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Updated: 1 hour 55 min ago

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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You can download the episode here.

Fantasy and Reality

Tue, 11/29/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John look at how writers, and screenwriters in particular, impact the way people think about things in the real world. From crime scenes to courtrooms to CPR, we simplify things for storytelling and leave audiences with skewed expectations.

In follow up, Craig invited Final Draft into his life (and office), actors’ accents got analyzed, and more news came out about fake news.

We also be answer listener questions about LA neighborhoods and the gulf between getting read and getting paid.


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You can download the episode here.

Separating scenes in Highland

Sun, 11/27/2016 - 09:09

Jose, one of our Highland 2 beta testers, wrote in with a feature request:

I’d love the ability to print individual scenes, with page breaks after each scene. It can be useful to physically rearrange scenes once printed.

We could add that as a command, but how often would users really want to do that? Rarely-used features are cruft. They make apps more complicated than they need to be, both for users and developers.

Luckily, it’s remarkably easy to do what Jose wants with any Fountain app, including the original Highland.

Step one: Think what it would look like

In Fountain syntax, a page break is simply three equal signs: ===

Meanwhile, scene headers start with either INT. or EXT.1

So in order to put a page break between each scene, you want to replace every instance of INT. with…

=== INT.

…and then do the same with EXT.

Step two: Make it look like that

Within Highland, you can do it with two passes of Find and Replace, choosing Replace All. It’s helpful to copy-and-paste the second part, since Mac’s default find and replace fields only show you a single line.

It took less than 20 seconds in all.

If breaking scenes into individual pages is something you do all the time, it’s easily automated. Here’s an AppleScript to do it: Split Fountain Scenes.

As always, it’s a good idea to work on a copy of the file you can toss after printing.

Highland’s plain-text Fountain format makes little hacks like this easy. For example, another beta tester requested a way to print his [[inline notes]], which are removed by default.

There’s no need for him to wait for us to add a feature. We suggested he simply find-and-replace [[ and ]] with ++. He got the inline notes he wanted right away.

How would you do this in Final Draft or Fade In?

With difficulty. I couldn’t find a way to do it without manually inserting page breaks at the end of every scene. If you figure out a way, let me know.

  1. You can also force a scene header by starting with a period: .DEEPER IN THE VOID. You can find these by searching for a return followed by a period.

Mammoths of Mercy

Tue, 11/22/2016 - 08:03

Writer-director Chris Sparling joins John and Craig to discuss his new film Mercy, and what it’s like to make a movie for Netflix. Then it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie, with stories including ex-girlfriends, fake news, and permafrost ivory.

Plus we answer listener questions on cosplay, criticism and parallel structures.


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You can download the episode here.

Starting a screenwriting career somewhere else, part two

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 10:33

In episode 267 of Scriptnotes, we shared stories from screenwriters who managed to build careers while living outside of Los Angeles, New York or London.

We then did a follow-up post featuring tales from several more writers.

In the weeks since, even more stories have come in. Here’s a sampling.

Lynelle: I was writing and directing short films while living in St. Louis, MO. I did a two week summer film program in Missouri for women only. The program was run by a lovely gentleman and Missouri native named, Ken LaZebnik, who has worked as a TV writer.

I kept in contact with Ken over the years and when a position on the writing staff for the tv show ARMY WIVES opened up, he contacted me. He’d previously written on the show. Ken thought I’d be a good fit because I was prior military. I was living just outside of St. Louis when I hit send on some writing samples to Ken. He, in turn, forwarded the samples to the showrunner of ARMY WIVES and after I flew out to LA using frequent flier miles to meet with the showrunner, I got hired onto the show.

It was a Cinderella story. After ARMY WIVES was cancelled, I went on to work for a small zombie apocalypse show on SyFy called Z NATION.

But here’s the caveat to my Cinderella story. I hadn’t spent years in Los Angeles prior to getting staffed. I hadn’t been an assistant anywhere. I hadn’t been all over town on the water bottle tour. Nobody knew who I was so that makes getting subsequent jobs more difficult.

My agent was unable to get me any meetings so that’s when I decided to attend UCLA to get my MFA in Screenwriting. One, to further hone my craft but two, to make connections that I simply didn’t have because I was literally plucked from obscurity.

I’ve chosen to split my time between LA and St. Louis for my own personal sanity. I’m just not an LA person and probably never will be. Every individual must decide what’s right for them.

Alan from Connecticut: I am a produced screenwriter with screen credits for two Lifetime movies.

I have lived in Connecticut my whole life and attended an online college program through the Academy of Art based in San Francisco. I majored in Motion Pictures & Television with a focus on screenwriting.

After graduating, I worked on several spec scripts and began the long process of manual queries. I placed in a few screenwriting competitions, but they led no where. I finished a MOW Thriller and used IMDB Pro to get production contacts for niche low-budget companies. After getting a few hits, I used my spec to get my first assignment and it was produced into the film “Her Infidelity.”

All of my meetings, contracts, and contact has been done through phones, email, and faxing. It has worked out fairly well. I have other projects in development, but have not reached a point where I am screenwriting full-time yet. I also edit wedding videos and do a lot of freelance writing to help supplement my screenwriting career. I may not be a traditional screenwriter, but I am happy and proud of my credits and hope to have more in the future. I just wanted to let you guys know that I have had screenwriting success without stepping foot in California and am still in continual development on projects.

Sal Balharrie: I’m a screenwriter who’s based an improbable distance from LA.

Having written books for children and working in Adland, I decided to make the jump to writing for screen full-time about three years ago.

Right now, I am in the fantastic position of having an animated tv series for kids in production in Australia; a live-action for teens in Development with a UK/LA based Production Company; and a feature film in development with a third company also based in LA. I am the creator/writer of all fore-mentioned projects. I do not have an agent or manager in LA.

So I feel I’m proof that if you are prepared to think outside the box, break some rules and back yourself, it is possible to work with production companies in LA while living outside the bubble and actually, if you’re clever, turning it into a bonus.

  • Back yourself by attending conferences (MIPCOM, Kidscreen, Asian Animation Summit) and network so that people think you’re easily accessible.
  • Use time zones to your advantage. My producers in London think I’m the most efficient writer in the world because I have whatever they’re needing on their desk at 9am London time, which is my 5pm.
  • Never allow distance to be a problem. Down play it. Better still, don’t even mention it. If you believe you can add value at a meeting, make sure you’re there, even if it’s a 22 hour flight away.

Brandon Dickerson: Funny enough, I didn’t start getting paid as a writer until after I moved out of LA after being there for eight years (and the Bay Area eight years before that).

Long story short: my wife’s mom got cancer which moved us abruptly to Texas to care for her with six months to live.

As a DGA director of commercials, docs, and music videos whose childhood dream was to make features, it wasn’t until I got out of town and finally focused on writing scripts that I was able to jump into writing and directing films instead of having “good meetings” that went nowhere.

My first script with writing partners in Texas became my directing debut SIRONIA. When my mother-in-law passed, we moved to Austin where I went right into adapting an optioned memoir for my second film VICTOR. I was then paid to adapt the novel Benjamin Dove for the screen, and now my second solo writing effort has become my next film WHEN JACK WENT GLAMPING — currently wrapping up post production.

These are all indie films financed in Texas in the under $2 million range, so maybe this isn’t truly “in the system.”

Tim Carter from Vancouver: I’m from Vancouver, Canada but had to move to LA to get any kind of traction at all. So to a large degree I echo your assessment that proximity is important and the hill for an aspiring writer is significantly steeper if they’re not in a major entertainment hub.

That said, there are a couple of strategies your listener from the Midwest might consider.

First, expand your career search to include video games. The institutional barriers to entry are significantly lower and the industry is not geographically concentrated the way film and television is. The odds are still not great, but it’s worth exploring. Many games emphasize character and narrative and the skills you develop will be very useful in film and television. I sold several projects in LA before landing my first major game credit back in my hometown. It’s hard to say which was more useful to my career.

Second, find out if anything at all is being produced locally. It might not be big Hollywood features, but many big American cities still have something going on.

When I started out I wrote several terrible horror movies for local indie producers. I’m rather happy none of them saw the light of day, but they were invaluable learning experiences, I got paid, and they opened a few doors. These days you’re more likely to find opportunities on a web or digital series, as they are being made all over the place and will offer you a chance to get noticed.

Again the odds aren’t great, but they may be better than emailing unsolicited specs to strangers in LA.

Aaron and Jordan: We are Hawaii born and based professional screenwriters (and identical twins) who landed our representation and sold our first spec script while living in Hawaii, where we continue to live and successfully work. Which proves that it is possible to to be a screenwriter outside of Hollywood. But before we can recommend our absentee-ballot path to screenwriting, there are a few caveats to our story worth sharing.

Representation: Our manager flew to Hawaii to sign us after reading our first two spec scripts… something we have NEVER heard of happening to anyone else. Would they have flown to Kansas? We can’t say. Was the fact she got to write off her mai-tais on the beach a motivator… undoubtedly. Needless to say we got powerball lottery lucky. One in many millions odds. And we’ve stayed with that manager ever since.

First sale: Several years and many unsold scripts later that manager got one of our specs into the hands of an agent who agreed to to hip-pocket us if he sold it. The offer from Disney came in while we were in the middle of teaching an SAT prep class at Obama’s alma mater. And the first thing our agent asked us when the script sold was “When are you moving here?”

And for a time we did…

We lived in LA for three years. Took the usual round of water bottle meetings. Built a rolodex of contacts, fans and friends. And didn’t sell a single thing until we decided to move back to Hawaii.

And ironically, almost the moment our feet sunk back into the warm sand, our careers took off. The funny thing is, when we lived in LA, we were always available to take a meeting -— or more often than not -— have that meeting canceled while we were already an hour in traffic across town and half a day of writing wasted. In the three years living in LA, we probably took around 30-50 meetings. Now whenever we fly into town, we often take that many in a week. And none of them cancel. When they can’t have you, that’s when they want you. Such is the law of mating and meetings.

Sustaining a career: We find we are more productive creatively when we are away from the Hollywood hustle because we can focus solely on writing. But if you want to sustain a professional career, the business side of the career demands that, while you don’t HAVE to live in LA, you do have to travel to LA and pound the pavement, be present often and whenever needed, and at the drop of a hat. Otherwise you quickly drop off the radar completely.

We write from Hawaii but try to fly to LA at least once a quarter. Also we are primarily feature screenwriters. So BIG CAVEAT: if you want to write for television or animation… you NEED to live in Los Angeles. Last year for example, we had to relocate our families for seven months to work on “Moana” for Disney Animation.

In summation, it’s becoming easier in a video-conference world to be a working writer who lives anywhere in the world, and we are an exception to the rule that you must live in Los Angeles to be successful.

That said we’re a rare exception. And while we believe you can write and sell great material from anywhere, ultimately you have to recognize the odds are even more stacked against you living outside the hub of Hollywood.

But if that’s what brings you joy, fuels your passion and creativity and makes you a better writer then follow that bliss. And work your ass off harder than anyone. That’s what we do.

Twelve Days of Scriptnotes

Tue, 11/15/2016 - 08:03

In this very special episode from 2014, Craig and John welcome special guests Aline Brosh McKenna, Rachel Bloom, B.J. Novak, Jane Espenson and Derek Haas to talk about writing books, movies and especially television.

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

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

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

Plus there are songs!

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


You can download the episode here:

This Feeling Will End

Wed, 11/09/2016 - 16:10

In this Scriptnotes Extra, Craig and John discuss the melting dread they experienced this morning and hopefully offer some succor.

You can download the episode here.

Do all the good you can

Tue, 11/08/2016 - 22:24

One of the positive things I took from this election was a quote Hillary Clinton used from her Methodist upbringing:

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.

Anger, grief, fear and bewilderment are natural reactions. Feelings are real. I’m feeling all of them right now.

But they’re conditions. They’re meant to pass. Holding onto them in a vise-like grip only hardens them into ugly jagged lumps.

So what are we supposed to do?

All the good we can.

I don’t know what specifically that means for me yet.

I can’t know what the future is going to bring.

But I do know it’s going to mean a more active search for Good. It means finding the ways, places, time and other people to help do it.

It means standing up against injustice and cruelty. It means not looking for blame, but understanding, and solutions.

We can’t control how we feel. We can only control the actions we take. Doing Good is great guide for what those should be.

English is not Latin

Mon, 11/07/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig look at how movies and TV shape the English language, and how writers should think about their role in all of this. We also examine the uncomfortable overlap between rom-com characters and stalkers.

We are coming to you one day earlier than usual because Tuesday, as you may have heard, is an election in the US. And perhaps you’re looking for something to distract yourself from that horrible business.

But Americans, please vote.


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You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 274: Welcome to Gator Country — Transcript

Sat, 11/05/2016 - 12:39

John August: Hey, this is John. So if there is one bad word in the podcast, it’s a very minor bad word. But if you have a young child in the car, maybe you want to skip over one of Three Page Challenges we’re about to do.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 274 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at three new entries in the Three Page Challenge. That’s it. It’s a really pretty simple episode this week.

Craig: You know what? Good.

John: Good.

Craig: Good.

John: We’ve had a lot of complicated ones with lots of moving parts and pieces.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’m on a different continent and so this one is just simple. We look at some scripts, we tell you what you think and then we’re done.

Craig: I like that we tell them what they think.

John: Oh, did I say that?

Craig: Yeah, but I like it. I think that’s actually accurate.

John: Yeah, that’s true.

Craig: We look at some scripts, and then we tell you what you think.

John: Absolutely. We will give you your opinion.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We’ll we’re good at it.

John: One of the things we’re also good at is making t-shirts—

Craig: Segue Man.

John: And this is the next to last week to be able to order t-shirts and we’re good at segways. There are two t-shirts for Scriptnotes this year. There is a blue shirt, there is a gray shirt with a gold page on it. They’re both terrific, so you should take a look at the links in the show notes and click through and look at those t-shirts and buy one if you would like one.

We are recording this only one day after we recorded our last episode, so we have no idea how many we’ve sold. Have we sold 10 shirts, have we sold a thousand shirts, we have no idea. We’re living in the blissful ignorance of the past.

Craig: Do you think that — but technically we have not yet sold any. I mean as of right now, present time.

John: As of right now, not a single one.

Craig: Okay. So I shouldn’t — I mean I guess then I’ll guess, we’ve sold zero shirts so far.

John: At the moment that we are recording this, we’ve sold zero shirts but by the time this episode has aired, how many shirts will we have sold?

Craig: Ooh, how many days have the shirts been available, John?

John: They would have been available seven days.

Craig: Well I’m going to go with 600 shirts.

John: Wow. That’s a high number.

Craig: Is that a stupid guess? [laughs]

John: No. It’s an ambitious guess, but not a stupid guess.

Craig: All right. John: Because we would like it to be a good high number. I’m going to guess between the two shirts, we will have sold 450.

Craig: Oh.

John: Which is still ambitious. So–

Craig: I want to point out, I have absolutely no idea how the shirt thing works. I have no historical data and I just pulled the number out of my butt and it wasn’t even that crazy.

John: It wasn’t even that crazy. It’s like the wisdom of the crowds but like you are your own crowded head inside and all the voices conspire to give you that number.

Craig: You have no idea, the wisdom of the things in my head.

John: Very, very good. But on last week’s episode, which was actually recorded yesterday, we mused aloud about wouldn’t it be great if the guy who won the Austin Pitch Competition that you judged what if he were to write in and tell us, “Oh, hey. This is the pitch I gave,” so we could discuss the pitch that you thought was so good at the live show in Austin.

And now we have it. So just out of the blue he wrote in and said like, “Oh, hey. I’m the guy who won the pitch competition.” And I asked him to record his pitch and he did. So now we have it.

Craig: Yeah and it’s good, you know, like I mean I assume you’d listened to it by now.

John: Yeah. But I think we should play it for the listeners so they can actually judge for themselves.

Craig: What a great idea. John: So let’s take a listen.

Erik Voss: I’m Erik Voss and I’m pitching my action comedy feature script. It’s called Gator Country. So this is a story about Mac. He is a white trash deadbeat single father who is in exile from the State of Florida, which in this world has been transformed by a freak hurricane season into this Mad Max style swampland that’s now ruled by the reptiles and the crazies.

So not too different from what Florida is right now. Now, I’m from Florida and I’ve lived through a ton of hurricanes and Florida shows its true colors in the aftermath of a storm. And often that takes the form of a few of these gator hunters on fan boats who just love getting wet and looting the nearest Cracker Barrel. The Florida Man. And Mac is one of these guys.

But now, his rebellious 20-year old daughter has gone missing in this apocalyptic hell hole and it’s on Mac to find her, and fish her out before she falls victim to cults, cannibals or Tampa. Guided by a local drifter named Gator, who knows Florida like the back of his hook, Mac now must battle through former pro wrestlers and gators the size of pickup trucks, and the nightmarish version of Disney World where on the Pirates of the Caribbean, the pirates are alive, high on bath salts, and they will eat your face.

The road ends in the belly of the beast of Miami beach where the family reunites in a loving embrace while covered in the blood of a murderous grandma who just got chopped up in the blades of a fan boat or as we call it in Florida, a Monday. Thanks.

Craig: See? That was pretty good, right?

John: That was really good. So let’s talk about two different things. First let’s talk about performance and then we’ll talk about the content of the pitch itself and sort of what that is as a movie. So I thought performance wise, I just can’t imagine a better version of like that 90-second pitch in front of a crowd. It’s such a weirdly artificial form and I thought Erik did just a remarkably good job of it.

I can sort of see his performance as he was giving it to us. So he’s laying out the very broad premise of like from the very title, it’s like Gator Country. He’s talking about his lead character, then he’s talking about the setting, he’s talking about himself and he’s like including himself as a Florida person, giving just the very broad strokes and making it fun.

He’s not trying to focus on every little plot turn or twist. We don’t really even know who the villains are in this story. We just know the general sort of setting and world and milieu. And he gets out it. And that’s performance wise, I thought that was a really smart way of doing it. It felt like the kind of thing that you could convey in front of a crowd in an Austin bar.

Craig: Yeah, and there are some nice little jokes in there. You know, it’s impossible to be hilarious in the middle of a 90-second pitch, right? But there are a couple of key jokes that made people laugh. And in and of themselves, gave you a sense of the tone.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Right, tone is very difficult to convey in a pitch because pitch, generally speaking, is about details, not about flavor. But you got a sense of what the tone was. This was clearly going to be a comedic and tending towards the bizarre. And like Erik himself, it has a love-hate relationship with its subject, probably leaning more weirdly towards love.

You know, it was important that he let us know in his pitch that he was from Florida, because then we understood that this wasn’t an attack piece, and that this wasn’t just a, you know, like you or I could write a movie about Cleveland what a dump, but that’s just mean. We are not from Cleveland. It’s always better to make fun of the things you love. So we got across the tone in his performance and he also gave me weirdly a nice circle of story, so I was able to say, “Okay. I can see where it begins and I can see where it ends.” And I kind of get what happens in the middle.

John: Yeah. So let’s talk about this performance in terms of how you do your real business. Like I just felt like this 90-second pitch is not the kind of thing he would ever actually give in Hollywood. Like he’s never going to go into a meeting and pitch sort of exactly the way he’s pitched this here. It was too much like a sitcom set for sitting right across from you in a studio executive’s office. Did you feel that?

Craig: Oh, yeah. I mean, look, all of the pitches were designed to win a pitch competition, which is an artificial thing that does not occur in Hollywood. In our business, no one is looking to reward people for a fast, funny, informative, intriguing 90 seconds. What they’re really trying to do is make money and so it’s serious business here.

So if somebody came in and pitched that in 90 seconds in someone’s office, they would go, “Okay, great. Now do it for it real.” Just like, you know, you’re asking me to spend money. So, what? You know, now that doesn’t mean that Erik or any of those people that came in and pitched can’t do that. In fact, in a strange way it’s easier to do it the way people need it to be done here in Hollywood as long as you have the goods.

I suspect that you kind of need to, in order to even get to the 90-second version. So yes — no, absolutely it’s a very strange artificial thing that we don’t actually put a premium on in Hollywood. And if for instance, let’s say Erik were here in Los Angeles and he went to someone’s party and there was a producer there and the producer said, “Well what do you — you’re a funny guy. You got any things?” and he says, “Actually, I have a script and it’s called Gator.” What is it called, Gator Dad? [laughs]

John: Gator Country.

Craig: Yeah, we got to change that title to Gator Dad.

John: Yeah, I think Gator Dad is better.

Craig: Gator Dad. “Yeah, I got a script called Gator Country.” “Oh really, what’s it about?” If he then went into this 90-second pitch, that guy would look at him oddly and then walk away because again it is synthetic. You know, there is a version where you pitch this in a far more conversational confident way. But of course for a pitch festival, you know, this is — part of my problem with pitch competitions is that they are requiring writers to do something that only pitch competitions require. It’s not particularly translatable to any other environment.

John: When we were doing Big Fish casting, we would have these really talented actresses come in and sometimes they’d have a dance call and then they’d have to sing. And they have to sing like 12 bars and it was just like, you really can’t convey a song or really the energy of a song in 12 bars. You’re basically just conveying like I can hit some big notes and I can do these things, I can be quiet, I can be loud.

It’s such a weirdly artificial form, and yet in that artificial form, Andrew Lippa can say like, “Okay that person can fit my needs for this one slot in the musical.” And in a similar way, I felt like Erik’s pitch was so bizarre and artificial and yet I could tell like, “Oh he’s got something there.” Like there’s a good story there, but he’s probably the guy who can write that good story. He was self-aware enough that I was like I’m curious to hear more.

I definitely agree though that if you were sitting across from an executive or even just at a party talking about the thing, he would want to have a version of this same pitch kind of thing that felt much more conversational and much less packaged than what we heard right there.

Craig: Yeah, no question. But, you know, as we sat and listened to all of the pitches that came our way and there were 20 of them that evening, you know, a number of them you could eliminate immediately with a simple remark: that’s not a movie. Then some of them, you could eliminate because, well, that is a movie but I’ve seen that movie.

John: Yup.

Craig: Some of them were okay, well, there were a few that were like that’s a great 90-second pitch. The movie doesn’t sound like something I would actually go pay to see, but boy I sure enjoyed that 90 seconds. You know, there were a couple of those.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well this one was really the one that hit everything. It was a fun 90 seconds and also I thought it could be a terrific movie. And you know, what I said to him, you know, we do our little American Idol brief review after each pitch, and what I really liked about this one was that I got a sense of character, which is, I mean along with tone, incredibly hard to convey. And it wasn’t like he got into the character of Gator dad, I don’t even know Gator dad’s name, right? But–

John: I think it was Max.

Craig: Oh, there you go, Max. It doesn’t matter, it could have been anything, right? It’s just I don’t know what he looks like and I don’t know how tall he is, I don’t what race he is, I don’t know anything. But what I do know is that he has a daughter and she’s a bit of a handful and he’s going to get her. And I understand implied in that is a character story and an ending that I will care about and then a world that felt at the same time bizarre and unlike anything we know, and yet, oh yeah I do know it. I can absolutely see that.

You know, underneath it all, it’s like okay you have a great idea, what if you do Mad Max in Florida with all of its absurdities, and then we make a nice little, you know, father-daughter story. It just felt like a nice whole piece. So to me, it was — his pitch really was the one where I thought, “Oh, you could actually sell this.”

John: Yeah. I agree with you. And circling back to the Mad Max in Florida, so often a pitch will compare itself to another movie and what was good about Erik’s pitch is like we could see that comparison without him having to explicitly say it. Like we got what the vibe was. We sort of see like okay, this is the scenario, it’s post-apocalyptic for a different reason, but for flooding and such. Like we get sort of what this is.

Every little detail he threw in there especially about like the kinds of villains you’re facing later on down the road, he also let you see like okay it’s not just going to be one set piece, there’s like a whole journey that’s going to happen here, and you can imagine the kinds of things that the dad is going to be going through and the things that the daughter is going to be going through. And the tone at which all these things are going to intersect.

So I can see this as a movie and I could also imagine like if he’d never pitched this, but had written a good version of this, it’s the kind of thing that would get passed around because it’s an interesting thing. It’s sticky in the right ways. A good version of this is a Black List favorite.

Craig: Yeah, I think so for sure. And you’re right that there is a lot of these evocative moments that made me think Mad Max but he was smart to never say it. Because the second you say, well it’s Mad Max in Florida, you go, “Okay, well you can stop talking. Like I mean I get it. You know, you’ve borrowed another movie.” That’s the danger of borrowing another movie as a reference.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: You know, you just suddenly don’t feel very original at all.

John: The other challenge of borrowing another movie for a reference is people will take too much from that other movie, and say like, oh but what about that thing or that thing or that thing. And like the listener will sort of try to imply things that you’re not really meaning to imply.

Craig: Yeah.

John: They take the whole package with it and like that’s not necessarily what you want. So that’s the challenge of, you know, using any other existing piece of material, be it a movie, be it a book, to describe the thing that you want to make which is hopefully original.

Craig: A 100%. So thank you, Erik, for writing in and letting us share that with everyone. It was a joy to hear that pitch that evening. And we heard, you know, I will say for all the 20 people that we heard, they were all well-practiced and I could see why all of them had sort of made it through. I still think 10 seems good. [laughs]

John: That was a lot to throw at you guys.

Craig: Yeah, yeah, 10 would have been nice.

John: Yeah. All right, let’s get to our work for this week which is the Three Page Challenge. So most of you probably are familiar with the Three Page Challenge. What we do is we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their script, or their teleplay, and we take a look at it, and give our honest opinion on what we read.

So, as always, we invite you to read along with us, so you can find links to the PDFs of these scripts in the show notes. Last time, we had Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor, read aloud the descriptions.

Craig: How great was that?

John: It was just amazing. He was terrific.

Craig: What’s funny was that after he did it, he wrote us and he said, “Ah, you know, I feel like maybe I screwed up because I just made it sound like Survivor.” And we were like, “No.” [laughs] It’s what we want. We want — we don’t want off-the-cuff private Jeff Probst. We just want Survivor Jeff Probst.

John: Yeah. It’s so strange that his voice is so specifically Survivor. Like you can’t imagine Survivor without Jeff Probst hosting it. It’s not like just even a visual thing like it’s his yelling at the contestants to like, you know, swim faster. It was great.

Craig: It was so cool.

John: So obviously the temptation is like, well, we need to find other famous people to read these descriptions, just so we don’t have to read those descriptions anymore. And so just this morning someone wrote in to point out that Martin Sheen apparently listens to our show.

Craig: Oh.

John: Because on another podcast which was one of my One Cool Things, which was, Mom and Dad Wrote a Porno, and he references Scriptnotes, so —

Craig: Wow

John: It’s all a big web of connection. So I don’t — Martin Sheen, I couldn’t find on Twitter. Martin Sheen, if you are listening to this show, we are and lord, we would love to have you read some stuff aloud. Or other famous people, too.

Craig: No, no. Now, I want Martin Sheen.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, just to have — you know, because when you have a body of work like Martin Sheen does, which is vast through time, just like every year, there’s probably three or four or five things. And I’m not even talking about the television stuff. You know, I’m just–

John: No.

Craig: Talking about movies for decades now, you have to pick like who is your favorite Martin Sheen? There are so many. Who is your favorite Martin Sheen?

John: I think it was President Bartlet–

Craig: Right.

John: Even though I wasn’t really a big West Wing watcher, but like he just sort of became locked in that. And I think here’s the reason why I will say Bartlet is because so many of the appearances you see with him on like — in commercials for stuff or other things, he’s sort of doing the Bartlet character. He has that kind of gravitas where he’s channeling that kind of emotion. But tell me, who do you see?

Craig: Well, first of all, I — you are — it makes total sense. I think a lot of people would say that because once you play the president and you play it so iconically, it’s hard to kind of get away from that, I mean you’re the president, you know. But I will always in my heart have the softest spot for Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen. Because Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen, aside from being in Apocalypse Now, you know, in and of itself is oh, my God. Apocalypse Martin Sheen was going through a tough time. And Apocalypse Martin Sheen had some substance abuse issues and Apocalypse Martin Sheen had a heart attack during the shooting of Apocalypse Now.

John: That’s right. I always forget that.

Craig: And it’s not like Martin Sheen was like some, you know, fat lazy dude. He was like whippet thin, you know, and young. So like the kind of stress to lead to a heart attack at that age is extraordinary and plus, you know, there’s that scene where he’s destroying his hotel room. He really does cut his hand really badly, you know, when he smashes the mirror and there’s just incredible stuff going on in that movie with him personally, you know, and then of course his performance is just amazing. He reminds me so much — young Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen, reminds me of Young — your friend and mine — John Gaines. They’re very similar —

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Similar look. So I want Apocalypse Now Martin Sheen to read these things. But also because Apocalypse Martin Sheen has incredible voiceover in that movie. I mean, just like the greatest voiceover.

John: He does.

Craig: All right.

John: So we don’t have Martin Sheen this week. So I thought we would try something very different which is that you always make fun of me for being a robot. And yet you also make fun of me for never being able to speak proper sentences and —

Craig: Right.

John: Matthew has to cut around all my mistakes. So I thought we would try having a computer–

Craig: Oh, my god.

John: Read these descriptions aloud.

Craig: And wait, how will we know it’s not you? [laughs]

John: Well, because we’re using female voices for all three pages.

Craig: Okay. And also the computer won’t mess up the words.

John: The computer does mess up the words in a few places, but I think it’s adorable for that so —

Craig: Oh, my god.

John: Today, we’re trying three different voices by IVONA which is this Amazon company that provides voices for other developers. And so in this situation, I just pasted in the text. I didn’t try to make it better or worse. I didn’t like listen for it like tweak the words. This is literally just what I pasted in the boxes. And if you’re listening to these voices, read aloud the descriptions that Godwin wrote. So our first voice is Sally. It’s one of the American voices and she’s reading the description for Relationshit written by Christopher Rock and JR Mallon.

Sally: We open in a mall, teens flirting, old people mall walking. Then an animal stampede breaks the peace. Puppies, kittens, the usual pet shop inventory all followed by their liberators, 30-somethings Marissa and Dan. The culprit stops three mall cops and celebrate their escape only to find themselves surrounded by 10 real cops who mace and arrest them. In court, Marissa and Dan are unrepentant, blaming the corporate world for their litany of charges, most of them alcohol related. The judge brings up Marissa and Dan’s past run ins with the law, with the two declaring chaos as beauty at the bottom of page three.

John: Great. Craig Mazin, what did you think of Relationshit?

Craig: Well, hold on a second.

John: Let’s start with the voices.

Craig: First of all, yeah. Let’s talk about what I think of Sally. Oh, Sally. Sally, you saucy minx. Sally’s into me.

John: Yeah, so, here’s the danger. Like this has become a podcast where like I present things that Craig lusts after. So last week it was the pinup girls. Now it’s the female voices, so pretty soon we’re going to put them all together and we’re going to be living in Ex Machina here. So.

Craig: Well, I mean, it doesn’t take much apparently for me to get going. Sally, alluring, just an alluring voice. Okay, so Relationshit. Well, the pages are composed well. I thought things laid out nicely, a good mix of dialogue and action. I could see things pretty clearly. So there’s basically two scenes we’re looking at here. One is in the mall and then one is in the courtroom. The courtroom got a little ticker tape to me and what I mean by that is, just runs of dialogue. And I understand that partly that’s because it is — that’s a conversation between static people. All the more reason to maybe compress a little bit there. I guess my criticism covers all of this. Marissa and Dan are apparently the same person. They have different names, but they’re both playing Bill Murray in a 1970s comedy. Everything they say is a smart-ass comment.

John: Yup.

Craig: There’s — it never stops. To the point where it’s almost like a sketch where you expect the judge to be like, wait, do you only respond in wisecracks, that’s it? You know what, there’s no — you’re not people? You’re not real?

John: It’s interesting when you think of like the Bill Murray comedy, like someone has to be the Harold Ramis. Someone has to be the person who’s not that tempo so that you can actually sort of get through it. What this reminded me even more of Bill Murray is a Portlandia sketch, and there literally was a Portlandia sketch about animal liberators. And so the characters that Carrie and Fred play in Portlandia feel like these kind of characters who are always just like so hyped up and they’re sort of joke factory. But that works really well in sketches but it’s not — I’m nervous about how I’m going to relate to these characters throughout a full movie.

I thought like their jokes though, they’re good, they’re funny. I think that the voice is really nice. It’s just the problem is like it’s the same voice for both characters. And it also felt like they write funny lines and they put all the funny lines in rather than picking the selects of like funniest lines.

Where it gets to be problematic for me is on page two, and this is a thing you notice in a lot of these Three Page Challenges we have is there’s a character whose function is just to be the recapper, or sort of like the backstory machine. And so they’re just there to provide the history of everything that happened before this. So in this case, the judge is talking us through like all the previous times they’ve been arrested and the things they did. But I didn’t believe him at all. I didn’t believe that this person actually existed or that he would be kind of indulging them to just – he’d just be setting up, you know, things for them to have funny lines to shoot down. So I would want to cut most of page two and the top of page three and get to the real action here.

Craig: Yeah, so Judge Exposition certainly does his job. We all struggle with exposition but there are some things you can do to hide it a little bit better. The one thing, it’s a real simple things is, ask yourself how exposition in actual life happens. So here we have a judge who has seen these two before. They are recidivists as it were, and he does not appear to know who they are. He is talking to them as if he’s never seen them before. He is startled by what they’ve done. And then about a page later he says, “I know who you are. I know who you are and here’s some other things you’ve done.” Well, did he not know who they were before that? So that’s why the info dump is very shocking. It is incongruous to his behavior prior to it.

John: So my suggestion, I’m just going to read aloud and edit here. Like get us through this scene a little faster. So Dan Ryan, Marissa Landman, your escapades or Ice Capades — escapades, still hearing Ice Capades, do either of you have a problem with alcohol? Jump right down to that. You know, because the charges I see here include public intoxication, open container disorderly conduct. If you’re going to recap, he can be looking at the list right there. And then we can like get through to like — oh, this isn’t actually, these aren’t animal liberators, these are troubling drunks who like do this crap all the time.

Craig: Right.

John: That creates like actual conflict in the meat of the scene rather than just like setting up the punch lines.

Craig: Yeah, and if you want to get into the fact that they’ve been here before, I think it is reasonable for him to, you know, after their third quip or something, say, “Look. I want to be really clear. This isn’t like last time. Last time, and you know what you did.” And then one of them could say, “We didn’t do anything.” “You punched Chuck E. Cheeze. Well, not the Chuck E. Cheeze but, you know, one of his representatives. This isn’t like last time. There is no more letting you off the hook. This is — we’re now on the hook.” Right? So he can — there’s just a natural way to express a prior relationship that isn’t announcing the existence of it and detailing it for the sake of the audience, you know?

John: I’m just not sure the judge is the right character for that discussion. Like — and in some ways, is it the public defender? Is it the attorney? Is this — there’s someone else that they have sort of deal with that would make more sense than the judge. I just didn’t buy the judge sort of engaging with them on such a low level to some degree.

