‘80s cyber-punk aesthetic. What you want to do is put me in the middle of a movie. And I will sense from your description that I am in an alternate universe and that I’m experiencing some kind of aesthetic. Many readers will not know what ‘80s cyber-punk aesthetic is. I would like to say I am one of them. I’m pretty familiar with cyber-punk. And I’m familiar with the ‘80s. But I don’t know the specific sub-genre of ‘80s cyber punk. So, I’m not quite sure what that’s about.

So, I got a little hurky-jerky from the start there. There is this hospital room is not hospital room the way we think of them. So, that’s probably how you would get that across. You know, you’d let the reader intuit this. The window bulged, which I didn’t understand. Because that sounded sort of metaphysically weird to me. Then this kid comes in and starts doing stuff that I think is supposed to be mystery. We’ve talked a lot about mystery versus confusion. I was mostly confused here. But I understood that a lot of it was mystery. I don’t know what the device is. I don’t know what it means that it turns on, but that’s okay, I’m sure I’ll find out.

I don’t know what the deal is with the poor rats. I’m sure I’ll find out. What I do know is this. This is his mother. Okay? And she is very, very sick. And she is in a lot of pain. And this dude is chattering in a way that did not feel appropriate for that. He’s giving us a little bit of an info dump. “You never kept me out of anything. How many times did you have to look up the lighter fluid before you gave up and got me gloves and a face shield?” It’s almost bad comedy about his recklessness and how he used to be a kid. And she groans. His mother groans, still motionless. She wants to tell him something. He just keeps yapping over her. “Hey, don’t worry about me. I’m not going to blow up myself.”

Eli, shut up. Right? Your mom is very much in pain and trying to tell you something. I got very, very – the relationships were not functioning for me. I mean, it was like, okay, here’s Quo. He’s watching. But Quo is apparently going to talk to somebody on a roof. Who is on the roof? Who hangs out on a roof? So, I had many issues here.

John: Kelly Marcel, how did you read this?

Kelly: I’m in agreement with most of what Craig said. And apart from Craig said I know this is his mum, I actually didn’t know it was his mum until we were well into him talking about the lighter fluid and all of that kind of stuff.

I felt like when he came through the window, I couldn’t really discern whether he was talking to the device that he had just switched on, or whether he was talking to the mum on the bed. So that threw me completely. I didn’t know who he was talking to. And also the description of him – resilient in spite of himself, the cautious gene just isn’t there – kind of took me off the page for a bit, because I had to sit there and think about what that actually looks like. Like what is that? How do you act that? How do you play that? I’m not quite sure how that’s telling me who this character is immediately.

And then tonally, and I think Craig was just saying this, I couldn’t tell whether it was supposed to be funny or whether it was supposed to be serious because of things like the conversation about the lighter fluid and his mum trying to talk, who is clearly in an enormous amount of pain and him not allowing her to talk. So, on page two I kind of don’t know tonally where I’m at.

That said, all in all I was kind of intrigued by it and I would have continued reading, because I did want to see where it was going to go.

John: I agree with you. I was actually intrigued enough that I would have read a few more pages. I had the same issues that you guys did, especially with looking at sort of the words on the page. I wasn’t actually so bothered by alternate universe/’80s cyber-punk aesthetic, because I had a vague sense of what it was. But by highlighting that at the very start, I stated reading the things in here and reading them with this like, okay, it’s like a cyber-punky kind of feel. And it was a useful shorthand for me. I don’t think I would do this personally, but it didn’t bug me so much to call it out as cyber-punk from the very start.

What did bug me was that a lot of the descriptions – there were just a lot of extra words thrown in that I thought hurt you sentence by sentence. So, looking at this first paragraph, “The uppermost screen, ducted to the ceiling, casts a SICKLY GLOW while emitting a RELUCTANT BEEPING.” I don’t know what ducted actually means. Like attached to the ceiling? Attached to the ducts of the ceiling? Is it duct-taped? And then what is a reluctant beeping?

Craig: You know, like beep. Beep.

John: That’s what it is.

Craig: Beep.

John: It’s Steve Zissis’s not really wanting to beep but kind of has to beep.

“Rusted tubes hang.” Well, pipes rust, but do tubes rust? I think of tubes being plastic. So, word-by-word I kind of got knocked off of the track. And I think if I would ask for anything it’s just to clean up a lot of this stuff in this first bit so we can get to the business which is that this guy is coming in and he’s talking to his mother. It’s not a terrible version of like monologue-ing to somebody in the bed, but it’s not acknowledging that she’s in pain or like sort of what he’s trying to do.

Kelly: Right.

John: If he’s trying to keep the one-sided conversation going to sort of not acknowledge that she’s in a lot of pain, I get that, but I wasn’t feeling that dynamic here on the page.

Craig: Yeah. I circled reluctant beeping as well because that’s nonsense. And I think a lot of times people do this. They get a little purple with these things. They forget how they read things. You know, so, you have the first paragraph, “…a tall, bulky machine with CLUSTERS OF KNOBS, switches, and several monitors precariously stacked on top of each other.” Or, there’s a large medical machine. The uppermost screen casts a sickly glow while emitting a beep – or while beeping. You know, we don’t really need – the tubes with murky liquid. Oh, each tube administers – this is – see, I really got tripped up on this stuff. Each tube administers a specific drug through needles that puncture the back of a middle-aged woman’s head. Ooh, okay, well that’s creepy. Except she’s lying motionless on a heavy-framed hospital bed. So how do we see needles going into the back of her head?

Kelly: Mm-hmm.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And, you know, people might think, oh, it doesn’t matter. No, this is exactly the kind of conversation that people have all the time. And the conversation is entitled how do we shoot this. And believe it or not, every time you do these things and you’re not clear about them, it stops people. Even if they don’t know why they’re being stopped. Although, I have to admit, I realized I made a mistake. Quo – there is no one on the roof. Someone is talking in his ear in an ear piece. But I think Voice (O.S.) is the wrong thing. That should be Voice and then in parenthesis it should say (earpiece). O.S. means off-screen but present, to me.

John: That is a fair assessment. So, let’s talk about Quo here at the end, because we get to the surveillance footage and then we’re seeing his perspective on all this which in general can work. So, you established your main character and you establish the people watching the main character. But Quo’s first dialogue here frustrated me. He says, “However he’s getting in, don’t block it. I don’t have room for oversights.”

Craig: What?

John: I have no idea what that sentence could mean.

Craig: It’s contradictory.

Kelly: Well, also we just saw how he got in. He’s watching him.

Craig: [laughs] And then there’s that. So, there’s like, wow, there’s many, many sins in this one bit of dialogue. Kelly is absolutely right. This guy is watching. He knows how he’s getting in. And if he’s saying, “I’m glad he’s getting in, don’t block the window.” Then it’s not – I don’t have room for oversights. That would mean… – He should say, “It’s an oversight, but I’m OK with it.” Right?

Kelly: Right.

John: Yeah. I was thinking oversights as like a different word. Like you’re assigning an oversight. It’s just weird. It didn’t feel like a good English sentence. And then Quo says, “It turns on.” “And?” “And nothing. He’s experimenting with rats. I’ll get eyes on that.” So, it turns on is the device, but like it was a weird thing. I wanted to single out that they’re really interested in the device and not the kid from the start. It tripped me up there.

Craig: John, don’t you find it a little odd that we get an enormous amount of description of the medical equipment surrounding this middle-aged woman, but this device, which is apparently important, it gets the following description: makeshift device.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think we could do better than that, right?

John: I think we could, too.

Kelly: And also it actually turns out they are – I mean, yes, they’re interested in the device, but then it turns out that after that they’re not interested in the kid, the device, or what he’s doing. They’re interested in his dad.

Craig: And then there’s that.

Kelly: There’s a lot of misdirect in three pages in terms of what are these people actually interested in.

Craig: Well, and that, you know, this is the thing. So we’ve done an entire episode about balancing mystery and confusion. And I think that Julian and Gathering, they clearly get the difference, and they have put in a lot of mysteries without necessarily being confusing. I think they could say, look, we’ve clearly indicated that these are supposed to be mysteries, but at some point you have so many mysteries, you don’t know which one to pay attention to. And they all just mush into equal value.

John: All right. So, should we move onto our next Three Page Challenge?

Kelly: Yes.

John: Craig, do you want to do the description on this one?

Craig: All right. This is All the Ghosts are Girls by Christine Trageser. I told you, all of our names, what do you think?

Kelly: Trageser, I reckon.

Craig: Trageser. I’m going to go with that, because she reckons. All the Ghosts are Girls by Christine Trageser. Nina Ocasion, twenty-something Filipino doll designer, presenters her Marty styling head doll to the company executives. She tries to show off the doll’s functions, but the demo fails. She blames the batteries.

Nina’s boss, Val, is tired of the excuses and questions Nina’s dedication to the brand. Karen, Nina’s coworker, defends her stating how Nina was at work all through the night repainting the model. Val is not convinced, even as Nina claims to have played with her Marty dolls until the seventh grade. Nina snaps, firing back at Val, and making out with the Marty doll to prove her love for her job. Val storms out in disgust.

Back in her factory loft, Nina confides in Susan, telling her how nothing ever seems to work out for her. Susan tries to console Nina, who maintains her innocence for the demo failure. A little girl appears next to Nina, Susan perhaps, who may or may not be there, and pats her shoulder as we reach the bottom of page three.

All the Ghosts are Girls. Who wants to take a shot at this?

John: Kelly Marcel, do you want to start us off?

Kelly: Sure. I actually really like the title of this movie, for a start. And l liked that Christine started the movie with conflict. That we’re immediately into a scene where two people are having a disagreement with each other over something. And it’s big.

It was really hard for me, because we got to the bottom of page one and I got a bit umbrage-y about something and it was hard for me to move on from that. And I will tell you what it is.

Craig: Oh, goodie.

Kelly: She describes everybody – I actually really like the descriptions of all the characters. It gave me a really good visual of like who I’m seeing and what I’m looking at. So we get a good description of Nina, the petite lumberjack, and Val who is waspy. And everybody that we meet. And then we come to a character called Karen and her character description is “African American.”

Craig: That’s enough. Right? [laughs] What else do you need to say?

Kelly: And so I just wanted to talk about that for a little bit. Actually, Craig and I had a text conversation about a script recently that he had read that also had the same character description in it. And that’s not a character description. That’s the color of somebody’s skin. And it really threw me on page one and stuck in my head and made the further two pages really difficult for me to read. So, I just wanted to talk about that for a bit, because I’ve seen it a lot. And it annoys me.

John: I think it’s a great thing to talk about. So, I’ll take the defense position here, just so we can actually have a full discussion. I would say that there are certainly characters in scripts who are sort of not crucial or important. Like Karen may not show up ever again. And so often you just do Karen, 40s, and you wouldn’t put anything more for her. We’ve all done that. There’s just a character who’s only in a scene and you really don’t fully describe them out.

Craig: Sure. Bank manager. Yeah.

John: The question becomes if you do then specify a race, it makes it sound like you’re not going to give a full character description, you’re just calling her African American. I just can see the logic of like we always tell people to be specific and to sort of like not let everything be default white. Not let everything be sort of default lowest common denominator.

Kelly: Absolutely.

John: So, in this case, Christine is saying like, no, Karen is not white. But it bugged you because it felt like you didn’t get the rest of your character description there. And you felt like it was a shortcut. Is that right?

Kelly: I did. And I totally agree with everything you said, but Karen then goes on to have quite a lot to say. So, she does need a character description.

John: You want something to give us a sense of her personality and who she is in this world other than just African American.

Kelly: Absolutely. Because she says as much as anybody else, and all those other people got a character description. And they didn’t get, I mean, apart from Nina who is Filipina, I don’t know what color Val is. I don’t know what color John is.

Craig: Well, Val is white.

John: Val is white. She’s waspy.

Kelly: Oh, okay. OK. All right. I’ll let that go.

Craig: You know, I like to think about wardrobe, hair, and makeup. That’s my first go-to when I’m introducing a character. What are they wearing? What’s their hair like? What’s their makeup like? Do they have scars? Do they have a weird eye?

You can’t – John’s right, and we all know there are sometimes when you have a character that you’re passing by and like, “Cop, black, yells at him, ‘Slow down.’” But, no, Karen clearly is a character and, yeah, she deserves more description than, you know, black. That’s not enough.

How is she dressed? Is she important? Is she thin? Is she sturdy? Is she blinged up? Does she have on like a watch with the Marty thing because she’s like a real corporate follower? We need something – especially when we have Nina as the petite lumberjack with giant glasses. I mean, that’s such an interesting way of describing somebody.

Kelly: Everybody else is really interestingly described. And I think, as well, it’s really important that, I mean, even if you just say that Karen is really good friends with Nina, because she clearly is. She totally stands up for her over the next two pages and tries to protect her from Val, who is pissed off with Nina. So, even that, you know, is important to know.

But other than that, I sort of loved it. It spoke to me about my childhood. I used to have those dolls that you’d put makeup on and stuff, so I really loved it. I was like, oh, I love those.

And then I did get very confused at the very end when Nina is in her apartment and she’s drinking and then there’s this disembodied voice talking to her. And her hair rises into the air and then falls again. So, she’s clearly talking to a ghost, which I can determine from the title of the film. But it wasn’t clear enough for me. Like, it says a girl with braids in a plain cotton dress. An apron appears next to Nina and pats her shoulder. Where does she appear from? Does she appear from thin air? Did she come from another room? Is this the voice of the person we’ve just been hearing? I got a bit confused about that. And if that’s our first introduction to these ghosts that are mentioned in the title, then I need it to be kind of a bigger moment or a clearer moment at least.

And I just, also as an addition, I didn’t really know where we were. Like what time period we were in. What year we were in. Because it seemed, the doll seemed quite modern, so I just wanted to get a sense of where I was in the world.

Craig: John, what do you think?

John: I really liked a petite lumberjack with giant glasses, but I felt like the opening sentence was really awkward. So, let me read it aloud for people here. “NINA OCASION, 20s Filipina doll designer, a petite lumberjack with giant glasses sets up her prototypes on a table at the front of a presentation theater for executive review.” That’s one hell of a sentence. It’s a long sentence. So, the problem here is that there’s two clauses and she’s basically trying to describe Nina twice, both as 20s Filipina doll designer, and a petite lumberjack with giant glasses. Break those into two sentences and make those two different ideas, because it was just one mushy thing for me. I couldn’t parse all that. And they’re both good ideas, but give us a description and then tell us what she’s actually doing.

I think like Kelly I was happy that it was starting on conflict. I didn’t believe all of Val’s lines. Val felt like she had been dialed in from a slightly harsher movie than everybody else, or a little bit more arch movie than everybody else. So, I didn’t necessarily believe Val, but I did like that there was a conflict at the center of this and that Nina was trying to stick up for herself. And once it was set up that Nina had been up all night doing this presentation, I could more believe that she would go off on her. Because we’ve all been in that situation where you’ve been shooting all night and something finally snaps and you do yell at people in front of the crew.

It felt like that kind of moment to me.

The ghost at the end. It’s in the title, so I get it. I had a hard time connecting storylines though. Like the Nina from the first part doesn’t feel like the Nina from the second part. The last thing I sort of expected in the second scene was like, oh, and now there’s a little ghost.

Craig, tell us?

Craig: Well, I think commas would be a great help here. Commas are wonderful little things and they can smooth out these issues. So, Christine is dropping some commas where she needs them. For instance, your problem, a petite lumberjack with giant glasses, if there’s a comma after glasses it helps an enormous amount. Because right now it says, “A petite lumberjack with giant glasses sets up her prototypes,” so is the lumberjack setting up the – no, no, she’s setting them up. She is a petite lumberjack.

Similarly, “VAL JEFFRIES, super WASPy 40s, queen bee marketing VP glances up from her phone.” No. Queen bee marketing VP, glances up from her phone.

So, commas will help you kind of break apart your little bits of pieces here. I had to go back and forth a bunch of times on some of the names, because we have a lot. We have a lot and we have them quickly. And they are all roughly the same length and style. We have Val, Nina, Karen, John, Susan. I think that’s all of them.

So they’re all like sort of — — — — and Karen, this is the real symptom of what happens when you under-describe somebody that’s important. So, Kelly has pointed out “Karen, 40s African American.” By the way, 40s, African American. Not 40s African American. Means you’re an African American from the 1940s. So, again, commas.

John: That would make a great character.

Craig: [laughs] 40s African American. Like where did she come from?

John: I mean, it’s impressive that Karen has become a boss of this toy company in the 1940s. So that alone is a distinction.

Craig: I mean—

Kelly: You have to say with “John, 50s, engineer” as well.

Craig: There you go. Exactly. The symptom of this is that when I got to Karen, who has her first line in the middle of page three. I had no idea who she was. I was like, who’s Karen? Who’s Karen? Karen, to the back of Val.

Kelly: Page two. Top of page two, Craig.

Craig: I’m sorry, top of page two. Oh, there it is. Sorry. Even then, “Why don’t we move on to the salon?” I kept reading and I kind of confused Karen with Nina at that point because Nina’s having a back and forth with Val. That’s what happened. And there’s this Karen. And then I got to Val. “It’s always China, China.” I’m like wait, oh, who’s Karen? And I had to look back. I couldn’t find her for a while until, oh, at the very bottom of the page, there she is, with nothing else. And, oh, she’s the boss. Okay. So, there was some confusion there.

But, my biggest issue, honestly, jibes with what John said. I don’t believe a single – it’s worse, Christine, I’m afraid. I don’t believe a single word of what anyone is saying here. Not one word. No one is speaking like an actual person in an actual situation, to me.

I don’t understand the way – why Val is overreacting. They’re at a toy company. Occasionally something fails. I mean, they all work for the same company. Things sometimes don’t work. They’re acting like the big boss has flown in from the company to make layoffs. And if you’re thing doesn’t work right, you’re fired on the spot. Everyone just seems really super keyed up over this thing because the servos aren’t working. And a lot of what Val is feeding back feels expositional. “I’m sick of product development’s excuses. You know, Nina, I thought moving you to this brand would be great for the team, but now I’m questioning your dedication.”

Okay, so I’ve learned some information and also that’s not a realistic thing to say. Why would you question her dedication? Because a servo isn’t moving? That doesn’t make any sense.

And then Nina says, “Sometimes China gets the face paint wrong.” What does that have to do with what happened here? And then Val, “Do I have to go on yet another factory trip to justify your screw-ups?”

This is crazy. You should have fired her weeks ago if this is who you feel about her. But the response is where I really started to lose touch with who this character is and the tone of this piece. Because Nina says, “I played with my Marty dolls till seventh grade. I love being on this brand.”

John: The line isn’t set up at all.

Craig: No.

John: And so the line that could get to Nina’s line is something like, you know, “Do you even understand what Marty is?” That’s the line that could feed the response.

Kelly: Right.

John: I marked the same thing. There’s no connection between these two ideas.

Craig: None. None. And then Nina’s response back is also nonsensical. Val says, “Yeah. Well I’m not seeing it.” And Nina says, “Why? Because I don’t walk around in hot pink suits and stupid heels like you?” That’s just a flat out non-sequitur. Well, A, fired. B, I would fire – if someone said that to me, and I were Val, I would fire them not for being insulting about my look. I would fire them for trotting out a non-sequitur in the middle of a business meeting.

It does not follow. It doesn’t follow. And then she says, “And I’m totally dedicated to this line. I’ll show you love.”

“Nina grabs the styling head prototype by the hair and makes out with Marty who suddenly begins to speak.” We need another comma there. And suddenly begins to speak. Who would do that? That’s insane. That’s not the kind of love you’re saying you’re supposed to have for a doll. “I played with my Marty dolls till seventh grade.” Little girls don’t make out with their Marty dolls. That’s not the connection they have to them. This is just bizarre.

John: Kelly, do little girls make out with their makeup dolls?

Kelly: I didn’t make out with mine. But I can’t speak for everybody.

Craig: There may be some girls that made out with their makeup dolls. [laughs]

Kelly: There may be some.

John: Some girls may do this.

Kelly: But then I also read this, just to go on the defense of her a little bit, I did read this as she’s totally mad, but that was the lead up to – that we were seeing that’s she’s mad. And that was leading us up to, oh, she’s seeing things. She’s seeing ghosts as well. And this is her like – she was having a mental break.

Craig: Okay, I did not see that. What I saw was this is a standard kind of working person’s movie where they’re being put down by the man. And then they go home and the twist is they share their apartment with the ghosts. And the ghosts are going to help her do her job, or something like that. But that the ghosts are real and that she’s not crazy. But the problem is she’s acting in a way that actually is crazy. Which is – see, to me, the setup here is like… – This is what I would do. I’m a doll designer. I make this doll. I’m super proud of it. It works great, but it’s kind of old fashioned. And Val is like this is boring. You don’t really know, like girls don’t like this.

And you’re saying, no, no, no, they do. I was one of them. And she’s like trust me when I tell you, your stuff is old and it’s lame. Catch up with the rest of this crew and get into the corporate mentality, or you’re going to go. It’s that simple.

And then she goes home and there’s this little girl who is like, “I love this doll.” And she’s like, “I know you do.” She’s like, “It reminds me of the doll I had when I was growing up.” And Val is like, “Yeah. But you grew up in 1883. That’s kind of my problem.”

And then you’re like, oh my god. That’s a ghost girl.

Okay, so getting back to Kelly’s point about how you introduce – you have two choices of how to introduce this ghost. Either it’s a shocking oh my god there’s a dead girl in the apartment, except that our main character isn’t shocked. Or, there’s a normal girl in the apartment and then, oh my god, she’s a ghost. You have to pick some sort of fascinating way to introduce this concept.

Anyway, that was a lot.

Kelly: I think what’s so interesting there as well is that Craig and I read this in such different ways, which is ultimately the overall problem of these three pages. You know, we’re reading two totally different movies. And that’s no good. That can’t work. We need to know what the film is.

Craig: Agreed.

John: This didn’t land as one film. So, all right, let’s get to our final entry in the Three Page Challenge. This is Escapism by Pascoe Foxell.

Craig: Pascoe Foxell. I mean, this is awesome.

Kelly: None of these people are real.

John: I think these people have figured out the secret to getting Godwin to pick their scripts.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Is an amazing name.

Craig: Pascoe Foxell.

John: So, I’ll quickly summarize this. A businessman sprints down the street pursued by a man in a tracksuit. A young woman, who we will soon know to be Zoe, watches from her apartment window, high above the action. As tracksuit guy catches up, the businessman hops onto a bus. Tracksuit guy rushes on by, not even glancing at the businessman.

Up in her apartment, Zoe takes it all in, and she brushes her teeth by the window. She goes back to her bedroom. Searches for clothes to wear. At the Rex, a rundown cinema, Zoe returns from her smoke break to witness a child mid-tantrum after dropping his ice cream. She acknowledges Callum, her coworker, as he walks through an employee-only door.

Zoe goofs off in the box office, playing with piles of brown sugar and lit matches. Her boss, Arjun, admonishes her for laziness and sends her downstairs to check on the toilets as we hit the end of page three.

Craig: Is Godwin writing these summaries?

John: Godwin is writing these summaries. And so I felt like we missed some crucial things in the summary.

Craig: So Godwin, the honeymoon with Godwin is over. Now he goes right into the way we used to talk about Stuart. [laughs] Godwin, you kind of missed the point here, buddy. The point of the pages here is that we’re in a Walter Mitty kind of thing where Zoe is seeing things that are astonishing and fantastic. And then the movie reveals actually, no, they’re quite mundane. So, for instance, at the Rex, a rundown cinema, Zoe returns from her smoke break not to witness a child mid-tantrum, but rather a child being devoured by a monster, which is then revealed to just be a child mid-tantrum after dropping his ice cream.

So, Godwin! [laughs]

John: Godwin! And we should note that this is listed as being episode one, so it’s meant to be a pilot. That doesn’t necessarily change what we read on the page, but it may change what we think about in terms of this is setting up a world for a TV show apparently.

Craig: Correct.

Kelly: [clears throat]

Craig: Oh, that sounds like – that’s the Kelly Marcel throat-clearing of doom.

Kelly: Actually it’s not. I loved – I liked this. But – but – I did. I loved it. I thought it was really beautiful if it’s a movie. I think three pages is an enormous amount of real estate to give to a lot of vignettes when you’re setting up a TV show. It’s not – you need a teaser. It needs to open with a bang. And I need to kind of know what this is about and where we’re going. You know, I need to have a cold open for a pilot. And this didn’t – this felt like a lot of pages for that.

John: Yeah. We get three of these like sort of vignettes back, to back, to back, and we still haven’t really gotten into what’s going on. Who is she?

Kelly: Is she mentally ill?

John: Yes. What is the framework around why we’re seeing what she’s seeing? So, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that has these sort of Walter Mitty-esque breaks, where it goes into musical numbers, but it’s really clearly set up like how they function in this universe.

Kelly: Right.

John: We have three of them in the first three pages here. And I don’t understand sort of how they’re going to be driving the show, or to what degree I need to be thinking of the real world in the show being the real world.

Craig: Yes.

Kelly: They’re beautifully done. They’re really – I thought they were lovely and really beautifully done. And they kept me reading them, but I also by the end of page three was like, ugh, I don’t know what this – I really have no idea what this is, what it’s about, and I felt like am I about to just watch a pilot that’s all this?

Craig: Yeah. Yep. Yep. That is a very reasonable objection. There are too many – so the Zoe looks at the mundane world around her and then per the title Escapism she imagines something much more fantastic. And the imagination here is actually quite impressive. I thought the scene of the monster eating the kid was actually scary. And I was so relieved when it turned out that it was just a kid crying because of his ice cream. And it was a little dog slurping in his ice cream. That was wonderful.

Kelly: Yeah.

Craig: And I really enjoyed the bit with the sugar, where she is lighting sugar on fire, and it was like some incredible fantastical sand planet. But there were three such sequences in three pages. And in addition to making each one successfully less special in a row with the procession of them, we’re also starting to get concerned that Zoe is doing this 24/7. That it never stops. That would be exhausting. I mean, you’d put a bullet in your head. Especially because I think the point here is that it’s volitional. That she’s choosing to do this.

Walter Mitty, you know, makes his choices occasionally when it is well-earned. And he’s super-duper bored. The one that did not work for me annoyingly enough was the first one, which is the one you want to have work the best. In the first one, here’s what we see. “A businessman sprints down the street, panicked, ragged breaths. Head whipping back to look over his shoulder. He forces himself to speed up.

“From somewhere up above a striking, noirish 25-year-old woman, all in black, looks down on him.” Now, I’d love to know where from above, but I guess, you know, because it’s her fantasy she could be perched on a gargoyle, the edge of a roof, something, but I want to know where.

“She’s keeping track of every movement. Excited. Her gaze flicks behind the businessman where a tracksuit-wearing man is coming fast. He’s gaining with ease, a wide grin stretched across his face. The tracksuit gets closer. Closer again. The businessman pushes hard. No good though. Closer again.”

And then it’s revealed he’s just running to get on a bus, and the tracksuit guy is just jogging. Now, here’s why I was annoyed. Because it’s the first one, you’re telling me what the rules are essentially. Now, here’s some bits that she’s imagined as far as I can tell. She’s imagined the businessman looking back over his shoulder, because in reality the businessman wouldn’t do that. And she’s imagining the tracksuit guy smiling with a big, wide grin as he pursues this businessman, because there’s no reason the tracksuit guy would be smiling like a dope for no reason. Right?

So, she’s put that in there. But the real thing is they are actually running. So, I’m already confused about what I just saw. And I feel like it cheated me. I would have rathered if the guy was running, and the guy was chasing him, and then we reveal that the part that she cheated was herself. And they really are running, but for a different reason. The cheating bothered me.

The cheating doesn’t bother when I see an alien that turns out to be a kid, because obviously that’s all invented. But the opening here put me off a bit.

John: Yeah. I had the same issue with the opening. I thought the other two were much stronger. I think my biggest concern was that she is not really part of the action at all. She’s just standing at a window, brushing her teeth. And it was a really not helpful perspective on what that is. Like, I could imagine a version of this where she’s ultimately on the bus and watching the guy get on the bus. And the other guy goes running past. That I could see. This is her daily life. This is the way she sort of zones out. And she’s closer and part of the action.

But watching from a window didn’t feel like it was letting me know anything about her or her life.

Kelly: Yeah, I agree. And it is the weakest of the three. I would love if we started the pilot with the little boy on the ground, because that’s a really shocking image. And it’s really well-done the way she does it. And then because these come one after the other, I wonder if the fix is that we then build story in between these – if she thinks up a new one for the running guys, or just makes that clearer, we build story in between these three vignettes that would happen over an entire pilot.

Because those three seem enough for a pilot, to me.

Craig: Well, if they recur somehow, I mean, generally speaking, if somebody is having these flights of fancy, it needs to be either disrupting their real life, or helping their real life, or commenting on their real life. These are not. But I would absolutely open this thing with a woman, Zoe, she’s walking into a foyer. And it’s kind of creepy. And she stops and she hears a noise. And we just think we’re in a normal horror movie. And she looks around the corner and she sees this thing and she’s absolutely terrified. And she’s about to scream when someone pushes by her and goes, “Oh, morning Zoe.” And she’s like, “Oh, morning.”

And then she looks back and now we see it’s just a kid crying, and a dog, and a thing. And we go, oh, I get her.

Kelly: Yeah. And then you introduce the boss guy and you see how these fantasies that she’s having are actually affecting her work life. Because that does happen on page three. Her boss comes in. She’s been burning sugar on her desk. And he talks to her about it. But I think you bring that right up front as well and then immediately you have story and conflict and this weird thing that’s happening.

John: Yeah. I really love burning the sugar because it’s such a specific character choice. It’s a thing you see her doing, so it’s not just she’s having a fantasy. She’s lighting sugar on fire on her desk, but it tells you something about who she is and sort of how seriously she takes her job. And so that’s a nice thing to move up earlier in these three pages.

Craig: Yeah. Just as good imagination here. You know, the way that these things work best is when what we’re seeing, especially when we know that it’s not real, is surprising to us when the truth is revealed. We go, oh, that’s the that. That’s cool. So I know after I see the kid and the fake alien that when I’m in an undulating, expansive, brownish yellow dunes, and a bright fiery orb of light searing in, I know it’s not real. But I don’t know what it really is. And then when she shows me that she’s holding a lit match over piles of brown sugar, this is just really inventive and it’s satisfying. So, I guess what we’re saying, Pascoe, is that this needs to be better tied into character. And we need to see more about why she’s doing these. Why she makes the choice to slip into fancy. What choosing to slip into fancy does to the rest of her life, for better or for worse, and we need a much better way in.

Kelly: Yes.

John: Agreed. So, as always, we want to thank everybody, all these writers, for letting us take a look at their three pages. They’re so helpful. So Godwin reads everything that comes in to the account. If you have three pages you want him to take a look at, you go to, and there’s a form you fill out. You attach a PDF.

He picks scripts that he thinks are most interesting for us to talk about. So, I want to stress that he’s not picking necessarily the best things he reads, but the things he thinks will be interesting for us to talk about on the air. So, if you have something you want us to read, send it in to that link and we will take a look at it.

It has come time for our One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing?

Craig: My One Cool Thing today is an article, eh, it’s sort of an article in the New Yorker, but it refers to another website. It’s an article about the Glossary of Happiness. So, there’s a gentleman named Tim Lomas. He is a professor at, or a lecturer, at the University of East London. Kelly, is that a good school?

Kelly: It is.

Craig: Oh, fantastic. Not like those pikers at the University of West London.

John: West London is the worst.

Kelly: Pikeys, Craig. Pikeys. Get it right.

Craig: Pikeys. Sorry. A bunch of pikeys. Anyway, Lomas has launched something called the Positive Lexicography Project, which is essentially an online glossary of untranslatable words into English. These are these compound words that describe positive feelings about things, or sometimes negative feelings about things. But, for instance, here’s a word from Yagan. I don’t know who speaks Yagan. But the word is Mamihlapinatapei, which means a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire. It’s that great? Mamihlapinatapei.

And then there’s like these words from Dutch. Queesting, which means to allow a lover access to one’s bed for chit-chat. So, there’s just all these great, great words that describe these fascinating things. And some of them are incredibly specific, like Utepils, which is Norwegian for a beer that is enjoyed outside, particularly on the first hot day of the year. [laughs]

John: I am looking forward to that beer. That’s certainly a good thing.

Craig: Exactly. So, tons of these words. Describe things in one word that we don’t have one word for. So, check out The Glossary of Happiness. We’ll put a link in the show notes.

John: Fantastic. My One Cool Thing is Search Party, a show on TBS, which I devoured and loved. It is a half-hour comedy created by Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, and Michael Showalter. Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers also directed most of the episodes. It stars Alia Shawkat, from Arrested Development. It is just terrific. So, it’s a half-hour, which really means 23 minutes if you’re watching it on iTunes, but it follows a mystery. So, it’s she and her incredibly self-obsessed friends are kind of halfway investigating the disappearance of a college acquaintance.

And it’s really just terrifically well done. And very specific and odd. And I think what I admired most is that it manages to be really funny but also does the mystery stuff really well. Like I was genuinely fascinated to see what was going to happen in the next episode as I was watching it.

Now, if you do take a look at it, really do watch the first two episodes. I almost bailed after the first episode because I hated the characters so much. And you will love them by the end of the second episode. So you have to sort of get past their uncomfortable edges, and then you will fall in love with it.

So, highly recommend it. Search Party on TBS.

Craig: Great.

Kelly: Totally agree with that. I think TBS are killing it right now, by the way. I think they’re doing some really interesting stuff over there.

John: Hooray. Kelly, what’s your One Cool Thing?

Kelly: My other half just told me about this amazing thing, which is that Sony are coming out with smart contact lenses. And basically they can record every moment of your life, which means you can relive memories through them.

Craig: Wait, like the Mission: Impossible contact lens things? They’re making those?

Kelly: Sony are making them. Yeah.

Craig: Oh, boy, the potential for abuse here is astonishing. I mean, how are they going to…? You could relive every morning of your life, and I could also relive every moment of your life. That’s terrifying.

John: Just think about the sex tapes that will be made now with this technology.

Craig: Terrifying.

Kelly: Oh, yes, let’s think about those. Yeah, no, I know, that is really terrifying, but also completely fascinating. I mean, I imagine that you could probably record stuff with those Google Glasses that came out, so it’s not–

John: Totally.

Craig: Yeah, but I know you’re wearing the Google Glasses, because I can slap those goofy things off your face. But I don’t know if you’re wearing contact lenses. So at any point anyone can be recording you surreptitiously and you won’t know.

Kelly: And that’s illegal, no? Isn’t that illegal?

John: It’s illegal, but it still happens. I would say that from now on you’re going to have to start blindfolding yourself and blindfolding your romantic partners just to make sure that they’re not recording you. That’s going to change everything.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: Now, Kelly, you wrote a movie called Fifty Shades of Grey. This could be a plot point in that, could it not?

Kelly: I mean, they have missed a trick. I’m telling you. Erika needs to write a fifth book, because, you know.

John: Yes. Definitely.

Craig: Wait, there’s four of those.

Kelly: Well, there’s Fifty Shades, Fifty Shades Darker, Fifty Shades Freed, and then she also wrote a book from Christian Grey’s point of view. So–

John: Ah.

Craig: And what was that one called?

Kelly: Uh…Grey? I think it’s called Grey.

Craig: Grey.

Kelly: Yeah. But now she could write the contact lens book.

Craig: Oh my god. This is absolutely terrifying. I’m seriously terrified and I hope that he just had a dream and thought that this happened.

John: [laughs] I think he was watching Black Mirror and he thought it was a documentary.

Craig: He thought it was 20/20?

Kelly: I think it’s not fair, because what about those of us that don’t need contact lenses?

Craig: Well, you still can get – I mean, you can wear the contact–

John: You can still wear them.

Craig: Kelly, my god. [laughs] Oh my god.

Kelly: But I don’t want to just stick things in my eyes for, you know, no reason.

Craig: Well, of course, nobody likes to. No, but you can have a reason like I’m going to, you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to go sit down. I’m going to have a very good open chat with somebody where they kind of spill their secrets about something to me. I’m their friend and they’re confiding in me. But I’m recording it the whole time. And then I’m going to upload that to YouTube so the whole world can see it.

This is crazy. Oh my god, I think we just caught a glimpse of how it all ends.

John: Maybe so.

Kelly: Yeah.

Craig: Ew.

Kelly: Ugh.

John: Well that’s how this show ends. Our show, as always, is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Adam Pasulka. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. But for short ones, ask us on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Kelly, are you on Twitter? I forget?

Kelly: I am @MissMarcel.

John: Fantastic. We are also on Facebook. You can search for Scriptnotes podcast. You can find us on iTunes. Just look for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes app. Or there’s an Android app as well.

If you want to find transcripts, they are at They go up about four days after the episode airs. You can also find the show notes there.

If you want the back episodes, where we had Kelly Marcel on several times before, you can go to and see what she talked about. There’s also a few last remaining USB drives at the store –

But for me, John August, for Craig Mazin, and for Kelly Marcel, guys, thank you so much. It was so nice to talk to you guys again.

Craig: Likewise. Come home soon, John.

Kelly: We miss you, John.

John: Oh, I miss you guys very much. And congratulations, Kelly Marcel.

Kelly: Thank you so much. Thank you. Bye.

Craig: Bye.

John: Bye.


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You can download the episode here.

Some Questions for Paul Ryan as He Tries to Sleep

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 23:56

Hi, Paul. I think you’re one of the most fascinating characters in American politics. Really!

You’re a hot nerd dad who does his homework. You probably listen to podcasts.

People may call you white bread, but c’mon: you don’t eat carbs.

Republicans had to beg you to be Speaker of the House. Was your reluctance to take the job real or calculated? Either way, well done Mr. Ryan. You got one of the most powerful posts in America without looking like you wanted it.

While I disagree with your positions on almost everything, you’ve long struck me as cool-headed and intellectually consistent. It’s clear there are principles guiding your decision-making process — or at least, decisions are retroactively framed within your principles.

(I suspect some Republicans view Obama this way: they don’t like his policies, but they can’t help but admire his professionalism. Maybe you do, too.)

But from the moment Trump became the Republican candidate, something has changed, Paul. It had to. You finally met your antagonist.

Trump is the antithesis of you on almost every metric: fat, old, lecherous, capricious and unprincipled. A screenwriter couldn’t develop a better villain to challenge your character and belief system.

But what story are we telling?

Is it a tragedy where the hero is corrupted into becoming the thing he despises most? Is it an inspirational tale of the stalwart squire saving the kingdom? Is it a comedy like Veep or The Office where life stumbles along despite persistent chaos?

I want to imagine that you, Paul Ryan, lie awake at night, wrestling with the choices you have to make, and the story in which you find yourself the protagonist.

In that spirit, here are some questions I’d love to ask you in those liminal moments of pillowed pondering.

  1. What do you tell your kids about Trump? Do you say he’s a good man? A flawed man? A man who needs our help to make the best choices for America? I’ve always thought that what parents tell children reveals a lot about their worldview.

  2. You’ve met the guy face-to-face. In your heart of hearts, do you think Donald Trump is sane? For the sake of this question, let’s define sane as “capable of consistently rational thought so as not to be a danger to himself or others.”

  3. If the answer is yes-he’s-sane, how do you explain his third-person tweets and sudden reversals? Is it all planned? Is he secretly smarter than we realize?

  4. If the answer is no-he’s-not-sane, how do you feel about Trump having control of our nuclear arsenal?

  5. Back in July, during the controversy over Trump suggesting that a judge’s Latino heritage should disqualify him, you said, “Claiming a person can’t do their job because of their race is sort of like the textbook definition of a racist comment.” If that’s “textbook racism,” is there a specific more-racist thing he could say where you’d bail on him? Is it the n-word?

  6. Seriously, don’t these cabinet picks drive you crazy? Yes, it’s the Senate that has to deal with them, but it must kill you that several of these guys seem to have no qualifications other than liking Trump.

  7. In interviews, you’ve said that Atlas Shrugged is one of your three most re-read books. Ivanka Trump is flattered by comparisons to Dagny Taggart. Which Rand character do you identify with? The pioneering Hank Rearden? The elusive John Galt?

  8. In October, tape came out where Trump bragged about his exploits with with women: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.” Are you comfortable leaving your wife, daughter or young female staffer alone in a room with Trump?

  9. Also in October, Trump tweeted, “Our very weak and ineffective leader, Paul Ryan, had a bad conference call where his members went wild at his disloyalty.” Then, at the start of the new session, you couldn’t talk your members out of an ill-conceived backroom plan to gut the congressional ethics system. So was Trump sort of right? Do you worry that you’re an ineffective leader?

  10. Seriously, the white supremacist stuff: Does it freak you out that Nazis are a thing again?

  11. And Russia. Do you believe they have compromising information on Trump? It’s crazy that we’re living in a reality-show version of The Americans. (For the record, I don’t believe the Russians have anything compromising on you beyond the handful of times you started a late-in-the-day Other workout on your Apple Watch in order to hit your Move goal, which is set really high anyway.)

  12. As a student of economics, I’m sure you’re familiar with the sunk cost fallacy, in which people make irrational decisions based on prior investment. Is Trump a sunk cost? That is, should you continue to spend political capital on him because of what you’ve already invested? Or is the smart choice to cut your losses and move on?

  13. You have an agenda to reshape many governmental institutions, starting with repealing Obamacare. You have a majority in both houses. But you’ll need Trump to sign it. What happens if he refuses to sign the bill, perhaps because it’s unpopular?

  14. At the Republican National Convention, you said you were looking forward to the State of the Union, where you’d be “right up there on the rostrum with Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump.” Can you still envision that speech? You’d be sitting behind Trump while he says — well, what will he say? Will he go off script? Will you applaud when he says something shocking? Either way, that’s some pretty damning video.

  15. Among colleagues, have you discussed scenarios in which Pence becomes president? C’mon. There’s got to be a codename for that, something like Silver Surfer.

  16. If you had a time machine and could travel back one year, what would you do differently? I can imagine several timelines in which you became the Republican nominee, much the way you became Speaker of the House.

  17. What else keeps you awake at night? I’ve listed some of my guesses, but I’m certain you know some terrifying things the rest of America doesn’t.

  18. Finally, do you have a plan? Because I’ll tell you, from an outside observer’s perspective, it doesn’t look that way. You seem aware that you’re standing next to a toxic, dangerous narcissist, but seem reluctant to face him head-on. That can earn an audience’s sympathy, but not their respect.

It’s simply hard to root for a character like that.

Sleep well.

Director Disorientation

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig look at the newly-negotiated DGA deal, and what it portends for writers — in particular, TV showrunners and those who want to direct.

Then Kelly Marcel joins us for a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we look at 80’s cyberpunk, dollhead ghosts, and the whimsical delusions of a bored movie theater worker.

Because you demanded it, they’re printing an extra run of the 2016 Scriptnotes shirts. This is the last week to order, so get yours now.


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You can download the episode here.

Tuesday Reviewsday: Coffee Atrocities

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 07:28

Atrocities: The 100 Deadliest Episodes in Human History by Matthew White

I read this book a few years ago under its original title of The Great Big Book of Horrible Things. I’m re-reading it now because it’s oddly comforting to see how bad things have been in ages past.

Somehow, humanity made it to 2017, so there’s a good chance we’ll make it through.

Aerobie AeroPress Coffee Maker

I am probably the last podcasting nerd in the world to have gotten on the AeroPress bandwagon, but here I am. Our apartment in Paris came with a Nespresso machine that makes only so-so coffee and has ecologically-unsound pods.

The AeroPress is really simple, and makes one cup of very good coffee. That’s all I need.

Now to destroy any coffee credibility I’ve built up by finally getting an AeroPress: have you tried instant coffee lately? It’s not good, but it’s substantially better than you remember. I’m drinking instant decaf in the afternoon, and it’s perfectly acceptable. It’s pre-measured and foolproof.

Skyrim: Remastered

Why play a digitally-upgraded version of an old game when there are new ones out there like Witcher 3? Because I really liked Skyrim, and it’s fun to be able to try all the DLC content that wasn’t in the game when I played it the first time.

Rubik’s Cube

My big accomplishment of 2017 is that I finally learned how to solve the Rubik’s cube. It’s oddly satisfying once your fingers start doing it without conscious thought.

Scriptnotes, Ep 282: The One from Paris — Transcript

Sun, 01/08/2017 - 08:48

John August: Bonjour et bienvenue. Je m’appelle John August.

Aline Brosh McKenna: Je m’appelle Aline Brosh McKenna.

John: Et vous écoutez l’Episode 282 de Scriptnotes, un podcast sur l’écriture de scénarios et des choses intéressantes pour les scénaristes.

Aline: Ah, très bien. Très bien, Paris.

John: So we are here in Paris. That’s why I’m doing my introduction in French. Aline Brosh McKenna flew all the way over here just to record a podcast.

Aline: Yes.

John: That is the dedication of a true friend. Aline, welcome to Paris.

Aline: Thank you. And I am looking forward to the mocking that I will get from Craig for actually taking time during my family vacation to come here and podcast with you. But, come on.

John: Come on. It’s Scriptnotes. You have to do it for Scriptnotes.

Aline: Priorities. And also – all you and I know how to do together is podcast at this point. We see each other, we just instantly begin–

John: The microphones come out. And we start recording a podcast.

Aline: No matter where we are.

John: It’s really embarrassing, especially when there’s nothing to actually talk about other than filmmaking. Today on this podcast, we are going to be answering some listener questions about cheating reality and bilingual characters, appropriate for being here in French. And we’ll also be inviting a special guest on to talk about the process of adaptation and autobiography.

Aline: Great. That all sounds great.

John: That’s this week. But also something terrible happened this week, which was the death of Carrie Fisher.

Aline: Oh gosh. Quickly followed by the death of Debbie Reynolds.

John: Yes, which is terrible. So, we’re recording this where it’s all sort of brand new news. By the time this comes out, it won’t be new news. But I wanted to talk with you because Carrie Fisher, obviously we know her as Princess Leia, we know her as an actress, but I really thought of her mostly as a screenwriter. That was sort of how I encountered her.

Aline: Yeah. When I first came to LA she was sort of the premier script doctor. And, you know, was very witty and funny and was sort of brought in to make things sort of, as I understood it, wittier and funnier and warmer. But she also obviously had a great presence as an actor.

My favorite Carrie Fisher performance is Hannah and Her Sisters. It’s probably my favorite Woodie Allen movie, and that performance, the subtle competition between her and Dianne Wiest is great. So, yeah, that’s been really sad. And then also for me, as an ‘80s baby, the George Michael thing was devastating. And I spent a day listening to every George Michael song that, you know, back to back. It’s been a weird week.

John: Yeah. I wrote up a little piece about George Michael when I got the news, because just a few days before it happened we were listening to a George Michael song at a café in Italy and it’s like, oh, I wonder if George Michael is still alive. Like it occurred to me like is he still alive. And then two days he had died. And so one of the nice things about all artists, including Carrie Fisher, is that they can physically die but the work that they’ve created lives on forever. And so I’ve been trying to listen to George Michael songs, but also songs from other artists who I might not have thought of recently, just because that’s how you sort of keep them alive.

Aline: Right. And I think of Carrie Fisher as a wit and as a novelist and Postcards from the Edge. But, of course, my son is a huge fan from Star Wars. And so he was very sad and upset when we found out the news and we were waiting to hear when we first heard about the heart attack, we were waiting to hear if she was okay. And he was posting on Facebook about it. So she means something to different generations of people which is great.

John: Did you have a chance to meet her ever?

Aline: I never did. No.

John: So, I met her twice. The first time was at a screening of Big Fish. It was at the ArcLight in Los Angeles and it was sort of our LA premiere. And the lists had come down and Dick Zanuck was nearby and Bruce Cohen was nearby. And this woman came in and she sort of like, she put up the armrests and sort of like curled up on the seat. And it was Carrie Fisher. And she came to watch the movie.

And then a few weeks later, I think, I was at a birthday party that she’d thrown for her friend and met her there. And she was exactly kind of the person you hoped Carrie Fisher would be. And she was generous, and warm, and cool. And like you I sort of encountered her mostly as a script doctor. As a person who was paid a lot of money for weekly work on something.

And I remember I was an intern at Universal and they were discussing bringing her in to do a weekly on this project. And I heard her quote, which just blew my mind that we paid that much per week. And what her job would be. And that was actually very inspiring. Like, I kind of want to be a screenwriter if you can do that. [laughs]

Aline: Yeah. But it’s rare to be a famous actress and sort of screen icon and also be doing that kind of work a day work.

John: There’s a quote I saw this last week about this where in a Newsweek interview they were talking about her working as a script doctor. And they say like do you still work as a script doctor. She says, “I haven’t done it for a few years. I did it for many years. Then younger people came to do it. And I started to do new things. It was a very long, lucrative episode of my life, but it’s complicated to do that. Now it’s all changed actually. In order to get a rewrite job, you have to submit your notes for your ideas on how to fix a script.”

Aline: Oh wow.

John: “So they can get all the notes from the different writers, keep the notes, and not hire you. That’s free work. And that’s what I always call life-wasting events.”

Aline: Can’t say it any better than that.

John: Absolutely. So, we’ve all encountered that situation where you’re brought in to do this work or not do this work, and they mostly want your opinions.

Aline: Right. For free.

John: Some follow up. So, episodes you were not involved with, but maybe you listened to. Back in Episode 277 we discussed film versus reality. Justin in Beijing wrote in to say, “So, listening to the podcast about how film and TV teaches bad medicine, if my friend gets stabbed and my dumb friend pulls out the knife, should I put the knife back in my stabbed friend?”

Aline: What’s your follow up? I’m guessing you should not do that.

John: Yeah. Craig is really our doctor on the podcast. But I’m guessing you should not put the knife back in.

Aline: I’m guessing not.

John: But just yesterday I saw the movie Passengers and that exact moment happens where she pulls the thing that’s impaling her out. And I wanted to say, no, don’t, leave the bolt in.

Aline: Oh.

John: Because you will just bleed more when you pull that thing out. No. Don’t do it.

In Episode 280 we talked about the Reed College protest over Boys Don’t Cry. Did you listen to that episode already?

Aline: No. I’m really way behind.

John: It’s fine. But that was the one where I got really angry, and so actually had like more umbrage in that episode. We got a bunch of good responses about that, and some stupid ones, too, inevitably. But the one that stuck with me most was from a listener named Kate Hadley. And we’ll put a link to her piece up in the show notes.

What I liked so much about her piece is that she was able to focus on some things that Craig and I had not even considered. And one of the issues you have when you have cis-gendered actor playing trans is it sort of perpetuates that idea that a trans person is just playing dress up. That it’s all a disguise. And that it feeds into these terrible bathroom laws and stuff like that where there’s this perception that it’s just a man who wants to get into the women’s restroom. That it’s not a real person with a real identity.

So, she wrote it much more articulately than I just expressed it, but I’d really encourage you to take a look at what she said, because even though she, like I, disagree with the Reed College protest, she really was able to scratch at what I think was underlying that issue over sort of trans representation in film.

Aline: Right.

John: Cool. Last bit of follow up here. Matt wrote in about French titles. And he wanted to clarify – we talked about the Zak Efron movie, which was called something else, but the Australian title was Are We Officially Dating, and it turned out that was the initial script title for the movie.

Aline: Wow.

John: So for the Australian version they went back to the original script title, which was unusual.

Aline: How did they know that?

John: You know, my hunch is it that it may have been one of those sort of foreign rights deals, or that it was a negative pickup in some way, so that–

Aline: It had been circulating with that on it?

John: Maybe so. Or, that some other international entity was a financier in it. So, in their head it was always called this other title. And the American people had changed the title.

Aline: Got it.

John: Aline, what have been the titles of your movies overseas?

Aline: I have no idea. I never look them up.

John: So The Devil Wears Prada would make sense.

Aline: I think it’s basically The Devil Wears Prada in most countries.

John: But I mean some of your things must be – like Morning Glory would be a very different title I bet in different countries.

Aline: I have no idea.

John: Cool. But we also had a follow up from Rodrigo in Brazil. And so if you can read to us what he wrote.

Aline: Sure. He says, “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but Brazil’s title for The Hangover is even worse. Instead of calling it Ressaca, which is the regular hangover translation, Hangover in Brazil is called Se Beber, Não Case!”

I really made that up. Made that completely up.

“Don’t Drink and Marry. Brazil has a long list of bad title translations. The best one I can recall is when Teen Wolf got translated to The Boy from the Future, because Back to the Future happened a couple years before earlier. And marketing. Which brings us to a topic I think you never talked about in your podcast. How important is the title of the screenplay and how often does it get changed until it hits the screen? All You Need is Kill, Edge of Tomorrow, Live, Die, Repeat comes to mind.”

John: Let’s talk about that. Titles for screenplays. How important is the title for you when you’re coming up with a screenplay?

Aline: Oh, I think they’re critical. If you don’t have a title – if things are floating around for too long with an untitled, it seems like something is wrong with your idea. You just can’t hone in on what the idea is.

I think that a lot of the genius of Devil Wears Prada was in Lauren Weisberger’s selection of a title. It’s just so evocative. It tells a whole story. You know, it encapsulates the whole movie. And 27 Dresses, that was kind of – that’s the whole movie also.

John: That was your original title.

Aline: That was my original title. Yes. That was the whole idea – the whole idea is the title. So, I think it’s a good – I have worked on things before where I didn’t have a title way into writing it. It’s not a good sign. It’s really not a good sign.

John: I can see that. So, Morning Glory, so she’s a morning TV anchor.

Aline: Yes.

John: But was that always the title or what happened there?

Aline: Yes, that was always the title. That was the one that I worked on with J.J. and I remember – we were talking about it, maybe I had worked on it for like a month, and then the title kind of hit me, and I… – I don’t think that’s a great title because it has a pun in it ultimately.

John: Yeah.

Aline: And also because I didn’t realize that Morning Glory in lots of places in the country means boner.

John: Ha-ha. Excellent.

Aline: Did you know that?

John: I had no idea. But I can see that. It’s like morning wood.

Aline: Morning wood is morning glory. And also there’s a Katherine Hepburn movie. That I did know. But I don’t think it got – like Broadcast News kind of tells you not only what it’s about, but it tells you its sort of take on it, that it should be the news. And one of the problems with Morning Glory as a movie is we never really honed in on like what we were saying about the news business. So, the fact that it has one of those titles that’s a bit irrelevant.

And then I’ve written movies also where people for the life of them can’t remember the title. Laws of Attraction. Or, you know, I Don’t Know How She Does It. Well, I Don’t Know How She Does It is a book, I guess.

John: I Don’t Know How She Does It actually makes sense. Like it feels like something that a character in that world would be saying. And it expresses her underlying–

Aline: It’s a great title for the book. As a movie title, I don’t think it widens out at all. I mean, obviously we would have called it that because it’s the book title. But you need to have something that really is – I mean, I think The Hangover is a brilliant title.

John: Agreed.

Aline: It’s just very simple and very clear. And what you’re looking for is I think something very clear that describes the movie.

John: In Rodrigo’s question he references what was called Edge of Tomorrow, was a Tom Cruise movie when it was released. But originally the title for it was All You Need is Kill, which I think is a great title.

Aline: Great title.

John: But it didn’t test well, or they didn’t feel like it marketed – they were concerned about it. So then Edge of Tomorrow, which felt really like I have no idea what that means.

Aline: Edge of Tomorrow reminds me a lot of Edge of Night, which is a soap opera.

John: It also reminds me of Oblivion, which was the other Tom Cruise sci-fi movie.

Aline: Totally.

John: And so for the home video release they changed it to Live, Die, Repeat.

Aline: Wasn’t technically Live, Die, Repeat was the slogan, but it was like ten times bigger than the title? That was just somebody in marketing saying, “Don’t make me go and release this on home video with the same title. You’re killing me. Can we use this other thing?”

John: It’s challenging because it was a movie that was critically liked. It performed well, I guess. And sort of would otherwise deserve a sequel. But the title didn’t catch people.

Aline: That’s a surprisingly good movie. But I think it needs to be something where – I think a good test for writers is you want to be able to turn to your friend and say, “Oh my god, did you see this yet?” And have it be something which they’re not going to go, “Wait, which one is that?”

I think titles which are like Nowhere Fast, which are sort of like assemblages of vague terms, gerund nouns, or gerund adjectives – Running…

John: Running Water.

Aline: Running Scared. That is a movie, isn’t it?

John: Running Scared is a good one.

Aline: Yeah. Or Being Blank. There’s a lot of. Finding Blanks. And Being Blanks.

I have a script that I’ve been working on for a number of years. It’s this movie that I wrote about my mother and her friend. And it’s about these two French women. And I always refer to it as French Ladies. Because when I was talking to my agent or talking to anyone, French Ladies was what I always called it. But I was going to call it The Best Revenge. That was a title I was using was The Best Revenge. But I never referred to it as The Best Revenge with anyone, with my agent or anyone.

So, I started just calling it French Ladies. And then finally the producers were like, “We should just call this movie French Ladies because that’s the only thing we refer to it as.” And it just sticks to your ear.

So, it’s got to be something that you can turn to your friend and say, “Boy, we should really go see…”

John: Yes. 100%.

Aline: And they won’t go, “What?”

