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Updated: 1 hour 40 min ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 235: The one with Jason Bateman and the Game of Thrones guys — Transcript

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 16:02

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s show is probably a PG-13. It’s not very strong language, but there’s a little bit there. So just a fair warning if you have kids in the car.

[Begin live show]

John: You guys think you can do without me?

[Audience sings the theme]

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

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

So Craig, we’re doing another live show. We just did one. Now we’re doing another one. But can you please paint a word picture for our listeners at home what would they see if they were here with us.

Craig: So we’re on a beach.

John: Yes.

Craig: We are in a lovely downtown space here in Los Angeles.

John: Yes.

Craig: The room is gorgeous. Once again, fans of screenwriting podcasts, beautiful. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: As always. And everybody is excited. It is a diverse crowd of people that are interested. We have both Ashkenazi and Sephardic in here. And it’s one of you. Yes, yes.

And everybody is very — they’re just beaming. I think in part because, you know, unlike — we always do these things for some charity. We’ve never — at least I don’t think we’ve ever done it for ourselves. I never get any money out of this. [laughs]

John: We are a money-losing podcast from the get-go.

Craig: I’m not sure I believe you anymore, but okay, fine.

John: You can audit the books at some point.

Craig: Yeah. But this is for a wonderful charity that our friend John Gatins has been involved with for a long time. Academy Award nominee John Gatins, by the way, who is here tonight. And so this one is kind of a special one. I think it’s a terrific thing. And obviously you heard about what the — it’s Final Draft, huh?

John: Yeah, Final Draft is the sponsor. What I love about these shows are the surprises that you encounter.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So like, Final Draft is the sponsor, that’s a surprise.

Craig: They’re giving underprivileged kids Final Draft. Haven’t they suffered enough?

John: [laughs] Final Draft, thank you for doing this. We are genuinely appreciative. You are doing good things for kids and the arts.

Craig: Yes.

So this is — now it’s also a special night because we have some terrific guests. We have with us tonight Jason Bateman. And we were going to have Larry Kasdan. Now, I think you’ve all gotten the message. So Larry unfortunately couldn’t make it. There was an illness in his family and so he had a good excuse. So we panicked. [laughs]

John: Yes.

Craig: And part of the panic was, if you’re going to deliver the screenwriter of Star Wars to people, that is going to draw a certain kind of person. [laughs]

John: Yes. How do we replace that person? [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. How do you please that person?

John: The person who does not desire to be pleased, that person has one sort of set goal.

Craig: And there are really hard opinions. So we reached out and found what I think is just as good, maybe even, just as good. So tonight with us we also have Dan Weiss and David Benioff, co-creators of Game of Thrones.

John: Yay!

Craig: When Larry does listen to this, and he hears that, a little tear, a little tear.

John: So filling this whole word picture of the space that we’re in, it sort of looks like, if you had like one of those hipster weddings, this is the space where Craig and I would get married. There’s a whole bunch of white chairs, it’s a big empty loft. If you had like a little girl like with flower petals and like a string quartet in the corner, totally our downtown wedding –

Craig: You had me at get married.

John: All right. But in the very back of the room, back by the woefully small bathroom facilities, which you’re welcome to use during the podcast, please don’t, just get up and go. There is a table back there and there are notepads back there.

On those notepads, you may write questions for Larry Kasdan. We promise when we see Larry Kasdan to do an episode, we will ask those questions, we will ask no other listener questions other than the people who are here in this room because you are the best people in Los Angeles. So, that table in the back.

I think we need to start by bringing John Gatins up here because he is the one who roped us into all this. John Gatins, please come up.

Craig: Did you guys see Flight by the way? Did you see Flight?

John: This is the gentleman who wrote Flight.

Craig: I mean, right? Pretty good. That is you, right? That’s the John Gatins.

John Gatins: Yes. Yeah.

John: But John Gatins, you are not merely a writer. You are also a person who somehow roped us into this event. So please tell us what your relationship is with Hollywood Heart.