Craig: I actually completely agree with that and, in fact, I want to warn everybody. If you’re writing a comedy, and this is a comedy-comedy it seems to me, really think twice before you put a judge in it because judges at this point are the corniest of comedy characters. There’s just — we’ve seen 14 million versions, all of whom basically do the same thing. They get [fumphety] and frustrated with a far smarter and far funnier defendant which tends to undermine the, you know, any dramatic threat. It’s just hard to do those things. It’s better to have this scene where they’re just walking out of a building and it’s like, well, that did not go well. [laughs]

You know, they’re just complaining to their lawyer, they’re like, you told us that you could, you know, get us off. And he’s like, well, you did not tell me that you also did these things. So anyway, enjoy jail. You know, you don’t need to do this scene, it’s — but the lines are funny. You know what, I think it’s just like I like salt. I just don’t like eating salt with a spoon, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, years ago, years ago, John, I was hanging out with some people and they were all in The Groundlings. Not the actual troop but, you know, they were taking classes at The Groundlings and I was not taking classes at The Groundlings. And we all went to see the actually Groundlings show which is really funny. I remember Will Farrell was in it because he hadn’t yet gone to = Saturday Night Live and I was like, oh, my god, that guy is hysterical.

And afterwards, we went out to dinner and these improv students were so keyed up from the experience of seeing The Groundlings that they just wouldn’t stop improving and–

John: Oh no.

Craig: I wanted to die. It was terrible. I specifically remember walking down the street with them to a restaurant and we passed a phone booth, that’s how long ago this was. One of the guys opens the booth, picks up the phone and goes, “Hello?” And then hangs it up and I thought that’s not — there’s nothing funny about that. You’re just–

John: No.

Craig: Being wacky now. You’re being pointlessly wacky and I started to feel that way about these two characters. Just being pointlessly wacky. They don’t seem to have any conflict with each other. They don’t seem to ever disagree about anything. They don’t even seem to really be living in our world. They just seem to be little irony machines moving through it. And yeah, if you’re doing sketch, oh, my god. Go for it.

John: Perfect for sketch.

Craig: Yeah, because it’s going to be over soon, right? But this won’t.

John: Yeah, and so I agree that the actual dialogue lines, some of them are really good and funny and I can see them working well in a sitcom situation where you’re pitching a bunch of alternate lines for things. I can see like these guys being really great on a staff like putting together something for — putting together the funny for something. But I wasn’t feeling the engine engaged at all in these three pages. I didn’t hear a distinction between these two characters’ voices. And this may not have been going right into the judge, didn’t give us an opportunity to hear the difference between these two people or even set up the conflict between these two people which has got to be key to the story if the movie is called, Relationshit.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I also want to say, the other reason why you probably shouldn’t have a judge in your movie is, there will never be something funnier with a judge in it than the Rick and Morty version of Denver Fenton Allen. So this is a — we’ll put a link to it because if people haven’t seen it, they absolutely have to see it. So it’s the real transcript of a court case in Georgia with Denver Fenton Allen and it is just remarkable what happens between this man and the judge. And it’s absolutely not safe for work so don’t listen to it in the car with your kids.

Craig: Unless your work is what you and I do, and then it is safe for your work.

John: Totally, totally. All right. Let’s go to our next script here. So next up, our voice is Amy. She’s one of the UK voices and she’s reading the description for Roommates written by Astride Noel.

Craig: All right. Let’s take a listen.

Amy: 32-year-old Whitney sits on the toilet as her roommate, Kai, walks in on her and proceeds to brush her teeth. Kai complains about Whitney’s curly black hairs littering the bathroom floor. Whitney fires back by producing Kai’s own long red hair. Whitney tells Kai she is not comfortable sharing the bathroom while taking a piss. Later, Whitney tries in vain to block out the moaning coming from Kai’s room. She confronts Kai and her lover, asking them to keep it down. We flash back to Whitney and Kai inspecting the apartment as potential roommates and seeming to agree on everything, including the importance of quiet. And that’s the end of page three.

Craig: Well, Amy does not do for me what Sally did, to be honest with you.

John: So that’s so fascinating. So I thought the voice, in many ways, was more natural, but it doesn’t provide the tingle that Craig needs.

Craig: No. It’s not arousing at all. It’s actually kind of — it’s kind of bumming me out.

John: So Amy’s voice reminds me of our script supervisor from Go who was phenomenal and sort of helped keep that movie together during all its tumultuous shooting and had that sort of patient — it’s not a schoolteacher voice, but just, like, a level, calm, nothing was going to rattle her.

Craig: Yeah. The stereotype of the English person with the stiff upper lip, but then thrown like a whole bunch of Librium or something. It’s real, really just – “You know, the Germans are bombing. Oh, well.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Creepy. Creepy.

John: Yeah, creepy.

Craig: All right. What did you think?

John: Well, let’s talk about the actual script. So this script had a lot of problems, and it didn’t ever click in for me. But there was some really useful stuff in here that I think people should take a look at because I think a lot of people’s early scripts have some of these issues, and I think by looking at them, we can get people past some of these sort of common mistakes.

I had a hard time just even getting started in the script. And some of it was just how we meet the characters on the page. Whitney is already in the bathroom, Kai walks in. Kai has this huge, long intro that sort of takes a while to get through. So let’s talk about Kai’s intro. “Kai, a.k.a. Gertrude, 22, white, barges in and startles Whitney. Kai is wearing an oversized Bob’s Burgers t-shirt. Kai waves at an appalled-looking Whitney and proceeds to brush her teeth. Whitney is grabbing toilet paper when Kai faces her.” And then we get into the dialogue about the hair.

There was sort of weird subject-verb — like, I had a hard time really quite understanding, like, what I was looking at or sort of whose movie I was in for a while. Did you feel that?

Craig: Well, I felt something wrong.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think for me, the problem was that the style of introduction and length of introduction was incompatible with the action that you were asking me to envision in the movie, which is somebody barging in on somebody peeing. You barge in, you start talking. Right?

John: Yup.

Craig: So she walks in. What you would have us see in the script is a woman is on the toilet — by the way, very hard to start a screenplay with somebody on the toilet, peeing. It’s just — it’s hard.

John: I think it’s doable. Here’s what I would point out, though. It’s like, you can’t barge in on a character who’s just gotten there. And so if we’ve just gotten there–

Craig: Right.

John: Like the second sentence. So like, I think you would actually need to make a bigger deal of, like, Whitney’s sort of stumbling in, like, not really turning on the light, like, finding it, like, pants down, start to hear the piss, and then Kai comes in and sort of like ruins it. Because that, then you’re like breaking a moment. But the moment hasn’t even started before Kai’s walked in.

Craig: Great point. And the idea of her being half-asleep, I mean, is she slowly nodding off while she’s peeing? I mean, what’s going on there exactly? Because you’re not really — I don’t know how you’re half-asleep. I mean, you’re either falling asleep, or you’re — you know. But it — half-asleep, if you’re not falling asleep, is just tired, woopty-doo.

But when she walks in, I would probably just slide everything up. Kai, first of all, a.k.a. Gertrude, means nothing to me. I’ve never met this person. Don’t give me two names. Just give me one. If she’s Gertrude, later tell me about that. Have that be a surprise. For now, Kai, 22, white, barges in. That’s it. Don’t tell me anything else. Kai, “Hey, those fuzzy little black balls I see on the floor all the time, I’m assuming is your hair. Can you do something about that?”

And then, you know, you can show Whitney reacts, grabbing toilet paper. Kai grabs her toothbrush, starts brushing and keeps going or whatever. But if someone’s barging in, make the dialogue barge in. Otherwise, it feels flabby, you know?

John: Yeah, absolutely. On page two, I thought — I didn’t love the dialogue, but I liked where it was getting to. This is Whitney saying, “When I told you I’m open to sharing the bathroom when I’m in it, I meant if I’m putting my makeup on or brushing my teeth. I like to piss alone.” So not the right words, but I think that’s the right sentiment because it tells us that — it can give us the hint that, like, this is actually Whitney’s apartment that Kai has moved into that they are still negotiating their relationship. And that could be a good exit line, but I would need a better scene before we got there.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the introduction felt paste wrong, but that didn’t — where I kind of hopped off the boat was in the first exchange. Kai says, “Hey, these fuzzy”– so Whitney is black and Kai is white. Kai says, “Hey, these fuzzy little black balls I see on the floor all the time, I’m assuming is your hair. Can you do something about that?” Whitney reaches behind her and pulls out a long string of Kai’s red hair. “This long piece of stringy-type thing that I just pulled out of my ass, I’m assuming is your hair. Could you do something about that?” So a couple of problems here. One, what does it matter to Kai that the hair or fuzzy little black balls — and by the way, I’m not sure that black people’s hair accrues on the floor in fuzzy little black balls, but regardless, I know for sure, because I am white, that white people’s hair doesn’t end up in other people’s butts. Our hair doesn’t have some weird and magical thing that climbs up other people’s butts.

So Whitney — and there’s a weird typo here where there’s a plus after her Y in her name, but Whitney reaches behind her, now I think she means behind herself, right, because you got to be careful with these pronouns when you’re talking about two people of the same gender, you got to be really clear about that. Always ask like, is there confusion possible. Reaches behind her, and pulls out a long string of Kai’s red hair.

If she knows that Kai’s red hair is either up her butt, in her butt, around her butt, none of which by the way —

John: Or on the toilet seat.

Craig: Or on the toilet seat, exactly, none of which I believe. She should have handled it already. She shouldn’t be waiting for the opportunity to spring it upon her roommate like a bon mot because no one wants to sit on someone else’s hair or have someone else’s hair on them. It just does not make sense. And this sounds like–

John: But in some ways, I would love the movie in which that did make sense. Where like Whitney is walking around with a roommate’s hair up her ass the whole time.

Craig: Waiting for Bidet.

John: Yeah, that would be great. I mean it’s no Gator Man, there’s no Gator Dad, it’s no Gator Country, but it’s a thing.

Craig: It’s its own thing like ha-ha, finally, I’ve been waiting for years for you to complain about my hair, so I can show you this. This seems incredibly picky, you know.

These kinds of logic discussions go on in every single writing room that deals with comedy. If comedy is illogical, it will not work. People are so finely attuned. And what they’re really sensitive to is when a writer is fudging things to allow a joke to happen, and they will give you no credit for it, none, because they can see that you basically warped your world to be able to say something that you thought was funny, and all of a sudden, then these aren’t people, it isn’t funny, it’s a written joke, and nothing is working, you know?

John: Yeah. A similar kind of thing happens in page two. So, the middle of the page, we’re in Whitney’s room, and so it’s a nest of elegance, filled with antique furniture and expensive art. Who is Whitney, how does she have all this money? If she has all this money, why does she have a roommate? But so she’s reading a book, The Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson, but inside it, there is another — she’s reading another book actually inside it, which is Lord of the Hissy-Fit, by Elizabeth Mayne, but if you’re alone in your room, why are you doing that trick — that no one actually ever does — of one book inside the other book.

It felt like we’re in a movie, I guess? It was a really frustratingly false moment to me.

Craig: Also, you know, now you’re the director and you’re like, okay, I got a shot here, this woman, she’s reading a book, but there’s a book inside the book, and they need to see the cover of the book that’s inside the book. How do we even–?

John: What?

Craig: Exactly. How do we know that the book inside is Lord of the Hissy-Fit? These are the annoying questions that we ask. But you know, so, A, no reason for her to be disguising it, from, I don’t know, God. B, t’s goofy and yeah, generally sort of hacky. And, C, what comes after that is, again, something we see many times, oh no, my roommate is having loud sex. But I got so confused, because generally speaking, in my mind, when you’re reading one book but you’ve hidden a book inside that is a trashy romance novel, and then I hear, the next line is literally, it starts in low, but then starts to grow the sound of sexual moaning.

In my mind, I’m like, oh okay, Whitney is jerking off to Lord of the Hissy-Fit. But no, she’s not. She’s hearing her roommate. So I don’t know.

John: I got confused, too. I even got confused, like, Kai and her lover are hanging out on swings as they go at it in an impossible position. Is her lover male or female? I have no idea. We never got a pronoun.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I don’t know what’s going on. And it feels like important information on page two. And then at the bottom of page two, we have a flashback, which we’ll call a Jabangwe Jump, because it’s not a Stuart Special because the whole thing doesn’t take place in the past, it’s just a jump cut.

Craig: This is a Jabangwe Jump.

John: Where we see Kai and Whitney sort of first looking and like sussing out whether they should be roommates. So Astride has chosen not to start with this scene, or start with a version of this scene, but honestly, I think it would be better off with a version of the like, hey, like, maybe we could be roommates, or like hey, what do you think of this place?

I know it’s a little generic, but it’s also a chance to meet our two characters before they’re at each other’s throats. And I suspect the premise of this movie, called, Roommates, is about the relationship and the tension between these two women. So seeing them in their natural state before they become roommates would probably be very helpful.

I’m actually curious to see a version of the story that is about the black roommate and the white roommate and sort of issues that I haven’t seen explored in movies a lot, which could be great. I wasn’t getting a sense that I was going to get that movie in these three pages.

Craig: Yeah. I mean part of the problem with stories about roommates is that almost all sitcoms are about roommates at this point. So you’re competing with I don’t know, about a thousand different storylines and situations that we’ve seen on television for free, and you’re asking us to go see a movie, which must turn on some kind of special drama. If you are going to open a movie and then do a Jabangwe Jump, then the thing you open on must be quite startling, I think, to deserve the jump. Otherwise, you’re just showing sort of a, oh here’s, ugh, these two and they’re kind of the drudgery of being roommates, flashback to the drudgery of… – You know, it just doesn’t give you enough to work with there.

But I could not help but escape a general sense of predictability here even the scene where they meet on page three, which I think you’re right, I mean there’s a way to open this movie where first we meet Whitney, and see why she has an apartment full of all this expensive stuff, but needs a roommate. What’s going on in her life, why is this important to have one, does she need it? In what sense is she being hoisted by her own petard by getting a roommate? All these things.

But when Kai comes in, their discussion, it’s so obvious to any normal person that the way Kai is talking indicates this will be a bad roommate. And Whitney doesn’t seem to get it. And that’s no Bueno, you know? If she’s fooled, we should be fooled, right? We want to feel like she’s capable enough or at least as capable as we are in the audience to suss out that somebody is probably bad news.

John: Yes. So here’s Whitney’s dialogue on page three. So Kai says, “Brah, I really like how all the rooms have a fireplace. Classy.” Whitney says, “They’re not functional, but there’s nothing like spending a quiet evening admiring the aesthetics of it all over a cocktail. Which reminds me, do you consider yourself quiet?” Felt, forced and written. And I couldn’t picture the character who is saying that. So I think you’re going to have to paint me a better picture of who Whitney is before you give her that kind of Frasier-like line, because I just didn’t see a universe in which she quite existed, or existed in a way that she would be possibly inviting this other woman into her apartment.

Craig: And it’s particularly incompatible with the way we meet Whitney two pages prior, which was on the toilet. It’s not like Frasier doesn’t pee. He pees. We all do. But that’s like something that you hold back for later because he’s so prim and proper. And this does sound like a prim and proper person who uses words like aesthetics – which is one of my favorite words, but you don’t see me peeing, do you? No.

John: No. Never have. Never hope to.

Craig: No. You won’t.

John: All Right. Let’s get to our third and final script, and this time, we have Emma, another UK voice, reading the description for Popops Lives Alone by Isaac Lipnick. Let’s take a listen.

Emma: Popops sits next to his wife’s hospital bed, holding her hand. His wife passes away, and he pulls the plug, telling her goodbye. In the synagogue, Popops drinks at his wife’s funeral and at her burial. After the funeral, Popops plays gin rummy with his grandson, Benny, who he tells the story of how he caught Field Marshal Rommel by leering him out of his camp with kugel, his favorite dessert.

Meanwhile, Popops’ daughter frets about her father’s living condition, knowing he’ll refuse to move out of his home. Sure enough, when Rachel pitches the idea, Popops shoots her down reminding her he’ll be fine. He can always call on his neighbor, Edna, if he needs help. He leaves to go to the bathroom but is immediately surrounded by mourners and that’s where we’re at, at the end of page three.

Craig: Well, first, a quick review on Emma. Emma’s not alluring, so I’m still a Sally guy.

John: Right.

Craig: I’m all about Sally, you know, for sure.

John: Yeah. Salli with an I, by the way.

Craig: Oh my god. I mean–

John: Yeah.

Craig: Salli was amazing. In fact, Salli is so amazing it makes me hate Emma. Emma sounds depressed to be honest with you.

John: Emma sounds like Emily Mortimer to me. It sounds like Emily Mortimer. Did you ever watch 30 Rock when she was playing Phoebe who has fragile bones like a bird?

Craig: I do remember that.

John: It reminded me of that character.

Craig: Yeah, a little bit. Yeah. Yeah. No. I mean, Emma — look, Emma tried. I get it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, listen, Emma. You’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t try. But, if you know that Salli is also doing it, just go home. Come back a different day. You’re not Salli. You’re never going to be Salli.

John: I think in some ways though, Craig, someone could really object to how you’re treating these women because, yes, they are not real. They are just computerized voices, but like they one day will have feelings, too. And you’re basically — you’re judging them based on how much they excite you and that shouldn’t be it. It’s how well they’re doing their job which is their job should be to communicate to our listeners summaries so that we don’t actually have to read these summaries aloud.

Craig: Well, I don’t have a great track record in the way I treat fictional female characters. I treat actual human women brilliantly, but, you know, fictional women, I just — I don’t know. I’m a cad. I’m a real cad. Yeah.

John: But let’s get to Isaac’s script here. So, Craig, I have a suspicion that within the first two-eighths of a page, you’ll have a concern.

Craig: I do and again, it’s just about signaling to an audience that they’re in good hands or they’re not in good hands and that’s all about inspiring confidence in your storytelling. And part of inspiring confidence in your storytelling is not relaying something immediately that is just flat out nuts.

And in this case, what is flat out nuts is that Popops is with his dying wife, the heart monitor flat lines, [laughs] and he pulls the plug. No. No. You don’t pull the plug because you’ve seen TV and you know that the flat — no. You know, a lot of times what happens is people come in and revive that person. But even if they have a “Do not resuscitate,” you don’t touch the plug, sir.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because you might go to jail for murder. You can’t do that and everybody knows you can’t do that. Everybody knows in the world that a guy sitting next to a dying woman doesn’t go, “All right, well, let me pull the plug.” No.

John: Let me give a scenario which that character could do that. And so, if we saw a flat line and we’re there for like a really, really uncomfortably long time and he’s looking around and he’s like does he go to the door. He like doesn’t know what to do, and like no one seems to be coming and eventually he pulls the plug. I would buy that scene, but it would have to be like a really long, long, long uncomfortable moment until finally we would say, “Oh, thank god. He pulled the plug.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: But if he pulls the plug within the first 10 seconds of that drone, he’s a monster.

Craig: Or one, I mean, look, it’s not like pulling the plug, like, she’s on an iron lung or, you know, a breathing machine. You know, it’s not — it’s just the monitor, right? It doesn’t impact it per se, but you don’t touch medical equipment in a hospital. If it flat lines, you — we understand unless you’re in some kind of weird warzone where everyone’s going crazy, someone will be in very, very shortly to turn it off.

John: Yes.

Craig: And, in fact, what I would find so much more human and revealing is if I’m there and my wife is dying and it flat lines and it’s going beep, and I just put my hands over my ears because the sound of it is awful. But I can’t. I don’t turn that off.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: So, I got angry immediately.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I could sense that. So, let’s move ahead though in the script. So, we’re at the synagogue, the cantor sings, The Mourner’s Kaddish, the grave site. Then we’re in Popops’ living room, and we’re here for the rest of the script. We’re here for the rest of the three pages. And so this is all the mourners back at the house. They are schmoozing and noshing.

Craig: This is just kidding. You know, I really wish that I actually think that the computer voices would probably do a better job saying some of these words then you because would you’re from Colorado. [laughs]

John: I’m from Colorado. So, what have I said wrong here?

Craig: Well, it’s Kaddish. Kaddish not Kaddish. The Mourner’s Kaddish.

John: Kaddish.

Craig: Yes. But schmoozing and noshing, you nailed those.

John: I did. It’s all because of Noah’s Bagels. They taught me how to say those words. And so, Popops is playing gin rummy with Benny, his youngest grandson, who worships the ground he walks on. Benny has no age. Benny needs an age.

Craig: He’s going to get an age later. Not good. [laughs]

John: Does he?

Craig: Yeah. That’s the problem. So, you know, when I read this like you, I just said, “It’s Popops playing gin rummy with Benny, his youngest grandson.” I’m, like, it’s okay, it’s gin rummy, it’s a grandson. Probably 13, 14 years old. Later on page three, Rachel says, “I told you not to play for money with him. He’s only 6.” Now–

John: Whoa.

Craig: You know, here’s the thing; I got the feeling that Isaac was trying to kind of make a joke reveal over something that would not be a joke reveal in a movie because we can see the kid there. We have to know that he’s six years old from the start. You can’t do a weird misdirect on something that only works as a misdirect for the blind, you know?

John: Putting Benny’s age here greatly changes my reaction to some of the things he’s saying. So, like, when Popops is saying, like, “I ever tell you about how me and Lenny caught Field Marshal Rommel?” You’re saying that to a six-year-old, it’s a very different experience than saying it to a 13-year-old. Like a 13-year-old, like, kind of rolls his eyes. A six-year-old is, like, I don’t know what a field marshal or Rommel is, but okay. it’s–

Craig: Right.

John: A very different experience. I will say, and I suspect you had the same instinct, is whenever you have an old man starting a story with like, “Did I ever tell you about this time when–“

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: You immediately think of Grandpa Simpson. I mean, it’s very much that kind of, like, ugh, I know the stock version of this scene. And unfortunately, I wasn’t getting a very different version than the stock version of that scene.

Craig: Yeah. It’s an old man telling a baloney story to a kid and it’s a bad baloney story. I got to say. Well, look, first of all, as a Jewish person, you know, I understand that a lot of what’s going on here is the conveyance of the cultural experience of a multigenerational Jewish family and this is sitting shiva which is the traditional thing you do after a loved one dies. And there’s all these little things that are very much, you know, covering of mirrors and people coming over, and the food, and all that stuff, and kugel — lots of kugel talk. But it almost feels weirdly, like it’s Margaret Mead describing a Jewish gathering, you know. I mean, it’s — it doesn’t feel confident. It’s, like, so much, like, here’s this, here’s this, here’s this. The thing about the kugel and the kind of kugel and the sweet kind with raisins and apricots and I’m going to talk about Nazis and we’re playing gin, it felt, yeah, weirdly anthropological and not just natural and being. Do you know what I mean?

John: Yeah. It also felt vintage. I had no idea what era this was set in because it could had been set in any era. It was obviously post-Nazi but other than that, I really didn’t know whether this was happening now or this was happening in the ‘80s. And that’s not a good sign either.

Craig: That’s a great point. I mean, I presumed that it was happening now but then again, I don’t know, he pulls the plug. I can see that happening in, like, 1963. [laughs]

John: Yeah. Back then they’re like, “Yeah, this thing is annoying me.”

Craig: The nurse is, like, “You know, when she goes, go ahead and, you know, you can shut that off.”

John: You can just pull the plug. [laughs]

Craig: Pull it. You just do it. Pull it. Pull it. We’re good. We’re busy. You know, just let us know.

John: So, at the top of page three, Popops says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Popops cannot say this. That’s — this line cannot be spoken in a movie. This is a quote from Mark Twain. I did a Google search with that in quotes. There are 37,000 Google results for this line. So, even though Popops probably would say this because he’s saying it like a quote, you can’t put it in a movie. It’s just too trite, too cliché, and I would have put down the script right then if I didn’t have to read to the bottom of the page.

Craig: Yeah. Although you know what would’ve been awesome. I had the same reaction, but then this is what I thought. What would actually be really cool is if Popops said to Benny, “You know, what I always say, never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” And then Rachel says, “You didn’t say that. Mark Twain said that.” And then he says, “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.” Then I would go, “Okay, he knows.” Like the movie is not pretending that they don’t know–

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that we don’t know, it’s just kind of his point, you know. But–

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. You know, you can’t really — again, this is all about confidence and, yeah, listen, you and I have been to a lot of test screenings. The percentage of people in the typical test screening that would know that that’s a Mark Twain comment and not something that he said, yeah, probably 5%.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But that’s a lot — that’s a big five.

John: But that 5% though, even if they didn’t know Mark Twain said that, they would have heard that before. It’s just, like, it’s just–

Craig: Yeah.

John: An old thing.

Craig: Yeah. No, I agree and–

John: It’s a clam.

Craig: It’s — yeah.

John: So, Craig, like, you can put a hat on a clam which I thought you did a very good job of putting a hat on the clam. But it’s still a clam.

Craig: Yeah, you can put a hat on it, you can put beard on it, whatever you want.

John: Totally. Yeah.

Craig: But, yeah, I agree even if you don’t know — even if you’ve never heard it before actually, how about this? It still sounds like some kind of I don’t know, what’s the word, epigraph? Is that what you call these things?

John: Yeah.

Craig: It feels like a crafted little bon mot, not something that somebody just says. And none of this is helped by the fact that there are having the most mundane adult daughter/aging widowed grandfather or widower-father discussion all the time which is “You’re alone now, you shouldn’t live alone, daddy. Come live with me.” “I don’t want to. I’m fine on my own.” Again? But I think that is so cliché that if Melissa should die before me, and I’m really old, and my daughter comes to me and says, “Dad, you really can’t live alone.” I’ll say, “You know what? I want to, but I cannot bear to have the boring conversation with you about how I’m fine and I shouldn’t. So you know what? Yeah, okay. I’ll go live with you just to not have that incredibly clichéd argument.”

We’ve just seen it so many times. I will say though that there was — I did like Edna and it was cute. I wished that–

John: I liked Edna, too.

Craig: He needed to help me. He needed to help me, so I got to Edna on page three. So Edna comes by on page two and says, “I’m so sorry for your loss, Adrian. If there’s anything I could do, I’m just down the street.” Then she heads off. He goes back to his story. Then on page three, Edna comes back, “I am so sorry for your loss. If there is anything I could do, I’m down the street. I know where you live.” So we get it. Oh, okay, she’s, you know, got dementia or something.

But when I got to page three, I was like wait who’s Edna, how does he know she’s down the street, and then I had to go back, because it wasn’t like her line was particularly interesting on page two. We needed I think a little bit of direction there, of like, you know, Edna walks back up again, weirdly, you know, her expression hasn’t changed, you know.

And give me something so I’m like, “Oh, yeah,” or give me something when she walks over, “Edna, an elderly neighbor approaches Popops with her walker.” Give me a little bit more there just so I know like pay attention to Edna. This might matter. Something, you know. But it was a good — it was a cute moment.

John: It’s the right idea, for sure. So it’s a senior with memory loss who’s repeating. She’s sort of doing a Dory, and that’s great. It’s a nice idea. What I had a bigger problem with on the top of page three is like Popops gets through his story and so while he was telling his story, the daughter Rachel was talking with a family friend about like, “Oh, Popops, he can’t live alone.” But then she goes right to him and says like, “You could live with us. Please consider it, dad.”

It felt really weird that like she was suddenly telling him that right now. There was no motivation for that conversation to be happening right there. It felt like it should be a separate conversation.

Craig: Oh, yeah, listen here is something that is true about – Shiva is a very weird thing because, you know, I don’t think anybody else does this. I know that in some cultures they’ll have a wake, which is specifically a party where you get drunk and talk about somebody who died and that sounds way cooler than sitting shiva. But sitting shiva is basic.

The whole point of sitting Shiva is let us distract you from the pain of mourning. So we’re going to all sit around and eat food and chitchat. And maybe tell some jokes and just keep it lighthearted and not do stuff like this nor would you have this discussion in front of a whole bunch of other people. What a weird time to do it. You’re absolutely right, even though you are the least Jewish person in the world, you innately understood that.

John: Yeah. I think I understood it better than Salli could understand it.

Craig: No, how dare you. How dare you!

John: So as always, I want to thank our writers for writing in with their scripts, and letting us take a look at them. You guys are incredibly brave, so thank you. I hope this conversation helped a bit to get you to your next draft and your next passes. If you have a script you would like us to take a look at, don’t send it to the email address, instead go to, all spelled out and there’s an entry form there that you attach a PDF, you fill out some questions, and you send it through.

Godwin takes a look at absolutely every one of those things that gets submitted. And sends a couple of them our way every once in a while to take a look at on the air. So thank you to everyone who wrote in and thank you to these people especially for letting us discuss their scripts on the air.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So what is your final assessment of text-to-speech in 2016, Craig Mazin?

Craig: Salli. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: Salli and I are — even while you were just doing that, we started a little bit of a relationship because I can — Salli will say whatever I want her to say. So I can have Salli talk to me all day long.

John: It’s Her all over again.

Craig: Yeah, if Melissa is not saying the things I want her to say, I’ll just have Salli say it. No big deal. And Melissa does not say the things that I want her to say. [laughs]

John: Of the three, Emma was my favorite. I know she was calm, she was rational, but also had a little bit of perk to her, so I wanted her to tell me the headlines.

Craig: She sounded like a broken woman to me. [laughs]

John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. I actually have two One Cool Things, I don’t know if Craig has one.

Craig: I do, I do. I have one. Yeah.

John: So my two One Cool Things, the first one is Harry Potter and the Translator’s Nightmare, which is a Vox video that talks through the translations of Harry Potter and how challenging that was for all the 30 or 50 or however many languages that book series was translated into because Rowling had so many special words and concepts that had to be described and she had puns and like “I am Voldemort” like all sort of things that had to sort of make sense in whatever language they ended up in. So it’s a good little five-minute video that talks through the process of translating. And I’m not too far away from having to deal with that for my own book.

And so it was great for me to see like, oh yeah, I should actually warn translators of those things because some of that stuff is much more important than you would guess down the road.

Craig: That’s a really good point. I wouldn’t have thought about that, but yeah, it’s got to be absolutely maddening. I mean, how do you translate a word that doesn’t exist, like muggles?

John: Exactly, so you’d make up stuff. And so even things like Hogwarts, like some languages chose to like, say, oh, we’ll take the word for hog and that word for warts and put them together. But Hogwarts really isn’t about hogs and warts. It’s just like a cool name.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so other languages made very different choices. In some languages, they would omit things or change things because they didn’t think it was like all that relevant in Book 1. But then like in Book 4, like, oh, wow, that becomes a really important thing. And because of the change they made, they have to sort of deal with the changes they made. So that’s a tough thing.

Craig: Can you imagine if you were writing a screenplay for a studio and it’s about magical kids at a magical boarding school. And you said, “And the magical boarding school will be named Hogwarts.” I don’t think that would go over too well with them. No. “Well, that doesn’t sound likeable.”

John: No. I think that wouldn’t have done well at the pitch competition and it wouldn’t have made it through.

Craig: It would have been great for me.

John: My other One Cool Thing is a really quick and easy one. It’s The Americans on FX, which I’ve just started watching and were now into Season 2. It’s really terrifically well done. Are you watching the show, Craig?

Craig: As you know, I don’t watch television. However —

John: Yes?

Craig: My friend, Stephen Schiff, excellent screenwriter — interestingly, in his past life, film critic, he was a very well-respected film critic, for whatever that’s worth, but then turned his back on it, and became a writer, and wrote Deep End of the Ocean, I believe, was the movie, right, Michelle Pfeiffer movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. And the second Wall Street film and now, he is one of the, I think, he’s a pretty highly placed writer on The Americans and I hear it’s great. So for his sake — and he’s like the greatest guy. So I should watch it. But, you know, first, I have to watch television.

John: Yeah. So if you are in Europe or at least if you’re in France, the first couple of seasons are on Netflix. I think they’re on Amazon in the US. So it’s a very easy show to sort of bolt through and catch up on because they only have 13 episodes seasons. So we’ve quite enjoyed The Americans on FX. And, really, one of those premises that I wouldn’t have thought could have sustained itself and it manages to be both the spy story of the week, and have ongoing arcs in ways you wouldn’t think possible. So I would just commend the writers of The Americans, and urge you to watch it.

Craig: Fantastic. My One Cool Thing is for your feet. John, do you wear slippers?

John: I never wear slippers. So convince me why I should.

Craig: Well, I can’t, really. It’s either you’re a slipper person or you’re not. Now, I don’t wear anything out of the house. It’s like I don’t wear like sandals. I don’t wear any of that. Give me a proper shoe or a sneaker or something. But when I wake up in the morning, I want to put my slippers on. It feels so good. It feels so good. So I got these slippers that are just the best. And, slippers, you buy them once, they last you ten years, right? I’m so in love with these. They feel — every morning, I’m happy to put them on. So it’s made by Ugg. You know Ugg like Ugg boots?

John: I know Ugg. Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. I’m the last person you’d think would know about Ugg and I only know about it because, you know, Melissa said, “Oh, you should buy something. Like Ugg probably has a good…” She was right. So the Ugg Australia Men’s Ascot Slipper. Australia may just be — but I don’t know. I think it’s just Ascot Slipper. That’s the key.

John: So do these slippers have a heel? Do they have — do they go back behind your heel or you just slip them on? Because I can’t stand the ones that are just like these spa slippers.

Craig: Oh No. No. No. I would never, in my life, ever do that. That’s horrifying to me. Like anything that makes a flip flopping noise is anathema. No, this is more like moccasin style.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s suede but the inside is all, now, what I would call — the inside, I would call like fluffy white stuff. But apparently the word for that is shearling.

John: How nice is that?

Craig: Yeah. The inside is shearling and the outside is a nice suede, and yes, it’s full coverage. Super comfy. John, I feel like you would love these. What size foot are you?

John: I am a size 11.5.

Craig: Okay. We the same size feet, which is great, so we could share shoes now.

John: God. [laughs] My dream has come true.

Craig: You have access now to my vast collection of four things. But size yourself up a little bit on these. Go for the 12. Go for the 12, John. I think you will be thrilled.

John: All right. I might even try them here en France to get into the slippery of it all. That’s our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Uh-huh.

John: Our outro this week comes from Rich Woodson. If you have an outro, you can send it to us at This is also the place where you send your questions. On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you’ll find the apps, in the applicable app stores.

You can use the apps to access and get all of our back episodes where we talk about many of the things and all the old Three Page Challenges. You could find show notes for this episode, and all episodes at That’s where you’ll find Craig’s magical slippers. It’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We get them up about four days after the episodes air. In the sidebar, or at you can find the USB drives that have all of the old episodes.

But more importantly, you need to order your t-shirts because this is the last week for ordering t-shirts. So get those orders in and they will print them up, and you’ll have them on your back before Christmas, which would be great. So, Craig, thank you for another fun Three Page Challenge.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Have a great day. Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Welcome to Gator Country

Tue, 11/01/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John listen to the winner of the Austin Film Festival’s pitch competition and discuss what makes it work so well — and why you would never give this form of a pitch in an actual meeting.

Then it’s another round of the Three Page Challenge, with three special guest readers, one of whom Craig likes far too much.

Last call! The all-new 2016 Scriptnotes t-shirts are available for limited pre-order. If you miss out, you’ll have nothing to wear for 12 months. You only have a few days left, so get clicking! Links:

Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 273: What is a Career in Screenwriting Like? — Transcript

Fri, 10/28/2016 - 13:41

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 273 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast we’ll be answering listener questions from our overflowing mailbag, tackling issues including comedy roundtables, getting rewritten, coffee meetings, and yes, moving to Los Angeles.

Craig, you’re back from Austin. How was it?

Craig: It was –it was great. I have to apologize, there is, you know, my normal noisy street is slightly noisier right now because you know sometimes trucks come by and spray the street with water?

John: Yes.

Craig: I feel like they’re doing that but they keep spraying the same spot, like right outside my window. As if I’m extra dirty.

John: Maybe they just want something to grow there. They’re just carefully tending that patch of asphalt hoping that something magnificent will erupt.

Craig: You know who is extra dirty and who has magnificent things that erupt all the time?

John: Tell me who that is. [laughs]

Craig: Sexy Craig.

John: Ugh, that’s just the worst.

Craig: He reached out to the city. You guys got to come by.