John: Yeah. I’m having a lot of what these days because it’s screener season, so you and I are getting all of the Academy screeners. And so a lot of these are movies I haven’t otherwise seen. And so we get this big list and I’m like I have no idea what this movie is. I’m sure it came out, but I have just no idea.

Aline: You know what’s the best, one of my favorite – well, The Meddler is a great title. And I loved that movie this year. One movie that I loved but the title took a long time to lodge in brain is Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

John: Yeah.

Aline: I kept trying to recommend it to people and saying like–

John: Wilder beasts?

Aline: Something wild. You know, I couldn’t, it didn’t kind of lodge in my brain.

John: That was a previous One Cool Thing. The only reason I know about that is because the Kates recommended it.

Aline: It’s a great movie.

John: I’m looking forward to seeing it.

Aline: It’s a great movie. But somehow the title, Hunt maybe wasn’t a thing that landed in my brain as the thing that it was.

John: Yeah. With my movies, like Go was originally called 24/7. And 24/7 is an interesting title, but it wasn’t the right title for what that movie was.

Aline: That really makes me think it’s about a convenience store.

John: Totally. And it’s not about that. It’s not Clerks 2. But when I came to Go, it was like, oh, that’s what that movie feels like. And that was a title that I took from another pitch that I had set out that had never sold.

Aline: Oh really?

John: Yeah.

Aline: Scavenged.

John: Scavenged. The Nines is a similar situation where The Nines was a short story I had written and it’s like, oh you know what, I’m going to take that title–

Aline: Didn’t The Nines come out close to Nine?

John: Yes. So that was a whole title mess. And that’s another thing worth discussing is that a lot of times you’ll have a great idea for a title and someone else will have already claimed it. So, it’s not a copyright situation. It’s the MPAA has a whole registry – actually, I take that back. I think it may be AMPAS has the registry. No, it wouldn’t be. Which one would it be?

Aline: It’s the MPAA.

John: It would be the MPAA. Has the registry of titles. And so you have to clear your title and make sure that it’s not confusing with another movie that’s out there.

And so The Nines was the first one to register The Nine. And then 9 came out, which was the animated version. There was also Nine the musical. And we were first. And so we had to give permission for those other things, so it becomes a whole negotiation.

Aline: You could have called it John August’s The Nines.

John: Yeah. You could have.

Aline: Like Lee Daniels’ The Butler.

John: Absolutely. Or Disney’s The Kid. There’s ways, you know, the studio title in there to get it done. But, yeah, going back to Rodrigo’s question, titles are crucial and important. And there’s honestly nothing more frustrating when you wrote a movie and you shot a movie under one title, and then it suddenly changes title at the end. You don’t even recognize this thing that you spent all this time working on. And I definitely know friends who have had that situation where like it’s called something crazy. Charlie’s Angels, the second Charlie’s Angels, the script I originally turned in was Charlie’s Angels: Forever. And that was going to be the movie title for a long time. And then they came back to us with a whole bunch of little things that had tested. They tested a bunch of different titles. And Full Throttle was a title just by itself that they tested. And so they decided to call it Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.

Aline: But with sequels, I don’t know what the words are after the first part.

John: Yeah. I have no idea what the next Fast and Furious is.

Aline: Oh wait. But isn’t–

John: I’m going to get it wrong if I try to guess.

Aline: I don’t know. It’s all the kids have been talking about. We seem really old and out of right now. Because the trailer just came out a couple weeks ago and that’s all the kids talk about.

John: Your sons are in the other room, and they probably know the real title.

Aline: They know. They know.

John: But we don’t. Chris Morgan knows, but we don’t know.

Aline: Yeah.

John: We have a question from listener Tom Dowler who wrote in. Let’s hear what he said.

Tom Dowler: My question is inspired by Craig’s recent list of very commonly seen yet completely nonsensical medical practices. My wife and I actually keep an ongoing list of things only seen in movies that characters do all the time, yet no one does in real life. And that list includes things like someone sitting alone on the back seat of a car, but is sitting right in the middle of that back seat rather than directly behind the driver or the passenger seats. Or, someone who is stressed walking into a bathroom just to splash cold water onto their face and then star meaningfully into the mirror. Or, someone carrying on a complete conversation while brushing their teeth, but somehow not covering their chin in toothpaste suds or choking on their own spit.

So, my question is this: should we as screenwriters embrace these ridiculous conceits if they help us tell our story and fit in with the Hollywood establishment? Or should we strike out in the name of truth and reality? Do you risk alienating your audience if we present a vision of life which is unlike what they’re used to seeing on screens, even if it more closely matches real life? Thanks very much.

Aline: I mean, to me that’s an easy one. Those things are goofy and they’re kind of the mark of a bad – someone sitting in the middle is probably because it was easier to shoot, and I don’t think that would pull you out as much as sort of weird human behavior. The thing that I’ve noticed more and more that really pulls me out of a movie is Joe Cornish who is a director I worked with for a little bit has this thing where when people are being so serious in a movie that you just want to go over and tickle them.

Like there’s these movies now where everybody is just – it’s so dire. And everybody is saying things like so seriously. And it’s all so portentous. And you want to go and poke people and be like, “You fart. You laugh.” I really so dislike things where one mode of being subsumes every other mode of being. And I think you’ve got to be funny. You’ve got to preserve, even when you’re inside a big budget serioso space opera or action movie, I mean, sometimes those just get so goofy in terms of tone. And people sort of stentorianly explaining to each other the plot and you’re just thinking like – you want somebody to be like, “Do you want to get a sandwich? The cafeteria, ah, they got my favorite thing today.”

Like those glimpses to me of human behavior, the lack of that to me is the silliest, fakest, weirdest thing that will pull me out of a movie more than anything is… – And I’ve really noticed more and more that because we’re in this world where every movie is either Moonlight or some gigantic $250 million movie, it seems like all the human behavior now is being relegated to the tiny movies. And in big movies now people are acting like weird, solemn robots who don’t have bodily functions or senses of humor.

So, I think inhabiting, you know, if you watch Alien and see how many like real human little moments there are of humanity inside of that, that really grounds you inside those characters and that behavior. And I think it buys you permission later to have some big piece of like super serioso exposition or action.

John: What I hear you describing is both a writing concern, basically you’re not creating the scenes in which characters are going to have those sort of real moments and can puncture this veil of seriousness, but also performance and directing. So basically how you’re portraying your world so that people feel alive and present in this. And I think some of that is the writer’s responsibility, and some of that is just the weight of the movie and the weight of the movie machinery around it. So, you talk about these movies where people are being so incredibly serious. It’s as if they understand what movie they’re in. What I always love about Alien, and I’ve said this many times before, is that the characters in Alien think they’re in a movie called Space Truckers. And they have no idea that an Alien is supposed to show up. So they’re not philosophizing. They’re not planning for a horror movie to break out. They’re just being in the movie Space Truckers. And then things go horribly wrong.

But some of what the original question is asking about are things, are shortcuts that we’ve taken for production that are just convenient. And we’re sort of used to them now. They’re conventions. And they really are annoying.

So, he talks about a character sitting in the middle of a backseat, which is of course ridiculous. No one ever does that. People also don’t drive around with their head rests missing, and yet you see that all the time in movies so that you can see into the backseat more easily. A lot of times we’ll remove the rearview mirror so you can have the shot going through the windshield. And you don’t realize that the rearview mirror is missing, but it’s gone in more than half the movies you’ve seen.

Aline: I notice more things that are there because of vanity. Like when people are waking up in full makeup. Just giant eyelashes. I’m really noticing that. And also the constant kissing without teeth brushing. Just people – you don’t even want to – forget kissing. It might even be easier to stomach kissing than speaking. People wake up in the morning and look at each other and have these conversations that it would be like, you would really be shielding yourself. Or you would say, “Wait a second.”

John: So, you guys are doing Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. So, when you’re filming those episodes, and you directed episodes, how much are you willing to bend reality? Are you sitting, Rachel, in the middle of the backseat?

Aline: Well, there’s some stuff like that that is just production stuff. But the thing that we’re always battling is the vanity and the touches and the touchups. And they’re always attacking the actors with the makeup brushes and the hair. And that’s a constant back and forth. Especially when we have to go quickly, because those people have a responsibility to do their job. They want to do their jobs. They want to erase every under eye shadow. But Rachel and I both would always try and err on the side of like, well, she’s had a shitty day. She loves a day where she’s not wearing makeup and she’ll always – I’m always getting texts from her saying, “Can I please not wear any makeup in this scene for this reason?” And sometimes she’s even like stretching it, because she just wants to not be doing it.

But, you know, the perfect hair and makeup, you have to – like our show has a certain extra crank over reality. So it’s not a movie where you can – you know, it’s not Kids. We’re not really doing something where people’s hair looks exactly the way it would like Donna Lynne when she’s playing Paula, like clearly someone – her hair wouldn’t look quite that great for the office. So, you’re kind of walking a line where like you need some aesthetics, but not so much that people seem distractingly done.

So, I think for every piece you’re doing, when you’re making it you have to find sort of your level of – but a lot of those things that he’s – I mean, there’s two different things. Things that are bent for production, which you have to do kind of frequently, and shooting in cars is kind of a nightmare, and so things are often kind of wonky. And then there’s stuff where people are just behaving not like humans.

John: Yeah. My last bit of advice would be to recognize when you’re about to walk in to one of those tropes, and if there’s something you can gain out of not doing that trope, or sort of calling out that trope, that could be great. And so, I mean, that tooth brushing thing might be like if you’re movie can stand the joke about the tooth brushing, do that as the joke. Acknowledge sort of the trope of it and move past it. Or like don’t let people have that conversation while they’re brushing their teeth. Or make the other character stop them from having that conversation while they’re brushing their teeth.

Aline: One scene that really stuck with me was in Fun with Dick and Jane, the original one, Jane Fonda sits on the toilet and pees while she’s talking to him. And pees, and wipes, and gets up. And that really always stuck with me in life because it was like, god, you’re never really seeing people peeing in movies, or talking while they’re peeing, or continuing conversations in the bathroom. And I just feel like as a culture we’ve moved away from movies where people pee in toilets while they’re talking, except in these super small movies. But in a big movie now if you did that, it would be–

John: Oh, we get noted to death on that. Because it’s like, you know, we get notes from the studio executive about that’s not going to look really good. I don’t want to see Charlize Theron peeing. And then on the day you get that note, and then there will be the second guessing, and it wouldn’t got shot. Or if it did get shot, it wouldn’t make it through the edit. They’d say like, “What parts did you not like in the movie?” “I didn’t like the part where she was peeing.”

Aline: She was peeing.

John: And then we could cut from that. That’s the frustration. And because these big movies have all that weight and all that responsibility of they have to test well. Anything that people don’t like is going to get nixed.

Aline: Right. And in the context of doing that sometimes you’re straining out human behavior. And, you know, at the end of the day, don’t we still go to movies to see how people behave, should behave? So, I think it’s good to preserve those things and it’s a mark of a good writer that you can inhabit those big moments with the little moments.

John: I would also point out that I think female characters have a much higher standard for what kind of real behaviors we’re excited to see them do on screen, versus male characters. So, like Seth Brogan peeing on screen. Great. You know, beautiful actress peeing on screen? No, we don’t want to see that.

Aline: There’s definitely movies I’m watching where I’m going where is the salon? They’ve been roughing it in the outback for six weeks and her hair looks fabulous.

John: So Passengers is a beautiful movie, and I really enjoyed large parts of it. Chris Pratt, who is a very handsome guy, gets to look really crappy at times, which is completely appropriate and character appropriate. When Jennifer Lawrence needs to look bad, it’s basically like she’s a little shiny. That’s about as bad as they make her look. And, yes, part of it is the sort of romantic comedy fantasy. Like if you were on this cruise ship and you had all this stuff. But did she spend four hours on makeup just to get up in the morning? The suspension of disbelief is really high.

Aline: But I think it’s establishing a language for your movie. Because if you’re making La La Land and there’s this sort of veneer of wish fulfillment about it, and he dialed in the level of wish fulfillment, because they’re not perfect. They don’t look perfect. The movie has edges to it. But for large parts she looks beautiful and is wearing aspirational things. And he looks quite handsome and is wearing aspirational things. But not to a level that pulls you out of the movie. But if you’re making a grittier film, then people need to look like that.

And what is often, I personally find annoying, is when you have actresses in a littler film where they should be grubby and instead they look like they just wandered from the Méche Salon on Robertson, having just gotten their tips done. So, I think that’s more on production though than writing.

John: Yeah. I remember interviewing Winnie Holzman when she was talking about My So-Called Life. And they set up rules for that first season where Claire Danes’s character could only have certain outfits. So basically they picked her outfits and then she would have to repeat outfits, because she didn’t have an unlimited wardrobe, which I thought was actually a very smart idea. A good sort of structure to impose upon yourself. Like we’re not going to go nuts with her wardrobe.

Aline: And that suited the tone of that movie which was a real exploration of her psychology. And I think when you can tell – we always talk about this, how you can tell within 30 seconds whether you’re comfortable in a movie or not. It’s just so instant. And there are those little, you know, humans are so incredibly good at scanning faces and behavior for authenticity. And the minute you see somebody doing something which doesn’t suit the world, which sticks out in some way, it’s very noticeable. But a lot of what he’s also talking about are just like poor writing clams.

And talking to yourself is a thing that writers get stuck with because they’re struggling to get exposition out. And so I think if you’re writing a scene and you’re really super tempted to have someone talk to themselves, just try and think of another way you can do it. Just try and think of another means to get that information out.

A lot of it is you may not need that information to come out then. It may be something that can come out more naturally later, and you can sort of have the character express the emotion that you’re looking for and find out the exact news item in another way.

John: Absolutely. The moment where the character steps in the bathroom and splashes cold water on his face, which is so cliché, and I don’t think people do in real life, find another way to sort of – you can use the look of what he would be doing in that moment to do–

Aline: Have you ever done it?

John: I’ve never done it.

Aline: Never splashed yourself with water. Have you ever, though, looked in the mirror and said, “John August, you go out there and give the best meeting of your life.”

John: Oh, I have looked at myself in the mirror and psyched myself up, but I’ve never actually spoken. So, actually, I’m curious about your opinion on mirrors. I think mirrors are incredibly helpful sometimes when I’m writing dialogue because sometimes I’ll need to look in a mirror and actually have and sort of talk through that conversation, or think through stuff. Somehow looking in a mirror is actually really helpful for me in writing sometimes.

Aline: I don’t do that. To me, the characters are like in a little screen projected in the back of my head.

John: For Big Fish, when I was writing the death scenes and stuff like that, I would look at a mirror and get myself to cry and then I–

Aline: No!

John: And then I would write those scenes. And so it was very, very method. But I would bring myself to tears and get myself–

Aline: This is where Craig makes jokes about your robotic programming and how you have to mimic the feelings of a human by recreating them in your software.

John: Absolutely. All I can say is that algorithm worked.

Final question comes from Brian Sanchez who writes, “I’m a new listener to the podcast and you guys have inspired me to try to write this idea I’ve had in my head for a sitcom, mainly just to see if I can do it. It features a Latino family and I would like the dialogue to ring true to how an actual Latino American household sounds. Growing up with Cuban parents, we constantly switched between English and Spanish in the same conversation. When writing these scenes, would you put the translations in the script, or would this be confusing to the reader?”

Aline: Well, in French Ladies what I did was I translated little things. I mean, I left small sentences that the other character – so if one character spoke and said something that the other character could respond to in English. So, if the French character said, you know, “Let’s go to the café for lunch.” Then the other character would say, “I don’t want to go to the café for lunch,” so that you would hear whatever information you needed to know in English. And so I often did it that way by the responding, the other character would tell us what had been said.

And then for the reading purposes I would say in French, Subtitled, and then just write it in English. That’s mainly what I did. It really depends on who you’re writing it for. And if you’re writing it as something you want to sell to an American TV audience, then – but if you’re sending it to someplace that is a Spanish language place, you could probably do both and you could then subtitle whatever one you… – You know, I’m always impressed in The Americans they super committed to the Russian. Giant long, long, long scenes, very articulate Russian. These are very highly educated people and they must have a ton of people working on that. But they super committed and then you just sit and you read the subtitles. And…

John: I love The Americans. And we watched all three seasons while I’ve been here.

Aline: Four.

John: Actually, I’ve only been through three seasons. Sorry. So don’t tell me what happens next.

Aline: Four is real good.

John: Oh, wait, no, maybe we did watch four.

Aline: Let’s tell everyone what happened now.

John: Let’s spoil things for people. I love to watch that show. And so we’re plowing through the show, I’ll tend to be looking at something on my iPad at the same time, or I’ll be playing a game. And then it gets to the Russian sections and you can’t follow it because you actually have to look at the screen to do stuff.

Aline: Are you that person who watches stuff and then is also doing other stuff?

John: Oh, we’re very much that family.

Aline: Really? So you’re watching a series and you’re also playing a game?

John: Sometimes, yes.

Aline: Wow.

John: I won’t do it for like a movie. But for an ongoing series, especially like things that are talky that you can sort of figure out. So I’m looking up and down to do that.

Aline: Wow. Wow.

John: Yeah. But back to the issue of multiple languages, I would say there’s two things to be thinking about. First off is what does it read like on the page. And so how do you make sure it makes sense on the page. And so italics may be a way to do it. You might just have an introductory note saying like everything you see in italics is actually in Spanish. Some way to do that just so it’s as efficient as possible on the page so you’re not wasting page space.

But really the bigger issue is thinking about what is it going to feel like to the person watching the show. And are you going to expect that they can understand the Spanish or not understand the Spanish? Maybe you’re targeting this for Telemundo where everyone would get both languages and that’s awesome.

Aline: Sure, I mean, Jane the Virgin is a bilingual show. In Jane the Virgin they subtitle it and I’m assuming they just reverse the subtitle or dub it for the reverse. I think anything which is clear and easy to understand.

John: Yeah. So, if you’re sitcom is sort of like Jane the Virgin, I would say like pull some Jane the Virgin scripts and do whatever they do because that’s working quite well for them and they’re in their fourth season.

Aline: They’re in their third season.

John: Yeah. And they’re a good show. Their show is partnered with yours currently, or not?

Aline: No. They are with Supergirl and we’re with Vampire Diaries now.

John: And when are you back on the air? So we’re recording this at the end of December. When is your next episode?

Aline: January 6 we are back on the air with two episodes back to back, eight and nine.

John: Holy cow. I’m so excited.

Aline: Back to back. Yeah.

John: I love your new introduction for the show.

Aline: Thank you.

John: I think I sent you guys an email about it, but I just adore it. And it was such a great choice to go through and sort of reframe the show based on sort of what the nature of the central dramatic question of this season is, which is like I’m just a girl in love. You can’t sort of blame me for this thing, which was actually established in the very pilot episode. It’s the thing that Donna Lynne Champlin says in the pilot.

Aline: Yes. You’re in love.

We – because the premise of the show changes every season, the credit sequence for the first season makes no sense, because the first season is all about, oh what, you’re here, I’m here, what, that’s so weird, that’s funny. And then the second season is really her being like, no, no, no, you love me. You love me. So, it required that.

So, we’re doing a new one, if we get a third season, we’ll be doing another one for that season. And sort of because the premise for the show is rather slender, one of the reasons that to us it seems sustainable was because we were going to take a slightly look at being an obsessive ex every year. And so that’s what keeps it kind of going. And so every year will be a slightly different look that dynamic.

John: Yeah. You’re not The Americans where there’s just a new Cold War bit of espionage you can throw in. It’s not a procedural where every week there can be a new thing.

Aline: It’s kind of unique to our show because if we had stayed in the mode of the first season, we would have run out of steam pretty quickly. And also the trajectory of being obsessively in love with someone is something that has different phases to it. And the first phase is like, what, you’re here, I’m here, that’s so weird. I don’t know why I’m in your Starbucks on the other side of town. And then the second one is like, no, we’ve slept together, and you love me. And so they’re different phases. And when we pitched it we had pitched four completely different phases of her pursuit.

John: Yeah. I was just impressed that you blew up your series so completely in the second season, which was a great choice. So, hooray, congratulations.

A thing we do on the show quite often is How Would this be a Movie. And usually in those cases we’re looking at three different stories in the news and discussing sort of how would you take them and make them a movie. Today we actually have a special case because we have a story, a true story that we can look at and look at sort of how it is progressing towards becoming a movie.

So, I’m going to try to give the very short encapsulation of the idea. But we’re going to hear sort of how it expands and the other ramifications of the idea. This is a story that starts in 1949. Max Schneck was found murdered. It was a scandal covered for months by all the major newspapers here in France. Journalists told the story of a man killed by his supposed lover, who cut him into pieces and traveled through France with parts of his body in his suitcase.

The story of the murder became the basis of a book, The Indestructible Mr. Schneck, written by his granddaughter, Colombe Schneck. She’s a friend of Aline’s. And she’s sitting right beside you. Welcome Colombe.

Colombe Schneck: Hello. Very nice listening to you. And I learn a lot.

Aline: So if you’ve heard those little laughs, those are Colombe.

John: Yes.

Aline: Can I say who Colombe is?

John: Please. Tell us everything.

Aline: So, Colombe’s father and my mother were friends from school, so I’ve known Colombe all my life basically. And Colombe was a journalist and she was on television and then it’s fair to say – and the radio – and it’s fair to say when she got to be about 40 they did what they do in America which is they take women and they remove them. They remove them because they can’t be seen in public. [laughs] And it was a good excuse and opportunity for Colombe to do what she had been wanting to do, which was to become a writer. And it’s just funny for us having known each other since we were born that we both ended up becoming writers.

And so Colombe has written numerous novels, nonfiction books. She’s also on the radio and has had a radio book review show. And she’s now also getting into filmmaking and has been making documentaries. And this book that you’re talking about is a book she wrote, was her second book. Her first book. Her first book. Is that the one that you’re thinking of turning into a movie?

Colombe: Yes. Exactly. This is the first book I wrote ten years ago. And when I wrote it I was kind of innocent. But what it means to write a book about your family. I had bumped, I don’t know, how do you say, into this incredible story in my family. I learned by accident reading a glossy newspaper. I love to read glossy newspapers. Old one. That my grandfather, Max Schneck, was murdered in 1949. At the time was a huge story in all the newspapers. You know, John, you just told us the punchline which I was I think incredible to learn that your grandfather was cut into pieces, was gay. Pieces of his body were traveled by his murderer all over France.

So, for years I kept that story in the – I don’t know how you can keep this kind of secret, because the kind of shame in my family because of that. And one day, I don’t know why you begin to think you can write. It kind of makes a mediation and freedom and say maybe I could do something about that. And I began to write the story of my grandfather with the help of my grandmother. We never talked about it for 40 years.

So, I went to do some research and went to find the newspaper of that time and I found out all this story was fiction. The newspapers made a fiction about my grandfather. He was killed by a man, but it was not his lover. They were both in love with the same woman. He was cut into pieces. He was killed by [[unintelligible 00:38:37]]. But the worst story was as interesting as the fiction story. So, I wrote a book, very simple, very short, about my grandfather and my grandmother, because all the way, all the year I wrote the story I talked to me grandmother about her life, her love for her husband. And I spoke also about my grandmother was kind of a character I didn’t know.

I tried to be sincere and tried to do something. I didn’t know it was a book or nothing. I didn’t know I could write a book. But at the end I read the thing and I thought, well, maybe I could send it to a publisher. And this great publisher published it. It was a success.

But the thing which amazed me – I wasn’t ready for that – is my family wasn’t very happy about it. I thought they would be happy to know the truth. That at least I was writing and publishing a book. And they were very mad at me. And I was very surprised. I thought they would approve.

So, ten years after that, I published many books about my family. I continue doing the bad things. And begin to do some documentary films. One day I talk of maybe it would be interesting to – I had many production house ask me to write to do the film about my first book, and it never seemed right. I didn’t like the way – we didn’t find the good films.

After all ten years, I could make the film myself and write the screenplay and maybe direct it. And that the story would be interesting, is not only the story of my grandfather, but what happened in the family when you write a book about your family.

John: Great. So let’s stop there and let’s all have a discussion about sort of the different ways this kind of story could be told. Because when I first met you, you told me the story. And I thought, well, that is fascinating. And so I encouraged you to pursue the movie and we talked about Sundance Labs, or other ways you could develop this kind of story.

The things that really triggered for me, is like obviously it’s this initial sensational story, but there’s a truth underneath the sensational story. But also the degree to which a scandal in the past has ripples into the present. How you don’t really want the story, the true story, necessarily to come out. And how the very process of investigating the facts, the truth, can rip a family apart. Those are very much the ideas behind Big Fish as well, which is that you have a journalist coming in who is trying to find the truth of his father’s life and ripping things apart in the process. And sort of the conflict in that. What is the writer’s responsibility to the truth versus his or her family?

Those are all great themes. But also I think really difficult and a really challenging sort of first movie to make. Aline, what’s your–?

Aline: What I think is really interesting about it is that there was a secret that was in the family, something she hadn’t talked about, and then sort of by lying around in her house and reading some tabloids she stumbled upon this thing. And it’s almost like this thing reached into the future and made her into a writer. And what I think is interesting is since the book was published in those years, she’s fully become this thing. And I think partly maybe people’s shock was a reaction to there’s also a thing when you become a writer.

Like I ran into my high school boyfriend really early in my 20s and he said, “What are you doing?” And I said I’m a writer. And he said, “You’re a writer?” And then he said, “You tell people that?” And for some reason people find it insulting. And also because when you’re a writer your responsibility is to tell the truth and this was a truth that people don’t want.

And I remember the very first time I met Peter Morgan, who writes primarily nonfiction-based things, we were sitting on a panel together and somebody was talking about the difficulty of working on real life stories. And he said, “We’re assassins aren’t we?” And that really has stuck with me, because I have another friend whose sister-in-law is quite a famous novelist and her rule is if you don’t want me to write about, don’t do it or say it in front of me. Because otherwise it’s fair game.

So, I do think it’s really interesting that this story is the thing that sort of made Colombe a writer. And then she experienced kind of a larger version of what most people do, which is people didn’t want her to be telling her truths. And she’s then gone on to tell stories about the apartment she grew up in and her family’s experience in the Holocaust. And they’re really amazing books. Are any of them available in English, by the way? No?

Colombe: No, it’s French-language published, and German, and Lithuanian.

Aline: Not English yet?

Colombe: Not yet.

Aline: They’re really wonderful books. So, but I think it’s a very good way to approach it. So it’s like a detective story where you’re becoming this thing and you’re following this thing and sort of how it affects everyone you know.

John: But what I find so fascinating is that you are a character in this story. In almost any version of the story that we’re telling, you are the protagonist of the story. You’re the character who changes. Who comes from being a person who is not investigating the past, to starting to investigate the past, and the process changes you and makes you into this thing. So, in any version of the story presumably your grandfather is a character in the story and we’re going to see an arc through there. But it’s so interesting, like Big Fish is obviously autobiographical both to me and to the original author, Daniel Wallace. But we got to be able to hide behind, like, oh, it’s a fictional story. That’s not me. That’s not my name. That’s not who I am.

And this – it’s going to be a process no matter what you do. That character is you and you’re going to be exposing yourself–

Aline: Can you think of a movie like that where somebody has – I mean, there’s All the President’s Men. There’s lots of movies like that. Spotlight, or whatever. But what are movies where the person, the first person, I’m sure there are. I’m thinking about–

John: A movie that I didn’t end up writing, but I ended up sort of circling around was called Born to Run. And was about this journalist who decides to start running. And one of the challenges I really faced is that he was the character in the story, but I didn’t feel like he was a movie character in the story. And so where are your responsibilities? Your responsibility is to yourself, to truth, to the story, and in order to make the best version of the story you may need to change certain aspects of what you really did.

Aline: You’ve already written the screenplay?

Colombe: Yes. And one of the characters in the screenplay, the character who is telling the story, says I’m a thief, because you take story from, you know, from your family, from people around you. But you also are a liar. I’m a thief and a liar. But I changed things to make it as a story, as a good fiction.

So, that writer is a very bad character. And I want to tell about that. But there’s no other way around. [[Unintelligible 00:45:05]] how much he steals from his family life, his wife, his mistress, and put them in a book and his films, like for the arrangement. And how it’s difficult for his wife to see her character in the arrangement of the awful wife. But there’s no other way around it. There’s a way we should all do that. We are all thief and liar. And those are the things of a good writer.

John: But usually we get to hide behind the veneer of fiction and pretend like, oh, no, no, that’s not really you. And, of course, in this situation there’s no way to do that. And so you also face the dilemma of, you know, your family already had the frustration over your book. But a movie is going to be reopening those wounds.

Colombe: It’s a mother/daughter story, so I changed – this is the real lie. This is my imagination and I could put so much more writing and that’s when I have fun.

John: There’s the simplification that can happen, because obviously there’s going to be more characters than you need to do. There are characters who aren’t going to be relevant to this. So, you can do some trimming around there [[crosstalk 00:46:06]].

Colombe: I remember one of my book, I wrote about my family, there’s one character close to my family was a person, a real person, was very unhappy at me because I didn’t put her in the book. She was really like pissed off and furious. And she doesn’t want to speak to me anymore because I didn’t put her in the book. And she felt she was very important in my family. But, I didn’t need her for the story. So, that’s true, we are all liars. We take people and, no, no, yes, this one yes. This sentence, I like it, but I’m going to change it. So, that’s a problem.

John: One of the most frequently asked questions we get on the podcast is I want to do a story about a real life person, and what are my obligations and responsibilities? And it’s obviously messy, because if someone is in your life and you’re portraying sort of who they are in your life, that’s fair game to a large degree. But if you are libeling them, then that can be a real issue as well.

And so, I mean, obviously you’re going to be sensitive to like not making them absolutely monsters. Or, if they’re monsters, not making them do something that is patently false. Or like kill a person that they didn’t actually kill.

But it becomes a real tricky issue.

Colombe: Yeah. When I take a character, pass them around me, and put it in a character in a book, in a screenplay, it’s not the person anymore. It’s a personage. It’s a fiction person. It’s not the person. I don’t feel – maybe I can take a few things, but most of those things come from my imagination. I will change them. I will talk to him and I don’t feel any responsibility for the person. Because that’s not even him anymore.

John: Yeah. I always feel like my first responsibility is to the audience. And it’s the person who is going to be watching this movie and making sure that they can follow and understand the story I’m trying to tell them. And, yes, you have other responsibilities to, you know, the other filmmakers involved and to the people giving you the money, and everyone else. But, I mean, your first responsibility is what does this story want to have happen so you can tell the best version of the story.

Colombe: For instance, for this first screenplay I’m writing about my grandparents, my grandmother [[unintelligible 00:48:04]] I was a great character for a book. She was very, how do you say [[unintelligible 00:48:09]] in English? Cranky. And she was bit panicked. And she was really – she was very funny. She was a very good character. But so I took so many things from her, which I will, but also I put more so I make it more funny, because I need more. You know? I need some humor.

John: So let’s talk about where you are at right now with your process and trying to get this into a movie. Because when I first met you, you’re a novelist who has made documentaries. You have this great story. To me, it seems like a slam dunk. Well, she’s going to be able to do this. But it’s not easy to do this. It’s a challenging step. And probably different – I’m not saying more challenging – but different to try to do it here in France than it would be to do it in the States.

Colombe: Yeah. When you write a novel you do [[unintelligible 00:48:52]] fiction. It’s great because you have all the freedom of the world. You can invent your methods. You can invent the way you write. You go where you want to go. There’s no rules. Which his kind of frightening and difficult sometimes, because you have to invent what you’re going to do.

And when I begin to write screenplays, which I like very much, it’s suddenly you have rules. You have things you cannot do. It’s a more collective process. And I like it very much.

And the problem I had is I put too much talk, too much blah, blah, blah…

John: Just dialogue, yeah.

Colombe: Dialogue. I’m a writer. And difficult to admit. I need to translate this blah, blah, blah into images. So this is the difficulty I had.

As a documentary writer, which is great, documentary film director I like because you don’t have to invent anything, you know. You film and great things happen in front of you. It’s wonderful. It’s like, wow. I haven’t done anything but the person are doing things for me.

This I had to myself. So, this is what the difficult things I had to–

Aline: Translating. That’s a great way to put it. Translating the blah, blah, blah into images is as concise an explanation of what being… – And when I started writing I was also very dialogue-based, because that’s just how my brain works. And I was writings wraps and wraps of dialogue. And I would have to go back and put in action things into the page so that it wasn’t just tons and tons of people talking.

And that’s something I still find that – over time that’s something that’s difficult for writers is to figure out how can I just have this happen without commenting, or announcing, or, you know, it’s a skill you learn. It’s like any of the other things that you learn. But I think it’s very brave and interesting to go from journalism, to fiction, to nonfiction, to documentary films, to fiction films is, you know, she’s made the transition so many times before.

John: Yes. That’s why I’m convinced you’ll be able to do it, because I think screenwriting is like journalism. There’s a lot of structure to it. It’s like fiction writing in that you’re trying to build out a world that doesn’t exist beforehand. It’s documentaries in that you are trying to find a way to tell a story cinematically rather than just with words. So, I have a hunch it’s going to work, but I’m fascinated to see sort of what’s going to happen next.

So, thank you for sharing this part of the process so early on.

Colombe: I don’t know. [[Unintelligible 00:51:15]] New things, you know, when I first went into journalism, or to write a story, I didn’t know how to do it, you know? I just had to do it. And well I shouldn’t think too much about what I’m doing. When I was writing my first fiction book, my first book about my family, I think maybe it’s going to be nothing, or maybe it’s going to be a book. I don’t know. I’m going to do it and we’ll see after. When I did documentary films, it was the same kind of process. Now, I’ve kind of experienced what I’m able to do, the way I’m working, and so I’m less innocent about the way I’m going to do these fiction films. But I still – the truth is I still don’t know.

I can even things and face problems and try to respond to it. I don’t know if this is a good American way to do it. But–

John: Yeah. It’s absolutely the American way to do it.

It has come time for our wrap up segment which is One Cool Things. So, at the end of every episode we talk about One Cool Thing. So, I don’t know if we warned you about One Cool Things.

Aline: I will tell you my One Cool Thing. I have a very good One Cool Thing. So, I’m in Paris and the dollar is quite strong. And then there’s duty free. So, I went to Hermes to buy a scarf for myself and for my mother. So, I–

John: This is the most Aline One Cool Thing ever. It’s great.

Aline: Yes. So I go in to buy the scarf and I’m picking out some ones that I like. And I find one that I like and the woman and I were speaking in French, which is always fun for me to get to use my French. And she’s chatting away in French. And I pick one and she says, “No, that’s not good for you.” [laughs] And I said, “Oh, really? I like this one.” And she says, “No. No, no, no. This is not good.”

And then I am trying not to be bossed around by her, and I’m saying, “No, no, I like this one. Show me some other ones. But I like this one.” She’s just showing me other ones and I’m noticing that that one is scooting away from. It’s just scooting down and into the drawer, never to be seen again. She was just not going to sell me the scarf that she thought did not look good on me.

And so she just kept bringing me new ones, and new ones, and new ones until I found one that I liked as well. And it just was the perfect French experience of buying something, you know, overpriced in the best way and being completely bossed and judged and having their aesthetics imposed on you. And I couldn’t have been happier. By the end we were great friends.

John: Speaking for Craig I have to say like that’s crazy. There’s no way that’s a One Cool Thing. That is actually some sort of like weird – it’s the failure of the commercial system. That’s amazing, and yet I do understand sort of what happened there.

Aline: I absolutely trust her and I know that this was better than the thing I had picked out.

Colombe: One of the cool things I’ve done this year, and this is not far from Aline. For my screenplay, the mother and the daughter are walking in the shop, selling clothes, which is kind of my fantasy. Walking in the story, selling clothes. A family business [unintelligible 00:54:17] store, you know, like we have. So, for a week, I went to a store being a seller to help me to write my screenplay. And I just love it. I just love it. To be able to – it’s like to be in a movie theater. You know?

You hear and you watch the women coming in and they all when they come in the store they all are depressed. That’s what the seller told me. They need something, but they don’t know what they need. So you have to help them to go out from the depression. It’s a depression selling them a dress or scarf or anything.

John: Or a Hermes scarf.

Colombe: Or Hermes, yes. So you look at them and you listen to them. And you help them. So, this week of selling clothes was one of the best things I’ve done this year.

Aline: Wow.

John: Very nice. My One Cool Thing is a book. It’s called Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy.

Aline: Colombe and I ripped out some girly stuff about clothes. Yeah.

John: So it’s a book I read. It’s by Cathy O’Neil. She’s also the host of a podcast I like a lot. I’ll put a link in the show notes to it. But her book is really good. It’s about the degree to which the algorithms behind big data, which are meant to sort of make things more equal and fairer, like for like credit lending or for sentencing for criminal offenses, for getting into college. They have all these computer algorithms, which should make things more fair. Because they’re supposed to be taking race out of it and things. But they end up sort of baking the race and poverty into it. And it ends up making things much, much worse.

And so just a great book, a quick, easy read.

Aline: I have notes on our One Cool Things. I think they’re clams. They’re just too on-the-nose. Yes, all of us. We just did. It was too on-the-nose what we did.

John: Absolutely.

Aline: If I had had the algorithm book and you had had the Hermes scarf that would have been more interesting. Yeah, we’d make different choices.

John: Yeah. We got to do this again. That is our show for this week.

So, as always, our show is produced—

Colombe: Très bien. Merci.

John: Très bien. Our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is also from Matthew. If you have an outro, you can send us a link at That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. On Twitter Craig, who is not here, is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. Aline is not on Twitter. Sorry.

Aline: Oh, you know what? I’m going to do it.

John: Oh, okay. So when Aline has a Twitter handle–

Aline: I’m going to – should I do it? Rachel tells me all the time I should do it.

John: You should totally do it.

Aline: I’m going to do it.

John: Once you have a Twitter handle, we will give you – we’ll put it on the air?

Aline: I’m doing it. Are you sure? Oh, okay, you’re on Twitter and Instagram.

Colombe: @ColombeSchneck.

Aline: Colombe Schneck.

John: Colombe Schneck is also on the Instagram and on Twitter.

Aline: Okay. If I go on Twitter and I don’t like it…

John: It’s fine. She’ll leave. You can leave and protest. Because actually part of the process of being on Twitter is leaving Twitter. [laughs]

Aline: That’s a thing everything does at some point?

John: You have to do it. You have to leave it.

You can find us on Facebook. Just search for Scriptnotes podcast, or on iTunes. Search for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you’ll find the app for listening to the back episodes. You can find the show notes for this episode, and all the back episodes, at That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts. They go up about four days after the episode airs.

We have like 20 of the USB drives left. Very, very few. But you can always get to all the back episodes of Scriptnotes on

And for Aline Brosh McKenna, Colombe Schneck, I’m John August. Thank you very much for joining us on Scriptnotes.

Aline: Au revoir.

John: Au revoir.


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The One from Paris

Tue, 01/03/2017 - 05:03

John welcomes Aline Brosh McKenna to the City of Lights, where they answer listener questions about cheating reality and bilingual characters.

They then invite a special guest on to talk about adaptation and autobiography. When writing about your own life, how much do you need to worry about portraying your friends and family?

Both of the 2016 Scriptnotes t-shirts are headed back to print — but only for two weeks! If you missed out the first time, make sure to get yours today.


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Scriptnotes, Ep 281: Holiday Homeopathy Spectacular — Transcript

Fri, 12/30/2016 - 08:51

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 281 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Except not today, because today on the podcast we’re not going to be talking about screenwriting at all. Rather, we’re going to be looking at the practice of homeopathy and what it can teach us about how narrative shapes belief.

Craig, are you ready? Are you set?

Craig: I’ve been looking forward to this. Of course. Like beyond. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for, my whole life.

John: And so much have you potentized your umbrage on this topic?

Craig: It’s weaponized. I’m bringing weaponized umbrage today. Yeah.

John: Yes. And you do that by diluting your umbrage down, so it’s just infinitesimally small.

Craig: That’s right.

John: But then that makes it much more powerful.

Craig: Yeah. By having no umbrage whatsoever, my umbrage will be that much more effective.

John: It’s going to be great. So, let’s talk about what homeopathy is, just so we’re defining our terms properly. So, homeopathy is a system of alternative medicine. It’s based around the idea of like cures like. That is that a condition can be treated by use of a substance that is similar to it, or creates similar symptoms. So, a practitioner of homeopathy is called a homeopath. And they create treatments through the process of homeopathic dilution, which is what we were referring to right there, where substances are repeatedly diluted which is believed to increase their potency.

Craig: Right.

John: So, Craig, how much did you know about the history of homeopathy before we started this episode?

Craig: I knew a bunch, because I was pre-med, so you tend to study the history of medicine. I took a great class in college called The History of Medicine, which was wonderful. And also I grew up in New York and then New Jersey and Hahnemann – there’s still a very large Hahnemann Medical Center in Philadelphia. And so I knew the name Hahnemann. And quickly came to learn how stupid everything he believed was. [laughs]

And I’ve always been this way. I’ve always felt like this strange person walking the earth who doesn’t understand why so many people believe things that are just absurd. And so I naturally gravitate towards them to learn about them.

John: Absolutely. So we originally were going to have this as part of our fact and fiction episode, where we were talking about courtroom stuff and other sort of weird, like hospital things, and like we had so much to say about homeopathy that we couldn’t fit it all into one episode. So, this is going to be the full-on – this is the tasting menu, everything you could possibly eat about homeopathy will be in this episode.

So, let’s dig in. Let’s start with the history of homeopathy, because I knew almost nothing until I started researching it this morning.

So, some of the ideas behind homeopathy go back a very long time. That sense of what can make a man ill can also make them healthier, so that goes back to sort of prehistoric times, but very early sort of philosophers talking about how the body works. Granted, they didn’t have a great sense of how the body worked overall, but there was that sense of like, oh, you have a little bit of this thing which will make you feel better because it’s like that thing.

So, that goes back a very long ways, but the guy you were referencing, Samuel Hahnemann, was the guy who sort of came up with the term of homeopathy and is really the mastermind, if you want to say mastermind, behind the whole “science” – air quotes – of homeopathy. So, talk us through sort of where he came from and sort of what is guiding principles were.

Craig: Well, Hahnemann was German and his belief was that small things that were similar to the diseases that they might treat could work. So, if you were suffering from a disease that was caused by – let’s say like for instance malaria, that was a famous one. Then, if you could find some substance that caused the same symptoms as malaria, but just give people tiny amounts of it, that should kill malaria. There’s actually no reason to believe this whatsoever. None.

John: No.

Craig: It is essentially the ultimate begging of the question. They just decided that it was true. And then went from there. Now, in defense of Samuel Hahnemann, who was working in the 18th and 19th Century, no one knew a damn thing back then. No one. They were really struggling.

John: This is the era of bloodletting and leaches. Medicine, as such, was pretty barbaric. And so when you approach something with like, oh, I’m going to approach this with “scientific rigor” – air quotes again – it seems very impressive because it seems like you are trying to really suss out the origins of the problem. So, what you said about malaria, this actually fits into – he was translating a book by William Cullen, and Cullen had sort of cited that Peruvian bark, this cinchona, was useful in treating malaria. And he said it was because of its bitter and astringent properties. And so when Hahnemann was doing the translation of this book, he made a big footnote saying like, oh, it’s not just that. It’s because it caused symptoms similar to the disease it was treating. So, literally in doing the translation he sort of changed the translation to say, oh, it’s not just this bark is useful. It’s useful for exactly these reasons.

It turns out that the bark was useful because it had quinine in it. And so quinine cures malaria. But he was making a leap of logic to say like this is the reason why these things are working.

Craig: Yeah. This period of time, it’s somewhat tragic, because Hahnemann dies in the 1840s, but as you get into the second half of the 19th Century, suddenly things start to turn. And that’s when you get Louis Pasteur. And that’s when you get this enormous explosion of proper science dealing with microbes and disease. And that’s also where you start to find vaccinations come into play. And some people might think, well, this is a little bit like vaccinations. It’s not. It’s not at all like vaccinations.

Vaccinations are – the science behind vaccination is to take something that causes a disease directly and then weaken it and give the body a small amount of that weakened version so that it can create an immunity to that without suffering from the effects. Homeopathy is about finding things that cause the same symptoms and then saying, oh, that will cure it.

Or, as we’ll see as it develops, taking things that maybe cause a problem and giving you an amount that is essentially not really there.

He is a victim of the time he was in. No such excuse for the people who believe in this baloney today.

John: Yeah. So, what Hahnemann was doing, he set out to do his provings, and by provings, it’s not that he was testing the validity of his underlying premise. It was really basically just saying like, well, what are some things that cause similar symptoms? And basically he was looking for and testing on his family and everyone else around him what can I give you that’s going to cause these symptoms, because if it causes these symptoms then I can use it to treat diseases that sort of have the same symptoms. And so he was gathering up all this “research” – again, air quotes – putting together his findings, and his complete overview was called The Organon of the Healing Art, which was originally 1810.

First off, The Organon is just a great title.

Craig: Amazing, right?

John: The sixth version, which came out in 1921, is still used by homeopaths today. So, that’s where he introduced the concept of miasms, which are infectious principals underlying chronic diseases.

Craig: Mm.

John: And so we can see what he’s doing here. He basically – he has a postulate. He has this idea, but rather than trying to prove this idea, he just sort of builds from hit, and builds this whole big system on top of this idea without ever trying to prove the underlying idea. And sort of when he has to come up for an explanation for things, he invents new words. And in inventing new words, he also invents new words for things that already exist. And so traditional medicine he calls allopathic medicine, which is sort of used pejoratively for all that other sort of normal stuff that isn’t the real good homeopathic stuff.

Craig: Yeah. So it’s not enough to come up with a principle and then instead of testing the principle for truth simply just start exploring things that might help you further the cause of your principle, you also had to demonize everything else because of this competitive sense that there must be an answer. And this is really the stuff of cult or religion. You begin with an article of faith. Everything that you pursue begs the question that the faith is true. And other practices that question your faith are bad. It’s just straight up religious.

John: It is. And also along those lines, you need to have an opponent. And that opponent can’t just be a passive thing that’s out there. So, it’s one thing to call everyone out there who was doing the normal medicine allopathy, but you have to have someone who is actively against you. And that became the medical establishment. The growing medical establishment that says no, no, no, this is not actually real; what you’re doing does not actually work.

And so early 20th Century popularity of homeopathy began to wane. There was this report called the Flexner Report, which is an evaluation of medical schools, and found that the schools teaching homeopathy were lacking. Medicine itself had become less barbaric. We talked about Louis Pasteur. We have the dawn of microscopes. We have the ability to look inside and see what’s actually causing disease. And what’s causing disease does not seem to be these underlying miasms. It was actually something visible now with modern technology.

So, by 1950, there’s no homeopathic colleges in the US. There were estimates of only 50 to 150 practicing homeopathic physicians in the US. And a lot of those practitioners were older because they had started at an earlier age. And so for a while it looked like it was going out. And then it came back.

Craig: Yeah. A little bit like measles.

John: [laughs] Indeed. Funny how that works. An idea that roars back into life. So, not just in the US, but Great Britain, and in France, India, you see homeopathy in lots of places worldwide. I see it when I go into the pharmacy in France. It is a thing that has come back roaring. And there’s not good science behind it then or not good science behind it now.

There’s actually a lot of good science around it now, but it’s all sort of negative. So, before we get into sort of the reasons why it doesn’t work, we should talk about – let’s talk about the storytelling that happens in this history, because I do find it just so fascinating. Because you mentioned cults, and as I was reading through this I was reminded a lot about sort of all the early churches. Look at sort of the origins of really any church that set up in opposition to the orthodoxy of the time, or even like Joseph Smith and Mormonism. You look at L. Ron Hubbard. There are charismatic people who are challenging the system. They’re saying the normal system isn’t working. I have secret knowledge to share. And don’t listen to those other people when they tell you that what we’re doing is crazy.

Craig: They’re picking at this thing that we have, or just a normal human state of mild paranoia. And the normal human state of mild paranoia stems ultimately I think from our mortality. So, on some level we’re told that we’re going to die. That is very hard to process. It just doesn’t – the brain is not particularly good at reflecting on its own lifespan and eventual demise.

So, we begin to wonder if maybe everything is not true. Perhaps this is all an illusion. Or I’m not going to really die, of course. And even if that’s subconscious, you are suddenly susceptible to people who come along and say you’ve been fed a bunch of lies, and you probably always suspected that you were fed a bunch of lies. What if I could show you the truth?

This makes for wonderful movies but terrible medicine.

John: Absolutely. So, the characters we’re describing in Hahnemann and L. Ron Hubbard, Joseph Smith, they wouldn’t be classically the hero of a story. I mean, I guess there could be some sort of call to adventure, but more likely they are the wise old man who shows up to tell the hero, “No, no, no, there’s a better way.” They are Morpheus in The Matrix. They are Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars. They’re the person who says the world you see is not the world that has to be. The force permeates all things. There’s more to this world than they will let you know. That’s the function that these characters tend to play in these stories.

And you can see why they’re seductive because we don’t want the world to be the way it is. We want the world to be the way we want the world to be. And if someone offers you that solution, you’re going to say, well yes, show me how to do that.

So, in homeopathy, the key to getting the world the way you want it to be is dilution. So, we need to talk about the concept of homeopathic dilution, because that’s sort of an article of faith you kind of have to take. And say like, well, I know that doesn’t make sense, but trust me, it works. But let’s talk about sort of what’s really going on there and sort of the mathematical problem that comes with this dilution.

Craig: Well, I mean, for starters, you just have to look at the words and kind of gawk that anybody ever bought it. They’re saying if you dilute things, you make them more powerful. That is simply the opposite of true. It’s not not-true. It is the opposite of true. It’s like saying if you shine a light, something gets darker. It is just defying the meaning of the words.

John: That’s an article of faith. That is basically I know that everything you’ve ever seen works a certain way, but trust me, it doesn’t work this way in this case. You’re asking someone to make a big change in belief right there. Like that is the fundamental ask I think of homeopathy is like I know this seems crazy, but no, it really works.

Craig: And, you know, for a long time what they were talking about was essentially invisible to the eye. So, you could accept it if you chose, just like God is invisible to the eye and people choose to accept God. So, Hahnemann creates a scale, the centesimal or C scale. And this scale is a measurement of how diluted a substance is. Remember, these are substances that either mimic the symptoms of your problem or directly cause your problem. But, of course, we’re not going to just feed somebody the thing that’s causing them the problem. No, we’re going to dilute it. That will somehow make it stronger and also beneficial. So, we’re going to dilute a substance by a factor of 100 at each level of C.

John: So, a 2C dilution would take a substance that was diluted to one part in 100, and then that diluted solution is diluted again by a factor of 100. So, it’s like two 100s down.

Craig: Correct. So, essentially one/ten-thousandth, right? And so each time you do this, I guess it’s logarithmic, right? I think that’s the proper use of the mathematical term. So, by the time you get to 6C, you’ve taken a substance and you’ve diluted it to one part in 100, then you’ve taken that dilution and diluted that one part in 100. And then you’ve done it again – take that, and dilute it one part in 100. And so and so on. And Hahnemann remarkably – now, we all know, like everyone has heard, every kid has heard the story of the guy who says I bet you that a king – if you give me one penny on one square of a chessboard and then double that for the next square, I will take that as my payment if you fill up all the squares. And before long, the king is out of money because when you double things it gets bananas really quickly.

Well, Hahnemann didn’t care. He advocated 30C dilutions for most purposes. 30C, that means one in a hundred, and then take that and make that one in a hundred, and do that 30 times. So, apparently according to physicists, the greatest dilution that is reasonably likely to contain even one molecule of an original substance is 12C. And 12C, John, what is that equivalent to?

John: That is a pinch of salt in both the North and South Atlantic oceans.

Craig: I mean…

John: A pinch of salt.

Craig: One pinch. [laughs] One pinch of salt in an entire ocean. That’s 12C. Hahnemann wants 30C. So, if you want to make 30C, you need to take one molecule and put it in a container that is more than 30 billion times the size of Earth. And then he’s saying that one molecule in the container that is 30 billion times the size of Earth will cure your disease. That’s what he believed. And, in fact, that is still what these people believe.

John: Yeah. And so there’s a footnote here or like an asterisk for like people will say how is that possible. And so the sort of modern belief among homeopaths – not all homeopaths, but some homeopaths – is that there’s a sense of water memory. So, basically the process of dilution, it has changed the water to some degree. There’s a memory of what that substance was in there and it has changed the water, so it still has the effect. And that is completely inconsistent with our understanding of water. And how things work in the real world.

Craig: Or anything.

John: So, you can take a vial of water that has been treated and a vial of water that has not been treated and there’s no scientific test that can determine any difference between the two, and yet that is the belief.

So, again, that is faith. That is a belief in an invisible thing that is happening there that cannot be measured. And that’s troubling. Yet, we should say like it kind of doesn’t – maybe there is some mechanism that is actually doing it. And so I think we have to step back and say, well, even if we don’t know quite the mechanism behind it, what does it matter if it works. I mean, Craig, if it works, it works.

Craig: Oh, yeah, listen. I mean, that’s the nature of science. If we don’t understand something, but we see that it has an effect, we try and figure out why. We know things – there are things that happen now, we’re not quite sure why. We’re still trying to figure out why people sleep. But we know they sleep. We’re just not quite sure why it’s necessary. And so we’re trying to figure out the answer.

That, of course, is different than we don’t see anything happening, but maybe something is. As it turns out, if homeopathy worked we would be hard at work trying to figure out why.

Good news, everybody. Homeopathy, of course, does not work.

John: Yeah. That’s a sad thing. Because we can actually study it. And we can study to see whether it has the effects it claims to have. And it doesn’t.

Craig: No. Not even close. And I hate that we have to do these studies. It’s so absurd. So, Australia, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council reviewed more than 1,800 studies on homeopathy. And let’s just stop right there and go, oh my god. Right?

John: That’s a lot of studies.

Craig: The waste of money and time. You might as well do 1,800 studies on whether or not somebody humming is going to cure their own cancer. It’s insane. But because some dude came up with this baloney in the 1700s, we have to have 1,800 studies. And, oh, big shock – they only found that 225 of those were even rigorous enough to analyze. And why? I suspect because 1,575 of them were sponsored by homeopathic institutes and were absolute crap.

But when they looked at the 225 rigorous studies, they found it does not work.

John: Yeah. There’s no good quality evidence to support the claim that homeopathy is effective in treating health conditions. I share this frustration with having to spend the time to research these things. I mean, it’s good that even if we do spend the time to research these things, and we spend the money, and you got to check them. And it’s important to check even things you think work to make sure that there’s not sort of research or bias in there. But, yeah, it’s maddening.

When we were preparing for the original episode, you had done specific research on one type of homeopathic medicine, which I was not even aware of, but I think it deserves sort of a special spotlight because it’s sort of extra crazy pants. So, talk us through it.

Craig: It is. It is. Well, in its own way it kind of epitomizes the crazy pants of all homeopathic “medicine.” Actually this substance – substance – it’s a sugar pill – spoiler alert – is very popular in France. It’s actually manufactured by a French company. And you will see it being used here in the United States. I think sometimes when people buy these things they just simply don’t understand what homeopathic means, so they don’t realize what they’re buying. And they’re packaged and marketed to look like medicine. So, you’ve probably seen this in stores, those of you at home. It’s called Oscillococcinum. Or Oscillo, it’s shortened to. And it’s manufactured by a French company.

And it is sold as a cure for the common cold or a fever related to a common cold. So, what is Oscillococcinum? It is a homeopathic medicine. It is based – oh, and let me just add. They sell so much of this. Millions and millions and millions and millions and millions of dollars of this. Keep that in mind.

It is based on the theory, which I will suggest is nonsense, and you decide, of a French physician who in 1919, you know, the height of medical enlightenment, thought he had discovered a shimmering microbe that he called Oscillococcinum. You get it? It’s like oscillating. So, he believed he found this little shimmering microbe and he found it not just in one of his patient’s samples under a microscope. He saw it in all of the samples that he took from his patents who all had different diseases.

Now, as it turns out, that’s probably because his microscope was faulty and he was just seeing light. And he thought things were shimmering. Microbes don’t shimmer, as it turns out. Because this isn’t fricking Star Wars.

So, he had a bad microscope, saw an artifact in every slide he had. Another spoiler alert: no one, except for this dude, has ever found this “shimmering” Oscillococcinum microbe because it doesn’t exist. But, okay, that’s quackery level number one. Let us advance, John, to quackery level number two.

Homeopaths said, oh, you know we have this wonderful theory that if you take stuff and you reduce it down to impossibly tiny amounts, it can cure the thing that that thing causes. So, if Oscillococcinum, which doesn’t exist, causes the cold, we should reduce Oscillococcinum, which doesn’t exist, down to incredibly tiny amounts. So they harvested that from – and here comes quackery level three, John, you ready?

John: Yup.

Craig: Okay. Where else would you get Oscillococcinum from other than the liver of ducks? Why?

John: Well, that makes a lot of sense.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs] Right?

John: I mean, there’s duck liver everywhere here. I mean, it’s super common in France, so it makes sense.

Craig: It’s common. Right. So, let’s just take some duck liver, which will definitely have Oscillococcinum in it, but we’re homeopaths, so let’s reduce it down so many times in water that, quackery level four, even if they had started – and I love this statistic – and this is true of the people selling you Oscillococcinum now. If they started with a duck the size of the sun, there still would not be a single molecule of it left in an Oscillococcinum pill based on how many times they reduce it.