John Gatins: Okay. David Gale, who’s sitting right behind Craig’s wife, we made a movie together in 1998 called Varsity Blues.

Craig: Have you seen Varsity Blues? Pretty good.

John Gatins: Pretty good. The greatest Texas high school football movie ever made. [laughs]

John: Nothing compares to it. There’s no other Texas football things that have ever been good.

Craig: Where did Remember the Titans take place?

John Gatins: Not in Texas.

Craig: Got it. Then you’re good. [laughs]

John Gatins: Friday Night Lights, well maybe. But in 1998, and you had already started the charity but you had a great event at Paramount, which I went to. And there was all these photos from camp and you started talking to me about this camp that — the arts camp that we do every summer in Southern California.

And I went out and saw the camp. And then I was kind of hooked because I never went to camp as a kid. And this was like, camp, like kids singing to me, like they sang me into camp, like I was a camper suddenly. And it was awesome.

And so we started bringing movies every summer. We would bring a movie and, you know, the kids were like — they loved it. It didn’t matter how bad the movie was. They’re like, “This is a great.”

And I made the movie Dreamer for DreamWorks and I brought it there.

John: They thought it was great.

John Gatins: They thought it was — it was the greatest Dakota Fanning horse racing movie ever made. Ever made. So –

Craig: It was pretty good. [laughs]

John Gatins: I’m going to give you one guess as to what’s the greatest drunken pilot movie ever made starring Denzel Washington.

Craig: I got nothing.

John Gatins: [laughs] So anyway — so David. I started to go to camp and then he asked me to be on the Board, and I joined the Board. And I taught writing out at the camp because we do writing and visual arts and dance and music and filmmaking. And it’s this amazing thing.

So I got involved with all these incredible people. And I have to thank John and Craig for being willing to do this, and for David and Dan, and for Jason, and everybody who put this together, and all of you people who came because we’re a very small charity, quite honestly. And it’s like we have gone through 20 years — how many years, David?

David Gale: 21.

John Gatins: 21, which is kind of an amazing thing. And the camp goes on every year and we help kids from all over the country come to Southern California for this camp. It’s awesome.

John: Great. So in addition to being a writer, you are also — you really started in this industry in a completely different field, which is acting. And so you have some really prestigious credits which people might not be aware of.

Craig: Like for instance, I assume you’ve all seen Witchboard 2.

John Gatins: The greatest Ouija board sequel ever made, Craig.

Craig: It’s pretty good. He’s in it, and he delivers.

John Gatins: I play Russel Upton and I, you know, originally I lived through the whole movie and then I showed up on the day that we started filming. I was like dead on page 102 or something.

John: Yeah. So you almost made it to the end of Witchboard 2?

John Gatins: Almost made it to the end, John. Almost made it to the end.

John: Very good. So a movie that he was not killed in was actually a movie I directed in 2006.

John Gatins: Yeah. That’s right. So John’s movie, The Nines, was really funny because I had this assistant who had just started working for me. You know, I don’t really, you know, whatever.

So I was like, “Do you want to meet Ryan Reynolds?” I’m trying to impress her. She’s like, “Yeah, I want to meet Ryan Reynolds.”

So we drive downtown and John is directing this movie, you know, and I’m like just show up, just shoot my gig, you know. And I said to John, I said, “So I don’t really understand. This guy, he plays a TV writer, it’s like. But you know, he’s kind of an asshole, you know.” But I mean like — so he should be — and he’s like, “He’s you.”

And I was like, “Okay. But he’s a jerk to this guy.” And you know, Ryan Reynolds, he said, “It’s your relationship to me.” [laughs]

And John walks away and my assistant looks to me and she’s like thinking, “God, am I working for an ass?” But that was the greatest meta movie –

Craig: That’s amazing. Like he dumps it on you and then walks away.

John Gatins: He walks away. He does that.

Craig: He does that to me like on the podcast auditorially all the time.

John Gatins: Yeah. Yeah. He walks away.

Craig: Just walks, like his voice walks away from me.