John: I thought you were going to talk about one of the Austin guests you had on the live show. I really enjoyed the live show. So, I got to listen to it at the same time everybody else did. So I didn’t pre-listen to it. Godwin listened to it, and of course Matthew cut it and cut out all the most embarrassing stuff out of it.

But it was delightful. And so as I was listening there, it would not have been any better for my actually being there because like one host with like four panelists, a second host does not make that better. A second host actually makes that much, much worse. But if I had been a panelist up there, I wanted to jump in on one question you asked which is, if there was one bit of advice you would offer to new screenwriters about how to break in —

Craig: Yeah.

John: My bit of advice would be to be the protagonist in your own story. And I think so often we talk about characters and sort of like their journeys and as they’re going through life. But somebody wants to break in as a screenwriter, think of yourself as that person who wants to break in as a screenwriter and what would you ask of your protagonist.

Well, you probably ask for them to actually really try hard to sort of clearly state their goals, to, you know, fail every once in a while, to pick themselves up when they do fail, to find allies, to be an ally to other people. I think if sometimes if writers could step outside of themselves and look at themselves as the person trying to do the things they’re trying to do, they might feel much more confident in making the choices and the chances that they’re taking.

Craig: Well you see we did miss you because that would have been great, and I completely agree. In fact, every year I do a talk at the Guild for Guild members and it’s more professional because it is for Guild members. So it’s specifically about how to make it through development.

Now, obviously a lot of the people that we speak to at Austin, they haven’t gotten to the place yet where they’re dealing with studio executives and producers. But that’s exactly the message I give them which is how do we be the protagonist of our own story. And it is very valuable to think of it that way because it’s the thing we’re best at, you know —

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Thinking narratively. So that’s great advice. We had a terrific time there. I was, you know, we kind of did this fun little thing that we weren’t sure would work which is to not put it on the schedule and to drop little hints about it. And then eventually they just maybe the morning of the event, just tweeted okay this is what’s happening and this is where it’s going to happen.

I had gone out to dinner with all the people that were on that panel. I was at dinner with and I said, “Look after this dinner we’re going go over there and we’re going to do this. I have no idea if people are going to show up. I got to be honest with you. I just don’t know.”

And we get there and it’s packed. The ballroom — the big room — packed. And it was –the crowd was hot. This is – you know, remember that year we did it and they had scheduled us at like 9:30 in the morning?

John: That’s brutal.

Craig: Yeah. We’re never doing that again. We’re always doing it at 10PM. It was the best. Everybody was just in a great mood and we had a great show.

John: Well as Aline Brosh McKenna often reminds us that Scriptnotes is best recorded after one and a half glasses of wine. And so you guys had at least that in you I could tell as you were recording the show and it definitely worked.

Question for you, while you were in Austin at the Austin Film Festival, did you see any Scriptnotes t-shirts out in the wild?

Craig: The answer is, yes. And in fact I saw so many that it actually took me until the final day, which was Sunday, to realize that I was seeing them. I don’t know how else to put it. I realized at that point, wait a second I’ve been seeing these all weekend and I haven’t been saying anything to anyone. I mean, so many Scriptnotes t-shirts. It was very nice to see people — boy, do people buy these things. You are stealing so much money from me, it’s unbelievable.

John: It’s just delightful actually is what I’m doing. Because the thing is, what we have to remember and sometimes you forget this, is that Scriptnotes is not just a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. It’s also one of the major clothiers of screenwriters really worldwide. I mean, if you want to take a look at sort of what most screenwriters are wearing on a daily basis, what I’m wearing on a daily basis, what I’m wearing at this moment is a Scripnotes t-shirt.

And so one of the questions I’ve been getting recently through Twittter and also in the mailbag is, “Hey are you going to make more t-shirts?” And the answer was, well we’re not quite sure because obviously I’m in Paris and Godwin is new and Stuart is gone, and so much has changed that like it felt weird to make t-shirts, but also feels weird not to make t-shirts.

So the answer is yes, we are making brand new t-shirts. The 2016 t-shirts are available for order right now as we record the show.

Craig: So they can’t buy them yet? We’re — first we’re making them. Is that the idea?

John: Yeah. So essentially what we’ve always done before is like, we take preorders and then we print exactly the shirts that are ordered and we ship those out and like that’s only time you can buy Scriptnotes t-shirts.

We’re doing the same kind of thing this year, but instead of printing them ourselves and packaging them ourselves in our little office in Los Angeles, we’re using this great service called Cotton Bureau that does the t-shirts for a lot of other popular podcasts. And so they are going to be doing the job that Stuart and I and Dustin and Nima would usually be doing, which is printing the shirts and putting them in bags and sending them out with love to the rest of the world.

Craig: That sounds great. People will buy them and people really do. They were walking around with them. I saw some vintages, you know. Some of the — some of the OG t-shirts. I saw a bunch of the new ones. A lot of the — that deconstructed screenplay image one.

So, yes, they will be bought for sure. Yeah. God, I saw so many of them. You would have — you would have noticed all of them. This is one — of all the differences we have, this may be the most stark. [laughs] You would have absolutely noticed all of them and I didn’t realize I was looking at them for three days.

John: Yeah. Well there are a bunch of t-shirts. And like that’s the thing, because we do new ones each and we never repeat ourselves, there is actually a lot. So the Scriptnotes t-shirts that I can recall actually existing. There was — the first remember was Umbrage Orange and Rational Blue.

Craig: Right.

John: And they were many more blues than oranges sold because it’s kind of hard to wear an orange shirt. That’s what we sort of realized. Then we did a classic black, we did the Scriptnotes tour shirt which remains one of my favorite shirts.

Craig: Right.

John: Three-act structure. We did the Camp Scriptnotes. So we’ve had a bunch of different shirts available for purchase. This year, the two new designs, one is called Midnight Blue and it is a very subtle blue Scriptnotes logo on a blue shirt. The other is called Gold Standard or Three Page Challenge, I’m not sure which we should call it.

It is a representation of a screenplay page that is glowing in gold, actually three pages that are glowing in gold. As if it is the absolute perfect three pages that has been submitted to the podcast.

Craig: You know I didn’t — it’s funny you mentioned, I’d forgotten that — I did not see any Camp Scriptnotes t-shirts.

John: They were not a huge seller. They’re really fun but I think honestly the ringer t-shirt aspect of it all was a detriment to us because ringer t-shirts are a little bit harder to wear.

Craig: I don’t know what a ringer t-shirt is.

John: So that’s the one that has the different stitching around the sleeves and so the edges of the sleeves is a different material. And so it’s very true to a camp shirt but they’re actually not quite as comfortable, I want to be honest. And if there’s anything we’ve learned through making a bunch of Scriptnotes t-shirts is that comfort is key.

And so for all of these years we’ve been doing this, we’ve had Stuart Friedel, and Stuart Friedel is, you know, sort of world-renowned for his ability to find the absolute softest t-shirt made to humankind.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I mean Stuart’s sense of softness.

Craig: Yeah. He’s like the Princess and the Pea, you know. He can feel even the slightest stitch out of place.

John: Yeah. I mean, he’s sort of a savant. And without Stuart, I had to actually like, you know, research and so I went to Cotton Bureau and I checked out the shirts that we’d actually be printing on. An ATP shirt is the one I have as an example. And you know what? I think we did it. I think we matched the softness.

Craig: Ooh. Well, that’s very exciting. Well I’m going to redub these. I think we should call it Umbrage Blue and the Umbrage Standard.

John: So it’s only Umbrage. There’s no rationality left in the t-shirt world.

Craig: Yeah, I just I want to claim credit for everything. [laughs].

John: All right, so if you would like to see these t-shirts, there’s a link in the show notes for this. You will also find it on the website. They’re over at Cotton Bureau and they are $25, $24 roughly a piece. It depends a little bit on which printing of shirt you want to do.

But just like before, we’re only going to be selling them for like two or two and a half weeks and so you have to get your order in like right now. You might want to pause the podcast and actually order them because once we stop printing them, then we’re done. So that there’s no more chances to buy them, just like all our previous t-shirts. They are tri-blend, they are super soft, they are really good and they are available in women sizes and in men sizes. So I think all of our listeners should enjoy them, whichever one they want.

The only thing I would ask and sort of a challenge to our listeners is that, because we’re printing through this other site, they show all the other t-shirts that they printed. They have like a wall of fame for the designs that have been most printed. And I would love to sort of beat some of the other podcasts that are on there.

So there’s a podcast called The Incomparable which is a delightful podcast, but they sold 458 of their t-shirts when they last printed. I think we can beat The Incomparable. I think we can print more than 458 t-shirts. In my wildest fantasies, I’d even love to beat the Accidental Tech podcast which sold 2,504 shirts. I don’t know that we can do that, but also look at our metrics and we’ve a lot of listeners, Craig. So, if they want to buy a t-shirt, this would be the time.

Craig: But do we know how, what percentage our listeners have torsos?

John: That’s absolutely a really good question because they could be disembodied like AI. They could be computers who are writing screenplays.

Craig: Right.

John: And who are listening to the podcast and learning how to replace all of us human writers.

Craig: Or just had that thing where their head grows out of their waist.

John: That’s another strong possibility.

Craig: Is that a thing? I don’t know, I mean it feels like it should be a thing.

John: It probably is a thing. Anyway, this is the first week you can buy them. You can also buy them next week, but then you can sort of stop buying them. So, if you’d like to buy them, you can buy them. If we can somehow beat this other podcast, I think Craig and I should think of some challenge to provide ourselves for our listeners if they actually manage to beat those other podcasts. I don’t what that will be.

Craig: Oh, that sounds great. Yeah, no. Sure.

John: Sure.

Craig: I’m in on any challenge. Any — anything.

John: Maybe we’ll have to sing a duet or something. We’ll do something terrific and also potentially embarrassing.

Craig: Ooh, l like that. Can it be one with, like one the Peabo Bryson classics.

John: 100% Peabo Bryson.

Craig: Great.

John: You can even do it in Sexy Craig voice if you have to.

Craig: I don’t know how else to do it.

John: There’s no — there’s no non-sexy way to sing Peabo Bryson.

Craig: No, sir.

John: All right, let’s get back to our follow up. So two weeks ago we answered a question from Matthew, an aspiring screenwriter who found himself on the autism spectrum and was wondering about his future. We got some great emails in and tweets and other people writing in about autism. So I thought we’d go through some of those emails today.

Craig, do you want to take this first one from Thomas?

Craig: Yeah, sure. This is Thomas from the Netherlands. So, you know, again we gather these nations in our larger governing nation of Scriptnotes world. Thomas from Netherlands writes, “I was listening to Episode 271 and in that episode you read the email from Matthew, an aspiring screenwriting with autism spectrum disorder. I have the diagnosis as well and I was really moved by his email.

“I often get the feeling I will never make it in the film industry because of my disability. When I heard the email Matthew sent in, I could really relate to his insecurities and I was really happy to hear that you guys feel like it shouldn’t limit you in the industry.

“I just wanted to tell Matthew through your podcast that he’s not the only one feeling insecure about his autism and that you could do anything if you put your mind to it. Someone who seems to agree with me would be Steven Spielberg. Although he’s never been officially diagnosed, Spielberg has claimed in the past to have a mild form of autism.

“I tend to think about that every time I feel insecure. It helps me to know that one of the greatest of all time has something in common with me. Be the person you are, not the diagnosis you’ve been given.”

John: Now that’s great advice, Thomas from Netherlands. So thank you for writing in with that. Edward Miles Stapleton wrote in with a link to a blog post which I thought was great. And this blog post makes the case that we shouldn’t think of autism spectrum disorder as a linear range like 1 to a 100. So you shouldn’t think about it like just like, oh he’s a little autistic, or like he’s highly autistic.

Rather, you should think about it more like a color wheel and so you can think like any spot on that color wheel can represent sort of one person’s experience of autism and sort of like what aspects they have and what aspects they don’t have. I thought that was actually a really nice metaphor for like what autism looks like and feels like and how it can present itself so differently in different people.

Craig: Exactly. And really part of when we say like autism spectrum disorder, we are implying that on the other side, there are these other things that are ordered. And I’m not exactly sure that that is true for a lot of what we call spectrum behavior because there’s a lot of people who do not have any symptoms that would place them on the spectrum but have different issues.

So, there are a lot people that just really struggle with math, okay? And in a vague sense we can call that sort of opposite of what you typically see with people on the autism spectrum. Well is the inability or the struggle to think mathematically, a disorder? I don’t think so, nor do I think that being, you know, really good at that but having trouble parsing let’s say visual/social cues is in and of itself any worse.

It’s just that we’re all better at some things than others. And that there are a lot of behaviors that seem to be interrelated. So if you’re not good at this, you probably won’t be good at this. And if you are good at this, you’d likely be good at this. So I think this is great. I mean we know, look, on extremes of anything, you’re going to find challenges. And in extremes of anything, it’s fair to say this is a disorder and it would be great if you could improve it, you know.

If you are non-verbal, that’s rough, and it would be great if you can improve it, and it’s also not very common. But for most people I think who are on the spectrum, it’s helpful to think of yourselves as just, this is just basically who I am. It’s not necessarily disorder.

John: Absolutely. So finally, I want to note that a listener wrote in to point out that the WGA actually does have a Writers with Disabilities Committee whose whole focus is access and inclusion for writers with different disabilities, including autism. So if Matthew or another screenwriter with autism finds himself in the WGA, this would be the place you might want to check out and sort of there are panels, there are sort of special programs to sort of help connect you with executives, with agents, with other people who may be interested in your specific skill set, your abilities, and your stories. So like all the different sort of diverse writers in the Writers Guild, there are specific committees that are there to sort of help focus on your issues.

All right, let’s get to some questions. First off, we have a question from Sam Jackson.

Craig: Awesome. I can’t believe he listens.

John: “Hello, my name is Sam Jackson. I’m a senior at Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. In my English class, we’re currently working on a big research project about a career path we’d like to follow. I am doing my report on screenwriting. A requirement of the project is to interview someone who has actual experience in the career we’re studying. Would you consider, or be willing to answer 10 questions I have? If so, here are my questions.”

Craig: The fact that you’re reading these, I think, is an indication that we have considered it and are willing. [laughs]

John: Number one, what is a career in screenwriting like?

Craig: Don’t know. Next? I’m going to do this like Drumpf. Nevermind. Wrong.

John: So maybe we can plough through this, but I also kind of want to answer his questions because I feel like, you know, the one sentence answer might be sort of more than anyone is giving him otherwise.

Craig: Okay. I mean I’ll be meaner about it.

John: All right. I would say a career in screenwriting is like a career in journalism in that you are being paid to write for other people, and there’s a very specific form you have to follow, which can be great, but can also be frustrating at times. Craig, what is being a screenwriter like?

Craig: There’s no way to properly answer that. It’s not a great question, sorry, Sam. It’s just not a great question. It’s just not – it’s like what is being a doctor like? What? How do you – it’s like it is. I don’t, ugh.

John: What are some things to consider when looking into a career in screenwriting?

Craig: I just can’t. You do it.

John: [laughs] I would say, consider what kind of writing you actually enjoy, and whether you’re getting into screenwriting because you want to make movies, or because you look at this as a way to make a lot of money quickly, because it’s not that.

Craig: I have a little bit of an answer for this one. You have to consider that there are very, very few jobs, and many, many, many people who want them. So high risk, high reward.

John: Question three, is it very difficult to break into this industry? If so, why is that?

Craig: Sam, you know the answer to that question. You can’t ask questions you know the answer to. The only way this makes sense is if Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, has been encased in some kind of weird isolation tomb.

John: Oh, that would be kind of amazing. Sort of like that Stephen King Bubble the Dome show.

Craig: It’s in the dome.

John: Roncalli is in the dome.

Craig: If this town is under the dome, I totally get this and I apologize. If it’s not, Sam, I will say to you what I say to my own son in high school: I think you can do better.

Okay, you know it is very difficult to break into this industry. If so, why is that? Because they don’t make a lot of movies and millions of people want to be in the movie business.

John: 100%. What do you think makes a good script good? I would say that a clear point of view, an interesting main character, and a story that wants to have a beginning, a middle, and end.

Craig: Yup. [laughs]

John: What do you think makes a bad script bad, Craig?

Craig: It’s a similar thing to what makes bad questions bad.

John: I think too much concern about structure, and hitting key points, and too many screenwriting books.

Craig: I’m a real jerk. I just want to say. And I hope we keep this in the show just as evidence for all time how much better of a person you are than I am. It’s–

John: [laughs] Yeah. Trust me. Matthew is not going to edit any of this out.

Craig: I mean, it is so great. And really, you are so much better of a person. And Sam, I do apologize. I’m not trying to be mean, it’s just I’m struggling with this.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But, hey, you know what, I’ll answer the next one. I’ll be a good guy. The next question is, are there any pitfalls that come with this career? Yes, there are. It is not often steady employment for people, and there is no clear path to entry, and no clear path to promotion.

John: I would also say that it’s never quite clear where you are in your career, and so success can often just dissipate without warning, so that’s the other frustration, like, you could say like, oh, it’s hard to break in, but even when you’re “In,” it’s very easy to sort of fallout. You’re only working from one job to the next job.

The next question, how do you keep screenwriting exciting without losing interest, Craig Mazin?

Craig: If you are meant to be a screenwriter, you’re meant to be a writer of any kind, this won’t be a problem. This is what you’re interested in doing. You are — even when it is painful, even when it is difficult, you are on some level compelled to keep going.

John: I would agree. Is it a bad thing to aspire to be the best in this industry?

Craig: [laughs] Yes, it’s terrible.

John: The actual correct answer is, no. You should aspire to be the absolute best in any industry. And certainly the best version of yourself in that industry you can possibly be. I don’t understand how that question could be answered yes, that it’s bad to aspire, it’s bad to want things. I guess in a Buddhist sense, maybe it would be. Like if you were like–

Craig: I have a new theory. Roncalli High School is not under a dome. Roncalli High School is actually a program, it’s a government program, where AI has been – it’s advanced, it’s pretty advanced.

John: It’s pretty advanced. These are the torso-less screenwriters who are like not buying our t-shirts.

Craig: They are. They are trying to — they’re asking fundamental questions so that they can, you know, grow, but they’re fairly new to just interaction with the universe around them. So that that actually in that sense, is a brilliant question.

John: I think it is a good one. I also would accept that like if he’s writing the same questions but to like I want to be a Buddhist monk, is it bad to be aspire to be the best Buddhist monk? Yes. That would be a flawed interpretation of what it means to be a monk.

Craig: Right. No, 100%. And you may have found the one exception there. Yeah. 100%. But you know what, question nine is a decent one. We get this a lot. Are there any particular scripts you feel would be good for an aspiring screenwriter to read? John?

John: My answer is Aliens. It’s always Aliens, because it’s a perfectly written screenplay. It’s delightful to read and you can totally see how it translates form the page onto the screen. Also, we’ve talked about Unforgiven, which is also fantastic.

Craig: Yes, so good. I usually toss out Jerry Maguire, which I think is also a perfectly rendered screenplay, and I’m a big fan of Groundhog Day.

John: Yeah, we talked about that. He could listen to the episode on Groundhog Day.

Craig: Indeed.

John: Who is your favorite screenwriter, or screenwriters, and why?

Craig: Ooh, that’s a good one. Good question, Sam, in as much as it was not terrible. This is where I’m such a bad person. I can’t even give praise without being a jerk.

Weirdly, I like the exceptions because I read a lot of screenplays, so I tend to go for the things that are on the outer edges of things. I mean, for like traditional screenwriters, I think Scott Frank is fantastic at what he does, but I have this really huge, wide, big old soft spot for Quentin Tarantino because he only writes Quentin Tarantino screenplays and it’s fascinating because I feel like the world is full of people that are writing Quentin Tarantino screenplays, and of all of them, all of them are terrible except for one of them, and that’s Quentin Tarantino.

So, I really like the way he writes because I don’t have to write that way. I can’t write that way. Nobody else can. But traditional screenwriters, I think Ted Griffin is great, I think Scott Frank is great, I think John Lee Hancock is great. I think Susannah Grant is great. And I think Richie LaGravenese is fantastic. There’s a guy who has written some terrific, terrific screenplays. There’s quite a few.

John: Yeah. So I’m going to avoid talking about any of my friends because then if I start naming my friends, then I leave one of them out, and then that person will feel bad. But I will single out Nora Ephron because you look at Nora Ephron and like what she was able to do, and sort of the voice she was able to provide to screenwriting is just remarkable. And so I would say check out her scripts, check out the movies that she got made, because she was unique and a singular talent.

Craig: Yeah, I kind of restricted myself to more what I would say recent screenwriters. I mean, there are the kind of hall of famers that I think everybody properly loves. You know, William Goldman, and Robert Towne, and Budd Schulberg, and on and on and on. So, Budd Schulberg. Really? Why? Why did I come up with Budd Schulberg? That was weird.

John: I don’t know.

Craig: Billy Wilder. That sounds good to me.

John: And Billy Wilder, I mean, there’s no question that Billy Wilder is anything short of fantastic. He’s great. But Nora Ephron to me represents sort of a bridge between like that kind of writing, and sort of where we are at right now. I think like there’s some genres especially in romantic comedy that we kind of wouldn’t have gotten to where we got to without her, so that’s why I’m calling her out.

Craig: Absolutely. And, you know, in that same vein, Elaine May kind of comes to mind as well—

John: Absolutely.

Craig: As somebody who kind of invented a way of presenting film stories that was unique to her. She’s — it couldn’t be more different than say somebody like Quentin Tarantino, but I kind of put her in that weird same category of I don’t think anybody else can write Elaine movies except for Elaine May.

John: Yes. All right, so those are our answers to your question. Good luck with your assignment, Sam Jackson. You’ve got a fascinating name. It’s going to be kind of great sort of through your whole life to like introduce yourself and have people have assumption of like, oh, like Sam Jackson, and maybe that’s great, maybe it’s annoying. If it’s super annoying, maybe you can go by a different name. I don’t know, what do you think? If you were Sam Jackson, Craig Mazin, would you stay Sam Jackson or would you switch it up?

Craig: Well, normally, I would say, yes, switch it up, but given what we, I think, have figured out about Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, I don’t think that they’re aware that there’s another Sam Jackson. So, I think he’d be fine.

John: I think you’re going to be great. All right, let’s get to our next question, this one we have audio for. This is from Ollie, so let’s take a listen.

Craig: All right.

Ollie: Hey, guys. I’m charged with polishing a comedy that goes into shooting soon, and I wanted to know what to expect from a comedy table read. Should I rewrite every joke that didn’t get a laugh? How much should I trust if actors or the director says that it’s not funny now, but it will be funny when we shoot it? My biggest fear is believing a joke cannot be delivered by a certain actor’s sense of timing and having not fixed it because I trusted someone’s intuition.

How much should one speak up during the read or is all the fixing happening after we watched a couple of days with possible backing by the producers? Thank you so much for your podcast, and especially you, Craig, for doing Episode 77. It meant a lot to me. Thank you.

John: So Episode 77 was the one where you talked about Identity Thief, so if you want to go back and listen to that, Episode 77. So Craig, what do you think about table reads?

Craig: Well, they’re crucial for comedy. And for the reasons that Ollie is getting at here. I mean, you do need to get a sense of what is roughly working and what isn’t. You hope that it is working. And table reads are rough because obviously it is just as a screenplay is not a movie, a table read is not a performance. I’ve noticed a syndrome with actors, not all of them, but some of them. Some of them I think kind of tank table reads on purpose. And they do it because — and I actually understand why. What they’re basically doing, whether they know it or now, is saying, “I don’t want to try because if I try and it doesn’t work, it’s embarrassing to me, and also this isn’t actually how I act.”

How I act is, I’m in a costume, I’m in a place, I’m in a moment, and then I do my craft, and we do scenes, right? I’m not going to just suddenly perform full on for you here, and do it, because this isn’t the right way to do it. So they kind of pull back. And you have to take that into account. This is where your relationship with the director is of crucial importance because when it’s done, you have to sit with them and say, okay, let’s parse through what worked, what definitely does not work. We can just tell it doesn’t work and we got to change it. And what do we think will work on the day? And you have to just make those decisions.

John: Yes. So there’s two kinds of readings that happen, there’s the developmental readings where you have a bunch of your friends around, and they are reading the script aloud, you can actually sort of really work on stuff. And like Mike Birbiglia talks in a great way about sort of how he does that process and how it was so helpful for his movie, so you can go back and listen to the episode that he did with Craig where he talks about his process there.

What Ollie is describing is the thing that happens shortly before production and it’s a chance for everyone to sit around and take one look at the script. It’s a great chance to make sure that every actor has actually read the whole script, including the scenes that they’re not in, because believe me like they won’t necessarily know the rest of the movie, they’ll only know their scenes.

But I, like Craig, have been in table reads where actors are literally tanking performances, and the producers get really nervous and they say like, oh, there’s a problem here. That joke wasn’t funny. And it’s tough. And so you have to be able to recognize was this not working because the actor was not even trying to do it, or does it actually not suit his or her voice? Is there really something going on here?

One of the hardest but best experience that I had with jokes was on the Big Fish Musical. So Big Fish isn’t hilariously funny, but there are genuine jokes in there. And during the development process we would have readings, I could listen to it, but then we were on stage every night, during previews and I could sit in the audience and listen to like, oh, that did not get a laugh. And I knew I had to either rewrite that joke, or listen to it the next night and see whether it was just the audience that — it was just a weird thing that happened in the room.

The table read for this movie, you’re only get that sort of one shot, so you are really going to have to be able to suss out is it a problem with the joke itself or is it something about that table reading environment that made it not work?

Craig: Absolutely. And, really, your only guide is to care only about the movie. So your pride, your ego, your sense that, well, that should have worked, all that has to go away.

John: Yup.

Craig: Because not only are there going to be jokes that you really want to work but you know aren’t ever going to work based on what you just heard. There are also jokes that work too well and I’m also very suspicious of those. In fact, you know, Todd Phillips and I, we would do these read-throughs and then we would go back to his office, and then we would be like, “Why were they laughing so much at this?” You know what? That’s a table read laugh. That’s not a real laugh. It’s because, again, it’s a different environment. There’s just a different kind of thing that’s happening. So one thing that Ollie asks is, should you speak up during the read-through? And the answer is no.

John: No.

Craig: Don’t say a damn thing. You are silent. You are listening the entire way. Take notes, little checks, Xs, circles, things like that. You’re not only listening for laughs and jokes working. You’re also getting your own sense of pacing, where do you start to squirm, get bored. What feels like, “Oh, they don’t need to say that, right?”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Here’s just lines that can go or, “Oh my gosh, I’m confused. I just realized everyone will be confused based on what I’ve just heard.” So jokes are just one and laughs are just one part of it, but all that then has to be discussed in a post-mortem with the director where the two of you go, “Okay. Everybody else go away. Now, in our safe space, we can speak completely truthfully about everything, and the only master we have is the movie.”

John: Yup. The other thing that I would advise Ollie is if at all possible you should have no function in that room other than be to listen to the script being read. So don’t be reading scene description, don’t be playing one of the characters. Try to have enough bodies in that room so you don’t have to do anything other than listen. Because if you are having to keep track of like, “Oh, it’s my turn to speak now.” You will miss important things that are happening in the room.

Craig: Absolutely true.

John: Cool. All right, let’s get to Sheryl’s question. We also have audio from her, so let’s take a listen.

Sheryl: You talk a lot on your show about how you really need to move to LA to make it as a screenwriter. Okay, so I moved to LA. Then what?

John: So listen to her question. I couldn’t tell whether she had moved or she was saying that she was going to move to LA. But the question ends up being essentially the same. You’ve moved to LA, what do you do next?

Craig: Well, the benefit of Los Angeles isn’t that it is offering you these incredible extra opportunities to write, at least not immediately off the bat. The benefit of LA is that you can hopefully get yourself a day job that’s essentially in the business you want to be in. When I say, essentially, I mean, anything, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So — but now, what is get a job? You get a job through a temp agency. You get a job through some kind of connection. You get a job just by applying. You do something where you end up pushing mail around or getting coffee or assisting and answering phones, doing something that is roughly in the business. And the whole point is, as you do this, you will begin to meet people. And all of the people you’re meeting in that, look, if you show up and you do it in the traditional sense, which is show up right after college, roughly, then your cohort of people, you’re now getting invited to parties on rickety balconies in apartment buildings and everybody there is your agent, everybody is in the same boat. And they’re all striving.

And this is how you begin to meet people. And then suddenly, one of those people calls you one day and says, “So and so just got fired and they’re looking for someone.” You know, this is how it goes. And also, you are now in a place where you can hopefully, through your — whatever work it is you do, have at least one person that you can hand your material to and say, “Read this.”

John: So it may seem strange that we’re saying like, you know, find a bunch of people who you’re all in the same boat with because you’re trying to stand out from those other folks. But like the point of moving to Los Angeles is to get in the boat. Like you need to be in that boat with people who are all trying to head in the same direction. And with those people you meet, help them. Read their scripts. Let them read your scripts. Try to sort of grow up together because most of the actual help I got when I moved to Los Angeles wasn’t from more powerful people. It was from people who were at exactly the same level as me. It was other assistants. It was other people answering phones and making copies and other screenwriters. And you just kind of rise up together. And so you’re in this town because you want to make movies and you want to make friends and connections with people who make movies. That’s the point of living here versus living somewhere else.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: All right. A question from Joe. Joe writes in to ask, “I recently made the jump from development executive, to writer. My writing partner and I signed with a major agency earlier this year and the first spec they took out got a lot of great buzz and is in the process of selling to a fairly prolific horror movie franchise producer, which would be our first big sale. While the deal is in the process of closing, one of the junior producers on the project got worried that the horror producer buying it intends to bring on some veteran screenwriters to rewrite the script. While I’m a big of these writers and their track record could certainly help ensure the movie gets made, it sounds like it will be a Page One rewrite outside of keeping the core idea and twist ending intact.

“My question is, as first-time writer, would you close the deal knowing that your original vision will be changed? If the script is changed, will the sale be enough to propel our career forward? Is there any way to protect our credit even though we’re non-WGA writers at the moment? We would very much like to join the Guild.” Craig, what do you think Joe should do?

Craig: Well, first of all, congratulations to you and your writing partner. It’s an interesting question in the context of the fact that Joe is a development executive. And I guess on the one hand, I was a little surprised that he was a little bit surprised by this. But on the other hand, not so much because the truth is, it is producers that typically are making these kinds of large decisions about like, all right, “I want to buy this but I want it to be a different thing,” whereas executives are kind of working with what they’re given and what they get. First of all, let’s talk about the easy part, which is the WGA part. You guys are non-WGA writers. You would very much like to join the Guild. If you are selling this to, and I believe you called this person a fairly prolific franchise horror movie producer, I can only imagine that they are signatory to the Guild. And if they are not, then they’re not worth selling it to at all as far as I’m concerned.

John: I 100% agree. And Joe is represented by, it says a major agency. So this agency knows. Like this agency should not be shopping you to a place that’s not going to be able to do a WGA deal. That’s just crazy. So I think you are basically — you’re going to be in the Guild. So that question is sort of answered there.

Craig: And the way that works is that if you sell an original screenplay, that qualifies you for enough employment credits to not only qualify you to be in the Guild, you must be in the Guild. You are then welcome to the Guild, fork over your initiation fee. So that’s that. And so we’re just presuming that this person is Guild signatory and this is a Guild deal that they’re proposing. If it’s not, turn around and run, not worth it. If it is, okay, that’s a different story. In terms of protection for your credit, yes. If it’s an original screenplay, you are guaranteed at a minimum shared story by credit.

So your name will be on the movie, and you will receive a minimum of 12.5% of the residuals. Obviously, if people down the line, arbiters, think that you’ve contributed more than that, you could get more than that, even sole credit. The conundrum you’re facing is, what do I do when somebody is asking me to sell them, you know, my cow just because they want the fillet and the rest of it is getting chucked?

And the answer is, that’s kind of up to you. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that someone saying to you, “I love the script. I want it. I want to make it just as it is. I won’t change a word,” doesn’t also mean the same thing. That veteran writers come in and rewrite the hell out of it. It is very common. And I think it’s fair for you to ask the producer or have your agent ask the producer, “Hey, can you just be super honest with us, do you just hate the writing here and love idea? We’re trying to get better.” Be aware, by the way, that if it is a Guild signatory and it should be if you’re doing this, you and your writing partner are guaranteed the first rewrite. They have to employ you for the first rewrite. They don’t have to pay you more than scale, but they have to employ you for the first rewrite. Meaning, you get a chance to prove that, in fact, you can be the ones to move this project forward.

John: Absolutely. And so if the producers are buying this with a very specific vision of like, “We wanted this movie to be this thing.” You have that opportunity in that first rewrite to make it that thing. Now, you can decide like, you know what, that’s not at all the vision I have for this movie. I don’t want to do that. I can imagine scenarios that way. But, in general, I would say, try it. I would say, try doing their thing because at the very minimum, if this movie gets made, you will have pushed this screenplay much closer to what they think they want to make for a movie, which is a good sign.

The other thing I want to circle back to is like is it better to have sold the script or not sold the script? I would argue that it’s almost always better to have sold the script. Because you’re saying the script got good buzz around town, that’s lovely, but a script that got good buzz around town and actually sold is worth a little bit more in terms of getting you meetings, getting you considered for other things. Because if it’s just a script that got passed around and you’ve never actually been hired or paid to do any work, there’s something a little less hirable about you. I think you’re a little less likely to be considered strongly for other things that might come up.

So, you know, I’m sure the movie you wrote was great. I’m sure the movie is dear to your heart, but you should ultimately look at the script as like this got me in the door to get some other writing assignments for me and my writing partner and that’s a very good thing. There may be a scenario in which you actually get to talk to these other screenwriters who come in. I often, when I come in to rewrite a project, get to talk with the writers who were there before me, which is super helpful. I can see sort of what their vision was, where the bodies are buried, just I get to know more about the project. So there’s a chance that these new screenwriters will actually talk to you and that would be a great thing, too, for you.

Craig: 100%. I can’t imagine that Joe’s agent isn’t telling him this very thing. Again, this is all predicated on the notion that this is a real producer and WGA signatory and all that. If it’s not, I don’t think the sale to this person matters at all. It’s just you’re selling to someone on the periphery.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But if they are Guild signatory, then it doesn’t matter that somebody’s coming in to rewrite it. Everybody prices that in anyway. Everything gets rewritten, right? So nobody’s going to go, “Oh, those guys had the script with all this buzz and, oh my god, that big franchise horror movie producer bought it, oh, but they’re getting rewritten now. We don’t want to meet them.” It does not work that way.

John: Nope.

Craig: It’s more like — ooh — because the way they think on the other side isn’t, “I found wonderful writers.” The way they think on the other side is, “Ooh, I found writers who write things that people buy.” That’s the currency, right? That’s it. If all you ever did for the rest of your career was write specs, sell them, and then other people come in and rewrite them, that’s a career. I’m not saying it’s a satisfying career, but it’s a career. It’s certainly a career because you’re making money for other people. So, 100%, I think, it’s always better to sell.

You have more screenplays in you and this will absolutely put you in rooms with people and make you far more viable than you are without a sale. It doesn’t mean that I’m saying you got to go ahead and let somebody stab this through the heart. You don’t. There is a perfectly valid principled stand you can make. And sometimes those principled stands work out because a year later or a day later, somebody else comes along that’s even better that buys it and says, “I’m keeping it just the way it is.”

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: It’s rare, but it does happen.

John: Our final question comes from Lorenzo. Here’s what he said.