Let me state that again. The duck, which does not contain Oscillococcinum because it doesn’t exist, is reduced so many times down that even if they started with a duck the size of the sun, there still wouldn’t be any molecule of duck or Oscillococcinum in an Oscillococcinum pill.

John: Here’s my question. Is it vegan? Because–

Craig: [laughs] It is. It absolutely is.

John: There’s no duck in it, because even though it’s harvested from duck, at this point there is no duck in it. So, a vegan, I think, can safely take this medicine. I haven’t Googled yet.

Craig: Well.

John: I’m sure there’s debate online about, because–

Craig: They may not be able to. And here’s why. Because while there is no microbe in Oscillococcinum, nor is there a single molecule of any active ingredient in Oscillococcinum, nor could there ever be because the active ingredient is imaginary. What there is in the Oscillococcinum pill for sure are two ingredients – lactose and sucrose. Sugar and sugar.

John: Yeah. Lactose is a milk sugar. I mean, that’s not vegan, Craig. You’re spoiling it here.

Craig: Sorry.

John: If someone could just make this a vegan cure, why – god, I’m so frustrated.

Craig: It’s really a bummer. They were so close. They are selling you sugar pills, not the euphemistic sugar pills. They’re selling you actual sugar pills and they’re telling you that they’re selling you sugar pills. It’s on the box. Gah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, I mean, I assume that this is as confusing and upsetting to you as it is to me.

John: It is sort of maddening. And I think if there’s good news is that it’s maddening to lots of other people as well. So, FTC recently proposed new labeling for homeopathic medicines basically selling the box has to say this doesn’t work, which is a bold claim. I will also link to this Alan Levinovitz article for Slate arguing that the labels may actually backfire, because when you call out the scientific validity of things, in a weird way it kind of reinforces it.

So, according to 2007 government data, Americans spend about $3 billion a year on homeopathy.

Craig: Ugh.

John: And the market is growing. And so time and time again studies show that when you actually say like this claim has not been supported by the FDA, they don’t actually change their purchasing behaviors. So, in a weird way it makes it clear this is an alternative to a normal system. So, I’m not so optimistic that even a label on the box will stop people from using it.

Craig: Yeah. I think the problem with the FDA warning, which is very weak sauce, and I wish–

John: And I should also say, I think it’s FTC rather than FDA.

Craig: Oh. It’s FTC.

John: So, it’s the Federal, Fair Trade – what is FTC?

Craig: Fair Trade Commission? Federal Trade Commission?

John: Federal Trade Commission?

Craig: Federal Trade Commission.

John: So it’s not the Food and Drug, but it’s actually the people who are responsible for the things you buy, rather than the drugs you take.

Craig: Got it. Well, that disclaimer unfortunately just says, “We can’t say whether or not this works.” They don’t say, “This does not work.” They’ll say, “There is no scientific evidence.” And you’re right. People ignore that, because they just think, oh, because the big pharma is making money off of it.

What they need is a statement akin to the kinds of things they put on cigarette packs. These will cause cancer. Here’s the sort of opposite label for Oscillococcinum. This does nothing. It should be in huge big words in a huge box on the label.

John: We just came back from dinner here in Paris and I was looking at this woman’s cigarette box. And it says, sort of the translation is like, “This will kill you,” in big letters.

Craig: Exactly.

John: I like how direct it is here. So, “Tue,” the verb for in French for killing you, is nice and short and effective.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, let’s talk about the efficacy of this. Because we’ve established why scientifically it doesn’t work, but why does it seem like it works? Because people who take this are taking it not just once. They’re taking it again and again. And why are they taking it again and again? And this gets into the root I think of sort of what really happens here. I think the bigger question for why this goes beyond on homeopathy. It goes to our basic psychological nature and our inability to process why something can seem like it’s working when it’s not really working.

Craig: Well, certainly we know that there’s a placebo effect. And there’s always an ethical question around placebo effect, because it’s real. So, we know that if you convince people that they’re taking potent medicine, they have a tendency to feel better. And that’s not a fake tendency. They can actually physically get better faster. So, there’s an ethical question. What if you know something is a placebo. Should you tell everybody?

There are different kinds of placebos. The placebo effect that I think is most defensible and most common is the placebo effect that comes from very low dosages of medicines that at higher doses have legitimate effect. There doesn’t seem to be a very strong placebo effect for literally sugar pills.

So, there are some other things that are going on. For instance, you’re feeling sick and you take Oscillococcinum and, you know, the next day you feel better. You might have – probably would have – felt better anyway.

John: Absolutely. So, that’s the disease running its course. So, let’s take a common cold. Let’s say you’ve got a cold that people are usually sick for like four days. So, on day one you take this homeopathic medicine for your cold. On day two and day three, you’ve still got the cold, maybe you’re feeling a little bit better. By day four, you’re good.

So, you’ve taken this homeopathic medicine and think, well, you know what, on Monday I was sick and by Thursday I was better. So, hey, I guess it worked. Because you have no counter example. You can’t know how long a cold would have lasted if you’d done nothing. And it feels like, you know what, I took some action and I’m better because of it, so I guess it must have worked, because now I’m feeling a lot better. And that repeated again and again across a whole bunch of people, that’s why it feels like it works.

It’s a form of magical thinking. Magical thinking in general is that sense of you are trying to draw a causal relationship between two events. And sometimes it’s an action and an outcome, but it seems like those two things are related, so I guess they’re related. And that’s how we get to a lot of our beliefs about how the world works is by drawing these inferences whether they’re valid or not.

Craig: And unfortunately there’s a tremendous overlap between people who have a tendency for magical thinking and people who have no respect for the scientific method whatsoever. So, a lot of times people get a cold and they go to CVS and they pick up NyQuil and some Advil and some Oscillococcinum. And they take all of it. Well, you know, I got better. Obviously it was that magical combination of two things that are medicine and one thing that’s a sugar pill. You know? They just don’t weed out these factors whatsoever. I think that there is another subset of people who are more distressing to me than I would say just the people who are making the casual error of purchasing this nonsense.

There are people who view as medicine and their own self-care as an act of protest. And that goes back to that paranoia, you know. So-called smart people are lying to you in order to take your money. They want you to be sick, so you have to buy more of their junk. And, in fact, these are the secrets that they’re keeping from you. And not only will you get better if you take this, but you are a more virtuous person who is striking a blow for freedom and truth.

John: Yeah. That’s the more radical version of I would say like a consumerist approach to healthcare, which is basically like I’m going to keep shopping for an answer until I get the answer I want. And I’m going to pick that answer and that answer is going to be the one that has the most benefits for me and the least drawbacks for me. Factually-based is not a high priority.

So, you know, the same way we sort of shop for clothes, we want to shop for a medicine. Like, I want the one that does exactly these things, but doesn’t have any of these bad side effects. And they’re not recognized in the realities of the situation. Like, things are real.

So, I want to circle back to placebo effect because it’s such an important aspect of what’s happening here. So, most of the people who are feeling better, it probably is a placebo effect to some degree. Sugar pills are classically placebo effect. And there’s nothing wrong with placebo effect. And we should note that when drugs have to go through real FDA trials, they’re tested against a placebo.

Craig: Right.

John: And in order to be approved, they’re supposed to show that they are much more effective than, or at least noticeably or measurably more effective than an equivalent placebo. And that’s because the placebo effect is so strong, they want to measure them against–

Craig: But like think about – here’s the crazy part. If you really think about what you just said, which is absolutely accurate, what regular medicine manufacturers are doing is they’re saying we have a medicine, we think it works. Let’s compare it to Oscillococcinum. [laughs] Because if it doesn’t work better than that, it’s not real medicine. That’s literally what they’re saying. They’re saying Oscillococcinum is our gold standard for doing nothing. So let’s compare it to that.

John: Yeah. In the show notes I’ll put a link to a great episode of Science Vs. where they looked at antidepressants and whether antidepressants work, because there’s a lot of science out there that’s suggesting that in many cases they’re not noticeably better than a placebo. And so, well, what do you do? Because they seem effective in a lot of people, but it could be a placebo effect that’s doing a lot of that work there. And so that’s an ongoing scientific controversy.

I’m delighted to have that kind of controversy about a real thing rather than imaginary things.

Craig: For sure.

John: And I’d also say, we were talking about the common cold, and so some of the things we offer as solutions to the common cold really are placebos and we should acknowledge that they are placebos. It doesn’t mean that they’re not useful or palliative because if it feels good that’s sort of part of the job. Like comfort should be part of it.

So, when I start feeling a cold, my go-to is Makers Mark. Makers Mark bourbon for whatever reason, it makes me feel better. It’s probably just because I’m taking some action. It’s probably because it’s alcohol.

Craig: Ah, there you go. [laughs]

John: But it makes me feel better. In the same way my daughter starts to feel a little pukey, I’m like–

Craig: Bourbon?

John: You give her like the one children’s Motrin. And it’s not going to do anything, but it makes her feel like something has been done. And that’s reasonable. And that’s the kind of thing I wish people would embrace rather than–

Craig: Sure. I mean, we all are – this is particularly effective for children. Because children, their brains are still forming. They’re supposed to be completely ignorant and foolable. Every parent knows that, you know, when their three-year-old falls and bumps their knee that they want a Band-Aid. They’re not cut. The Band-Aid is doing nothing. But they want it. And it will make them feel better. And that’s fine for children.

Obviously, yes, only you would wonder what magical ingredient in bourbon could possibly be making you feel better. [laughs] But there’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But there are costs to the wholesale acceptance of thorough complete nonsense. If you give your daughter three Motrin when she has a fever, it will impact the fever. No question.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s medicine. But there’s a cost to believing in this junk.

John: Yes. Let’s talk about it. So, I think the underlying pervasive problem for me is that when we choose to be irrational about some things, like our own healthcare, we open ourselves to be irrational about lots of things. And so there are many things out there in the world which a lot of people are kind of irrational about. Climate change. Vaccination. Conspiracies about everything, including 9/11. Psychics. Birtherism. And all sorts of other kind of non-medicines that are thrown out there as being alternatives to western medicine, many of which are actually dangerous.

Craig: Yeah, dangerous by addition because they themselves make you worse, or dangerous by subtraction because you’re using them instead of things that work. And there are some very, very sad clear examples of let’s call it homeopathic style magical thinking that has led to harm. Latril, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that word.

John: I don’t know what Latril is.

Craig: So, in the ‘70s, some ding-a-ling decided that there was this substance in peach pits that could cure cancer. And there is a substance in peach pits. It’s cyanide. It does not cure cancer, at all. And people were spending money on it and dying, not surprisingly, either because they were ingesting too much cyanide, or because they were not following a prescribed course of medicine by actual physicians, or because they were going to die. So, Latril was a huge problem.

And then you had this crazy thing that I think it’s finally going away. This crazy thing that happened where people who were HIV-positive were suddenly denying that HIV was the real cause of AIDS. They believed that, I don’t know, toxins in the atmosphere, or the – or even worse, the drugs used to treat HIV were the real cause of AIDS. And there’s a woman named Christine Maggiore who was HIV-positive and she wrote a book about this. She was kind of the champion of this movement. It gained traction. A one point the Foo Fighters were on board with this ding-a-ling.

And here’s what happened. What happened was that her daughter, named Eliza Jane, contracted HIV from Christine, who refused to take antivirals. And Eliza Jane died of AIDS at the age of three. And then Christine Maggiore died shortly thereafter from AIDS. What a shock. And, you know, if you want to die as a result of your own ignorance, I understand. But she willfully infected her own child and killed her own child. That’s just terrifying to me. Terrifying.

John: There’s also a lot of examples of situations where people, especially parents, take something that is actually a real thing and try to apply it to stuff that’s not the actual situation. So, there’s a thing called chelation which is when you have heavy metal poisoning, like seriously heavy metal poisoning that could kill a person. Arsenic, lead, mercury. And there’s a medical practice for how you do it, but parents will try to do it themselves for things that aren’t metal poisoning because they think, oh well, I’m making my kid cleaner on the inside. You can kill your kid that way.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And my worry is that the same type of belief system that can make homeopathy seem like great, it’s nice, it’s safe, can get a parent to chelation very, very easily.

Craig: Absolutely. Think of homeopathy as gateway stupidity. What we’re saying is homeopathic medicine can’t do anything to you. It can’t harm you. The Amazing Randi, James Randi, who is a wonderful skeptic and magician, there’s a terrific video of him swallowing an entire bottle of homeopathic sleeping pills at once. [laughs] Because there’s nothing in them, right? But that is your first step down the road of I don’t believe in truth. I believe instead of this modern phenomenon called My Truth. I hear people say this. “Well, my truth, or your truth.” No, there is no my truth. And there is no your truth. There’s just truth. Either something is true, or it’s not. And if you start wandering down the path where you decide that universal truth is less important than what you choose to be true, well, the foundations of everything real beneath your feet begin to crumble. And you will end up in trouble, inevitably.

John: Yup. So, the most recent horrible example of this was Pizza-gate. And so for listeners outside the US, or any listeners inside the US who have blissfully been able to not be aware of what Pizza-gate was, it was just this crazy scandal that sort of burst out of Reddit. It’s so hard to believe that it existed, but it did exist. But essentially these people believed that there was a child sex trafficking ring happening at a pizza place in Brooklyn that major Democratic officials were involved. Hillary Clinton was involved. There were secret code words. That it was all this big thing.

And it seemed like one of those crazy Internet things until somebody like shows up there and starts shooting. And that’s what happened. And so Pizza-gate is not the same as homeopathy, but I think it’s that same sense of like I’m going to choose to believe what facts I choose to believe, and if anyone confronts me about these imaginary facts I believe, I’m going to say that you are just trying to suppress my truth. You’re trying to conceal what’s really happening behind.

Craig: Right. Because it feels true. And if it feels true, it is true. Except that’s not how truth works. And as we proceed in this incredible age of enlightenment and technological advancement, when I look all around me I see this ever widening gap between rationalists and irrationalists. And there are so many more irrationalists than rationalists. And what’s so crazy is the rationalists are giving us everything. Our iPhones and our computers and the Internet and the microphones we’re using and the medicines that have extended our lives. And the vaccines that give us the luxury to walk around in a crowded building and not worry about getting the plague. These people are thriving and giving us everything. The irrationalists take these things and use them to spread irrationality.

So, they use the Internet, a rational thing, and they use medicine, a rational thing, and their extended life spans, and all of it to spread things that run counter to what the rationalists say and do. And I worry that we are going to end up in this crazy bifurcated world between people who are recessing backwards towards caveman-like magical thinking. And then these other people that are moving forward towards some sort of star child status. I don’t know how we lost our love of rationality. But, homeopathy is such a canary in the coal mine for me. It really is. I hate that more people are using it. It makes me angry.

John: Yup. So, let’s talk about the real problems of using it in a medical situation. So, one of the problems is just finite resources. There’s only so much money to spend on medicine and on drugs and on healthcare. And if you’re spending $3 billion a year on stuff that absolutely cannot work, that’s $3 billion that you’re not spending on research, on actual medicines that could work.

I don’t want to pretend that our modern healthcare system, specifically our modern drug system, is wonderful or ideal. It’s not. It’s messed up. It’s deeply messed up and needs to be changed. But the solution is not an invented system that has no basis in science whatsoever.

Craig: That’s right. We know for sure that heart disease kills most people that are dying of medical causes in the United States. Heart disease, number one. What if we just took that $3 billion and just donated it to heart disease research? That would be better.

John: It would be better. I mean, in some ways I think taking that $3 billion and putting it in a hole would be kind of better also, because that’s what you’re essentially doing and you’re encouraging this false set of beliefs by spending that $3 billion on these sugar pills.

Craig: It’s true. Yeah.

John: Yeah. Sort of to get around to sort of like how homeopathy represents these bigger issues, let’s look at how homeopathy started and how it all began. So, Hahnemann took a very simple idea, a simple and sort of compelling idea. It was easy to summarize that idea. He spread it by denouncing the experts. He created alternative vocabularies for everything. He renamed his opponents, so he called them allopaths, basically don’t even refer to them by their normal name.

And when he was confronted by facts, he just kept spinning. He just kept inventing new things until he died. And this is essentially, you know, we urged you before to use the term begs the question properly. This is begging the question. This is circular reasoning that’s not ever proving its underlying premise.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a bit like you know how we’re going to make America great again? We’re going to make America great again.

John: Done.

Craig: Sold.

John: Sign me up.

Craig: Yeah. And let me just come up with a bunch of funny names for the people running against me and lies schmies. Yeah.

John: Good stuff. So, what can you do as a person, as a citizen, to look at homeopathy in a better way and sort of like help us move past our current situation with homeopathy?

Craig: Well, my advice is not to – it’s not wishy washy in any way. It’s more of an imperative. None of you should pay a single penny for any product described as homeopathic. If it says homeopathic on the box, it does not work. By definition. It cannot work. It is not even meant to work. That product exists to enrich liars. That’s it.

How often do we come across things where we can say happily, “This isn’t a fuzzy issue. There’s no middle ground. There’s no good homeopaths who are getting a bad rep from the bad ones.” The story has one side. Homeopathy is stupid and wrong. And if you believe in it, you are doing something that is stupid and wrong. And if you take it, you’re doing something that is stupid and wrong. And the only worse than doing something stupid and wrong by mistake, which we all do, which is part of the human condition, is doing something stupid and wrong on purpose, knowing it’s stupid and wrong. That’s a moral crime.

So, you want to help? Stop doing it.

John: I agree. I’d also say along with don’t equivocate, like don’t draw false comparisons. So, there are things where you sort of squint and look like, oh, that kind of looks like homeopathy. But actually investigate it and see whether it is homeopathy or not homeopathy. So, we talked about vaccinations. Yes, vaccinations, you’re taking something in to prevent a disease, but that’s not homeopathy. That’s actually a real thing. So, don’t throw out vaccination because homeopathy doesn’t work.

Same thing with like there’s allergy treatments where you’re actually building up your body’s immune system so it doesn’t react to certain things. Like they just announced a way to do that for peanuts, which is great, because that was actually killing real kids. So, there’s things that sort of look like homeopathy but are not homeopathy, so don’t confuse those things, too. Don’t throw out everything. Just look at sort of what homeopathy is doing and say like, “That’s not it.”

I like Craig’s suggestion for if you see the homeopathy, then you know it’s not real. Just replace that mentally in your head with like ineffective. Ineffective cold medicine.

Craig: Right.

John: You wouldn’t buy anything that was called ineffective cold medicine. Don’t buy something called homeopathic cold medicine.

Craig: Yeah. Or replace it with the word scam. So, scam cold medicine. Okay, yeah, I get it.

John: Although Zicam was very effective, and Zicam is a lot like scam.

Craig: Zicam is not that effective.

John: It was effective in terms of its marketing.

Craig: Yes. In terms of its marketing, you’re right. Yes, they were dancing very close to… – Hey, listen, we’re in a freaking post-Trump world now where he went to this rally and people were like Lock Her Up, and he’s like, “Oh, yeah, I remember Lock Her Up. That was funny. That played well before the election. We don’t need that anymore.”

John: Ugh.

Craig: It was like, he’s just telling them now. And they’re like, “Yeah.” [laughs]

John: He’s doing his own commentary track. That’s the crazy thing.

Craig: He is. And he’s doing what homeopathic medicine does, which is to say you should take this. It’s a sugar pill. It doesn’t work. Take it. It works. Wait, what? So, part of what people struggle with, I think, is if you take this away, what is left? And unfortunately – and this is where if you are somebody who wanted to believe in this, but maybe we’ve gotten through to you and you’re thinking, okay, okay, I submit. But the alternatives aren’t great. Well, no one promised you a rose garden. Here’s the deal with science. You can’t blame science for correcting itself. I think people do this all the time. They’re like, well, what do the doctors know? They used to say that you should do this. And then they said you should do this.

Correct. That’s what science does. Science does its best and is constantly examining itself and then changing to reflect new information. That is exactly why science is valuable. You can’t reward fake science for being consistent. That’s the hallmark of fake science. There’s no prize for being consistently wrong the way that homeopathic medicine has been consistently wrong.

So, similarly you can’t really punish science for being inconsistent. That’s part of why science works. And we know that while science may stumble and move forward and backwards, you know, two steps forward, one step back, when they do arrive at things that work, they’re life-changing.

Lipitor has saved so many lives. And it works. And it’s good. Science is ultimately a matter of statistics and best guesses and margins of error. And that is messy, I think, conceptually for people. But it turns out messy is far more effective than fake meat.

John: I agree. And let’s talk about what you can do as a writer. So, if this has inspired you to think about these topics, what can you do as a screenwriter? I would argue that you need to be careful with your narratives, because we brought up The Matrix, we brought up Star Wars. It’s very easy to play into the narrative where your hero is told that the world is not as it seems. They are standing up against a system. These are all common tropes for our movies and they’re there for a reason, but maybe think about not making the villain of your story medicine, or a system which is actually sort of there for the good.

Stand up for facts and truth in your stories. Have your heroes stand up for facts and for truth. And up against lies. That’s always a great thing. And don’t make your heroes sort of like gleefully, blissfully ignorant. Don’t reward them for their faith in an invisible thing beyond all reason. That’s my concern is that so many of our compelling stories are about that sort of belief in the invisible magical force that surrounds us in the universe. And so we see these stories and we’re just like, oh yeah, that’s right. I’m like Luke Skywalker. I believe in the Force.

And it’s like, no, no, you believe in an imaginary speck of duck liver that’s not actually there in the thing you’re drinking. That’s my concern. So, I would just argue for look for ways to tell stories where the heroes are not those guys who are believing in the impossible thing just because.

Craig: Yeah. The heroes of rationality. I agree.

There are times when the nature of drama requires you to tell an outlier story. And there are stories where people fought against the medical establishment for something and prevailed. And that’s fine, too. But when you’re telling that story, at least acknowledge that while there may be a bad guy, that science itself is not the bad guy. That, in fact, whoever is fighting this fight to advance their belief, which turns out to be true, is a scientist. They got there rationally.

So, the worst thing is when they paint… – Look, movies want to paint the world in the most simple, gleeful way. You know, folks, if you just walk outside and chew a simple leaf, like these noble savages, you will held. No. No. Those people aren’t noble or savage. That leaf doesn’t work.

The ones that do work get turned into medicine, like aspirin, which comes from the bark of the willow tree, I believe. Or, I mean, there’s a whole bunch of drugs that come from plants. And we use them. We don’t use the ones that don’t work.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, these people don’t know anything. I mean, really, do you think that the Oscillococcinum people are like, wow, we figured it out and then Bayer wasn’t like, “Ooh, we’d like to get in on that.” Doesn’t work that way.

John: Nope.

Craig: Crazy.

John: A good friend of mine back in Los Angeles, who I deeply love, but he will consistently believe impossible things. And so about once a week I have to sit him down and really talk him through this thing that he’s thinking and really explain why it can’t possibly work. And by the end of a session I can sort of get him thinking like, oh yeah, okay, I get that. But he’s not able to sort of generalize that through to the next situation that is nearly identical to that. And I think in all of our lives there are going to be some people who are like that. And you got to pick sort of who are those people who you’re going to help walk through those roads.

So, if you’re a person who is post-homeopathy and that this has at all been inspiring you to get past your belief in some of these systems, it’s great that you’re there. Just pick up the torch and like carry it on. And get some other people in your life to be thinking rationally about some of these situations.

Craig: Amen.

John: Great. It is time for out One Cool Things. So, keeping with our medicinal topic here, I’m going to say my One Cool Thing is French Pharmacists. So, yes, French pharmacists will have homeopathic medicines on the counter. They’re not pushing them, but I do see them there. But, I’ve had three exposures with French pharmacists and they’ve been remarkably helpful in ways that American pharmacists never will.

So, they will actually, like there was a problem with one of my prescriptions. They’re like, “Okay, I’ll call your doctor.” Like, they’re never going to call the doctor. But, no, they called the doctor, then they called and they said like, “I couldn’t get through to the doctor, but I’m still working on it.” Twice they did that. And then they found like cheaper ways to get things to happen. They’ve been so remarkably helpful and useful.

Another fun fact about French pharmacists. If you are gathering mushrooms out in the woods, you can take them to a pharmacist and the pharmacist will identify which ones are the poisonous mushrooms.

Craig: Wow.

John: They’re trained in identifying poisonous mushrooms.

Craig: It’s so French. So French. I love it.

John: It’s amazing.

Craig: A-mazing. Well, I’ll keep in line as well with our topic here. If you are interested in being like me and John and being skeptical of bad medicine and bad science, I urge you to check out a website called Quackwatch. it is not a pretty website. They have invested no time or energy in good web design.

However, they are a great clearinghouse for information on all of the terrible, bad medicine and medical ideas and health scams that are floating around out there. Think of it like your medical Snopes. And when someone tells you, “I’ve that blah, blah, blah,” go check it out on Quackwatch.

Sometimes things are new and sometimes things are effective. A lot of times what you’re hearing is pre-packaged or repackaged/reheated crap. And Quackwatch will help guide you through that miasma, as Hahnemann would say.

John: Fantastic. That is our show for this week. So, as always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Tim Minchin. He’s the composer and lyricist of Matilda.

Craig: Wait, what? [laughs]

John: And the upcoming Groundhog Day.

Craig: Wait, wait, wait, what?

John: He did not compose this specifically for us. This is something I found online where he talks about homeopathy and I felt it was so appropriate that even if it does not have a [hums], it should be our outro for this week’s episode.

Craig: My heart stopped there when I thought it was, like, oh my god, Tim Minchin listens to our show.

John: Yeah. I know.

Craig: He’s like my hero.

John: That Broadway and medical outrage combination. Like it’s Craig’s day.

Craig: Genius.

John: Tim Minchin lives in Los Angeles apparently. Did you know that?

Craig: You’re kidding. I want to hang out with him so bad. So, I don’t know if this clip is from Storm, his incredible poem.

John: It’s related to Storm, but it’s not from Storm.

Craig: I think Storm was one of my prior One Cool Things. God, I would do anything just to hang out with that guy for an evening. Anything.

John: So, our sense of like we would do anything to meet has worked once before where we met the wonderful Kates from Australia.

Craig: That’s right.

John: This guy is also Australian. He’s in Los Angeles. Somebody who listens to the show knows him. So, maybe we’ll make this happen.

Craig: Make it happen.

John: All right. If you have an outro, or you’re Tim Minchin and wanting to write into us, you can write to That’s also the place where you can send longer questions.

On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We’re on Facebook. So, if you have not already left a comment about our last topic, where we talked about transgender issues, you can let us know what you thought about our homeopathy episode.

Craig: Heavy fire.

John: Heavy fire. You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you’ll find the app to download. Some people were having problem with the app. It’s great that you wrote in to me, but it’s also great if you write into the folks who actually make the app, which his Libsyn. So, even though it’s underneath my umbrella of a company, it’s actually the folks at Libsyn make the app. So, if you find a technical issue with it, talk to them because they are the ones who interface between the library and everything else. They can help you more than I can help you on the app.

At you’ll find transcripts for this and all of our episodes. Between Godwin and John who does the transcripts, they are up about four days after the episodes. That’s also where you can find transcripts for all the back episodes and the show notes for today’s episode. We’ll try to have a lot of links in there for the things we talked about.

And, Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: All right. Have a good week. Bye.

Craig: Bye.


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Holiday Homeopathy Spectacular

Tue, 12/27/2016 - 06:03

John and Craig ditch their jobs as screenwriters to play quackery sleuths, investigating the practice of homeopathy and what it can teach us about how narrative shapes belief.


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You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 280: Black List Boys Don’t Cry — Transcript

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 07:22

John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode has some swearing in it, so if you’re in the car with your kids, maybe save it for later.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 280 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we’ll be discussing post-scriptdom depression. That low feeling you sometimes get when finishing a screenplay. We’ll also be looking at some of the trends in the most recent Black List. And a protest over Boys Don’t Cry, which has me shaking my damn head. But, first, we have some news. Craig, tell us the news.

Craig: Well, very exciting. Our friend and friend of the podcast, so by extension your friend at home, Malcolm Spellman is developing a television series based on Foxy Brown, the 1974 cult classic film. Malcolm will be one of the executive producers, along with Ben Watkins, another guy we know, we I think created or show-runs Hand of God, which is an Amazon show.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And Malcolm and Ben are going to be writing the script and running the show, so that’s going to be on Hulu. And, you know, what a world, because if I had said that three years ago it would have been like, “Aw, that’s sad.”

John: Your little show on Hulu.

Craig: Yeah, like, aw. Wow, that’s awesome. That’s better than basically everything. So, what a crazy world. Anyway, congratulations to Malcolm Spellman. Foxy Brown, by the way, I love that movie. I love Foxy Brown. I actually think it’s a brilliant idea for a TV show because it’s so TV-able.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: By the way, I don’t know anything about creatively. I haven’t talked to him about it yet. I don’t know creatively how they’re approaching it. But, man, I hope it’s period. I hope. Hard to do, because it’s expensive. But…

John: Yeah. I’m very excited to see it as well. And I think what you say about it being a TV idea is absolutely true, because it’s the characters. It’s centered around this character. And it’s not about the one journey the character is on. It’s about her adventures. It’s about sort of what she’s doing and the trouble that she is solving. And so that is going to be great. So, I’m so excited for Malcolm. It feels like a perfect match.

I’m going to have my tiny little rant about Hulu. So, I pay for Hulu because Hulu is how here in France we watch New Girl. It’s how we watch The Simpsons, South Park, and other great shows that we love. So, because we are paid members of Hulu, I feel like I should be able to watch Hulu while I’m here, and I cannot without a VPN. So, if you are a person who works at Hulu, can you make it so that if I’m a paid, logged in member of Hulu I don’t have to use a VPN to watch your program while I’m here? That would be awesome. Thanks.

Craig: That would be awesome.

John: So, the other weird thing is Hulu actually follows me on Twitter. Like I got the little notification on my phone, like Hulu is now following you. So, great. I will also tweet them to ask them to please turn this off. Because Netflix, notably, does not VPN block you. I guess because they have a Netflix France, and that’s what I’m watching.

Craig: Well, that’s what it comes down to, right? I mean, Hulu must have some sort of partner in France that they’re demanding your view instead, right?

John: I suppose so. I don’t know who the Hulu partner is. So, like, for my HBO shows I’m watching them through OCS. That is where I watched Westworld. But I don’t know who the Hulu equivalent is here. And I don’t know where I’m supposed to watch The Mindy Project, for example, which is only a Hulu show, if not through Hulu on the VPN.

Craig: Like at the very least, if you’re trying to access Hulu and you’re not in a territory that is Hulu-accessible, they should tell you go here instead. Right? They shouldn’t just give you some dumb thing like, “Sorry.” Because I assume that the deal is that Hulu charges some French company to deliver their content, therefore that French company is like, fine, but then you can’t deliver it, only we can if we’re paying you for it. That makes sense. But then just tell me where to go.

John: Yeah. I think there’s also some logic. Like as they’re cutting out their deals, like if someone is actually a paid member who is like paying you in the US for this thing, I feel like that should be carved out of the sort of like we have France kind of stuff.

I know it’s complicated. And most of the people listening to this show are either – they’re living in America and they don’t have to worry about it, or they’re living internationally and have been dealing with this their entire lives. So, to have me complain about it is a little bit pointless. But, anyway, that’s my little Hulu rant.

Craig: Oh John.

John: Let’s get to things we actually do know about – our t-shirts. So, our friends at Cotton Bureau have received so many requests for our Scriptnotes t-shirts, our last two Scriptnotes t-shirts, that they will be printing a new run in January.

Craig: Ah-ha.

John: So, hooray. So, if you are a person like Craig Mazin who ordered a women’s medium shirt, rather than a men’s medium shirt–

Craig: Huge disaster.

John: You can fix that. So, when they actually have the t-shirts up, I’ll tweet about it. Craig may even tweet about it. But if you want to make sure you don’t miss the deadline for them, you should go to Cotton Bureau right now and put your email address in there so that they will notify you the minute they become available, so you can get a t-shirt of your own. Either the Three Page Gold Standard, or the Classic Scriptnotes logo.

Craig: They’re both very, very good. Jennifer Simard, Broadway star, Tony nominee, very worked up over her failure to get a t-shirt. Tried to work the angle with me to get her t-shirt. No.

John: Wow.

Craig: No. No, no. I don’t care how many Tony nominations you have. I do, actually. That’s the thing with me. Regardless, Jennifer, I know you listen. So you’re going to go to Cotton Bureau, like so many others of you, and pre-order your shirts so that John August can get richer.

John: Yes. So much richer. It’s nothing but money for me.

While we’re talking pure commerce, the thing I actually do make money off of that is not even sort of paying for the podcast is Writer Emergency Pack, which is the thing I Kickstarted, which is now sold on Amazon. If you’re looking for something to buy for the writer-friend in your life, or if you just want one because no one else got something cool for Christmas, they are available on Amazon and at So, that’s a thing you can buy if you want to support me and not Craig.

Craig: That’s right.

John: That’s a thing you can buy, too.

Craig: And you do. It is a good gift for your writer-friend or lover.

John: Mm, yes. Especially good for lovers. What’s also good for lovers is movies, especially movies in France.

Craig: Segue Man!

John: In the last episode we discussed how and why Moana is called Vaiana here in France, and some other countries. We also talked about how The Hangover was released here as A Very Bad Trip. So, we got an email in from somebody who actually knows the reason why Craig’s movie was not called Hangover here.

Craig: Yeah. So, Kristof in Paris writes, “According to industry friends, The Hangover had too little time to play off of it’s a hit in the United States, and no stars to push, so the title was translated to Very Bad Trip in order to recall Pete Berg’s Very Bad Things, which over-performed in France, and was deemed to be a not un-useful connection for moviegoers to make.”

That’s fascinating. It’s fascinating on so many levels. I mean, first of all, Very Bad Things, I’ve seen that movie. I don’t know if you have, John.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Not only not a hit, but almost invisible. Like an incredibly small movie here in the United States. And surprising that it would be that market meaningful in France. But, that makes sense. There had to be some reason, right? I mean, so, that makes sense.

John: It actually makes a lot of sense. And think about it, in the abstract, if you were like to squint and look at both movies you could say like, oh yeah, they seem like the same kind of movie. It’s both about like horrible people going on this trip. They both happen in Vegas, I think. Did the first movie happen in Vegas?

Craig: Yeah, but they’re so tonally different. I mean, Very Bad Things is sort of a nauseatingly dark thriller about men covering up the death of a stripper. And that is not at all – The Hangover is tonally wildly different. But it just, you know, I assume that The Hangover did very well in France, so strategy successful.

John: So successful. So, let’s continue this thread. We also got this great article sent to us that has a bunch of these American titles and the French titles for movies. And so a thing you’ll notice, and something I’ve noticed as I’ve walked around here, a lot of times you will see the movie released in France will have English words as the title, but they won’t be the same words we had in America. And so, I thought we would take a look at some of these movies. And I’ll read the American title and Craig, you can do the French title, and see if we notice any trends, okay?

Craig: Sure.

John: So, No Strings Attached.

Craig: Sex Friends.

John: The Hangover.

Craig: Very Bad Trip, of course.

John: Euro Trip.

Craig: [laughs] This one is great. So, our friend Alec Berg makes his movie Euro Trip, and in Europe, France, they call it Sex Trip.

John: Mm-hmm. How about Wild Things.

Craig: Sex Crimes.

John: Not Another Teen Movie.

Craig: Sex Academy.

John: Out Cold.

Craig: Snow, Sex, and Sun.

John: Mozart and the Whale.

Craig: Crazy in Love. Well, that’s nice.

John: Yeah. Trainwreck.

Craig: Crazy Amy. [laughs]

John: Meet the Spartans.

Craig: Orgy Movie, which I have to say, is actually a title for that particular film.

John: Yep. The In Crowd.

Craig: Sex and Manipulations.

John: Step Up.

Craig: Sexy Dance.

John: Let’s go down to The To-Do List.

Craig: Sex List. [laughs]

John: A Short History of Decay.

Craig: What else could it be? Sexy Therapy.

John: Yeah, but that’s not the only one, because Thanks for Sharing is called…

Craig: Sex Therapy.

John: Yeah, so do we notice a trend here?

Craig: Yes, and I have to say that what a great double bill to go see, both films not widely seen–

John: Nope.

Craig: But to go see Sexy Therapy and then Sex Therapy. Yeah, they seem to be, you know, separate from I guess what our natural suspicion would be about the French and their interest in subtlety, they seem to be even more blunt in their titling than Americans are.

John: Yeah. Maybe you could say like they don’t want their American comedies to be subtle. They want their American comedies to be loud and brash. And it certainly looks that way. So, I’ll put a link in the show notes to what we just read, but also a whole other Tumblr which is called Pardon My Titres, which is just a bunch of the French titles for movies.

But there’s one thing I thought was actually really interesting that I’ll single out which is this last link here, which was the same movie and a very different marketing strategy. And so this is the Australian version of it versus the American version. So, the American movie was called That Awkward Moment. And so it was a comedy that had Zac Efron, Michael B. Jordan, and Miles Teller in it.

And so I remember the trailer. I never saw the movie, but I remember the trailer, and it felt like a buddy comedy with the three of them. And so they compare that to the Australian version which is like it’s Zac Efron and the girl. And they’re the two people on the cover. They’re the only names that you’re seeing. Rather than That Awkward Moment it’s called Are We Officially Dating. They’re like walking in the fall. It’s such a completely different way of marketing the movie.

Craig: Wild. Yeah, I have to say that looking at these movie posters and the retitlings, it’s not surprising that French people look down on Americans. I mean, I don’t know if they all know that we don’t call every movie Sex Blank. It’s so strange. Maybe it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. They view us as sort of silly, and so they give our movies the silliest titles, and then French people think we’re silly and so on and so forth. But the most fascinating one on the site to me is this movie, I’d never even heard of this movie. It’s a movie called Bad Biology. That’s the American title. It appears to be some kind of dark horror romance. And so, of course, they retitled it Sex Addict. But the cover–

John: The poster.

Craig: The poster, they have – you know what? Let’s just put it in the show notes. [laughs] Let’s just put it in the show notes so you can see.

John: So, this week as I was looking through some of these posters, I found one that is like, wow, I wonder if he knows this. So Ryan Reynolds is a friend and so I just sent him this poster for this movie that he’s in. He’s the only person on the cover and it’s called Under Pressure. And he’s like, “Wait, what is this movie?” And the movie, in the US it’s called Mississippi Grind. It’s a gambling drama. But the poster for Under Pressure is completely different. And so there’s dice on it, kind of, but it’s not even – the image of him is not even him from this movie. It’s a completely different version of him on this poster. And he had no idea what it was.

And so you can imagine if you’re the actor who sees one of these posters, but if you’re like the filmmaker and you see like, oh, this is what my movie is sold as in other markets, it is bewildering.

Craig: It is. I know a lot of filmmakers get worked up over it. I tend to blank it all out. I don’t look at what the posters look like or the retitlings. I don’t know what they call these movies elsewhere. I just sort of give up. I’ve actually given up caring what they are like here as well.

John: [laughs]

Craig: I now just write them and then go away.

John: The key to Craig Mazin’s success is not caring.

Craig: Not caring. I care about the script and the movie and then the day my job is done, I stop. I have to.

John: All right. You have to.

Last bit of follow up. So we did it again. Back in Episode 267 we did a How Would this be a Movie in which we talked about Dr. James Barry, the 19th Century British doctor who was identified as a woman only after death. So, this week news comes out that Rachel Weisz is attached to play James Barry in a movie adaptation. The script is being written by Nick Yarborough, whose name you’ll hear again later on in the podcast. And it’s based on Rachel Holmes’s book The Secret Life of Dr. James Miranda Barry: Victorian England’s Most Eminent Surgeon.

So, it’s a different book than what we were looking at when we discussed it, but hey, we were right. That’s a movie.

Craig: We were right. I mean, that was so obviously a movie. And I’m kind of curious to see which of the methods they approach it. Because we had talked about all sorts of different ways to do it. I mean, one way is the kind of straight up way. One way was concentrating on her relationship with her partner/servant/confidante.

John: Also her mother was a great character.

Craig: The mother was a great character. So, you know, interesting to see what they do and how they choose to come at it.

John: Yeah. I think the one thing I feel confident about is because Rachel Weisz is a great actor, and everyone involved seems like really great people, so there’s no chance of any controversy whatsoever about the choices they’ve made in making that movie, because everyone is going to see like, well, that’s just obviously how you should do it.

Craig: No one gets worked up over the casting of any actor when it comes to [sighs] characters who are transgender, or gender-fluid. And so we arrive now at umbrage.

John: Yes. So, this is something that actually happened last month, but the news of it just sort of came out this last week. So, last month students at Reed College in Portland, Oregon started a protest over Kimberly Peirce’s movie Boys Don’t Cry. So, Kimberly Peirce is the very talented director who that was her breakout movie, a Sundance movie, that won the Oscar for Hilary Swank. So, there was a protest at Reed College while she was giving a Q&A basically sort of trying to take over the Q&A post-screening.

So, Kimberly Peirce had to leave for a while, and then rules were established. She came back in. They were criticizing her for making money off of a movie about trans people while not being trans herself. They attacked the casting of Hilary Swank, a straight woman to play a trans man. They put a sign on her podium that read Fuck This Cis White Bitch. Someone shouted, “Fuck you, you scared bitch.” And then the students walked out.

So, Kimberly Peirce, an openly lesbian director, did not have a great experience there at Reed College.

Craig: Where do you even begin? I mean, listen, there is a level of stupidity here that is so in your face because Kim Peirce is not only a lesbian but has described herself as gender-fluid or gender-queer. And Kim Peirce is one of the few well-known openly lesbian filmmakers making movies about these issues. She was as far as I know the first director period to make a really insightful movie about this particular case, which was based on a real thing. She broke ground. She is a brave person.

And she ought to be celebrated by the very people that care about these issues. So, of course, they rip her apart and in ripping her apart do so with racism, and with misogyny, because she’s not pure enough for their 2016 sensibilities. It is disgusting to me. I mean, nauseating. I hated this.

John: I hated this, too. So, before we enter into the period of great umbrage over this, I do want to sort of acknowledge that Reed College itself seemed to recognize what was going on and tried to – they tried to walk a fine line of like we want to have vigorous discussions on this campus, but this was not cool. So this is what the Dean of Faculty, Nigel Nicholson, which is a great name, this is what he wrote after the fact. “The actions that I saw were not animated by the spirit of inquiry or the desire to learn that usually animates Reed audiences. The students had already decided what they thought and came to a question-and-answer session to make their judgments known, not to listen and engage.

“Some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. Others asked questions that, while grammatically questions, that is they ended with question marks, were not animated by a genuine desire to explore a question, but rather sought to indict the speaker. It felt like a courtroom, not a college.”

So, that’s a reasonable response from the academic point of view. But I think I want to stop being reasonable right now and just unload on this a little bit if we can.

Craig: Thank you. Go. Go, go, go.

John: What luxury fucking outrage this is. We live in a time where like the fundamental rights of LGBT people are under attack and really at this precarious moment. Like the gains that have been won are all up for grabs right now. And so you choose to aim your weapons at the openly gay director of a movie that came out 20 years ago? Really, how fucking dare you.

And what’s worse is like you’re ignoring the fundamental role of movies like this that got us to where we are. You don’t get visibility and understanding of trans people without a movie like Boys Don’t Cry. It makes me just so furious.

Craig: Well, first of all, congratulations on finally reaching umbrage level. That was umbrage. Took 200 and how many episodes? But–

John: That was 280, yes.

Craig: 280. Real umbrage there. And, of course, completely deserved. First of all, Nigel Nicholson, Dean of Faculty, I have some advice for you. Expel these assholes. How about that? It’s not enough to say, well, you know, they brought some – some brought posters bearing judgments and accusations. You put a placard on the podium where your invited guest, Kimberly Peirce is speaking, that says “Fuck this Cis White Bitch.” Expel them. It’s as simple as that. They don’t belong in any college. They are assholes. They are anti-intellectual. They are bullies. And they’re violating everything that they’re pretending to protect.

It is also nonsense. I mean, underneath all of it, it’s not like – we’re not saying, look, these students have arrived at a reasonable place but they’re missing the context of what things were like when Kim Peirce made her movie in 1999. No, at least I’m saying where they have arrived now is insane. What they’re suggesting is that you cannot make a movie with a transgender character if you do not hire a transgender actor to play that character. They are also suggesting that you cannot make any movie that profits off of anyone’s misery because that’s somehow morally wrong. And so with one broad stroke of their pen they have eliminated every movie about the Holocaust. Every movie about slavery.

Oh my god, look what happened, you have Steve McQueen making 12 Years a Slave. Profiting off of slavery. What a jerk. Can’t do that. Oh, Spielberg, profiting off of the Holocaust. You can’t possibly put anyone in these movies that portray somebody that they don’t – Daniel Day Lewis, you asshole, you were in My Left Foot. You don’t really have cerebral palsy. Boo.

This is nuts. Nuts.

John: Yep. It’s frustrating. And I think what I don’t understand and I doubt there is a reasonable explanation for it is what they were actually after. I mean, were they demanding a time machine to go back 20 years and unmake this movie? Were they asking her to apologize for making this movie? Basically, they didn’t want anything bad to happen to Brandon Teena, because that’s what it seems to be. Is that like I can understand the frustration of like not wanting to see people who look like you hurt in movies. I get that. And that sense of like if all you ever saw – if you were a Jewish person and all you ever saw were movies about the Holocaust, or a black person and all you ever saw were movies about slavery, yeah, I could see how that could be really, really frustrating. But the thing is that’s not the only movies that are out there for LGBT people. There’s thousands of film festivals across the country that highlight the broad diversity of experiences of these people.

So, rather than picking this one movie to harsh one, acknowledge that there’s other stories out there and start telling those stories, but don’t show up at this Q&A and not ask questions but rather attack the filmmaker who made this movie.

Craig: You know, you’re getting to something true here, which is that it’s not real to them because what happened to Brandon Teena happened before they were born. This movie came out before they were born.

Here’s a little advice, children. If something happened before you existed, consider that before you smirkily dismiss it as obviously wrong. Because you don’t know. You know who does know? Kimberly Peirce. You know who lived through that time and did not conform to gender standards and did not conform to sexuality standards in the mid-90s, in the early 90s? Kim Peirce.

So, fuck you, to start with. I’ll give you back your own poster. And I want to also say that I support the casting and employment of transgender actors. I do. I want to see that. I want to see it, by the way, not so that they’re only ghettoized into playing transgender parts either. I’m okay with – and more than okay, I’m hopeful that transgender people will become more visible in all aspects of life, as well they should be. But we have to address some math here.

The latest statistics tell us that 0.6% of the United States population is transgender. 0.6%. Okay? Now, very few people in the United States are crazy enough to want to be an actor. Of those very few crazy people, a very, very tiny amount of them actually train to be an actor. Of those tiny, tiny amount of people, very few of them are any good at it. And of those tiny people, very few of them are the right age or look for a part that is based on a person who actually lived. It is simply not realistic to say that you cannot make a movie about a specific person and only limit the portrayal of that person to somebody that fits characteristics that frankly are not essential to the humanity of that person.

Why I love the movie Boys Don’t Cry is because I empathize and feel for the humanity of somebody that is not like me. That’s the point. And that’s what actors do. They created the empathy of the separation between themselves and who they play.

John: That’s what actors do. That’s what directors do. That’s what filmmakers do. That’s what writers do. They create the experience of being in another person’s perspective. Another person’s life for two hours on a big screen. And that is a remarkable thing that takes tremendous talent up and down the call sheet.

Craig: Yeah. 100%. I mean, I love watching – part of the magic of Hamilton is watching people that don’t fit the racial characteristics or even the sexual characteristics of the people they’re portraying. And then you forget about it. Somebody like Christopher Jackson, who oftentimes – he’s not unsung, believe me, but maybe some bigger names get mentioned when people talk about Hamilton, but Christopher Jackson does an unbelievable job portraying George Washington. Christopher Jackson is African American. George Washington owned slaves. But you can tell when you watch Hamilton how much love Christopher Jackson has for Washington. What he’s doing is connecting with him through empathy across these divisions and that is a beautiful thing. That is what the art of performance is.

And these fucking children do not understand. They don’t understand how movies are made. I don’t even think they understand why movies are made. They are ridiculous and stupid. And I’m angry at them and I want to buy Kim Peirce a sandwich. Or something.

John: Yes. She likes a beer. Next time we’re all in LA together we can have a beer with her.

Craig: Beer it is.

John: She’s an awesome filmmaker. Going back to this idea of only blank can play blank, it fails logic on the sort of reductio ad absurdum level. You can always draw more specific characteristics that you’re going to say like, well, you have to be this, you have to be this, until the point that there’s no person – like the Venn diagram does not work. There’s no person who actually falls in there, especially if you’re trying to model after a real person.

So, you know, look at Black Swan. There was criticism of Natalie Portman because she’s not really a ballerina. Well, okay, do you want an actress or do you want a ballerina? You got to pick at some point.

Not everybody in the Godfather movies was Italian. You know what? Coppola thought that was okay. I think it’s okay, too.

Craig: James Caan. Not exactly an Italian name.

John: Not an Italian name. And the director and two of the main actors in 12 Years a Slave are British, so they don’t have the African American experience. How dare they be in that movie?

Craig: Right.

John: That’s the absurdity that you get to here. Also, when you do the only blank can play blank, you sort of encourage less specificity. You encourage filmmakers to be less specific about who those characters are, so they don’t get stuck in these traps. I worry that it’s these kind of protests and outrage that make people more nervous to make movies like the James Barry movie because they can anticipate, crap, this is going to happen if we do this.

Like what are the James Barry people supposed to do? Are they supposed to cast Rachel Weisz, a very talented actor, to play this? Or should they do this worldwide talent search to find the transgender person? I guess they can do that, too, but Rachel Weisz is producing the movie. So, there’s no great answer for this.

Craig: I think that in our desire to advance the cause of people that have been underrepresented in movies and film, to the point where they are almost invisible, we have to make it so that we advance their cause without requiring that some roles be cast with certain kinds of people, because what happens is those movies as you say simply will not get made.

I mean, nobody makes – first of all, the idea that Boys Don’t Cry was some huge cash grab by Kimberly Peirce is fucking insane. The movie cost $2 million. It is the epitome of a passion project where the expectation is no one is going to make a damn penny. And I don’t think anybody did make a damn penny off of that movie. It wasn’t Titanic. You know, it was Boys Don’t Cry. You know who saw it? People like you and me in LA and New York. I mean, come on.

So, these movies are already nobody wants to pay for them to be made. So, there’s a – you have to sometimes tradeoff visibility of individuals with visibility of stories. You and I both know this. It’s hard to get movies made if you don’t case certain kinds of people in them. And then you have people who are brilliant at it, and sometimes it works beautifully. You know, where you have a guy like Lee Daniels and you know my worship of Precious. Like I’m obsessed with Precious. He found somebody perfect, Gabourey Sidibe, to play Precious. But he also put in Monique. And he also put in Mariah Carey. He’s not stupid. Right?

And he got amazing performances out of both of them. He’s not dumb. Right? So there’s certain people – frankly, the bias that we don’t talk about enough is the beauty bias.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: You know, everybody has to be beautiful in movies. That’s the other problem. Everybody. They all have to be. Look at the supporting roles in Boys Don’t Cry. This is a story that takes place in rural Nebraska, and everyone is gorgeous. Chloe Sevigny does not run around randomly in Nebraska. That’s not how it goes. You know, movies make everything glowy and beautiful.

Movies are illusions of reality. They are. That’s just the way it is. And I don’t want to see these stories not get told because there are prescriptions about who can play what kind of actor. It kills me to think that My Left Foot would not exist in our culture and in our world if they said we have to cast somebody who actually has cerebral palsy. Because here’s the deal: there is no one on the earth better at acting than Daniel Day Lewis. No one. The end.

You cast a great performer, always. And while you’re doing that if you can also advance the visibility and the employment and presence of all kinds of people in movies, in all kinds of roles, then you are a good person doing good work.

But to train your laser on this is outrageous and ignorant.

John: I agree. So let’s look for some solutions here. Let’s look for a solution if you are an audience member who is showing up at this screening with these concerns. My suggestion would be to start your question, an actual question would be something like, “If you were to make this film now…” Like that’s fine. Then you can ask her, hey, this is the movie you made then, but if you were to make this film, what would that be? Because then you’re actually asking for an answer.

You’re saying, okay, what would you do differently now? Or are there things you’d do differently? You can bring up the issue of casting trans people in this movie that way, rather than slamming her for not having cast a trans person 20 years ago in this movie that was groundbreaking.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: That’s my suggestion for an audience.

Craig: Absolutely. And another possible question would be to say here are some contemporary criticisms of Boys Don’t Cry. Dada, dada, dada. How do you respond to this? That’s a fair question. And then let the filmmaker answer. The point is don’t – how about this, don’t go to Q&A sessions with speakers if you are disgusted by them and believe they have nothing of value to say.

I’m not showing up to hear David Duke do a Q&A. I don’t have any questions for him. If I don’t have real questions for somebody, I don’t go somewhere. It’s just dumb. [sighs]

John: So let’s talk about as a filmmaker and sort of what the solutions are here. I think, you know, I’m calling for awareness. You got to be aware of both what you’re doing right now and sort of the environment in which it’s going to come out in. All of the audiences that are going to be effected by your movie. And make decisions based on that.

So, I think, clearly if you’re making this James Barry movie, you have to be very mindful of how it’s going to play everywhere. And as we talked about on the original episode, like you have to make fundamental decisions. Is James Barry a transgender person or is it a woman who is disguising herself as a man to do this job. And that’s a very different thing. And you’re going to have to make that call. But you’re going to make one narrative choice and the world is going to make a different choice, perhaps. And so it’s complicated.

But you’re going into complicated waters.

Craig: You are. I think unfortunately every filmmaker today has to presume that they’re going to upset people. No matter what you do. It doesn’t matter. In fact, weirdly and sadly and ironically the only movies that are immune to a kind of offended hypersensitive backlash are movies that are disgusting, or crude, or cruel, because they’re viewed as dismissible and therefore, you know, so if you make some dumb movie about three muscle-bound dudes shooting at each other in the woods, which actually doesn’t sound that dumb. Actually sounds kind of cool. But regardless, that movie – no one is going to expect that movie to deliver anything of any value. It’s not there to provoke any thought.

So, everyone will just ignore it. But if you dare make a movie that deals with any social issues whatsoever, then you just have to know I’m speaking to an audience. I believe that the audience will understand my intentions and my heart. I believe that this will do some good. I also understand that a percentage of people are going to be upset at anything I do here because of who I am, or because it’s not perfect.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that’s that.

John: That is that.

Craig: And there’s nothing you can do. There’s literally nothing you can do. Just price it in. That’s the world.

John: Yep. And maybe don’t go to Reed College if they invite you to do a Q&A.

Craig: Expel them. I mean it. Ugh.

John: Let’s transition from outrage to sadness. You finished a script this week, but that’s not necessarily an entirely joyful thing. So, talk us through what you’re feeling right now, Craig Mazin.

Craig: Well, it’s interesting, so I call it Post-Scriptdom Depression. And before I thought this would be a good topic to talk about, I checked with you and just said is this just me or do have this? And you’re like, oh no, no, no, I do have it. So, I think–

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Maybe if you and I both have it, we’re probably not alone. And it’s this thing that happens when you finish a screenplay or you finish a novel, there’s a sadness that just sort of washes in. And I’ve been thinking about why. And I have some theories. They’re just theories. I don’t know if they’re true.

Well, for starters, there’s this exuberation that occurs when you’re making something, and that is the thrill of boundless possibilities. And when you get to the end of something, there are no more possibilities. It is this. And in part there is a sense of loss there. And in part, also, I think whatever dreams you had of transcending greatness are finally giving way to reality, which is – it’s a book. It’s a script. You know, no matter how wonderful of a job you do, it’s probably not Huckleberry Finn. It’s probably not Chinatown. But it’s, you know, there it is.

John: It was always that destination way in the distance, and you got closer, and closer, and you got the excitement, and then you’re there and you’re like, oh, I’m here. It’s no longer a dream. It’s actually a thing. And you stop having the dream. And it’s strange to wake up out of that dream.

Craig: It is strange to wake up out of that dream. It’s true. And when you do wake up out of it, you are also required to reenter the world around you. And with that, there is a sense of things that we may have turned away from as we were buried in this thing. It’s a bit of a strangeness as you readapt to your normal life. You also lose that sense of purpose that you had for a while there. Creative people don’t generally show up from 9 to 5 at an office and tick boxes. We have purpose when we’re creating. And when we finish, it’s gone.

John: Yeah. That sense of, you know, reentry into the world hit me really hard here, because so I showed up in Paris and I was midway through the book, so this Arlo Finch, the book I’m writing. And I really had to buckle down to finish this book. And so I’m newly arrived in Paris. I’m buckled down into the book. And the book though was at least familiar. So even though everything else around me was really unfamiliar, the book was familiar. So I could sort of just hide inside this book for a while.

And so for several hours a day I was just inside this book. And it was comfortable. It was familiar. But once the book was done, well, I don’t have the book anymore to sort of hide inside. And suddenly I’m looking around and like, oh, there’s all this city and it’s cold and my heat isn’t turned on. But the homesickness hit me really hard. So, people on Instagram sort of saw my homesickness phase, but it really struck me like, oh wow, I’m not actually home. I don’t have all my comfortable things around me. I can’t find a kale salad anywhere.

Craig: [laughs]

John: I think I naturally would have felt some homesickness, like it was about that sort of four-week, five-week time where homesickness tends to kick in for me, but also I didn’t have the book anymore, and it was all just falling away from me. And I got really sad. It was a rough kind of week, until the heat finally came on, and I found a kale salad, and things sort of slowly got better.

Craig: I think the French probably don’t have much in the way of kale salads because they appreciate things that taste good, in general. Sorry.

John: Kale is delicious.

Craig: Blech.

John: And I miss my kale salad. Back in Los Angeles, we have a garden. And we grow kale. And so I have kale like three or four times a week. I just love kale. And I was really missing it here.

So, over Thanksgiving I actually found – we went to this restaurant and they had the sweet potatoes I described as being so delicious at Thanksgiving. It was actually a kale and sweet potato dish. And so you can’t do any better than that.

Craig: Well, there’s this other thing that writing gives us and that is an easy excuse to avoid things. So, in the case of you arriving in France, there’s a lot of things you could do to confront the uncomfortabilities. Like, okay, I don’t like this, but I’m going to go walk around. I’m going to go try and learn the language. I’m going to go and force myself to live out of my comfort zone, but not while I’m writing a book. I’ve got to finish my book first.

And then you finish it and you’re like, ugh, I have to do these things I don’t like. There’s also – when we’re writing, we have total control over the work. Especially – and maybe almost exclusively when we’re writing the first draft of the thing. It’s ours completely. When we arrive at the end, there is either a conscious or subconscious awareness that that is over. And that from this point forward the world is going to come crashing in on this. And that hurts a little bit, too.

John: Well, it’s also the anxiety, because I definitely want someone to read it, because I want someone to tell me that it’s really, really good, because I’ve known just for myself like, oh, this is really, really good for a long time. But now I have to send it out into the world. And I want them to tell me it’s really good, but there’s always the chance they’re not going to tell me it’s really good. And so the minute I am done, that’s closer to I have to send it out to somebody. And I have to address what they’re going to say.

And even if their notes are fantastic and they really like it, there’s still going to be a lot of work ahead. And so I’m going to have to dismantle this thing I just built to incorporate their better suggestions. And that’s horrible. You’re setting yourself up to be judged suddenly. And that’s the hard thing.

Craig: And it’s a kind of emotional whiplash, because the only way to finish a book or a screenplay is to believe in yourself completely. And to find your creative courage. And the courage of those creative convictions. And then when you’re done, and you have to send it out, you are required to turn on a dime and face the opposite direction, where you must have the courage of hearing opinions and reactions and allowing those to enter your mind as possibilities. And to consider that maybe you were wrong about things. Totally different.

I mean, it’s always hard to make any kind of turn like that. And yet here we are at the end of these processes required to do so.

John: So, I don’t want to get through this topic without saying, you know, it’s also normal to feel elation and joy. I don’t always feel depression when I get to the end of this thing. Sometimes it is just like I’m giddy. Sometimes I’m giddy because I’m finally done with this thing that’s been looming over me forever. Or, I’m so excited to write this next thing that I’m happy to move on. But the times where it hits me, it still always kind of surprises me a little bit. So, I think that’s why I wanted to call it out in this episode.

Everyone assumes like, oh, you must be so happy to be finished. I’m like, yeah, not necessarily. We’ll see sort of how it feels when I get there.

Craig: Yeah. I find that the more I personally care, the sadder I feel when it’s over. There are things that we do, of course, as jobs. And when those are over there is often a sense of relief. And, wow, I did it. Because the point was to finish. You know, you have a week to solve this third act. Go. Got it.

Well, it’s not my movie. I didn’t come up with any of this. Let me do Yeoman’s work here. And my week is over. And let’s go get an Old Fashioned here. But, when it’s ours and we care, I think the final bit of sadness that happens is we are saying goodbye in a weird way to characters that we lived and we were talking about actors and empathy – screenwriters when they write something that is original and they’re creating the voices for every person, and the choices, and the needs, and the wants, and the actions, we’re playing every part. We are the entire cast, schizophrenically, I use in the wrong way.

And we empathize with all of them. We feel all of it. It’s a lot of feeling. And then when it’s over you’re saying, okay, I’m not you anymore. You guys are you. And everybody is going to talk about you. That’s hard.

John: It’s hard.

Craig: It’s hard. Yeah.

John: At least with Arlo Finch I have two more books under contract to write, so I’ll be with these guys for a while.

Craig: Well there you go.

John: There you go. Another thing that happened this week was the Black List. So, this is the Black List, the annual list of the most-liked screenplays in Hollywood. The most-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood that our pal Franklin Leonard puts out.

So, this year I was one of the people announcing a script. I announced it on the Champs-Elysees, and it was fun and random. I got to sort of hear all the other people announcing their scripts. I got to see the big list. And, Craig, how many of these scripts on the Black List have you read?

Craig: Zero, sir.

John: I have read zero. I don’t think I’ve ever read a script that’s on the Black List, which must be shocking to some people who are aspiring writers who want to read all these scripts. But I don’t want to read any script unless I have to. I mean, if you asked me, I would read your script. But like otherwise I’m not going to go out of my way to read someone else’s script.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But these were the scripts that people did go out of their way to read. These are the development executives in Hollywood. It’s their favorite scripts. And so they got to go and pick the screenplays that they most enjoyed out of the year. And so we haven’t read any of these scripts, but I thought we could actually talk through the log lines that were submitted and just see some patterns here, because they’re so different from the things I would maybe have expected them to be.

So, first one I’ll read is Voyagers by Zach Dean. It’s the cosmic love story of Carl Sagan and Annuities Druyan, his wife.

Craig: Hmm. Could be good. We have Letters From Rosemary Kennedy by Nick Yarborough. This is a movie “told through a series of letters to family members, the tragic true story of Rosemary Kennedy, a vibrant, passionate young woman and oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy. Born with a severe learning disability, Rosemary so worried her father with her erratic behavior that he believed the stigma of mental illness in the family would ruin his plans to build a political dynasty. He hid her away in convents and sanitariums and ultimately had her lobotomized.” Yeesh.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Wow.

John: So, screenwriter Nick Yarborough. He’s the guy who is doing the James Barry movie at the start of the podcast.

Craig: That, by the way, we talk about this all the time. These screenplays aren’t necessarily sold screenplays either. These are just ones that have been passed around and people like them. The only requirement, I think, is that they’re not produced. I don’t know if Letters From Rosemary Kennedy is set up somewhere. But what I do know is somebody read it and said, “This guy would be a great guy to write this movie we do want to make about James Barry.” So, that’s the name of the game right there, isn’t it?

John: Mm-hmm. Next up we have Linda and Monica by Flint Wainess. This is “the absolutely crazy true story of the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp, the woman who nearly destroyed the Clinton presidency – and herself in the process.”

Craig: Free Guy by Matt Lieberman. “A bank teller stuck in his routine discovers he’s a background character in a realistic, open world action-adventure video game and he is the only one capable of saving the city.”

John: Yep. The Kings of Maine by Kathy Charles. “Living with his wife and child in a trailer while working as a janitor, Stephen King struggles with alcoholism and his own dark history as he attempts to complete Carrie.”

Craig: And the last one we’ll summarize here is Blond Ambition by Elyse Hollander. This one got the most votes. “In 1980s New York, Madonna struggles to get her first album released while navigating fame, romance, and a music industry that views women as disposable.”

John: All right. So, this is a little sampling of the much longer list, but I thought it was really fascinating, because I really did grab these kind of randomly, but you notice some trends here. First off, these don’t sound like, oh, it’s a medium idea, maybe it’s competently executed. No, these are sort of swing for the fences ideas. Based on these log lines you can see like, okay, they’re trying something very different. This isn’t like another romantic comedy. This isn’t another action thriller. This is either a super high concept thing like Free Guy was, or you’re basing things around real events and real people and telling the fictionalized or semi-fictionalized story with those real people in them.

Craig: Yeah. There is a predominance here, and I saw it carries through in the large list, the complete list, there’s a predominance of biopics. There’s a predominance of stories that are telling either a straight-ahead story about people that we know, but maybe we think, oh, wouldn’t normally get a biopic. Or, more frequently, sideways entries into biopics like you could do a straight-ahead story about Monica Lewinsky, but what about Linda Tripp? Well, you could do obviously a million stories about the Kennedys, but what about Rosemary Kennedy? What about Carl Sagan’s wife? What about Stephen King’s wife and his kid?

So you see this comes up over, and over, and over again. There’s a certain kind of movie that – I have to say, I’m a little concerned about the Black List right now. I’m a little worried.

John: All right. Tell me.

Craig: Well, you know, the sanctity of it is that people are voting on what they feel is the best script. A lot of the people are creative executives. I think maybe some assistants. I don’t know. But I’m concerned that we’re getting a lot of sameness and we’re getting a lot of things that feel like maybe they’re almost designed to be noticed by the Black List. I don’t know how else to put it.

Like, if you see that a certain kind of movie keeps getting picked by the Black List, if you write another one of those, obviously all of these scripts are written well. I’m just getting a little concerned that there’s a certain homogeneity that is starting to filter up here.

John: I can see that. But when we were starting out in the industry, it was the spec sale bonanza, so it was things like The Ticking Man, where it’s this guy, this robot man has a bomb in his chest that will blow up, and that was the big sale. So, it wasn’t the Black List, but it was that sense of there was a sameness in like it’s Die Hard but…or it’s Under Siege but on a tram. There was a sameness to that. And that move has passed.

There is a sameness to some of these things where like you’re taking a real-life person and either fictionalizing them or you’re telling a sort of special kind of biopic. But, Craig, I’ll take these over the sort of like ridiculously high concept things that we had sort of when we were starting out.

I think the difference here is these ideas could show really good writing. The big high concept action thriller, it kind of can never show really good writing. You can’t show what a person is capable of because it’s not going to have the time to do the character work, to do the clever humor. All the ones we described, I can imagine really good writing being very visible in them. And that’s what these things are good for. They’re useful for someone to see and say like, oh, I see how this person could write another thing for us really, really well.

Craig: I’ll give you a little pushback on that. I think that there are terrific scripts that are action-thrillers or action-adventures that do showcase terrific writing. And it’s not that these scripts aren’t terrifically written. It’s more that I’m just concerned about the Kudzu problem that – it’s the same thing that happens with the Oscars. I mean, we know for instance that certain kinds of Oscar movies are Oscar movies. That’s become a thing. It’s an Oscar movie. They made that to win an Oscar. And when we say they, we don’t mean the creators. The creators made it for love, but whoever put money into it – Harvey – you know, they’re trying to win Oscars. They know how to work that angle.

And we know that certain movies are wonderful but won’t win an Oscar. And movies that are beloved would never, ever win an Oscar, and yet some movie that we’ve sort of forgotten has. So, the only thing I worry about is that because there is this concentration of a certain kind of good writing, we are missing other kinds of good writing.

There is, of course, also – I’m just going to mention it – the Lax Mandis controversy. [laughs] It’s hard to ignore. One of the Black List scripts was titled Lax Mandis. I don’t know the full title.

John: I think it was Untitled Lax Mandis spec or something.

Craig: Yeah. It was apparently written by a creative executive. And the story is essentially a not even at all veiled swipe at screenwriter Max Landis. And in the screenplay the hero is a beleaguered creative executive trying to make wonderful movies in the world, and his enemy is Lax Mandis who just wants to make crap. Which is a really [laughs] – I mean, whatever you think of Max Landis, that is backwards in general. And I thought, wow, if you were trying to get on the Black List, a thing voted on by creative executives, what a brilliant little bit of pandering there. Wasn’t thrilled about that.

John: Yeah. But again, we haven’t read this. So maybe there actually – for all we know–

Craig: I read that.

John: There could be something ingenious about it. You read that?

Craig: Yeah, that one I read. Because I said I read none of them, but I read that one because I saw the controversy and I didn’t want to necessarily have an opinion if the thing was wonderfully written. I don’t talk about screenplays that I don’t like, so I’m not going to talk about that one.

John: That sounds very good. We actually had a Twitter exchange about that today.

So, there’s the Black List. There’s also a thing that Stuart sent called the Hit List, which I wasn’t aware of, but it’s a similar kind of list of things that people loved. On both of those lists notably you will find many familiar names from Scriptnotes. So, you’ll see people who wrote in for Three Page Challenges. You’ll see people who wrote in with questions. So, I’m not at all surprised that both the people who listen to the show are really good writers who are on these lists, and also the people who are writing these things that show up on a list are our listeners, too.

So, I think there’s a good overlap between these. I think what’s most fascinating, though, I think for our listeners is we answer so many questions, and the questions we didn’t even answer in this week’s episode were about like, oh, I’m basing it around this real person, but the life rights or whatever – like, who cares. Like, all of these things – they didn’t get Stephen King’s life rights to write The Kings of Maine. They just wrote it.

Craig: They just wrote it.

John: And so I appreciate the bravery of these things. They didn’t ask Max Landis for his permission either. In many cases, like these movies can’t be made, like Blond Ambition can’t be made unless you can get Madonna’s sort of sign off, or at least her musical rights. You can’t make that movie. But, you wrote a great script, so that’s great. And people like your script. So that’s a good thing, too.

I was heartened to see so many women on the list. I think that’s awesome as well. So, I’m pro-Black List in the sense of at least we’re talking about the screenwriters, we’re talking about the people who are trying to be the next generation of writers. So, that’s a good thing.

Craig: No question. I’m pro-Black List, too. I mean, specifically this Black List, the voted on/curated list. You know, and Max Landis said, “This is the Black List jumping the shark.” I don’t think so. I understand why he feels that way. I mean, this is a personal attack on him and I get that. I don’t know if it’s jumping the shark.

But Fonzie is definitely like looking at the water right now, like measuring. There is a warning sign here. There is a little bit of a red flag. I think Franklin is well aware. And so it’s something that I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know what the solution is. You don’t want to fix what isn’t broken, but some danger signals here. So, hopefully, you know, things get better. But in general, big fan.

John: Yeah, I also want to say congratulations to everyone who is on the list, because it’s great that people are noticing the work you’re doing. So, I definitely applaud that.

Craig: Correct.

John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing actually came up this week because we had to pay our rent. So, we – obviously we live in Los Angeles most of the time, but we’re living here in Paris, and so we had to pay our rent here in Paris. And to do so we normally have to transfer money from our Los Angeles account to our French account in order to be able to pay this rent. And whenever you transfer money overseas you get hit by currency exchanges. And it sucks up a lot of your money.

So, this time we did a different service. I’ll talk about the one we use. I think there’s other ones that do it, so I’m not specifically advocating this one. But we used a place called TransferWise. Essentially how it works is a system kind of Hawala, which is another sort of international transfer system where it’s kind of a trust-based thing where we’re transferring our money from a Los Angeles into a US-based account, other people are transferring into a French-based account, and an exchange happens where they don’t actually have to move the money back and forth. Basically, we’re using some of their money to pay our landlord–

Craig: Oh, that’s very smart. I see.

John: And so that way the money never actually has to be converted from one currency to the other currency.

Craig: Kind of brilliant. Brilliant.

John: And so it was invented by some very smart people out of Estonia. But it’s now I think based out of England. But it was really smart. And I was really appreciative that somebody figured out how to do this, because it saved us a lot of money in paying our rent.

Craig: That’s so smart. So, at its basic level, somebody in France is paying your rent in France, and you’re paying somebody’s rent in America?

John: Yeah, so it’s not specifically rent. So, basically the wire transfer that would have gone to our landlord’s bank account is actually coming from a French bank account to his account. And so therefore no money had to be exchanged for currency rates.

Craig: Great. Brilliant. Well, I have a similar One Cool Thing that is not at all surprising or unknown to anyone under the age of I’ll say 35. But I find it distressingly not known by people over 35, of which you and I are both. So, Venmo. Venmo. This is where everybody under 35, and a bunch of people over 35 go, “What? We already know about Venmo.”

Sorry, not talking to you. But if you don’t, get it now. It’s the greatest. Simplest thing in the world. It’s just an app that you link up to your bank account and you are able to send people any amount of money with your phone, real simple.

So, the horrible thing that happens at the end of some 12-person dinner, where one poor bastard is collecting people’s bits of money, and someone has a credit card, and someone has cash. Ugh. All done. Go away. Everybody Venmo this amount. Boom. You Venmo it to me. I pay the whole bill. We’re done.

Somebody buys tickets for you and you show up at the game. Venmo. Done.

Super easy. Super convenient. I use it all the time. Love it.

John: Love it. Yeah, I would not have necessarily known about it, except for Stuart Friedel, who is a millennial, who does use it for all that kind of stuff as well. And, yeah, it’s great for that.

The other thing which while we’re talking about money is I have to – I want one of our listeners to explain why when you pay the bill for the restaurant in the US they take your card away and they swipe it through the machine and you have to wait five minutes for your card to come back. Where everywhere else in Europe they come to your table with a little thing and they swipe your card there. Basically they put the card in there and they do it right at the table.

Craig: I think part of that is tip culture. Because in America you’re supposed to leave a tip, and they don’t want to stand there and watch you leave the tip.

John: Yeah, but here what they do is they give you the thing, because you have to punch in your pin code. I’m sure there’s a French term for it. The way they look away while you punch in the code. It’s the same thing like the Square Readers where you pop 10%, 20%, 30%, whatever. It would work in the US if someone just had the courage to actually use these machines, because they’re just so much better and so much faster.

Because then once you get the bill you can just do it and leave. It’s lovely.

Craig: I know. It’s great. I greatly prefer the European system for that. No question.

John: All right. We won’t fix all those issues this week, but we did as much as we could. So, our show, as always, was produced by Godwin Jabangwe. Edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro this week. It’s such a good outro. So, Matthew, please put the long version in. Don’t cut it short. Because it’s so good.

If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place where you can send us longer questions. For short questions, you can hit us on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And we might get back to you right away, like we did today.

We are on Facebook. Search for the Scriptnotes podcast. If you have opinions about our discussion of transgender issues, maybe Facebook would be a place you could talk to us about those.

Craig: No, I’m sure no one will have anything to say.

John: Not a bit. You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you’ll find the Scriptnotes app, which you can download for your iOS device. We’re also in the Android Store for Scriptnotes App. That connects into, which is where you find all the back episodes going back to Episode 1.

As we record this there are 33 USB drives left in the John August store. So, if you want all the back episodes, or the first 250 back episodes, and the bonus episodes, you can get those.

We will not be making any more of those until at least Episode 300. So, if you want one, get them now.

And that is our show for this week. Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John, See you next week.

John: Bye.


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Black List Boys Don’t Cry

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig discuss post-scriptum depression, that low feeling you sometimes get when finishing a screenplay.

We also look at some of the trends in the most recent Black List, and a protest over Boys Don’t Cry which has one of us shaking his damn head.


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Scriptnotes, Ep 279: What Do They Want? — Transcript

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 10:28

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 279 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we will be looking at how characters tell us what they’re after, either with or without a song. We’ll also be answering listener questions about how much despair to feel when a movie similar to your spec is announced. How to get started off an improv group. And whether Craig and I are wrong about gurus.

Craig: Yeah, there’s a huge question there. [laughs]

John: There’s a giant question mark at the end of that, because it’s possible that we’re wrong about everything.

Craig: Absolutely. Absolutely.

John: One of our listeners wrote in with a question saying like, “These other guys, they think you’re wrong.”

Craig: Great.

John: And we’ll give you the answer at the end of the episode.

Craig: Oh my god, good. I was hungry.

John: Yeah. [laughs] First off, though, we have a correction. In last week’s episode I misspoke. I said stop trying to make ___ happen was from Clueless. I was completely wrong. That’s from Mean Girls.

Craig: Oh. Well, you know, but Mean Girls is from Clueless. They are on a line. They’re on a continuum. So, I think you are all right.

John: They are on a continuum. I think you would not have Mean Girls without Clueless, but it is its own movie, and it’s wonderful in its own right. So, people wrote in with that correction and I don’t want to put false things out into this world.

Craig: Yeah. Because, you know, everybody else is putting out real things. All other websites and podcasts promulgate accurate information.

John: Yeah. We’re trying to be an accurate podcast. So, I want to make that correction. We also had a follow up from a listener. Andy [Keir] in Brooklyn who wrote in, “Thank you, John, for recommending The Good Place as your One Cool Thing. It is beyond cool. Binged it in a couple of days and I love it. It was slightly awkward to notice that on that show, which is brilliantly written, it contained two of the clams which you prescribed earlier in the same episode, which are ‘Wait, what?’ and ‘Good talk.’ I’m not saying you are wrong in any way – I would never – it was just a fun bit of cognitive dissonance. Neither of the clams took me out of the show, it’s just too good, which goes to show you if you’re really good you can get away with it. The rest of us should listen to you guys.”

So. I got to say, The Good Place, got clams in there.

Craig: Everybody has a clam. Everybody has a clam somewhere. They’re not something that you have to completely prescribe. I mean, there are a few that I think signify a total lack of effort or care creativity. If you’re saying, “She’s like the blankety blank from hell,” you’re advertising that you suck. But some of them are, you know, in what we’ll call early clam stage. You know, I mean, there’s grown clams, the big gnarly ones with the barnacles on them. And then there’s these baby clams. So, ‘wait what?’ and ‘good talk’ are probably still in the baby clam area. And they’re not toxic to anything.

You know, this is what happens. Sometimes you and I, we do these things, and we forget that people take us very, very seriously. And then they start thinking, oh my god, I have to take this out of script. You know, take it as advice. It’s just advice.

John: Yes. So, right before we went to record, I got an email from a showrunner who copied in a long thread of exchanges that happened within his writing staff. Basically he had listened to the episode and passed along to his writing staff like, hey, let’s take a look at this. And there was a considerable discussion.

So, I have not cleared with him whether we are allowed to discuss his discussion. But I thought it was fascinating that a genuine bona fide show that is on the air right now had a discussion about this clam list based on our episode. So, it’s a thing that’s out there. And we weren’t the people who came up with this list. We were just passing it along. So, I would go back to this idea that it’s not – the two clams that he mentions here in The Good Place, those are relatively fresh clams. They haven’t been lying on the beach for a long time. They don’t smell. They’re not brand new, but they’re not horrible things in there.

What you were suggesting about sort of the ‘blankety blank from hell,’ that was such a horrible one that it was not even on the list that we read aloud.

Craig: Cause that’s not even a clam anymore. It’s decomposed into some sort of goo.

John: Yeah. They grind it up and they use the shells to repave Martha Stewart’s driveway.

Craig: That’s right. And then whatever protein was left goes into some sort of slurry for pet food.

John: Yeah. It’s really good. Or, the seagulls have just picked it apart, and you don’t want that. If the seagulls are all involved with your joke, it’s a bad joke.

Craig: So, the writers that were discussing the clam list, without going into their specifics, where there a few of them that they were defending as maybe not so clammy or–?

John: There were a few that I think were being defended, but it was more the idea of whether the list was a good idea or not a good idea. Whether it was calling out a list of things not to do was a helpful or an unhelpful practice.

Craig: That’s interesting. I mean, look, a lot of times when we talk about things, we are doing a little bit of what Penn & Teller used to do back in the day. So, Penn & Teller, like all magicians, subscribe to a magician’s code, which is to not give away the secrets to tricks. But then there are some tricks that are so clammy they’re like, screw it, we’re going to give it away.

I remember I went to go see Penn & Teller when I was a kid and they did a trick with cups and balls and moving them around. And it was impressive. And then they said, okay, but the thing is the magic part is – obviously it’s a gimmick, right? But the skill is actually in the manipulation. You are not as impressed as you should be, so we’re now going to redo this trick with clear cups, so you can see what we’re doing. And you will be more impressed. And I was. Because there’s a remarkable amount of dexterity. But they’re whole thing there was, you know what, this trick is a clam. We’re going to give it away.

And I’m okay with that. I don’t think we should ever feel like, just philosophically speaking, you and I, as we sometimes pull the curtain aside and reveal some of the tricks of the trade. You know, it’s okay. If they are clammy, you know, what are we really – I mean, I’m not sure what the argument is for not exposing these things as goofy.

John: Yeah. And the other thing which came up in this thread, which I think is a good thing worth pointing out, and sort of highlighting for our readers is there are some things that become kind of a meta clam, where they’re not funny anymore, but by repeating them they kind of become funny again. Or they inform a character who thinks that that is funny. So, a great example is on the American version of The Office, “That’s what she said.”

Craig: Right.

John: It’s not actually funny, but Michael Scott thinks it’s so funny is part of the joke behind it. And so, you know, there can be reasons why you’re deliberating using one of these things so you know it’s not in itself funny because in a broader context the characters who think it’s funny makes it hilarious.

Craig: That’s absolutely true. I would think the audience understands the difference. Even if they intellectually aren’t quite parsing it out so specifically the way a writer would, they clearly do get it. Everybody knows what’s going on when people on The Office say, “That’s what she said.” Everybody knows that.

I mean, look, think about – when Homer started going, “D’oh,” that was him making fun of goofy sitcoms, where people go, “D’oh.” They were making fun of it. And now it’s his own thing. It’s part of his character and nobody really connects it back to a kind of, well frankly, demeaning swipe at very clunky, poorly drawn characters that had come before him.

John: It’s interesting. D’oh I think is a great example because it’s great when Homer says it, but if you have any other character saying it in a Homer Simpson way, it doesn’t really work. But I’ve seen it used increasingly as like a parenthetical, or as a way to express the feeling of D’oh without actually having the character say, “D’oh.” It’s that sudden realization that you’ve made a fool of yourself is well expressed by D’oh, even if you’re not having a character say it.

So, I’ve seen it in scene descriptions, even though I don’t see characters saying it who aren’t Homer Simpson.

Craig: Yeah. I think the official – I wish that our friend Matt was here. The official term that they use in their screenplays is something like “disappointed grunt.” They don’t actually write D’oh in Simpsons’ episodes.

John: Yeah. And a good lesson if you’re writing animation in general is there’s a tendency to write parentheticals for all those things that are said aloud. Basically because you’re recording lines, any sort of sound that a character makes you have to write a parenthetical for them to do that, so you actually get the sound recorded. And so you will see in animation scripts sometimes a bunch of characters talking who don’t actually have dialogue. They just have parentheticals for the sounds that they’re making.

Craig: That’s kind of cool. Yeah, efforts, right? I guess it all falls under efforts. Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I like that.

John: Our final bit of follow up is Weekend Read, which is the app my company makes for reading screenplays on your iPhone. Every year about this time we start putting up the For Your Consideration scripts. So, there are a bunch of them that are out there right now for big studio features and little independent features, all vying for Best Screenplay awards.

So, we have a new category inside the app for all those scripts. So, if you’re curious to read those scripts and would like to read them on your phone, just download Weekend Read. It’s in the app store. It’s a free download. And you can start reading the screenplays that are going to be up for awards this season.

Craig: That’s spectacular. First, I mean, I have to watch the movies, too, don’t I?

John: It’s probably a good idea to watch the movies. I think your best bet is to watch the movies and the movies that you think are really good, read those screenplays. If you don’t think the movie is good, I say don’t read the screenplay.

Craig: Great point. Great point. I don’t know what to do.

John: You don’t read screenplays.

Craig: You know what? I’m being honest with you. I get the screeners and there’s one person in my house who is thrilled, every year, and it’s the wife. And some of these movies I’ve never even heard of. Oh god, I’m out of it. I’m out of it, man.

John: So, Mike keeps a spreadsheet, because we’re a spreadsheet family, of all the screeners that come in. And because they’re coming to Los Angeles, Godwin is logging them as they come in. And then every couple weeks he sends a package of all the screeners. So, we have a bunch of screeners here now. I have not watched one of them. I’m trying to watch as many movies in the theater as I possibly can because it’s the best place to see them, and it’s also fun to see them with French subtitles. So, like I’m seeing Arrival this weekend, which is finally coming out in Paris. So I’m excited.

Craig: What is the French word for Arrival?

John: It is Premier Contact.

Craig: Oh, First Contact. Wait a second, they’ve already made that movie.

John: I know. It’s crazy. So, there was a Star Trek movie, but that wasn’t called that here I guess.

Craig: And then there was Contact. There were two movies.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And Contact is very, very similar – oh, French. You know that the French title for Hangover is A Very Bad Trip?

John: I do know that. And Another Very Bad Trip is the sequel.

Craig: Another Very Bad Trip. And that’s not translated from the French. They kept the title in English. They just made it A Very Bad Trip. [laughs] Well, I understand on some level the word hangover is idiomatic to English. There must be a French word for Hangover? Why didn’t they use that word? Maybe another movie had used it?

John: A lot of times it’s just because there’s a better term for the French market. This is actually a great segue into what we’re talking about today, because this last week I went and saw Vaiana and you’re like well what the hell is Vaiana? Well, Vaiana is Moana in places that are not the US and some other markets.

Craig: Do you know why?

John: I do know why. So, a couple of different reasons. So, first off, in Italy Moana is a famous porn star. So they couldn’t call the movie Moana there.

Craig: So cool.

John: In other parts of the world, Disney couldn’t clear trademark on Moana, so they had to use Vaiana. So, I saw this on posters and clearly it was the same movie. And so I assumed that when I watched the movie, because I watched the movie in English with French subtitles, I assumed that they would actually say Moana but then they would say Vaiana in the subtitles. But, no, they actually recorded the entire movie, every line of dialogue, every lyric, where they say Moana they say Vaiana in the version I saw.

And so in France and other markets where it’s released in English, but not in America or certain other markets, it’s Vaiana. And they sing it. 100% Vaiana when you see it in France or other markets.

Craig: I could see that. I mean, Disney, they’re kind of completionists. You know, they’re not going to let you sit in an Italian movie theater, and even though the movie is called Vaiana hear songs referring to their famous porn star.

John: Yeah. But I really liked the movie. And so this is where I have to do a full disclosure here. I have a consulting agreement with Disney animation, but I did not work on this movie at all. So this movie was a complete, you know, I had not seen a single frame of this movie. So I sat down and watched it and was surprised and delighted by how much I really enjoyed it.

And particularly I really liked how the I Want song works in this. So I thought this could be a topic for us to discuss is how characters tell us what they want. And there’s a way to do it in Disney movies, especially animation movies, that’s so literal but we also have to be able to figure out how to express what characters want in movies where they don’t have their own big number to express it.

Craig: It’s such a big topic because whether you’re writing a script or you’ve written a script and you’re now dealing with other people, producers, or anyone, what your character wants is the easiest, quickest, slam-dunk note you’re going to get if it’s not clear. That’s the one that they’ll just – that’s their right hook.

So, even though you and I try to not be prescriptive about things and rule-based, this is about as ruley as it gets. Your character must want something and we must know what it is.

John: Yeah. And so let’s talk about what that want is, and distinguish it from other wants. Because characters are going to have wants in every scene. They’re going to have motivations for what they’re trying to do next, what they’re trying to get out of this sequence, what their sort of goals are, their objectives. But what we’re talking about with want is sort of this big kind of metaphysical want. It’s like what they woke up with in the morning saying like, “This is the vision I have for my life. What is the positive outcome I sort of see for my life?”

And sometimes they won’t have full introspection. They won’t quite know what it was. They couldn’t articulate it to another character. But deep down inside there it’s there and we should be able to see it as an audience. That if the movie succeeds, they will be changed and they will get this thing that they were after. And that’s also kind of a crucial distinction between how movies work and how TV series work. Is that in a movie our expectation of an audience is we’re going to see that character get what they’re after at the end, or fail to get what they’re after.

In a TV series, that arc, that journey, is not meant to be completed. Not in the course of one episode. Or even the course of the whole series necessarily. They’re constantly on that journey towards that thing, but they’re not going to get there.

Craig: That’s right. Think about the opening narration to Star Trek. That’s sort of saying we have a general want, to seek out new life and go to new civilizations and boldly go where no man has gone before. Okay. I mean, I screwed that up, so sorry Trekkers, but the point is we want to explore. We want to explore the unknown. That’s what we want. But that’s vague and general. And vague and general is good, because every episode they need to discover some new challenge and overcome it. And have it end. And then a new one begins.

That’s not at all how movies work. That’s not how self-contained narratives work. There is a specific want to a specific character. And when you have the opportunity to express that through song, as musicals do, whether they’re stage musicals or film – and film musicals almost always now means animated – the character is able to sing what’s in their mind. They don’t need to have somebody else there. And in a way where a character onscreen would be a lunatic if they just started monologue-ing to nobody about what they wanted for three minutes, in a musical a character can sing it. And because they’re singing their internal voice, they can be – they don’t have to worry about subtext either. They can be on the nose.

And so you have these great songs like Part of Your World, when we did our Little Mermaid exploration. It’s harder to find a better and more specific I Want song than that.

John: Yeah. And you’ll notice these I Want songs, they almost always have the words I Want in them, or I Wish, or I Dream, or If Only I Could. And Part of Your World kind of does all of those things. It’s her vision of I wish I could be part of your world, up there where you can do all those things. She’s imagining her life in this other place, this better place, if only.

And so almost always this is the second song in the musical, we should say. The first song in one of these musicals tends to be this is the nature of the world, this is how the world currently functions. The second song is almost always the protagonist singing the I Want song. This is my vision for what’s going to happen next.

Craig: Yeah. A couple other examples from Broadway that are really clear. Wouldn’t it be Loverly, from My Fair Lady. All I want is a room somewhere far away from the cold night air. And then Corner of the Sky from Pippin. I want to be where my spirit can run free.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Got to find my corner of the sky. So, people will just say I want stuff. Now, sometimes the songs that people sing are about things they think they want, but they’re not really what they do want. And that’s part of what the show is instructing. Like, Fiddler on the Roof, the second song right there is Tevye sings If I Were a Rich Man, and it’s all about wanting to be rich. But that’s not really what he wants.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: But that’s part of the point of that show.

John: So, let’s take a listen to the song from Moana. It’s just her I Want song. It’s called How Far I’ll Go. It’s written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who did Hamilton, and Mark Mancina. So, let’s take a listen to three verses here and track sort of what she’s saying about where she sees herself and where she’s going. So let’s take a listen.

[Song plays]

I’ve been staring at the edge of the water ‘Long as I can remember, never really knowing why I wish I could be the perfect daughter But I come back to the water, no matter how hard I try

Every turn I take, every trail I track Every path I make, every road leads back To the place I know, where I cannot go Where I long to be

See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me And no one knows, how far it goes If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me One day I’ll know, if I go there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

John: So Craig. You have not seen the movie, but you’ve only listened to this song, and you were able to just sing it back to me just now. So, it stuck–

Craig: That’s right.

John: In your head to some degree.

Craig: Yeah. Lin-Manuel Miranda has some meager skill with this sort of thing. [laughs] So, the melody matches the vibe of the words beautifully. These things pair up when everything is working right and they complement each other. And so the melody kind of takes off as she takes off on what is very common in an I Want song, a flight of fancy.

So, you might think if you said to a child, “Talk about something you don’t have that you want,” it could come out whiney. I want this. I want it. And I don’t have it, and I want it. But, typically with these things, people begin to imagine having the thing they want. And you see them light up.

And inside of that is a promise for the movie. Therefore, we understand if they get it, they will be happier. Not just satisfied or not just making something go away. It’s not that whiney, greedy want. It’s this deeper spiritual aching. And we get to see the positive side, the as if.

And so you start typically with a contrast. This is what I don’t have. Dear God, you’ve made many, many poor people. I realize, of course, there’s no shame in being poor, but there’s no great honor either. And you start with the bummer. I’ve been standing on the edge of the water, long as I can remember, never really knowing why. I wish I could be the perfect daughter, but I come back to the water no matter how hard I try. Ugh, sucks.

Then, ooh, but if I were to have it. If the wind in my sail on the sea stays behind me, one day I’ll know. If I go, there’s just no telling how far I’ll go. That’s just the promise of this brave new day.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: And it’s played in contrast to what she has now.

John: Yeah. So when you see the movie, or when you watch the screener with your wife, you will see that the song actually repeats twice. And so there’s a recall, a reprise of the song is very classically sort of a – the character has been on the journey. They’ve crossed their first trial and they sing a new version of the song. It’s really good.

This song actually reprises twice. And the last reprise, I thought, was actually fantastic in that it really plays on this idea of call. So, classically in a heroic story you have the call to adventure. In Moana, this is the water, you know, the sort of magical seashell she finds at the water, sort of coming to her when she was a baby. They do a great job sort of paying off the call at the end and her realization that the call wasn’t from out there, that the call was inside her. And it’s a really, really well done emotional amount, both how it’s animated and how it’s structured as a song.

So, this was I think just a slam dunk of an I Want song.

But we should talk about all those other movies that aren’t musicals that don’t get to have an I Want song, and how you can have the same effect, or at least some of the same thoughts behind an I Want song, even if the characters can’t sing their most innermost thoughts.

Craig: Yeah. So, now we get to the tricky part, right? You and I when we’re writing things that aren’t musical aren’t allowed to have our characters sing. We still, however, need to communicate this to the audience. So, there are some, well, I guess in keeping with our theme of revealing tricks and clear cups with the little balls in them, these are tricks. They’re tricks, but they work. For starters, the simplest one is to show someone longing visually. If you want to be, let’s say you want to be a great bicyclist, and I see you and you’re on a bike and you’re struggling. I don’t know anything about you yet. Just that you’re struggling on your bike and you’re going up this hill. And you’re sweating. And it’s hard. And you can barely make it. And, finally, you have to get off and walk the rest of the way. But when you get to the top of the hill, I see that you’re watching the Tour de France, and you’re seeing these great, great bicyclists go by. And in your eyes there’s just this longing. I know what you want now.

I know it as much as I would have from any song. I know why you don’t have it, and I know what you want.

John: Yeah. Those visuals where like the character doesn’t have to say something, but you sort of see them doing the action is fantastic. It’s weird, before you brought up the bicycle example, I was thinking of the kid who is leaning across the handlebars of his bike, watching the thing go by. That’s a very classic kind of image that we’ve seen. We saw it in the Star Trek movie, we’ve seen it in Star Wars as well.

You also see kids imitating the thing that they want to be, even though they don’t have the tools. And so they see the great violinist and they’re trying to play violin with two sticks. That’s that sense of this is a vision they see for themselves. And you’re establishing really early on who they think they could be, if only.

Craig: Right.

John: So that’s certainly a goal.

Craig: Yeah. Sometimes in comedies you’ll see characters, when you meet a character you meet them as the person they want to be. And then you realize that they’re pretending. Very common, frankly somewhat clammy way of meeting a character in a comedy.

Now, there is a helpful thing that we have that typically I Want musicals don’t have. Because the I Want musical is about the internal voice, it’s very rare for someone to sing it with someone else. Or even in the presence of somebody else. It’s almost always, you know, Ariel drifts off to her little cave of stuff and sings by herself. And Tevye is singing alone with his broken down horse. And Moana is singing alone on the beach.

Well, we have other people. And sometimes the best way to find out what our main character wants is for another character to figure it out for us. Or, for them to already know and say it. A very stark example of this is The Matrix. So, we meet Keanu Reeves, Mr. Anderson, and he’s somewhat troubled, but we’re not sure why, nor do we know what he wants. But then he is contacted by this mysterious woman, Morpheus, and then also Trinity. And she literally says, “I know what you want. You want the answer to the question, what is the Matrix.” And he says, “What is the matrix?” And I’m sitting there going, what? What is the matrix? I don’t know what the matrix is. Why do you want to know what the matrix is? Who is that? What’s happening?

These are good mysteries that will be solved, going back to our mystery versus confusion. But here’s one thing that for sure I now know that is not a mystery: that guy wants to know what the matrix is. And I know it, because somebody else said it.

John: Yeah. There’s another version of this which is the time traveling version of that character comes back and sort of tells him what it is you want. Basically a character who clearly can identify with this kid’s situation says like, listen, this is what you need to do next. Really it’s conflating sort of the call to adventure with the wish, basically saying the person who shows up to say to get the story started is the person who says like this is what you want, even though you don’t even know you want it yet.

Craig: Exactly. Exactly. And we get all this extra yummy juice out of that because we get to see our characters react. Sometimes they react like Mr. Anderson does where he just says, “Yep, you got me. That’s what I want.” Sometimes they deny it. In fact, sometimes that’s the most interesting way to reveal what a character wants is to see them say no. Somebody makes them an offer of some kind. And this is – I guess the Campbellians will call this Refusal of the Call. Refusal of the call is little different. Refusal of the call typically is will you do the following things required to maybe get what you want. And they say, no.

This is, do you want this? No. No. But we see that they do. So, that’s an interesting way, and a very, I think, real way to start to see a little bit of an insight into somebody by playing them opposite.

John: The other form of kind of negation to make it clear what your characters actually want is when they are offered something that any normal character should want. And so an example, the pilot for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she’s offered a partnership at the firm. This is what she should want. She is a lawyer. She should want this. And she doesn’t want it. And she’s wrestling with herself of why don’t I want this. And that’s the moment where we break out into, again, it’s a musical, so she gets to sing her I Wish song. But even if there hadn’t been a musical, her turning this down is a way of framing what she wants. It’s a scenario in which she has a chance to explain what she actually wants. So, you’re creating a place in which it’s okay to speak things you would not otherwise say.

Craig: Right. So here we find out what somebody wants by hearing what they don’t want. And that’s closely related to something I call wanting by subtraction, where instead of showing what somebody wants, we show what they lack. So, there is a – if there’s a Broadway version called I Want, there’s a movie version called I Used to Have, or I’m Missing, or I Don’t Have. And it’s a slightly different vibe. But characters will reveal what they miss.

So, let’s go to our clam-o-vision here. We meet a guy and he seems bummed out and he goes home. And he looks at a picture of his dead wife and starts drinking. Lethal Weapon. It was awesome in Lethal Weapon actually. It was amazing back before it clammed up. But we see it’s not so much that they want something specifically. It’s that they – something has been taken from them. And that is a version of a want. It’s a wanting to go back, essentially.

Which is a psychologically involved one. I like that one.

John: Absolutely. So, in any of these wants, it’s important to remember that you are establishing a contract with the audience. So, when you make it clear that the character wants this thing, your function is to get them that thing, but to make it very difficult for them to get that thing.

And so a lot of times we get those studio notes saying like, “I don’t know what the character wants.” It’s that they thought they understood what the character wanted, and then they kept looking for the character trying to do that thing or get that thing, and they weren’t doing that thing, and then the studio got confused. And so being really clear about what your character wants is step one. But step two is actually making sure that the movie tracks towards them trying to get that thing that they want.

It doesn’t mean that every scene has to be on point for how are they moving forward to the next thing, but the overall flow of things has to be directed towards that overall want that you’ve established at the start of the story.

Craig: It is, I think, a very good philosophical, fundamental approach to say that when you are writing a movie, the most important thing is the character. And it’s hard for a lot of people, because the plot is the candy coating. And we get that medicine very subtly sometimes as we watch movies. And so when we sit down to write them for the first time, we’re writing candy coating. But, if you do that, then what you describe is going to happen. Your character will announce something they want and then shut up about it until the end when they go, “Wait, I want a thing. I have it now.” That’s not – you have to keep the character’s want prime in your mind. That, as you said, doesn’t mean it’s constantly being addressed, but essentially the plot that you’re building around your character is aware of that.

John: It’s as if the want is its own character, and you have to keep that character alive throughout the course of the story.

Craig: Right.

John: We talk about keeping characters alive in that if a character hasn’t shown up for a long time, you sort of forget they exist. And you have to figure out scenes where that character can be in that scene, or else that character just doesn’t exist in your world anymore. It’s the same thing with the want. You have to find a way to bring it up again, to make it clear that it’s still in play. And so it can be directly addressing it, like, you know, the horrible clammy version is like, “Hey, didn’t you always want to do this?” Or, like, you know, “Oh, you’ll never do this thing.”

If it’s really clearly tied into the plot, where like the kid wants to be the karate champion, well that’s obviously going to be there. Except that you have to make sure that you’re not mistaking plot for this inner motivation, this inner drive. How the character sees themselves.

Because, you know, I try to distinguish between a goal, which is like I want to get this karate championship to the real wish which is like I want to prove that I am worthy of my father’s love or attention. That’s the thing you’re going to want to make sure you’re constantly tracking throughout the story, and finding those scenes which you can check in and sort of show these are the milestones we passed along that journey.

Craig: Exactly. See, goal versus want is a really important concept for people. A goal is a thing you can do. A want is something inside of you. It is a desire. One is action and one is psychological. In fact, I think the best wants are the ones that are disconnected from plot, meaning it’s not that they’re not related to the plot. They’re very related. The plot is there to ultimately get you to a place where you finally get what you want. But the nature of the want is not the same as the nature of the plot.

What Danny wants in The Karate Kid, ultimately, is to be worthy of respect. To grow up. To be a young man and stand on his own. His goal is kick a bunch of guys, right? Those are two different things. They’re disconnected. And I think the best – what is Luke Skywalker’s goal? Well, in the end of the movie his goal is shoot thing down hole. What is his want? His want is, well, sounds familiar, grow up. Stand on his own two feet. Be his own man.

So, that disconnection I think is vital to helping bridge the gap between the extraordinary actions that we see onscreen that are probably quite foreign to our own experience, and then our empathy for the people involved.

John: Yeah, it’s their wants that make them relatable. Because everybody watching the movie won’t be blowing up the Death Star, but everybody watching the movie has wanted to prove themselves worthy. Let’s take a look at what are some good wants then. So, what are characteristics of good wants for your protagonist to have?

Craig: Well, for starters, I think they need to be simple. And I think they need to be honest. There is no need to be tricky or clever about wants. I think plots often do well when they’re tricky and clever and twisty and surprising and intellectual. But wants are basic. It’s best if they aren’t so basic as to feel kind of elementary and easily solvable, but then again, you know, “stand on your feet/grow up” is incredibly basic and can be teased out in so many different ways.

So, for starters, I think, honest and simple.

John: Great. I would also say look for wants that can be looked at from multiple perspectives. Because whatever your protagonist wants, you’re going to have other characters in the movie and they’re going to want things, too. And it would be fantastic if the other characters in your movie have wants that can reflect aspects of that want. So, look at who the love interest is. Look at who the villain is. Look at ways in which the other characters in your story can reflect the broken, the damaged, the alternate versions of those wants, so that, you know, not only so that thematically everything can sort of tie into like one bigger question, but also so that you have a good reason to bring up those wants along the way, that you can see emotionally that characters are having similar journeys. And there’s ways to sort of explore how they’re impacting each other.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, when you look at the case of Lethal Weapon, Mel Gibson lives alone in a trailer by the sea, mourning his dead wife, suicidal. And his new partner lives in suburbia with his wife of many, many years, and his two children. And so the Murtaughs’ existence is kind of designed to reflect this deeper aching loss/want for Riggs. It makes their relationship interesting.

So, this is an area where you say, okay, if my character wants this, let’s provide him with somebody that has relevance to what they want.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So if I’m this farmer who dreams of flying, you know, in space and being on my own, then pair me with a guy that basically knows everything and is telling me, “Nah, calm down. Slow down, kid.” In this sense, part of what I look for in a want is something that’s psychologically challenging for the hero to achieve. It has to be achievable, but it needs to be difficult to actually get.

If we feel like they could just get what they want fairly easily, we’re going to be wondering why the movie is struggling so hard to make it hard.

John: Yeah. There’s three words which are sort of the bane of every one of these kind of situations. “Comes to realize.” You’ll hear this in a pitch where two-thirds of the way through the movie, or near the end of the movie the hero comes to realize that he actually had it all this time. Or basically like, you know, the change that happens in the hero is basically like the character going like, “Oh, yeah, uh-huh. Great. I guess I don’t need that thing. Or I guess having a family is really important.” Something that is so obvious that the character could have just like stopped to think about it for a while early in the story and like, oh, it would have been done.

It has to be a real journey to get there. And they could not have done it at the start. The plot that you’re creating for them to go through has to be able to service this journey that gets them to where they need to end up.

Craig: Service is a great word. And I would also use the word instruct. Right, because if you end up in that horrific place of comes to realize, then you think, “Oh, okay, you wanted something. You weren’t sure how to get it.” Then a story happened. You finished the story. And then you went, “Okay, now back to – oh…”

No. The point of the story is to get them to that place. The point of the story is to demonstrate to them through the people that they meet and the situations that they’re in that what they want is achievable like this. Or, as is often the case, what they wanted was wrong. And what they really need to want is this. And you’ll see that in – a lot of Pixar movies work that way. Finding Nemo, for instance.

John: Absolutely. When it’s done right, it’s never simplified down to “comes to realize.” It’s that process of recognizing that what they wanted is not what they should have really been going for. That doesn’t just happen – they don’t just pivot on a dime there. It’s the ongoing journey that did it. It wasn’t like they got to one place and it was a sudden plot reveal, a twist, like, “Oh, I don’t really want that thing anymore.” That’s when the audience goes crazy on you, deservedly, because it wasn’t earned.

Craig: It wasn’t earned. Exactly. I guess the other huge mistake you can make is to give your character a want that is so specific that it really won’t be relevant to everyone. And you might think, well, it’s hard to be relevant to everyone. Not really. Not really. Most things that people want, most unfulfilled desires, if they are the kinds that we respect, are things we all want. Some of us have them, but we wanted them. We all want love. We all want to belong. We all want to believe in ourselves. We all want to be brave. All of these things – and grow up – we all – they’re universal.

And this is why sometimes the best way to think about what your character wants is to imagine them as a child, because most of what we want we’ve always wanted, from the start. And thinking about it from a childlike point of view keeps you out of the tricky clever zone and gets you into the honest, true, and simple zone.

John: I agree. Great. So, if all else fails, I would say add some songs. Because songs will do the work for you.

Craig: [laughs] They will.

John: Get Lin-Manuel Miranda in there to write you a song. It’s all done. It’s all set.

Craig: Throw a little Lin at it.

John: Let’s answer some listener questions. So, Patrick writes in. he says, “I’m a 27-year-old retail worker who has written four screenplays over the last nine years. One of the screenplays I’ve written has a specific untapped subject matter. Earlier today, it was announced that a rather prolific comedic actor is attached to star in a movie about that exact subject. This isn’t an email about what I can do from a legal standpoint or professional standpoint. I just want to ask you how I should feel personally. Have either of you spent years working on a project, only to find out that a similar idea was happening elsewhere in the industry? Should I be upset? Is heartbreak reasonable? Should I feel hopeful that a movie about a subject I’m passionate about could possibly get made?”

Craig, how should Patrick feel?

Craig: This is the air we breathe, sir. There is no such thing as something that doesn’t have a competing version. Everything that you’re working on, everything – if you are writing the story of your own mom, I guarantee you someone else out there is writing a your mom movie. It’s just the way it goes.

So, of course, you should feel upset. Why wouldn’t you? And, yes, heartbreak is a reasonable feeling. Any feeling is reasonable, meaning no feelings are reasonable. That’s why they’re called feelings. It’s just a feeling. So you have the feeling. Okay. But, yes, you should be hopeful, not because someone is making a movie about a subject you’re passionate about. That doesn’t necessarily validate you as a writer, you know, or anything really. I mean, lots of people look at things and go, “We’re all interested in that.”

You should be hopeful because more than one movie comes out about things. I don’t know of any one thing that has gotten one movie and then everyone else said, “Nope.” In fact, quite the opposite. Usually when movies are successful, people start hunting around for versions of it.

So, I would not be depressed about this, Patrick. And I also would say, as we’ve said many times on the show, that your screenplay as a 27-year-old guy, your screenplay is most valuable to you as an advertisement of your ability. It is less valuable as a specific piece of material to be exploited into a film. And that, no one can take away.

John: The other thing I would focus on is that remember that an idea is just an idea. And it’s the unique expression of an idea that gives something its value. And so, yes, this comedic actor is making a movie about whatever, but your script about that same topic may be fantastic, because it’s going to have your unique voice.

And so there are many movies about dancing and dancing competitions, but they’re each unique and they’re each specific to their own story. And that’s what’s going to be special about your movie. So, I would certainly not give up hope. Your script probably has a little bit more value today than it did yesterday, because it’s out there in the world. Like, someone is making a movie about this kind of topic, so people might read it because it seems like a topic for a movie. So, I would not despair too much.

It’s okay to feel a little hit. And I was hit personally. I’ve definitely been through situations where like clearly, well, if that movie is going to be made, then my movie is not getting made. And I had all this psychological energy pent up in my one movie that’s no longer going to exist. There’s a reason for that grief. That’s fine. It’s acceptable.

But I think you’re jumping the gun here on assuming that this other movie is going to preclude your movie from getting made.

Craig: Or even get made. That’s the other thing. This other movie, you’re saying that a prolific comedic actor is attached to star in a movie. Uh…

John: What percentage of attachments do you think result in a movie? Maybe 10 percent?

Craig: Maybe. I mean, attached doesn’t mean a damn thing, just so you know.

John: So, just this last week there’s an actor who I genuinely like. He’s a really good actor, he’s just never become a big star. But on Deadline it was announced, oh, he’s attached to this movie. I’m like, really? That’s a Deadline-worthy story? Because he’s in four movies last year that no one ever heard of.

And so it’s so weird when an actor being attached is actually news. And in some cases like writers get attached to things. I’m like, really? I know for a fact that they’re never going to write that, but it comes out as being news.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Patrick happened to notice this one thing happened and it caught his eye, but if he hadn’t noticed that story would he have felt any different about his script? No.

Craig: Yeah. Just so you know, for those of you who don’t know, the word “attached” in our business means that an actor said, “I’m interested in playing that part. So you agree and I agree that if this movie is going ahead, I’m playing the part.” Now, what happens is they take that actor’s attachment and use it as leverage to try and get financing or a green light from a studio. And they might. And maybe they do and maybe they don’t. But even if they do, then they have to make a deal with the actor. And the actor has to be available. That is – half the time that’s what ends up unattaching that attachment. And then the whole thing falls apart.

So, don’t fret, Patrick. Prevail.

Jonathan from Los Angeles writes, “You have touched on getting staffed as a sitcom writer. It seems like studying performing at one of the local improv theaters, UCB, IO, Second City, is the most common method right now. On the other hand, you always hear about writers who started as writers’ assistants. And as you mentioned, everyone blazes their own path up the mountain, so there are countless other ways to get read and staffed. Which do you think is most fruitful?”

John: Yeah, so I’ve actually heard of this staffing out of improv groups happening a lot more now. I think it’s probably because of the kinds of shows that are getting made. It’s also because some of the shows are being created by folks who grew up through that business.

You know, I think any situation in which you can throw yourself in, where you’re writing and performing things with clever people, you’re more likely to get noticed, and that’s a great thing. I wouldn’t say that it’s the right path for somebody who is looking to do non-comedic stuff, for example.

Craig: Yeah, I agree. And it’s also not the right path for somebody who is a very funny writer, but not a particularly good performer. That said, if you can perform, I would absolutely go the improv route because you are essentially joining an alumni network.

Very famously the Simpsons drew from Harvard, from the Harvard Lampoon. This was very frustrating to me when I moved out here. I’m like, does Princeton count? No. I would see some of these people writing for the Simpsons, and I’m like, well, they’re not funny. I guess they went to Harvard. That’s worth something. Obviously most of the people writing for the Simpsons are brilliant.

But this is a similar situation where you have these feeder organizations where their alumni have gone onto create their shows, star in their own shows, develop their own shows, and they naturally will start, even if they don’t come and look back at specific shows themselves, they talk to the higher ups at those places. They employ the higher ups at those places to be on their shows, even if it’s for guest spots or something like that.

So, they’re going to hear. And I think that makes total sense. If you can be a writer-performer, yes. I would recommend it.

John: Here’s my other theory, is I think it may not be that they’re looking at this pool because it’s just convenient. I think they may be looking at this pool because this pool was actually genuinely good and talented and has actually proven that they can work really hard. So, think about being in one of these groups. If you’re starting out, you’re having to write and perform a bunch of stuff all the time, you are having to really make something new every week or every couple of weeks and really show your craft. It’s really clear sort of what you can do.

Plus, a lot of these groups have kind of hierarchies. You move from one company up to the next company, to the next company. You’ve put in the time, you’ve done the work. So if you are a writer who has graduated up through that system, they’re looking at you and saying like, okay, well this person has done a certain amount of stuff and they’re going to have a good collection of samples to look at. I think they’re just going to – they’re probably going to be pretty good writers.

So I think there’s a reason why they’re looking at this group, not just because they are from this background, but because being in this background, they’ve actually done a lot more work.

Craig: Yeah, precisely. There’s also a certain comic philosophy that emerges from these individual organizations. The Groundlings very much jibes with the comic philosophy of Saturday Night Live and not surprisingly they’ve fed a lot of their talent to Saturday Night Live. UCB jibes more with the kind of Amy Poehler world of comedy. So, you learn a philosophy as well, kind of a school of comedy, and that also makes you more suitable for those employers.

But, you know, let’s keep it all in perspective. There are not a lot of employers, there are not a lot of jobs. You have to be really, really good. Ultimately what we’re talking about is something that gets you successful six months earlier, maybe. But if you’re really, really good, you’re really, really good.