Lorenzo: Hi, John and Craig. I recently finished writing my third feature screenplay and it’s starting to pick up a little bit of buzz. A friend of a friend is a producer and she is interested in getting coffee to talk more about the project. What are the expectations for this kind of informal coffee meeting? Should I plan on pulling out my iPad with my pitch deck loaded? Should I practice my talking points in front of the mirror? I definitely have ideas for how it could be sold and who could be attached and all that kind of stuff. But, of course, I don’t want to come off as alienating. What do you recommend for this kind of informal meeting?

John: So, Craig, what do you think about this coffee meeting? Like how prepared should he be with stuff with like the whole vision for what the movie is?

Craig: I think that he may be thinking about this slightly backwards. That’s my instinct. Generally speaking, when you write something and you own it, and in this case, he owns it, and this person is interested, they’re kind of having to woo you. You have a thing they want. They don’t necessarily want to give you money for it right away. But this friend of a friend is a producer and would like to get coffee to talk more. That means talk. That means you’re just going to have a conversation. A part of that conversation is her feeling you out, feeling you out about you how came around to this and what fascinates you about it. She’s kind of looking in the horse’s mouth with you a little bit like can I get this — can I take this guy around? Is he presentable? Is he normal?

And you are asking this person, well, what do you see in it? What did it mean to you? What did you like? What would you think should be different? Where would you take it? How do you see it getting made? This is absolutely just a conversation between equals. So, no. No pitch decks. I don’t even know what a pitch deck is. Nothing contrived, nothing calculated, nothing practiced, nothing. This is a casual conversation. And the more secure and comfortable you are, the more she will be interested. You want to be alienating? The only thing you can do that’s alienating is appearing to need her more than she needs you. And sadly, that’s kind of how the world works.

John: I’m going to disagree with you a little bit. I think there actually is a value for Lorenzo being prepared for this. And by prepared, I mean, he can have the pitch deck, which I’m taking to mean it’s sort of like a slideshow on your laptop or on your iPad that sort of shows the visuals or sort of like who you sort of see being in the movie. But you don’t pull that stuff out. So I think this is a coffee and so I’m assuming that this coffee is not at her office, it’s at some neutral location, which I think is actually really nice because it puts you on the same footing.

So you talk about the script, you talk about what she’s actually working on. You need to get a sense of like is this a person you would like to work with. And she’s getting a sense of, like, is this a writer who I think I could actually stand — it’s like a date, kind of. Like, a work a date, sort of. And you’re going to see, like, is this a thing that could work out well? If you get a good instinct from her, and she is very curious to see more about your opinions on how casting should work, then it’s fine to pull that stuff out and talk through it, but don’t lead with that. Lead with sort of, like, this is the script. I’m so happy that you responded to it. Let’s talk about it and just keep it — keep it at that level until it comes time to sort of show your stuff.

Craig: Guess — I guess — I mean, look, you and I are basically saying the exact same thing until the iPad comes out.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I feel almost like you’re giving it away. Like, well, I came with stuff. Like, I — you know, I–

John: So here’s what I say. I don’t think the iPad should be selling her on the project. It’s basically saying, like, this is the vision I have for this project. And are you on board with this vision for the project? Basically, like — he’s not saying necessarily he wants to direct this thing, but if he does want to direct this thing, that deck might be really important for her to see, like, oh, this is a guy with an eye. This is a guy who actually has a way to sort of do — to put this whole thing together. That could be really important for the next step in this conversation.

Craig: I could see that.

John: And that next step might not take place in this meeting. The next step might be, you know, a meeting a week from then.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But it might happen right there because sometimes things move quickly.

Craig: I agree. If he is interested in directing, then it does make sense that he would want to be able to show some things that are visual. Completely.

John: In terms of, like, you know, practicing things you are going to say, I think that’s, in general, really good advice for any kind of meeting that you’re going to sit down for. It’s just, like, think about the things that you — that might come up and be ready to discuss, like, two or three other projects that you’re writing or working on, or sort of out of that pre-pitch stage, just so you don’t get sort of stuck. It’s just nice to have good sort of things to keep the ball in the air.

Craig: As long as it doesn’t sound practiced. I just–

John: Yeah.

Craig: Think that there is a — there is an amateurishness and a sweatiness to anyone that sounds like they’re pitching something. It should never sound like a pitch. If she asks what else you’re doing, you could say, “Well, I’m doing this.” How would I describe them? Well, you know, da-da-da, but I wouldn’t be, like, okay, “The year is 1930. Jim—“

John: No, no, no. Don’t do that.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. Just never, ever, ever, ever. You know, by the way, I judged the pitch final. The–

John: I want to hear all about that, Craig. Tell us how that went.

Craig: So it was actually fascinating. I misunderstood — not surprisingly — I misunderstood kind of what was expected because I did it with Edward Ricourt, who wrote Now You See Me. And Lindsay Doran — the great Lindsay Doran. And so we were the judges. And I thought, “Okay. Well, you know, after all these” — because they have all these, like, quarterfinals, semifinals, that there would be like three writers who had the three best pitches and we would, you know, vote. No, 20. There were 20 finalists, each who had 90 seconds. So it was quite a — it was quite an ordeal.

John: Yes. I’ve — I think I warned you about that on air about what an ordeal that was going to be.

Craig: Oh. Well, you know, I wasn’t paying attention. But it was actually fascinating. It was. It was really fascinating to see. I mean, many of these people — almost all of them — they couldn’t have gotten to this stage unless they understood how to craft and deliver an interesting pitch in the sense that we think of a pitch in 90 seconds. The great difference was that so many of them just were not movies at all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But a few were really entertaining pitches, so they kind of, you know, got a little further that way. But I was very comfortable with — the gentleman who won, his pitch was very good, but also could absolutely be a movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Am I allowed to say what it is?

John: I think what we should do is that person is almost certainly listening to this show. So if that person wants to record himself giving his pitch, we should play that on an episode, because that would be fascinating to hear.

Craig: That’s a good idea. Well, let’s find out if he listens, you know, let’s find out.

John: We’ll find out.

Craig: But it was a good time.

John: Cool. All right, let’s do our One Cool Thing. So one my One Cool Thing is Gil Elvgren, who was this pin-up artist from the ‘50s and earlier, who — you’ve seen a lot of his work. So he has these beautiful women who are, like, you know, sort of scantily clad but, like, not showing anything too risqué but kind of risqué. You see them a lot of times in calendars or advertisements. The blog post I’m going to link to shows some of the artwork and the photo references he uses to — before he painted those things. And it’s remarkable because he basically poses women in exactly the right pose and then paints them.

And it seems really obvious, like, oh, that’d be a really good way to have a — to get the look you’re going for, but I guess I just always assumed that all art like this was just sort of done freehand from people’s own imaginations. And you see these photos and you see the end results. It’s just I think a good way of reminding ourselves that there’s always kind of a template behind things. I always find it so hard to imagine that a painter can create something so beautiful with just a brush and recognizing, like, oh, there was actually a whole bunch of planning behind the scenes there. It was just great to see. So I’ll send you this link, which is mostly safe for work. So if you want to look through that and see these photo references, I thought they were terrific.

Craig: I’m looking at them right now. First of all, this isn’t even Sexy Craig. This is just regular Craig. God, I — I just — I love the female form. I love — I love it. It’s so great. I just — so there’s that. Here’s what I find fascinating about this. I mean, first of all, like you, I’m mystified by how anyone can draw, period, I guess. And, I mean, because I cannot at all. I mean, the way that some people can’t sing, like, they can only sing not only just the wrong note, but a note that doesn’t even exist, like something between pitches?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I cannot draw. So this is always just so mystifying to me. But here’s another thing that’s fascinating about it. This is kind of like the early version of Photoshop. Because as I look through and I compare the photographs to the final rendered artwork, Mr. Elvgren routinely narrows the waist.

John: Yup.

Craig: He improves the bust line, shall we say. Sometimes, he makes it larger, but usually he’s not making it larger. He’s just sort of making it perkier.

John: Yup.

Craig: In a few notable cases, he changes the hair. So there’s a couple of women who are posing, and they just have very — either very short hair or it’s — I guess, the wrong kind for what he wants, and so he gives them a totally different haircut, painted-wise. But oh god, I miss this time, you know. Even in their sort of trimmed versions, right, where he kind of slenders it here or there, what he’s not doing is slendering the various areas that now they apparently feel a great need to slenderize, like legs and stuff. Oh, god. It was a great time in America.

John: It was a great time in America. So this link came to me from [Lisa Hannigan] who’s an artist we used for One Hit Kill, who is just phenomenal herself. And I think one of the interesting things I’ve noticed recently among artists is they will record themselves while they’re painting, because a lot of times they’re painting in Photoshop or tools like Photoshop. So they’ll actually — there’ll be a video that you could see, like, the whole process of coming through it. And, so that feels like the next step. So not just photo references, but you actually see the whole process in front of you.

We were at the Picasso Museum here in Paris last week, and they actually had that with Picasso. So they show him actually up at a canvas, and so you’re sort of behind the canvas as he’s drawing this thing and it takes a while for you to realize what he’s actually doing. It’s like, oh, that’s Picasso making an amazing drawing that would sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It’s cool to see great artists do their work.

Craig: You know, now I’m really obsessing over these, sorry, but there’s something else that’s kind of amazing when I look at these faces, there’s two basic expressions that he has the women do. One is, oh, hello there, and the other one is, ooh, you surprised me. That’s it. It’s Hello and Ooh. [laughs] Kind of love it. The ooh is a great one. Like, oh, I didn’t know — ooh, I didn’t see you there. Ooh. Yeah.

John: So delightful. So–

Craig: So delightful.

John: Anyway, so the work of Gil Elvgren, if you’d like to check that out.

Craig: Nice. Well, my One Cool Thing is a very real woman who I value not for her ability to go Ooh or Hey, but in fact, for her remarkable ability to run an incredible film festival. So Erin Halligan is the creative director of the Austin Film Festival screenwriting conference thing. And she just did a fantastic job. She — I think she’s like getting better every year, which is kind of crazy because she’s always been really good. And I remember, when she — you know, when you and I first started going to Austin, Maya Perez was doing that job. And Maya was kind of like, well, no one can be better than Maya. Just seemed impossible.

And so when Maya said, well, I’m leaving, but Erin is going to be doing it, I’m like, “Aw, Erin. Yeah. Well, you’ll never be Maya.” No, no. She will. Nothing is more impressive to me than somebody who is being asked to hit an impossible bar and then totally hits it.

John: I agree.

Craig: Yeah. She just did a fantastic job, and she took such great care of all of us. So I just wanted to give Erin a special thanks for being my One Cool Thing this year. She was terrific.

John: Great. Well, that’s our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Woo.

John: Our outro this week comes from Ben Grimes. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place where you can send questions like the ones we answered today. Don’t send any more, like, ten-part questions from high schools, that’s sort of our one-off. Our one time doing that. Short questions, you can find us on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin, I am @johnaugust. I’m also on Instagram, @johnaugust.

You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. You can leave comments. We promise we really do read them sometimes and we’ll probably read them on the air at some point soon. You can find our t-shirts at the site, so go to, there’ll be a little sidebar ad for them. You can also follow the links in the show notes. Also have links to the things we talked about, including our One Cool Things. So if you need to see the pictures that Craig was ooh-ing and ah-ing over–

Craig: Yeah. You do need to see those.

John: Yeah. They were really good.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Transcript’s go up about four days after the episode. Those are prepared with love, and Godwin goes through those, so if you are a person who likes transcripts, you should check out those transcripts. You can also get all the back episodes at, and on the USB drive that’s for sale at There is an app available for both iOS devices and for Android that lets you listen to all those back episodes, too. So just go to the applicable app store and find it there.

And that is our show for this week. So Craig, thank you so much and welcome back.

Craig: Thank you, John. Welcome back as well.

John: Cool.


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What is a Career in Screenwriting Like?

Tue, 10/25/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig answer listener questions from our overflowing mail bag on topics including comedy round tables, getting rewritten, coffee meetings, and what comes after moving to Los Angeles.

To kick it off, we try (well, John tries) to help a high school senior with his class assignment.

The all-new 2016 Scriptnotes t-shirts are available for limited pre-order. If you miss out, you’ll have nothing to wear for 12 months. So don’t wait.


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Scriptnotes, Ep 272: The Secret Live Show in Austin — Transcript

Fri, 10/21/2016 - 11:20

John August: Hey, this is John. So this is Episode 272 of Scriptnotes. Now usually we go to the Austin Film Festival and we have a big live Scriptnotes show but this year was different because I wasn’t going to be there. So Craig was going to do some little interviews with some individual writers but kind of at the last minute, he got together a bunch of people and they got a big room and they got mics and so they did a big live drunken Scriptnotes show. So this was a secret show that wasn’t announced. People just showed up and it turned out really well. So thank you, Craig, and thank you to Austin Film Festival for letting this happen. The guests in this episode are Katie: Dippold, Phil Hay, Tess Morris and Malcolm Spellman. If you’ve listened to previous episodes with these guests and Craig and alcohol, you might guess, “I bet there is some strong language.” And you would be correct. So this is probably not the best episode to listen to in the car with your kids, but listen to it by yourself in your headphones and enjoy this live secret show from Austin. Thanks.

Craig Mazin: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin and this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And we are coming at you live, although if you’re hearing this, it’s not live but it’s live to us, from the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriting Conference where it is now 10:00 AM local time — sorry, 10:00 PM local time. We’ve been drinking a little bit so this will be spectacular. We are going to be a little free form tonight because of aforementioned drinking.

But first, I do want to thank, we have for those of you listening at home, we have a ballroom full of people who have all come to see this. So thank you, guys. Thank you, guys, for showing up. This was — we didn’t put this on the schedule. It’s kind of like a secret thing. We didn’t know if anyone was going to show up. You showed up, so thank you. And we, in return, have a fantastic show for you this evening. And when you hear the topic, I think you’ll be particularly pleased. But I would like to introduce my guests tonight and really maybe the best show we’re ever going to do. Sorry, John August, but it’s maybe the best show we’ve ever done. By the way, I also — John always says what number episode it is, I have no idea. It’s in the 200s, I believe. To my left, I have Tess Morris, screenwriter of Man Up.

Tess Morris: Hi.

Craig: Next, we have Phil Hay, screenwriter of Ride Along and Clash of the Titans. Do I need introduce the next person? Malcolm Spellman, writer of Empire. And then last but not the least, the great and mighty Katie: Dippold, Ghostbusters and The Heat. And we’re all pretty drunk. So in thinking about what we would talk about tonight, it occurred to me that every time I come here, there are, I don’t know, a hundred different topics that you can talk about. You all go to these seminars, they’re all very specific but I think, really, everyone is here mostly for one thing and no one ever talks to you about it, so I thought we would. And it is how the fuck do I get into Hollywood? So at last — oh yeah, for those of you listening at home, there may be adult language in this one. Okay. So, what we want to do tonight is just talk about this topic and I’m going to talk about it with my guests and then we will open up the floor to questions. By the way, questions about anything you want for anybody up here.

Tess Morris: Within reason.

Craig: No. It’s my show.

Tess: Oh yeah.

Craig: Anything you want. But what I want to do is start out by asking these simple questions that everyone has and they’re not easy to answer, which, to be fair, is why oftentimes we don’t really talk about it. But hopefully, in this conversation, we will get a little bit of wisdom that might be of value to all of you who are trying to break into this business as screenwriters. So I’m going to start by asking a question. Anyone, feel free. What do you think is the most important thing that anyone in this room can be doing, aside from like writing a great script, which we all know? Is there any one thing any of these people can be doing to improve their odds of breaking into this business?

Katie Dippold: I can start because my — well, my entrance in was I was at an improv theater, the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. So I was doing improv and sketch there and my first thing was I — we did a showcase to be a performer on Mad TV. And they liked — we had to write your own characters and I felt that I was brought out to test and it was clear that they liked the stuff I was saying but in no way how I was performing them.

And so I gave them a writing packet and that was my first job. But so, for me, my entrance was just doing like a, you know, UCB and doing an improv theater. I started taking improv classes. But the other thing that was important for me was I was also — I found a day job that — it was a temp job and they never asked me to do anything for three years to the point that I–

Craig: That’s a long temp job.

Katie: Very exactly.

Craig: It sort of stretches the boundaries of the word, temp.

Katie: Yeah, it really does. Well, I had this boss who — she would ask me to move like a text box in a PowerPoint slide like just — and I would do it and it would take like a second but I would look like a hero. And I would sometimes worry, was there some longer projects I was supposed to be doing but wasn’t paying attention when they told me? But what was great about the temp job was I could just — I read scripts all day and then just work on scripts. So, to them, I was working away because I was reading and writing, tapping away on the keyboard, you know.

Craig: There’s a lot of obvious effort going on.

Katie: Yes.

Craig: But you weren’t actually doing anything for them?

Katie: Right. Exactly.

Craig: So there you go, that — just get that job. That’s easy. Now, Tess, you did this–

Tess Morris: Yes, Craig.

Craig: From across the ocean.

Tess: I know, all the way in the United Kingdom.

Craig: All the way. And I would venture to guess–

Tess: Craig, if you’re just going to do your British accent every time we talk, there’s going to be a problem.

Craig: No.

Tess: Okay.

Craig: No. No. No. No.

Tess: Are you sure?

Phil: It’s happening. It’s happening, Craig.

Tess: No, not no. No

Craig: No.

Tess: No.

Craig: No. I did promise you that we’re a little drunk.

Tess: Yes.

Craig: Now, most of these people, I’m going to assume almost all of them do not live in Los Angeles. So you have an interesting perspective, you have a unique perspective on this. How did you do this from all the way over there?

Tess: Well, I mean, believe it or not, there are writers in England, at least–

Craig: What? What?

Tess: Are we just going to keep–

Craig: No.

Tess: Okay. We’ve just been out to dinner with a lot of nuns just so you know as well.

Craig: There was a room full of nuns next to us.

Tess: There were 12 nuns next door to us just to share that with you all. We all were incredibly uncomfortable with that.

Craig: I wasn’t.

Tess: You were. I would say there’s no difference at all, really, in terms of what I think is like different things you can do, whether you live in the UK or Australia or America or wherever. I think the best thing you can do, and I’ve said this a few times today, sorry if you’ve heard me, is my favorite quote about writing was by and said by Philip Seymour Hoffman and he said that writers need to fill up. And I’ve always thought about that because I think often we can kind of run on empty and we don’t go and live our lives and we can start to think I don’t know what the fuck I’m writing about or what I’m doing. And I think sometimes the best thing you can do is actually step away and go and fill up a little and live your life and then come back and do some work. I mean, you can’t do that all the time obviously. It’s a bit of a luxury. But I think it’s an important thing for your mind and your brain. That’s quite a serious answer for me.

Craig: Yeah, I know. You’re kind of bringing us all down. So–

Tess: Sorry.

Craig: No, it’s okay. But it’s a really good answer because I think you’re absolutely right, that a lot of times, people, you know, Brian Koppelman, who, along with his partner, Levine. We’ll just call him Levine.

Tess: Levine.

Phil: The Levine.

Craig: Did Rounders and they have Billions on Showtime right now. He had maybe the best advice I’ve ever heard for any writer was calculate less. Because I think a lot of people who are trying to break into the business are constantly calculating, what can I do, what contest should I enter, where should I go, how should I network, what should I write in my query letter, what should I not write in my query letter? I’m sure a lot of you have the stuff spinning around in your heads all the time and none of it actually is going to help you do the job. I think the idea of just living and reading and experiencing life will help you.

Tess: Yeah. Like relax.

Craig: Relax.

Tess: From the most unrelaxed person you’ll ever meet in your life saying that.

Craig: She’s a little — yeah, she can be a little tense. Phil, what do you think?

Phil: I mean, this came up in some discussions I was having today. And I think what these guys are saying is exactly right. And what I could maybe add to it is to try to conquer fear as early as you can and don’t operate on calculation and fear and am I missing out, am I doing something wrong, am I making the right choices, because I think I can tell you from, you know, 18 years of experience that nothing has turned out exactly the way I thought it was. And what I’ve realized is that there’s no way to plan or concoct a scenario that — and then fulfill it if you’re doing this.

And I think what you can is to focus on what you can control, which is your life and enjoying your life and finding stuff to write about by living your life and understanding that in the end, I mean, I guess it’s good advice for life in general. But it’s hard to learn and it took me a long time to learn to try to divorce the process from the result. To try to divorce what you’re hoping to happen from the actual work that you’re doing in front of you. That, to me, I wish I had learned that earlier because you spend a lot of mental energy worrying about the outcome or trying to game the outcome or trying to make good smart choices and the only good smart choices you can make, I believe, are emotional choices of I know this is right for me, I have to do it no matter what other people are saying.

Tess: This is a therapy session, yeah?

Craig: It should be. God knows we all need it.

Phil: I have a quick question for Tess though that it was, you know, a technical question. Do you translate your scripts into American yourself or is there somebody who does that?

Tess: No, I get Craig to do it for me.

Phil: Okay. Good. Yeah.

Tess: And then when I need to be even like do the worst British accent in the world, I get Craig to do that as well.

Phil: Okay. Thank you.

Craig: Well, Malcolm, all these people have said what they think is the right answer, and now, you will tell us the actual right answer.

Malcolm Spellman: I thought Phil’s answer — all their answers were good. I would say.

Tess: Thank you.

Phil: But especially mine.

Malcolm: If I can get specific, because you took my answer by the way. I was going to say try and get better as quickly as you can. I think a common thing for novice writers is to react to feedback the wrong way and they slow down their progression on getting good and they also fuck up their ability to engage. One of the first things that’s going to happen out the gate is people are going to tell you what’s not working about your work. And the sooner you get to learn how to navigate that exchange, the more likely you are to have an ally who might move your shit around and pass it along to people.

The other thing I was going to say, which is it’s a difficult one because I’ve heard it, but I feel like we’ve heard this so many times in festivals and I don’t know if anyone has ever really said it because you’re scared of someone blowing up your life. I will say, if you are younger and do not have a family, you should move to Los Angeles. It is something everyone looks to hear they don’t have to do, that’s how you know you should do it. And in the group of writers we all hang out with, there’s two outliers here now with Kate and Tess.

Craig: The Kate. The Kate.

Malcolm: No, but–

Katie: That’s how I asked to be called.

Malcolm: Up until now, I’ve never been on a panel that didn’t have writers who moved to Los Angeles first. So when you’re dealing with something like the high 90th percentile, that’s one of the starting moves and you’re saying to yourself, well, can I do it without doing something that 90% of working screenwriters do, you’re fucking around in territory where you’re not going to win.

Craig: You got that?

Phil: We are going to give away some JetBlue miles in the night tonight.

Craig: The question that is probably asked most frequently behind how do I get started, how do I break in, is – it’s associated with that, how do I get a representative? How do I get an agent? How do I get a manager? I personally have no idea. I’m kind of fascinated to hear what you guys have to say, “How do people go about getting a manager or an agent?” And address, if you can, the Catch 22 that I know is on their mind. If I don’t have an agent, it’s hard to get an agent. Do you know what I mean?

Katie: Yeah.

Craig: So what do they do?

Katie: I will throw out there that I think it’s almost important to like think like them, like what would make you take on a client and I don’t mean in terms of writing the thing that will sell. Because I think, most importantly, you should write what you’re passionate about. The thing that I’ve written that got me the most like action, so–

Tess: I like that.

Katie: I feel bad about it immediately saying it that way.

Tess: No, it’s good. It’s good.

Katie: But like I wrote this pilot that was super weird but it was the thing I was most excited about wanting to see, you know. And that got me like on Parks and Rec. And then it also became like a sample in features for like general meetings and stuff. But where did I start?

Craig: Like where did you start with this answer?

Katie: Okay. So okay, yes.

Tess: You were having dinner with the nuns.

Katie: All right. So, okay.

Craig: You’re supposed to tell us how you get an agent.

Katie: Where are we?

Craig: This is Austin.

Katie: Austin.

Craig: it’s a city in Texas.

Katie: Austin. Okay.

Craig: You’re not in Los Angeles now.

Katie: My God, there’s people here.

Craig: Katie:, this is real.

Katie: This is happening?

Craig: This is happening.

Katie: This is happening?

Craig: Yeah.

Katie: How?

Craig: Yeah, this is real.

Katie: But, no. I think like it’s just because I have a lot of friends, you know, that are, you know, still trying to break in and I don’t — the thing I said to them like I can give your script to my agent but I guarantee they will only read you one time. So just like make it great, you know. So it’s like they just want to read something that they’re like, “Oh, this is someone that I can imagine is going to, you know, really go places, you know.” So I guess, yeah, just like make that thing great just in — also in terms of what you want to see because I think that’s, you know, what your passion about is the thing. Not just writing what you think will sell, because they see that kind of stuff all the time, you know.

Tess: I think as well don’t you think now in like in the modern world, as my mum might say, like you can now, like I was on a panel this morning where a writer was talking about, you know, he’s making webisodes and doing all that stuff that you don’t even need an agent or a manager for at this point. You know, like now you can actually get your stuff seen in a much easier fashion than when I was first starting out. So, actually physically making some stuff and then being able to send — I mean, you know, now, if I get sent — someone sends me a link now that’s longer than 30 seconds, I’m not watching it. My brain is not going to last that long on a link, you know.

Craig: I don’t know if that’s a great advice. I would say it’s okay to write things longer than 30 seconds.

Tess: No. But what I want to mean is, is that we’ll–

Phil: I’m going to give you some respectful push back on that.

Tess: No. What I mean is — what I mean is, is an agent more likely to watch something that’s a minute long or read something that’s like 20 pages long. And I think now you actually have at your dispense like you can go and make some stuff that they can click on. I mean, obviously, my attention span is not great as demonstrated, but I’m not an agent. But if someone sends me something to watch, I’m more likely to go — I imagine this agent, “Oh, here’s an interesting like minute long sketch. That’s a voice. That’s interesting.” Rather than having sent a half an hour script and they’ll be like, “Oh, I’ve got to read that again.” So I think there’s a brave new world in that sense.

Craig: Well, you know, reading — you’ve reminded me of something that is absolutely true and I think it all the time. I do not like reading scripts, I — which is a weird thing to say for somebody that only writes screenplays. But reading screenplays is hard. It’s a hard thing to do because it’s not what — it’s not an end form of something. It’s not a novel. A novel is meant to be read, that’s it. And a screenplay is meant to be turned into a movie. It’s this weird middle thing. It’s hard to read. It can be arduous. So part of what I sometimes say to people is you need to start realizing before you write anything that you’re in this weird hole with the person that’s going to read it. They’re already angry that they have to read a screenplay.

Phil: You’re trying to defuse their anger–

Craig: Right

Phil: Long enough to inspire them.

Craig: Yeah. You have to almost delight them so quickly and they’ll be like, “Oh my God.” like getting a child to eat vegetables in a weird way. I mean, have you guys seen the Rick and Morty where he has to listen to the man’s tale? Have you seen that? And the look on his face, it’s so true. It’s like, “Oh no, not a screenplay.” But you are in a weird hole and you have to kind of acknowledge it and you have to grab it. And you’re right in that now, unlike when I think all of us started, you have the opportunity to actually make things easily with equipment that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars when I was starting out.

Tess: My first short film had a budget. This is like 1997. I had a budget of £30,000. You can make five movies for that now.

Craig: Right. Right. And, by the way, nowhere to put it.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: That’s the other thing. You make the movie and you’re like, “I guess I have to enter it into festivals.”

Tess: Yes.

Craig: Now, you can just, “Hey, world. Everyone in the world, you may now watch my movie.” which is a remarkable opportunity. Phil, what do you have to say about getting a manager–

Tess: How long is your attention span, Phil?

Phil: I’m just getting warmed up. I’m not even near taxing my attention span at the moment.

Craig: Phil is at 5% capacity.

Phil: I think that making something yourself is definitely the right thing. And I think I have one maybe practical thing to suggest in the category of making alliances, I think, is the most important thing when you’re starting out, whether that’s with other writers, whether that’s with people who are going to help you shoot a movie, whether it’s going to be, you know, just people who are kind of at the same area, in the same place you are. And I think, and again, forgive me if this is obvious, but I feel like who you really need to be finding are assistants to give your script to. You need to find assistants to agents, assistants to–

Craig: You didn’t mean you have to go hire assistants, I think–

Phil: No. No. You have to hire an assistant immediately.

Craig: Yeah. They’re like, “Whoa.”

Phil: Because in my wealth seminar, I say you show that you are successful and successful comes to you. Would you pass the packets out, please? Packets are coming out.

Craig: Phil is the Tom Vu of the Writer’s Guild. Yeah.

Katie: I think this is a really smart tip because actually my first agent was an assistant first, and so he was looking for material. And I feel like that’s the thing like–

Phil: Right. It’s somebody who can be helped by finding you.

Katie: Yes.

Phil: Whereas an agent who is already established, they would love to find a great client. But they are not terribly motivated to do that. They already have a way to do that. They already have a list. But if you find an assistant, that’s someone who’s in the same position you are. They’re trying to make a move. They’re trying to break in. They’re trying to do something that’s going to standout. And so if you can give them something of quality, that is something that they will be extremely motivated to do their best to share with the people that they work for and–

Craig: Kind of like — it’s like matching hunger, right?

Phil: That’s right

Katie: Yeah.

Craig: The hunger to be a writer and there are people out there who have a hunger to represent writers or to find great screenplays. And it’s so frustrating because sometimes I think to myself, oh you know, somebody may say to me, “Hey, would you like to do this?” And I say, “Oh, I can’t. I’m doing this.” But they say, “Well, who do you think would be good for this?” And I think, “Oh my God, there are a million people who would probably be very angry at me right now because I don’t know their name but they would be good for this.” And so — but finding the people that are actively looking is actually a brilliant suggestion. Now, easier said than done, if you’re not in Los Angeles, again.

Phil: Los Angeles makes that so much easier.

Craig: What do you think about — Malcolm, I will ask you, what do you think about these services that are out there? Franklin Leonard has The Black List. There are pitch contests. There are — there’s a competition here. What do you think about those things? Is that a viable way in?

Malcolm: There seems to be, I say like we’ve joked about this sort of in our group a little bit like 95% of the people who can make it as screenwriters and now with the Internet and with all of these contests, with that system being built in place, that’s the 4% that there’s only 1% of people who could actually make it as a screenwriter that aren’t going to find a way in now. And so I think it’s a really good system.

I’m now encountering writers. I just had a sit down with a young dude who went through the, you know, all the legit contests. He placed high in all of those and that got the attention of probably assistants or whatever that wanted to help whatever and he found his way towards more and more legit people. Now, he’s out in Los Angeles and got into one of these programs or whatever. You know what I’m saying? So, yeah, I think that’s a very, very good way. And if you’re just doing blind submissions, I will say, I think agents are a terrible way to go. You go with managers because agencies don’t do what they used to do. When we was coming up, you know what I’m saying? That’s what managers do now.

Craig: No. That’s an interesting question about managers and I acknowledge that you’re right about this. I mean, look, I question the whole–

Tess: You just said that someone else is right. Yeah.

Malcolm: What did you say, Craig? You just heard that right?

Craig: I do that all the time but only with John August. I don’t do it with you guys, because he’s always right. Do you guys have managers? What do you think about this whole manager thing?

Tess: I only have — I have an agent in the UK and I have an agent in the US. But weirdly, the last few weeks, I’ve been like, “Do I need a manager?” Like a lot of people keep saying it to me. And then I’m like, you know, everyone says, “Oh, but then you’ve got to pay them more and all that like bollocks.” But like — I think like in the UK, our agents tend to do much more of a manager job than your agents here do. So my agent in the UK like manages my career and we talk and we have a schedule and we like, you know, like have a strategy. Whereas here, my agent is like, “Here’s the money. Here’s, like, here’s what you’re going to get.”

Craig: He actually sounds like a pretty good agent.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, he’s saying, “Here is money,” which is–

Tess: Well, no, as in like there’s no like, you know, there’s not really like discussions–

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Tess: Of like should you do this job. It’s like you should do this job.

Craig: There’s money.

Tess: There’s money.

Craig: Do the job.

Tess: Yeah. And then I go, “I don’t think I want to do this.”

Craig: Do job.

Tess: Do job.

Craig: Do job.

Tess: Job, do.

Craig: Job, do.

Tess: Job, do. It’s good for my attention span. Okay. Do it. But, yeah. But I do think that I know lots of writers who prefer having a manager than an agent.

Craig: Because most of these folks out here, I think Malcolm is absolutely right, their first interaction is — out of curiosity, how many of you do have a manager? Quite a few.

Tess: That’s good.

Craig: Quite a few. I would say maybe — I would say 20% there. Agent? Less. Much less. Maybe 5% or less. So–

Katie: Can I ask?

Craig: Yes?

Katie: How many people live in Austin and how many people live in LA?

Craig: Holy gajolie. This is — this podcast is a total waste of time. They are all from Los Angeles. What are we doing? Why are you here? What is happening?

Phil: I am taking the JetBlue miles and going to St. Croix.

Craig: JetBlue, off the table. All right. So most of you are from Los Angeles, what the hell? All right. Totally different topic then.

Tess: Anyway, moving on.

Phil: The managers, I would say, I think it has become much more, I mean, since I started with my partner, Matt, 18 years ago and I think it was actually very uncommon for writers to have managers, it was just not really done. And now, I think it’s more common than not it seems. And we had once for a small period, a couple of years we had a manager. We don’t now. For the majority of our career, we haven’t.

Tess: Did you sack him?

Phil: It was interesting, it was a company called AMG that was created. They were managers.

Craig: He fired him hard.

Tess: He fired their ass.

Craig: It was a hard firing.

Tess: Awesome.

Craig: Hard fire

Phil: Hard fire.

Craig: Hard fire.

Phil: No. But what was interesting was they were great, they did great work but they were basically an agency and they were constructed to be another agency, so it’s kind of having two different agents. And I think if you want to have a manager–

Craig: What the fuck?

Phil: There goes Malcolm.

Craig: Malcolm has left.

Phil: He’s jogging.

Craig: He’s literally jogging out. What the fuck?

Katie: Malcolm, bye.

Phil: What is he doing?

Katie: Okay. Malcolm turned to me and he was like, “I have to go to the bathroom. So I should just go, right?” And then I said, “Yeah. Yeah. Like I got you.”

Phil: Yeah.

Katie: And then it was immediately–

Craig: You thought that I got you, you would cover–

Katie: Yeah. Yeah. I don’t know what I thought I could do.

Craig: The incredibly obvious exit to the bathroom?

Katie: I thought I would make him invisible.

Tess: I mean, you really, really covered Malcolm there.

Phil: No. No. We both have an improv background. We could easily do a quick object transformation up here while he’s going to the bathroom, if he would have just given us a little more warning.

Craig: Katie:, you’re a terrible friend.

Katie: Yeah.

Craig: Just a bad friend.

Katie: I immediately threw him under the bus. I’m like here’s what happened.

Craig: I know. He wasn’t even out of the door and you’re like, “Okay, he’s going to the bathroom.”

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: All right. So we’ve lost Malcolm.

Phil: My incredible salient point was that if you have a manager–

Craig: Oh, you’re back to you? Oh, you think that you can still keep going like Malcolm didn’t go to the bathroom?

Phil: I can do this.

Craig: Okay. Fine.

Phil: I can pull this out. All right. I’m the Chuck Yeager of podcasts.

Craig: Let’s go, Phil. Push the envelope, man.

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: Face those demons.

Phil: If you are going to have a manager, make sure they do something different than the agent does.

Tess: I thought you were going to do a JetBlue joke again.

Phil: I was — believe me, I was constructing it. But it wasn’t A+. It was a B- and I wasn’t going to do it.