John: I agree. Last question is about people who are really, really good. Eric writes, “I wanted to ask your thoughts on the fact that your peers in the industry, who you both have mentioned with admiration on your podcast, have offered advice directly in opposition to your advice. While you two have approached screenwriting books and seminars with great skepticism, mega-writer Billy Ray has said, ‘I don’t think I’d be a writer if I hadn’t taken the Robert McKee class. My debt to him is huge.’ In a long form interview with Billy, he also repeatedly extolled McKee’s book’s story and its lessons.

“And while Craig has repeatedly addressed listener questions of what topics to write about with some form of ‘write what’s in your heart,’ Terry Rossio says in his Wordplay blog that it’s a waste of time to write scripts that don’t have ‘strange attractors in the premise if you want to get executives interested in you quickly and make a sale.’ Similar to Save the Cats’ advice on aiming for high concept.

“Since these two writers are on equal footing with you two as screenwriters, I just wondered what you thought of their advice to aspiring screenwriters that runs counter to yours. Perhaps they can appear on your podcast in the future to discuss and debate with you. I think that would be super useful.”

Craig: Well, let me start with Billy. So Billy says he, “I don’t think I’d be a writer if I hadn’t taken the Robert McKee class.” That is absolute bullshit. Billy is my friend. I know him well. First of all, Billy’s father was a legendary agent in the movie business, so it wasn’t like Billy was growing up in Omaha, pushing grocery store carts around, dreaming of the Hollywood nights.

Listen, all of these books – it’s not like you and I didn’t read them. I mean, I didn’t read Robert McKee. But I read Campbell and Vogler and Syd Field. You know, when you’re starting out there’s a correlation, but it’s not causation. Of course you’re going to start to read some books, because you want to be a screenwriter, and people are saying read screenwriting books. And you go, okay, I’ll read some screenwriting books.

By the way, there’s probably now a correlation of people starting to be screenwriters who listen to our podcast. That’s not causation. Robert McKee did not cause Billy Ray to be the writer that he is. That’s outrageous. If that were true, then Robert McKee would be writing Billy Ray movies right now. But he’s not. Billy Ray is because Billy is really good.

In fact, I’m seeing Billy Ray in a week. I’m going to say to his face that’s a bunch of bullshit. There is absolutely no – no way.

John: So, on Episode 255 of Scriptnotes, Billy Ray was the guest. Craig wasn’t there. And we talked about this. And so Billy Ray started quite young in the industry and he worked his butt off. And we all read books that were incredibly important to us, and were helpful in getting us thinking about how we were going to do this job of screenwriting. So, I don’t fault him for saying that Robert McKee was a huge influence to him, but like he would be a screenwriter regardless of Robert McKee.

Craig: Of course. Now, the Terry Rossio advice is slightly different. Because Terry’s column was written quite a few years ago. I suspect, just knowing, because I’ve known those guys, Ted and Terry, for a long time. I’m fairly certain that that article, I don’t know if there’s a date on it, the strange attractor thing, but I think it was written in the ‘90s. In fact, it was, 1997.

My friend, that’s 20-year-old advice. Right? Now, it seems, well, yeah, but is it still? No. It’s not relevant anymore. And we know this, because we see writers selling screenplays all the time that are not what we call high concept, big hooky things. That article was written in the era of the big spec sale. And, of course, Terry and Ted wrote a certain kind of movie as well and they had a lot of success with that. And at times I think it’s a tempting thing to want to generalize your success to everybody else and say, “Here’s what I did to be successful. You should do it, too.” Doesn’t quite work that way.

I don’t think the 1997 article here would explain something like the success that Kelly Marcel had with Saving Mr. Banks, which is not a strange attractor/high concept/big gimmick plot twist. Unless, look, you can also play the game of shoving everything into that box in which case, yeah, they all are. And then what you quickly get down to is don’t write a bad script. Write a good one. But I think it’s important to keep in mind that that article is 20 years old.

John: Yeah, so Terry started doing his Wordplay blog even before I was doing And he and I were both sort of people who were offering advice to aspiring screenwriters online. And I totally admire what he’s done and I think Terry has a certain philosophy, and he’s sort of staked out a lot of ground that was really helpful and I love it when he talks at Austin and other places. So, his opinion is not wrong, I just don’t share his opinion that a person should aim for high concept because that’s where the sales are. I don’t think aiming for a high concept sale is the best first goal for a screenwriter right now.

I think the best first goal for a screenwriter is to write something that’s so good that people want to hire you to do things. And the thing that is so good that people want to hire you to do things is going to be something that is uniquely yours, that expresses your unique voice.

Craig: Yeah. You know, in 1997 the business was highly oriented around the veracious consumption of original stuff to put onscreen, not necessarily creative original, but meaning new titles and new IP. And because of video and all the rest, they were releasing an enormous amount of movies. And you had to kind of stand out from the crowd by being something that people wanted to produce. Like, great, this is a great idea. That’s how I got started. You know, my writing partner and I came up with a big hooky/strange attractor concept. We had an actor and off we went. And made the movie.

But 20 years later, the studios are equally obsessed, but in the opposite direction, with generating movies based on not-fresh IP, existing IP. And so what they’re looking for are writers that they can assign to the material they want made. And that means – and Peter Dodd said as much. They’re not necessarily looking at specs as make this, they’re looking at specs as writing samples for their things. For their big things. So, I think that Terry was probably dead spot on when he wrote that, but I would be surprised if he didn’t at least acknowledge that now 20 years gone by the situation is a bit different.

John: I agree. So let’s do our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an article in The Atlantic where John McWhorter, he’s the linguist we talked about on a previous episode, he traces the evolution of the word Like. And so the word Like is really fascinating. So, it starts from an old word that was related to the word body. It then got its sense of meaning similar. I didn’t know this, but you may have known this Craig, that the LY, the adverbial LY is actually Like. It’s just a shortened form of like.

Craig: I did not know that. But that makes so much sense.

John: Yeah, so like saintly, is saint-like. All those words, it’s just an adverbial form of the adjective, and that’s how it got there. Or, noun, so, that LY is a just a Like.

So, the way that we sort of use like now and we sort of hate the way use like now sometimes is really fascinating. So, there’s the way we use it to quote speech, and so she was like, and I was like, and so it’s quoting speech but not directly quoting speech. It’s useful for that. And I kind of can’t fault it for how we use it for that.

But McWhorter singles out two other ways we do it. There’s the way we use it to hesitate, we’re sort of using as a pause word. There’s also a way where we’re using it to mean like I know this doesn’t sound true, but it really is true. I opened the box and there were like 20 scorpions inside. And so that like is meant to sort of emphasize that I’m not saying as if there were 20 scorpions, there really were scorpions inside. I know it seems unbelievable, but that like is there to make clear that it really did happen.

So, anyway, it’s a fascinating article. McWhorter is always great at identifying sort of new trends and old words. So, I point you to this article.

Craig: Well, that’s fascinating. I did not know the LY thing. I like things like that. I like trotting things like that out at parties, mostly to bore people, but also because somebody somewhere is going to go, you know, I’ve heard this so many times. Someone will say, “You say stuff like you know it, but you’re just making it up.” Because it does sound like something you could just make up and say, but I believe it. I believe it.

Well, my One Cool Thing is fairly mundane. Let me ask you a question, John. Do you and Mike wake up at the same time each day or not?

John: We wake up at the same time almost every day, but that’s partly because our daughter has to go to school. So it’s when the alarm happens.

Craig: Got it. So, I take the late shift in the house and Melissa takes the early shift. So, she does the drive to school, I do the “Oh, you’re vomiting at midnight, or you have a fever, whatever.” And she goes to bed before our son does, so I also handle him at night.

So, we have two different alarms. And so it was really frustrating for a long time because what I would do is I would just leave a note like set the alarm for 8:30, you know, because she’s going to get up at 6:30. But I found this clock and it’s Brookstone. You know, Brookstone, they got a bad rep, you know, because it’s a lot of plastic, junky baloney gimmicky stuff in a mall. And massage chairs and baloney. Bu this clock, it’s the only one I’ve found that does this. So, I don’t know, maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough. But it’s a Bluetooth alarm clock with two alarm settings and you can control it with an app, as long as you’re within Bluetooth range.

So, when I get into bed, I open up my iPad, the screen on dim, and she’s got alarm one set to 6:30, and I go to alarm two and make it whatever I want. And it does it. And it’s great. You’d think other people would have that. No, anyway.

John: Craig, right now it’s my function to be the voice of everyone listening in their cars right now, Craig, alarm clocks have done that for forever. Like, literally our 20-year-old alarm clock–

Craig: No, no, no, I know they have two alarms. I’m saying, it’s dark. I walk into the room. She’s asleep, right, because I’m coming in at midnight. The room is dark. The alarm is by her bed. I got to turn a light on by the clock, hit a thing. Because I change my time all the time. I change my wake up time all the time.

John: We have little glowing buttons. We just push the little buttons.

Craig: No, I don’t want to get near her face and start doing that. I want to be able to control it with my phone.

John: Oh, so I see. This is the crucial geography I was not understanding in the scene you were describing. So, in your scene geography, the clock is by your wife, and therefore you don’t want to be anywhere near your wife because she’s asleep and she’s like a bomb that could go off.

Craig: She’s like a bomb that can go off. Exactly.

John: So therefore you can use this device, it’s a remote control for the bomb by your wife.

Craig: Right.

John: And so you could change the timer so it counts down differently, so that she will blow up earlier, and you could blow up at a later time.

Craig: I think you finally understand. First of all, you understand the danger I’m in.

John: Oh, I know your wife. I know you don’t want to cross her.

Craig: I’m not going to wake her up. I don’t want to wake her up. And this way it’s great. And also the actual process of changing an alarm on most alarm clocks is horrendous. You’re tapping buttons and you’ve got to figure out who to enter this one, this one. The app is lovely. You just go and you scroll like any other time alarm app and hit save. And so I love it personally. And it’s cheap. It’s like $60.

John: Craig, my question for you is you’ve already established that the iPad is in the room, so why don’t you just set the alarm on the iPad and have the iPad wake you up?

Craig: Okay. Great point. I will tell you why. Because sometimes my iPad isn’t plugged in and the battery is low and I’m a little paranoid that it’s going to run out, but also the iPad just does not generate a loud enough alarm for me because I have ear plugs in. And why do I have ear plugs in?

John: Because your wife wakes up early.

Craig: Well, and, you know, there’s–

John: She snores.

Craig: Meh. I don’t know what you’re talking about and I didn’t say anything.

John: [laughs] All right. I’m a big believer in ear plugs as well. I think ear plugs are a good invention. I remember the first time I used them on planes saying like, oh, this is so weird and uncomfortable, and then – they’re great. So, I do believe in ear plugs. I believe in eye shades. I believe in anything that helps you sleep. So, I’m fine with it.

Craig: Boom.

John: Boom. That’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For shorter questions on Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We are on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes podcast. But don’t leave any fake news here, because we don’t want any fake news on our Facebook.

You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a comment because that helps people find the show.

You’ll find show notes for this episode and all episodes at That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs.

You can find all of the back episodes at You can also find a USB drive in the show notes here for all the first 250 episodes of the show.

Craig: Wow.

John: Yeah. That’s a lot of episodes of the show.

Craig: So many episodes.

John: So we have to decide if we’re going to make the 300-episode USB drives. And if we’re going to make them that have the new USBCs. We just don’t know what we’re going to do.

Craig: Well, I know what we won’t do. We won’t funnel any of that sweet, sweet profit to me.

John: Uh-uh. Not a bit of it. It all stays in Godwin’s little coffers.

Craig: Oh, Godwin’s coffers. Godwin’s coffers sounds like some sort of Shakespearean outcry. Godwin’s coffers!

John: I think it’s pretty fantastic. Craig, thank you for a fun episode. I hope it was everything you wanted.

Craig: D’oh.

John: See you next week.

Craig: See you next time.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

What Do They Want?

Tue, 12/13/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig look at how heroes let us know what they’re after, with or without a song.

We also answer listener questions about how much despair to feel when a movie similar to your spec is announced, getting staffed off of improv groups, and whether we’re wrong about gurus. (We’re not.)


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 278: Revenge of the Clams — Transcript

Thu, 12/08/2016 - 22:21

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 278 of Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we are looking at phrases that have been banned from comedy writing rooms.

Craig: Good.

John: And more generally why making a list of what you will never do could help you figure out what you actually should do. We’ll also be answering listener questions about character names, life rights, and sticking to a genre.

But first up, some follow up. Craig, did you get your Scriptnotes t-shirts?

Craig: I did. Apparently I made a mistake.

John: Uh-oh.

Craig: I ordered my – so Melissa wears medium.

John: Does she wear a woman’s medium?

Craig: There, you see, you’re already a better husband.

John: [laughs] I’m already a better husband.

Craig: She does not like the women’s cut. She likes the man’s cut. So, she put on the women’s – she’s like, oh my god, this is so small. So I’m like, “Put it on.” She put it on. It was so hot. John, it was hot. And she’s like, “I’m never—“

John: So it wasn’t a mistake. It was a win.

Craig: For me it was. But she’s like, “I’m never leaving the house with this.” I’m like, come one. “No.” So, yeah, those are useless to me. I don’t know if there’s any – there’s no more, right? I can’t get the medium regular?

John: So there is a possibility of more. So, the Scriptnotes t-shirts were so successful that Cotton Bureau says that if they get enough requests for t-shirts, they may start printing another batch. So, if you are interested in more Scriptnotes t-shirts, you can go to the same page where you order them. There’s a place where you can put your email address. If they print another batch, they will email you to see if you actually want one. So, Craig wants one for his wife.

Craig: Yup.

John: If other listeners out there want them, they should put in their email addresses on that little form and tell Cotton Bureau that they want them. So there will be a link in the show notes for that.

But more crucially, if you got your Scriptnotes t-shirt and want to show us in your Scriptnotes t-shirt, please tweet us a photo, or send it to us on Instagram. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We would love to see you wearing your Scriptnotes t-shirts.

Craig: Yeah. Especially those, and I’m not going to even say it. [laughs]

John: Just stop.

Craig: Just stop. Why should I care? Especially the male XXL. That’s what I meant to say. I like men in burly shirts. That’s all I like.

John: Absolutely. Because we create large sizes because we have a diverse range of body types who listen to our podcast.

Craig: Yeah. But I assume that all the guys that listen to our podcast, if they’re wearing XXL it’s because they work out. They have just massive pecs.

John: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Craig: Huge, huge shoulders.

John: Because normal t-shirts, like their arms wouldn’t even fit through the holes.

Craig: No way.

John: No way.

Craig: No way.

John: So, long time listeners will know that Craig often mocks me for stealing all his money for all the millions of dollars we make–

Craig: It’s not mockery. It’s accurate.

John: It’s not really mockery. It’s basically – what is the proper verb for what you are doing about the money we make?

Craig: Exposing you. I’m exposing you.

John: Exposing, yeah. Really, accusing, because exposing would mean that you actually had some facts.

Craig: I do. I have facts. You’re selling t-shirts. What other facts do I need?

John: So, I thought we’d have a little transparency on the podcast right now and we’ll talk about how much money we made off the t-shirts.

Craig: We…

John: Well, the podcast made. Because there’s you, and there’s me, and there’s also the guys who actually do the hard work of putting the show up on the Internet.

Craig: That’s true.

John: That’s true. So this was the profits that occurred. We did two t-shirts. The first one was the midnight blue t-shirt. We sold 511 of them.

Craig: Wow.

John: We made $6 per shirt, and so that totaled $3,066.

Craig: All right.

John: So that’s great. That’s money in the bank. They literally PayPal’d that to us.

Craig: Okay.

John: The other t-shirt, the gold standard, we sold 282 t-shirts. That was $1,692. So, that money also got PayPal’d to us. So altogether off t-shirts, because of you guys being awesome, we made $4,758.

Craig: I’m already spending my $2,380-something dollars.

John: That’s good. You absolutely should. Except that we also have to pay for the people we have to pay for. So–

Craig: Oh…

John: Yeah, see? So, we have to pay for our editor, Matthew Chilelli. We have to pay for John Morgan, who does the transcripts. We have to pay for hosting, which isn’t a huge expense, but it’s some expense now. And we have to pay for Godwin Jabangwe, the producer of Scriptnotes, who puts all the stuff online and answers email questions, and does all that–

Craig: Wait, we’re paying Godwin. I thought he was just going to be a permanent intern.

John: Yeah, a permanent unpaid intern. That’s the way Hollywood works. Wouldn’t that be great?

Craig: It would be amazing.

John: It would be amazing. So the t-shirts are great. And so we mostly make the t-shirts because we love seeing people in the t-shirts. We make some money off that. Between that and the people who are the premium subscribers, the people who are paying $1.99 a month, we get $1 of that. Libsyn who hosts our podcast gets the other dollar of that. But we have 2,569 premium subscribers, and so those are really paying for the bulk of Matthew and Godwin and John Morgan, who does our transcripts. So, thank you everybody who is a premium subscriber. If you are interested in becoming one of those, it’s at, and you get all the back episodes, plus the bonus episodes, the dirty episodes, all the special episodes we did along the way.

Craig: Yeah. And you know what, here’s the thing. If you’re listening to this and you’re not a premium subscriber for $2 a month, all right, just rest assured, and I don’t know how this couldn’t be clear to you now, I don’t get any of it. Okay? That’s the important thing. You’re not giving me money. I have not seen a dime. John does receive this money and then immediately disperses it to the people that help make this program. And we have no advertising. None. Give us an example of one other podcast that is at our level of popularity that doesn’t have you, or me, or people like us breaking into the middle of the content to talk about how delicious an iced tea is, or how wonderful Mail Chimp is?

We don’t do that. Right? So, just give us two bucks. Oh my god. I want my $2. I want my $2. Just do it. It’s $24 a year. What? I mean, compare that to – what does film school cost? Like $28 a year? We’re cheaper, right? What does it cost? I don’t even know.

John: Yeah, probably. On a minute per minute basis, I think we’re significantly cheaper than film school.

Craig: We’re significantly cheaper than film school. Come on, people. Come on. Come on. I promise you, this money will never end up in my pocket. Ever.

John: [laughs] Not a chance.

Last week’s episode we talked about Scorpion, which we were both – you were bewildered it was a TV show, and I had discovered it was a TV show because I saw it on a plane. Not only is Scorpion a TV show on CBS, there is a Twitter feed for the Scorpion writers’ room. And so we have listeners to our podcast who were surprised to hear we didn’t know about their show. So, this is a shout-out to Scorpion writers’ room. We’re really proud of you guys.

Craig: They were amazing, by the way. Because it was like, “We are honored, humbled and honored, to have been mentioned on Scriptnotes.” It was the most side-eye – I mean, it was actually the perfect tweet. Like, I read that and I was like, “Oh dear.” Look, it’s honestly not my fault. There are a lot of shows that I don’t know exist. I mean, theoretically, if somebody says Cheers to me, I might go, “Was that a show?” I’m the worst with that. But you have no excuse. You watch everything. So, shame on you. Shame on you, John.

John: I watch very few procedurals. Actually, I think I watch no procedurals. So that’s my excuse.

Craig: Is Scorpion a procedural?

John: It’s a procedural. It’s an investigative procedural. They are cyber sleuths. I’m going to get this so wrong and Scorpion writers’ room is going to be so upset with me.

Craig: I can’t wait.

John: My perception is, having watched an episode without the headphones in on a plane–

Craig: To which they totally roasted you on.

John: Which is great. My perception is that it is a team of specialists who do some computer stuff, does other technology stuff, some sort of game theory stuff, who get called in for very extreme situations where lives are on the line. That is my perception of what Scorpion is. And I get that because the actual title treatment for Scorpion is sort of like closed/slash Scorpion, like as if it’s the end comment on something.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: So it feels cyber-ish.

Craig: Very cyber-ish. Well, happily for the writers of Scorpion, A, apparently their show has massive ratings. B, your awareness of it, and certainly my awareness of it, completely irrelevant to the quality and success of a television show. We have proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. So, thank you for – I mean, I’m sure that the Scorpion writers don’t listen to the show, but somebody was like, “Uh, you guys should listen to this.” Hey, well, you’re listening now I bet. I’m sorry. I mean, I didn’t know.

John: If Scriptnotes were the key to success of a television show, then Crazy Ex-Girlfriend would be the biggest show on television.

Craig: Oh, for sure. For sure. What do we know?

John: People watch what they want to watch. I want you to talk about how you were wrong about yams on last week’s episode.

Craig: Well, I mean, according to this guy I’m wrong about yams. I don’t know, is he writing from the Yam Board?

John: I was pretty sure last week you were wrong, but I didn’t want to call it out on the air, because we were going long as it was.

Craig: Oh, sure.

John: So, Craig, why don’t you tell us what Christopher wrote in to say.

Craig: Okay, well, Christopher writes, “Craig’s potato primer,” by the way, that’s how you pronounce that word, did you know that?

John: I say primer, as if you’re priming a car.

Craig: It’s primer. By the way, somebody next week will write in about how I’m wrong about that. “Craig’s potato primer was consistent with how most grocery stores label their products and therefore wrong. It’s extremely unlikely that most Americans will ever encounter a true yam, originating in Africa, unless they actively seek one out generally at a specialty store. True yams have a very thick, almost bark-like skin, and very firm white purple flesh. Both the orange and yellow tubers commonly encountered are varieties of sweet potato, originating in the Americas, although in America the term yam does colloquially refer to orange sweet potatoes. If you want to be pedantic, like me, you can call orange sweet potatoes ‘soft sweet potatoes,’ and yellow, ‘firm.’”

Christopher, I can’t make fun of you for this. I want to. But, this is the sort of thing I’m constantly saying to other people, so I can’t make—

So, here’s the situation. The mistake I made was I thought that the orange sweet potato was a yam and what we’d call the white or yellow sweet potato was the sweet potato. But apparently they’re both sweet potatoes and nobody has yams, ever.

John: Yup. No one has yams. So, I knew that yams were from Africa. I would say that I can understand the sense of just call them yams because everybody calls them yams, the way that words drift in meaning because culturally words drift in meaning. But I will say that the whole topic came up because I’ve always despised sweet potatoes, and for some reason now twice there’s two things I love potatoes now. I love sweet potato fries, and I loved the sweet potatoes I had at Thanksgiving this last time. So, I don’t think I have changed. I think the sweet potato has changed for the better. Somehow, whatever work the chefs of the world have done to the sweet potato to make it a delicious food, I salute you.

Craig: Well, thank you, Christopher, for writing in from the Yam Institute. Surely he has nothing else that he could add to our discussion – oh wait, he does. [laughs]

John: He does. So in that same email he went on to talk about CPR. So, let’s talk about CPR, because Christopher has a lot of information.

Craig: So, Christopher writes, again, “Anyway, my real motive, and consistent with my prior motive, was to write about clarifying about CPR. When Craig talks about success rate of CPR, I hope we can be clear that he’s addressing the overall survival rate of patients who receive CPR among other treatments. The purpose of CPR is not to get a person back up and walking after their heart stops. It’s to serve as a life support system until professional medical help can arrive. You are literally acting as the victim’s heart and lungs, pushing oxygen to their brain and other tissues to keep the body alive. Brain damage is not a consequence of CPR. It’s a consequence of oxygen deprivation to the brain, which proper CPR prevents. So, success is just doing proper CPR until a medical professional can take over.

“That said, it’s totally accurate that the victim will almost never wake up during CPR as they do in TV and movies. Even if you get their heart beating, there’s a good chance they’ll stay unconscious. It’s also important to note that modern CPR should only be administered until someone can retrieve an AED. And AEDs have been show to – that’s defibrillators – have been shown to increase survival rates as high as 40 to 70%.”

John: We should stop here to clarify that the AEDs, I think he’s also referring to a lot of places, a lot of restaurants now will have that sort of red box behind the counter which they can pull out to do stuff. That’s one of the kinds of AEDs he’s referring to.

Craig: Yes. “The American Heart Association found that when AED is applied within one minute, survival approaches 90%. This is why CPR trainers teach you that step one is to make sure someone calls 911. Step two is to send a bystander to go find an AED and bring it back.”

Yes. When I was talking about the overall success rate, I was saying do the people survive. That’s what that means. And generally speaking they don’t. That’s just the deal.

John: Yeah. So I think what Chris was trying to clarify was that all the different times where CPR is used, some of those situations are not the bystander who fell on the side of the road. And so my two friends who are both trainers, their experience of having saved a person who collapsed and then they gave them CPR, that actually can happen. But if you want to take all the different instances where CPR was administered, including in a hospital setting, the success rate is going to go down because some of those people were never going to make it.

Craig: Right. Exactly. I mean, some of the CPR statistics are impacted by the fact that they’re dead. They’re just dead-dead. And you’re doing CPR on a dead body. Obviously that’s factored in. I mean, that’s really part of the discussion. The point is that when you’re doing CPR, there’s a chance that nothing is going to change what’s going to happen. It’s just – that’s the myth. I hope no one was thinking I was saying, “CPR is stupid. Don’t study it and don’t do it.” I’m just saying that the success rate in movies and television is absurd.

John: Yes. I agree.

Craig: What else does Christopher have to complain about?

John: [laughs] I think we’re done with Christopher. But we had a lot of people write in this last episode because we were talking about the difference between fantasy and reality and what we see on screen versus what happens in reality. And Tim wrote in to say, “An example of how doing the research can improve a scene was shown to me recently when I was writing a moment where a wife has to identify her dead husband in the morgue. The body, however, has been switched,” in his story. “Having watched the moment in countless Hollywood films and TV shows, the coroner lifts the sheet, the grieving wife nods, et cetera. I thought it would actually be better off to visit a morgue. Here in Britain, at least, a family member is never allowed into the morgue. You briefly glimpse the body through a small window. And there are other touches as well. [Unintelligible] curtains in a crematorium whisked back. An ominous box of tissues on the table. All of which made her misidentifying her husband much more plausible.”

Craig: Well, I don’t know if that’s consistently true here in the United States, but it was certainly true in the morgue where I was an intern at the age of 16. Because, you know, I was going to be a doctor. So, I spent a summer assisting the Mammoth County Medical Examiner doing autopsies, which is how every 16-year-old boy should spend a summer.

But there was one time, and I had to wheel the body. So, there’s a big freezer room, and you wheel the body up to that little window. And they come to the little window. You definitely don’t want to walk through a morgue, because you’re going to see dozens of dead bodies stacked up in what looks like basically a large supermarket freezer. And then also other bodies in various state of disassembly on tables. So, you wheel them up to the window and then you pull the sheet back. That actually was the worst thing that happened to me that summer.

It wasn’t doing the autopsies, and I saw some gross stuff. It was watching a grown man cry looking at his brother.

John: Oof.

Craig: Yeah. Through the little stupid window. It’s exactly right. And you can – by the way, yes, I remember little curtains. I don’t know if they were pink, but I remember little curtains. And I remember a box of tissues. And I remember also thinking that medical pathologists are not who you want doing your interior design. It’s just really bad. The curtains already were like, yeah, abandon all hope.

John: Yeah. Sorry. You’re already down in a morgue, so you’re probably not having a lot of hope.

Craig: They’re so – the people who work in a morgue are the least sentimental people in the world. Surprise. Whatever sentiment they had was beaten out of them after, I don’t know, their 1,000th dead body. So, now it’s just like, okay, here you go. And the tears come. Here’s your tissue. You walk that way. I close the curtain. Back to work.

John: Yup. All right, our next listener writes in because he’s on the other side of this. He’s talking about how screenwriters have made his job difficult. Do you want to try this, or should I try this?

Craig: I might as well. I’m on a role. So Kent writes, “Hollywood script writers have made my job very difficult. I develop robots for the US military. Unfortunately, Terminator and 100 other movies have made the specter of killing robots a powerful meme, obscuring the real issues. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching Terminator, but I know it’s fiction. The level of artificial intelligence in those robots is complete fantasy, something that’s not just decades away, but almost certainly centuries away.” I don’t know, Kent.

“The boring truth is that people in my field have struggled for years to get a robot to recognize the difference between a bush and a rock with only limited success. The widespread fear that we are secretly building Terminator-like autonomous killing machines is laughable. At least this idea should be laughable, except that screenwriters have successfully convinced the public that killer robots are indeed possible. Robot insurance. There is now a complete disconnect between what is really going on and what the general public knows about military robots. This disconnect makes it nearly impossible to have a meaningful conversation about the role of unmanned systems in combat.

“There are indeed serious issues that need to be faced with how robotic systems are used by the military. Unfortunately, these real issues bear little resemblance to the sensationalized fears that originated in a screenwriter’s keyboard.” Nothing originates in the keyboard, by the way, Kent.

Anyway, “Any policy level discussion about unmanned combat systems are warped by these misperceptions which make it very difficult to get to the real issues.”

John, does Kent have a point do you think? Or is it foofaraw?

John: I think Kent has a very, very good point. Is that by putting this one idea in our heads, it’s obscuring all of the other possible realities, and the true real world realities, because we’re only focused on this fiction.

Craig: Yeah. I – kind of. I’m going to challenge Kent a little bit here. I think that the American people, and frankly people everywhere all over the world, don’t really need our help to suspect the worst of government military organizations. That’s sort of baked into their minds. If Disney started making robots, nobody would think ill of it. And, in fact, Disney has. Right? They have their little animatronics and everybody thinks they’re adorable. And no one is suspecting that they’re actually, you know, going to go on a rampage. The problem is military. The problem is military. The problem is people assume that if you’re building something in the military, it’s to hurt other people. Now, that is a misconception. But that’s not a Hollywood misconception. That’s just a human misconception.

Military applications are enormous and there’s a sector of them that are obviously about inflicting injury and quite a few of them are not. They’re about gathering intelligence or helping save lives. So, I’ll take a little bit of blame, but I really don’t think anyone is walking around thinking, “Oh yeah, the government is going to be releasing a wave of Terminators on us.” I’ve never heard anybody think that.

Have you seen the videos, John, of the robot competitions where the whole point is just to get a robot to kick a soccer ball into a net?

John: Yeah. I love those. I also love robots trying to open a door and like failing miserably.

Craig: It’s amazing. And inevitably while you’re watching and laughing you think, oh, this won’t be so funny 20 years from now when the robot is my primary care physician. But, and you know, Kent sees it as a century away. Let’s split the difference. It’s not decades away. I don’t know if it’s centuries away. But in a hundred years, right? I don’t know. Thinking about what the world was like in 1916 is hardly recognizable to what it is now. So, I’m going to go halfway with Kent on that one.

John: So this afternoon I was at Shakespeare and Company which is a famous English language bookstore here in Paris. And I was eavesdropping on these two women who were having a conversation. And they were talking about this news report they watched. And the sensational lead is like, you know, Man Killed by Robot. And basically do we need to start worrying about Terminators and robots in our future? And it kicked back to the anchors, so I’m hearing this recap of these two women talking about it. And the anchors were like, “Well no. Actually there was a man operating the robot. The robot was controlled.” So like a person did it.

And so basically it was an accident that happened with a remote control robot. And so there was this pressure to sort of make it seem like the question being are robots going to kill us. No, it’s an industrial machine, and an accident happened, and it was remote controlled. And like the robot was not sentient in any meaningful way.

And so it was that pressure to build the narrative around like a robot killed a man, but it really wasn’t that at all. It was just a robotic arm and the guy got hit by the robotic arm and died. So, that’s said, but it’s not a robot uprising. It’s not Westworld.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, don’t blame screenwriters for the exogenous stupidity out there. I mean, it just is. There is stupidity out there. It’s not our fault. Dumb people will say things like, “A robot killed a guy.” Well, no, somebody pushed the wrong button and a dumb lever moved an arm that you think of as a robot because it’s an arm. But it’s really not. It’s just a bunch of metal. You know, I don’t know. Kent, I’m not going to take the blame here. In fact, I want more robot movies now. More.

John: Quickly going through the rest of the follow up, Colin wrote in with a link to a Wired article that looks at the impossible physics of tightropes in an episode of Gotham. And so–

Craig: Gotham is a show? That’s a show?

John: Gotham is a show. Craig, what is Gotham about? I’ll wait here while you tell me what Gotham is about.

Craig: Well, I’m going to just wing it here. Gotham is a show from the DC universe.

John: Correct.

Craig: It is a show about the city of Gotham and the various superheroes and super villains that populate it. And sometimes–

John: Yes, what is the special thing about Gotham? What is the unique point of view of Gotham?

Craig: Gritty.

John: Well, it’s gritty.

Craig: Was I right?

John: Who was the biggest star in the first season of Gotham?

Craig: Well, the biggest name in Gotham City is Batman, of course.

John: Well, yes. So Bruce Wayne is a character in it, but Bruce Wayne is a child in this. And so it’s Commissioner Gordon’s point of view. So, what actress who is married to an even more famous actor was the primary villain in the first season? Or a primary villain in the first season?

Craig: Angelina Jolie. Oh no, they’re not married anymore. Oh, boy, that’s a tough one. Let’s see. Who’s married to William Macy again?

John: No, no. Felicity Huffman is great, but no.

Craig: It’s not Felicity Huffman? That’s it. I’m out.

John: Jada Pinkett Smith was the villain.

Craig: Oh, Jada Pinkett Smith.

John: She played Mad-Eye Mooney or something. And I have not seen the show either, but at least I know what the show is.

Our final bit of follow up comes from Jay Allan Zimmerman who writes, “I admit it, I’m a Scriptnotes addict. To be clear, I am deaf. So, technically I’m a Scriptnotes transcript addict. Meaning the Sexy Craig voice in my head could be too dirty old man-ish. And the Colorado John accent could be too Montana.”

I don’t know if I could hear a difference between a Colorado accent and a Montana accent. I’m sure there is one. But I couldn’t pick it.

“Anyway, it has been nearly a month since I had my drug and I’m having serious withdrawal issues. Especially since all meaning in the world suddenly ceased and a cloud of despair descended upon us here in New York City. And there has been a collective weeping and great gnashing of teeth. And yet every day I’m teased by the title This Feeling Will End.”

So, Jay is pointing out that our Scriptnotes transcripts got a month behind, but Godwin has done a hero’s work to get them all back up. So as you are listening to this episode we should be caught up. So, John Morgan has been doing the transcripts and Godwin has them all up now. So, sorry for people who are waiting for transcripts, but they are there.

And if you have not read the transcripts, basically if you’re looking at the episode on the blog, when there is a transcript at the very bottom of the post there will be an update that says here is a link to the transcript. So, if you’re a person who wants to read those transcripts, they will always be there for you.

Craig: Hey, I have a question for you.

John: Yes.

Craig: Is it possible to have people subscribe in some way to an alert so when the transcript goes up they receive an alert?

John: That is theoretically possible. We will investigate this week a system for doing that. And if there is an answer, on next week’s episode I will let you know what that system will be.

Craig: Because I definitely sympathize with Jay’s predicament here. Because I’m not deaf, but I like reading the transcripts better than listening to the show. I love that we have transcripts.

John: Yeah. Transcripts are good.

Craig: Every podcast should have a transcript as far as I’m concerned.

John: Increasingly, more and more podcasts are having them. So, I definitely applaud the trend towards transcripts. We’ve had them since the very beginning.

Last little bit about Jay Allan Zimmerman. “If by chance you and/or Craig happen to be in New York City over the holidays, my concert is at Lincoln Center this year. And I would be very happy and honored to save seats for you.” So, Jay is a songwriter in addition to being a listener. And he’s a songwriter who is now deaf.

Craig: Perking up. Hold on. What’s this about?

John: So click through the link and you will see. So, there will be a link to his show in the transcripts, but also in the show notes for this week’s episode.

Craig: This is so cool. All right. Great.

John: Yeah, so that intersection of Scriptnotes and Broadway.

Craig: You kind of got me right there. Scriptnotes and Broadway. Makes me happy.

John: So our main topic this week is clams. So, back in Episode 52 we looked at clams, which are jokes and phrases that have been overused so much that they’re not only not funny, but they’re sort of anti-funny at this point. They’re painful to hear. But you still do hear them because writing is hard and sometimes writers are lazy. And those clams are sort of joke-oids that serve as placeholders for actual comedy that is meant to be written at some point.

So, this past week John Quaintance on Twitter published photos from two whiteboards in the Workaholics writers’ room. And so these were a list of phrases that were basically banned from their scripts. Like we are not allowed to use these in our scripts. And so those photos got widely circulated, but I asked Godwin to type up the list. And I thought we would take a read through this because it has been 220 episodes since we’ve done this list last time.

We will read these things aloud, and as we read them aloud one by one you will say like, “Oh you know what, you’re right. We should never put those in our scripts anymore.”

Craig: I agree. Let’s do it.

John: Let’s do it. So I’ll start.

___? More like ___.

Craig: Can You Not?

John: I Can Explain!

Craig: Let’s Not and Say We Did.

John: I Didn’t Not ___.

Craig: Va-Jay-Jay.

John: Wait For It…

Craig: Just Threw Up In My Mouth.

John: Really?

Craig: Good Talk.

John: And By ___ I Mean ___.

Craig: Check Please!

John: Awkward!

Craig: Shut The Front Door!

John: So, pause here. Do we all know where Shut the Front Door came from? So, it’s Shut the F Up. And so it was a common way of looping over Shut the F Up. So the looping was so funny that people started just using that as a line. But it’s not funny anymore.

Craig: No, it’s not funny.

John: Lady Boner.

Craig: Rut-Roh!

John: I Think That Came Out Wrong.

Craig: Uh…Define ___.

John: No? Just Me.

Craig: Why Are We Whispering?

John: That Went Well…

Craig: Stay Classy.

John: I’m A Hot Mess!

Craig: That’s Not a Thing.

John: It’s Science.

Craig: Bacon Anything.

John: Cray-Cray.

Craig: Real Talk.

John: Nailed It.

Craig: Random!

John: Awesome Sauce.

Craig: Thanks…I Guess.

John: Little Help?

Craig: Laughy McLaugherson.

John: ___ Dot Com.

Craig: Oh Helllll Naw!

John: Epic Fail

Craig: Did I Just Say That Out Loud?

John: Food Baby.

Craig: Douche (Nozzle). Douche anything.

John: Soooo, That Just Happened.

Craig: Squad Goals.

John: I Just Peed A Little.

Craig: Too Soon?

John: Spoiler Alert.

Craig: Um…In English Please.

John: Note to Self.

Craig: Life Hack.

John: Best. ___. Ever. Or Worst. ___. Ever.

Craig: It’s Giving Me All the Feels.

John: Garbage People.

Craig: Garbage people?

John: Yeah, like referring to people as like they’re garbage people.

Craig: Oh.

That Happened One Time!

John: Well Played.

Craig: I’m Right Here!

John: Hard Pass.

Craig: Are You Having A Stroke?

John: Go Sports!

Craig: Zero Fucks Given.

John: We Have Fun.

Craig: Who Hurt You?

John: I Absorbed My Twin In The Womb.

Craig: I’ll take ___ for $500, Alex.

John: Thanks Obama.

Craig: That’s Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

John: I Think We’re Done Here.

Craig: Wait, What?

John: Shots Fired.

Craig: Sharkweek.

John: You Assclown.

Craig: Ridonkulous.

John: Bag of Dicks.

Craig: Hey, Don’t Help.

John: Debbie Downer.

Craig: I Can’t Unsee That.

John: That Just Happened.

Craig: I Could Tell You but I’d Have to Kill You.

John: See What I Did There?

Craig: I’ll Show Myself Out.

John: Here’s The Line, Here’s You.

Craig: ___ on Steroids/Crack.

John: Swipe Right.

Craig: White People Problems.

John: Oh man. That’s a god list of terrible things.

Craig: Seriously. A long, terrible list of terrible. Yeah.

John: And none of those things were bad the first time they were done. They were actually probably pretty clever the first time they were done. But now you just don’t want to hear those. And so why I wanted to talk through those is like not just those specific phrases, but in general why it’s a good idea sometimes to make that list of let’s not do these things. Because that general category of bad things, it’s not just necessarily dialogue, but it could also be ideas, or sort of script scenes, or script moments that are just so cliché and overdone. It hurts you because it takes a moment that could be specific to you as a writer or specific to your project and just makes it generic. It robs it of a specialty, of a moment that could be unique to you and makes it common to everything.

Craig: It’s so true. The price of the clam isn’t so much that people think, “Oh, the writer is lazy, or the writer is not funny.” Because people aren’t really thinking about that when they’re watching things. There’s a much quicker subconscious injury that occurs when we see or hear these things. And that is a sense that we’re now watching a thing. It has that classic, clichéd, bad move of taking you out of something. Because suddenly I realize, oh, that’s right, this isn’t real. I mean, I know it’s not real, but my little paper thin veneer of verisimilitude has been punctured because I’ve heard that so many damn times.

The use of these clams is – I always think of it as music. I think that people are, well, you know what we need here is we need something to kind of give us a little ramp in. Well, if you’re writing music, here’s what you wouldn’t do. Oh, I know, let’s start the song like this. [hums] But that’s what a clam is. It’s the comedy version of [hums]. It’s just so overdone as to be, oh my god, really? That – see, I just did it. Really?

John: Yeah. So, the reason why I think it’s good that they made this list for this writers’ room, and why I think writers can do this for themselves or for the group of the room that’s working on a project is it sort of forces you to step up your game. Say like these are obvious things that we could do that we’ve decided we’re not going to do. And that could be choices you’re making about what dialogue you’re using or not using, but also things your characters are allowed to do or not do.

Or, like you are not allowed to start a scene with like, “To recap…” You’re going to avoid those hacky things that make life easier for you because they are robbing you of moments you could have.

It also is a signal to your staff that you’re watching, that these things are important. And that your show, your movie, whatever you’re writing is not going to be like everybody else’s thing. So I really applaud them for keeping this list and also letting us see their list, because that was really, really helpful.

Craig: Yeah. You know, if you are hanging out with somebody and they start saying things like, “I can’t unsee that.” In fact, you’re not hanging out with this person. You’re at a coffee shop and you’re listening to two people having a conversation. You don’t know them. And they’re like, “Well played. Really? Are you having a stroke? Note to self…” you think, oh my god, these are the two worst people in the world. They’re so fake. Nobody talks like that. Well, why would you do that to your characters? Why would you turn them into the worst people in the world?

There’s a long tradition in television comedy for characters to have catchphrases, which sometimes are words, and sometimes they aren’t even words. Lucille Ball famously would do this. When she would get I trouble she would go, “Ewwww.” Right? Now, maybe that became a clam by other people copying her, but that’s real. Like I believed her when she would go, “Ewwww.” It was unique to her. Do that.

John: Do that. Let’s talk about how you kill these clams. So you detect one of these in a script and you feel yourself about to write one. What are the ways to get out of it?

So, some ideas I have for you is to really examine what is the purpose of this clam. So, let’s say you find one in the script. I would say really examine what that clam is trying to do in that moment. So, is it there so you can get a breath? Is it there to close a thought? Is it there to keep the character alive in the scene? Basically someone who hasn’t spoken, or doesn’t have a purpose to be there, and so they need to say something funny so they stay alive in the scene. Is it to keep the ball in the air? I just read A Woman of No Importance, the Oscar Wilde, and after that I went back and read The Importance of Being Earnest, and a lot of times characters in there are just keeping the ball up in the air. It’s like they’re playing badminton and they have to keep saying a funny line so the ball stays up in the air.

Sometimes that clam might be there to do that. And oftentimes I notice the clam is there really to pivot between two parts of a scene. Basically there’s the business of the first half of the scene, and there’s the business at the second half of the scene, and that clam is to work as a sort of closer and a transition point to flip you to the second part of the scene, so you can be done with the first bit of business and then on to the second bit of business.

So recognize what the function of that clam is. That’s why it’s there. And then find a better thing to put there so you don’t have to use that hack phrase.

Craig: Right. So, sometimes – and John knows – I’m having a sneezing fit, so if I start to sound really weird, or vaguely like I’m on the edge of an organism or something, it’s not Sexy Craig. It’s just Sneezy Craig.

John: But sneezes and orgasms are neurologically related, are they not?

Craig: I guess they’re involuntary spasms of your body. I much prefer the other kind than this, but–

John: [laughs] To each his own.

Craig: Yeah. Nose-gasming. I have multiple nose-gasms.

Sometimes in comedy, what the clam is really doing is serving as the landing point for a joke. We think sometimes that the clam is the joke. It’s not. The joke is whatever has happened before the clam and people tend to laugh on reactions to things. So a character does something funny, and in movies we do this all the time. Movies are less inclined towards clamminess because they are – it’s not to say that they’re immune. They’re not. But they’re less inclined because there’s no laugh track and there’s no sense of that laugh rhythm being required.

So, in a movie, somebody will do something funny and the editor will cut to another character just starting. And that cut is where you get the laugh from the audience. This is very, very – this is just a true thing. You don’t even realize when you watch movies. Watch what happens when people do funny things. You will immediately cut to somebody going, “Whoa.” So, the look of Whoa is kind of the – that’s the landing spot.

In television comedy, I feel like a lot of times what ends up happening is they can’t just keep cutting to people and reacting because there’s so many jokes and they’re so rapid that they need these little clammy lines to serve as landing places for the audience.

So when you look at clams like for instance, “I’m right here,” or, “Wait, what?” Or, “I can’t unsee that.” I can’t unsee that is obviously referring to a joke, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Something funny happened and that’s their attempt to land. You have to find other ways to land.

John: Yeah. So let’s talk through what you could do to replace that I Can’t Unsee that. So, if that showed up in your script and like you have to make this line better, I would say really look at what is it that you’re trying to say there and see if there’s a way you can say that idea without saying those words. Or at least use what was there to form a better joke, or better moment.

So, I Can’t Unsee That, does that mean I want to damage my eyes? Is that a way to sort of get at that moment? Is it I want to erase that memory? Is it saying like I am emotionally traumatized? Or are you saying I want to reverse time to a moment before that happened. So none of those are the actual line you would say, but they could do down any of those paths to sort of get you to, okay, there’s a good idea for a line down there.

And that’s really hard work. You have to do all the work of trying all those things and say what would actually work in this place. But, I really strongly suspect you will find a better line than, “I can’t unsee that.” And it will be original to your script and will fit the situation. And that’s the crucial thing. You want it to be specific to your script and this moment and those characters.

Craig: Yeah. Also, that’s the thing, it’s the characters. Right? It lets the characters be unique. Every time a character says a clam, you are reminded that they’re just fake. That there’s nothing really that special about that character, because they’re saying the same damn thing 4,000 other characters have said.

And I think that there’s a temptation to go towards clams because you’re worried that if they say something unique to them, it won’t be funny. But, again, remember, that’s not the part that’s funny anyway. It’s just where it’s landing. If I’m writing a sitcom script and I get to a place where something crazy happens and you could have a character say, “I can’t unsee that.” You could just as easily write in, “I hate that I was alive to see that happen.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Anything. Now, that’s not great. I’m not saying that’s great. I’m saying just start writing other things that mean the same thing and add a little bit of a zjoosh to it and you’re going to get the same thing as, “I can’t unsee that.” There’s nothing wrong with the concept of it. It’s just the damn words.

John: It’s just the damn words.

Craig: It’s just the damn words.

John: Let’s take a look at “that’s not a thing.” So the sense of that could be, “You’re stupid.” Or you could be saying that mean like, “Stop trying to invent popular culture,” which is basically stop trying to make ____ happen, which was Cher’s line from Clueless. Which was great when Cher said it, but you can’t say that again.

Craig: Right.

John: Or it could be like, “I don’t understand what you’re saying.” Like basically I’m confused by this approach. Any of those could be good avenues for what the actual real line should be. But those lines are going to be better than, “That’s not a thing.”

Craig: Yeah, like “that’s not a thing,” somebody is saying something as if we all have a common experience with it when we don’t. So, somebody could say, “You’re deeply invested in something that does not exist.” You can come up with all sorts of ways of getting to the heart of what that is without saying, “That’s not a thing.” You know? And the shorter the better, of course.

John: Yeah. And finally, “Debbie Downer.” So Debbie Downer was a character on Saturday Night Live. And so it was played wonderfully by Rachel Dratch, but don’t just quote a character from a decade ago on Saturday Night Live. That’s not a great choice. So, what are you saying when you’re saying Debbie Downer? Are you saying you’re not fun to be around? You’re saying don’t kill my idea. You’re saying you’re making me feel shallow and superficial. Those are all valid approaches to this, but look at it from the character’s perspective of like what is it that the character could say in that moment that is unique to that specific character and that specific moment.

Craig: Yeah. I really hate this one because now you’re just saying you are a downer, but that’s not even helping the joke land. It would be much better if in any case like that the character could express how what this person has said makes them feel. Right? So you say you’re making me feel – you know, somebody says something and then you just get up and start walking away. “Where are you going?” “I have to get a prescription for every antidepressant.”

Do something that makes me understand what the joke land recipient is feeling rather than, “I have a name for you that we all have heard.” And by the way, Debbie Downer is the most ironic clam because Debbie Downer itself was a great example of Saturday Night Live catching lightning in a bottle and then stupidly trying to do it over and over. One sketch amazing. Second time you saw it, it was like oh no. Like, they’re smart, they’re never going to do David S. Pumpkins again. If they try, I’ll go down there and I will start cracking skulls.

John: That’s going to be a good idea. So, anyway, those are our new suggestions on clams. We went through this whole bit without even talking about the origin of clams. I don’t know where the first term came about. I first heard about it through Jane Espenson, who was a previous guest, who is so smart about writing about writing. But she has a big crusade against certain clams. And is very good about sort of spotting clams as they are about to be formed. She was a writer on Buffy, which again, doesn’t have a normal comedy structure in their scenes, but relied on a lot of comedy writing in order to get through a lot of difficult exposition stuff. So, you know, you got to be vigilant about this even if you’re not writing strictly comedy like Workaholics. You have to be mindful of those things that are going to have the feeling of a joke but are not going to be funny anymore.

Craig: Is there a word for a baby clam?

John: There should be a word for a baby clam.

Craig: Like a young clam.

John: A clam that’s going to come. A clam in development. Like how do clams even form? I don’t even know. I know nothing about clam biology.

Craig: I’m looking right now. I just learned that clams have an anus.

John: Well, yes. You got to poop somewhere. Everybody poops.

Craig: Well, I guess that’s true. I don’t know, I thought maybe clams just sort of, you know, just all sort of leaked out from everywhere.

It’s not like a calf, like a cow has a calf, and a sheep has a lamb. Clams have small clams.

John: Yeah. All right, next topic. We have a question from Kota Hoshino who asks, “I have a question about naming characters. How do you decide on a name that is good, unique, and not clichéd?”

Craig, what thoughts can you offer for Kota about naming your characters?

Craig: Well, this is an endless bane of screenwriters. We have to come up with names all the time. And you’re kind of stuck, because you don’t want to – I mean, look, here’s crime number one. Jim Patterson. Right? No one should ever be named Jim Patterson. Crime number two, and unfortunately this is committed frequently by movies that are successful, so hey, what do I know, but I cringe every time I hear any action hero named Cutter McGonagall, or Razor Edge. You know, and you hear it and you’re just, “What?”

John: You still hear it.

Craig: And then there’s these really purple prose names like, you know, Ecclesiastes Phosphorus. So, I don’t like names to smack me in the face with their pomposity, or their manliness, but I certainly don’t want these generic names. So, the first thing I do is I ask questions about my character. Where are they from? How old are they? Where were their parents from? Because remember, parents name children.

Every character to me, this is an opportunity to imply something about ethnicity. Apply something about class. Race. Geography. So, then what I do is I research. And I try and find interesting examples that land in that happy little space that is to the east of boring and done, and to the west of “oh beat it.” Right?

Now, sometimes you’re writing stories that are in fantasy world, so then your names have to feel like they’re part of a common language that you’ve invented. Even if that language is English, for instance, JK Rowling has a kind of language for the world of wizards, even though they live in our world, whether they are English wizards or French wizards, there’s a certain aesthetic to the name.

So, that’s – I kind of just start asking a lot of questions about the character. And then I think how can I be purposeful with the name I choose.

John: Absolutely. And character decisions for me are really fundamental. I generally will not start writing a character or write scenes unless I really do know the characters’ names, because it’s just so hard for me to think about that person without their name. And the situations where I’ve had to go through and rename a character after the fact, it always kills me because like, no, no, I wrote that character to be this person and if I change the name they’re no longer this person.

So, I really do need to know the characters’ names before I get started there. Other sort of good general suggestions – as much as you can avoid, don’t name two characters with the same first letter of their name, because people are going to be seeing that name and hearing that name and you just want them to have as much differentiation. So, if you have Adam, don’t also have an Aaron in your script, because that will just get confusing.

Now, sometimes it will just happen. Like Aladdin has both Jasmine and Jafar. But everyone knows who they are so it’s fine. That’s not going to be confusing. But if were to add another character, I wouldn’t give him a J, because that would just be a mess. And you’d subconsciously get them confused with the two characters.

Also look at sort of whether you’re using the full version of the name or the short version of the name. We talked about race and class, but there’s also sort of the intersection of education and status. And so in Big Fish we have Edward Bloom, and he’s always Edward. He’s never Ed. He’s never Eddie, except for Jenny Hill can call him Eddie. And it’s Will Bloom. It’s not William Bloom. If you have an Edward and a William, you will get them confused because they feel like the same kind of fanciness of names. But Edward and Will you won’t get confused. So, look at that. So varying the length of names can also help distinguish them on the page.

Craig: That’s a really good point about the name changing and how traumatic that can be. When you get to a place where you’re about to go into production on your screenplay, someone at the studio has the unenviable task of clearing the names. And there’s a whole science to clearing names, but basically the idea is they don’t want to get sued. They don’t want to get sued. They don’t want to have somebody out there say, “You named that character after me.” So, either there has to be no one named that, or a whole lot of people named. You get in trouble if like one or two people are named that. So occasionally what happens is they’ll clear a whole bunch of names but come back to you and say you can’t name this person this. You have to change their name. And it is traumatic.

Even, before that on the sheep movie, I was adapting a novel and one of the important characters in the novel, a sheep, was named Othello. And Lindsay and I, from the start, we were like we don’t want to do – we don’t want any kind of black sheep/white sheep racial metaphors in this. We want our sheep to be all different colors. We don’t think sheep have race problems, and we don’t want to imply that they do. They have other – they have like a whole other weird set of biases that are so specific to sheep that when we hear them we go, “That’s the strangest thing. Why would that be a problem for you?”

But, not color. And Othello is so, you know, literally is identified by race. So, we wrestled, and wrestled, and wrestled, and finally – dozens of names, and eventually landed on one that we were okay with. But it took months to stop calling him Othello. It was hard.

John: I totally get that. And I would also say from Big Fish, some of the characters I pulled from Daniel Wallace’s novel are actually completely different characters, but I loved the names so much. Like, Amos Calloway does not own a circus in Daniel Wallace’s novel. There’s no circus there. But Amos Calloway was exactly the perfect Big Fish name. And so there had to be an Amos Calloway in the movie, and so it became the Danny DeVito Amos Calloway circus owner.

So, those names have to fit within the world, and that fit very well within the world of fantastical south.

Craig: There you go.

John: All right, we have two more quick questions. The first one is about life rights. Let’s take a listen.

Questioner: I’m currently working on a documentary in which the idea has been tossed around to turn the story into a feature length film. A couple of the characters, however, are quite a bit older and the question has been asked what happens to their life rights if they pass away before we can attain them. Also, how do you attain someone’s life rights if they’ve already passed away?

John: So, Drew is asking about life rights. And life rights is complicated. Again, we always have to remind you we are not lawyers. What I would say in general about life rights is that you are getting a person’s life rights when you want to tell their story, and you’re telling a part of their story that is not part of the public record. Very specifically, you are Charles Sully Sullenberg and you are telling the story of Charles Sully Sullenberg. Or, you are important person in that story and you have sort of the right to publicity, you have the right to tell your own story. And so therefore I’m coming to as a person trying to tell your story on film, or in a TV series, and therefore I’m asking for your rights to tell this part of the story. So, basically, they’re giving up the opportunity to tell their story in another movie to let you tell their story in this movie.

In terms of the legalities of a person who has already died, well, my understanding is that like life rights in this sense do not carry over after your death. But, Craig, tell me that I’m wrong.

Craig: I can’t. I think that that’s true. But, you know, Drew, the thing is none of this is – there’s the law, and then there’s the practice. And in practice what ends up happening is if you want to tell the story of somebody who is dead, and recently so, a lot of times you’re going to want the cooperation of the estate. Even if the estate is as simple and small as a surviving spouse. Because that person will be able to help you. And they will have letters, and information, and all sorts of little bits of stuff that you can use. And, of course, even further down the line playing the larger game here, you don’t want to make a fictional movie about somebody and then have that person’s real life husband or wife start yapping in advance of your movie saying it’s a bunch of crap.

So, a lot of times what happens is people don’t get so stuck on the technicalities of the law and try and work with, well, what will make our lives easier creatively and financially. So, a lot of times people will just work out deals.

John: The other thing we should stress is that a lot of times while you’re getting some life rights is that there’s always the possibility of libel. So, a real life living person, if you say something that is provably, demonstrably untrue about that person, under American law and under international laws they can sue you for libel. And in the process of getting life rights, you may have contractual language in there that sort of protects you from libel lawsuits from that person, which can be useful, and helpful.

Dead people don’t have libel. Dead people cannot sue you for libel. And that is a useful thing that will hopefully continue under future administrations.

Craig: So then there’s a P.S. to the question. “What is the difference between posthumous and postmortem? I wasn’t sure which made the most sense in this context. And the all-knowing Internet was of no help.”

Well, I would think posthumous here would make sense. Postmortem is really specific to the moments immediately after death. So, a postmortem is what happened in the days or hours after somebody died, or describes any kind of examination or investigation related to a dead body, or dead thing. Posthumous is really more about events in the world that occur after the life of a person has ended as opposed to while they were alive.

John: Absolutely. So like a posthumous honor was bestowed upon this person. And so think about posthumous with a person. Postmortem is with a body, I think, is sort of a useful way of thinking about it.

And so after a certain point, postmortem doesn’t really make sense to be using as a term.

Our final question comes from the wonderfully named Telly Archer. Let’s listen to what she had to say.

Telly Archer: My question is about picking a genre. Do I need to? I’ve heard a lot of people say that you’re supposed to pick one genre and stick to it when you’re trying to break into the industry so that you can become somewhat of an expert or go-to person in that area. And then once you have a good reputation, then you break out into other genres. However, what makes more sense to me is the people who say just write wild. Let your voice be heard. Write the script that only you could write and not care about how similar it is to the next one you do. I made a list of the most me ideas that I have. There’s two comedies. One light. And one very dark. And then a horror, a thriller, and a rom-com.

So, I’m hoping you’ll say write wild and not pick a genre. Because I don’t know how I’d do that. But I do want to know the actual answer. So, any advice you can give would, of course, be appreciated. And thank you for all you do. Bye.

Craig: Bye…I love that. I also liked, sooooo. I do that myself.

Here’s my answer, Telly. I think you’ll be happy. Write wild. What is writing wild really mean? It means writing the way you’re insides are directing you to write.

Now, you can say, “Do I have to stick to one genre?” Well, first of all, what is your genre? You don’t know. You have genres that you want to write in, so let’s call those part of writing wild. You want to write a romance. You want to write fantasy. You want to write a thriller. You write it. Okay. That’s now a genre you’re interested in.

The business, if they discover a script of yours and love it, they may say, “Oh good, now give us another one of these.” And you can say, “Well, how about this? Do you also like this? If you had seen this first, maybe you would think you would want another one of these, right?” They may say to you, “Actually we just like the thriller that you write. Not so big on the romances. Love the thrillers.”

Okay, well, write one or don’t. And you can choose that when you get there. But, I believe you should write what you want to write as long as you’re not hopping around from subject to subject to distract yourself from the fact that you’re maybe lacking some discipline. If you feel disciplined and interested in a genre, write it.

John: Yeah. So, when we had our agent on the podcast, Peter Dodd, we talked a little bit about this. The sense of like do you want to have a writer who writes just one kind of thing, or writes a whole bunch of different kind of things. And my recollection was he was upfront about the fact that it’s easier to market you in the town as the person who does X, Y, or Z rather than sort of does everything. But, I guess don’t worry about being pigeonholed until somebody is actually interested in reading you. So, write the things that you think you can write best. And that means experimenting with some different things and seeing what it is that you love. But, obviously, write the script you’ll finish. Write the script that you’ll kick ass on. The one that gets you sitting down at the computer every day, because that’s the most crucial factor here.

Once you know you can do it and you know what it is you like to write, there may be situations where you kind of get pushed to writing one kind of thing. And if that’s paying you and you’re going to be paid to write, congratulations. You’re now a successful screenwriter. Down the road you could bend a little bit.

Previously on the podcast I’ve talked about how the first jobs I got were adapting kids’ books. And so I did How to Eat Fried Worms, A Wrinkle in Time, and I got pegged as being the guy who adapted kids’ books. So I got sent books about gnomes, elves, dwarves, and Christmas.

And I wrote Go largely to break out of that cycle. And so that was a lovely opportunity I could break out of that cycle and I had something new I could show people. But, I got to break out rather than sort of just trying to break in. So, write what you love. Let people respond to the things that are so uniquely you, the thing that you are clearly passionate about writing. And don’t worry about picking a genre right now.

Craig: Yeah, that’s a problem for later on down the line. If you have that problem, “Geez, I feel like I’m being pigeonholed by Hollywood. The keep sending me blah-blah-blah jobs.” Not such a bad situation. But we are the only creative job in Hollywood that can write ourselves out or into trouble. Actors have to wait for roles to come to them. Directors have to wait for scripts to come to them. Same with producers. Same with studios.

We can reinvent ourselves every single day if we choose. The key is to do so in a way that is impressive. Simple as that.

So, I wouldn’t worry about this one at all.

John: Yep. My One Cool Thing this week is The Good Place on NBC is which is, wow, talk about a show that is not worried about genre. It is writing itself into a very specific, unique thing. So, this is the show that stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson and a lot of other talented actors. Created by Michael Schur. The pilot was directed by Drew Goddard, who is fantastic, and a fantastic writer in his own right. Had episodes written by Alan Yang, Megan Amram, and a bunch of other Scriptnotes-adjacent people.

It is just phenomenal. And I would not have found out about it if it were not for Malcolm Spellman, one of our favorite Scriptnotes folks, who was talking about, “Hey, this show is really good.” And he’s right. It’s really good.

So for people who don’t know, it’s a half-hour serialized really strangely structured, brilliant written, just fantastic. So, we’re watching the season here on iTunes. I strongly recommend people check out The Good Place on NBC.

I’m delighted that it’s actually doing well in the ratings, because usually if we recommend a show, it doesn’t help it. But this one is doing great.

Craig: Usually a show is helped by the fat that we’ve never heard of it. [laughs]

John: That’s absolutely true. The thing is that I had not heard of this show until this last week, and now I heard about it, and I love it. So, I’m a late adopter, perhaps, on The Good Place. But if you are not watching it, or if you are one of our international listeners who would otherwise not know about the show, check it out, because man, it’s just really, really smartly done and very, very funny.

Craig: Megan Amram is the best. We got to get her on the show one day. She’s the greatest.

John: We absolutely do. I feel like she’s been a guest, but I don’t even know her. I just talk about her as if I know her.

Craig: No, she’s the greatest.

John: I have one other thing to plug. My very smart husband, Mike, was a guest on a podcast called Join Us in France this last week, where he talked about what it was like to do all the visa applications and apartment hunting and all of that stuff for this year that we are spending in Paris. And it was a really good podcast if you’re at all curious about the process of us moving to France. He sort of describes it all and really talks you through the kind of stuff you need to do if you’re planning to do what we did and come to Paris for a year.

Craig: And that’s in English?

John: That’s in English. It’s an English podcast, hosted by a French woman with great English. So, if you want to hear what my husband sounds like, he’s on that podcast. So, there will be a link in the show notes for that.

Craig: He sounds dreamy.

John: Oh, he’s dreamy.

Craig: Dreamy Craig is a whole other – we’ll get to him sooner or later. My One Cool Thing is the videogame Watch Dogs 2. But specifically the writing of the videogame Watch Dogs 2. I don’t know if you played Watch Dogs Uno.

John: I have not.

Craig: You know, it was good. It was a fine game. Really, the game – Watch Dogs was entertaining and fun to play because of the mechanic. Very simply you’re a hacker and your phone can essentially control everything around you and you’re breaking into things. It’s fun.

But the character and the story were quite heavy and somber. And Watch Dogs 2 has taken all the same mechanics, you know, jazzed them up a little bit the way they do for sequels, but the characters are so much more interesting because they’re young, and they’re vibrant, and they’re funny.

But here’s the part that’s kind of amazing to me. Now, Watch Dogs 2 is written – it says written by Lucien Soulban. The game was made at Ubisoft Montreal. I can only imagine that there are many writers, not just Lucien, because there’s so much in the show. Sorry, in the game.

But here’s what kind of amazed me. You meet these characters and there are some things that jumped out right off the bat. One, there’s a character named Josh. And, you know, I’ve played my way probably through half of the game. And about 20% of the way through I thought am I looking at the first legitimately autism spectrum disorder character I’ve ever seen in a videogame without it being like, “Look at me, I’m an autism spectrum…”

It’s like this guy, they’ve nailed it. They’ve nailed exactly what Asperger’s is. And around the middle of the game he just casually refers to himself as an Aspie. And I was like, oh my god, that’s incredible. So, that was awesome. The lead is a character named Marcus who is black and there’s another member of their little hacking crew who is black. And the two of them have discussions about race. And it’s fascinating because it’s a great example of code switching. One of them is working at the videogame’s version of Google. And the two of them have a whole conversation about what it’s like to work at that company, which is incredibly white, and he has to represent – he says at one point, “Every meeting, I have to represent all of Blackdom.”

And they have this fascinating conversation and then code switch when other people come by. And then they go back to being themselves. And there’s also a trans character that shows up. And none of it is like, look at me, I’m a trans character. Look at me, I’m black guy. Look at me, I’m Asperger’s. It’s all done kind of just in the most brilliantly casual way.

It’s kind of the ultimate wokeness. So, I’m loving that. I’m just loving the way that they’ve made the world – and it takes place in San Francisco, which kind of helps it a little bit, but they’ve made the world so realistic to actual people that are in the world that you don’t often see in videogames. And then not sort of sledgehammer you in the face with it. They’re just casual. It’s great.

John: Great. That sounds great.

Craig: Watch Dogs 2.

John: Watch Dogs 2. That is our show for this week. So, as always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Eric Pearson. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to We’re actually kind of running low on outros, so come on, send in your outros.

That’s also the place where you can send in your questions like the ones we answered today. Short questions are great on Twitter. So, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

We are Facebook. I actually update the Facebook and put some stuff there, so please come talk to us on Facebook. You can search for Scriptnotes podcast there.

You can search for Scriptnotes on iTunes and leave us a review, a comment. That always helps people find our show. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes App that lets you get to all of those back episodes. You subscribe to those back episodes through And so as we talked about at the head of the show, it’s $2 a month. It gets you all the back episodes and the bonus episodes. It’s so good. So useful.

We also have a few of the USB drives left which have all of the back episodes, up to Episode 250. And the transcripts there, too. We try to get transcripts up on the site four days after the episodes aired. They fell behind, but I think we’ll be able to catch them back up.

That is our show. So, I should say, links to all the things we talked about on today’s episode you can find at They’re also probably below this episode if you scroll in your player of choice. And we’ll try to have links to many of the things we talked about including John Quaintance’s original tweet that started this whole clam discussion this week.

Craig: Clam.

John: Clam.

Craig: Clam.

John: Craig, you got over your sneezes. Congratulations. Have a great week.

Craig: You too. Bye.

John: Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Revenge of the Clams

Tue, 12/06/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig look at phrases that have been banned from comedy writing rooms, and more generally why making a list of what you will never do can help you figure out what you should do.

We also answer listener questions about character names, life rights and sticking to a genre.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

The Workaholics list of banned phrases

Mon, 12/05/2016 - 08:27

John Quaintance recently tweeted photos of two whiteboards listing phrases banned in the Workaholics writers’ room. His tweet has been widely shared, and is a mitzvah to all writers.

These phrases are all clams — jokes that aren’t funny anymore and therefore need to die. When you include them in a script, you’re evoking the rhythm of comedy without the content of comedy. They’re not just cliché; they’re hollow.

I asked Godwin to type them up so we could discuss them on the next Scriptnotes, where we look into their origins and ways to write around them.

I’m posting them here so you can read along. You can also download them as a PDF if you’d like a copy for your wall.

___? More Like ___.
Can You Not?
…I Can Explain!
Let’s Not And Say We Did
I Didn’t Not ___
Wait For It…
Just Threw Up In My Mouth.
Good Talk
And By ___ I Mean ___
Check Please!
Shut The Front Door!
Lady Boner
I Think That Came Out Wrong.
Uh…Define ___.
No? Just Me.
Why Are We Whispering?
That Went Well…
Stay Classy
I’m A Hot Mess!
That’s Not A Thing
It’s Science
Bacon Anything
Real Talk
#Nailed It
Awesome Sauce
Thanks…I Guess
Little Help?
Laughy McLaugherson
___ Dot Com
I Love Lamp.
Oh Helllll Naw!
#Epic Fail
Did I Just Say That Out Loud?
Food Baby
Douche (Nozzle)
Soooo, That Just Happened
Squad Goals
I Just Peed A Little
Too Soon?
Spoiler Alert
Um…In English Please
Note To Self
Life Hack
Best. ___. Ever. (or Worst. ___. Ever.)
It’s Giving Me All The Feels.
Garbage People
That Happened One Time!
Well Played
I’m Right Here!
Hard Pass
Are You Having A Stroke?
Go Sports!
Zero Fucks Given
We Have Fun
Who Hurt You?
I Absorbed My Twin In The Womb
I’ll Take ___ For $500, Alex.
Thanks Obama
Wait, What?
Shots Fired
You Assclown
Bag Of Dicks
Hey, Don’t Help.
Debbie Downer
I Can’t Unsee That.
That Just Happened.
See What I Did There?
I’ll Show Myself Out.
Here’s The Line, Here’s You.
___ On Steroids/Crack.
Swipe Right.
White People Problems.
I Could Tell You But I’d Have To Kill You.
That’s Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
I Think We’re Done Here

Scriptnotes, Ep 277: Fantasy and Reality — Transcript

Thu, 12/01/2016 - 19:31

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 277 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we are going to be looking at the ways that writers and screenwriters in particular influence how people think about things in the real world, for better and for worse. We’ll also be answering listener questions about LA neighborhoods and Irish screenwriting.

Craig: Oh, good. Because it’s been a long time, and we really have to get to that topic.

John: It’s a crucial topic of Irish screenwriters.

Craig: Crucial.

John: First off, follow up. Craig, the Black Widow is back.

Craig: Oh, thank god.

John: Yeah. Because we were so nervous. So, back in Episode 246 we did How Would This Be a Movie where we talked about 80-year-old Melissa Ann Shepard. She was convicted of manslaughter in the death of one of her husbands. And also poisoned another one. She was in a bunch of fraud instances. So, she was back in the news because she has to now report any relationships for the next two years apparently, any new romantic relationships.

Craig: It’s so great.

John: She’s 81 now. So, you know, every year, a new challenge.

Craig: Well, she’s 81. She’s also Canadian. So this is the most Canadian story and outcome ever. Just a very polite lady who politely kills her husbands. They politely drink the poison and politely die. And then the Nova Scotia court system quite politely said, “You know, you – oh, tell you what. Well, we won’t put you in prison, but just tell us if you have a new boyfriend, just so we can keep an eye on him.” [laughs] This is so great. I mean, by the way, who is dating this lady now? I mean, talk about everything you want in a woman. 81 and murderous.

John: I think that’s the movie, though, is the guy who decides, you know what, I’m going to roll the dice. I’m going to date this woman. I’ve researched her. I’ve Googled her. You know what? I think I have a shot at love here.

Craig: I know, it seems improbable. But even though she’s 81, the sex is unbelievable. It’s worth dying.

John: So we will continue to track the Black Widow story.

Craig: I may go out with her.

John: Another follow up piece here. Last week with Chris Sparling we talked about fake news, and there was a How Would It Be a Movie about fake news. So this week there’s another article about a fake news writer. Craig, you posted this. Tell me about it.

Craig: Yeah. So, this kind of bummed me out, actually. So they’re all coming out of the woodwork now, these – if you felt like, I don’t know, half of the news articles you were reading were either made up intentionally to deceive or made up intentionally as part of some kind of satire, you might have been right, because there’s people now just showing up saying, “Oh, yeah, this is what I’ve been doing for the last six months.”

And a man named Marco Chacon wrote an article for The Daily Beast and the headline is “I’ve Been Making Viral Fake News for the Last Six Months. It’s Way Too Easy to Dupe the Right on the Internet.” Yeah, there’s a shocker. So, anyway, the article is kind of a weird combination of how I did it and quasi confession.

John: Quasi? Really uncomfortable.

Craig: Yeah, uncomfortable. And so when you read it you think if somebody is writing an article about themselves and what they did, then I’m meant to identify with them in some way and kind of go along on the journey and maybe get to a place of, okay, you feel contrite but I understand. Actually, I just felt so creepy reading this. It’s sort of sociopathic in a way.

And the reason I wanted to follow up with it is because there was something weirdly writerly about it, it’s that shadow thing that writers have, which is, well, I know I have responsibilities and things and I shouldn’t be a bad person, but people are reading what I wrote. And that somehow becomes more – more important than anything else. Guess what? They’re now reading my stuff on CNN like it’s real. I know I’m damaging the fabric of society, but ooh, people are reading me. Ugh. Creepy. I just don’t understand. I mean, I understand partly that people do this for money. And I don’t know how much money specifically this gentleman made, but it seems more like it was ego gratification than anything else, particularly when he realizes that nothing good is coming of it. Literally nothing.

John: Yeah. Only poison is coming out of it. What I thought was interesting about him talking about some of his news did break through onto cable news, and really the reason why it was even mentioned was sort of the two sides fallacy that we talked about on the podcast before is like, oh, if you’re presenting this point of view, then you have to present the opposite point of view as if there’s actually always an opposite point of view. And so these crazy stories would come up and it’s like, oh, well that’s probably not true, but what if it is true? Or like, you know, can anybody find me an article that says that this candidate is doing this? And it’s like, well, somebody will have written that, and therefore you’re going to present this completely bogus fake news story as if it is worthy of consideration.

So, it is just ruinous and poisonous. And later on in the show, we’re going to talk about some other things that writers do sort of unintentionally that have sort of a similar effect. So, I think it’s a good thing for us to follow up on.

Craig: Yeah. There’s one thing he said in here that I just thought was very insightful, albeit from somebody who is doing bad things. Well, he said for conservatives there is no trusted media, which I think is reasonable because they do believe that there is a bias in the media. But I think this actually applies to everybody, or at least people on extreme ends of either side of left and right. There’s no trusted media. There are only trusted positions.

So, when you have a trusted position, you are incredibly susceptible to believing anything you read because of confirmation bias. And so I would caution anybody out there to not have a trusted position per se, but rather to trust facts. And maybe trust some kind of journal that is willing to correct itself and change based on facts.

John: Yes. For sure. I mean, it’s trying to apply some scientific rigor to just the outside reality. I think we’ve grown up in a time in which we had sort of those big news networks. We had the big newspapers. And there was an assumption like, oh wait, that’s real news, and everything else is just sort of pretend play news. And with the rise of Facebook and the rise of sort of all these alternative sites, people can go shopping for their own set of not just opinions, but their own set of facts. And they will tend to believe those facts.

And putting out the fake news in the world, I think in most cases most people aren’t really believing that, but they stop believing in the underlying truth of anything. That there is an actual fact-based reality behind things. And that’s the real danger.

Craig: And whether we know it or not, we are being victimized by peddlers of narrative all the time. This guy also writes about his own stuff, that he’s designed these articles to become viral. And he says several of the articles are written “with overt sexism or implicit racism that comes from the Alt-Right. This is like the protein shell of a virus that allows it to penetrate a cell. The DNA payload, the story itself, is then injected straight into the brain by passing critical thought.”

That is a very scary and very accurate explanation of how people no matter what they believe end up using I guess faith, instead of anything else, right. There’s like this little key that unlocks the back door into our brains. So it doesn’t go through critical thinking. We just assume that it is true. And then everything else that comes along with it is just accepted. It’s kind of a scary little thing.

John: Well, you say faith, and since you brought it up it’s worth discussing is that part of what makes our religions worldwide work is that sense of like there are things that are unknowable and those things that are unknowable rely on faith. And so therefore you take some of the stories that seem on their face crazy, and you accept them because that is part of your faith. And we’ve long accepted that, we’ve long sort of cherished that as a set of belief systems that people can have.

But when you start to apply those things beyond the nature of the metaphysical universe to the universe in front of you, that can be the real treacherous thing. It seems hard to argue with somebody like, no, no, you can’t believe that this fact is that fact when you’re saying, oh no, but it’s great that you believe in an omnipotent sky father who does all these things for you.

Craig: Listen, you’re right about that, which is why I have my stance on the omnipotent sky father. But, this is a good topic for us, because later when we get into the meat of this episode, that’s exactly – we’re going to be attempting as best we can to undo some of the damage that people like us have done.

John: Mm-hmm. Well, this last week some damage was undone by you yourself. So, you – with your brand new MacBook Pro encountered a problem with Final Draft. So tell us what happened and where we are now.

Craig: [laughs] John, I feel so bad in a way because the last person in the world Final Draft wanted this to happen to is me. Literally the last person in the world. So, I just had to do a couple of days on a movie that’s in production. They’re doing some reshoots and I just had to do a couple of days. And I got the file from the company and I had to stay in it, because you know, they didn’t want to export/import. They’re worried about page breaks. Whatever.

So, I had to use Final Draft. So, okay, I had my brand new Final Draft 10. I load the file. I go to revision mode and it crashes. And when I say crashes, I’ve never seen a program crash this authoritatively. It just – it disappeared. It didn’t like freeze and drop away. It didn’t give me an error. It was just gone. It was like it had never been there. The screen just went, boop, gone.

So, of course, I tweeted about that. It was amusing. Then I got on their little support chat window and I’m talking to some guy named, you know, Greg. And I’m describing the problem. He’s like, “Uh, I don’t think that’s – I’m not sure if I know how to fix that.” And I’m like, okay, you know, this is the deal. And then suddenly the screen said you are being transferred to Joel. And I’m like, what’s this?

So apparently what happened was Final Draft’s head of Twitter read what I wrote and hit the big – I think there’s a big red button at Final Draft that says Craig Mazin on it. They hit it. And suddenly I was chatting with Joel Levin who I think is the VP of Support there.

Anyway, long story short, they could not duplicate what I was doing. They didn’t have the new MacBook Pro with the touch bar. They had a simulator for it. They didn’t have the actual hardware. They drove – so he and a lovely guy named Pete D’Alessandro, who listens to our podcast, by the way, along with his wife Alison Flierl – you may have met Alison at Houston. Lovely person. She works for Conan, I believe. She writes for Conan. Anyway, he came to my office. He’s like their head coder dude. And they drove her from Calabasas during rush hour. [laughs]

John: Oh my lord.

Craig: And they wanted to see it. And then they saw it and they were just befuddled. And then they worked overnight and came back the next morning and had a new version that worked. So, I think post-Marc Madnick Final Draft is, you know, at the very least they are making an effort to make me happy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, if that Final Draft update for those of you who use that program has not been pushed to you, it will be shortly, courtesy of Joel Levin, Pete D’Alessandro, their coding team, and moi.

John: Yep. So, as a guy who makes software, I can sympathize with their situation because, you know, they’re using the simulator which should be able to duplicate this experience of being on this new computer. The system software theoretically shouldn’t have changed, and yet something is enough different on your machine and how it’s all working that, oops, it crashes. And then that’s tough.

And they did the right thing to try to race to fix it. And so I’m glad they were able to fix it for you.

Craig: Yeah they were really great about it. I still do not like Final Draft, I do not like that program. I have a whole long list of things. I might send them to Pete. Just say here’s 20 things. By the way, they know. You know, they know dual dialogue stinks. So I’m still a Fade In guy a hundred percent. But they certainly I will say from the support point of view, they were aces. So, good for them.

John: Good for them. Our last bit of follow up, something that a bunch of people sent us this last week, dialect coach Erik Singer has a video up where he talks about different actors and how they did their accents in various movies and sort of gives a critique of them. It’s really well done. So, in previous episodes we talked about the origin of English and sort of that proper – the weird period we went through where like all American actors were speaking with this weird Mid-Atlantic accent. This is a case of actors speaking with supposed to be correct accents for where their characters are from, and it’s a really well-produced. So, I thought he was smart and generous and really emphasized that when you see an actor struggling with an accent, it’s usually because of lack of prep time rather than the actor not trying. In some cases the actor didn’t try, but in most cases it was prep time. Like they were not given the tools to succeed.

Craig: Yeah. And, look, some people are better at it than others. I mean, you remember – I don’t know what language you took in high school. Did you take French or–?

John: I took Spanish and French.

Craig: Spanish and French. So, you remember there were some kids who were really good at taking the tests and learning the grammar and the vocabulary, but their accent was just horrendous.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: It’s a little bit like singing. Some people have a great ear for accents. And some people don’t. And that ear for accents isn’t necessarily something that overlaps with acting skill. So, sometimes people are working against their innate ability, and for those people preparation is really, really important.

John: Yeah. And one of the great examples he does cite in the video is you look at Brad Pitt, who has been phenomenal with accents in some movies, and not phenomenal in other movies. And that just speaks to the preparation and sort of how the whole production was put together. And giving the actor the best opportunity to get that accent just right.

Craig: How great was he in Snatch? That accent is unbelievable.

John: It’s terrific. So, one of the accents he cites in this video is Maleficent. And so you have her accent which he says is supposed to be English, but of course it doesn’t take place in England. It’s sort of a Received Pronunciation English accent, but it’s supposed to take place in a fantasy world, which is my awkward transition to our main topic for today–

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Which is fantasy versus reality. And so as we were talking about on the fake news, you know, so much of what we encounter now is sort of this manufactured reality, but we as screenwriters are often manufacturers of reality. It’s our job to tell stories that exist in believable universes. So, sometimes those universes are very ordinary, day-to-day. They’re like our real world. Sometimes they are really extreme. They’re Game of Thrones. They’re the Matrix.

But inevitably, whether it’s a very real world or a very fantastical world, we are simplifying some things around it, because characters have to be able to make sense and the world has to be able to make sense as it is running past us at 24 frames per second. So the problem is, and like what we talked about in fake news, people tend to take a lot of things at face value when they really shouldn’t. And that can have a real impact on society.

Craig: Yeah. And the problem is exponential because those of us who write movies, we were raised on movies. So we see things and we receive those as assumed truth and then we replay them, or build them up, or make them even bigger. So, as we are now coming up on 100 years of movies, ish, we’re looking at layers, and layers, and layers of a city all built on foundations of nonsense. And it’s not surprising that so many of the things we take for granted as being true from movies and television are not at all true and we at some point have to hold ourselves accountable for some of these things because we are in fact contributing to a general diluted view of how the world works.

And the scary part is sometimes people just – they hear somebody say something in the real world and they think, “That’s ridiculous. I know that blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah because I know it.” But if they scratched at that a little bit, they would see right under that is because I’ve seen it a lot in movies and TV.

John: Yeah. So, a classic example I remember in journalism school was tracing a phone call. And so whenever you see a tracing a phone call in a movie or TV show it’s like, oh, it happens really quick and in my very first journalism class he, our instructor, taught us like, you know what, it doesn’t actually happen that quickly. And even with the advances of technology, it’s not nearly as fast as it seems to be in movies.

The much more dangerous thing that sort of comes out of this is something called the CSI Effect. Is that everyone has watched the CSI programs where they do this amazing forensic science and they’re able to track all these things and they trace things down to a single hair on this sweater that shows that somebody was at a crime scene or not at a crime scene. That becomes a challenge because jurors see these shows and they believe like well that is the standard of evidence. There should always be this DNA. There should always be ways to put all this stuff together. And that’s just not actually the reality of how real police work is done and how real cases are put together.

Craig: No, not at all. Nor is the evidence of the sort that you typically get from those shows, nor is the evidence ever presented to you in absolutes. We have – every now and then you’ll see something, like in the OJ trial, oh, it’s like 1 in 14 billion chance that this wasn’t his blood. But, you know, people are asked to deal with real science. That means statistics and margins of error. And also a preponderance of evidence is required and a lot of times you don’t get the – drama requires that you have an open and shut case. There’s very few such things.

The other real problem is that criminals are now doing terrible things to victims to try and avoid their DNA evidence being left behind. And sometimes tortuous things. All bad.

John: Yeah. So, I’m going to put a link in the show notes to a site called Forensic Outreach that has a list of six things that drive forensic scientists crazy about the CSI Effect, which are enhance – that belief that you can always keep zooming in. They don’t understand that you can’t keep zooming in. The sense of like high level science for low level crime. And so it’s a question of like, well, you know, I was pickpocketed. Why aren’t they doing a DNA test on this pick-pocketing thing? Or if someone confesses, why didn’t you do a DNA test? Like, because he confessed. There’s reasons why you don’t do stuff – you don’t do the highest level test for things that don’t necessarily need it.

There’s this misassumption of certainty rather than probability, which is what you were meaning. And so like in the OJ trial we did hear it’s this big, big number, but within those big, big numbers we have to always be mindful like the experts who are presenting these numbers, they may not be accurate either. I’ll also links to Wendy Zuckerman on the podcast Science Versus did a two-part episode on forensic science, which was terrific, where she really looks into how much can we trust some of the commonly accepted forensic tools that are presented in trials. And the answer is sometimes not nearly as much as you would think.

And then, finally, it’s that CSI backfire. It’s the not only doing horrible things to victims to try to cover their traces, but also small simple things like wearing gloves, wearing ski mask hats that sort of keep your hair from falling out. Criminals get smarter because they see the tools that are out there because it’s all sort of publicly visible.

Craig: I think the answer is to just take CSI off the air. Clearly. And NCIS.

John: Done.

Craig: And CSICS and SVSCS.

John: Craig, you just want TV writers out of work. That’s what you want.

Craig: [laughs] Listen, it’s not my gig, man.

John: Your feature bias comes through.

Craig: It’s not my gig. They’re doing great right now.

John: They are doing great.

Craig: Yeah, lose one show. Come on.

John: Yeah. But it’s like three shows, because you also have your NCISs, which are a similar kind of thing.

Craig: All right. Lose 12 shows. [laughs]

John: For the longest time, I really thought the New Orleans show was CSI: New Orleans, but no, it’s NCIS: New Orleans. And I only know that now because my friend works on the show.

Craig: It’s NCS – NCI: NO?

John: NCIS: NO. Yeah.

Craig: NCIS: NO. Yeah. I mean, by the way, this just goes to show you, I mean, you can imagine before CSI came along going to a network and saying, “I have an idea for a show. This is what it is.” And they’re like, amazing. And then you say, “And it’s going to be called NCIS.” And they go, get out of here. Beat it. Dumb-dumb. It’s going to be called Blood Trail. [laughs] You know?

John: Totally.

Craig: And then when CSI came out they were like, “We only want acronyms.”

John: 100 percent.

Craig: So stupid.

John: Fully acronyms. I’m always amazed by the shows that are in their seventh season. I’m like, wait, this is a show? I was on a flight somewhere and there’s a show playing, and I was like it sort of looks like a CBS crime procedural, but I have no idea what this show is. And so I ended up watching it without headphones through to the end and it’s like Scorpion. I’m like, there’s a show called Scorpion? And they’re cyber investigators.

Craig: Wait, is that like a fake name example, or is there really a show called Scorpion?

John: There’s really a show called Scorpion.

Craig: On what channel?

John: On CBS.

Craig: You’re kidding.

John: It’s like a major show. It’s in its third or fourth season. I can look it up as we talk. Yeah, I was as amazed as you are.

Craig: Are you sure you didn’t dream this?

John: It would be amazing if I did dream this.

Craig: Oh my god. I feel bad now for the people who are writing Scorpion. They’re like, “You guys love writers, and this is what you’re doing to us?” I’m super – look, I don’t watch any TV. I have a great excuse.

John: Yeah. So, I’m looking it up on Wikipedia. Scorpion is a CBS show. How many seasons have there been? There have been three seasons. Three seasons of this show.

Craig: Wow.

John: I know we have listeners who are probably staff writers on this show and we–

Craig: I feel super sorry about that. But again, I don’t watch anything. So I’m good. I’m safe.

John: Yeah. I also don’t watch the courtroom shows, but courtrooms are another – are probably equally bad as forensic shows because they make courtrooms look exciting and they’re not. And people who have been on jury duty know that courtrooms are the most boring places on earth.

Craig: Yeah. If you talk to trial lawyers they’ll tell you, I mean, the hallmark of a good narrative courtroom drama is that there is a very important case and the jury is going to be asked to make a very important decision. Kind of a life and death sort of decision. And you have a case typically where you could kind of see both sides. But one side is going to prevail. There are going to be exciting witnesses. Someone will probably call a surprise witness. That’s a big move. There will be incredibly exciting testimony. The judge will get surly at some point with a lawyer. And lots of objections, sidebars, and so forth.

Most of the time trials are about as exciting as a mid-level management meeting somewhere in the human resources department of Aflac. It is slow and plodding. There is absolutely no drama. And laying over all of it, so many cases, whether they are criminal cases or civil cases, are going to end up in some kind of plea bargain or settlement.

John: Yep.

Craig: And especially in civil court. The trial is oftentimes a last ditch negotiating tactic to get a better settlement. And you’ll go through half a trial or three-quarters of a trial, and nine-tenths of a trial, only for the judge to go, “Oh, they settled. Everybody go home.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Super boring and slow. And so we think, you know, I think anybody that ends up in court might have a sense of how it’s supposed to go. No.

John: So, what is the danger of what we do with courtroom dramas and portraying them as being glamorous and exciting? Well, I wonder if we steer a generation of young people towards “I should be a lawyer, I want to be a trial lawyer.” And it’s only when they get sort of up close they say, “Oh, oh no. Oh, I don’t want to do this at all.” And they realize like most of what a lawyer does can be wonderful and lovely if you like that, but it’s not about going to trial. It’s not about any of that stuff. It’s a lot of paperwork.

Craig: And I also think that for people who have a certain expectation of what a lawyer should do for them, if they do have any kind of real life involvement in the criminal justice system in particular, they may be grievously disappointed or even have a lack of faith in the process because the process doesn’t seem as fair, dramatic, and decisive as the one that they’re familiar with. But the one that you’re familiar with is fake. That’s not a real thing. That’s only there to entertain you. The way that clowns aren’t real, thank god.

John: Well, another danger here is like you’re looking at these two lawyers presenting the two sides of the case, and your natural instinct based on all the things you’ve ever watched in courtroom dramas is like, well, there’s one good lawyer and one bad lawyer. Like one is fighting for the side of good, and one is fighting for the side of evil. And you want to make that choice. You’re not going to look at both of these guys and say like, oh, they’re both trying very hard. They both are making good points. I’m going to weigh their points. No, you’re going to actually decide based on their personalities or whatever they’re presenting, like which one is the good one and which one is the evil one.

And that’s a real danger.

Craig: Yeah. Particularly obviously for people serving on juries, if all they know about trials is what they’ve consumed through fake entertainment, they’re going to be viewing that trial through a very distorted lens. Not good for justice.

John: Not good for justice. The other mainstay of course of television right now is medical shows.

Craig: Ugh.

John: So you are the Scriptnotes doctor. So talk us through some of your issues with medical shows.

Craig: I have so many. I have so, so many. I’ve put together a little sampling platter, but I have so, so many. All right, well here’s an easy one. This one is from movies, and Pulp Fiction made it famous, but I’ve seen it a couple other times. Jabbing the needle directly into somebody’s heart to bring them back to life. You know? Don’t do that. [laughs] Not that anybody would, but that’s not real medicine. If you jab a needle into someone’s heart, it doesn’t really matter what the medicine is. You’re just going to put a hole in their heart and they’re going to die. It’s just real simple. It doesn’t work like that.

But that one is a minor one. Here’s a huge one. CPR. So, we have seen CPR performed about a million times in movies and television. Here’s what movies and television teach you. CPR works and when it works, somebody breathes in and sits up and they’re okay. They’re a little disoriented, but they’re okay.

No. In fact, CPR kind of doesn’t work. It is an extreme measure for an extreme circumstance. The statistics are hard to come by but I looked around and roughly they estimate that CPR will work between 2 and 18% of the time. And that 18% is when it’s in a hospital situation and they’re prepared. The 2% is bystander on street. So a guy has a heart attack in a grocery store. You rush over and you start performing CPR. 98 times out of 100 that dude is not coming back.

John: So, right here I’m going to give you the counter example, which unfortunately is going to reinforce the wrong version, but like two of my friends – two of my good friends – genuinely performed CPR on a stranger who had fallen in front of them. And like would have otherwise died. And like the CPR worked both times.

Granted, they were both trained medical professionals, so they weren’t–

Craig: Ah-ha.

John: So, I shouldn’t say they’re medical professionals, but they’re both trained in doing CPR, so they were better than your average CPR person. But it did actually work in both circumstances, and those people are alive and moving around and incredibly grateful to my friends for having been able to do the CPR.

So, we’re not anti-CPR. I just wanted to stress that this podcast is not anti-CPR.

Craig: Oh, no.

John: But what I have heard about CPR though is people will try to do it and they won’t be able to bring the person back to life, and they had this misguided assumption like I must have messed up because I wasn’t able to bring them back to life. I failed somehow. And you want to be able to tell that person, “No, no, no. The odds were you were not going to be able to do it. You did a heroic thing to try to bring that person back to life until medical help arrived.”

Craig: I mean, the value of CPR is if you were to say to somebody, listen, I’ll put the average at 5%. If you see somebody have a heart attack, you could click this button. I’ll give you this little button to click. And 5% of the time, they will live. Well, you’d click the button, right? I mean, that makes sense. Look, a siren is coming. It’s very appropriate. Let’s leave the siren in for this, because obviously somebody is having CPR.

John: Sure.

Craig: So, CPR is a good thing. And being trained in CPR is a good thing. But you need to know that CPR is a last ditch, low success effort. In fact, I was reading in this one article an emergency room doctor reported that in his career – 20-year career – he had seen roughly one patient a year saved by CPR. And that’s in the emergency room. One a year.

So, on TV, they did a study in the ‘90s when we were awash in ER and Chicago Hope and so on and so forth. TV CPR worked 75% of the time. [laughs] That’s amazing. That is so out of whack.

Also, you know, when it works people go, oh, I’m alive. Like end of Stranger Things. They bring the kid back he goes, “Ah, okay, I’m fine.” No. In fact, oftentimes CPR leads to complications like brain damage. A lot of times, CPR will break your ribs. So, CPR, not magic. You should know how to do it, but you should not freak out if it doesn’t work. Nor should you think, oh, this person is going to be fine. She’s getting CPR. It’s not a high reward outcome there.

Another one that you see constantly is someone is flat-lining. So, get out the paddles. Clear. No. No. That does not work. Ever.

John: So, to clarify, the paddles are if they go into arrhythmia where their heart is spazzing out, so to get them back on a beat. But it doesn’t start them from nothing. It’s not jump-starting a car, which is I think what we assume those paddles are doing.

Craig: Correct. Because we see the patient go ka-thunk, like that, right. So defibrillation paddles is for – specifically it’s for something called ventricular fibrillation, or at least that’s the major thing it’s for. And that’s an arrhythmia. And it can – it is sort of – see, they’re doing it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s definitely not a healthy situation to be in. But if you’re flat-lining, “flat-lining,” then that’s called asystole and that’s just not what those paddles do. They effect that at all. So, you’d just be shocking, just wasting time by shocking somebody. Oh, and by the way, I should say that if you do have asystole, that line isn’t actually flat like that. It’s like really sort of like a low wavy thing.

If you see the true flat line, you know the one like when the patient dies, that means the machine is not connected. [laughs] So that also is just a ridiculous thing.

John: Yeah. I think it would be great if a person was just asleep but the machine was unplugged. And so then someone paddles them. That would be a good scene.

Craig: Oh, and nobody rubs the paddles together anymore. That stuff is – they don’t do that.

Here’s one you see all the time in movies. I’ve been stabbed, shot with an arrow, shot with a bullet, what’s the first thing that the field medic or the partner has to do?

John: You got to pull it out.

Craig: You got to pull it out.

John: You have to take that bullet out, come on.

Craig: How could you possibly survive with an arrow stuck in your chest? Do not ever pull anything out ever. That is the worst medical advice that movies and television have foisted on us. If somebody is impaled by something or has some foreign object lodged in them, I don’t care where it is, but particularly if it’s in their head, but anywhere – do not pull it out. Because that object, if they’re still alive, that object being in place is probably why they’re still alive. So do not pull it out.

John: This season on You’re the Worst, a TV show that I like very much on FX, one of the characters gets stabbed with a knife, a small knife, but sort of in the back. And what I do like about the show is that like it was a plot point throughout the whole season. Because it was a wound that was really hard to heal. And that’s reality. Don’t stab people. Don’t get stabbed. Because it’s not a happy, fun time for everybody.

Craig: Yeah. That we can say is a fact. Don’t get stabbed.

John: Don’t get stabbed.

Craig: Yeah, like that’s true. We can’t argue with that.

John: Let’s talk about the lessons from this bad emergency medicine that we learn, it sets unrealistic expectations about what a person can do. What a doctor can do. What you should do first. What you should probably do first is call the ambulance. Get actual medical help there. And then while you’re waiting for medical help, that’s when you do the CPR. You do everything else you possibly can to help the person. But don’t pull out the knife.

Craig: Do not pull out the knife. All right. So, that’s just a few. I have so many. But, you know, that’s a few of them.

John: That’s a few.

Craig: And I think we can do a better job. You know, I do.

John: We could do a much better job. So, we’re going to probably skip over our whole topic on guns and conspiracies. I have a whole bunch of stuff here about homeopathy, which is just nonsense.

Craig: It really is.

John: It really is nonsense. But we can maybe do that for another show. We’ll do a Scriptnotes extra on just homeopathy.

Craig: Oh, that would be so great.

John: Extra on Homeopathy. But let’s talk about what our functions are as writers, because that’s what really the point of this critique is is that we are creating these fantasy universes that are by necessity somewhat simplified, but in creating the simplification, let’s make sure we’re not perpetuating myths, or creating new myths that make people believe that the universe functions differently than how it actually functions.

And so I want to talk through some options we have as writers to sort of help portray a more realistic universe. First off, don’t let your own ignorance be the guide here. Just because you saw it in another show, that doesn’t mean it’s actually true. And so try not to spread things just because that is what you believe is the common understanding of stuff. That’s how we got to “begs the question,” because people would use begs the question in courtroom dramas and then it just spread out through the universe and then the misusage of begs the question is, in my opinion, not backed by fact but probably because we started using begs the question in these courtroom shows and everyone started using it improperly.

Craig: Yeah, using begs the question improperly is the verbal equivalent of pulling the knife out. So, first of all, if you’ve seen it done somewhere else, how about your first instinct should be I’m not doing it. It’s been done. Why would you want to repeat these clichés? The last thing I would want to do is just do the thing where, oh my god, the flat line and the paddles, right?

So, your instincts should always be, okay, well what can I do differently, but research folks.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Never been easier.

John: There’s simple research like what Craig and I did which is like go into some articles and Wikipedia to find out some of this information. But, you know what, there’s actual real people who are delighted to talk to you about the realities of their jobs. So, there’s real life doctors, there’s real life scientists, there’s real life lawyers who are happy to talk to you about the realities of their job. And that is an opportunity you have as a writer is to talk to those folks, because most of them are delighted to talk with you about what it really is doing that specific thing.

And they love to see their actual job portrayed properly on screen. So they’re happy to give you the ten minutes to answer your question, because they want to see it done correctly.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, lawyers and doctors will constantly sneer at TV lawyers and TV doctors because they’re a joke to them. All right, so why – don’t be the joke.

John: Don’t be the joke.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, I would also say let characters in your story challenge erroneous assumptions. And so whether it’s something simple like don’t hold your gun sideways, or something more important like don’t pull out the knife, take that opportunity to actually fix those misassumptions about how the universe works, or those things that people have already seen from other shows, and get them in there correct. And have a character actually hang a lantern on the fact of like this is how it actually really functions.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a good idea. You can only sort of do that once, although I suppose you could have a relationship where somebody is constantly correcting somebody, but it is a nice signifier to the audience that your movie or your television show is aware of the world around it. And that is a total choice. That’s not a requirement. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing. But it is an interesting tonal choice. And for a certain kind of show I think it does benefit it, to have that awareness that it is in the world.

John: Yeah. The last advice I have is try to defend your script against that pressure to cheat, or the pressure to go to the normal version of things, which is inaccurate. And so what I’m saying is you probably wrote the draft and you may have done the research and you actually have it in there correctly and you actually have the right version of it. And you’re able to find a way that’s efficient, and timely, and makes really good dramatic sense as well. But along the process of production, whether it’s that episode going to shoot, or a director coming onto your project, there may be that instinct from other people saying like, “Oh, no, no, I’ve seen this on other shows. It’s more like this.” And it could even be like the prop person who comes on who says like, “No, no, it’s like this.”

And to the degree that you can, try to defend the real version. And when you’re trying to defend that real version, try to defend it in terms of the reality of your show, the reality of the character, the reality of the experience, and not in terms of facts. Because facts I found are not always the most helpful tool in your belt when you’re trying to get something to be filmed properly and it’s 11 o’clock at night.

Craig: Yeah. The reliance on these I think props is a great reference for these – you know, prop tension and prop drama. Like the countdown timer on a bomb. Why would a bomb have a timer on it? I mean, the bomb may have a timer circuit, sure. Why would it have a display? For whom is that display? [laughs] I mean, if I know that this bomb is going off in three minutes, I punch the thing and I walk away. I don’t need it displayed there, right? So it’s a prop – that’s a prop tension/prop drama display for our hero, for the audience. There’s got to be a better way than that that’s more interesting frankly.

And I think you’re absolutely right. It is – it’s essentially borrowed drama anyway. It is the drama of stuff that you have added in. It’s not the drama of the character relating to the world around them, or the object in front of them, or the person in front of them.

So, yeah, it’s just to avoid to those. We all know what they are. So, skip it. Don’t do it. I think people would be so much more interested anyway in knowing how things really work, and finding out how they really work. I mean, sometimes I think people are afraid that if they present the reality it will be boring.

Well, yeah, if you present it in a boring way it will be boring. But, that’s your job, writer.

John: Yeah. Do your job.

Craig: Do your job. You had one job. [laughs]

John: [laughs] So, I want to stress that nothing that we’re saying here is an argument in favor of a character giving a half-page speech about the reality of how you do this thing. We’re not arguing for the lecture. We’re arguing for the smart choice in how you’re staging things, so the reality of how something exists in the real world can be portrayed. And that hopefully will make your script better, and it will make it stand out from all of the other ones who doing the standard clichés.

Craig: Word.

John: Word. Let’s get to some questions. Our first question comes from Stacy Ochoa-Luna who asks, “Is there a specific area where screenwriters would typically live in LA? Are agents or managers in a specific area? Do professionals have pitch meetings anyway, or at the studios? I know these are strange questions, but I’m planning to move to LA in the spring and want to know where I could be central in hopes that I have opportunities to pitch.”

Craig, where should Stacy Ochoa-Luna live?

Craig: Well, it’s not a strange question. It’s a great question. The good news is the studios are fairly well spread out. So, if you think of Los Angeles, let’s just imagine a circle. Over on the west part of the circle you have Sony and Fox. And in the central part of the circle there you have Paramount. And then in the northern-ish part of the circle you have Warner Bros. and Universal and Disney.

And then CBS is down in the central part. And NBC is up by Universal. And ABC is up by Disney. And Fox is at Fox. So, they’re kind of all around, right?

Now, the agents, managers, and lawyers are almost all in Beverly Hills.

John: Center of the circle there.

Craig: Yeah. Or Culver, the West LA-ish. In that center zone right in the middle. So really want you want to do is find a place you can afford to live. That is – there is no specific area where screenwriters typically live. They’re on the west side, they’re east side, they’re north. They’re all over the place.

So, you want to find someplace that is affordable. When I first moved to LA, affordable to me was in the Valley. Closer to where Universal, Warner Bros. and Disney were. But people also live on the West Side in affordable areas that are closer to where Sony and Fox are. It’s just about finding a part of town you like, because that’s where you’re going to be most of the time. And a place you can afford.

John: Yeah. My first apartment in Los Angeles was down at USC. Then I moved out to Palms, which is incredibly boring, but inexpensive on the West Side. Then I was up in West Hollywood. Then I was Central Los Angeles. And now I’m in Hancock Park.

I’ve tended to stay near the middle of the circle the whole time I’ve been here. And I really like that. I like that I can sort of get to anything pretty quickly, but nothing is like right next door.

But two guys in their 40s who are making a good chunk of change are not the right people to give you good advice about sort of what specific neighborhood you should be looking at. You need to find people who are doing what you’re trying to do. And that’s why you sort of come here, you find your group. It would be great if didn’t have to necessarily sign a year-long lease when you first move here because you might find that, you know what, I thought I love living at the beach, but I don’t love living at the beach. I want to be closer into places. And you’ll discover that.

Price is by far going to be your biggest concern. You want to find a place you can afford to live. And that probably means with roommates, if you’re just starting out. That’s great, too. And the good thing about coming here when you’re young is that you don’t have assumptions about quality of life. [laughs] You’re willing to live cheaply with some other folks and that can be great because the other folks you’re going to be living around and with are much more important than where the studios are, where the agencies are.

You want to be with people who are trying to do what you’re trying to do, so you can help them make their movies. They can read your stuff. Just find your group. And that’s going to be an essential first step.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, that’s great advice.

So, here’s a question from Connor from Ireland who asks, “I’ve been very fortunate in the last three years to be gaining traction in my screenwriting career. Producers are reading my stuff, asking me to pitch to them. I’m being interviewed for writer room positions. Actors are sharing my stuff, hoping to be involved. Et cetera.

“This is all very exciting and I’m very thankful. But nothing is actually getting made. What usually happens is I’ll be in contact with a producer, working out talks and pitches to funders. The producers, readers, actors, and everyone involved will be optimistic. Promos, bibles, treatment, and such will be written. And then nothing.

“The pitches get turned down and the project ends there, leaving me to write the next thing and start all over again. It seems that I’m good enough to get people’s attention, and good enough for people to get behind. But not good enough to get that final yes from financiers. Is this common or unique to my situation in Ireland where production money is tight? Am I doing something wrong? Or is it just a case of bad luck and should keep on track?”

John, what do you think?

John: It is not just Irish luck. That is a very common story. And you will find so many writers in Los Angeles who are in exactly your situation. Which is that I’m getting a bunch of meetings. If I could make a living on taking meetings, then you’d have a screenwriting career. You’re just not actually getting hired to do the stuff you want to do, and that’s a stage in your career.

So, congratulations. You made it over the first hurdle. That second hurdle is getting someone to actually pay you for what you’re doing. And that’s – I don’t have any particular advice for you other than to know that it’s a real thing that almost every writer goes through.

Craig: No question. Especially because you’re not just asking to be paid for your work. You’re asking for a movie to be made. This is a much larger commitment. Now, you say that production money in Ireland is tight. So, yes, then that is certainly – Irish money is unique to Ireland, right? So, production money in Ireland may be much tighter than it is here in the United States.

Generally speaking, though, we’re talking about variations of awful. It’s always tight. It’s always hard to get somebody to invest in movies, or television, because generally speaking they’re bad investments. When they work, they’re huge. But a lot of them are not great investments.

So, you will definitely run into this over, and over, and over. One thing you have to be aware of is the criteria for attention, which you’re getting from producers, actors, that is good script, creatively interesting. For financiers, it’s different. A lot of them are saying to themselves or their investors and them, “We are seeking to make this kind of thing. So we want to make a movie between this number and this number budget wise, about this topic that can play in this area, or have this kind of star.”

When they get your script, it doesn’t matter how good it is. For them, the question isn’t is this good, the question is is this the kind of thing we want to make? And if it is, is it good?

So, the only practical thing you could do is maybe find out what it is exactly they are really motivated to finance. Then ask yourself do I like any of those things? Am I inspired by any of those things? Because if you are, well, give yourself a leg up, my friend.

John: Yeah, so it sounds like Connor’s at a place now where he’s talking about he meets with producers, he works up a pitch with them, and they go into financiers and it doesn’t happen from that point forward. So, the question is: are they the right producers? Are they the kind of producers who are actually getting things made? Or are they just people who are calling themselves produces and they’re aspiring just like you’re aspiring? And there’s nothing wrong with aspiring, but a bunch of aspirations all bundled together doesn’t necessarily result in a movie. So you may need to find some people who are a little bit more experienced in actually getting movies made. And take their advice seriously about these are the things that need to happen in order for a movie to actually get to the next step.

I agree with Craig. It’s great that actors and other filmmaker people are interested in the things you’re doing, because it shows that there’s artistic merit here. There’s something fascinating to them. It’s connecting the dots so that it’s actually fascinating to the financiers who are not looking at making art. They’re looking at making money. And that’s what seems to be the misconnection at this point.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Mm-hmm. So, I would say, I don’t have specific advice for different things for Connor to do. I don’t have experience with Ireland, of course, so I don’t know how many movies or how many TV shows it’s actually really possible to make per year in Ireland. He talks about staffing for TV shows. That is actual money, so that’s a great thing if you can just get yourself on something that gets paid. Because just the experience of getting paid once or twice, it changes you a little bit, but it also changes the perception of you. And you go from an aspiring writer to an actual working writer. And they may take a little bit more seriously on some of these other projects because they see that other people are willing to pay you money.

Craig: Yeah. You know, when you are done with these processes, it’s smart also to do a little post-mortem and sit with the producers and say, okay, safe space – let’s all talk about why we think that didn’t work in a constructive way so that maybe we can change things for next time, or you can change things, or I can change things. Let’s have an honest discussion about where we might have gone wrong together.

Because you can learn things from failure. It’s harder to learn things from failure in our business because it’s not like there’s a uniform series of buyers. We’re not trying to sell circuit breakers to large warehouses. And they all have the basic same needs, so what did we do wrong? It’s all about individual taste, and individual requirements for their budget, schedule, and their release appetite.

But, still you can – I mean, there may be some recurring themes that come up. So, worth at least a quick post-mortem each time.

John: I agree. All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an app that I’ve been using ever since I got to Paris. I’m now 76 days into using this app. It’s called Duolingo. It is an app for learning a foreign language. I’m using it for French. It’s a really well-designed app for iOS and also for Android that breaks it down into simple little lessons that are really well animated. Literally like everybody here uses it.

And so I was going to get my official French visa stuff, so I had to get my chest X-ray, and I’m in the waiting room there. And there’s a Japanese woman next to me and I see she’s using Duolingo as well. So, everybody here uses it to get their French up to speed. It’s really, really well-designed.

So, it’s a free download. If you are interested in learning a language, I would strongly recommend you check it out. I’m not sure how they’re going to make money. It seems like a really expensive app that doesn’t pay for itself, but I’m very grateful that it exists.

Craig: I remember using this before I went to Austria. It’s a great app.

John: Again, it’s a free download. I highly recommend if you are interested in learning a foreign language. Or in my case, like I can sort of get by in French, but there were sort of crucial things I was missing. It did a great job sort of like getting past those little small glitches.

So, highly recommend it.

Craig: Excellent. Duolingo.

My One Cool Thing is How to Carve a Turkey. I finally did it right. Finally.

John: So, Craig, talk me through it. Paint me a visual picture of how it works.

Craig: Well, first I’ll tell you how most people do it, which is wrong. You hack away at the leg and thigh kind of and you twist it off. And now it’s like all shredded and stuff. And there’s bones sticking out everywhere. Then you start slicing the breast off the turkey slice by slice and sticking it on a plate. And it’s all choppy and sawed up. And then there’s huge chunks of meat just sticking on this thing.

No. All wrong. So, I finally was like, all right, I got to learn how to properly carve a turkey. So I went online, and you know sometimes when you look for these things, there’s 12 people all insisting that their way is correct and they’re all different and you get very confused and frustrated. Not this time. There is one way. [laughs] There is one way to carve a turkey. They all agree. We’ll put a link in here for one of them.

But basically what it comes down to is removing the legs, and they’ll show you how to do all that. The thighs and all the rest of it. But the big one is the breast. And the idea there is to remove the turkey breast entirely, the whole thing. Not slices. The whole thing.

John: Yes.

Craig: Take it off. And then cross slice it. One tip I did follow, which made a huge difference. It made it so much easier, but requires a little pre-roasting surgery, is to remove the wishbone before the turkey goes in the oven. So, while it’s still raw, because then you don’t have to pull it out or work around it when you’re removing the breast after it has been cooked.

So, to remove the wishbone before, you got to do a little bit of an incision on the neck area. And then get in there and make some slices. And it actually feels like surgery. I will say, this is the funniest thing–

John: Dr. Craig likes it.

Craig: I did. But something killed me. All right, so, I was like, okay, I’m going to remove this wishbone. And I Googled up first. And somebody had essentially a little photo essay of how they remove the wishbone. And so I was following along with that. And then I just turned my phone off, right, and I went and I picked my phone up an hour later and the first image that came up was this image of the – so raw turkey wishbone thing in there. And like for a second I’m like, “Why is there porn on my phone?” [laughs] Because it looked so much – it just looked so porny. It’s amazing how the body has certain recurring shapes. Like nature just has certain recurring shapes.

I mean, really it was kind of awesome actually.

John: So, my great surprise for Thanksgiving this year, I’ve never been a sweet potato person. I kind of despise sweet potatoes, but the dinner we went to they had a kale salad, which of course is not very Thanksgiving-y, but with sweet potatoes in it, like roasted sweet potatoes that were so good that I now question my distaste of sweet potatoes. They were remarkable.

Craig: I wonder if your distaste of sweet potatoes is actually a distaste of yams. So, we have two foods that we refer to as sweet potatoes interchangeably here in the United States. One is the yam, which is this very deep orange African vegetable. And then there’s the sweet potato which is a very light, light pale yellow potato, more potato-like thing that is native to the New World, North America.