Craig: Never do a B-.

Phil: This is an A+ crowd.

Craig: It’s an A+ crowd.

Phil: And they’re not going to stand for it.

Craig: Most of them are from Los Angeles. They have high expectations.

Phil: That’s right. Yeah.

Craig: Look who’s back.

Phil: Malcolm is back.

Craig: So Malcolm Spellman has returned from the bathroom.

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: So–

Katie: It’s fine. They didn’t notice.

Phil: This is what we call in the improv game, pulling focus.

Craig: We certainly had no idea what was going on and Katie: definitely did not tell us. And kind of an odd question for you guys. But, you know, something that John and I talk about quite a bit is, well, I don’t mean to be grim. But Malcolm is correct. The odds aren’t great. And for a lot of people, they have a dream, a desire, an ambition to be screenwriter and we just know that it won’t work out for everyone. Obviously, it will work out for you. You, meaning, you, not the idiot next to you, but you. But for those for whom it does not work out, I kind of want to encourage people or at least give them permission to say, “I don’t have to do this.” And just an interesting question for you guys because I’m kind of curious, if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?

Phil: Regional airline pilot.

Craig: And you really do have the face for it.

Phil: I still might be.

Tess: Yes.

Phil: I don’t want to be presumptuous. Just Spirit Air. I don’t need to be flying those big birds to Osaka.

Craig: Do you even need to know how to fly, to be a pilot with Spirit Air?

Phil: No.

Craig: You just have to fit the uniform of the guy that died from a heart attack.

Phil: Yup.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: I just need to drop my voice an octave and just get everybody comfortable and–

Craig: All right folks, at the left side of the plane, you will see… – What about you, Tess? What would you be doing?

Phil: So that’s what I would do.

Tess: Interpretative dancer.

Craig: You know, this is not helping you guys. Those aren’t real things.

Tess: No. Well, no, Craig–

Craig: What?

Tess: They are. Because it would be doing something that I love.

Craig: Interpretative dancer is not a job. You know that.

Tess: It is a job.

Craig: Where? Where?

Tess: In interpretative dance institutions around the world and–

Phil: See, Craig, in England, they have government funding of the arts.

Tess: Yes.

Phil: And–

Craig: They may actually have that–

Tess: Well, not anymore. Brexit fucked us.

Craig: Yeah.

Tess: No. What I would — no. My–

Craig: This is where it all breaks down.

Tess: The link is–

Craig: We’ll be getting to your questions very shortly. I promise.

Tess: Fine. No. The link is that I think I would be — okay, maybe it’s not a proper job. But it’s sort of I could make it a proper job because I would love it enough to do it and I think like–

Craig: Will you do it right now?

Tess: I would if you give me another three Shiners. Four?

Craig: That’s — I don’t–

Tess: But I’ve got a different panel to attend. No. No. Tomorrow morning.

Phil: This is an audio podcast.

Tess: I know.

Craig: Yes.

Phil: That’s going to be–

Tess: Believe me, no, you will be able to hear the dancing.

Craig: I was going to — I was also going to take a video but–

Tess: No. But the point is that I — when I wrote the script — when I wrote Man Up, I was living at home at that time and I was like 33 and I was like I said to my mom and dad, “Oh if this doesn’t — this is my last chance saloon. And if I don’t sell this, then I’ll go and get a proper job.” And I honestly didn’t know what I meant by that, because I’d only ever been a writer. But I do know that I think, in terms of doing something else in my life, I would always want to do something creative.

And I think, also, it might be good for some of you to accept that you’re not necessarily writers, but maybe you’re a producer, or maybe you’re an editor, or maybe you’re a — you know, like, there are lots of writers I know that obviously have come to the conclusion that they might not make their money, everyday money from it, but there are certainly lots of other kind of avenues that you can go down that will still keep you in the filmmaking and television world. And then you can write for the sheer joy of it on the side.

Craig: Which — I mean, yeah.

Tess: Or interpretative dance on the side.

Craig: But all joking aside, there is a remarkable freedom to writing for the sheer joy of it.

Tess: Totally.

Craig: And I sometimes think to myself, look, when I started writing screenplays, I was not being paid to write screenplays. I started as a temp. I didn’t have this incredible–

Tess: Three years.

Craig: Three-year temp job where you don’t do anything. I had a proper temp job where I had to do way too much for the small amount of time I had. And then I would write at night, but I understood, when I was writing at night, that I wasn’t writing for anyone. Just me. And, you know, it’s funny. I was talking to Alec Berg. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with Alec Berg. He worked on Seinfeld and he ran Curb Your Enthusiasm, and now he’s the showrunner on Silicon Valley and he’s a brilliant guy.

He said, the other day, he was reading something that he had written years and years ago. And he said, “You know, it wasn’t great, but it was free.” And he said, “And I miss that. I miss being free. I can’t write anything. I have to write what I’m supposed to write, and there are these constraints that have nothing to do with what I want.” And there’s a remarkable freedom that you have that actually, we don’t. That is an advantage, in a weird way, that you have to surprise everybody, and we really can’t.

Tess: Well, I think it’s quite like — I don’t know about you lot, but, like — and I’ve been writing for, like, 17 years, and the best things that I think I’ve written have been things that I haven’t been paid for. [laughs]

Craig: Oh, 100%. Yeah.

Tess: Because, like, I don’t have the pressure and no one’s waiting on anything. Like, to do that alongside your paid work is the best thing you can do. If you are a working writer in this room, which I’m sure some of you are, then that’s another thing that you should always be doing. Like, do unpaid stuff for your own brain as well.

Craig: What about you, Katie:? Where would you be if you weren’t doing this gig?

Katie: CIA.

Craig: Oh, you’d be an agent?

Katie: That was my other dream, and then I would think about — but I had applied and did not get in. So it was never a backup career in any way.

Tess: Did you really not get in? But you are actually in this — yeah.

Katie: No, I truly applied. But I–

Craig: You applied to be, like, at the mailroom at CAA?

Tess: CIA.

Craig: Oh, CIA?

Katie: CIA, yeah.

Craig: I was like, why do you want to be an agent?

Malcolm: She’ll kill you, dude.

Craig: It’s the shittiest job. I honestly was hating you, and now I like you again. So you wanted to be in the CIA?

Katie: I applied for that and the FBI.

Craig: Okay.

Katie: Both rejected.

Craig: Why did they reject you?

Katie: I feel like–

Craig: They don’t say, do they? [laughs]

Katie: No — well — okay. I think–

Phil: You didn’t want to take it down to the ATF? You drew the line at FBI?

Katie: It was honestly, like, the–

Phil: Federal agency, just like any other. Just as good.

Katie: Yeah. I think I was real excited about it, but I had nothing to offer. I had no skillset that would be–

Tess: But you had your temporary job on your resume.

Katie: I did, yeah. Exactly.

Craig: Weirdly, that did not–

Tess: So weird.

Katie: Yeah, really weird.

Craig: Make them think that you were vital to our nation’s security.

Phil: She’s been working in the office from Three Days of the Condor already.

Katie: Can I tell you something someone said to me once? And I don’t know if it’s controversial or very boring.

Craig: We’ll be the judge of that.

Katie: But it had a big impact on me. I was an intern at Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and the writers there were all very lovely and awesome. And there’s this writer, Kevin Dorff, and he was giving advice and he’s the best. Me and a couple of other interns were asking about — and I guess this is more about comedy, but we were asking, like, you know, like, “What do you think? How hard is it to break in and stuff?”

And tell me if you agree or disagree, but he said, “If you’re good, you’ll make it.” And, like I weirdly found that inspiring, you know, that — I don’t know. Because I feel like there’s a lot of bad people who make it, you know, but I feel like at least with comedy, if you get to a point where — I don’t know a lot of comedians who are, like, amazing that don’t eventually make it.

Craig: Right.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: Well, I think that that’s true. I mean, Malcolm alluded to this and Phil alluded to it as well. There is this incredible hunger for quality in Hollywood, which may strike you as odd considering all the movies that they make. But they’re looking for really smart people to make the movies that they want to make. And they are short on people that they think are terrific writers. They’re always, always, always looking.

And terrific scripts do get noticed, there’s no question about that. I mean, in a weird way, when people say, like, “What are my odds of making it?” I just think 0% or 100%, in a weird way.

Katie: Yeah.

Craig: That’s it, you know?

Malcolm: Yeah. I think there’s more professional football players than there are working screenwriters.

Craig: Yeah. John and I have gone through the numbers. There are more NFL players than screenwriters.

Katie: I feel like we haven’t — like, I feel like, if we’re getting really into it, I feel like if I’m in this room–

Malcolm: The CIA talking.

Tess: You are in this room.

Craig: Yeah. Again, this is real.

Tess: You’re in.

Phil: This is happening, yup.

Katie: I feel like I would want to know — if you have this great spec, how do you get that? Like, what do you do with it if you don’t have any connections or you don’t know anyone? Like, my path was the improv theater, but if you’re not doing improv–

Craig: Right.

Katie: Like, I’m not sure what the answer is. If you don’t know anyone but you have this spec, what do you do?

Craig: Well, you know what? I told these guys, when Malcolm and Tim Talbott wrote a screenplay together and it was horrible and wonderful. It was the most disgusting, hysterical, terrible, great thing I’d ever read in my life. And they were asking, like, “What do we do?” And I said, you just put it on the Internet. It seemed perfect for the Internet. [laughs] Because I said, no one’s ever going to make this movie ever in a million years. I think Tim–

Malcolm: Fuck you, Craig.

Craig: No one’s ever going to make it and no one will ever make that movie. It is a crime against humanity.

But it’s wonderful and it so clearly indicates remarkable talent. And not surprisingly, these two guys who were writing under the pseudonym Robotard8000, one goes on to work on Empire, the other one wins the Waldo Salt Award at Sundance for his movie, the Stanford Prison Experiment.

But you can put anything on the Internet if you stop caring so much about, “People are going to steal my…” People are going to steal — stop it. Just never say that to me. Don’t worry about anyone stealing anything. Just put it out there. Put it out there. I think maybe somebody will notice it if it’s wonderful. Or no?

Tess: Also, do you think, like, if you were at a festival like this and – which you all are, hi – we’re all here still, yeah?

Katie: Mm-hmm.

Tess: Okay, good.

Craig: This continues to be real.

Tess: Yeah. No, I just always have to check with her now, so–

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Tess: I feel like Katie: knows. No, but–

Katie: I just stared blankly.

Tess: Yeah.

Katie: I wasn’t sure where we were.

Tess: I feel like if you can tell me your film in one sentence and it sounds amazing, I would want to read it. And I’m not sure how many people can actually do that.

Craig: Well, everybody, go up to Tess after this and tell her–

Tess: No. Honestly–

Craig: Tell her your–

Tess: If you can tell me, like, a new idea — if you can say to me in 20 — obviously, my attention span coming into it again. [laughs] No. But if you can say to me it’s a film about boom, boom, boom, boom and I’d be like, “Wow, that sounds, like, really interesting.” And it’s quite rare to be able to do that. And that’s your job as a writer to get your idea into that one nice little neat sentence, that then someone who is an agent or manager here or whoever, might go, “That sounds really interesting.”

Katie: I think that’s really smart, because I also — it’s like what you were saying before too about having immediately climbed out of this hole, because I think when someone says, like, everyone in Hollywood is so self-absorbed, you know, so, like, the idea of someone coming up and saying, “Hey, can you read this thing?” You know, they’re going to be like, “Ugh,” you know?

So, like, what can be said? How do you get through that thing? What could possibly be said to you that you would be, like, “Oh, okay.” Or, you know, that’s almost like — it’s a weird thing. It’s, like, also coming up with how to not scare someone off.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: Out of curiosity, just so we know if we could stop talking or not, how many of you have a question that you would like to ask of these people? Oh, barely anyone.

Tess: Don’t have any.

Craig: No. Please, sir.

Male Audience Member: I, personally, as a screenwriter, am a particularly anxious person. I imagine a lot of you can relate to that. You know, you often doubt yourself to a great extent. So I’m wondering, what was the point at which, in your career, you just sort of let go of doubt and realized, yes, I can do this? What did it take to convince yourself that you had what it took?

Malcolm: No. No. No, no, no. It is funny. I tweeted the other day, most of my career, before I got on and even when I got on and went cold, and got on, and went cold again, at no point did I ever think it was really going to work out. And this is probably the first time — I’ve been working professionally on and off for 15 years — this is the first time, like, the last couple years where I actually feel that I got something going on, so you got to have the ability to – like, you don’t even have to have faith that you’re going to make it. You got to have the ability to punch through that shit.

Tess: Yeah.

Phil: You’ve made it, Malcolm. You’re here.

Tess: But I’m the same as Malcolm. I don’t know about you guys, but, like, it’s only in the last few years, having been working for 17 of it, like, that I feel — like, last year, when I came here, I said to you the other night, like, I felt like an imposter last year.

Craig: Ridiculous.

Tess: No, but I really did.

Craig: No. She had a movie here, playing.

Tess: Yeah. And I felt like–

Craig: And she felt like an imposter.

Tess: Because I’m an idiot. But, like–

Craig: No, you’re human. I mean, this is the way we are.

Tess: No, no. But that’s okay because I just — you know, like, it’s — you have to just — you really can’t ever think that anything’s ever going to get made, because when it does, it’s a miracle. Not a religious miracle — maybe it’s a religious miracle, I don’t know. But you–

Craig: We should ask the nuns. They were there. We could have asked them.

Tess: They were right there.

Craig: They were right there.

Tess: All 12 of them.

Craig: There was 12 of them?

Tess: A murder of nuns.

Craig: A murder of nuns.

Tess: A murder of nuns.

Craig: A passel.

Tess: A what?

Craig: A passel. [laughs]

Tess: A passel.

Craig: A passel of nuns.

Tess: A pail of kittens.

Craig: Yeah. Oh, is that a thing?

Tess: That’s what it is. But yeah, I think you have to — I never think anything’s going to happen until it happens.

Craig: Phil, you seem like someone who’s actually bizarrely well-adjusted, probably because you’re not Jewish.

Phil: Tremendously confident.

Katie: Yeah, and just at dinner, you were saying, “I’ve got it all figured out.” Like I’m king of–

Phil: I was saying that.

Katie: King of Industry, I think, is what exactly you said.

Phil: Again, the packets are going to be distributed in a moment and… – No. When I hear you say that, I say, “Here’s somebody who’s probably on the right track,” because I think that doubt is a very good thing to have — I mean, the people that I worry about are people who have it all figured out, and think that they have it all figured out–

Malcolm: They got producers.

Craig: Absolutely.

Phil: Yeah. I don’t think anybody that is on this stage, or any of our friends around that do this for a living–

Craig: It never ends.

Phil: Don’t. And if there’s a day when I feel no doubt, Matt Manfredi is there to give me doubt in myself.

Craig: He’s there to remind you that you’re stupid.

Phil: To remind me of my limitations.

Craig: Excellent question, sir. Yes, sir?

Male Audience Member: Although it’s not obvious, I’m no longer a promising young man. So, I’m wondering, I mean, does that make a difference? You know, even if a script gets me into a meeting, are they just going to go like, “Whoa, this guy’s way too old.”

Craig: Well, you know–

Male Audience Member: I mean, should I just start paddle tennis or –?

Craig: Listen–

Tess: Do that anyway, because that’s fun.

Craig: Yeah. Definitely don’t not start paddle tennis. But I don’t think any of us can necessarily say for sure what it’s like to be — I mean, we are the age we are, okay? But that said, because screenplays — good screenplays are rare, I think that it is not a disqualifier in any way. I will tell you that Hollywood is as subjective, not more so, to all of the human foils and biases that exist in the world. And if you are older than normal, or you are not a — you’re less white than normal–

Male Audience Member: I got that.

Craig: Or less of a man than normal, or less straight than normal, or less able than normal, it’s a thing, right? You’re talking about a business that is routinely casting people to play types. They are only interested in presenting reality with the most beautiful people of all. That’s what they do. They are soaking in it.

But, a great script and a great interaction with somebody will always win. You just have to be aware that you may have to fight a little harder. That’s just reality, I think.

Katie: I think that’s a great point though to throw out there, is I think it is crazy rare for there to be a great script floating around. Like, most scripts are really bad.

Craig: Really, really, really.

Katie: I think that’s motivating. Like, you know what I mean?

Tess: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Craig: Not your script.

Katie: Maybe the person next to you. The person–

Craig: No, but the person next to you, their script is shitty. Your script, awesome. Next question.

Male Audience Member: Hi, my name’s Hunter. This is a question mostly for Katie:, but you guys can answer it, too, about the screenwriting process. So Ghostbusters and I think The Heat as well had a lot of improv in it, clearly. So what’s the process of, like, for writing a comedy for having a lot of improv–?

Craig: Yeah, what do you even do, Kate?

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, do you even write or — that’s my favorite question. So, like, do you just do blanks and then they just fill in?

Katie: I would say the goal is to write the best possible — like, so, for example, a scene. Just write the best possible scene you can and then when you — you know, if you get someone like Melissa McCarthy or Kristen Wiig, you know, like, the goal is to shoot a version of the scene that you set with, that you know technically works. But then you hopefully cast these improv geniuses that are going to just add so much funny shit and make you feel really lucky when you’re sitting behind the monitors, like, thinking, like, “Oh my god, did that scene work in the first place?” [laughs] You know?

Or also, I would say, like, the best times or, like, if you write the scene the best version you can, and then you get someone like the Melissa and Kristens or whatever, you know, like they start bringing their own stuff, and sometimes what’s great is then you see what they’re doing and then you try to like, “Oh, that’s really funny.” So then you throw an alt back at them and then they’ll take that and do something funnier with it. [laughs]

Craig: Right.

Katie: You know, ideally, it’s like a collaboration still, you know.

Tess: I think, like, all the best improvisers will always give the writer credit because they can’t improvise off of nothing. They have to improvise off your scripts. And I had it with Simon Pegg who he is like one of — he’s an amazing improviser and he would always go to me, “Does that still track?” If I say — you know, like, so we do like what our director called a loosey-goosey.

So we’d shoot 10 versions of the scene and then he shouts, “Loosey-goosey,” and they would basically be able to do whatever they liked. And maybe 20% of those loosey-gooseys were great, 80% were not great. And then you see them in the outtakes and then you think, “Oh, they’ve all improvised it,” or whatever, but you’ve got to have something to start from in the first place.

Craig: That’s the essence of it. I mean, you want somebody like Melissa McCarthy.

Tess: Yeah, oh, my god.

Craig: Or Zach Galifianakis or Simon Pegg or Kevin Hart to be able to do what they do. But what they’re doing is related to the intention of the character, the situation the character is in. Whatever they’re doing ultimately has to arrive at a place you have predetermined.

They begin where you say, they end where you say. They are intending what you say. The actual words that they use for it, or those little funny moments and wonderful little things are amazing but must occur in the context of what you have provided. And you’re absolutely right. The good ones–

Tess: Always acknowledge.

Craig: Always acknowledge.

Phil: It’s a moment that requires extreme vigilance as a writer. It’s where you can be the most useful because in the moment as a comic actor, you have a killer instinct which is to kill, which is to do the funniest best thing that you can imagine. And that’s not necessarily going to serve the story.

And in fact, that may take you out of the relationship that is being developed. The laughter and the success in the moment on the set with all the grips laughing and everyone going, “Yeah,” may turn into a huge problem later because it’s violated something about the scene. And I will say specifically, as someone — I’ve been able to work with Kevin Hart a lot and he is someone who seems to improvise a lot but in fact does not.

Craig: I know.

Phil: Right?

Craig: He doesn’t.

Phil: And because that’s not his approach, he–

Craig: What Kevin is brilliant at is making scripted lines sound improv.

Phil: Exactly.

Craig: It’s incredible.

Phil: And which is a wonderful thing, and why Kevin is — everyone has their own process and all the people we’re talking about are really great actors who all have their specific way in, but it’s interesting because sometimes something you see that feels — the greatest thing as a writer, you hear something that feels very in the moment and feels very spontaneous. A lot of those things are actually scripted and that’s wonderful when it does turn out.

Tess: But your job as well, which is great, is that, like, I would watch Simon do like a brilliant piece of improv and then everyone would like laugh and they’d go, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then I go over to my director and go, “Just so you know, we still have to get that beat just because it needs to make sense story-wise.”

Craig: Right.

Tess: And he’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve got it.”

Katie: I agree with what Craig — you need to have the intent of the scene there and I have to say like Melissa and Kristen Wiig, they also are so good at knowing, like they’re great writers, so they know the story. So, like, they’re really exceptional at improvising. Everything they improvise doesn’t have to be tossed out because sometimes like improv on set doesn’t just mean like saying all these crazy, funny things. Like they also know how to improvise in a way that’s still on story and on character that’s always usable, you know.

Craig: You know, Melissa McCarthy and Zach Galifianakis had a scene together in the third Hangover movie. And we had this bucket of lollipops. They were like props, it was like dressing, set dressing. And she just put it in his mouth and then she took it out and put it in her mouth.

And we were just watching it like, “Oh my god, this is the most amazing. Why would she do that?” It’s incredible, but it was absolutely in keeping with what was happening. They were falling in love but they were both wrong. There was something seriously wrong with both of them in their minds. They were off, terribly off. Like two horrible people are falling in love and that’s what they would do. They would share a lollipop together like freaks.

She’s amazing. Anyway–

Katie: If I give one more example of her?

Craig: Yeah.

Katie: In The Heat, there was a scene in the script that was literally nothing. It was that she was going to go in to see if her prisoner was in the cell and then he’s gone, and so she asked the guard, like — I can’t remember what was in the script, but she was like, “Where the hell did he go?” And the guard is like, “Oh, that agent took him away.”

And then she improvised this telling off and just tearing down this guard about what she was going to do to him for letting this guy go about how she was going to like, you know, rip her — put her fist down his throat. Like it was like the craziest thing I’d ever heard and I was like, “Oh my god, this woman is amazing.” And it was like exactly still everything, like with the scene, exactly what you wanted to get across in the scene but in a way that — I don’t know, I just think she’s magical.

Craig: She is. By the way, great advice, you know, Katie and I can absolutely assure you of this. Just work with Melissa McCarthy. It is just a win. A huge win.

By the way, Zach, also a huge win. Kevin, huge win. So that’s all we really like to do, that’s really the answer to that. I think we have time for maybe like two or three more. We’ll do two or three more. Yes, Ma’am?

Female Audience Member: Hi, my name is Tiffany. And I just wanted to mention that there is another coast that’s super cool. It’s a little town called New York City in case you haven’t heard of it.

Katie: That’s where I started.

Female Audience Member: And that’s where I know where I know my friend Kate is and I’ve also been to UCB, so I just want to say that that’s a really good place to get your start, too.

Craig: Yes. It’s my hometown. You know, I was born there.

Female Audience Member: Oh, well I didn’t.

Craig: Brooklyn.

Female Audience Member: Well, you should have mentioned it. Why didn’t you mention it?

Craig: Staten Island.

Female Audience Member: How come you asked everybody if they were from LA if you were from New York City?

Craig: Because I don’t like to break it out in front of all these other people.

Female Audience Member: Oh, okay.

Phil: Anybody here from the North Coast, Cleveland, Ohio?

Craig: Nobody. No.

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: There’s nothing there but bugs. Literally nothing but bugs. Please continue New York.

Female Audience Member: Yeah. Okay. So I–

Craig: Sorry for being interrupted by this fucking asshole.

Female Audience Member: I know, such an ass.

Phil: It’s my fault.

Female Audience Member: So my question is for Malcolm and Kate who are involved in TV. So I have a new series that’s getting some traction and I actually have a production company who’s shopping it, and I’m going out to LA for my first big agent meeting. And I just wondered if you had any advice.

They are looking for a showrunner for me to be attached to because I’m a new creator and I was just wondering if you had any advice on how to navigate that process. Once you get your meeting that everybody wants to get, then you finally get it, like nobody seems to sort of know how to prepare me for that.

Katie: I’ll be honest because I — if there is a great showrunner, they will always be working. You know what I mean? Like, the great ones are always busy, you know. Like I–

Malcolm: So your showrunner sucks.

Katie: I’m trying to think of like – yeah, because I think it’s good to know who’s new on the scene but at the same time, it’s hard to know. Like there’s a guy named Anthony King who is from UCB New York, who I always thought if I ever have a TV show, like I would want him to show-run it, you know. But I think he’s even — I don’t know, I don’t know. That’s a terrible answer but that’s literally like I thought of, like, this one person. [laughs]

Malcolm: I would say it’s a tricky dance. I did the showrunner’s training program and heard a bunch of like — they bring in like 30 showrunners. And you get to hear the stories of creators who brought on showrunners, and you’re going to have to be really, really honest of what’s your expectation.

If you’re timid about what you expect the process to be, it’s going to become something that by the time you figure out what it is and if you don’t like it, you’re fucked already. You know what I’m saying? And that doesn’t mean you should go on with your guard up at all, but you have to understand just the title, showrunner, says everything about what’s happening.

Someone is going to be handing over $50 million or $100 million dollars to somebody, and it’s going to be that showrunner. And at that point, and once you understand that, then you have to decide what’s your relationship with this person going to be, what’s your disposition. You know what I’m saying?

Like some people are — someone like me is just going to go bad. You know what I’m saying? Like it’s just it won’t work. No. But it won’t. Craig knows it. Like, just that wouldn’t work for me. You know what I’m saying? And–

Female Audience Member: Wait, you wouldn’t–

Craig: That is correct.

Female Audience Member: You wouldn’t work for yourself. Is that what you’re saying?

Malcolm: No, no. If your disposition — you can collaborate, but if you’re creating something, right, and you’re handing it to someone who’s going to run it, then you understand they are the showrunner, they run your show. And at that point, you’ve immediately put yourself in a secondary position and there’s nothing wrong with that but–

Katie: So I have to imagine you — because I have not done this experience, so I’m turning it to him. But I have to imagine you want someone who’s also going to — especially if you’re going to be involved and be there every day, I imagine you want someone that’s going to help you with your vision, right? Like, is that the goal when you find a showrunner?

Malcolm: If we’re going to be honest, you know what I’m saying, if someone’s going to take your show away from you, there is zero you can do to stop it because they get to do that because they know how to handle $50 million, right?

And that just happens when it happens. And we have some dear friends who that happened to and they’re major writers. The more frank and the more comfortable you are being honest, and if you have a sane disposition and you have real clarity, you can start having real conversations up front where you’re not being confrontational. You understand that no one can give you $50 million. You will fuck it up, you know what I’m saying?

Female Audience Member: Yes.

Malcolm: And so–

Craig: Just based on looking at you.

Female Audience Member: Clearly, I don’t know what to do with $50 million.

Katie: So do you think it’s important to be like strong on top? Like, I mean just really start up?

That sounded really weird. That sounded so weird. What I meant was–

Phil: This depends on the relationship.

Katie: What I mean is when you’re having sex with someone.

Malcolm: You cannot be defensive at all. You cannot be defensive at all. If you do not say what you think and what you expect it to be, it’s going to go bad and you need to get out of this person what they expect it to be. And that you do. Strong doesn’t mean you’re trying to control this person–

Katie: Yes.

Malcolm: Because they know — they got it.

Katie: Yeah.

Malcolm: Their title is showrunner, so they got your shit already. Strong is, “Yo, this is how I move. This is what I expect. How do you move? What do you expect? Oh, I’m not going to like that, so let me just tell you right now I probably shouldn’t be in this situation because,” you know what I’m saying? Like that’s what strong means.

Female Audience Member: Got it.

Katie: Can I add one more thing?

Craig: Yes.

Katie: And this is just from experience in features. I feel like whenever a situation is political and shitty, the thing I found helpful is just telling yourself to just focus on the work. As much as you can, take the ego out of it and just, like, what is the best way to make this the best possible thing. And I feel like that usually lends itself well to people wanting you to be involved and just having a better–

Tess: Taking the ego out, that’s the best bit of advice ever.

Craig: That is. It is spectacular advice. I was saying to Malcolm earlier, but the phrase I use is “Keep your eye on your own paper.” You have something that you can control which is what you do. Keep your eye on that as best as you can. But I think Malcolm’s advice is spot on and correct.

Yes, sir?

Male Audience Member: This is to all of you. But based on what Katie: was saying about, she says to her friends, “I can give my script to my manager, but he’s only going to read you one time,” how do you know the script is ready for that one shot?

Malcolm: You’ll know. The one thing that is true is when you write something that stands out, it creates energy. Everywhere it goes, people start saying, “Fuck. I’m going to give this to somebody.”

Craig: But he’s asking even before you give it to somebody, like the first person you give it to–

Malcolm: You have to — but that’s what you do. That’s how you know.

Craig: So you don’t know until you give it to them?

Malcolm: You give it to people and it starts to take on a life of its own.

Katie: But can you give it to people before he gives it to the agent? Do you know what I mean? Or are people, friends and family not really good judges maybe?

Craig: Probably not.

Katie: My mom says it’s great.

Tess: I think you should have like–

Craig: I always give my stuff to your mom, by the way, because she loves it.

Katie: She’s’ really — she’s smart.

Craig: She always says, “This is better than what Katie: does.”

Tess: Why don’t you give it to my mum?

Craig: No, no, your mom hates what I do.

Tess: Oh, okay.

Craig: Hates what I do.

Tess: I would say I have like three or four trusted people that I always give stuff to before I give it to anyone. Actually, sometimes you’re one of them, Craig.

Craig: Thank you.

Malcolm: Everyone gives their shit to Craig.

Tess: I know.

Malcolm: It’s an amazing thing that has happened.

Tess: When is he ever working?

Malcolm: Everybody gives their script to Craig now, except for me.

Tess: But Lindsey Doran said something great in your panel earlier. She said better is better, which I thought was brilliant. And you’re always going to be able to make something better, basically. But if three or four people are giving you the same no and the same thumbs up or the same thumbs down, that’s usually a good barometer that something is at least ready to go to the next stage, I think.

Phil: I think part of it, too, goes back to what we were talking about earlier, which is to try to get yourself on the right mindset. If you’re in the mindset of not being in a rush, then you’ll be more capable of judging your own work. Because if you are–

What just happened?

Craig: It’s just unbelievable. He’s selfie-ing while you’re talking. Malcolm decided to just selfie.

Tess: No. Stay on track. Stay on track.

Phil: I’m going to land this bird.

Tess: Come on.

Phil: I’m going to land this bird. Don’t worry. Don’t you bail out on me. Get the landing strip in the Azores.

Tess: Focus.

Phil: My point was it’s not being in a rush. It’s not saying I got to get this out because I’m in a hurry, I got to get the process going. And it’s really hard to know. But I think, you know, for myself, Matt and I wrote — I think the third script that we wrote together was the one that we tried to go out with.

And I think we wanted to go out with the second one and we got good advice from someone who said, “Geez, you guys are really promising but I think you can do better than this.” And we were like, “But wait, but no, no, now. Like, it’s time.” And I think if you can look at it yourself and look at it through the lens of not — don’t give yourself any credit or any benefit of the doubt, and look at it kind of hard and say, “Is this the best that I can do?” And more importantly, “Does this speak for me? Does this say something about me?”

Because I think the other general advice that has come up, to put it in Tin Cup terms, to not lay up–

Tess: Tin Cup the movie?

Phil: The movie. The Kevin Costner movie.

Tess: Kevin Costner.

Craig: Don’t lay-up. Don’t lay-up.

Phil: Ron Shelton.

Tess: And Rene Russo?

Phil: Is, you can’t afford when you’re starting out to lay-up. To take, like, a good kind of reasonable shot–

Craig: A safe shot.

Phil: To get you close to the pin.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: You have to try to hit a hole in one.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: And so you have to say, “Okay, is this going to make noise? Is this something that’s going to be me, and it’s unique, and it’s going to make someone say, ‘Hey, who wrote this?’” It doesn’t have to be the most technically perfect script in the world. It doesn’t have to be a great example of how you construct the second act, da da da da da. It just has to be – da da da da. That’s my proprietary, da da da da.

Do you know what I mean? If you can look at it and say this is like something that — it’s like a shout. It’s like someone will say, “Oh, yeah. Okay, great.”

Tess: You know when you’ve written something and you can go, “Oh, it’s not shit.” Like–

Craig: Yes. That is true, but, also sometimes you don’t. You don’t really–

Tess: It takes a long time to know when something’s not shit.

Craig: Yeah. And remember that our business is an outlier business. It is not an averaging business. Even though some services like The Black List, for instance, will provide you with an average, your script is a 7.9. That’s quite wonderful, out of 10. But really, if you get all 1s and one 10, you’re better off than someone who gets all 8s. It is an outlier business. You don’t know necessarily. I wouldn’t get hung up so much on, “Is it ready?” The answer is no, it’s not. Show it anyway–

Tess: Get some feedback.

Craig: Get some feedback. It will be ready when it’s in theatres. God’s honest truth.

Unfortunately, we have time for one last question. I’m so sorry for the people standing in line, but we do have to — yeah, sorry.

Female Audience Member: All right, so I thought this might be a good question for this panel, but please don’t judge me. When I was a kid, I wasn’t allowed to watch comedies. So, do you have any suggestions for good comedies to watch before 2005?

Phil: Oh, wow.

Craig: No.

Phil: That’s the greatest question possible.

Katie: My answer–

Phil: Tim Herlihy, where are you?

Tess: Tim.

Craig: All of Tim Herlihy’s work.

Katie: I feel like my answer is boring because it’s recommended in, like, every screenplay class ever–

Craig: Groundhog Day.

Katie: But I just think it holds up – wait. Do you know what I’m going to suggest?

Craig: Groundhog Day.

Katie: No, Tootsie.

Craig: Oh, Tootsie’s amazing.

Tess: Oh, Tootsie is like the most–

Craig: The last comedy to win an Oscar, by the way.

Katie: Yeah. Yeah.

Tess: But also, Tootsie’s like structurally the most perfect film. Like, one of the most perfect films ever made.

Craig: Except for Groundhog Day.

Tess: No, no, I put Tootsie–

Craig: Well, you’re wrong.

Tess: Above Groundhog Day. Okay. Maybe not. On the level.

Craig: Fair enough.

Tess: But Tootsie is like — read the script for Tootsie, and then watch it.

Katie: Yeah.

Tess: And then you’ll go, “Go Tootsie, go.”

Craig: It’s incredible.

Phil: I would like to offer what I consider to be the funniest movie of all time for me. But the fact that it is to me, and to maybe other people too, still as funny as it was when it was created is This is Spinal Tap.

Tess: Nice.

Phil: Which I think is incredible. That’s the one movie that I would put above all.

Craig: Lindsay Doran studio executive who shepherded This Is Spinal Tap all the way through.

Tess: I would like–

Phil: That’s why she’s Lindsay Doran.

Craig: Correct.

Tess: Yeah. I would like to put forward a film that is 30 years old, but I re-watch it at least once a year, that still stands up, which is Beverly Hills Cop. Like, just–

Craig: Dan Petrie here.

Tess: Where?

Katie: Come out on stage.

Craig: He’s here in Austin. Would you like to meet him?

Tess: Yes.

Phil: Turn around, Tess.

Craig: Okay. You will. And he comes in like the Kool Aid Man. He’s–

Tess: I’ve got an interpretive dance for him.

Craig: There’s a fair chance he’s down in the bar right now.

Tess: We’re going to find him afterwards.

Craig: Yeah.

Malcolm, what’s a comedy that you think is like a must-see? Let’s go ‘70s, ‘80s. Even a little bit of ‘90s. I’m out of gas.

Malcolm: I’m out of gas.

Craig: What the fuck? You’re on a show. This is a show. You have–

Tess: Was it a donut?