So, most of what people eat in the United States as sweet potatoes are yams. So you get these cans of yams and candied yams and all the rest, and then you whip them up into this brutally sweet orange thing. Sweet potato pie, for instance, which is a traditional African American soul food dessert in the United States is usually made now with yams. I mean, I see a lot of them that are super-duper orange, which I don’t like.

But sweet potatoes themselves are actually quite delicious. I like them way more than – so was yours a pale yellow, or was it like an angry orange?

John: It was more of an angry orange, and yet here’s the thing. I think I grew up around sweet potatoes. I think they were sweet potatoes and not yams, and they have this smell, this acrid kind of chemical smell that I just could not stand to even be in the kitchen with them. And this did not have that. So something else had changed.

I’ll also say, and I don’t know whether the sweet potato fries I’m eating at hamburger restaurants are sweet potatoes or yams, but they are delicious.

Craig: Those are yams. You’re a yam guy. You’re totally a yam guy.

John: I’m a yam guy.

Craig: Yeah. Big time. You’re a yam guy, because all those sweet potato fries are super-duper orange and yams are I think more common and cheaper and, yeah, you’re a yam dude.

John: Okay.

Craig: I’m a sweet potato guy.

John: All right. So, it takes all kinds. Maybe that’s why the podcast works so well. You know, different flavors, different tastes, but you know what, it all comes together to make a wonderful Thanksgiving feast.

Craig: You stick marshmallows on it and it tastes great no matter what it is.

John: It’s so good. Mm, Fluffernutters. That is our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Victor Krause.

Craig: Victor Krause!

John: It’s a great name. Victor Krause.

Craig: Yes.

John: If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place to send questions like the ones we answered today. I am on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We are on Facebook. I’ve actually checked a few things on Facebook recently, so send us a note on Facebook. Let us know what you thought of this. Let us know whether we are correct on yams versus sweet potatoes.

If you have other opinions of things that we should talk about in future episodes, let us know on Facebook. That’s always fun. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there you can also download the Scriptnotes app which gives you access to all of the back episodes. There are 276 episodes before this episode, plus bonus episodes. There’s so many.

So, you can also listen to them through It’s $2 a month for all the back episodes.

Craig: So many.

John: So many. There are a few USB drives left. We have yet to decide whether we’re going to do any more USB drives after this. I think because the USB standards are changing, maybe we’ll find drives that have two sides to them. I don’t know.

So, I can’t promise there will ever be more USB drives, so if you really would like all the back episodes on a USB drive, order one now before they sell out.

There are transcripts for this show and all of our back episodes at It’s also where you’ll find the show notes for this episode and all of our previous episodes. And, Craig, thank you for a fun episode.

Craig: Thank you, John. I’ll see you next week.

John: See you next week. Bye.

Craig: Bye.


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Scriptnotes, Ep 276: Mammoths of Mercy — Transcript

Thu, 12/01/2016 - 08:38

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 276 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at what it’s like to write and direct a movie for Netflix with a special guest who has done just that. Then it’s a new installment of How Would This Be a Movie, where we ask that question of several stories in the news, this time with a twist because not all of the stories are taken from the headlines. We’ll also be answering listener questions from our overflowing mailbag.

But first, some follow up. Craig, last week’s episode was a repeat and then we had a little mini-episode sort of in between there which is on the day of the election. It was the day of the election results called This Feeling Will End. Craig, did this feeling end?

Craig: It’s better. I don’t think it’s – I’m not completely free of the jaws of it, but much, much better. I mean, you know, this is natural, right. You have all this adrenaline inside of you and then it takes some time to go away. And when adrenaline recedes, it doesn’t just recede without complication. It’s like, you know, when people talk about taking drugs and then there’s the crash, you know. You feel a crash at some point. And oftentimes you will also get a weird elation rise out of it.

None of that is to be trusted. None of it means a damn thing. But one thing to also be aware of is that when we are over-adrenalized, what ends up happening is – this is true for all of the neurological receptors in our body, any kind of hormonal receptor. When they get hit a lot, they naturally dull themselves. It’s very smart, adaptive behavior on our bodies. So, they become less sensitive.

So let’s use adrenaline as the example. Your adrenaline, your natural adrenaline lowers to a normal level. But the normal level is hitting these dulled receptors. So, your body is like, whoa, we’re not getting enough adrenaline. And so it can sometimes spike your adrenaline again. So, just be aware. This will be a little bit of a rollercoaster, but each successive rise and fall will come further and further apart and less and less. And everyone emotionally speaking is going to be fine, assuming that they’re not in actual real life danger.

John: My general state is better than it was when we recording that thing. It couldn’t be any worse than it was when we recorded that thing. But I will say that I approached this week much less biochemically, and much more sort of like trying to figure out how I felt and sort of what was going on in my head. So, as we talked about it on the episode, I did my normal writing, and I happy entered my fantasy world and wrote my fantasy stuff. But by the weekend I was good enough that I could actually write directly about sort of what I was feeling and what my anxieties were.

And anxiety I think itself is a really fascinating theme, because it’s fear of the future. In this case, it’s actually fear of a future where I couldn’t control the outcomes. And leading up to the election, I really felt I had no control. Like these numbers would keep going up and down and they were meaningless to me and I couldn’t actually – there was nothing I could do that could change the number in FiveThirtyEight.

And then with this result, I realized like, oh you know, there actually are some things I could do. And so some of the things I did this week that made me feel better: I donated money to the charities that I felt were going to be most impacted by this result. I actually called my congress people for the first time ever, which was sort of weird. And I don’t know that it was actually directly impactful, but it helped me. And so both the writing and the actual taking actions got me through to the place where I’m at where I can record a podcast and not sound completely despondent.

Craig: Well, that’s fantastic. And I should point out that when you are released from the grip of feelings, it’s remarkable how much more productive you are to counter the things that led to those feelings in the first place. So, you know, for the first week following the election on Twitter I was just watching people running in circles with their heads chopped off, willy-nilly, and it was completely understandable. But, you know, the Vulcan in me is nowhere near the Vulcan in you, just kept thinking, “Well this is isn’t going to do anything. Let’s just give these people a week and then hopefully everybody kind of starts to figure out a smart way of approaching things, because that’s the only way anything ever gets done. Nothing ever gets done from emotion. It’s actually remarkable how much of a brake pedal, or even like an emergency break, emotional cascades can be.

So, I’m glad that you’re feeling that way. I definitely am, too. Much, much better. You know it’s funny, like I actually was thinking the other day: this is a little bit like what happens when you get – you know, we did that episode on the Rocky Shoals, where you get to Page 70 or 80 in a script. And one of the things I’ve always felt is that some of the fear and anxiety we feel when we get to that place in a script is due to the fact that we have fewer choices. That there’s less possibility. And that we are locked in, now, to something. And then you start to think, oh, I guess this is all it’s going to be, right?

So, some of the certainty that came with the election, namely this is going to be your president, was attached to an, “Oh, and this is what it’s going to be.” So even the certainty had this downside. But, overall I hope that people are starting to emerge from their fogs of either euphoria or fear. And returning their focus to getting things done.

John: Yes. And so we will turn our focus to a podcast about screenwriting, including making movies. And so our guest this week is Chris Sparling. He’s a writer whose credits include Buried and this year’s Sea of Trees. His new movie is Mercy which debuts on Netflix today. Chris Sparling, welcome to the show.

Chris Sparling: Thank you, guys. How are you?

Craig: Great. Welcome, Chris.

Chris: Thank you. Thank you.

John: As we established, we’re not perfect, but we’re trying to get through.

Chris: Yeah.

John: So, Chris, tell us about this movie and this situation. And I also – before we even get into it, you are I think our first guest who has actually been a listener question or listener response on the show. You wrote in because you are a writer who works out of Rhode Island. Is that correct?

Chris: Yeah. You know, John, you and I have met a few times over the years. And then, Craig, you and I met recently because of that. It’s funny, because I’m sitting here listening to your guys talk and I’m forgetting, I’m like, oh, I’m actually on the show as opposed to just listening to it right now. So, yeah, I mean, look, I listen all the time. I know a lot of people that do. And so for me it’s kind of an interesting thing where it’s apart from maybe talking to my reps or whatever else, it’s kind of like a lifeline to the industry for me. So yeah.

John: Cool. So, you have – this isn’t your first movie. You directed a tiny little movie called Atticus Institute, but this is a bigger movie you just directed. It debuts on Netflix. What is the path that takes you to Netflix? And is this a movie that you made and then Netflix bought? Or just a movie that Netflix was involved in from the very start?

Chris: They were involved from the start. It’s a Netflix original. So, you know, kind of the long and short of it was I had written a script several years ago, tried different ways to get it made, and just – there were some promising things going on. And then as they do, sometimes they don’t move forward. And then I was approached by XYZ Films, I know those guys over there pretty well. It’s a great outfit. And they said, “Hey look, we have this deal with Netflix. Do you have any scripts that we should know about and they should know about?” So, kind of that’s really how it happened.

I sent them Mercy and they sent it to Netflix and, you know, they really responded. So, it just became a matter of – it really was this straight-forward. It was like, hey, we love the script. Do you think you can do it for X price? And, of course, I said yeah. And that was it.

Craig: So, that’s something that I think everybody in our business, and people outside of our business, are really curious about. Because there’s this on the plus side Netflix is this enormous content producer now. They are a behemoth. Like out of nowhere they became kind of the largest content maker. But, there’s always – there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

So, budget-wise, were they kind of like, “Yeah, we’ll do it, but you know, maybe not for what you have liked to have done it, or what you might have expected to get budget-wise if you had been doing it at a studio?”

Chris: Well, I mean, yeah, I suppose. But, I mean, look, I’m realistic. As John pointed out, my first movie was a small one. This was a chance to a do a bigger movie. So, I mean, if I was a director that had already done ten movies, let’s say, then yeah, I think I would have expected to have more money and everything else. But they offered enough to make the movie. So, to me it was, sure, you always want more. Even if they gave me $50 million to make the movie, I probably would have wanted $10 more.

Craig: Right.

Chris: So, but no, it was a chance – and I don’t want to just chalk it up to, well hey, I had a chance to make a movie, so that’s just a great opportunity and I’m going to take that every time. No, I mean, everything fell in line. The numbers worked. And I didn’t have to really sacrifice anything in terms of the story or, you know, or what I wanted it to be.

John: But one of the changes you are making here is that generally as you make a film, let’s say you’re making this film in a more traditional environment. So you might have made this film and taken it to Sundance and sold it out of Sundance. And there’s all that process. There’s the screenings. There’s the who’s going to buy it. Your first movie I encountered you for was Buried, which was a big Sundance sale.

And so by doing this for Netflix, all that part of the process goes away. You don’t have to worry about the one sheets and are we going to get that screened. Like you know exactly, like before you clicked your first slate you knew exactly where this movie was going to end up. And it’s got to change some of the process going into it. It’s more like making a TV show to some degree than making a normal movie.

Chris: Yeah. And I think it’s partly why they were very – and I mean this in a good way – they were pretty hands off. They really allowed me to get in and make the movie I wanted to make without say maybe micromanaging everything I was doing. And I think because there’s already these “disruptive models” or whatever you want to call them, there’s already this framework that exists and they’re doing it and doing it more. You know you’re going to be – I don’t know, I think they’re in like 190 countries now. Or something ridiculous. And so to your question, or to your point about kind of the festival circuit, is you lose the uncertainty.

You know, you go into those festivals, if you’re lucky enough to get into them, there’s not guarantee you’re going to get distribution. And even if you do, if it’s going to be good distribution. Here, you’re making a movie knowing you’re going to get the eyeballs of millions of people, guaranteed. Unless you just completely make just a terrible movie. And I would imagine they’re not going to release that on their platform.

But, I’d like to think I didn’t. I guess everyone will know tonight.

Craig: Well, I mean, the interesting thing is they don’t really have much in the way of cost to release anything. There’s marketing. In other words, they could choose to put a certain amount of marketing muscle behind what your movie is, I guess, via their promos. But, the actual release of the movie costs nothing. I mean, it’s there, right? It’s on their server. They might as well let you have it if you want it.

I’m actually kind of fascinated by the way that the shape of our televisions has changed this business so much. Because it used to be that when you were making a movie, just the physical process of it was so much different. Not only because it was going to end up being projected, but just the aspect ratio was different than making something for television. And now the aspect ratio is almost identical.

When you know that your movie will not be running in theaters and will only be on televisions, does that change your workflow in terms of your post-production?

Chris: No, it didn’t. We still approached it as if there was a possibility it would get a theatrical, because there was talk of it. You know, maybe getting a small theatrical. Ultimately, it just wasn’t the right fit for, you know, I think a couple of different reasons. But, no, it didn’t impact the workflow. It didn’t really change much of anything.

You know, I think if there’s any sort of thing that’s in the back of your mind is that this thing up to the minute, something can change. In other words, I’m saying to you guys now, it’s like, yeah, the movie is premiering tonight. Blah, blah, blah. Up to the minute, they could change that. Whereas if you’re releasing a movie in theaters, I mean, that’s not going to happen.

Craig: Right. Yeah, they have way more flexibility. That is true.

John: So, talk to us about this last month. Because the movie has been locked for probably a while now. So, you’ve known you had this release date coming up. You’re cutting trailers. You’re doing some of the normal movie stuff. But do you sit down with press? Because there’s all this machinery that normally happens when a movie is being released, be it on the festival circuit, or be it a bigger movie.

Are you doing any of that? Or is it more just like they click a button and suddenly it’s out there in the world? What’s that been like for you this last month?

Chris: There’s been some press. You know, we premiered at the LA Film Festival, so there’s been a little bit of festival stuff, a little bit of press. But I think less, even to say with movies in the past that I’ve been involved with that say I just wrote. There was a lot more press involved with that sort of stuff. A lot more just stuff going into the buildup of the release of the film. Whereas I think with this, it’s more about just get the word out there, get people talking. And then, you know, then the movie is going to be there.

And, you know, Netflix – they’re going to do whatever it is they do to make sure the algorithms, or whatever it is they use to make sure that you get suggested this film, you will. And, look, I mean, I don’t even fully understand how all that stuff works in the traditional sense. And so I’m not going to pretend I know how Netflix does it. But apparently they seem to know what they’re doing because I keep getting movies popping up on my Netflix recommendations and everything else.

Craig: And this is a WGA arrangement and a DGA arrangement?

Chris: Yeah. It’s both.

John: Great.

Craig: And so there’s an expectation of residuals, I presume, from both of those? Yeah.

Chris: Yeah, I mean, if you want to talk pros and cons, I guess, you know, again, I don’t want to sound ignorant to what the process is beyond the movie being done. But, I mean, that’s kind of more in their hands at that point. I can tell you more about the lead up to that. You know, and you can say what the pros and cons are. With a traditional film, you’re looking at the potential of more backend hopefully if you get a good theatrical release and good box office, so on and so forth.

Obviously, that’s probably not going to be the case here. It’s not going to be the case at all in my film, because I didn’t get a theatrical. But there are ancillary markets they sell to and everything else. So the cons are probably there. The pros are people are – you know, this has probably more to do with producers even I would so more so than writers, but it applies. You know, you’re getting fees up front. That’s where you’re making your money. And you’re hoping that those fees are substantial enough to justify you maybe not getting as healthy a backend.

Craig: Right. Makes sense.

Chris: Yeah.

John: Chris, let’s cycle back to the movie itself. So, this is a script that you had written. It was sitting on your shelf essentially. How close had you come to finding a way to make this movie before?

Chris: Pretty close, a few different times. You know, a long while back it was optioned and that ran its course. And so, yeah, I mean, just like anything else where you have a bunch of projects. I’m not one, and I want to say I’ve heard you guys talk about this on the podcast before, but I’m not one to try to revisit old things necessarily. I feel like that’s kind of if it didn’t go, it usually is for a good reason.

But this was one that never really went away. It just kept floating nearby, so to speak. It just never, ever just was dead. So it didn’t become one of these zombie projects that just won’t die officially.

John: And was it always a project that you were going to direct, or were other people involved in the directing front before?

Chris: Not at the outset. I wasn’t attached to direct when it was first optioned. And then just over time, you know, as I started to have the desire more and more to direct, it became for me – you know, when I looked at what I’d written or what I’d planned to write, it seemed like something that was viable. It wasn’t me trying to say, “Hey, I’d love to direct this $50 million or $150 million movie.”

John: Cool. Now, looking at the trailer, it looks like you movie fits into a pattern that, well, it looks like it fits in two patterns. It looks like it’s a domestic family drama that morphs into a single house horror film. Is that an accurate portrayal of what the experience of the movie is?

Chris: For the most part. I think it kind of, it turns from that family drama into a home invasion thriller, I would say. I mean, I don’t even know if you actually see someone full on get killed. I don’t even know if you see like a knife going into a body. No, you don’t.

Craig: Shouldn’t you know that? I mean, you—

Chris: No, well, I know that. The thing is I just don’t want to say something and then I’m saying, “Actually, no, I do see that.” Yeah, well, yes, I know you don’t see a knife get driven into someone’s body. But I was going to say I don’t know if you actually see anyone die in blood and everything else. But, you know, I don’t want to give away too much, that’s why.

Craig: Got it.

John: Well, it reminds me in many ways though we had Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi on before talking about The Invitation. And The Invitation is a similar kind of situation where it looks like one kind of movie and it transforms into another kind of movie. But underlying all of it, what makes it possible to actually make that film is that it is a largely single location movie that is contained and you sort of have within this frame you can do amazing things. But it’s all staying within this frame.

That lets you lower your budget, lower your number of shooting days. It makes a lot of the other decisions much simpler I would hope.

Chris: Yeah, it does. I mean, look, for better or for worse, based on the stuff that I’ve written, I’ve kind of been pigeon-holed as the guy that writes kind of smaller contained thrillers.

John: Yeah. Like Buried. It’s all in a coffin.

Chris: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly.

John: You’re really branching out.

Craig: At least you give yourself more room. You started with a coffin, now you have a house. I assume your next movie will be like a block of houses.

Chris: Yeah. That’s it. I’ll have a neighborhood to work with. So, no, I mean, yeah, it’s the sort of thing where, yes, it’s actually a broader canvas than what I had with movies like Buried and other movies I’ve done, but at the same time I feel like having – you know, that’s what I think is the good thing about these contained thrillers is that you kind of are forced to come up with creative solutions. You can’t just say, I guess whatever the writing equivalent would be of throwing money at a problem. You have to come up with a creative solution because you really don’t have the resources. And that’s probably why you’re doing a single location thriller is because most likely you don’t have the resources to go and go shoot in Iceland or something.

John: Yeah. Cool. Well, Chris, we wish you so much luck with your movie, debuting today. If people want to see it, just turn on Netflix and it will be there, which is the amazing thing about the time we live in is that people can actually see your movie. There’s really no excuse for like, oh, it wasn’t playing in my town. You don’t have to do a Mike Birbiglia 40-city tour to get people to see your movie. They just have to turn on their TV.

Chris: Thank you guys.

Craig: Nobody wants to do anything that Mike Birbiglia does. Listen, if you’re stuck doing what Mike Birbiglia does, something has gone terribly wrong. [laughs]

John: So much hard work. Well, let’s go from your movie to talk about other potential movies. So, this is a feature I’m sure you’ve heard on the show before. It’s called How Would This Be a Movie. And we’re going to take a look at some stories that we found and look at what they’d be like as a movie.

The first one I want to propose is Dear Mike’s New Girlfriend. It’s by Silvia Killingsworth for The Awl. And unlike most of these stories we’ve done before, this is not a news story. There’s no real events here. It is told from the point of view of a group of women who are writing to the new girlfriend of Mike. So, I’m going to read you the first couple of paragraphs to give you a taste of what this is.

Dear Mike’s New Girlfriend, Wow. Big news! Congratulations on today’s announcements. We’re genuinely excited for you guys. We realized a few years ago that the social value of dating Mike was so obvious and the advantages so overwhelming that every girl would want to date him, or “someone just like him,” within the decade. It’s validating to see you’ve come around to the same way of thinking. And even though — being honest here — it’s a little scary, we know just getting it all over with will bring a better future forward faster. However, all this is harder than it looks. So, as you set out to find out just how terrible he is, we want to give you some friendly advice.

So, the rest of the story is written as a sort of advice column to the new woman who is dating Mike, who is a louse. Craig, what was your first instinct? What did you think of this as a movie?

Craig: I was so confused by it to be honest with you. I didn’t understand the perspective. I was struggling. Because, you know, when you read something you’re like, okay, let’s just cut down to like what’s the point, right? And the point seems to be that Mike sucks. But then I don’t understand why this woman is dating Mike. Nor do I understand what the girlfriends are trying to tell her, the ex-girlfriends, because they seem to be saying it’s good, but no, it’s never good. I didn’t understand.

So, but I did think, okay, that’s not – so what, so I didn’t understand it, big deal. The point is, how do you make this a movie. And then I thought, well, there’s this concept of this group of ex-girlfriends. And you are a woman who has met a guy and he seems perfect and he seems great and you start dating him. And then you get almost like The Matrix, like you get a message. And you essentially encounter this secret society of 20 women that have all dated him. And they all have very strong opinions. And you have to start to decide am I number 21, or am I different? Is he what they think, or is he different?

You know, that cuts to something that is universal. Everybody who is currently in a solid, successful relationship with somebody is in a solid, successful relationship with somebody who has an ex that hates them and thinks they’re the worst and nobody should be with them. So, that’s – but then, of course, sometimes they’re right and you just think you’re in a successful relationship. So, that cuts to something real. I like that high concept. I just didn’t quite – I don’t know if I could get anything more out of this piece per se.

John: Chris, what was your first take here?

Chris: I agree with Craig. I was kind of lost at first. I didn’t fully understand it either. But I went dark. I went dark with it. I said what if it’s a stalker thriller. So, you have this actual thing exists in the real world. This woman – not that the real author, just we’ll say a fake author writes this piece. Puts it out in the real world and then there’s this real deranged individual named Mike that believes it’s him. She’s writing about him. And just completely just it becomes that he’s just stalking her. And meanwhile as a result of the piece, like any piece that goes viral, which it probably did in real life I’m assuming. And then her career as a writer, she’s on the rise, like she’s on the Today Show. So her career is growing. She needed this, too.

And meanwhile this guy is kind of infiltrating her life more and more and getting creepier and creepier and turning violent. And the reality is she made this whole thing up. There’s no Mike. And she has to kind of make the decision do I come clean and destroy this career I just built myself off of this, or do I risk dying as a result of this. So.

Craig: I would definitely choose not dying. [laughs]

Chris: Yeah, well–

John: I think many women have to choose between career and the guy. So, even the guy that’s trying to kill them. So, Chris went meta with it. My instinct is a little bit more like what Craig’s is. I do agree, like I really liked the concept of the piece. I felt like some of the execution was a little bit muddled here. So, I was really more taking the general idea of a group of women who show up to say, “Listen, this guy is terrible and you have to believe us. And we understand why you won’t believe us, but we just want to tell you what to look out for.”

And so I thought some of the specifics about sort of like, you know, feeling the need that you have to compose a thoughtful response to his manic emails. You have to sort of always be there for him, even though he’s never going to be there for you. I thought all of that stuff had the good framework for what could be a movie. But this piece didn’t give me exactly who the characters were. It just gave me this cipher of a Mike.

The first task would be making Mike very specific and very attractive yet horrible in a way that you can believe that our heroine of the story would fall for him and not recognize all of his flaws immediately.

Craig: Yeah. Or maybe not horrible. I mean, that’s the other twist is that maybe he changed. [laughs] That’s the thing. It’s so strange. I like Chris’s version though, too. I think there’s something interesting about inventing someone that you claim to know, people seem to be caught doing this constantly now. What used to be shocking, you know, like with – when somebody would write a novel, a memoir, that as entirely fake. Now it’s like, well, it’s just a daily thing. We’ve almost presumed that people are making stuff up now.

But to make up this guy that rallies the world, you know. Like, yes, that’s a terrible person. And I love the idea of some guy sitting there going, “She’s talking about me.” It’s so ironic that he thinks that that’s him. That’s kind of cool, too.

John: Yeah. There’s a version in which he’s the bad guy and she’s in danger because he’s the bad guy. But there’s also the version in which he’s just the guy and everyone assumes it’s him, or he just has the same name as the guy that she uses in this. And everyone assumes, like, you’re this terrible, horrible person. It’s like, no, I’m not this person at all. And yet the degree to which he is that terrible person because we’re all that terrible person. We’re all Mike.

Chris: Yeah. And we’re all her though, too. And that’s why I was saying about deciding whether, you know, taking this to an extreme, whether to die or admit that you made all this up. I mean, I just feel like it’s kind of the world we live in, right? This fame, and this desire for fame, and this desire for likes, and to be liked. I don’t know, I just feel like it’s a drug.

And I do question if someone would be willing to give up that fame, you know?

John: I wish we had Tess Morris on to talk us through the romantic comedy version of this, because she’s our romantic comedy guru. I think there’s actually something very fascinating about how you would go into a relationship with all of these flaws being exposed. Like if both Mike and the equivalent girl in this had been so publically sort of excoriated, like how they could connect and how love is basically recognizing a person’s flaws and loving them despite them.

And I wonder if there’s a version of this that could start with like this letter about Mike and actually get to a place where there’s a happy ending.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, there could be a cool moment where she’s – because, look, if you have a bunch of exes show up and say, “You need to look for the following signs,” you’re going to be looking for them. And when you start to get them, it’s going to obviously enforce what they say is going – they’re giving you a fate. This is what’s going to happen to you. It’s what happened to us. So you assume that that’s going to happen. And there’s kind of an interesting thing that might occur when they’re going to breakup, but she’s going to breakup with him because she finally agrees with all the exes. And she goes there and he breaks up with her. And he’s breaking up with her because he’s been talking to all of her exes. [laughs] And they have the same damn problems with her.

And you start to realize everybody is walking around with this wrecking crew in their past of people that god forbid would get together and share stories. And then, you know, seek to ruin you from that point forward. We all have it. I mean, that may be a nice happy ending for the movie is that they both realize, oh my god, and then kind of agree to love each other despite the flaws, because that’s the only way you can love somebody.

John: I think that’s right. Cool. So let’s go onto our next story. This is How a Fake News Writer Earned Donald Trump the White House. It’s by Caitlin Dewey writing for The Washington Post. So this is a story about Paul Horner, the 38-year-old impresario of Facebook Fake News Empire. Who makes his living writing viral news stories, all of them fake.

And so some of the ones he’s known for are like, you know, the Amish Vote Overwhelmingly for so-and-so. And he’s the person who creates those stories that get circulated as if they’re real. And they get retweeted by political figures as if they’re real stories.

And one of the things I found so frustrating is that one of the URLs he has is like And so people will retweet that thinking it’s actually ABC News and it’s not. It’s not. It’s just his.

Craig: Yeah.

Chris: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. This guy. I mean, first of all, there’s this amazing thing that occurred. I probably read four different articles in the last week where somebody essentially says, “Oh my god, I think it’s my fault.” No it’s not. Just stop. You’re not that important.

Chris: Well, it’s funny, right? It wasn’t funny that he said that. You know, that sense of hubris. Yeah, I did this. It was because of me. And then when he was kind of taken to task on it he said, “No, no, I don’t think it was me.” Now that you’re blaming me for it, and I did something bad, no, it wasn’t me at all.

Craig: He’s a member of a class of people that do not care how they make their money. He’s, I guess, let’s just call him a mercenary for lack of a better term. Because what he’s doing – he’s not doing this for comedy sake. He’s not doing this for the way that The Onion does it, right? So, any proper comedy site, they’re going to say the whole point is we’re doing this on purpose. Give us credit for how funny we are. This guy’s point is to hide and simply make money off of clicks. So, he’s intentionally spreading noise into the system. And the noise is damaging. And the noise is causing problems.

One could argue that perhaps if he weren’t doing it, some other mercenary would. But, he seems to be the largest of them. He feels like a character in a movie. I don’t know if his story is a movie. Doesn’t seem like there’s much of a movie to tell there, because he’s basically doing one thing repetitively, which is kind of the nature of Internet scamming is just an endless repetitive because the only way to make money off the Internet is massive volume.

So, he feels like he would be a great scum-bucket character in a movie. Like what’s a scum-buckety job? Oh my god, this dude. That’s what he does? Like he would be an amazing roommate of a protagonist in a romantic comedy. You know, like, oh, every time he comes home this dude is writing some new terrible thing that isn’t true. And then when our hero goes out in the world, you know, and he meets somebody and they repeat it back to him as true and he’s like, oh my god, this world that I live in is the worst. So, I would go with scum-bucket character more than movie.

John: So, what I thought was actually interesting about him as a character is like this is a guy who spots an opportunity. Like there’s an opportunity – people will click on stupid things. And so I think the original stories he was doing were not really political. They were just random things that would get shared around a lot. And so it was stupid people sharing stupid things. And he had the unique gift for writing really viral stories that would get passed around that were completely hoaxes.

And so he was doing it kind of for the LOLs. But then the election comes and like, oh you know what, I’m going to troll the Trump campaign by writing up all these crazy things. And all these stupid Trump people would put it around. Which is true. He did not think that this would tip the election. He really thought that the Trump people would be embarrassed when they got caught sort of like repeating these things. And, of course, they weren’t. There’s no shame.

So, you’ve built the monster that then destroys you. I think that is the hero’s arc you could sort of get to. But I agree that I don’t know if it’s a whole movie. It feels like it’s a piece of a movie, or he’s one character in a bigger sort of Altman-esque tableau about a situation. Chris, what was your instinct on this?

Chris: I agree. I think he’s a very interesting character. I mean, any framework I thought of would just kind of be more of a ‘70s style conspiracy thriller. So, you know, you have a guy like him who is doing exactly what he’s doing. But somehow, someway in the course of gathering, I don’t know, photos that he’s pulling from wherever and attributing false stories to them, in the course of doing that I’m thinking maybe he actually gets something real, you know, something that people really, you know, very, very damaging that people don’t want him putting out into the world. And then it becomes a guy on the run movie.

Craig: Yeah. You could also do the kind of, I guess, Conspiracy Theory did a similar thing. He writes one of his hundreds of fake news stories is true. He just didn’t realize it. You know, his fiction happens to be true and now they’re after him. I could see that.

John: It make sense with the universe we’re living in, because it does feel like of all the quantum possibilities of universes that we could have ended up in, we’re in the one where the crazy thing happens a lot. And so it does feel like he’s the person who writes the thing that ended up coming true. And so he looks like he’s prescient or something, that he really knows what he’s talking about, when of course he’s just trying to get the clicks. And that’s interesting, too.

There’s also an aspect to the Facebook fake news story is that its algorithms that are actually determining things. And so the absence of humans monitoring things leads to – at this point they’re not AI, but soon there will be AIs really determining what we see and what we think.

So, there’s a serious thing you could get to underneath this thing which seems sort of foolish and lighthearted on the surface. There’s something unsettling below it, even if you don’t go to the paranoid thriller aspect.

Craig: Yeah. It feels like we are starting to wake up to the notion that there needs to be some kind of clearinghouse for at the very least this is intentionally fake. We will argue over what’s true forever. That’s our nature as humans, and so it goes. But you can’t argue that something was just fictionalized, like literally made up. There needs to be some kind of weird – like I have a little extension on my browser that basically says, okay, we have a database of phishing websites, spoof websites. So, if you should happen to mistakenly go to one, we show a little red light or we tell you this is probably not what you thought it was.

It’s almost like we need that for this.

John: Yeah, we do. I don’t know what that would be. I’ll find a link for it and post it in the show notes of people who post things on Facebook from The Onion thinking that it’s a real story. And it’s like, “I can’t believe this is true. This is disgusting. This is horrifying.” And they’re citing these stories from The Onion that are completely absurd. And, like, who could anyone possibly believe that’s true? But they just don’t get that The Onion is a fake news site. And this guy has sort of found the place that’s just shy enough that enough people are believing that it’s real news. That’s sad.

Craig: Yeah. You know, if there were a company that had massive resources that they could dedicate to this financially speaking, it would be – oh, wait, Facebook. Hmm.

John: Yeah, they could do it, too.

Craig: It’s like Facebook is just like, “Well, you know, people post this junk, but hey, our algorithm will post the Snopes debunking of it right below that.” Nobody is – why are you relying on Snopes, which I believe is a husband and a wife and an intern working through all this. It’s insane. They have to do this. They all have to do it. It’s out of control.

Not to accrue to the benefit of either party, because I see absolute junk promulgated by people on the left and the right. There’s fake news for everybody. Don’t like reality? Don’t worry, we’ve got something that speaks right to what you wish the world were like. Or gives you a point you wish you could use in a debate with somebody. We have to figure this out.

But that’s a side note. It has nothing to do with how this would be a movie.

John: Yeah. All right, let’s get to our final possible movie. This is suggested by Dave Wells, a listener. This is the Mammoth Pirates. It’s a story by Amos Chapple, writing for Radio Free Europe. And you should definitely click through the link in the show notes because the photos that go with this are really amazing. It’s called the Mammoth Pirates and it’s a story taking place in Northern Russia where they are digging up these mammoth tusks. So it’s basically mammoth ivory that has been frozen in the permafrost. And it’s these crews that go up there to try to find mammoth remains and find these ivory tusks which are worth a tremendous amount of money, but the process of getting them out of the ground is dangerous and incredibly environmentally destructive. And most people leave with nothing.

It very much felt like the Gold Rush, but in modern day, and maybe even more tragic. Craig, what was your take on this for a movie?

Craig: I mean, I was really fascinated by it. Well, first of all, people should look at the website because just as an example of website design, these folks at – okay, so they’re not masters of URL. RFERL is the worst I’ve ever heard. RFERL.

John: Well, it’s Radio Free Europe.

Craig: Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty. I mean, it would – anyway. As bad as that URL is, the page design is brilliant. I mean, it’s really one of the best designed websites I’ve ever seen. So I was reading it mostly fascinated that such a thing existed. There is this, ivory is a substance like diamond that has no inherent value, and yet people seem to love it. I don’t know why.

And we have so many laws against ivory poaching. And, you know, I guess we could give some people credit. They ethically don’t want ivory from animals like elephants and rhinoceroses that there’s all this money in digging up old ivory tusks of long dead mammoths, which seems so crazy to me. And for what? So because apparently there’s a big market in China for sculpted ivory and there’s a big market in Asia for powered ivory to be used as fake medicine for problems. Obviously, ivory cures nothing.

So, what you have is this fascinating culture of people, many of whom apparently are routinely drunk, using retrofitted snow-blower motors to jet water into the sides of hills in this wasteland. You know, movie wise, it didn’t seem like there was on the nose version of this. I don’t think it’s interesting enough, because once you see some guys digging up an ivory tusk, you’ve seen it.

One’s mind naturally goes to the “they find something else in the ground.” But that feels so done to me. I got very little out of this that felt like a movie. I would love the documentary. You know? But fictionally I was not inspired here.

John: I loved the world. I loved the setting. Because I hadn’t seen it before. And I loved, the photos really showed me sort of what it all looks like, and that was great. But it felt like it was one stop along another movie. Like a movie might take us there for one location. Jason Bourne would have some set piece there. Or a Bond movie would have a set piece there. But then you’d get out of there and you’d go to someplace new, because it didn’t feel like a place where you were going to start and go through a whole movie.

Now, that said, sometimes there are movies that take place in very specific little strange environments, and it’s really about the friendship between these three guys who are trying to do this thing. And that could totally work. That’s a small little movie that’s about them. It’s a very character-driven story. But as a Hollywood movie, it didn’t feel like enough in this story for me.

Chris, what was your take?

Chris: Yeah, kind of the same. My first thought was this seems like more of a TV idea. Because as you said, it’s a really interesting world. I’ve never seen it before. And so because of that, I mean, I think what really jumped out to me was where the ivory goes. You know, it was really, really fascinating to see how the stuff is sourced, but then in the article it said it goes to China where extremely wealthy people are using it for all host of different reasons and decorative things. And as you said, Craig, I think it’s used as a medicine, so on and so forth.

I’d love to see kind of what the next step of this process is. So, if you’re making a movie, you’re seeing these guys doing this, who are the people – who are the wealthy people, the business people, the corporations that come in and start to take control of this, or say the organized crime that comes in and takes control of this industry, and how do they then traffic this stuff.

Kind of treating it like you would I guess arms, or anything else. Kind of watching The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of it all. The seedy underbelly of this pretty unique world. I don’t know, that’s where my mind went.

John: Yeah. So that’s sort of like a Steven Soderbergh Traffic version in which you’re seeing the same thing from multiple points of view.

Chris: Yeah.

Craig: It’s going to be hard to pull that off because we understand inherently that drugs are an enormous problem, they’re an enormous health problem, and they cause massive amounts of violence. And similarly guns are created only to inflict violence. But not really the case with the tusk trade. I mean, it’s something. It’s a little bit like Blood Diamonds. I remember when I watched Blood Diamonds you could see like they wrote the whole point was like it’s not about diamonds, it’s about blood. You know, it’s about humans. But even then, it’s hard to grab people’s attention on a large scale.

I actually think John has solved it. Personally, the idea that in a Bond movie you would have a chase through these creepy tunnels, these weird manmade tunnels. It almost looks like men are burrowing through – like ants. The way ants make tunnels. So you’re in this remote region. There’s bugs everywhere. People are pulling tusks out and they’re going into the earth, into places that shouldn’t be exposed because they’re so old, and because they’re looking for old things.

And you’re doing this crazy shooting chase. And then, of course, things are collapsing around you because these people have – I mean, they’re drunk. And they have absolutely no idea what they’re doing. They’re not engineers. They’re fortune hunters. So, that would be a very cool sequence.

John: Cool. All right, so let’s vote. Of these three things we talked about, do we think any of them are going to be a movie? So, Dear Mike’s New Girlfriend, yes movie, no movie?

Chris: That would not be my top one.

Craig: I would say that it could be. I could see a movie about somebody dealing with the exes of their – a romantic comedy like that. But probably not.

John: Yeah, Ghosts of Girlfriends past, I had a sense of that as well.

Craig: Exactly.

John: I think there’s a movie kind of in this universe, but I don’t think it’s based on this article. The fake news writer, the fake news Facebook thing? Yes/no?

Craig: No.

Chris: Still tough. But of the three, I would say that one is the most likely. But I still don’t see it as being a movie.

John: All right. And Mammoth Pirates. Yes or no on a movie?

Craig: Definitely not.

Chris: No.

John: I don’t think it’s a movie by itself.

Chris: I don’t think so.

John: I think if there is going to be a movie, I think it’s going to be one of those kind of Sundance movies about like, you know, there’s always one about Inuit culture that’s really great, but it’s very sort of insular. And there could be a movie set like that that could exist, but I don’t see it happening as a big movie.

Chris: I think you could do it as a TV show.

John: For sure.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get to some listener questions. Craig from Canada wrote in and this is what he said. “I am currently writing a script that I want to briefly delve into the cosplay subculture. While the culture as is practiced is largely fair use, would a film using a character’s likeness in a cosplay context be considered infringing?”

Craig, you’re not a lawyer, but you often play one on the podcast.

Craig: Definitely on the podcast. I don’t think I need to be a lawyer to say for sure it would be infringing. You cannot for instance – let’s just take the most obvious example. Somebody is cosplaying as the Genie from Aladdin. So, that’s a Disney property. Obviously Disney doesn’t own the root story of Aladdin, but they own the design of that character. You will be sued severely and rapidly. But, of course, in cosplay culture, since everybody is dressing as copyrighted character, you will be sued rapidly and vigorously by everyone. It is not doable.

John: You should do cosplay where everybody is playing Sherlock Holmes, or some sort of like character that is not so – is iconic and yet not as protected as a Disney-owned property.

Craig: And even then you’re – the problem is that people generally aren’t dressing as their interpretations of fair use or public domain characters. They’re dressing as company’s interpretations of those characters. So, now, it may be that the old Basil Rathbone, deer stalker hat, you know, version – I don’t think it has gone into public domain yet, but it might. But more likely what you’re dealing with is every video game manufacturer and every film company is going to come at –

Now, this is different than say a documentary. In a documentary, you have the right to film a public space. And if people are walking through that public space, you are not creating that – you are free to do that. So the news can report on these things, and you can make a documentary. But if you’re making a fictional work, so now you’re creating costumes or having people bring their own created costumes and putting it in your fictional work? No. No way.

John: Yeah. You’re in real trouble there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Next question comes from Richard Scott in San Antonio. Let’s take a listen.

Richard Scott: My most recent project, which happens to be a spoof, was announced by Variety and the Internet trolls have been brutal. My favorite comments, “If there ever was a movie written entirely on a napkin in a bar, this is it. I have found the description of the worst movie ever. Who gave a ten-year-old coke and a typewriter?” Anyway, trolls will be trolls, but the problem is I wrote the first draft and then was rewritten by others six times to the point that the shooting draft is only a shadow of my original work.

All of the articles only list my name. Questions: how do you handle the initial criticism when the movie isn’t even out yet and, of course, the subsequent backlash once it is when you had very little to do with the project? Is it okay to confess it wasn’t your draft in professional discussions? Or should I accept the responsibility and take it for the team? And how much would this hurt my career considering I don’t even have representation? But naturally, if it’s a success, I’ll gladly take 93% of the credit.

Anyway, thanks for any advice guys and for all you do.

John: Well, let’s talk about this, because we’ve all had movies that have gotten a great response and some movies that have not gotten a great response. And so how do you handle that criticism when it’s not really our movie. It wasn’t the vision that we set out to do.

Chris: You know, I mean, if I were in that exact situation, I haven’t been, I don’t know. To me, it seems like it would be poor form to get out there and start saying, “Hey, I didn’t write this. I didn’t write this. Stop attacking me.” Because essentially I think you’re saying you should be attacking somebody else.

I feel like that would be poor form. But, yeah, that aside, please, I had just with Sea of Trees, we’re not even talking Internet trolls. I mean, I think the New York Times said I should find a new profession. And so–

Craig: [laughs] That’s so great. Yeah, because they know. This is the same New York Times that just issued a statement, an internal memo, saying, “We didn’t really do a good job of reporting.” You had one job.

Listen, Richard, here’s the thing. None of that matters or is real. I mean, you literally have to stop looking at it, which is hard at first. Very hard. And it took me a while to kind of get to that place. But it doesn’t matter what somebody says. In your mind, you have to think, okay, somebody reads something and thinks in their head, “Well that’s stupid. I could do better than that.” Right? It costs them nothing. It takes nothing. And then it’s out of their minds instantly. They’ve moved on.

Well, the Internet makes that instant thought of their semi-permanent. And so it’s harder for you to move on, but it is just as meaningless. And nobody cares about any of it. There is no one in this business who is making any decision about whom to hire based on comments on the Internet. That is absurd. Plus, everybody in this business has been ripped to shreds by these ding-a-lings, so it doesn’t matter. The larger question of what to do when it’s not your draft, well, first of all, let’s see if you get credit or not. Right?

I mean, I don’t know if this is a WGA film or not, but if it’s WGA you’ll have your name as shared Story By credit, but you won’t have screenplay credit if it’s as distant from your work as you say.

Generally speaking, I don’t talk about any of these things publically. I never talk about a movie that I’ve written on that I don’t have credit on, and I don’t talk about movies that I do have credit on but maybe I’m being unfairly targeted as the prime mover of it. However, you mention professional discussions. Absolutely fair game to say, “Let me tell you the real story of what happened there.” First of all, people are always fascinated by it. And second of all, as long as you’re fair and you’re not absolutely embellishing the past to make yourself look as good as possible, it’s fair to give people full context and tell them the real story.

Similarly, you know, I know you’re joking when you say naturally if it’s a success I’ll take 100% of the credit. You don’t really do that, either. I mean, you know, everyone will move past this very, very quickly. And you have to kind of train yourself to move past it as quickly as they do, which I have been working on really, really hard and getting better. Getting better.

John: I agree with most of what Craig said. Is that there’s a difference between publically talking about sort of the process and sort of how bad it was and how little of the draft is yours if it’s a bad movie. And the private process which is when you’re in a meeting with somebody and it comes up, they raise the question of like, oh, so what was that like? You can be honest in the small rooms.

And you don’t have to be paranoid that that’s going to get out that you’re talking bad about other people involved in the project. Be honest about sort of what really happened there. Be fair, but be honest, because that’s – they’re hiring you to do something else in the future. And it’s fair for them to know this is what the process was like on that situation.

You can’t know how things are going to be before they’re done. Until the movie comes out, you really won’t know what it’s like.

I will say that with the passage of more time both the injuries become much duller. Like you don’t feel them as sharply. And the other people who were involved in the process, it sort of feels like you were all in a war together. Like you weren’t sort of battling each other. You were all just – it’s a process you all went through.

And so there’s movies in which I was one of the writers with other folks and we all get along kind of swell. And we can talk publically in public forums now about sort of what the process was like and who wrote what because we’re all friends and it’s all good. And maybe that will be a situation with this movie.

Or maybe this movie will be a huge hit and then it’ll be complicated in a very different way because you’re going to be credited with this movie that wasn’t quite what you expected it to be.

So, you just can’t know. Again, we’re in this quantum universe of possibilities and don’t anticipate – don’t try to lock one down quite yet. Schrödinger’s cat is neither alive nor dead at this moment.

Craig: So true.

John: Finally, Brady Chambers writes, “Hello, My name is Brady from Philadelphia, United States. My question is how do you write an effective parallel narrative? I’m currently writing one, but I’m having trouble keeping focus on the two stories?”

So, parallel narrative, he’s saying that there’s two characters doing different things in different timelines. It could be the same timeline. But you’re moving back and forth between two storylines and he’s having a tough time with that.

Craig: I would start by saying you’re not really writing two parallel stories. You’re writing one story. And what you’re doing is writing two stories that comment on each other and should tie together to make each one more effective. There’s no other reason to write parallel stories. Right? Assuming that you’re writing a movie here and you’re not talking about a TV series where you have, okay, here’s my A story, here’s my B story.

So, for me, if I were approaching this I would start immediately by outlining very, very carefully. And I would want to make sure that I understood why this story needed to be parallel to this one. What was happening that would make each story comment on each other? And every time I go back and forth, the first question I’m asking before I go to my new story, or my side story, is why am I going to the side story and how is it going to change what I understand about the other story when I go back there?

And then when I go back there, I have that information, and I’m asking the same question. Good, now, when I go back to the other one, how is what’s going to happen now going to effect and make me interested in what’s happening then? Obviously, it is always good advice to watch movies that do what you’re trying to do. The one that just comes to mind quickly is Dead Again, written by Scott Frank, produced by Lindsay Doran, and directed by Kenneth Branagh, which has a very nice little parallel construction between present and past.

But, that’s kind of what – I mean, it’s pretty broad advice, but it’s a fairly broad question. What do you think, Chris?

Chris: I understood the question to mean more how it appears on the page. So, I thought he was asking what should I do when I write this. How do I show these different timelines? And maybe I’m misunderstanding the question, but just in case that’s what he meant. Look, you could always make a note to the reader, obviously the goal is clarity. You don’t want the person that’s reading it to get completely lost because you’re jumping different timelines and so on and so forth.

One option might be to write one in maybe a different type of font or maybe a different – maybe bolded, or in italics, something to that effect, with a note that really just delineates it that this is the way when you’re in say bold you’re with this person, and when you’re in standard font you’re with this person. You know, but it goes against the grain, you know, I know you guys always rail against and I agree with the so-called gurus who are saying you can’t put things in like notes to the reader and stuff like that. Which is bullshit.

Craig: Oh yeah. You can do anything you want.

John: If that really is Brady’s question, then yes. I think if it’s just confusing on the page, then do things on the page to make it not confusing for your reader. I took this more as like he really is trying to construct a parallel narrative, like there’s these two storylines running and I agree. From Big Fish and sort of other movies I’ve written that go back and forth, you really have to make sure that anytime you’re cutting from one story to another storyline you’re advancing both storylines through that cut.

And you can outline that really carefully but it’s ultimately going to be how it feels on the page and making sure the out of a scene really does jump the next scene forward, even if it’s in a different timeline. You have to really always be thinking across that gap. And where the audience is at in both of those timelines. And what they expect to happen next in both timelines and how you can both honor that expectation and surpass it whenever possible.

Craig: I’m down with that.

John: Cool. All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. Now, long time listeners of the show will probably be able to anticipate what my One Cool Thing is because it’s been my One Cool Thing every year for about this time of year, which is the Flu Shot. The flu shot is one of our great innovations. We’ve taken a disease which used to cost billions of dollars of lost time and made people really sick and killed people and now we can just stop it with an annual shot that’s coordinated through international agencies and it’s just a remarkable thing.

So, I had my flu shot here in Paris. Now, people in Europe would probably say like, oh, of course that’s how it would work here. But as an American it was a strange process, so I want to talk you through sort of what you do for a flu shot here. So, to get your flu shot in Paris, you go to the pharmacy and say, “I’d like a flu shot.” And they go, great. And they sell you a flu shot. But they actually sell you a box with a needle in it that is your flu shot.

And so then you take the box and you go to your doctor and you say, “I have a flu shot.” And they’re like, great, and then they give you your flu shot. And it works out really well. And it’s just a very different way of doing things. And so I should say for our European listeners who don’t understand what that’s so unusual is that in the US you go to your doctor, they have the flu vaccine usually, but they don’t always have it, and then they give you your flu shot. Or sometimes people come to work and they’ll do a whole bunch of flu shots at once.

Increasingly, you can go to your pharmacy and the pharmacist there will give you the flu shot. But the system here is that you pick up your drugs at the pharmacy and then take them to the doctor and the doctor does it, which is just – it works. Just a different way of doing it.

Craig: Aren’t you tempted to just jab yourself at that point? I mean…?

John: I was incredibly tempted. Because I had the flu shot for like five days before I could get the appointment.

Craig: Just do it. I mean, you know what they’re going to do. They’re going to put it in the muscle of your upper arm. Just stick it in there and do it.

John: Yeah. I should have just stuck it in there. Just stick it in.

Craig: Stick it in. That’s my–

John: Stick it in.

Craig: That’s my motto. Stick it in. Everyone knows that.

John: But anyway, so the reason why I always harp on flu shots is it just one of those simple things you can do. Like sickness insurance. Basically like if you get this shot, you probably won’t get the flu. And that’s better than getting the flu because the flu sucks. So, anyway, get your flu shot.

Craig: I’m getting mine today actually.

John: Congratulations. Craig, what’s your One Cool Thing?

Craig: My One Cool Thing is USB-C. Now, hold on everyone. So, I did get the new MacBook. And I’m not going to make that my One Cool Thing because I don’t want people like, uh, thanks for your One Cool Thing costing thousands of dollars. But, there’s been a lot of criticism of Apple for essentially migrating their laptops to USB-C only, which is requiring dongles to adapt to the old style USB and other things. But in working with USB just for two days, I realize, oh, absolutely this is it. Like we are all going here and this is actually going to be great because at last we have one standard that is going to handle power and it is going to handle peripherals and it is going to handle monitors and printers. Everything. Phones. Everything is going to be USB-C.

And, from what I understand, the technology is inherently upgradable. So, they can make it better, and better, and better without changing the form factor. At last, it doesn’t matter which side, up or down you’re pushing it in. the only downside as far as I can tell to USB-C is that because it is the main channel to deliver power, the MacBook has lost one of its best features which was the Magsafe power connector.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which definitely saved my computer twice over the course of I would say ten years. Two times I would have absolutely destroyed my computer. So, possibly a slight moneymaking opportunity for Apple there. But other than that, it’s really, really good. And we just have to be slightly patient here.

And for those of you who are old, like me, you remember hopefully that when USB first came out and, again, Apple was the one that promoted it, everyone was like what the hell is this and are you insane? What happened to our regular ADB connectors? All this nonsense like that.

Well, no, they weren’t insane. And within a year the whole world just turned on a dime because USB was just way better. Well, this is a way better USB. I think it’s definitely a huge step forward. Big Fan. It basically eliminates fire-wire and thunderbolt and lightning, and USB, and USB – and I think all the different shapes of USB are going to go away. It’s great.

John: So, some pedants will write in, or have already started writing the email, saying like the MacBook’s implementation of USB-C actually is thunderbolt. So, technically it is still a thunderbolt, it’s just a different shape of thunderbolt.

Craig: Right.

John: They merged the standards.

Craig: That is correct. USB-C is I believe Thunderbolt 3.0 or something like that.

John: But they share enough stuff that they can do it.

Craig: Yeah. But I’m talking about the form factor here. So, you know, I think we’re going to be much, much happier. Obviously the next iPhone will just have USB-C on both ends. We’re in great shape here.

John: Cool. Chris Sparling, do you have a One Cool Thing for us?

Chris: I do. I do. Something I retweeted recently called Rise of the Boogeyman. So, this was – you guys probably a while back remember that thing Hell’s Club. I think, John, you mentioned eye lines, the importance of eye lines. It was a mashup.

John: Yes.

Chris: Okay, great. And so I think it’s the same guy that did that created something called this, called Rise of the Boogeyman. And it’s pretty much just something similar where you have all your iconic horror characters all converging on this one location, all meeting up and having this big Battle Royale, if you will. And it’s just, I don’t know, it’s just really cool. I’m glad people are out there doing these sort of things because I certainly enjoy them.

John: Great. I love myself a supercut, so I will check that out.

So, that’s our show for this week. Our show, as always, is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Pedro Aguilera. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place to send questions like the ones we answered today.

On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Chris, what are you on Twitter?

Chris: Just my name. @chrissparling.

John: Fantastic. We’re also on Facebook and this last week I posted a few things on Facebook including news about our t-shirts and other stuff, so if you are on Facebook we are the Scriptnotes Podcast. We are the only one that looks like this.

You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. The show notes for this episode and all episodes of Scriptnotes are at Just search for the episode number and you’ll see all the links to things we talked about. Also where you’ll find the transcripts. We get those up about four days after the episodes air.

You can find all the back episodes of the show at and also on the last few Scriptnotes USB drives we have left at

Chris Sparling, thank you so much for being on the show. Good luck with your movie.

Chris: Thank you guys. I appreciate it.

John: Everyone check it out right now on Netflix. It’s called Mercy. And, Chris, have a great week. Craig, I’ll talk to you next week.

Chris: Thank you.

Craig: All right guys. Bye.

John: See you guys.


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Scriptnotes, Ep 275: English is not Latin — Transcript

Thu, 12/01/2016 - 05:53

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 275 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. We are coming to you one day earlier than usual because Tuesday, I’ve heard, is the Election Day in the U.S. Craig, is that right?

Craig: Oh, is it? I don’t — they should probably say something about it on the news.

John: I heard a rumor of it. So I thought maybe we’d get this episode out the day before the election. Also in the theory that some people may be a little bit stressed out about the election–

Craig: Oh, yeah.

John: And may want to hear about anything other than the election, so we will not talk about the election whatsoever in this podcast.

Craig: No, I would honestly would love it if somebody could just knock me out until the day after, just put me under. I can’t take this anymore, I can’t.

John: I’m sorry. I can’t either.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So today on the podcast, we are going to be looking at how movies and TV shapes the English language and how writers should think about their role in all of this. And we’ll also examine the uncomfortable overlap between rom-com characters and stalkers.

But first a reminder, t-shirts, today, this Monday that you’re listening to the podcast, is the very final opportunity to buy one of the two Scriptnotes t-shirts. There’s the blue shirt, there’s the gold standard shirt, they are both lovely but this is your last chance to get them. And when I say it’s your last day, I mean, daytime because at 5:00 p.m. today Monday Los Angeles time, they are closed forever. You will not be able to buy a t-shirt after 5:00 p.m. today on Monday.

Craig: I better buy some shirts.

John: You better buy some shirts. I think, Craig, we will find you a special friend of the show magic cohost discount. I think you’ll get maybe like $0.50 off. So–

Craig: Whoa.

John: Whoa.

Craig: I was not expecting that kind of generosity today.

John: Well, I’m feeling very generous today.

Craig: Nice.

John: But everybody else, you need to like click the links that are on the show notes and buy your shirts because if you don’t buy your shirts you’re going to feel really sad when you’re wandering around the Austin Film Festival without a Scriptnotes t-shirt.

Craig: I mean, it does seem, honestly, like a lot of people have those shirts on. It’s the must have. It’s the must have wear of Austin.

John: It proves that you’re part of the inside crowd. So I want to thank everyone who bought a shirt or two shirts, you guys are awesome. I want to thank people for buying enough shirts that we are now on the wall of fame forever at Cotton Bureau as one of the most popular t-shirts ever made at Cotton Bureau.

Craig: Whoa.

John: You guys are the best.

Craig: How many — so they made like, what, four or five different kinds of shirts there?

John: [laughs] They did, yeah. They’ve made a whole range of different shirts and our two shirts are both on the wall.

Craig: You know, again, I’m reminded of this fact that often slips my mind that people listen to this. There are more than just you or me.

John: So last week, we crossed 100,000 listeners–

Craig: My God.

John: In a week, which is nuts.

Craig: That is insane.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so, god, the amount of money you’re making, it just keeps going up, right?

John: You know, I feel like I should do a blog host that like lays out exactly what money comes in because there’s this whole idea that this is a money-making venture.

Craig: Where do you think that idea comes from? I don’t know where.

John: I think it comes from you, Craig.

Craig: What?

John: What? So anyway, the t-shirts are a lovely thing. They will start to pay for some of Matthew’s time.

Craig: I like that.

John: That’s really what it will do.

Craig: It start to pay for some. I assume that we remain a money losing operation, you know, we — is that right, or–

John: I think we are. We approach breakeven. It really depends on how much of [unintelligible] salary you want to throw towards this podcast.

Craig: Oh, I see.

John: That’s what it comes down to.

Craig: Well, that really comes down to, you know, how much nonsense you have been doing throughout the day. I don’t know.

John: Yeah, there’s plenty of nonsense.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There’s plenty of scaring ducks away from the pool.

Craig: [laughs] That’s the best job ever. Have you given him a firearm?

John: I have not, but Stuart gave him like the best techniques in terms of like tennis balls can be effective, you could just–

Craig: Wow.

John: Go out there and wave your arms. Basically, you don’t want the ducks to root in your pool because they will stay in your pool and that is not good for the pool or for the ducks.

Craig: Yeah, I don’t even–

John: The podcast becomes extra relatable when we talk about our swimming pools.

Craig: Listen, man, I haven’t mentioned a thing about that. I live in a very modest home.

John: You really do live in a very modest compound.

Craig: [laughs] Rich-guy laugh right there.

John: On last week’s episode we were talking about one of our listeners who we believe to be Martin Sheen, and we wanted him to do a voice over for us on a future Three Page Challenge. Literally moments after we recorded the episode, I found out that it wasn’t Martin Sheen, it was Michael Sheen, another incredibly talented actor but not Martin Sheen. This is Michael Sheen who is the star of Frost/Nixon, Masters of Sex, the Twilight series. He’s great on 30 Rock. He’s Welsh. We love him. He’s apparently a listener. So we actually have audio for this.

So Michael Sheen was on a podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno and this is how he came to find about that show.

Michael Sheen: I think it was one of your guests, one of your previous guests. I think it was Rachel Bloom.

Male Voice: Right.

Michael Sheen: Who I heard on another podcast called Sciptnotes, which is about screenwriting.

Male Voice: Yes.

Michael Sheen: And they do a thing at the end which is One Cool Thing and her One Cool Thing when she was a guest on it was this. That sounds interesting.

Male Voice: That sounds ridiculous.

Michael Sheen: I’m going to have a listen to that.

Craig: He was in the Underworld. He was in — he was the head of lycans, he was the head werewolf.

John: I have not seen Underworld, but come on.

Craig: Oh, you haven’t. Those movies are good.

John: So the one movie Craig has seen that I have not seen.

Craig: Well, there’s a bunch of them.

John: Well, not the one movie.

Craig: There’s–

John: There’s a bunch of movies but like the–

Craig: There’s the–

John: Craig, your shtick is that you’ve not seen any movies.

Craig: Well, here’s the deal. If you put good-looking people in leather and have vampires fighting werewolves, Bill Nighy as an ancient vampire. Ooh.

John: Oh, that’s pretty great.

Craig: Yeah. Plus they have guns. Here’s the genius of Underworld. They were like we like vampires and we live werewolves and we like the idea of them fighting but we also like the Matrix. Let’s do all of that.

John: Let’s do all of that.

Craig: Yeah, just do–

John: Let’s do all the scenes.

Craig: Do all of it at once.

John: Kate Beckinsale. Done.

Craig: Yes. Kate Beckinsale–

John: Yes.

Craig: Moving around in like super tight leather, it’s great. The whole thing top to bottom, incredibly entertaining movie series, super geeky. If you — I mean, you’re a D&D guy, you would actually probably enjoy the – oh, and then there’s some Interview of the Vampire kind of stuff thrown in there.

John: Sure.

Craig: It’s like 12 different movies that they just blended together in a smoothie. And Michael Sheen — so first of all — sorry, Michael Sheen. That’s really embarrassing although it can’t be the first time, right? I mean, he’s had this before.

John: I mean, better than Charlie Sheen. If we had confused him with Charlie Sheen.

Craig: That would have been a little weird. And also it’s not fair because Michael Sheen’s real last name, I’m assuming, is Sheen and Martin Sheen’s real last name is Estévez. So Martin Sheen, that’s not even he’s real name, right. So we should have known.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We should have known it was Michael Sheen. Michael Sheen is fantastic. He’s one of those actors that’s never bad. You know that kind of actor that’s never bad. Because even like — look, Robert De Niro is an amazing actor. He’s been terrible at times.

John: Yeah, he has been.

Craig: Miscast, wrong role, didn’t seem to care, whatever it was, just he was bad, you know. Michael Sheen, never bad.

John: Do you think Michael Sheen is blushing right now as he hears you extoling his many virtues?

Craig: Well, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t – is he a blusher. I guess, you know, Welsh people probably — they’re — you know, they’re fair skinned.

John: Yeah. So a little blushing could happen.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But that’s fine. I mean, I think it only shows how great of an actor he is that he lets that emotion come through.

Craig: Especially when he’s the werewolf guy.

John: Yeah, for sure. Oh, so he’s a werewolf not a vampire. That’s crucial distinction.

Craig: Oh, yeah. I don’t even know how you could have thought he’d be the vampire. He’s clearly–

John: No, but I think he’s a vampire though in the Twilight series.

Craig: Oh, yeah, he is. Maybe that’s why you thought that, yeah.

John: Maybe–

Craig: Okay. Now I can understand why you would think he’d be a vampire because he played a vampire in an incredibly popular film series. He was–

John: That’s how talented of an actor he is. He could be both a vampire and a werewolf.

Craig: He’s so much better as a werewolf, I’m telling you. So much better.

John: Well, regardless of, we’re lucky to have him as a listener and we’re lucky to have our 99,000 listeners as well. So thank you everyone who listened and bought a t-shirt.

And now on with today’s show.

Craig: All right.

John: So back at Episode 260, we implored listeners to stop using the phrase begs the question. You remember that, Craig?

Craig: I do, I do. We begged them.

John: So we begged them to stop using begs the question because beg the question and begging the question really means to use circular logic, it doesn’t mean to raise the question or to invite the question. And my theory, which I had no evidence to support actually, was that the misuse of begs the question probably came from film and TV writers who were trying to use legal terms in courtroom dramas and didn’t really know what it meant and then they started using the same terms in places that really had nothing to do with legal situations.

So I — my theory, which I really can’t prove and I’m not going to do like the sophisticated data analysis to figure out like when it happened, but my theory is that we are kind of partly to blame for how begs the question has become misused and how it doesn’t mean what it kind of originally was supposed to mean.

Craig: Well, there’s no doubt that we, we meaning Hollywood, right, what is that? Is that a synecdoche when I make we into Hollywood, but I don’t know what it is? But we–

John: Charlie Kaufman would know what that meant.

Craig: He would know. Hollywood essentially powers the great bulk of American culture, let’s call it nonmusical American culture, and then by extension an enormous amount of global culture. And the way that we present language absolutely matters and it does impact things. Look at, for instance, one of your favorite movies and I love it, too, Clueless.

John: Oh, yes.

Craig: So Clueless, like Valley Girl before it, it popularized certain little local expressions that suddenly then become everywhere. “As if” became–

John: Yes.

Craig: A thing. What I just said, “Start a thing,” that’s what Mean Girls made a thing a thing. Stop trying to make the blank a thing, right? So–

John: Absolutely.

Craig: It is actually kind of remarkable how much influence movies do have on popular language even if movies aren’t inventing that language, in fact, they rarely invent any language but they do gather up bits and pieces of things especially when they’re making movies about young people, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and on and on and on, and then they megaphone it and amplify it. And sometimes in their megaphoning and amplifying they get it wrong.

John: Yeah, sometimes they do and sometimes they lock in some weird mistakes and changes that really are not part of the normal way that the language is used. So writers have always been doing this. So going back to Shakespeare, Shakespeare was using the language he heard around him but he was also inventing new language and a lot of things he was inventing and putting on stage for the very first time became parts of our language. Similarly, the language as spoken, the language as written for a long period of English history have been very different things but eventually as the written language started to more resemble the spoken language, the spoken language kind of drifted towards what the written language was doing and vice versa.

And so I think when we look at sort of the changes that movies and television make on our language, you have to be in mind like, yes, people may have been speaking that way but because it’s now on a fixed form and that dialogue is frozen in that movie, we start to think like, “Oh, that’s how people speak,” which in the case of Valley Girl or Clueless, that wasn’t necessarily how a large population was speaking, but now everyone was hearing it and everybody was imitating it, consciously or subconsciously.

Craig: Yeah, and this is, of course, the problem that we have when we watch old movies, I mean, movies from the ‘30s or ‘40s or ‘50s and we think, “Oh, that’s how people all spoke back then.” No, no more than the world looked black and white back then. It was a crafted presentation. Movies have always been special amplified presentations of reality. So it’s a mistake to look back at old movies and think, “That’s how people must have spoken.” Not at all.

John: So here’s a great example, so let’s listen to a clip from The Philadelphia Story. This is in 1940 and just listen to the language that they’re using.

Cary Grant: I suppose you’ll still be attractive to any man of spirit though. There’s something engaging about it, this goddess business, something more challenging to the male than the more obvious charms.

Katharine Hepburn: Really?

Cary Grant: Really. We’re very vain, you know. This citadel can and shall be taken and I’m the boy to do it.

Katharine Hepburn: You seem quite contemptuous of me all of a sudden.

Cary Grant: Not really. Not of you. Never of you.

John: So this Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn talking in The Philadelphia Story and where are they from, Craig?

Craig: Well, they’re from a magical land that’s right between the United States and England. It’s called Middle Atlantic Land.

John: Exactly. It’s a really peculiar accent that has features of British English and some Briticisms but it also has other weird special characteristics. And so, we’ll put a link in the show notes to an article by Dan Nosowitz for Atlas Obscura which is talking about how people in movies before 1950 spoke so strangely. His article is called How a Fake British Accent Took Hollywood by Storm. And that’s kind of what we’re hearing. It’s like they’re not trying to be British but they’re trying to not sound American and they’re trying to sound kind of fancy. There’s just like there’s no other kind of good word for it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s sort of rich, it’s fancy. It’s a highly cultured way of speaking, but it’s really off.

Craig: It is really off. I mean, you have words like, for instance, I think he says challenging in there and it’s challenging, challenging. And I don’t even think the British would say challenging and the Americans certainly wouldn’t say challenging. And then really, really, really. It is a reflection, I think, of Hollywood’s desire to aim high and present a classy product. The people involved were beautiful, classy people that we would aspire to. They weren’t non-Americans because we’re Americans and we need to be American, see, but better. And this was at a time when I think there was a sense that class mobility was more of a thing, that you would aspire to speak that way and wouldn’t you be putting on the Ritz if you did.

John: Yeah. So imagine, this is the movies after all, this is the pinnacle of sort of like everyone watching the same bit of culture together. Everyone is watching people speak this accent and, yes, this accent may have existed in pockets before and people may have been trying to speak in a fancy way. But like this was kind of an invention. This was an invention and in 1942, like two years after this movie, there’s actually a very famous book by Edith Skinner who has a book called Speak with Distinction where she defines “good speech” and it has basically these characteristics that we hear these actors speaking, which is non-rhoticity, which basically means dropping your Rs. And so words like here and Charles, you don’t hear the R in there. There’s no scrape to that R. There’re weird things that she wants you to do with the tempo of words and how you’re hitting your accents on things. It’s a very peculiar way of speaking that lasted for quite a long time in movies even though it didn’t like necessarily break out into the larger world. I think people still aspired to that accent.

Craig: There was a time before, really before sound came in, where acting was incredibly performative. Nobody was meant to be acting naturalistically. If you look at a movie like, say, Nosferatu. Everyone is what we would call emoting, overacting. It was a kind of act that you might do on stage in a big, big theater house where people all the way in the back needed to see that you were scared. And you had to act things really big because you couldn’t say words, right?

And then when sound came in, Hollywood understood, “Wait a second. There is a more naturalistic way to be. We should start acting the way people actually act.” And so you have this wave coming in and, you know, very famously, James Dean is one of the — and Marlon Brando, this kind of naturalistic acting. And you could see how it wasn’t like a — there was no revolution. It was just a gradual thing that occurred. And just as that happened, when you watched the motion from — in the way people talk, just dialogue and sounds from ‘30s, ‘40s, ‘50s, even ‘60s. And then by the time you get to the late ‘60s, it’s already disappearing. And you have, you know, you’re looking at movies that are heralding the coming ‘70s era, you know, a movie like Easy Rider. There is no interest in putting on airs. If anything it is how can we be the most real and normal that we can be.

John: Yeah. And normal is often a code word for authentic. It’s basically, it’s how do you make it feel like these people are actually really in this space and they are the characters that they’re portraying. Which in The Philadelphia Story, that wasn’t — I mean, that wasn’t the urgency. It wasn’t about like getting the perfect voice for like where that person was supposed to come from. Everyone sort of spoke like they were in this magical kind of movie world. And I think a lot of people kind of wanted to be in that magical movie world. I think this woman, Edith Skinner, she was being a prescriptivist. She was talking about good speech was trying to sound like you’re in this kind of movie. So I want to talk about prescriptivism as it relates to sort of language overall and English overall because I think the greater trend, and I think something we all notice as writers is there’s all these rules which are applied to us that we learned from grade school on about how English is supposed to work.

And many of those rules are really arbitrary. They really are just things that have come down over the years from people who want English to be something that it’s not at all. And so, this isn’t quite our gold standard episode where we talk about like the history of gold as an economic tool. But I want to take a little bit of time here to talk about like why English is the way it is and sort of clear up some misconceptions about how English came to be because I don’t think we’ve never done that in our 275 episodes.

Craig: Well, I just thought it came to be when Americans invented it.

John: Well, we did invent it. We kind of perfected it. I mean, other people had tried but we just — we nailed it.

Craig: Nailed it.

John: We just got it done. Nailed it.

So let’s go through the very short history of English. Because I remember when I was in high school, I watch like this — I think it was Bill Moyers’ PBS series which was like the 10-hour version of the story of English. But here is the sort of a few minute version story of English so you can be a little bit smarter than some of your other friends at a cocktail party.

So a root language that most of the languages that we are familiar with in Europe is called Indo-European, and no one actually speaks Indo-European right now. But they could trace it back and they can figure out that it’s the origin of English, Spanish, Hindi, Portugese, Bengali, Russian, Persian, Punjabi, so a huge chunk of our currently spoken languages trace their way back to this Indo-European language. The branch that we ended up on was Proto-Germanic. And so that’s Dutch, German, Swedish and the original English that was spoken in the Isle of Britain by the Anglos and Saxons was very much like sort of how German works now. It had a lot of those — Craig, did you ever learn German? Did you ever take German?

Craig: No. I grew up fearing Germans. I can’t imagine why.

John: That’s fair enough. But, you know, German does a lot of things. When you first start learning German, you take a German class, they’re like, wow, you have to — it feels like you have to conjugate everything. It’s because there’s declensions on nouns and nouns come in different cases and they do a lot of special things. English used to do that or at least Old English used to do that, the stuff that was spoken by the Anglos and the Saxons in the Isle of Britain. So if you look at the original poem of Beowulf, it’s Old English but it’s basically unintelligible to us now because it does all that old difficult stuff. It’s written in a language called West Saxon. And so the nouns, the adjectives, the pronouns, verbs, everything has these special endings and forms. And so if you’ve taken other languages, you know, that in Spanish or in French, you have to modify the ends of words to match up with things.

Craig: Yeah. I hate that.

John: Yeah. Isn’t so rough like it’s — all this extra work. And basically, we used to do all that in English and then we just sort of stopped. The reason we stopped is probably, mostly because of the Vikings.

Craig: Thank you, Vikings.

John: Thank you, Vikings. So Vikings spoke a language that was sort of Old Norse, which was very much — it was one of the old Germanic languages but they had different endings on their nouns. And so when they came to Britain, as adults, they were trying to speak this language that was being spoken here and they could sort of do it but they couldn’t do it very well.

Craig: They were just too dumb. They were literally too stupid to learn the language. They’re like, “We’re not learning your language. We’re changing it. It’s too hard.”

John: So as someone who is currently living in Paris, I have so much sympathy for the Vikings because I spoke some French before I got here. But a lot of the parents at my daughter’s school showed up here like not knowing a word of it. And it’s really tough as an adult to sort of get up to mastering things. So you end up sort of just like getting by and I think that’s probably what the Vikings were doing is they would show up as adults and like, “Argh. Okay, we’re getting by.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And what they basically did is they kind of just — they were like ordering at a restaurant where they didn’t quite speak what was there and everyone could understand them but they couldn’t quite make it all work.

Craig: I’m not sure that’s what the Vikings were doing but, okay.

John: Yeah. There was also raping and pillaging, too. There’s probably a bit of that.

Craig: Touch of it.

John: Touch of that. They showed up, their nouns had like the same root but they had different endings, so they just sort of stopped using the endings of the nouns. They brought a lot of their words relating to ships and things like that and everyone just sort of got by. Meanwhile, also in the Island of Britain, there were the Celtic peoples who were already there and they had some impact. Probably the biggest impact they had was, you know how in English, we do this really strange thing with the verb, “do.”

Craig: Yes.

John: Really kind of a verb, how we use it. Nobody does that. But the Celts sort of did something like this, which is that we use did and do in order to form questions. Like, “Did you go to the park today?”

Craig: Right.

John: But we also use it in negatives in ways that’s really strange. So this is a sentence that should make sense in English, “I no go to the park today.”

Craig: Right.

John: We can’t say that or, “I not go to the park today.” You can’t say that. You have to put the did in there. It’s a useless did but you have to put the did in there, “I did not go to the park today.” And that’s a really weird thing in English and the linguist, John McWhorter, thinks that probably came from the Celtic people who are already there in the England.

Craig: Yeah. They might have been drunk when they were coming up with that.

John: Yeah. But you know what? It’s part of our language now. It stuck around. So that’s how we do it.

Craig: Hey, it’s — you know what? I love it personally because I speak it. I’m really — I’m so good at English. I have all the best words.

John: I have all the best words. Well, our best words came from the French. So the Norman invasion of the Island of Britain happened in the 11th century and they brought in all of their words. In a lot of cases, we had the same words already kind of from the same roots but then we ended up using the French words as well. And so we sort of — we didn’t quite double our vocabulary but we got a lot of like duplicate words. And so that’s why in English, we have both the word royal and the word regal which are from the same root but we sort of got both of them, and, hey, bonus words.

So the French was the last sort of big impact of like new words. Then in the 15th century, we start with modern English. We start with printing presses. We start with the King James Bible. There’s the great vowel shift which I barely understand but essentially all of our vowels shifted sort of one notch on the sort of the loop of vowels. And it’s part of the reason why all of our spelling is so strange because we used to pronounce things very differently and we used to pronounce things the way that they were kind of written down and everything just shifted because our vowels shifted and the letters that we pronounce shifted as well.

Craig: Yeah. You end up with these bizarre cases like — was it Ogden Nash who famously said you could spell the word fish, G-H-O-T-I.

John: Yeah. That’s so great. So let’s see if I can remember, it’s the GH from enough, right?

Craig: Right.

John: The O from —

Craig: That’s the tricky one.

John: I don’t remember what O sounds like in–

Craig: Women.

John: Oh, you’re absolutely right.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And then the TI is the TI in like question and a lot of those words.

Craig: Exactly. So, that obviously is bananas. And somebody — I was talking to somebody who — I can’t remember who it was or where he was from but English was not his first language. And I said, you know, is it hard to learn English? Because everyone across the world, you see people learning English. It is becoming the most global language. And he said, in his experience, it was actually quite easy because there were so many quirky things. So you understood like, “Oh, that word just sounds like this.” It’s not like I have to —

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, continually apply certain things. Like it’s easy for me to learn the word women because it’s just distinct. It’s women. That’s it. Boom. Done.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And no feminine or masculine or things like that.

John: Well, yeah. There’s a lot of simplifications that happened. So we lost our genders on all our nouns, great, helpful.

Craig: Great.

John: We also basically stopped conjugating at all. So we conjugate the first person plural. And so I speak, you speak, he/she/it speaks.

Craig: Right.

John: And then we speak. You all speak. They speak. So it’s only that third person is singular that we–

Craig: How great is that?

John: Yeah. It’s so simple.

Craig: That literally — that would turn, like I took French in high school. That would have been — that’s like three-quarters of it is gone because you’re not conjugating.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then, oh my god, it’s not enough that you have conjugate everything. And then there are irregular conjugations. And then there are the imperative conjugations. If I want to command somebody to speak, I say, “Speak.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s it. It’s as simple as that. No wonder people are learning this language. It’s not hard.

John: So one of my husband’s friends is an English teacher here in France. And so, it’s so fascinating to hear his explanation of like how things work in English because I don’t think he’s actually right a lot of times because he will say like, “Oh, you don’t have this form but you just do this.” And I was like, “I don’t think that’s actually accurate but I think it actually makes sense most of the time. So, fine, it’s fine for you to say that.” Like we basically don’t —

Craig: [laughs] He is a bad teacher.

John: We really don’t have the subjunctive in English.

Craig: Yes, we do. We have the subjunctive.

John: We have subjunctive but we use it so rarely. So it’s not a crucial thing for you to understand.

Craig: I use it frequently.

John: So give me an example of when you love to use the subjunctive in English.

Craig: Well, the most common use is following an if. If I were to go to here, if I were to do this, if I were to do that. I wish — if and I wish are probably the two most common. I wish that I were a little bit taller. I wish I were a baller. I wish I — that would be a bad version of that song. I agree. But accurate subjunctive. I’m a fan.

John: I’m a fan of like the hortatory subjunctive. Like, may we all be so lucky.

Craig: Ooh, I like that.

John: So that’s, we be.

Craig: Yes. May we all be, yes, there but for the grace of God go —

John: Exactly.

Craig: No, that one doesn’t quite work.

John: Yeah. But we don’t have to think about it nearly as much as other languages do, which is kind of great. Other sort of weird advantages to English that have come up is like we’re very phonetically rich so it’s very easy for us to bring in words from other languages and sort of make them fit and work. Other languages tend to have fewer phonemes and so it’s harder for them to sort of get a word — to be able to pronounce a word that’s not a native word for them, but they make it work. Every place can sort of incorporate words. But English seems to be especially greedy at taking in new words.

Craig: Yeah. I can’t think of too many — in French, I think we can cover everything. I mean, there’s the — there’s, you know, the kind of nasal thing or the back of the throat R.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But we’re capable. Those are really just, you know, little sprinkles on top of sounds we already have. In Italian, there is a sound that we do not have.

John: All right. What is it?

Craig: It’s this particular kind of plural case or sometimes you’ll see in some words they’ll also have a GLI. So GLI, which sounds like glee. In Italian, it’s actually LYE. It’s hard. I can’t quite…LYE. It’s LY-combined together-E. LYE.

John: Yeah. Yeah.

Craig: That’s a weird sound.

John: Yeah. And so it’s — we’re not perfect. We don’t sort of have everything. But we have just like a huge range of things. And so even as I listen to some adults here mispronouncing something in French, I want to tell them like, “No. No. We really do have that sound, you’re just try apply the wrong vowel for that.”

Craig: Right.

John: It’s like, you know, just like your ghoti-fish example, like we really do have that sound to make that. You’re just thinking of the wrong letter for it. And if you could think of the right letter for it, you’d make it to be able to work.

But English has some significant downsides. And I think it’s worth pointing what’s not so great about English. Because we got rid of all of our endings on words, word order ends up mattering a lot more in English than in many other languages. So you have to put things in a certain order for them to make sense. In some languages like Latin, for example, you can put stuff in kind of whatever order it pleases you because it’s very clear what that noun is doing in the sentence. Here, we have to use helper words and a lot of word order for sentences to make sense.

Craig: I like it that way.

John: You like it that way?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Because we’re used to it. It’s natural to us and it’s a hard thing for some people to learn from other languages.

Craig: Tough.

John: We have strange ambiguities and we’re sort of missing some things that other languages have. So, an example which I already used when I was trying to lay out the conjugations is we use the same word for you, singular, and you, plural. And it doesn’t trip us up that often, but there are weird cases where you’re talking about more than one person and if we had a different form of you for that would be helpful. We used to have thou, which was that second person singular and it just — it disappeared. You took its place. But it was useful.

Craig: Well, you can see how colloquially people fill it in themselves. So where I grew up in New York, there was “you’s.” And obviously, in the South, in huge swaths of the South and even to the mid-South, it’s “ya’ll” which is incredibly common, and then, there’s “you all” which I hear all the time. I hear that out here in California. So, people will add little zippitys on there to kind of get themselves into a second person plural as opposed to second person singular.

But there’s also cases in, for instance, in French, you know, they have the formal and informal which we do not have. So, “vous” could be second person singular if you’re talking to somebody fancy.

John: Yeah. And the explanation behind the “vous” being formal in that situation is it’s also like of a royal we. It’s the same kind of idea where like you’re giving somebody extra respect as if they’re kind of two people by using the “vous” form with them.

Craig: It’s ridiculous.

John: We also lost our version of a sort of — or we sort of use you for. We don’t have the thing to say like a generic person like sort of not anyone specifically, but a general person.

Craig: We have one. Yeah.

John: Yeah. We have one. Yeah.

Craig: Which doesn’t quite work, but then, there’s — but we often do use “you” to mean you, a person who’s not here who but like one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. You can’t get there from here. Like, who’s that “you?” It’s not literally you.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Because of how our language evolved, we ended up with a ton of words that are misspells and hard to figure out how to pronounce. And so, one of the great advantages of English, I think, is that we have a huge dictionary and a huge range of words you can choose from. But if you’re trying to learn the language, man, that’s a lot of words.

And so, we have “tree” and we have “arbor” and there’s no apparent connection between the two of them, but they are connected and there’s just a lot more to sort of master if you’re going to try to master English as a language.

Craig: Yeah. I love vocabulary. I do.

John: You’re a crossword player. So, like, for you, it’s great.

Craig: We prefer puzzler or solver, sir.

John: I’m so sorry.

Craig: Solver, yeah.

John: You’re a solver.

Craig: I don’t play crosswords.

John: I’m a giver-upper on crosswords.

Craig: I’m going to get you started. I am. I feel like you would be great.

John: I literally tried the New York Times this afternoon. I tried the Thursday Puzzle. Is the Thursday Puzzle hard? Because it was hard for me.

Craig: Yeah. Well, this Thursday had rebus. So, that can be tricky. I don’t know if you – a rebus is when one square holds more than one letter.

John: Yeah. And today’s, one was AG, and it just completely stumped me.

Craig: Right. Yeah. Thursday — start with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Just work on those.

John: All right.

Craig: Get your sea legs, feel good about yourself, and then just know that Thursday will always have a gimmick.

John: Ooh.

Craig: So, be looking for — always, Thursday, there’s always a gimmick.

John: Okay.

Craig: Friday and Saturday are tough ones. They are just difficult, usually gimmick-less, but difficult. And then, Sunday is like a Thursday. It’s like a big Thursday.

John: Okay.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Well, now, I know.

Craig: But, yeah, go Monday and Wednesday. You should be able to do Monday easy-breezy.

John: Cool. I will try a Monday puzzle when Monday comes.

Craig: Excellent.

John: Because I will be looking to do anything other than focus on Tuesday.

Craig: I know, seriously. You may not be able to come home.

John: Ugh. We won’t talk about that.

Craig: Right.

John: All right. So, let’s get back to our discussion of English. And so, just like we had the woman who was talking about the accent that everyone should speak with, we have a lot of people who are talking about like how everyone should write and the words that people should use. And these prescriptivists for the English language, a lot of them are coming from Latin because they were church people. And, church people, I don’t know if you’re aware of this, Craig, but church people like rules and they want an orderly universe. So, it comes from–

Craig: Like commandants even.

John: Yeah, even that. Like, divinely inspired texts.

Craig: Right.

John: And they’re reading the bible or they come from a background where the bible is in Latin and Latin is a very orderly language. It has a lot of special rules. And so, they’re looking at how cool Latin is. When you look at English, it’s like, well, English should be more like Latin or at least we should try to make English a little bit more like Latin.

And so, a lot of the rules that we’ve been taught over the years come from these prescriptivists who are looking at English saying like, “But in Latin, you do it like this. So, therefore, the rule should be that you do it like this.” That comes up a lot in cases with our pronouns because even though we got rid of most of our cases for nouns, we still have them for “he” and “him” or “she” and “her” for “I” and “me.”

A lot of the rules you see people trying to apply to English come from Latin where they’re trying to say like, “Oh, well, this is how you do it in Latin. So, you should do it this way in English.” And when we mess things up in English or when we are chastised for things in English, it’s often because people are looking at how we should be doing things because they were done a certain way in Latin.

Craig: Yeah. There is a — I mean, I will freely admit that I’m a grammarian. And the joy of grammar for me is not one of any kind of metaphysical superiority. There is no significance in and of itself to grammar. The joy is in — it’s in the fastidiousness itself. It is a joy of joyfulness. I am begging the question here. I like the specificity. I do think that there are a lot of cases where being grammatically correct actually does better express intention and meaning, but not always.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Most of the time, I just like grammar because I like being in control of the algorithms of speech and of writing.

John: Absolutely. And so, the kind of grammar you’re describing is how people use language and how to use language effectively to communicate the meaning that you’re trying to communicate which is great and like there’s reasons why, I think, it’s important to understand these rules, as they’re set down as rules, to make sure that what you’re trying to communicate actually is getting through on the other end and to be able to anticipate.

If you break any of these rules or tenets, the person on the other end may perceive you in a way that you don’t want to be perceived or perceive your ability to use the language negatively because of a choice you’ve made not to follow a certain set of rules. And so an example would be, “Craig and I host a podcast.” Great. “Me and Craig host a podcast.” Well, that actually is not wrong, per se. There’s lots of good defense for using “me” as a subject in that case. But most people would say no. And if you’re going to do that, you’re going to have to be aware that people are going to assume that you’ve made a mistake there.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a signifier. I mean, what we often look at with grammar is the signifier of education.

John: Yes.

Craig: And the thing about “Me and Craig host the podcast”, I mean, my sister texted me the other day. She’s a brilliant attorney and she wrote, “Me and this other guy did a blank, blank, blank.” And I understand, when you’re casual and when you’re texting, when you’re chit-chatting, it’s totally fine. But, if you were to write something and publish something, it is essentially saying, “Me hosts a podcast” and now, you sound like Tarzan or Cookie Monster and it’s ridiculous.

So, it really does come down to signification for most, but for me, also, there is a certain beauty to the sound of “Craig and I host a podcast” because it flows and it flows into my understanding of how I host a podcast should sound. There’s an assonance to it as opposed to dissonance. I feel dissonant. Similarly, I’m the person that gets irked when people make the mistake when it’s the — when it’s an object and they’ll say, “She went to the store with John and me,” right? That’s correct.

“She went to the store with John and I.” I hear that all the time. Now, the signification is you’re trying to sound smart, but you actually screwed it up and now you sound dumb. So, it’s about — it’s a weird thing. It’s like music to me and just the notes sound wrong if you’re using “me” when you should be saying “I.”

John: Absolutely. So, I would point listeners to a great podcast hosted by John McWhorter who’s a good linguist who talks about specifically the “Billy and me” sort of problem. And it’s a weird thing. He actually makes a very compelling case that “I” is actually the special case and there’s a weird thing with “I” that you basically — “I” has to go right before the verb. And if there’s really anything between “I,” it breaks.

And so, basically in English, it’s evolved to be the case where the “I” has to be right next to the verb, otherwise, you have to use “me” or something else there. Because, think about a sentence, like, “Craig and I, not knowing what we wanted to do decided to blah, blah, blah…” The most space you put between “I” and the verb, the more the whole sentence breaks down. Another example he sort of gives is that “Who’s there?” You don’t say, “I.”

Craig: Right.

John: I is never the answer to the question. “I” is basically only the pronoun that goes right before the verb when you’re talking about yourself.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And it’s a strange case.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the — and by the way, speaking of crosswords, a common crossword answer is “Is it I?” So, there’s a famous bible quote, “Is it I, my lord?” and that is correct. So, “Who’s there?” “It is I.” That is grammatically correct. Almost no one says that because he’s absolutely right. I is demanding the verb following the — you can do in a positive. That’s when you have a little phrase set apart by commas that work like parenthesis. So, you can say “I, angrily, went to the store” or–

John: Yeah.

Craig: “I, in need of a book, went to the bookstore”. The longer that a positive comes, the more broken down the sentence is, and frankly, almost no one will put in a positive in there because it is ugly-sounding. Again, it’s musical.

John: It is absolutely musical. So, that’s where I want to get to the whole point of this discussion of English is that the writing that we are doing for screenwriting is very musical writing. And, so, the same reasons why you would not want to have a character say, “It is I,” are the reasons why you need to think about the grammar choices you’re making when you’re writing screenplays.

So, let’s talk about it. So, first, let’s talk about screenplays as a whole form. They are written in the present tense. I’ve read screenplays that are written in the past tense, more like a book. It feels weird that the standard has become that we write screenplays in the present tense and that every moment is happening sort of right in front of you. They’re a reflection of the experience of watching the movie. The same way the movie is flowing right in front of your eyes, the screenplay is flowing right in front of your eyes in the present tense. Craig, have you read any scripts that are not present tense?

Craig: No. I’ve never seen that and I can’t imagine how that would feel because it seemingly clashes with the dialogue. Now, there are books where, you know, most novels are written past tense, third-person past tense. And then, when people are speaking, but then, that’s why when people speak in books where the prose is third-person past tense, the novelist is constantly adding to the dialogue “He said,” “She said,” “He asked,” right? To put the dialogue in the context of the past. Sometimes, there’ll be cases where an author will make dialogue very present feeling and they will often — like, Stephen King is famous for this. He will set some dialogue apart in italics as a kind of stream of consciousness or thought which does feel very present. And, so, it’s set apart from the book by its italicization.

But, with what we’re doing, everyone is speaking in the present and there is no “He said/she said,” because there’s no narrator. So, I can’t imagine how that would feel to say, “John walked outside. He took a look around. John, ‘This is wonderful right now, but so wrong.’”

John: Yeah. So, the thing I want to point out though is like we say it’s the present tense, but it’s also not only the present tense. So, in previous podcasts, we’ve talked about the present-progressive which is that like “He is sitting,” “He is doing something.” It’s that interruptible form of the present that English has that a lot of the other languages don’t have, by the way, which is useful and delightful.

And we’ve been strongly encouraging people to use it when appropriate because it’s not passive writing. It’s actually writing that reflects ongoing states in ways that movies are about ongoing states. And so, it’s a very useful form of the present tense to be using.

Craig: Completely, completely. We should be able to use all tools in the present tense toolbox.

John: Every once in a while in scripts, you will also see the future tense used and they’ll often be in callouts to the reader saying like, “We will come back to this later on,” like they tend to be parentheticals, you know, not parentheticals over dialogue, but parentheticals to the reader in scene description that’s reflecting the sense that like you are in the present tense right now where I am, but trust me. There is a future coming and this will become important.

So, you will occasionally see breaks out to the future, even breaks out to the past where we say like, “We met this character on page such and such,” but those are not the normal flow of screenwriting. They’re very special cases.

Craig: Right. Yeah. Those tend to indicate some kind of meta awareness where we are now breaking the reality of the movie. You could say in the description something like, “Vanessa is unhappy with her job. One day, she will be a billionaire, but not now, and not for a while.”

So, you know what I mean? And that’s a direct communication to the reader that is floating above the reality of the movie. It’s understood that people in an audience will not have that experience. It’s there so that that reader can get closer to the movie experience because, of course, we are trying to make something audio-visual with text only.

John: Absolutely. I think that also ties into why we say that screenplays are written in the third-person, but really they’re often written in a sort of a second-person plural. That’s why you’ll see “we’s” in screenplays and I some people hate “we’s” in screenplays. Craig and I are fans of “we’s” in screenplays because it is a collective experience. We’re going through this process together. So, it feels very strange to see an “I” or a “me.”

Craig: Yeah. That would be weird.

John: But I think I’ve seen it in a Shane Black script, but in general, you will sometimes see a second-person plural “we” to describe this experience of what’s happening and what we’re doing together.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, we hear, we see.

Craig: Again, if you were to say “I” or “me,” you are making a winking comment to the reader. You are not doing something that could possibly be shown on screen because you, the writer, are not there. You don’t exist for the audience nor should you unless there is, again, some kind of special case — so, yeah, no question.

John: Right. So, that’s all the stuff that’s not the dialogue, but, really, I think the crucial thing I want to get to here and the part that actually has an influence on culture is the dialogue because that is the writing that the audience is taking with them.

And so, let’s talk about sort of the things you’re doing in the writing of dialogue that are going to impact how people are using their language 30 years from now. So, well, a lot of the mistakes you see listed on websites are spelling mistakes. Guess what? People can’t hear your spelling mistakes. That’s the lovely thing about being a screenwriter. It doesn’t mean spelling is not important. It’s incredibly important. But like a spelling-mistake in dialogue is just a spelling-mistake in dialogue. It’s not a thing that the viewer is going to encounter.

Craig: No, it’s not. But it can snag the reader.

John: Yes.

Craig: Typically does snag the reader. So as the writer — I think it’s — you want to spell things correctly not for the audience but for the readers so that they understand that you are — well here is the illusion that you’re creating for the reader. As opposed to all the — I mean, the mega illusion of a movie for an audience, the mini illusion for a reader is that you the writer are in complete control of the story. Every word, every moment has been carefully designed with intention and purpose and that they’re in good hands. And when something is misspelled, particularly when something is misspelled in a way to indicate that the writer just didn’t know the real word, they stop and think, “Oh, this person is not that smart or didn’t take the time to proofread, or literally doesn’t know what a word means.” And that can get shaky for you. It hurts the read.

John: It does hurt the read. So, I sort of deliberately set you up for the like spelling doesn’t matter. Of course it matters. And if you’ve listened to our Three Page Challenges, we will single out on spelling mistakes because that is the first experience the reader is going to have with you and your script.

But let’s take a look at what else is communicated in dialogue. Well, can the listener understand what the character is saying? You’re trying to balance accuracy to, like, how the character would speak, and clarity so the listener would actually understand what’s happening there. And so, you know, if you’re doing an historical drama there’s going to be a balancing act between how that character really would have spoken in that time and what a viewer in 2016 will actually be able to understand that character saying.

Craig: Correct. We had a Three Page Challenge where somebody was faithfully reproducing Jim’s dialogue from Huckleberry Finn and the problem was it was unintelligible essentially. And what may have been intelligible to readers in the 1800s no longer so the case here for a reader of the screenplay. I mean, you know, English class you have a teacher working you through it but we don’t want to make a screenplay work. We want it to be something that is absorbed freely, without effort by the reader. So that’s where our effort comes in.

This also becomes tricky when people are writing dialectically for characters in whose skin they do not live. Very frequently — well not as frequently as it used to be and happily so. But I would read scripts where writers who clearly were not black were writing black characters with black dialogue. And it was just hard. It was hard to get through. It felt fake and weird and way too confining and it’s not great. I remember early, early on in my career, I wrote a movie for Shawn — I’m sorry for Marlon Wayans and there’s so many Wayanses I was bound to maybe slip up and say the wrong one. Shawn was in the movie but smaller part. And I remember before I started writing Marlon said to me, “Oh and by the way, don’t write it black. Don’t do that. Just write it. I’ll make it black, don’t worry.” And I said “You got it buddy”. It was a weight off my shoulders because I’m not black.

What happens is there is this weird circular feedback where white writers will watch movies written by white writers pretending to be black people and they’ll think, “Oh, that’s how black people talk then.” But really what they’re doing is an imitation of white people imitating black people. And at that point it’s just a mess and it becomes a self-serving and self-fulfilling prophecy, and it’s no good. So you have to make these careful judgments about how you’re going to present dialogue when you are trying to alter your grammar or pronunciation to match the style of another person that you are not.

John: Yeah, but at the same time, Craig, I want to make sure we’re not giving — we’re not letting writers off the hook for even — I don’t want to say attempting to reflect the voice of a character because there’s a way that a person could misapply what you’re saying there. And say, like, well I should only write — I should only put white people in my movie. Or I shouldn’t try to make the African-American characters in my movie sound like human beings who are living in 2016.

Craig: Right.

John: In the situations where I have encountered this, my focus has always been on writing the dialogue that reflects what the character is saying and then understanding that there will be a discussion about the actual words that the actors are going to be saying no matter what their background. That stuff may change based on what’s going to be comfortable coming out of their mouth. And it’s the same kind of discussion no matter what background of actor you’re talking about.

Craig: Yeah. You have to — part of what we do is, because no matter who you are as a writer, you will be writing people that you’re not constantly, almost all of them. And when I say people you’re not, I mean, obviously, you’re not any of the characters that you’re writing but if you are let’s say a Latina woman, you are sooner or later going to be writing characters that are not Latina women.

John: Yes.

Craig: So part of our jobs is to understand the music and cadence and rhythms and patterns of all different kinds of human speech. But where I think it – you kind of have to draw an interesting line. For instance there’s a colloquialism among African-Americans where they’ll say I’m — where you or I might say, “I’m getting ready to do something” there’s a colloquialism where they’ll say, “I’m fixing to.” Right?

Now, in very colloquialized African-American speech, that will get contracted down to “I’m finna” and you can — and I see like on Twitter, like, on the very famous Black Twitter you’ll see “I’m finna” sometimes people say “I’m F-I-N-N-A” or F-I-T-N-A or — and, you know, so, for me if I’m writing character and I hear that pattern, I might want to say, you know, “I’m fixing to dah, dah, dah” I don’t know if I would write “I’m finna to” because it’s starting to get a little — I don’t know. It’s weird. You have to draw this interesting line you know?

John: Yeah. You don’t want to go into pantomime. You don’t want to go into this place–

Craig: Right.

John: Where you’re sort of aping a culture that you don’t really understand. You’re using words that you would have no business ever using. So that’s absolutely true. But I think what your example is with finna is a great example of this other thing which we noticed which is — we talked about with Clueless, we talked about with Valley Girl where you like you see speech happening and then you’re reflecting that speech. And if you had a movie that was using that throughout, people would start using that more often, and at a certain point it would become commonly accepted. That same thing happened with like, and the way that modern people use like to mean a bunch of things that have nothing to do with like. Where she was like this, or it takes the place of “said” or it takes the place of any kind of filler word, “like” is there. And same with literally which means not at all what literally is supposed to mean.

Craig: It means the opposite now.

John: But people say literally. So, the thing that I find myself being careful of but using more often than not is “wanna, oughta, and gotta,” which is basically the shortened versions of “want to, ought to, and got to,” because spelling out got to, in most characters’ dialogue feels really bizarre and it actually is not the right sense and tone for what a character would say.

Craig: Yeah. Well, there are characters who are educated and fastidious and prickly. And they might say, “I have to,” or “I am going to.” But “gonna” I’m constantly using “gonna” and “gimme” you know. Yeah, and those are perfectly common. And nobody reading a script is going to stop and say, “What, it’s ‘going to’ you cretin”. Like, everything that we discuss on this show, because we are so anti-rule, it’s about having the skill to go far enough and not too far. It is — dialogue and how to manipulate speech, how to break speech and grammar on purpose to match the way people naturally speak as opposed to the way people unnaturally write is the hardest and perhaps impossible thing to teach. You either got it or you don’t.

John: So let’s bring this all the way back around to how this all started off which was begging the question, which was my plea for writers to stop using “begging the question” incorrectly. And really ask the question like when is it okay to use the phrase incorrectly, because you know what, that’s what the character would actually say? And so examples are “who” versus “that.” “Which” versus “that.” “Less” versus “fewer, farther, further.” “Between” and “among.” All the examples I just gave, I’m actually kind of fine with a character using the incorrect version of that. Like you’re supposed to use between two things and among several things, whatever, nobody necessarily does that. So I’m fine with the character doing any of those things. It’s when you’re trying to pull a strange esoteric phrase in and use it incorrectly that my hackles go up.

Craig: Yeah, you know, we’ve said a lot on the show that one of the best ways to think about characters, and create or achieve verisimilitude, is to think of them as liars, because people are liars. People are constantly lying, and people are constantly bending and breaking language. So what it comes down to is what’s going to draw more attention, more unwanted attention, using between incorrectly, or using among correctly.

John: Yes.

Craig: And that’s really what it comes down to, where do you want attention to fall? I think of grammar all the time, in a way with my characters, to divide them by class and education. And just as to bring it back around to the non-rhoticity, strange Middle-Atlantic accent, that was seen as a sign of erudition, education, class, money. So people who have those things, I try and write in that way, even between — look, I have a movie with talking sheep. The smart sheep’s grammar is perfect. It’s perfect. She actually — she corrects somebody who says, “Who?” asks the question who, and she says, “Whom?” Because of what it refers to.

The other sheep just speak, and some of them have terrible grammar, but she’s the smart one. She has excellent grammar. So that’s how I think of these things. When you’re talking about how to write characters in relation to grammar, the tricky part for writers is you can’t manipulate the rules and break the conventions, and differentiate between characters based on how they speak if you don’t know the rules.

John: Absolutely. And what you just said there, you as the form that does not exist in English. That’s English for us.

Craig: Right. That’s right. If one does not know the rules.

John: Our language is crazy, but it’s good, I love it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Our next topic will be shorter. This is an article that you posted in the outline called, how – actually what was the actual real title of the thing?

Craig: It’s called “How Rom-Coms Undermine Women” by Megan Garber. This is an article in The Atlantic. And it runs through something that I think has probably occurred to all of us. You know, there’s a convention in romantic comedies that a boy is in love with a girl, and she is in love with somebody else, usually the wrong person, and he is the good guy that only if she could see how wonderful he is, and how truly he loves her, she would be in love with him. And he tries, and he tries, and it’s not working, and somebody at some point says to him something like, “If you want her, you got to go get her.” And so he does some grand romantic gesture like for instance showing up at her house, and holding up a boom box in front of her window, and playing, you know, a wonderful song, or showing up at the airport where she’s about to leave the country, or showing up at her workplace to sing a song, or showing up at her home to show her the cue cards with his devotional written on it.

But the point is, he’s showing up somewhere he’s not supposed to be and doing some big thing and in real life that makes you like a creepy stalker.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so the question is, are we teaching this really bad thing to people as normal? And the hard part is, I think that, well, I’m kind of curious about what you think, but my personal feeling is that these things do happen in life, rarely, but they’re not stalkery if they work and they super are stalkery if they don’t. So, it’s kind of a weird thing. What do you think?

John: I think it is absolutely valid to point out the trope of it. And we’ll put a link in the show notes to the TV tropes guide to stalking is love, which is basically all the situations in which someone is calling out like — someone’s love behavior is actually really kind of stalking and a little bit crazy.

Another recent article was about how to talk to a woman who’s wearing headphones, which was such a great example of like this really clueless male behavior, and just like really offensive, and yet, we would sort of get a pass in movies a lot which is not cool either. So I think sort of like the discussion of language, it’s one of the situations where screenwriters are culpable to some degree for perpetuating these ideas, and yet I agree with you that they are out there because they also do sometimes exist.

The thing which I disagreed is, or at least a short coming of this article to me was that I don’t think she recognized that the female characters in romantic comedies also do these kind of things as well.

Craig: Correct.

John: You look at Rebecca Bunch in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, you look at Nancy in Tess Morris’s movie, Man Up, they are deceiving the men around them, they’re doing things that are not good or appropriate, and things that would seem like a dangerous person would be doing if they were not in the genre of romantic comedy. So I think it’s troubling.

And maybe it’s just a thing to be aware of the same way we should be aware of the messages we send out with our action movies and with all sorts of other genres of movies, where we portray a world that is not accurate and which if these things happened in the real world would be hugely upsetting.

Craig: Yeah. I think actually audiences are very good at understanding that movies aren’t real. I do. If you were to make a list of things to write about, of concern, that audiences were taking seriously, I think far before you got to, you know, Lloyd showing up and holding up a boom box, you would get to people shooting each other in the head. Now we do have a bit of gun violence going on in our world, no question about that, but certainly not to the tune of what you see in movies. Fist fights even. There’s constant fist-fighting movies. I’ve never been in a fist fight in my life. Never. Not once.

John: That’s true. People break bottles over heads, which you should never do. It’s a horrible thing. Head injuries are terrible.

Craig: You’ll kill someone. You’ll kill someone if you do that. People are breaking chairs over each other’s heads, they’re punching each other in the head all the time. In the head. Car chases. Have you ever been in a car chase, John?

John: Not a one, I’m delighted to report.

Craig: Yeah. No, I’ve never pursued somebody in a vehicle. People are pretty good at understanding the difference between these things. One thing that mitigates all of this stuff is that when we go to see a movie, a romantic comedy, there’s a contract before the movie even begins, between the movie and the audience, and that is that these two people could be wonderful together. That they are not bad people. They’re good people, and fate has torn them apart, a la Romeo and Juliet. The enemy in a weird way is not the woman who’s resisting stupidly this man’s advances, nor is the enemy the man who is perhaps going to somewhat extreme measures to get this woman to see how wonderful and deserving of love he is. The enemy is fate. Fate has gotten in the way.

Now, occasionally, you’ll get a romantic comedy where it’s the anti-romantic comedy, and you know, they don’t end up together and that’s fine, too. But that’s our understanding of these things. That said, the problem with the romantic comedy stalking behavior is similar to the problem that I think people have in real life, anyway, men and women, which is what is the line between being passive and quitter, and being obsessive and stalkery?

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s a hard thing to navigate. Courting, courtship is difficult.

John: Yeah. The lesson we learned on today’s Scriptnotes. I don’t know that I have more to say, other than I think, it’s useful to be aware of it, be aware of it as a trope, and if there’s a way to hang a lantern on it so it’s clear to the audience that you’re in on this, the troubling aspect of this behavior, too, maybe do that. But I agree that like we don’t go to movies necessarily for lessons about how to date and marry. We end up taking them in, just the same way we take in language by accident. And that’s I guess one of the things about our culture. It’s how we get some of our education.

Craig: Yes. And another one just came to mind is While You Were Sleeping. Remember that movie?

John: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Craig: She’s just like completely is obsessed with this dude, completely obsessed with him. And then when he is hit by a train and goes into a coma, she like insinuates herself into his family’s life and poses as his girlfriend, as his fiancé.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s definitely, if you did that in real life, you would have to go to the bin.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But when Sandra Bullock does it, we’re like, aww.

John: Aww. That’s actually one of the reasons why I love the new opening to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend this season, where basically it just explains like she’s just a girl in love, and like you can’t call me crazy because I’m an ingénue. And an ingénue in love is crazy, so therefore, I’m just an ingénue. Just a girl in love.

Craig: It’s kind of like, we’re now kind of at the fun part of our culture where we can take these things apart, but keep the little bits inside that are true, get rid of the junk that is like, look, part of this article is like Hitch is really screwed up, and the movie, the premise of Hitch is screwed up. This is a guy who’s basically the pick-up artist who is teaching men how to consciously and insidiously manipulate women into being with them. That’s gross. And you know, they’ve been trying to develop that pick-up artist book for years, as a movie, which I just think is atrocious.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They shouldn’t do that.

John: They shouldn’t do that. So if nothing else, maybe we’ll stop that movie from getting made, and it will all have been worth it.

Craig: Yeah, I don’t think so. We don’t have that power.

John: We have none of that power. We have the power to talk about cool things. So my One Cool Thing this week–

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Is Time Travel: A History, by James Gleick, is a book that is — I’m reading right now that I think is just delightful. So Craig, how long back ago do you think time travel was invented?

Craig: You mean the concept of time travel?

John: The concept of time travel.

Craig: Or actual time travel?

John: The concept of time travel.

Craig: Because actual time travel was developed 14,000 years from now.

John: Yes.

Craig: The concept of time travel, oh, I would say, I don’t remember anything like that in Shakespeare, like maybe turn of the century like 1800?

John: Yeah, 100 years ago, H. G. Wells. So what’s so fascinating–

Craig: Oh, 20th Century then.

John: 20th Century, so it’s — the time machine, it’s his story, is really where you can start to think about time travel as you and I think about it now, which is that a person develops a way to go forward or backward in time. So there were other stories in which people like with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, they get hit on the head and they show up–

Craig: Wait a second. Yeah, what about Dickens and A Christmas Carol? He goes back, the Ghost of Christmas Past. He goes back in time.

John: It’s not a conscious choice.

Craig: It’s a ghost.

John: It was not a conscious choice to go back in those times. So there’s been many situations like a dreaming of previous times, a dreaming of alternate time lines, that – Fantasias have happened, but that sense of like the future is a place that you could travel into is actually a brand new concept. And we didn’t use to have a sort of space to think about like the future as this new area out in front of us.

And so all the paradoxes of like, you know, like what if you can go back and kill Hitler? We’d never thought of that before. There was never like a what if you could go back and kill Caesar? That was not a thing. It’s only because — and Gleick makes a very compelling argument for the only reason why we have our current thought of time travel and Terminator and sort of all the iterations of timelines and stuff like that, is because of the inventions of this last century and the scientific discoveries of Einstein and everything else that sort of put it in the public culture, but also the acceleration of culture so that it’s only when generations started being born where they recognize like, wow, my life is nothing like my parents’ life, and my kids’ lives will be nothing like my life. That’s when we started to have a future, and started to think about the future as something different than the present.

Craig: That makes total sense, yeah, because like back in the old days they’d be like, well, why would I want to go into the past? It’s like now, but just a little bit lamer.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The future will be like now, but like a little bit better.

John: Maybe, hopefully, who knows?

Craig: Yeah. Ish.

John: So I’m quite enjoying this book, so I’ll have a link to that in the show notes.

Craig: Well, keeping on track with Science, my One Cool Thing is a young woman named Maanasa Mendu. Maanasa Mendu is 13 years old. She lives in Ohio. She’s a middle school student. And as part of a competition, she created something that’s kind of amazing. She was looking at the shaking branches on a tree in her yard and thought, as we often do, you or I, boy that reminds me of the action of Piezo-electrical materials. And it turns out that she created with, I think it was like 10 bucks worth of Styrofoam and plastic, created a device that essentially captures naturally occurring vibrations in the environment along with solar and wind, and creates electricity from it, and was able to power a small light bulb with this little $10 thing she made, hanging off of a tree. It’s incredible.

So she won this prize from 3M, the Post-It company, among other things, and I’m just fascinated by there’s this potential that we have in this country that just blows my mind constantly when I think about somebody like Maanasa Mendu. She’s 13 and she might have actually invented something amazing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Just think of what’s going to happen, you know, when she’s 25. It’s just amazing. So Maanasa Mendu, you are my One Cool Thing.

John: Very, very cool. So that’s our show for this week. Our final reminder that this is your very last chance to buy one of the two Scriptnotes shirts, so click on the links in the show notes, or just go to, there’ll be a link on the side bar there for where you can get your shirts. So thank you to everyone who bought shirts. We’re excited to make them, and send them to you.

As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Woo-hoo.

John: Our outro this week comes from Eric Pearson. If you have an outro you’d like to send to us, you can send us a link to That’s also a place where you can send questions for us to answer. I think next week we’ll try to answer some of your questions.

On Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. That’s a great place for short questions. You can find us on iTunes, just search for Scriptnotes and while you’re there you can also download the Scriptnotes app which lets you listen to all the back episodes of the show.

Craig: Fancy.

John: Fancy. So is the place for that. There are also USB drives available at that have all the back episodes.

One of the questions, Craig, we have to figure out is, the new MacBooks do not have USB drives. Or not USB-A drives and so do we still make drives anymore? I don’t know if they are going to continue to exist.

Craig: Well, if you connect them through the dongle, it should be fine, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, there’s, like, a — because I ordered the new MacBook Pro, and with it I also ordered just a little USB-C, regular old USB adaptor.

John: Yeah.

Craig: In case, you know.

John: Okay. They’re available with Craig’s dongle and if you would like–

Craig: You know Sexy Craig has a dongle for you.

John: Probably the dongle is as much as the drive so–

Craig: You know, like, you like the drive of the dongle?

John: Ugh. We almost got through the whole episode–

Craig: Ooh, yeah, almost got through it.

John: If you listen to the transcripts, you won’t hear Sexy Craig’s voice at all. That’s a thing actually–

Craig: Not even a little bit.

John: On Twitter last week, people were saying, like, I listened to the show for the first time after only reading the transcripts. I didn’t understand what Sexy Craig was, and now they understand what Sexy Craig is. And they’re horrified.

Craig: If you can even wrap your mind around it. I mean, can you ever understand it? I don’t think so.

John: Apparently both of our voices are completely wrong for how we sound in print.

Craig: Oh, okay.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I wonder how people think I sound.

John: Yeah, probably authoritative, but I don’t know.

Craig: Crazy, sexy?

John: If you’re a person who mostly experiences the show through the transcripts, and only heard our voices recently, we’d be fascinated to know. So tell us on Twitter what you thought we would sound like before you actually heard us. That would be interesting for me to know.

Craig: Me too.

John: Cool. Craig, have a wonderful week.

Craig: You, too, John, and I’ll see you–

John: On the other side.

Craig: See you next time on the other side of the wall. [laughs]

John: Oy. All right. Take care.

Craig: Bye.


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