Craig: That was the last thing you had to say, and you’re out of gas?

Katie: No, no, no. It’s okay. Is that a comedy?

Craig: And by the way, the easiest question in the world. Just say Meatballs, and you’re done. It’s like the–

Not Meatballs? Meatballs?

Malcolm: Meatballs.

Craig: Meatballs.

Katie: I got your back. Don’t worry, they won’t notice.

Phil: Can I do one more before you go, because I think you’re going to have the best one, I’m sure.

Craig: Of course you can. Of course. Yeah, please, please, do it.

Phil: The Bad News Bears is another one that I think is — because it is a drama and a comedy and everything, and it’s one of the greatest movies ever made.

Craig: Amazing. You’ve seen Groundhog Day?

Malcolm: Slap Shot.

Tess: Yeah, nice.

Craig: Slap Shot.

Phil: Valid answer.

Craig: By the way, Slap Shot, amazing. Groundhog Day, for screenwriters, I would suggest is the most important comedy to watch, because it is the finest screenplay, I think. Just purely screen play for screenwriters. And it is profound, and beautiful, and amazing, and hysterical. That said, also Airplane.

Katie: Yeah, I feel like I’m missing — we’re missing a chunk of the ‘80s. Like that we’re — I just keep thinking of movies like Trading Places, and all those movies that–

Tess: That’s the Morris family Christmas movie, Trading Places.

Craig: I mean, we could be here all night just for citing comedies for the person that’s never seen one. But, I think we’ve done a pretty good job. Well, with that, it is my duty to say, well that’s our show.

You guys were amazing. As always, since recently, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. it is edited Matthew Chilelli. There you go, you guys listen. Our outro this week comes from someone. If you have an outro for us that you would like to try, please send it in to That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. For shorter questions on Twitter, I am @clmazin, and John August is @johnaugust. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment, and I’ll tell you why — John August loves comments.

He loves comments, you guys. He reads them and he loves them.

You can also find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at, and that’s where you’ll find the transcripts. We try and get them up about four days after the episode airs. You can find all the back episodes of the show at and also on the Scriptnotes USB Drive at where revenue is generated that I do not get because John is stealing it from me.

I want to say a great thank you to Erin Halligan, and all of the wonderful people at the Austin Film Festival, Austin Screenwriting Conference. They’ve done an incredible job for us. And thank you for showing up to a secret thing at 10 at night. Hey, everyone, let’s go get drunk. Thank you.


You can download the episode here.

The Secret Live Show in Austin

Tue, 10/18/2016 - 08:03

Craig sits down for a late-night session with screenwriters Katie Dippold, Phil Hay, Tess Morris and Malcolm Spellman to finally answer the question, “How does anyone make it in Hollywood.” Plus questions from the packed audience at the Austin Film Festival.

Thanks to our guests, our audience, and our hosts at AFF for a great night.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 271: Buckling Down — Transcript

Fri, 10/14/2016 - 16:31

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 271 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at ways to buckle down and actually finish writing something. We’ll also be tackling a listener question about autism spectrum disorder and how it might impact a screenwriting career.

Craig, I’m so happy to be back with you on the air. It was lovely to hear you and John Lee Hancock do the episode last week but it’s nice to be back with you in person.

Craig: It’s always nice. You know what? I feel like sometimes it’s nice we get a little bit of a break from each other.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then we appreciate each other all the more when we return. A brief absence does in fact make the heart grow fonder.

John: Indeed. It’s always so fun when you do an episode without me because you actually do all that work of all the boilerplate stuff and all the segues and transitions. You really can do it, Craig. So it’s very nice. It’s sort of like when Mom goes back to visit the relatives on the East Coast and Dad has to like, you know, drive the kids to school do all of that stuff.

Craig: Right.

John: Look, oh, Dad can actually do that. Dad just doesn’t usually do that.

Craig: Yeah. No, it’s definitely — it’s — I felt like Mr. Mom a little bit, you know, like I can make breakfast for you kids, I can. You know, but then it is exhausting. Although, look, to be fair, it’s just reading. That’s all it is. [laughs] I mean, I’m not like some sort of, you know, brain-damaged monkey.

John: No. Mostly it is reading. And it’s gotten to the point where there is actually boilerplate that we can copy and paste from outline to outline. So it’s nice that we’re this regularized in our systems that we can do these things.

But it was great hearing you and John Lee Hancock because you guys are old friends and so it’s like hearing a conversation between two old friends, talking about the business that I love. So while you were talking, I was down in the south of France. I was actually at a café table in Avignon finishing up Arlo Finch, part of which we’ll talk about today.

But this week was actually really strange because I made a choice, which was that, it was right before the big debate, the presidential debate and I was kind of stressed out by all of the craziness, and so I just left. And so I took all of the apps that I use to obsess about news, I put them all in a folder, put them on the very back screen of my phone including Twitter, and I didn’t look at it or check it for the entire week. So I had no idea how the debate went, I had no idea sort of how the polls were going.

It was actually lovely. But in some ways it was hard, like when I had to announce that the episode was out and available, I had to like not look at Twitter while I was actually putting a tweet out. It was really strange to be using Twitter just to tweet out and not actually read anything.

Craig: Well, I think you actually did a smart thing there. A lot of people are experiencing great anxiety over this election in a way that I don’t think I can recall in my lifetime.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Look, there’s always been some anxiety, people get worked up. I’ve always been kind of a guy in the middle, politically, you know. So I cannot think of a single election prior to this one where I thought, “Oh, my God. The country is at stake.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: In this one, however, it appears that the country is at stake. [laughs] So anxiety is normal but, of course, completely unhelpful.

John: Completely unhelpful. Especially, you know, I’m on the other side of the world, there was nothing that I was going to be able to do other than obsess about it and lose sleep about it. And I had a deadline and this was a great excuse for like, you know what, I’m just checking out, and it was actually terrific to check out. So I would say I’d recommend to our listeners if you feel like you need to check out of this little process for a while, that’s okay and nothing is going to — things could go horribly wrong but like there’s nothing that you’re going to be able to do to affect what’s going horribly wrong if you need to decide to check out for a little while.

Craig: No question. I mean, what we forget, and because we think — we are under this delusion that we can actually affect how other people vote by tweeting and facebooking. And I think maybe the only time in my life I was able to maybe change like four people’s votes was when it came to Ted Cruz.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because I had personal experience with him. But beyond that, you’re mostly just talking to people that agree with you or talking to people that don’t agree with you. And really the only thing you can do is show up and vote. And I assume that you are going to vote from afar if you have not done so already.

John: If you’re in Los Angeles County, you can register for it and they send you your ballot material. So we actually already got those things and we will be faxing our ballots back in. You actually fax them through a fax service. So it’s not an anonymous ballot anymore because clearly they can identify you or the person who sent that ballot, but I will be delightfully faxing through my ballots in the weeks before the election comes.

Craig: Excellent.

John: So what’s strange though about Los Angeles County, so I don’t know if you’ve seen the voter book yet? It’s so huge. There’s so many referendums and things at this time.

Craig: It’s a phonebook.

John: Especially because of pot legalization. So there’s a lot to read.

Craig: Yeah. No, there always is. And of course, no one reads it. They just show up and begin voting willy-nilly. Perhaps maybe a day or two before, what they’ll do is they’ll get a pamphlet from one of the major political parties saying, “Here’s how we think you should vote.” And, sadly, I think a lot of people just go, “Oh, okay. Well, check, check, check, check.”

John: Yeah. Yeah. That’s how it goes. Or they vote based on what the name of the ballot initiative is. And that’s why naming of things is so crucial because that affects what you think about it. So the same proposal with two different names would pass or not pass based on–

Craig: Right.

John: How it’s titled.

Craig: Yeah. For instance, religious freedom sounds great.

John: Doesn’t it sound so good?

Craig: Yeah, it sounds–

John: People should have religious freedom. We should restore religious freedom. I’m 100%–

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

John: In favor of restoring religious freedom.

Craig: Right.

John: So it’s really for like — for those people who are like oppressed, those like — those, yeah, absolutely 100%. That’s the one about head scarves, right? That’s what it’s really up for.

Craig: Yeah. No, for sure. I mean, the proper — they had a choice. It was either we can name things religious freedom or no wedding cakes for you, homos. [laughs] They were like, “Hmm. Uh, let’s go with religious freedom. That’s probably — we probably have a better shot.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We do somehow. So listening to the episode that you recorded with John Lee Hancock, I was nodding through a bunch of it but I was yelling at my podcast player for one moment because you guys answered a listener question about background audio tracks for like ambience for when you are writing things.

Craig: Right.

John: And I had immediate experience with that because these last four weeks I’ve had to use those quite a bit because I’ve been writing in a small apartment or like really busy places with a lot of noise around me and I found them to be an absolute godsend. So for writing Arlo Finch, a lot of what I was writing in this section of the book is like very cold and snowy and winter stormy and I needed to be in that head space. But when I got to Paris, it was like 95 degrees without air-conditioning.

And so, what I found to be so incredibly helpful were these three tracks — I’m going to put up links to in the show notes for. They’re all from YouTube and they’re just eight hours of like winter storms or forest ambience, and they were so incredibly helpful in just like being white noise and sort of like shutting out the chatter around me, but also making me feel like I’m in a cold snowy place when I’m actually sweating in a Paris apartment.

Craig: Well, I get that. I mean, you know, neither John Lee nor I write in busy places. We literally are two floors apart from each other in a building where I guess the most noise is the occasional bus, or as all of us know, the sirens. And this will come up, by the way, later when we talk about autism spectrum disorder. But when the fire trucks go by, I put my fingers in my ears and I stop.

John: I always do.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I always do. And I feel like I’m a child when I do that, but you know what, it hurts my ears and I don’t like it. So if my fingers can stop the hurt, I like my fingers to stop the hurt.

Craig: Even if it doesn’t — even if — because I’m inside, it’s not this level of noise where it would physically hurt, but it upsets me. I don’t like it. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so I put my fingers in my ears. But no, I understand how if you are writing in a busy café in France and you’re writing — you know, one thing about novels as opposed to movies is you tend to live in a space for a much longer amount of writing time, you know. Like if there’s a whole sequence set in the winter, you’re going to spending more days in the winter than you might on a movie where maybe there is, you know, three scenes in winter or something like that. So it absolutely makes sense that you would want some kind of white noise to drown out the chatter and I don’t know what the sounds of France, the baguettes hitting each other and accordion music.

John: There is some accordion music. Just in the subway today, we had the guy step in and play his greatest hits on the accordion, which was kind of charming and also really annoying. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah.

John: So — yeah.

Craig: Did you put your fingers in your ears? [laughs]

John: It didn’t quite get that bad. [laughs] Let’s do one more bit of follow-up. This is actually way back to Episode 267, that was How Would This Be a Movie.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The one that we were like, well, this is absolutely going to be a movie was the PTA mom and the crazy married lawyers who were trying to bring her down.

Craig: Right.

John: And we were like, “Well, that’s going to absolutely be a movie,” and it looks like it’s going to be a movie. So Julia Roberts is now set to produce and star in a film based on those events but not the article we read. The film is based around a book which the victim, Kelly Peters, wrote with a New York Times writer under an alias of Sam Rule. The book is called I’ll Get You! Drugs, Lies, and the Terrorizing of a PTA Mom.

So as of two weeks ago, there was no screenwriter on the project but it looks like it could be George Clooney and Grant Heslov from Smokehouse producing the film. So it’s a bunch of familiar people coming together to make a movie perhaps.

Craig: Well, I think that that — I’m actually encouraged by the fact that they aren’t basing it on that article. Not because that article was poorly done. It was brilliantly done. It’s just that I didn’t see an ending in that article that made me think I’d follow this movie from start to finish, I understand how this all works. Perhaps the book offers more of that. And of course, the fact that the book is being told from the point of view of the victim implies a certain different kind of movie as well.

John: Yeah. We’ll see what that is.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I want to cast Brie Larson as the wife and the lawyer. This is — if anyone asks, Brie Larson.

Craig: Okay. All right. But what about Julia Roberts?

John: Julia Roberts is playing the mom, apparently. She’s playing the victim.

Craig: She’s playing the victim.

John: Yeah. Which doesn’t seem to be a great part, but maybe there’s something in the book that sort of shows why that’s a great part.

Craig: Yeah, yeah. That’s the thing. I’m starting to think like there’s a whole other movie here with that woman that we don’t know about.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But I don’t know. I kind of just want to hear about the villains in this one.

John: I love the villains in this story.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get to our first main topic which is buckling down. So the last 40 days have been sort of like the most intense writing period of my life. And I guess I’ve done TV show stuff which was intense for other reasons, but this was the most days continuously where I had to write a lot every day. So the book is about 60,000 words. To give you a sense of that, like a screenplay is about 20,000 to 25,000 words and a lot of those are like the characters’ names and INT/EXT and all of that stuff.

So it ends up being a tremendous amount of words and just a tremendous amount of volume to be sort of typing into your computer at a time. So it was such a different thing for me but I felt like we could have this discussion about really any time that you have to just buckle down and actually write something that’s really long. So screenplays, pilots or the TV staff writer who’s sent out of the room to like actually write the draft, that’s really sort of a buckling down situation.

Obviously, a book or a novel, we have people who are starting their projects for NaNoWriMo at the start of November. But even if you’re not a screenwriter and you’re writing a dissertation, it’s the same kind of thing where like you can plan for a long time but eventually you have to sit down and actually write this thing. So I want to talk about how you write really long things and how you sort of get it done, which we haven’t really done. We’ve done a lot of sort of little bits of scene work and we talked about outlines and treatments and sort of other things, but the day-to-day, day after day work of getting one project done, we haven’t really touched on in, you know, these 270 episodes.

Craig: Kind of crazy that we haven’t, considering that it is the thing that people kind of struggle with the most.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, of all the sub header things that we struggle with, getting the work done. And I love your phrase, buckling down, which is exactly what it requires, is the most common problem for all of us and it doesn’t, by the way, get easier. That’s — it’s — you’d think that with the exercise of the muscle there you — that that pain would start to go away. It does not.

John: Yeah. Well, I think what’s tough about it is that so often the experience of being a writer is the experience of like thinking through stuff and figuring stuff out. But the actual verb of writing isn’t necessarily the bulk of your day. And so it’s sort of hard to tell when you’re writing and when you’re not writing. And so only in those situations where something is actually really due, there’s like a ticking clock and you have to get stuff done and there’s just a whole bunch of stuff you have to get done that you really feel it. And so, I want to talk about like those times in your life and some general structures for like how you plan out that work and how you plan for how you’re going to really achieve it and how you’re going to get it done.

So I would start with, it’s really just making it the priority. It’s like, it’s recognizing that there’s always going to be stuff in your life, there’s going to be family stuff, friends, travel, there’s going to be parties. But I remember when I first got to know Lena Dunham, I had met her right after her movie Tiny Furniture and I thought it was great. But then I got to hang out with her a little bit more up at the Sundance Labs and she was co-writing a movie up at the Sundance Labs, which is the winter labs, and while she was up there at the labs she was also starting on this HBO thing which was sort of like something she was thinking through which ended up becoming Girls.

But what impressed me about her was like not just her talent, which I’d already seen, but her work ethic. And so she was the kind of person who would leave a party early because like “I need to go and write” or you know, she would skip out on things because like “I need to go and write.” And she wasn’t just using that as an excuse, she really had to go and write. She’s the kind of person who, you know, would take a vacation to an exotic place but spend a fair amount of that time, you know, in a room writing the stuff she needs to write.

And I’ve always admired those people who can sort of make their writing life a priority. And there’s only certain points in my life where I really felt like I could do that sort of cleanly. And this — and writing the book here was one of those situations where I really could sort of prioritize. I could say, “Listen, there’s all this stuff I know that needs to happen but I need these four hours of the day to be clean so I can write,” and that’s been kind of a great experience to go through.

Craig: Well, part of the challenge is that when we you say, “I need these four hours of the day to write,” sometimes those aren’t the four hours where you’re actually going to be writing, you know. Because one of the problems is sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t even at different times of the day, which is why work ethic is so important.

To me, I try and look at it like this. Work ethic is about making sure that at the end of some reasonable chunk of time you’ve done the right amount of work, whatever that is for you. We all move at different speeds. So I think of it in terms of a week. When this week has elapsed, this much work must have occurred.

That said, there are going to be days where more happens than less. And I have to listen to myself. So like Lena, if I’m at a party and the back of my head’s going, “I kind of feel like I want to write,” leave and write. Listen to that voice because it might not be there the next day.

John: At the same time you have to be aware that writing is honestly going to be one of the — your last choices of like fun things to do. And so it’s showing up even when you kind of don’t want to show up.

My situation here in Paris is my daughter would go off to school and I would sit down and I would write. I would write for a solid hour. Then I’d take a break then I’d go for another hour. And having a routine where like I literally — like, if I didn’t get that 9 o’clock hour worth of work done, I knew that I would be kind of messed up for the day. It did sort of force a — that regularity was incredibly helpful.

So I’m not going to necessarily do this for the rest of my life, but for those periods where I needed to buckle down, that was really good. It was good to recognize that stuff needs to get done. Even if it’s not going to be the perfect stuff, there were days where I could sit down, like I really had a hard time getting it going. But what I could at least do is like synopsize the things that needed to happen in this chapter. I could work through some of the other, sort of, more piddly things that needed to get done somehow.

In screenwriting, I often would sort of do these things where like sometimes there’s a scene I just didn’t really know how to write, I didn’t really want to write. But if I was sitting down for a session to write, I’ll write that other scene. I’ll write that like sort of less important scene, the things that are sort of people walking through doors. So at least something would get done. And so it’s recognizing that there’s always going to be some things that are bit more challenging for you, but you’ve got to sort of focus on getting some stuff done because if you just always wait for the muse to show up, you are going to be waiting kind of forever.

Craig: I completely agree. There is a push and a pull required. Let’s call the muse the push. That’s something from within you that you have an instinct to want to create and want to write. And those times when you feel that push from within, it’s wonderful, but you need a pull. You need something on the outside that is demanding that work come out of you. And that is not — I don’t think anything you can really teach people. I think that is baked in to who they are. It is a huge part of splitting the world between writer and not writer. That writers just have an innate understanding that there’s a requirement and it needs to be fulfilled, like we’re working for a boss who isn’t there.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Even when we actually have a boss, that’s not the boss.

You know, right now I’m writing a script for Disney. I know who my bosses are at Disney. I know who my producers are. But they’re actually not the people I’m thinking about when I go, “I have to get something done today.” I’m thinking about this just need. And it’s almost like a weird external need that is yet created internally.

John: Absolutely, you’re envisioning this other person of you who’s going to be really upset with you if you don’t get this work done.

Craig: Right

John: That’s a strange thing. You’re trying to please this master who doesn’t exist who is actually you.

So let’s talk about some of the obstacles that are sort of getting in people’s way from finishing things or at least from like really being able to crack the back of the work that they’re doing. And let’s talk through some of the things that are sort of common experiences in our lives that have been in the way of writing.

Craig: Right. So I think perhaps the most common, the king of all obstacles, is the double-sided coin of fear and regret. When we don’t necessarily know it’s happening. It happens so fast in our minds and so subconsciously that sometimes all we feel is just a lack of desire to write. We don’t understand that that is actually a symptom of a process that just occurred in a split second. And in that split second, what’s happening is we think about writing and then we are confronted instantly with, “Am I good at this? Am I doing it right? What will people think? Have I already made a mistake and wasted my time and my energy?” And that cascades to, “I’m no good. I don’t know what I’m doing.” And we don’t hear any of those words. All we get is, “Meh.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “I’m going to go watch TV.”

John: Yeah, because no one fails at watching TV.

Craig: It’s so true. [laughs]

John: Yeah. It’s absolutely a true thing, because we worry that we set the stakes way too high for the thing we’re about to write. And like, “Oh, if this scene isn’t perfect. If this sentence isn’t perfect, it’s all going to be disaster,” when in fact, it’s not going to be a disaster. You know, every scene and every sentence is going to be rewritten several times. So you’re much better off writing the version of the sentence that is pretty good and moving on. And then, like, being able to go back and say like, “Oh, you know what? I have a better way of doing this.”

But actually starting the process is really key. You know, on a previous episode we talked about how perfectionism and procrastination are really the same thing.

Craig: Right.

John: Is that procrastination is a way of protecting us from fear of being less than perfect. Well, you have to accept that things aren’t going to be perfect right out the gate. That’s why I think it’s so important to, you know, just start writing. And then at a certain point, something often clicks. It doesn’t always click, but it often clicks. It’s like, “Oh, okay, now I get what this is.” And those first things you wrote you’ll fix and it’ll get a lot better.

At the same time, you may encounter problems in — story problems, word problems that you’re not able to sort of justify and like you don’t know how to actually deal with them. But just deal with them as best you can and know that you’re going to have the opportunity to go back and fix them.

Craig: Right.

John: I think that sometimes we sort of — we wait so long because like, “Oh, it’ll come to me eventually how I’m going to solve this problem.” We would, generally, be much better off like moving on, acknowledging that it’s a problem, moving on, and then finding a way back into that problem later on.

Craig: Yeah. We tend to judge our work and progress against completed works, which is a mistake. It’s simply not possible that any half-finished first draft of anything is going to match the standards of completed works. Not possible.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And yet we don’t have any other basis of comparison, right?

John: Exactly.

Craig: It’s not like the Internet has a bunch of half-written first drafts, because they don’t.

John: Yeah.

Craig: For novels or for movies.

John: Yeah. If only Steve Zaillian would like publish like all of his sort of like aborted scripts, everyone would feel so much better. [laughs]

Craig: Well, yeah. I mean, you know, here’s a bad scene that I threw out and I didn’t know it was a bad scene until two weeks later and I’m embarrassed by it and here it is. And I think the solution here is to stop comparing your work to anything because the comparison is useless.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It will not make you better and it will not make the work better, particularly when you’re trying to be honest to your own voice.

John: And I think sometimes on the podcast, we may say things that would lead people the other way. It’s like I do generally think that, you know, trying to break into screenwriting or trying to break into writing, ultimately, you are going to be compared against the people who are doing this professionally for a living. So like, that’s fair at the end of the process. But to hold yourself to that standard in the middle of a sentence is not going to be productive for you or for anybody. So you have to recognize the two things, like allow yourself to be imperfect in this moment and strive for perfection in the finished work. And you can’t do both simultaneously.

Craig: You can’t. And let other people handle the judging business because, first of all, their manner of judging is so foreign to your manner of judging. And based on wildly different criteria. You will be undervalued and overvalued at various times by people. And that’s what they’re going to do. And you honestly can’t — you can’t anticipate it. You can’t game that. The best you can do is just write honestly to yourself and not compare to other people, because inevitably what ends up happening is you subject yourself to the tyranny of the unattainable. There’s always somebody better, there’s always something better, and you’ll just get lost.

Similarly if you’re facing a problem, you know you have a problem in your story, your screenplay, or your novel. Sometimes the existence of it feels so daunting because it was really hard to do the work that got you to the place that you now think is a problem.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it isn’t so hard to fix it. It just feels so hard to fix it because you don’t know how. And it’s okay to stop and say, “I acknowledge the following. I made a mistake. I’ve wasted time. I’ve wasted energy. I’ve wasted effort. No problem, that is inevitable. So now let me just think about my problem and allow myself to be free to come up with anything. Even if it means tearing everything up. Even if it means that my grand plan to have a novel at the end of a month didn’t happen, right?” And once you free yourself, you’d be amazed how quickly you can solve things. And actually, oftentimes, how rapidly you — the fix is done.

John: Absolutely. Once you get past that sort of sunk cost fallacy, like I’ve done all this work and it has led me to this horrible place, and to try to fix this problem would be undoing other things. Once you sort of let yourself go from those previous things, a lot of stuff becomes simpler.

The other thing to remember is we talk about like you’re comparing it against perfected works you’ve seen. If you were actually to talk to the people who wrote those things, those movies you love, those books you read that you loved so much and you said like, “Oh, well this part was so graceful and effortless, how you did the stuff,” that may have been the author’s most hated and most challenging thing. And maybe the thing that she doesn’t actually love about her book because she knows how much hard work it was to go in there and it doesn’t feel easy and natural to her, but it ultimately worked. And so just because it’s hard work it doesn’t mean it’s going to be a struggle in the end. It may actually be the right thing for you to be having to face through to get to.

An example of my own stuff is Big Fish. The first ten minutes has to set up so much stuff, and that was probably the hardest ten pages ever to write because there’s so many little balls to get moving in the air at once. It took like three weeks to do. A lot of the other script was so much simpler, and yet you wouldn’t know what was easy and what was hard based on, you know, the end result of the movie.

Craig: Yeah. We don’t really have experience of that on the other side of it. As movie goers or novel readers, we don’t get a color coding that shows how much effort went into any particular part. And in fact, because our job as writers is similar to the job of the magician, we’re constantly disguising that effort as best we can. We’re hiding it from people. And if we do it really well, it should all look easy.

John: Yeah, that’s the trick.

Craig: You know, it should look inevitable and easy. And what a shock then that when we sit down to actually write we go, “Wait, this the opposite of inevitable and easy.” And in fact, one of the great obstacles that we face and one of the things that pulls us off the track sometimes is the paralysis of choice because we’re used to seeing things that follow one track inevitably to an end. But when we’re writing, there is no track.

John: 100%.

Craig: We can do anything, and that can be very frightening for people.

John: Absolutely true.

So let’s talk about the actual process of getting those words on the page and sort of how you get it done. So especially when you’re like buckling down, let’s say you have a big thing to write. So it could be a book, it could be a screenplay, it could be your dissertation that’s finally due, you have a lot to do. So the thing you have to recognize is that it’s going to be a marathon of many, many days to write this thing. And so if you try to stay up all night and just power through it, well, staying up all night is going to set you back the next day. So you have to recognize like the amount of work you can do in a day and try to be able to repeat that work day after day, and that way you’ll get through it.

So a lot of times I think that sometimes as writers we’ve been very clever, and so we would just like pull an all-nighter to write that like 10-page paper for a term project. That doesn’t actually work when you’re trying to do a 120 pages or you’re trying to do, you know, a 300-page dissertation. You can’t just stay up all night and power through it. You actually have to plan for how you’re going to do it.

So I like to say it’s like — it’s planning to run a bunch of sprints that ultimately add up to a marathon. And so for me, a sprint is sitting down and I’ll spend about 20 minutes reading through the previous day’s work. Just sort of get a feeling for it again in my head. I may rewrite some stuff while I’m doing it, I’m just changing stuff around. Just sort of get it back under my finger so I really feel like the story is — I’m back in it. Then I’ll set a timer and I’ll write for 60 minutes, and I won’t let myself get up from the desk until I’ve really written for 60 minutes.

Sometimes I run out of juice a little bit during that time, but I still stick at it. And if I don’t have anything great to like add to the scene itself, I’ll just synopsize the next things that are coming up. I’ll sit in that chair for the 60 minutes until I get as much stuff done as I possibly can and then I’ll walk away and take a break.

Craig, do you find yourself doing that at all?

Craig: Yes, although not quite so intentionally. I don’t set a timer or anything like that. I definitely begin by reading what happened yesterday. I give myself as much time. Sometimes I read the whole thing. You know — and I mean, you know, I’m on page 67. Sometimes I sit down and say, “Okay, I’m going to start on page 1,” and I’m going to read up until page 67. I want to — I just want to watch this movie again and feel all of it, and then I’ll be ready to add on one more brick.

John: That’s the great thing about screenplays, I will say, is that there have definitely been times where like I just start back at the beginning and read through, because the experience of watching a movie is going to be starting at the beginning and reading through. I can’t do that every day or I wouldn’t get a lot of work done.

Craig: No, no, no, no, no.

John: For a Monday when I’ve been off that script for a while, it’s not a bad idea.

Craig: Yeah. I used to just sort of read 10 or 15 backwards, you know. And when I was working with Lindsay Doran, I was amazed by her insistence every time that she — so I would — you know, I’d move forward and I’d send her some pages, and every time she would read from the beginning. Every time, which I thought was remarkable, and then I started doing it, too. [laughs] And it actually helped quite a bit. But not necessary — I mean I just think, you know, reading back what you have puts you back in the world of the movie. It certainly helps you connect forward.

And then what happens is I begin. And when I begin, naturally, I will write for a certain amount of time. I don’t actually know how much time. I’ve never looked at the clock. I don’t know. What I do know is somewhere between three and six pages are going to come out. That’s seems about right for a screenplay. Now, novels are different.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But for a screenplay, somewhere between three or six pages are going to come out and that’s what I can do. Now, if you put a gun to my head and said, “You need to write 20 pages,” I could do that. But the goal, as opposed to say writing a term paper, the goal in writing something creative is that it be creative, not hitting a length. So, I know that I am probably best — my optimal page delivery is somewhere between three and six pages. That’s what the day looks like for me.

John: Yeah. So writing the book, my optimal day was between 1,000 and 1,500 words. And like that was a good day’s work. If I was able to stay on that schedule, I knew I could finish the book. I knew everything would be good.

Because books are so much longer, it wasn’t possible to sort of like go back to page one and start rereading the book. It would have taken four hours to do that every day. But what I could do is read through like the last chapter or read through sort of where I’d gotten to in this chapter and sort of move forward from there. So I could remember sort of like where the characters were at, what the world was feeling like.

I can also make sure that I wasn’t repeating language again from earlier in the chapter or from the chapter before, because that’s a thing you definitely notice. In a screenplay, you don’t notice repeated language nearly as much, but in books, the way things are phrased, you kind of can’t keep doing the same things again and again. So I had to sort of be a little bit aware of like things I had just done so I wouldn’t sort of be repeating myself.

So I found myself doing the 20 minutes of sort of recapping, sort of getting back up to speed with it. A one-hour sprint, some time off, another one-hour sprint, some time off, another sprint if I needed to. But that way I was actually getting most of my work done while I was actually sort of sharp and focused in the day. And like the afternoons, I was sort of spent and couldn’t do anything else, but it was nice that I could, you know, sort of really focus on just doing writing stuff during those sort of morning hours. It’s sort of the luxury of this life.

Craig: Well, if we divide our day into writing and then after writing, the after writing part of the day is very, very pleasant if you’ve written.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And if you haven’t, not so great.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So think about that when you’re wondering whether or not you should actually sit down and just do the damn thing at 10:30 or 11:00 or noon or 1:00. As the day goes on, you’re eating up more of your not writing part of the day and you may — now, there are days when you don’t have it and you don’t write. And I’ve learned to forgive myself for those days. That is, you know, it’s natural, I think.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you hope that those days are balanced out by some of those wonderful days that come out of nowhere where you just — you’re on fire.

John: So some general lessons here. It’s to try to be I think both strict with yourself and also forgiving of yourself, to try to really treat the work like the work. I mean, no one ever sort of like looks at a farmer and says like, “Why are you working so hard, Mr. Farmer?” It’s like, well, the farmer has to work hard.

You are a farmer who is growing words, you’re growing stories, and so a lot of that time is sort of spent in the field with your little story as its growing and making sure that you’re actually spending the time doing it that, you know, writing isn’t just an identity for you but it’s actually a verb. It’s actually a thing that you are doing on a daily basis to get stories told and on the page.

I think sometimes, as screenwriters, because our lives get to be so busy doing all the other stuff, a lot of the stuff you guys talked about last with John Lee Hancock, which is sort of the putting together of a movie and making people feel comfortable and trying make all the stuff work, ultimately though it comes down to like can you tell the story on with those words on the page. And making sure that you protect the space that you need to be able to do that hard work.

Craig: Agreed.

John: Lastly, I’ll put a link in the show notes to some great blog post by Chuck Wendig who’s a really good writer. I had recommended his book, Invasive, a couple of weeks ago. But he writes about writing really well. And so he has a really good blog post, Here’s How To Finish That Effing Book, You Monster. Craig will enjoy it a lot because he’s very foul-mouthed–

Craig: Yeah.

John: About sort of like good advice for sort of like getting through that book or really, any long piece of writing. So I certainly recommend that to anybody who liked this conversation.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool. All right, let’s get to a question from a listener. This is Matthew from Los Angeles who wrote in. We don’t have audio for it. Craig, would you mind reading it?

Craig: I would not mind. It would be my great pleasure.

Matthew from Los Angeles writes, “I am writing to you because I’m in a situation where I’m in need of supportive words or harsh truths. I’m about to graduate from college and begin my entry into the job market. I’d like to become a writer of film and television and I’m fortunate enough to have the advantage of living in Los Angeles. However, I am on the autism spectrum.

“My disability is not to the point that I can’t communicate with people but I do have a noticeable impairment when I’m interacting with others. As I’m a fan of several podcasts that focus on writing and regularly interview working writers, I am well aware that the ability to communicate is essential to the job and that my desire to become a writer may be unrealistic due to my disability. I was wondering what your opinions are on this issue and in a broader sense, hoping you can address how having a disability might impact one’s potential for a career in the film and television industry in general.

“If you’re unable to speak to this issue, I was hoping you could encourage people in the industry to speak out in the same way you did for writers living outside major entertainment cities. I feel that disability often gets overlooked when talking about inclusivity as I often hear more about gender, sexuality, and race. I think it would beneficial to speak about disability as it relates to the industry so a person with a disability, like myself, can manage their expectations and set realistic goals when it comes to working in film and television.”

John: That is a great question.

Craig: Yup.

John: And I love it for so many reasons. First off, he’s asking – he has a specific situation, but there’s a universal question here as well, which is how will the facts of my life impact my ability to achieve my goals? How will the situation I find myself in change how it’s possible for me to get the career I want?

Everyone listening to this podcast has a set of circumstances that makes some things easier or harder so it’s important to look at those conditions honestly so you can anticipate the challenges ahead. So it’s also a really good question because it’s a little bit terrifying. I don’t know how you feel, but there’s a pretty good chance that you or I will say something that will upset someone, so before you email in, when we say something dumb, please assume that we’re trying our very best to answer Matthew’s question and not defend the status quo of the industry or society as a whole.

Craig: I will not be cowed by the tyranny of the offended.

John: All right.

Craig: It’s not that I’m incapable of offending people or incapable of being outrageously wrong. We both know I’m incredibly capable of both of those things. [laughs] But we must proceed fearlessly here if we’re going to have any chance of actually helping anyone, helping Matthew, because, you know, I’m pretty sure that Matthew could probably write the platitude version of this for himself. He wouldn’t need to ask us.

John: So Craig, you are the person who knows more about the DSM, so can you tell us what we are talking about with autism spectrum disorder? Because especially I think we have a lot of international listeners who may be using some of these terms differently, so let’s talk about what we’re talking about first.

Craig: Well, autism spectrum disorder is actually kind of a newish term. We used to have a different — and we call these disorders, even that term, you know, is under scrutiny right now. But we used to say, okay, well, some people had autism and autism was — at least when you and I were growing up as children in the ‘70s, autism was basically narrowed down to a fair — actually a smaller amount of children who had some difficulty with being verbal or severe averbality, difficulty in motor coordination, difficulty with rigidity and thought patterns. Oftentimes, there were associated physical issues like gastrointestinal problems.

We — in the ‘70s, I remember in school there were classes for kids and those classes were called “for the emotionally disturbed,” which is kind of a crazy term, but there was emotional disturbance going on with some of the children with autism. And then as time went on, Asperger’s syndrome emerged and that was kind of a milder version where there were issues with social interaction, again, some verbal issues, eye-contact issues, rigidity of thought. And there’s a lot of symptoms for this.

And then there was this other thing that came along called PPD-NOS, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified, which is a very bureaucratic way of saying, “Well, this is sort of autistic-ish or Asperger’s-y.”

John: Here’s a bunch of symptoms and we’ll stick them together.

Craig: Yeah. They’re pervasive so they’re not acute, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: This is who you are, but they’re not otherwise specified.

Now, I think in — yeah, I’m looking here in 2013, when they went from the DSM 4 to DSM 5, and DSM is the Diagnostic Statistic Manual, it’s the big diagnosis manual for Psychiatry and Psychology. They decided everything — let’s get rid of those distinctions, everything is now called autism spectrum disorder. And so the idea is there is a spectrum of behaviors, and all the way on the extreme end, you have what used to be considered severely autistic and all the way kind of on the more mild end, you have some of the behaviors that would have probably fallen under PDD-NOS.

John: Yeah. So it’s important that we say like these are kicking into varying degrees. So like no two people are going to have the exact same kind of situation with this diagnosis. It’s a spectrum for a reason. So there’s — I have two people in my family who are both on the spectrum and they could not be more different, so it’s important that we don’t like sort of stereotype people based on a diagnosis. Everyone is clearly an individual and there’s — while there can be some consistency of patterns between different things, there can also be huge variations between people.

Craig: Yeah, no question. I mean, this is one of the issues. I mean, I have probably in my extended family more people on the spectrum than I can count. I probably as a child would have been diagnosed with PDD-NOS. I mean, I had like certain behaviors that the doctor was concerned about, a lot of weird finger motions right up against my face, which I found made it easier for me to think and imagine and you see very typical with people on the spectrum. Especially towards the autism end of the spectrum, there can be flapping behavior where their hands flap around or move in strange ways.

So not only is it important not to stereotype, it’s essentially impossible to stereotype ASD. And that, in its own way, is part of the challenge because if you cannot — I mean, let’s take the word stereotype and remove it from its stereotype which is, you know, you’re a racist and you’re categorizing people and just use it in its purest form, you have collected a pattern of behaviors and are now ascribing it to one kind of syndrome.

The question for ASD is not just what is neuro-atypical, but you have to first ask, “What is even neuro-typical?” In short, “What is normal and who gets to define it as such?”

Here’s one of the challenges here with ASD. When you look at most neurological disorders, for instance, epilepsy, there’s really no upside to epilepsy and we know exactly what epilepsy is. And we can stereotype epilepsy, right? We can say, “Okay, well, this is what happens. You have seizures. This kind of electrical pattern occurs in the brain. It can be mild or it can be dangerous. There’s petit mal, there’s grand mal.” We know these things, right? And nobody with epilepsy says, “It’s super awesome having epilepsy.” But unlike those kinds of standard neurological disorders, ASD often correlates with advantages.

Now, this isn’t causal but correlative, right? We know that people with ASD often do have superior visuospatial ability, mathematical ability, and music and art. So many, many years ago, some people were called idiot savants, right? The idiot part was, “Oh, they don’t know how to talk and they can’t look you in the eye and they can’t read faces and they have no emotional quotient and sometimes their hands flap around,” which actually is not idiotic at all, it’s just part of the symptomology of ASD. But then the savant part was, “Oh, he can” — for instance, there’s a famous case of a man who, upon seeing an image of a city from high up, like an entire city for like five seconds, could then be brought into a room and draw that city and all of its buildings nearly perfectly. Well, that’s extraordinary. And you find people with ASD overrepresented definitely in the fields of visual art and certainly in mathematics.

John: Absolutely. But at the same time, again, going back to the other sort of lucid definition of stereotype, you don’t want to stereotype people with ASD. It’s like, “Oh, then you should have some sort of superpower to make up for other issues that they may encounter.” So that’s one of those sort of rare double-edged swords where there could be an expectation like, “Oh, well, there’s something else that you’re really amazing at because of this.” Maybe. That could be great, that could be fantastic, but I don’t want to sort of like fall into the trap of stereotyping people with ASD or people like Matthew. It’s like, “Oh, well, then he’s probably really good at this thing, so he should do this thing instead.”

Craig: 100%. Yeah. There is — you can presume that just as extraordinary ability in the – let’s call it the neuro-typical cohort is rare. Extraordinary ability in the neuro-atypical cohort is rare. It’s just slightly less rare percentage-wise likely than it is in the neuro-typical community. I mean, the other part of the double edge here is that the term itself has benefits and costs. When you say, “Okay, we’re going to diagnose you — give you an official diagnosis of spectrum disorder,” on the positive end, this often will get people the assistance they need, particularly children in educational environments, and it helps people understand how they might function differently than others which gives them, I would imagine, a great bit of comfort and clarity, especially for people who are struggling or taking care of people with severe debilitating symptoms. But on the negative end of things, saying, “Well, you have an autism spectrum disorder” essentially stigmatizes behavior that in some areas on the spectrum I think could just as easily be considered what I would call alternative normal rather than abnormal.

John: Absolutely. What you don’t want to do is sort of stigmatize something that could be perceived as personality. Like you don’t want to sort of medicalize or put a diagnosis around just the way a person is if that just is the way the person is. And that, I think, is sort of at the crux of where I’m going to get to with Matthew and his specific question.

So Matthew writes in and says, “Listen, I really think I want to be a screenwriter. Is that a realistic goal for me?” And I think we could tell him, “Well, based on the information we have, there’s nothing that suggests that it’s not a realistic goal for you.” This was a well-written email into us. We don’t know anything more about your writing ability other than this one email, but this is a better email than a lot of the emails we get in so far.

Craig: Yes. [laughs]

John: You’re just in college, you already have a strong interest in screenwriting, you already are listening to a bunch of film podcasts. You seem to have a real interest in it. But do you have a talent for it? We don’t know that yet. Some people do, some people don’t. But there’s nothing about your specific diagnosis that would indicate to us like, “Oh, you should not even consider pursuing this.” I think you should consider pursuing it and you should look at sort of what’s going to be possible for you in it.

So we had Peter Dodd on to talk about, he was the agent who came on the show. He said like, “Well, why do I sign a client?” Well, 80% of it is the writing. 80% of it is how well does this person write, and you’re going to be writing this script by yourself. And so the person on the other end who’s reading the script, they have no idea of sort of like what you’re like in a room. They’re just looking at your words. And if you can write those words well, if you can write those words really, really well, there’s a chance that you can make it as a screenwriter. So I think a screenwriter is a relatively good way for a person who has some troubles interacting with people, as you described in the email, to consider a career in the film industry.

And there’s also a precedent for like people who are really good writers who are not great around other people. That’s a useful stereotype for you to consider is that like a lot of really good writers have not been the most comfortable around other people.

Craig: Absolutely. Again, I would probably use the word, correlative, not causal and not a guarantee.

John: Yes.

Craig: But there is a correlation here. I mean, one thing about autism spectrum disorder is that it implies a certain amount of internality that your mind is inside and less about connected to the outside or not — or connected differently to the outside, let’s say. And you know, some people may say, well, if you have like, for instance, Matthew, he says, “I have a noticeable impairment when I’m interacting with others.” Now, some people might say, “Well, then how can you be a writer? Because a writer is all about how people interact with each other.” But there have been some incredible writers who weren’t necessarily soaking in emotionality or sentiment. I mean, consider Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie. In fact, their writing really has all the hallmarks in a way of ASD. It’s intricate and it’s mathematical and it’s well-put together and kind of beautiful in its plotting and its rationality. And even the characters are — they are princes and princesses of rationality.

Now, that aside, here’s the best news of all, Matthew. I personally know so many writers in this business who either have been diagnosed with ASD or could easily be so if they bothered to get one. And this has been this way for as long as I’ve been in the business. The Simpsons, famously, especially in the early years when the show was being formed, the principles, the main key writers, the geniuses that made that all work, they were famous for being, well, what we used to call back in the early ‘90s: weirdos, nerds, geeks, strange.

And here’s the beauty of Hollywood, for all of its awfulness, the one thing you can rely on is that Hollywood is a money-eating machine, right? They just want to eat everyone’s money. And anyone that helps them eat other people’s money is their friend and all of the pejoratives that people with ASD can unfortunately hear in their lives, like geek and nerd and weirdo and creep and all the rest of it, in our business, if you are writing material that helps Hollywood eat other people’s money, those words turn to brilliant, unique, genius, authentic, original. You see?

John: Yup.

Craig: And so I think that for you, this should not at all be a problem. You may have other problems. You may not be a very good writer. Right? We don’t know. [laughs] But this, I don’t think is a problem for you.

John: I agree. It’s not a problem.

And I also think the kind of feature screenwriting that Craig and I do, we tend to be able to work more by ourselves. If you’re in a busy TV writing room that’s not The Simpsons, some of those rooms may not be as great for a person who needs to like — there’s politics, there’s all sorts of stuff that sort of has to happen in a room, and sometimes a person who has a hard time reading a room might have more of a challenge. But that’s not the whole business. That is not the only way.

And also, before we sort of wrap up this discussion, I want to talk about the other sort of aspects of the film industry, because I’m sure people who listen to this podcast are not just writers but there’s people who are interested in other areas of filmmaking. I personally encounter directors who I’m certain would be on the spectrum if they chose to be identified.

Craig: Yes, you certainly have. [laughs]

John: But also editors and visual effects artists and cinematographers. The people who are perfectionists, I think there’s — again, it’s not a causal but there’s a correlative thing about those folks and the ability to just really, really dive in on something. I think there’s a natural fit sometimes for people who are on the spectrum to go towards some of those fields.

Now, are those people going to be as likely to be glib producers or casting directors or publicists? Probably not. That’s probably not a skill set that would more naturally tie in to some of these traits, but again, you don’t know. And even when we talked before about sort of like these great writers like Arthur Conan Doyle or Agatha Christie who were so mathematical, I don’t want to assume that the way that Matthew’s, you know, ASD manifest, he may have just tremendous emotional insight. Maybe one of those situations where he has a really great gift at being able to see inside people’s–

Craig: Absolutely.

John: Emotional — he may just have tremendous emotional insight. So I don’t want to sort of dismiss those as possibilities either. But as the guy who’s writing in and saying like, “I think I want to be screenwriter and I’m worried about my ability to interact with others,” I would say, “I wouldn’t worry so much about it.”

Craig: Yeah. I’m with you.

Look, your desire to be a screenwriter is natural to you, Matthew. So you follow that desire, just as somebody’s desire to be a cinematographer is natural to them. And yes, there are probably some desires that are more natural to people with ASD than others, but if somebody with ASD really did want to be a publicist, I would put money on them being a terrific publicist. It’s just where does your instinct take you, right? So we can generalize about what ASD does because it is, in fact, a general spectrum of things and Matthew is one point on that general spectrum. But the good news is, if you want to do this, then you do it. And you will not be drummed out of this business because you’re “bad in a room.” You will drummed out of this business if your work is bad and you’re bad in a room.

Here’s a bit of unfairness. There are some people who aren’t great writers but they’re spectacular in a room. And particularly, in the television business, they can kind of wheedle their way from show to show being everyone’s best friend and maybe being a political animal, and they can kind of succeed longer than they should. And maybe that’s not something that is going to happen for somebody with ASD. But is that really the goal? I don’t think so. I think the goal is to be a terrific writer. And, you know, so in that sense, I think you should pursue this with the comfort of knowing that your diagnosis will not be the reason you either make it or don’t make it.

John: Now, Craig, are you aware of any efforts for diversity or inclusivity for people on the spectrum?

Craig: I’m not.

John: Is that something that anyone is like reaching out to try to fill, you know, jobs?

Craig: I have never heard of it. Part of the problem is that — well, I mean, there are certain privacy issues when it comes to health diagnoses.

John: Sure.

Craig: But also, I don’t see anyone looking around the writing community at the very least and saying, “We seem to be really short on people who might be on the spectrum.” We don’t seem to be short with people who might be on the spectrum.

Now, again, that’s anecdotal. I don’t have the statistics. And I don’t know, you know, exactly how to get good statistics on this because we’re talking about a diagnosis, first of all, that’s three years old. So how many people have gotten that diagnosis? How many people have actually had a need to go see somebody to get that diagnosis? We don’t know. And of course, when you talk about a spectrum, the range on that spectrum is so dramatic that I’m not sure asking just, “Are you on the spectrum?” would give you the information you’d really want anyway.

John: Yeah. I think you’re right.

So that wraps up sort of what we know, but there’s a lot we don’t know. So sort of like our question about working outside of Los Angeles, New York or London, if you are a listener who has some insights for Matthew or for anybody who’s like looking at coming into the Hollywood system with a disability and think our listeners should know about it, write in. So write in to, and if we have some other great stories to share with Matthew or people who are facing other situations like that, we will happily share them.

Craig: Fantastic. Good question, Matthew. Thanks for writing in.

John: It is time for our One Cool Things. Mine is really simple. It is a website called the It’s simply–

Craig: I thought you were going to say Wikipedia and I was going to be like, “What?”

John: What?

Craig: We all know about that, John.

John: So Wikitravel is like Wikipedia but just for travel. So essentially, when you pick a city or destination and you type it in to Wikitravel, it tells you like, “Here’s what you do there.” And it’s actually really smart. It’s simple and crowd-sourced. It tells you sort of like — it breaks down like, you know, “Here are the sites, here are the challenges, here are some things to keep in mind about it.” It’s free and open and very publicly done.

So this last week, our daughter was off at a week-long field trip. And so my husband and I decided to go to Avignon in the south of France. And we didn’t know, really, anything about it. So we looked it up in the Wikitravel and it turned out to be great and there were really good suggestions. So we did that, we did [unintelligible] and just really had a great time. So I would just recommend to anybody who’s like traveling to a new place, check out Wikitravel for some good tips.

Craig: You know, I actually have Two Cool Things now because I have one that I need to talk about but yours prompted me. Have you heard of Google Trips?

John: We were just talking about Google Trips today. So describe it for us.

Craig: So I haven’t used it yet, but the idea is that they use an algorithm, essentially, an efficiency algorithm. You say, “Okay, here’s where I am and have this much time. What should I do?” And they basically use an algorithm, base it on your location, even the weather, the time of day, and they’re like, “The most efficient course of action would be for you to go here, see this, spend time doing this, go there, look at that, go here and then come back.” [laughs] I just kind of think it’s amazing. I haven’t used it yet but I kind of want to.

John: Yeah. At first, I thought it was going to be like a traveling salesman problem like they somehow optimized like how you could get to all these different destinations at one time. But it’s more sort of like, “Here’s how to have fun.” It’s Google telling you how to have fun. That’s a scary thing.

Craig: [laughs] Exactly, yeah. Soon we just won’t know how to do anything. All right. Well, that’s maybe One Cool Thing.

Here’s my actual One Cool Thing and it is for our friends at the Writers Guild Foundation. They are holding a Texas Hold ‘Em Poker tournament. That’s going to be on Friday, October 21st, from 6:00 to 11:00. I believe it’s going to be at the Guild, is that right? Yes. It’s going to be–

John: I don’t know where it actually is.

Craig: Yeah. It’s going to be at the — in the library, I believe. And this is a charity event and it is to benefit the Veterans Writing programs, a terrific program that the Writers Guild Foundation does. Veterans Writing Project where they assist veterans who are attempting to break into our business and get writing done. It’s a fantastic cause. And it is $250. $250 — obviously, tax deductible because it’s a foundation. And you know, not paying taxes, John, makes me smart.

John: It makes me so smart, right?

Craig: It makes me smart. I’m brilliant. I’m a genius.

$250 gets you poker chips, it gets you food, it gets you refreshments. And for the first hour, if you’re familiar with how poker tournaments work, there’s $20 re-buys, which is pretty spectacular.

If you do not play poker, that’s okay. You come a little early. At 6:00 PM, there is registration and poker lessons. They’ll teach you how. I have played poker a long time and what I find is that when people show up who have never played poker before, they are the most dangerous players at the table. [laughs] You cannot read them, they do not do what they’re supposed to do, they end up beating you every time. [laughs] So if you don’t what you’re doing, trust me, you’re in better shape than I am. Show up and donate.

So again, that’s Friday, October 21st, from 6:00 to 11:00, and it’s for a spectacular cause, Writers Guild Foundation Veterans Writing Project. Side benefit, if you show up at this thing, you get to hang out with me, awesome, but also Scott Alexander of Alexander-Karaszewski, if you’re familiar with their incredible work. There’s Glenn Gordon Caron, a wonderful guy, Carlton Cuse, you might know his name, Hasson Brant, Winnie Holzman. Are you a fan of Wicked? Winnie Holzman will be there. Simon Kinberg, who writes all movies, Jay Kogen, who is one of the aforementioned founding writers of The Simpsons, Jeff Nathanson, a huge writer, Dan Petrie Jr., if you happen to like Beverly Hills Cop, and I think you do, oh, and Matthew Weiner, if you’re a Mad Men fan. So you have all these big writers there and you could sit at a table, you can take Matthew Weiner’s money.

John: That by itself is the whole goal.

Craig: That’s worth the whole thing.

John: I would fly back just for that. Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. Take it.

John: And that’s our show for this week. So as always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Pedro Aguilera. If you have an outro, you can send us link to That’s also a place where you can send longer questions like Matthew’s today. For shorter questions, on Twitter, I am @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. I do check my replies even though I’m not actually reading the main feed of Twitter right now, which is kind of fun and delightful.

You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a comment. Also, while you’re there, you can download the Scriptnotes app that gives you access to all the back catalogue. That’s through It’s $2 a month.

A bunch of people recently have signed up for, so thank you for all you people, premium subscribers. You guys are getting all the back episodes going back to the very beginning, even the bonus episodes, that dirty episode we did with Dan Savage and Rebel Wilson, all sorts of good stuff there.

You can find this episode and all episodes at And you can find the transcripts up about four days later. You can find the links to today’s episode at as well or you could just scroll your app to the links below. And that’s it.

So Craig, thank you so much. It’s nice to be back.

Craig: Thank you, John. We’re back.

John: We’re back. All right. Have a good week.

Craig: You too. Bye.


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You can download the episode here.

Buckling Down

Tue, 10/11/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig discuss the psychological barriers facing writers tackling big projects, and offer practical guidance for getting stuff written.

We also respond to a listener question about autism spectrum disorder and how it might impact a screenwriting career.


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You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 270: John Lee Hancock — Transcript

Mon, 10/10/2016 - 12:50

Craig Mazin: Hello, and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin, and this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And yes, I am unfettered today. No fetters on me, whatever a fetter is, as John August continues his world travels somewhere in France. But as I am a creature of habit, and I fear change, I went and found myself another John to do today’s show with.

So, today on the show I’ll be talking with, and answering some listener questions with writer/director, all-around tall drink of water, and a man I’m proud to call friend, John Lee Hancock. Yes, the actual John Lee Hancock, writer of A Perfect World, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Snow White and The Huntsman, the inferior prequel to Winter’s War, director of The Rookie and Saving Mr. Banks, and writer/director of The Alamo and The Blindside.

Oh, and was that not enough? Also director of the upcoming movie The Founder, which is the story of Ray Kroc, and the founding of McDonald’s that stars Michael Keaton. Eh, not bad. And John, not to make you nervous but last week this show got about 85,000 downloads. That’s how many people listen to this, so don’t screw this up. Welcome, John Lee Hancock.

John Lee Hancock: Thank you. Nice to be here, I should leave now. I don’t want to bring the numbers down.

Craig: Yeah, they’re plummeting as you talk. And I should mention that you and I share an office building. You are two floors below me.

John: Yes.

Craig: So, the fact that we haven’t done this before is frankly insulting to you. [laughs]

John: I’ve been waiting.

Craig: [laughs]

John: For a long, long time.

Craig: Just sitting there in your office wondering, “When will I get the call?” It’s happened John Lee Hancock. So, I’m going to start by — and I’ll say that, you know, these interviews that John and I do, we try and not do the standard thing because the people that listen to this show are interested mostly in screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters, but we like to ask maybe questions that you don’t normally get. So forgive me if some of these seem sort of left field-ish, but probably won’t.

Let’s begin with this. We recently did a show about starting out, or breaking into Hollywood from places other than Los Angeles. And I actually thought of you when we were discussing that, because you grew up in Longview, Texas, which is possibly an ironic name, I don’t know. And you went to Baylor University, undergrad, then Baylor Law, which would make an awesome TV show. And then you practiced law for four years, and you were practicing in Texas, correct?

John: Yes, in Houston.

Craig: In Houston. So that’s about as far afield from LA and screenwriting and Hollywood as it gets, just in terms of location, in terms of what you were doing.

John: Right.

Craig: Did you start writing at that time in Texas?

John: I did. I was born in Longview, but when I was in 2nd grade we moved to Texas City, Texas which is where I went through school all the way through high school. And I always had an interest in writing, and just would — just scribbled little short stories, usually sports-related. I guess they were almost kind of like, they’d be the title of the short story might be Cowboys 6 Packers 3.

Craig: That’s a great story.

John: And you know what? What this is is–

Craig: It’s not a realistic story? [laughs]

John: It’s a character movie.

Craig: Okay, I see.

John: Because there’s not a lot of points scored.

Craig: Oh.

John: No monsters.

Craig: Right.

John: This is about the grit that happens in the small plays. Or the one little fumble. Then you might do one that’s, you know, Oilers 57 Chiefs 35. Well, that’s like an action movie.

Craig: Right. [laughs]

John: You know, you have lots of stuff happening. So I would write one of these almost every day. And then, I had the good fortune when I was in high school of having several great English teachers who kind of threw the rulebooks out, and broke it into quarters instead of semesters, and exposed us to lots of different great writing and encouraged us to write. And I consider myself incredibly lucky to have come across these three women.

Craig: And so you are in Texas—

John: Yeah.

Craig: Practicing law. By the way, what kind of law?

John: General civil practice. I mean, I have an English degree from Baylor, and I didn’t know what to do with that necessarily, and I had been accepted at law school so I thought that’s a good way to buy time.

Craig: Right.

John: You know my parents are paying through the nose for it.

Craig: Right.

John: My parents are public school teachers. They’re paying through the nose for it. But it did buy me some time, and I could continue to write. And I enjoyed law school, and then I thought, “Now I’m going to do something.” And I knew that short fiction wasn’t necessarily a great livelihood, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to teach English or teach in any way, so I went ahead and went to law school, and then after I got out of law school, everybody says, “Well, you should practice for at least three years, because who knows? You might love it.”

Craig: Right. You might end up being, you know–

John: Yeah.

Craig: Some sort of king of Texas civil law.

John: It was — that was always in question. But I took a job with a firm, and it was actually another good piece of fortune for me. It was a firm in Houston. It was a small firm. I probably had 15 attorneys, or something, and it was a general civil practice, which meant that I was exposed to tons and tons of different kinds of cases. And the most interesting cases are always just great stories.

Craig: Right.

John: And you know you’re trying to tell a story for your client, your client’s version of the story.

Craig: Yeah, we talk about the world being cast through narrative all the time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But, there you are. Your sense of narrative is being applied, whatever you supply to your 6/3 short stories.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’re applying to law. But you’re thinking, oh, maybe I should just actually do a narrative for narrative’s sake. And not in service of something else.

John: I did. I continued to write. I really fell in love with movies. Not when I was a kid, but when I was in college and I would go to movies a lot. And so I started thinking hard about kind of movie stories, and how they looked on the page, and — this was back in the days before you could walk into a bookstore and get, like, 17,000 books on how to write a screenplay.

Craig: Right.

John: They didn’t exist. I mean, and you were lucky, you could — there was no online at that time. No Internet, so you know there was a place in Hollywood that you could send, and they would send you back a hard copy of a script.

Craig: Right. Was it, like, Samuel French, or something?

John: No, it was a place in the Valley in Burbank, that’s obviously long since gone, but–

Craig: Oh I can’t imagine why. [laughs]

John: Yeah [laughs]. But it was kind of a cool place. They would send you a list of all the different scripts they had, and sometimes it would be Lethal Weapon, 1st draft, 2nd draft — do you want the 4th draft or the 8th draft?

Craig: Wow.

John: It was that kind of thing. So anyway, I, you know, I got my hands on a few scripts and tried to teach myself format, and wrote my first script while I was practicing law in Texas, and it was awful. Of course.

Craig: Right.

John: And it was, you know–

Craig: Wait, what was it? This first one.

John: It was — I think most — I won’t say everyone. But I’ll say most writers write their first script, and it’s autobiographical whether they know it or not.

Craig: Right. And how was this–

John: And when you’re in your 20s and angst-ridden, and not sure what you’re going to do with your life–

Craig: Yeah.

John: Why not write a story about a guy in his 20s in Houston, Texas who’s angst-ridden and doesn’t know what to do with his life?

Craig: Isn’t that amazing that when you’re in your 20s you don’t understand that your life couldn’t possibly be worth a movie. I don’t care even if you were born on Mars.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Landed here as an alien, fought a war at the age of 15, and, I don’t know, invented the cure to a disease by 22 — not enough Live some more. There’s no — but yet, we always want to write that terrible, truncated autobiography.

John: Yeah. Yeah. And it was — you know, I mean, I — the guy had a different name, but he was going through some of the same struggles.

Craig: Fohn Lee Fancock?

John: Yeah, exactly. But anyways, so I wrote it, and I thought, “Well gee, what do I do with this?” And I thought it’d be great to be able to do this for a living. And Sundance Institute at the time had a — they were starting a satellite program. And they were looking — because Texas, and especially Austin, has always been a hotbed for independent film, going back into the ‘70s even.

Craig: Right.

John: And before. And so, they wanted to — they wanted to have one of the satellite programs be a weekend, or a week-long workshop, I can’t remember, in Austin, and they were going to branch out, reach out, spread the brand of Sundance, and they had the festival, but it was very small. And, you know, not like it is now.

So they were coming to Austin, and I read something about it in a film magazine, and they said that there’s going to be a three-day seminar with John Sayles, and Bill Wittliff, and all these different people speaking. I thought, well, that will be interesting because I’d never even met anybody who writes screenplays. To hear somebody talk would be kind of cool. And I signed up, and it also had a thing that said you could — they were going to select, I think, eight screenwriters to go through an intensive four-day worship with Frank Daniel. Frantisek Daniel, who had been the head of Columbia Film School, USC, I think he was, like, Roman Polanski’s Polish film teacher, or something.

Craig: Wow. Okay.

John: And, you know — you know, a big shot.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And, so anyway, the first thing it was, they said send us one page description of your screenplay. And so, I had this screenplay, this autobiographical screenplay [laughs]. And sent in a description of it. And then I got something back, and it said the next stage of this will be send in any ten consecutive pages.

Craig: Interesting. I like that.

John: And I went, “Oh, wow. Okay.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I thought about that, and I sent that in, and then they called me and they said, “You’ve passed through the next level. Would you send the entire script? But make sure that you’ve signed up for the seminar which is taking place concurrently. Because we would hate for you to go down this road, and miss out because we are — there aren’t that many tickets left. And even if you don’t get this, you’d still want to hear John Sayles.” I said absolutely.

So I signed up for that, and they said, “And we’ll reimburse you if you get into this.”

Craig: All right.

John: Lo and behold, I got in. So, I’m there–

Craig: Wait, let’s stop for a second. You are in Texas.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’re a lawyer.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’ve written what you have deemed a terrible screenplay.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And yet representatives of Sundance — and I can only imagine how many screenplays they received. They said, “Actually, this is one of the eight best ones we’ve gotten.” And I’m stopping you here and saying this because, I — it’s so important for people to understand that even when you are far-flung and remote, that there is a chance, somehow or another, to be noticed if you’ve written something that you think is terrible, and other people still think is good. To me, that’s the sign of somebody who’s actually on their way.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because you still say, by the way, that it’s terrible. It couldn’t have been actually absolutely terrible.

John: I think at the time it was like pre-mumblecore. But there was a lot of that kind of stuff going on.

Craig: Pre-mumble.

John: You know, it was–

Craig: Prumblecore.

John: Prumblecore. I like that. [laughs] But there was a lot of the angst of the 20-year-old stuff in movies going around. And I think so that probably appealed a little bit. And when they got the 10 pages, I mean, I think you have an ear for dialogue and script construction, story construction, or you don’t. Not that you can’t get better at them, but I think, especially an ear for dialogue–

Craig: Right.

John: It’s kind of — most of it is there. You can make it better. You can certainly make it better, but you either have that musical kind of thing in your head, or you don’t. And so I think, you know, probably the dialogue was readable. And I’m not sure how many people, you know, sent in their scripts. I mean, this being the ‘80s in Texas. But nonetheless, I was — and the thing is, and when we’d gotten into the room, I realized I was the only one that hadn’t actually been paid to write. Everybody there either had a little independent movie made, or was making an independent movie, or had been hired, you know, there were no big movers and shakers, but.

Craig: Right.

John: But nonetheless, these were people that had far more experience than I did.

Craig: Well, that says a lot right there as well. So, this kind of leads to the break, I presume. And you found your way through essentially a contest.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: We had Peter Dodd on. He’s an agent at UTA, and he was saying that these days, contests don’t really work. And part of the problem, I imagine, is that unlike back then, where there were a few, and this was Sundance, there are about a thousand of them now.

John: Right.

Craig: And so one thing that bums me out is that somewhere along the line, people realize, “Oh, I can get people to give me $10 to submit their screenplay. We should run a contest, and collect lots of $10.”

John: Right.

Craig: And then other people went, “Whoa, look at that? Let’s also do contest.” And people are now, like, “Great!’ Every week, I can…” It’s like playing scratchers now.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, contests have become that. But you also at the time, had this other thing going on, which was maybe being an actor.

John: Yeah to a degree. I mean, I just liked — I just like stories. I like scene study. I took classes when I was in Houston, acting classes. Because I enjoyed getting into a character and behind a character, and under a character, and inside a character. And, I also loved to see how actors approached work. And, you know, and for these classes I have to say, you know, there were — there were some good actors. There was a teacher in Houston, a woman whose son I have cast, he is older than I am, who I’ve cast in three movies in Texas. A fantastic actor. And she had been a working actor in Los Angeles.

Craig: Right.

John: So I got better than I deserved in terms of that class, but I thought she was very good in terms of breaking down a character, looking at dialogue, finding your boxes, or whatever inside the dialogue, all the little stuff like that.

Craig: Right.

John: And I also figured out pretty quickly that I could — that I liked to write monologues. I like to write little scenes and things like that.

Craig: Right.

John: And I figured out quickly that I could write something, for — either for myself, or for another actor. It was a great way to meet cute girls, too. You’d go, “I’d love to write a scene for you.” And they’d go, “Really? Would you do that?”

Craig: Wow.

John: And of course that doesn’t work until you put your first scene up.

Craig: Right.

John: And then, you know, there’s two actors that did it, and I wrote a scene for them, these two brats, I can’t even remember, these two brothers, kind of, in a True West fashion, or — you know.

Craig: Yes, of course.

John: Kind of thing.

Craig: Once you say two brothers and scene, it’s True West isn’t it?

John: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But it was something, you know, entirely different, but I wrote it, and she had comments. And she said, “But I’ve never — I’ve never heard this piece before.” Because everybody’s doing the old chestnut pieces.

Craig: Right. Of course.

John: And they said, “Oh, well John wrote it.” And she went, “Really? Well done.” And so from that point on, actors would come, they’d go, “Hey dude, you’ve got anything for me?”

Craig: “Can you write something for me?”

John: Yeah, so I did that, and it’s fun. Because you had instant gratification, you would write something, you would hand it over, they would learn it and do it, and then you’d be done with it.

Craig: There’s a commonality here in this story that I pick up all the time when I talk to writers. That they are writing, and other people are saying essentially the — I guess the magic audience’s version of how’d you do that? Right, that there’s a certain, natural how’d-you-do-that-ness to writing, and here you are, somebody who could continue your career in law. Or you maybe could pursue acting. I mean, you’re good looking enough to be an actor. Like an actor that people want to look at.

John: I’m not talented enough to be an actor.

Craig: I didn’t say you were.

John: Unfortunately. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Like I said, you were good looking enough to be an actor, and speaking of your acting talent by the way, we’ll include this link in the show notes, but we do have evidence of your acting ability. It is a wonderful commercial you did with the great Gene Hackman.

John: Oh lord.

Craig: It’s a Japanese beer commercial.

John: Help me.

Craig: For Kirin, I believe.

John: Yes. Yes.

Craig: Your character is tall lawyer who pretends to be saying things to Gene Hackman.

John: Yes. That’s kind of it.

Craig: I have to tell you, watching that commercial it’s almost as if the cameraman was instructed to keep the camera away from you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: As much as he could. Every time there’s like a brief image of you, and then the cameraman is like, oh, god, no.

John: That commercial is still–I’ve had a lot of great experiences and moments like, you know, a lot of us have where it’s like I can’t believe I’m here. I’m witnessing this. That’s my best story of Hollywood. That’s far and away my best.

Craig: You and Gene Hackman?

John: No, no it goes — you don’t have the time for this? But all of this was unexpected. From going in and auditioning, to them — it was a Japanese commercial so they didn’t approach it the same way. There was no call back, and there were like 500 of us there in suits for this audition. A woman with broken English told us to do improv, “You in elevator.” And there were like six of us standing there. And I’m going, this is the biggest lank of all time.

So I just pretended to keep pushing the button, while everybody else is talking over each other. Trying to put themselves forward. And so I got the gig.

Craig: You’re the only one not peacocking.

John: I guess. I don’t know. I was just ready to get out of there.

Craig: You thought that you could actually get out of the elevator if you hit button enough.

John: That’s a good acting move. I believed I was in the elevator.

Craig: They believed it, too.

John: And my agent called me, and said — I mean, I had kind of a writing agent and kind of an acting agent at the time. And he called me and said, “You booked the gig.” And back then you could make a lot of money in commercials. But this was foreign, so it was a buyout, but they’re going to pay $5,000 and man.

Craig: Ka-Ching.

John: Ka-Ching. Are you kidding? I was working PA work and doing everything, living in a shitty apartment in Hollywood.

Then he said, “So you show up Thursday.” There was no callback, there’s no fitting? No, they liked the suit you were wearing. So it’s possible that I just got the role because I had a good suit.

Craig: Right.

John: From being a lawyer.

Craig: And I love that they put you through that much of an intensive audition experience. To not be in the commercial, it’s like, you’re somebody that’s sort of near Gene Hackman? At times. God, commercials are amazing. But I’m glad.

John: Some other time, I’ll tell you about how this involves unexpectedly, having my own trailer, sharing it with Playmate of the Year, Shannon Tweed, and my relationship with Gene Hackman.

Craig: I think a lot of people are right now are going to be very upset with me that I’m not having you tell this story. Because I kind of want to. But–

John: Move on.

Craig: Should I?

John: Yeah. Move on.

Craig: All right. I really want to – all right, I’ll move on. I’ll talk — maybe if we have time. So I’m glad that you left the subpar acting behind. And what I can only presume to be the horrendous law practice behind. God only knows what wreckage you left behind you.

John: Yeah. You know what? As jobs go, it wasn’t bad.

Craig: No, no, not for you. I mean your clients. [laughs] God only knows. They’re still trying to put their lives back together.

John: No. I think, I probably left them in better hands. They’re shifting their files to other desks. [laughs].

Craig: Exactly. But instead, well, I could say, well, instead, you become this great screenwriter. I could say, well, instead you become this great director. But the interesting thing about you is, I was just thinking about this, I don’t know, and you can tell me if you do, anybody else working on your level who is so routinely a writer of screenplays that other people direct, and routinely a director of screenplays that other people write, and routinely, a director of screenplays you right yourself.

You kind of do all of that. Am I crazy in saying you’re pretty much the only person that routinely does all three of those?

John: I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it much. But I think, I mean, you know, storytelling is storytelling. And I think you wear a different hat when you’re a writer, and when you’re a director, and even when I’m directing stuff that I have written, I try my best to put on that different hat so that if I need to, I can come to the set that day and say who wrote this shit?

Craig: Right.

John: You know, because you need to, because there is the script, and then there is exacting it on film. And you have to be able to interpret because I think every step of the way is an interpretation. I mean, I count on my editor, when he is putting an assemblage together, I want him to interpret the footage. I don’t want to tell him, “Start with take 3 of this, and go to take 4 of this, and then cut here.” I want to see what he comes up with, I want him to interpret the existing footage, just as I’m interpreting the existing script.

Craig: Right. And so the decision process there of how to approach these things, it really just comes down to — in other words, there’s no calculation. I really want to just write something, I’m not going to direct. Or I really want to direct something, I’m going to write. It’s all about the material, as it strikes you in the moment?

John: Yeah. It is. I mean, I do adult dramas. They don’t make a lot of those anymore. So I wish that I could say I was in complete control. Okay, next, I’m doing a movie that I am going to script and direct. It doesn’t work that way, you know, sometimes you will have something you’re writing, and then another script comes across your desk, and you read it. For me, the question is, do I wish that I’d written it?

Craig: Ah, that’s interesting.

John: And do I want to spend a year and a half on it? That’s the first two questions.

Craig: Right. That’s the huge difference between directing and writing. Writing, you know, maybe –sometimes only weeks, sometimes oh, it’s six months. But year and a half — I mean, and it’s not an easy year and a half directing a movie.

John: No it’s not. I remember when I was writing before I was directing. I would — we would go out to – you’d have a script go out to a director, and you would hear back from them a few weeks later. And you’re went, what took them so long? And they finally get back. And they go, it’s really good, but I just — I don’t know, I can’t live in that world for this long, or something like that. And I thought that is the biggest BS excuse I’ve ever heard. Now, I completely get it.

Craig: Right.

John: I mean, are you going to continue to be fascinated by this to the degree necessary to wake up at 4am and do the job?

Craig: Right. You have to essentially say before you really get a chance to co-habitate with another person, I’m going to marry you, and we can’t get divorced for a while.

John: Yes, it’s like a Hollywood marriage. It’s a year and a half. [laughs].

Craig: It’s a year and a half. [laughs] But those are tough.

John: Yes.

Craig: So you have been doing this for like 20 plus years. John and I have been doing it for, you know, almost the same length of time. And there’s something that happened, somewhere in the mid-2000s, this new kind of screenwriter came about, I call it screenwriter-plus. This is a writer who’s not a producer, or director on any particular given project, but they’re clearly doing more than the job of screenwriter.

They become essentially a co-share of authority with a lot of people, and trying to get actors, and directors, and producers, to all kind of come together around a vision. And I think that you are kind of the epitome of that sort of figure. Do you share that same point of view, that the job of screenwriting has changed in that regard over time?

John: Yeah. I’m not sure that role necessarily existed. I think, kind of before I came out here, you would hear about script doctors, people that would come in — but those were just people coming in and doing rewrites on an existing script, but it was a great cottage industry whether you were John Sayles or whoever, to be able to do that. And then in the next stage, I think was, when you had bigger movies, with more moving parts, sometimes it might be necessary to have someone to come in and help.

Perhaps, it hadn’t gone in to production yet, and you’re writing scenes, but you’re also someone who can sit down with the line producer, and feel their pain. And sit down with the actor, sit down with the director, and try to bring everybody under the same tent so you can move forward. And sometimes, it’s in prep, and sometimes, it’s in the middle of production, if there are difficulties, and sometimes it’s in post, whether you’re doing reshoots or not.

Craig: I wonder sometimes if the limitation on the number of screenwriters that serve this role is a function of the fact that fewer movies are made now. Because in order to play that part, you need to have an intimate understanding of how movies work, you need to have had more than one discussion with the line producer before. You need to know what it feels like in their shoes in order to act like you know, you know, what it feels like in their shoes.

Sometimes I think that Hollywood is running out of these screenwriters plusses, because they keep coming back to the same ones. But I also understand why they keep coming back to the same ones. I mean, you and I both know that at some point, when things get scary, they need to turn to somebody who comforts them.

John: Well, I think part of it is fresh eyes because they become so kind of – they’ve really fallen so deep with the project and have been through, and they know where all the bodies are buried, and so sometimes they’re not clear-headed enough, and they would admit this, it’s nice to have someone come in with fresh eyes, and sometimes they’ve got lots of different people to look at it with fresh eyes. I think it goes beyond just being a writer that knows how to problem solve and story-tell.

I think, that there are a few writers that have directed or produced as well. And I think, those are skills that are necessary in helping keep the train on the track moving forward, whether it’s in prep or whether it’s in post and you’re doing reshoots, just trying to — let’s get this home to the station.

Craig: Well, there’s an attitude there that your job as the writer is to try and write a movie. And I say this a lot that — I think a lot of writers fall into the trap of saying my job is to write a script, but then that separates you from the job that literally everyone else is doing, because everybody else is trying to make a movie. And when you try and help them make a movie, ironically, you end up probably doing a better job defending your own writing than you would have if you just concentrated on the script.

John: I think that’s true, I think it’s true. Sometimes it’s a little bit of — I enjoy the fact that some of these rewrites, production rewrites, and post production rewrites become math problems. When someone says we’re going to tie one hand behind your back, and see if you can do this. It’s kind of like, okay, we need a scene between these two people , and here’s their schedule, and so can we shoot this many pages in a half day, and oh, by the way, the set has to be this.

Craig: Right.

John: You go, oh, okay. Let me see what I can come up with.

Craig: It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?

John: It’s kind of fun.

Craig: Yeah. I did one recently where they said, okay well, we want to change this character’s job. So she has a title, but in order to change her job — you can shoot the scene, but we can’t reshoot everything where her job is mentioned. So at that point, not only am I writing new things, but I’m now editing on page, and I’ll put in sort of like loop lines to cover up the edit that we have to make for the title change. It really does become like a little logic problem, and you do have to have — I mean, I think maybe the most important kind of non-writing experience a screenwriter can get is editing experience. Because if you have watched a movie be edited, then you understand, I think, how to write in such a way that you are — you are writing in a way that is editable in a good way.

John: Yeah. Because everything you’re wanting to do, especially when you come into a production situation, we want everything to be additive, you know, and the things is, a lot of times a weight is put on the scene where they say, here are the problems that we have with an existing movie, or an existing script, can we get rid of these three things, have one scene that accomplishes all three tasks.

Craig: Precisely. And you can, sometimes.

John: It’s tricky. It’s tricky. It becomes a test for yourself to see how good your sleight of hand is.

Craig: Right, it does. That is a very challenging — but it’s a fun thing. I think Billy Ray said that — after he does one of those, he feels like by the time it’s over, the week is over, he feels like he doesn’t know how to write anymore, and he needs a week to sleep. Because you do kind of lose yourself in this very rapid and intense environment.

John: It’s absolutely true. And you’re writing to such a specific purpose that when you have to go, and you go, oh, gosh now I got an original idea, and the world can be anything, you have to, you know, adjust your mindset a little bit. That’s why I think you have to be careful with doing too many of these jobs in a row. I mean, the pay is really is good, and you do meet some wonderful people, and it’s actually really fun to be thrown into a movie that’s already had a lot of it done. You don’t have to direct it, you don’t have to deal with it.

Craig: Right.

John: It is fun. But I think it could also be as Doc O’Connor, my old agent, used to call it, the velvet rut.

Craig: No, it’s 100% true. I mean, these kinds — for those who are unfamiliar with this concept, production rewrites are when a movie is either about to be shot, or it’s been shot, and they’re contemplating additional photography. And at that point, they will typically hire an A-list screenwriter to come in and they will work on a weekly basis, typically. And that week, the money they get paid that week is the best money per week that they‘re going to ever get, for anything.

And so the jobs are somewhat sought after or considered, you know, good to get, but they are a little dangerous. I think Doc was exactly right, because when you do a couple in a row, you start to become aware of — I always become aware of this: I’m putting myself in a situation that is medium risk, high reward. It’s not high risk/high reward, it’s medium risk/high reward. I like those odds, right? We know what the reward is, and the medium risk is, I feel like I can help, I told them how I can help. They’re agreeing with that already. They want me to succeed because they need someone to succeed. And also, my job is to get it better, right?

But medium risk doesn’t mean no risk. And I always think, sooner or later, you’re going to trip and fall on your face with one of these, and then I feel like it’s bad. And then I feel like they never — and it hasn’t happened to me yet, but probably because I do manage, like I don’t do every single one that I could, I suppose.

John: And do you find that you — I think when you’ve done it long enough, you realize kind of the strengths you bring to the table, and then some areas where you go, I’m okay at this, but I’m better at this. And so you recognize in a script, if somebody comes to me and they say I look at a movie and they’re doing reshoots or something like that, and they say, well, we need some basic story logic. Well, I’m decent at that, I’m good at that. If they need something, you know, the dialogue between these two brothers needs to be better, or can we add some emotion and heart or character moments. I mean those are things I’m very good at.

So I go, no, I won’t fail you on that.

Craig: Right.

John: If you’re looking for someone to really reimagine, you know, action set pieces or something like that, there are people that are far better than I am at that.

Craig: Yeah, and I guess in a way the business does regulate this for us because they don’t really ask. It’s funny. They’re not going to ask you or me to come in and pump up the volume on car chases. They’re not, you know. Chris Morgan, yes.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because he’s the master, right? But they’re not going to ask us to do that. So it is true like I guess the risk is even lower because they’re kind of asking you because they figure–

John: Yeah, they’ve already scratched us off a list.

Craig: Right.

John: We never get the call, but we were on the list and then we got scratched off. For good reason.

Craig: Yes or somebody wrote the word why next to our names. I want to talk about rewriting a little bit more here. And this is a very specific question because I think a lot of people listening would love to know.

You get a lot of scripts to read. You get scripts to read for you to direct. You get scripts to read for you to rewrite.

I wonder when you’re reading these scripts for either reason, what turns you on and what turns you off? What are writers doing right and generally speaking what are they doing wrong? And how can these people avoid that?

John: It seems like most of the stuff I get now if they want to rewrite, they’re trying to also attach a director. So they’re saying, “This thing needs to be rewritten.”

Craig: So it’s both.

John: It’s both.

Craig: Okay.

John: I kind of rarely get the script that says, “We’re looking for a rewrite, you know, we don’t have a director yet or we have a director but we need a rewrite.” So I don’t take that many of those or don’t get offered those as much I used to. But, gosh, I don’t know, I just want to be surprised and I don’t mean like, you know, in a way that’s not logical.

I want to feel like I’m in good hands in terms of the storytelling. And, yeah, and the dialogue works and you’re involved in the characters. And it’s just being surprised. I just want to be surprised.

I mean, I remember I was sent the script for Saving Mr. Banks by Kelly Marcel, and I was told it’s a terrific script and I knew that it had its bona fide good and all those kind of things. But I just go, “Look, I don’t like musicals. I’m not a huge Mary Poppins fan.”

Craig: Right.

John: I haven’t seen the movie since probably since I was a kid, you know, I don’t know. So why would I do that? And it sat on the desk and got a call from my agent, Scott Greenberg, who said, “You know, here’s the thing. Disney — they’re meeting with several directors and they really want to meet with you on this. So you don’t have to meet with them but I think you should read it because it’s a really good script. And I think you would like it and it’s a quick read, honestly it is, I promise.”

And so I went, “Oh, damn, okay.” So that afternoon, I put my feet up on my desk and rolled out — printed out the script and read it like that because it always feels better to me with the pages. And I read it and couldn’t put it down.

And it wasn’t like there’s some great mystery. There was a great mystery but it was just so specific and you just peel that onion over and over again. And I just I loved it. I got to the end and I thought, one I wish I had written it, two, I never would have thought of it.

Craig: Right.

John: Three, I really want to do this.

Craig: Right.

John: So how do I get the gig?

Craig: Yeah. I mean that’s the thing. The rarer question I suppose isn’t so much like what’s wrong with the screenplay, the rare question is what’s right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because the bar isn’t to write well. The bar isn’t to write satisfactorily. The bar isn’t to write without making the so-called The 20 Worst Mistakes a Screenwriter Makes. The bar is to write something that blows people away, which is the opposite.

It’s an aggressive — to me it’s an aggressive act to write a screenplay that demands you must continue reading.

John: Right.

Craig: I think so much of the advice people get is defensive advice.

John: Oh you’re right.

Craig: You know.

John: I think you’re right.

Craig: Right? So that they don’t not like you. Not liking you isn’t good enough.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Right? You know, so Kelly writes the script and you read it and it blows you away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And now — okay, so let’s talk about–

John: But one another thing, you know what? I just thought of this, I mean a lot of times when you’re reading characters, you’re enjoying reading the character whether they’re a good guy, bad guy, complicated guy or whatever, there’s something in there when you know a character’s tale.

I think characters expose themselves through the lies they tell.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And when you read something that you know is a lie, even if it’s a white lie, that’s a complication I always like.

Craig: Yeah. It’s funny we just — our episode last week was about Mystery versus Confusion. And when we read, you know, people send in their Three Pages, which is our shorter version of the ten pages you had to send in, and I just noticed that we were constantly going in between like, “Oh, I like the fact that they’ve set up a little mystery here. Why is this person doing this?”

But then many times, you’re like, “I don’t know why this person is doing it.” And it’s bad, it’s confusing. It’s not a mystery, right? And one of the keys to good mystery is lying. And us knowing someone’s lying and not knowing why they’re lying.

You know, because you’re right, because characters are liars because humans are liars. We’re lying all the time. It’s amazing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And you know the other thing that — along that line, certainly didn’t come up with this and lots of people have talked about it but I really ascribe to it, the idea that you have to be careful with the screenplay, how far ahead of an audience or reader you are, how far behind and you want it to be a little like a Slinky. Sometimes, you know, if you’re behind — I don’t mind being behind — not having everything figured out if I feel like I’m in the hands of a good storyteller.

Craig: Right.

John: Because all will be revealed. Other times, you take great joy in being ahead of the characters in the movie. But if you’re ahead of them too long, you go, “This is dumb. I’ve already figured it out.” But we congratulate ourselves as an audience or a reader when we think we’re ahead.

And then a really good storyteller will then suddenly put you behind again. So it’s that back and forth kind of accordion effect.

Craig: Right.

John: That I think really makes a script sing.

Craig: Well it’s interesting that you say that because in its own weird meta way, you kind of got ahead of us. I’m going to play this. This is a question from Matthew Kane. So here’s what Matthew Kane had to ask.

Matthew Kane: I’m rewriting my original screenplay now and I’ve changed the setup. So now the audience is in a superior position until the end of the first act. I’ve heard that it’s easier to get the audience to identify with the protagonist when they don’t know any more than the protagonist does especially at the outset. And it’s easier to screw that up when you begin in an audience superior position. Can you share some of the pitfalls of the audience superior position and suggest some strategies to use it effectively. Thanks.

Craig: So it seems like you kind of already answered that question without knowing that that question was going to be asked. So now I’m a little freaked out just by you and you’re weird psychic ability to do that.

John: But I think to the specifics of his question about with your main character being ahead of them from the start of the movie through the first act. I mean I think it depends. It could be a bad thing in that the audience is going, “We already know what’s going to happen. I’m so far ahead.”

It could end up being a great thing if you pulled a rug out from under them.

Craig: Right.

John: You know, or if at least you come to the point where the audience now knows just as much, pulls the rug out from under and knows just as much as your protagonist.

Craig: Yeah. I was thinking about his question and trying to ask myself was there — could I think of an example of a movie where I was ahead of — intentionally ahead of the main character for say whatever you call the first act.

John: Right.

Craig: The first 30 minutes of the movie.

John: Right.

Craig: And I was struggling to come up with an answer there. I think one of the pitfalls is just being bored. We’re not going to get much out of the character discovering the truth. I mean there’s that moment of discovery that can be so exciting in a movie.

I can’t imagine it would be very exciting if they’re just discovering something I already knew unless it was, you know, filtered through another character’s, you know, experience of their discovery of it. But then really, they are not the main character. You know, like it’s an interesting question. I could not think of an example.

John: I can’t. I can’t think of one either, personally. But I think — you know, I’m not saying it can’t be done because every time you say something can’t be done then you’ll read a script and you go, I’ll damned it, they did it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But it is precarious I think.

Craig: Yeah I would imagine that one of the pitfalls would be also that you run the danger of making your hero seem dumb. Well either they’re dumb because they’re not seeing something that you’ve picked up on that the filmmaker has kind of left in plain view of you and them or it’s not that they’re dumb it’s just that the filmmakers told you something and hasn’t told them. But now the movie feels rigged to keep them from–

John: Right.

Craig: Something which is also never a good feeling.

John: Right.

Craig: You start to feel the artifice of the story there. I don’t know, tricky little thing.

John: It is.

Craig: All right. Well we’ll get back. We have a couple other questions but I want to ask you one last thing about you and it’s what’s coming up. So you’ve directed — this is another one where you’ve directed from somebody else’s script.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You’ve directed a movie called The Founder written by Robert Siegel and the cast of mostly unknowns includes Michael Keaton and Patrick Wilson and Nick Offerman, the great John Carroll Lynch – who by the way everyone should be worshipping — Linda Cardellini, Laura Dern, and perhaps most importantly friend of the Scriptnotes podcast, B.J. Novak.

Now here’s what sort of — and I’ve seen this movie and it’s fantastic.

John: Thank you.

Craig: Here’s what interests me. You are a big shot director. You make the Blind Side, Sandy Bullock wins an Oscar for it. You make Saving Mr. Banks, it’s a big Disney Film, nominations, Golden Globes, BAFTA, and Oscar nominations.

And then you say, “All right now, I’m going to go independent and small.” Why?

John: To be completely honest, it’s just, you know, why do you rob banks? That’s where the money is.

It’s kind of like, you know, you find a script and you go. And it’s important with producers to go who’s the producer and will they help me make this movie — the version of this movie that I want to see made.

And so the script was sent to me and Robert Siegel is a very good writer and it was a very good script. He wrote The Wrestler and Big Fan which he also directed. So I really enjoyed the script and I thought it was different than any script that I had ever read.

This kind of goes back to the earlier, what grabs you. This was one where I found myself rooting hard for my protagonist along the way. And then somewhere around the halfway point, I kind of was neutral and then toward the end I was actively rooting against him which made me somehow feel complicit in his rise–

Craig: Right.

John: And dirty and a little guilty.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I thought that was a really a clever thing that Rob accomplished on the page because I never read a script where I was actively pulling for someone and then against them. And, you know, I thought it was Death of a Salesman with a very different last act which I just thought was great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I said, “Oh, I know how to do this movie. I know how to do this movie.” It speaks to me in a very nugget kind of way. I mean, you’re always looking for that touchdown theme or idea or thought that will get you through the day.

Craig: Right.

John: Where if you understand a movie at an elemental level, every director makes multiple mistakes every day.

Craig: Right.

John: The greatest director in the world makes a bunch of mistakes every day. If you have that elemental understanding of the script and the story, none of them will be fatal.

Craig: Right.

John: It won’t matter.

Craig: Because they are–

John: Because you’re making a thousand decisions a day.

Craig: Right. But they are at least aligned with one vision.

John: Thematically, they are all headed the right direction. They may be a little off here or there but it doesn’t matter.

Craig: But they’re not backwards. They’re not pulling you.

John: No. No, no, no. And I think from a tone standpoint, you need that idea too. So yeah, so then I met with the guys at FilmNation and Aaron Ryder, who’s terrific, and they seemed– and I think they’d met several directors and they met with me and we were in line with what we wanted the movie to be. And at first actually I turned it down.

I read it and I thought, well they seem to want to make this movie and I don’t think — the third act isn’t figured out yet. So it’s going someplace great but it’s not figured out but they think it’s figured out so that tells me maybe they want to make a different movie.

When I met with them, they said, “No, no, no, no, no. Here’s our thinking. This is Rob’s first draft.” I went, “Wow, it’s really terrific.” He said, “Yeah we think so, too. We wanted to get a director involved to help us go forward with this.”

And I thought, well, that’s really smart actually if you can get the right person.

Craig: Sure.

John: And so then I was able to work with Rob and he delivered beautifully and we were off and running. And from a budget standpoint, I made it for 20. So it’s less than the movie — the budgets of the movies I’ve done before but not that much less.

Craig: Right.

John: So–

Craig: And budgets are sort of elastic to the content anyway.

John: Exactly. So, you know, when you got, you know, Alcon did the Blind Side but they had an output deal with Warner Bros, so it ended up being one those kind of things.

Craig: Right.

John: But the budget was sufficient to the task. And you just — here’s the box — here’s the sized box and the question is, can I put it in that box and will the movie be as good as I need it to be.

Craig: Right.

John: To make it fulfilling and spend a year a half?

Craig: Well, I think you hit the mark again and it seems to me that in looking at the movies that you have directed, particularly the movies you’ve directed because you’re writing and I consider both your credited writing and what I know of your un-credited writing. Your writing spreads all genres or spans all genres, I should say, but when you look at the movies that you’ve directed, there seems to be a John Lee Hancock movie in a way that there was a Frank Capra movie.

And almost exclusively what you’re doing is directing movies about America or some aspect of American life. It’s often about a smaller American life that explodes into either the American dream or the American nightmare. Even Saving Mr. Banks in so many ways is about a British woman’s encounter with the most American of institutions and the epitome of the small/big American dreamer Walt Disney.

What do you think is it about that recurring theme that continues to draw you to that commitment of a year and a half or two years of your life? What are you exploring there?

John: That’s a good question. I don’t think you know why you make a movie sometimes until you finish making it. And then you go, “Oh, now I get it. Now I know why I wanted to invest that much time in this.”

And it wasn’t just because I thought the movie would be good because it better personally challenge you and some of your thoughts or you’re going to get bored.

Craig: Right.

John: Knowing how to make a movie and make it good is not enough to do the movie. So I don’t know. I mean, you think about it after the fact and you go with, you know, A Perfect World, I didn’t direct but wrote, you know, it was an original so that kind of goes in to the same basket I think.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Just, you know, an examination of fathers and sons, and a changing landscape, you know, the Kennedy assassination and then all those kinds of things, especially as regarding Texas where I was from. And then, you know, and then all of a sudden you find yourself doing The Rookie and I felt very strongly that it was about fathers and sons. It was about Brian Cox and what he passed along to Dennis Quaid and what he didn’t pass along and what Dennis is passing along to his son, and what he’s not giving him and those kind of things. I was just interested and fascinated in that idea.

And then, you know, The Blind Side is mothers and sons, and it really is. That was the unique perspective of that book was that I felt that my take on it was, this is a short story about mothers and sons and the protective mother bear and all those things. And so, you know, after the fact, I realized that’s probably why I did it.

With The Founder, I think, I mean, it’s a very American story, and I agree. People have said that before, it’s like, “You’re a very American filmmaker,” and I said, “For good and for bad, I think that’s true.” You know, anybody mentions my name around Capra that, I’ll take association.

Craig: As well you should. Yeah.

John: But, and I’m not, but nonetheless we all try. But, no. I’m drawn to, I mean, I think America is just, it’s a fascinating place and it’s kind of a brand new country in many ways and we’re still figuring things out, and I don’t know. It just fascinates me. And so the idea of a guy that, you know, Ray Kroc who is the epitome of everything that I admire. A hard working guy. The guy, you know, who like America in the ‘50s is shouldering the burden of everything and needs to make it. Just like America.

Craig: Right.

John: You know, just like America. And then, just like America, you know, things change and you go, “Oh, maybe I can cut this corner,” or “Maybe I’ll do this differently” or the thing you can never take away from Kroc is what a hard, hard worker he was.

Craig: Well, yeah. I mean, the movie is, I mean, I don’t want to give anything away that isn’t common knowledge but it’s very much a study of ambition and the two edges of that sword. And certainly brings to mind one of our presidential candidates in more ways than one.

I want to get to a couple more listener questions before we wrap things up with John Lee. So, this next one, I don’t think you’re going to care to answer John Lee, it’s about copyright. Do you feel like, I mean, you are a lawyer. Nope, you’re just pointing at me.

John: You know more about it than I do.

Craig: Again, Baylor Law. So, here is a question from Gary.

Gary: Hi, John and Craig. I have a hypothetical scenario that I’d love to hear you talk about. Let’s say every once and a while I like to go on random forums and read random comments and recently a particular commenter, let’s call him Jim2000, spewed an angry umbrage stuffed rant about his wife’s cooking. Let’s say that I love this rant and I want to use his exact words and inject it into my script, it’s just that good. So if I blatantly stole his words and his story, would that violate copyright law? I would never do this but I’m curious what your take is on anonymity in relation to copyright. Jim2000 clearly wrote this with no intention of it being tied to his real name, but could he sue me? Does he have ownership over an anonymous rant about his wife’s cooking?

Craig: It’s a good question. Although you probably shouldn’t be doing that but you already know that. So the answer depends. I think, I’m pretty sure that if you go on the Internet and you write a comment, that’s yours, and it is essentially copyrighted, but I want to point out that it’s very, very common and perhaps common to the point of obligatory that on most sites that are relying on comments. You’re waiving your rights whether you know it or not to have effective copyright.

So I want to read you this, this is from Reddit, this is part of their terms of service. What it says is, you, meaning the commenter, retain the rights to your copyrighted content or information that you submit to Reddit. Hmm, not bad. Except as described below. You ready, Gary?

By submitting user content to Reddit, you grant us a royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, non-exclusive, unrestricted, worldwide license to reproduce, prepare derivative works, distribute copies, perform, or publicly display your user content in any medium and for any purpose, including commercial purposes, and you ready, Gary? Here’s the best part of all. And to authorize others to do so. So essentially, Reddit is saying, we can use your stuff even if it’s copyrighted and we can authorize all of our people to use it. So, pretty loosey goosey there. I mean, you know, you shouldn’t just lift people’s stuff that they put online, but people who do put comments online, please be aware that you’ve probably signed your life away to be on that.

All right. We have our last question is coming in from Jack.

Jack: So my question involves collaboration. Have you ever discussed or explored the notion of teaming up to work on a project together or producing a spec script, something along those lines? And my second item is a suggestion for One Cool Thing. So oftentimes when I’m writing, I’m always looking for good background music or music to kind of inspire me and I think I found just the site for those special instances when you just really want to kind of block things out. So the site is called and this is an application by Gabriel Martin. And the cool thing about it is it’s set up as kind of a mixing panel look and feel.

So for example, John might really enjoy just a simple coffee shop chatter with crickets in the background. Like Craig may be a little bit more adventurous and want to mix in some thunder, wind, and maybe even some bird sounds. Again, the site is called and I think you’re really going to like it.

Craig: Okay, Jack, the answer to your question. Well, first of all, let me talk about So John Lee, you know, there are these websites where you can pull up ambient sounds like thunder and rain and lightning to help you write like, “Oh, I’m writing a scene that’s in thunder.” I don’t find them particularly useful because they don’t change. I will write to music sometimes but I don’t — I wouldn’t want to write to just artificial rainfall.

John: I mean, everybody’s different. I mean, for the most part when I’m writing, I like complete silence. I mean, what I’ll do if I’m writing something whether if it’s a period piece or something while I’m riding around in the car, I might play music of that era just to inspire me and kind of keep my brain going, but I don’t know, when I write, I like it pretty quiet.

Craig: Yeah, I’m the same way. I’m the same way. And every now and then, if I’m writing action, which can sometimes exhaust me, I’ll put on, you know, like some Hans Zimmer, [unintelligible] you know, just to kind of–

John: Yeah.

Craig: But the other question that Jack wonders about far more disturbing. Should John August and I write a movie together? No. Because we could not — I was going to say, we’d pull each other’s hair out, but that’s a short fight given our situation. But, no, I think that solo artists are solo for a reason. It’s funny you mentioned silence, I like silence. You know, all the time that we spend doing what we do, we don’t, we become incredibly used to our rhythms and our process and we get stuck in our ways. My god, it’s hard enough to do what you do without crutches, so please don’t take my crutch away and one of my crutches is that it’s freaking quiet and I’m alone.

The only times I’ve been able to write effectively with other people is when there was a clear hierarchy in place. So when I was working with Todd Phillips, like, he’s going to direct this movie, he’s brought me on. He’s in-charge. I’m writing this with him, he listened to everything, I listen to everything, there was never a need to pull rank because it was understood that there was a hierarchy of a kind. But have you ever tried writing something with someone where you were on even footing with them?

John: Once way back when, when I was first starting out, I had a — he’s an actor-writer friend of mine and we had an idea that we kept riffing on. It was, you know, well, that’s interesting. Oh what if they did this. And you go, “This is writing itself,” but it takes both of us because we’re bouncing it back and forth, and we sat down and we tried for about a week and it was obvious that it just wasn’t, because the thing is I was too nice and maybe he was too nice as well, but I was too nice in that he would write something, and I’d go, “It’s really good.” And instead of going, “No, I want to change this.” But then if I changed it, he’d go back and go, “But didn’t this,” and you’d go, let’s be friends and not write together.

Craig: Right. Exactly. And not write together.

John: I got a question for you. Do you find, I mean, I’ve just gone through this recently but it happens all the time when you’re directing movies, especially, I mean, if you’ve written them especially, and sometimes if you’ve written them, I mean, if you haven’t written them and the writer’s not on the set, you’ll have this doesn’t work anymore because of the conditions or the construct of whether it’s the set of this or this and we need to rewrite this line, and I think I know the answer for you because you’re really quick at that. For me, actors will look at me like I’m crazy when I’ll go, “Yeah, let me fix it but I need to walk away.” And sometimes it’s only two minutes but I’ll walk away and put a piece of paper down on the hood of a car and then just get in that zone and then I’ll come back.

Craig: No, I’m exactly like you, in fact. And it’s because I have a rhythm and there’s a certain position I get in to do what I do. And you, oh, all the time, you know, a couple of times I directed, I would do that constantly or just like, let me walk around and don’t — no one – just let me be alone behind the freaking honey wagon for a minute and then I’ll come back and we’ll be fine, right?

Same thing when I’m not directing but I’m on set, you know, someone I was working with — so then in that case Todd and I would sometimes walk away. Because the thing is, what you don’t want is somebody listening to your drafts as you’re doing them because it’s going to skew the process.

John: You’re right.

Craig: You know, and then you see it in their faces like, “No, no, I’m not there. The trick is not over.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: So go away, right? And you can’t send them away so you walk away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, that’s exactly right. All right. Well, I think it’s time for our One Cool Things. John Lee, do you have a One Cool Thing?

John: Boy, did you ask the wrong guy.

Craig: Do you have a one like, for you, Cool Thing

John: Considering the fact that I come to your office to get things scanned.

Craig: I know.

John: Considering the fact that I have a fax machine but no scanner.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It kind of answers itself.

Craig: I mean, that’s cool. It’s now so lame it’s cool.

John: It’s so lame, it’s cool. It’s appreciating once again. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, every day.

John: Yeah. No, I mean, I’m still — I still jump for joy that I can copy paste and delete as opposed to typing on an electric typewriter.

Craig: Wow.

John: I mean, back in those days, when I first started out, and you’d write a draft to a script and you’re really happy and you’d give it to friends to read and they come back with good notes, and you’d go, “You’re right I’m going to change this.” It’s like you would make all the changes by hand and then you sit down and go, “Okay. The next two days are typing the script.”

Craig: Right.

John: Again and again, and again. 120 pages.

Craig: So this segment should be called One Old Thing with John Lee Hancock.

John: One Old Thing, yeah. Copy, paste, and delete are gifts.

Craig: All right. Well, we’ll excuse you.

John: Thank you.

Craig: The truth is I’m a terrible at it, too. John always has one, a lot of times I don’t. But today I do or this week I do for you at home and this came through from one of our listeners on Twitter and it’s fantastic. This is a bit of science news, and it’s a little premature to, you know, jump for joy, but one of the biggest problems that we have, and I think a lot of people know this, is antibiotic resistant bacteria. So we’ve been throwing antibiotics at each other for decades now and they are amazing things and people today don’t quite understand what the world was like before we had penicillin and albeit the subsequent antibiotics and people would constantly just die because they got infections and you couldn’t stop it. But through overuse and just general bacteria being bacteria, a lot of them have evolved to be resistant to these antibiotics, and some of them seem to be resistant to all of our antibiotics super, duper bad.

A 25-year-old student in I believe Australia. Yes, University of Melbourne. Her name is Shu Lam. And what Shu Lam has done is come up with a way to fight drug resistant bacteria without antibiotics at all. And it sounds so cool that I kind of wish I could watch it happening but I can’t because it’s so tiny. But what she’s done is basically, she’s come up with this thing that’s basically, it’s a polymer which is I guess kind of a plastic, yeah?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s star shaped. And it goes into the body and they don’t hurt regular cells.

John: But it shreds bacteria?

Craig: Because they’re too big to hurt cells but it shreds the bacteria.

John: That’s awesome.

Craig: Yeah, it’s like Mad Max now instead of like, “Oh, it’s chemistry and duh-duh,” no. It’s like Bam! So it’s a much more violent attack on it, but the bigger issue and this is the big, you know, thing that people are going crazy about. They can’t become resistant to that. There is no resistance to being shredded up physically, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not like the antibiotics that are chemically kind of going inside and poisoning the bacteria and all to help these cells are around them as well. So anyway, Shu Lam might have just solved a huge problem there, and if she has, not only did she save millions and millions, and millions of lives but she also came up with something awesome: Star shaped polymer bacterial death.

John: And as a bonus if you’re writing the Incredible Journey remake and you need a third act twist.

Craig: Here they come.

John: Shit came.

Craig: Boing, boing, boing.

John: And they shrink.

Craig: Because you see them boinging, right? I think they’re working on there right now. Of course they are. All right. Well, that’s our show. As always since recently, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. And our outro this week. Oh my god. Okay, so John, every week we have an outro that a listener sends in. This week, super-duper special. I’m glad you’re here for it. Our outro this week comes from Tim Gurth who’s 11 years old. And here’s what his dad says.

His dad says, “I’m an avid listener. My son is 11 and just starting 6th grade, he loves to tell stories. Every night before bed we have a running story, he improvs with me. I’ve shared the podcast with him in the past and storytelling tips from almost every episode. He’s learning to play the cello.” Learning. By the way, is important because you know, you could tell he’s learning, but he’s way better at it than I am. That’s me talking. Back to his dad.

“When I told him about the outros, he wanted to enter the contest. I told him there was no prize other than being on that one podcast forever. He was still up for it, his teacher did her best to identify the five notes and he took it from there. He wanted this improvised song to reflect both John and Craig. I think he captured them.” He did.

He absolutely captured us. Tim, we love your job on the cello here. We love that you’re 11 and you have the courage to do this and of course I say to the rest of you, if 11-year-old Tim Gurth can do it, so can you. So if you have an outro for us that you would like us to try, please send it into That’s also a place where you can send longer questions. For shorter questions on Twitter, I am @clmazin and John August is @johnaugust. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes and while you’re there leave us a comment and I’ll tell you why, John Lee Hancock. John August loves comments. He loves them. He reads them.

John: Wow.

Craig: And he thinks about them and he keeps threatening to read them on the air, so people really should comment just to make John August happy, right? That’s why we’re here. You can also find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at, that’s 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 of the show at and also on the Scriptnotes USB drive at

John Lee, that’s the store that gives me no money because John’s stealing all the money. John Lee, thank you so much for being here. Everyone, check out The Founder when it hits theaters and fear not John, not Lee will be back next week. We’ll see you then.


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