John Gatins: Just leave you out to die.

John: It’s just a slope. Yeah.

So John Gatins, I wrote this part for you. And I realized I sort of made a classic rookie director mistake because I never had you audition for the part. I just assumed you could do it. And one of my goals for 2016 is to really like correct past mistakes. And so I’m wondering if we could maybe — if you’d be willing to audition for that, that same part again?

Craig: Yeah, he’s willing.

John: So I made some sides. So that’s that. And Craig, would you read with him?

Craig: Yeah. Of course, I’ll read with him.

John Gatins: Jason, I may need a little help here man.

John: All right.

Craig: Jason can’t help you now.

John Gatins: I need my glasses! I literally really can’t see.

John: You can put your glasses on.

Craig: You know, back in the Witchboard 2 days, no glasses.

John: So let me set the scene here. So this is basically any casting director, you’re going in there, you get your sides, you’re reading through it, maybe a little set up about what this is. This is taking place in a hotel gym. This is late in the second half of the movie.

John Gatins’ TV Show has been picked up for series or picked up — the pilot got picked up and going to go to series. At upfronts, Gavin’s character played by Ryan Reynolds in the movie, but maybe we’ll recast him too, is confronting him over a casting choice that’s happened.

So that’s the scene that we’re going into. So if I am the casting director, I’m probably hitting record right now. I’m probably over there — “This is the person.” “This is the person we’ll go — “

Craig: Yeah. I’ve already got the job.

John: Yeah. You’re really the casting pro here. This is the guy reading opposite you.

John Gatins: I’m in character, John.

John: All right. And, when you’re ready.

John Gatins: Look, I’m sorry, but I’m kind of not. I want my show on the air and I think it was shitty for you to go after Dahlia behind my back.

Craig: I heard your show was gone.

John: I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without having backup.

It’s not how I remember this. [laughs]

Craig: Hey guys, not a cool thing in an audition. Don’t do that.

John Gatins: Sorry.

Craig: Continue please.

John Gatins: I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without — you never would have hired me for this.

I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without having a backup. Why would you pick up a show when you didn’t have a star?

Craig: The network wanted Dahlia.

John Gatins: Yeah, in my show. We tested right before you. Our numbers were through the roof.

Craig: Really?

John Gatins: Really. Who’s your exec?

Craig: Susan Howard.

John Gatins: She would know. She was there. Ask her. [laughs]

John: Okay. That was good.

If I could give one — if I could give one note.

John Gatins: I’m starting to get comfy up here, John.

John: If I can give one note.

John Gatins: Yeah?

John: I wonder if you’re really more of a Gavin. I mean, could you — would you mind switching?

Craig: No. I wouldn’t.

John: All right. So Craig, would you mind reading the part of John Gatins?

Craig: No. I would love that.

John: All right. So when you’re ready, maybe just show him kind of what that might be. [laughs]

Craig: Look, I’m sorry, but I’m kind of not. I want my show on the air. I think it was shitty for you to go after Dahlia behind my back.

John Gatins: I heard your show was gone.

Craig: I heard you fired Melissa McCarthy without having a backup. Why would they pick up your show when you don’t even have a star?

John Gatins: The network wanted Dahlia. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, in my show. We tested right before you. Our numbers were through the roof.

John Gatins: Really?

Craig: Really. Who’s your exec?

John Gatins: Susan Howard.

Craig: She would know. She was there. Ask her.

John: Yeah. All right.

I think long-term listeners of the show will recognize that Craig’s career as a writer is near its end. And he’s going to probably be — he’s going to be an actor here pretty soon.

Craig: Pretty soon.

John: I mean, Steve Zissis is here. He’s already trying to get you — to get you cast in things. All right?

John Gatins: I’ll tell you this.

Craig: I don’t know if just saw that magic but it’s real.

John Gatins: Is my mic on? Is it on?

Craig: We turned it off. [laughs]

John Gatins: Am I still here? Am I still talking? What?

John: It was still good. And so I think there’s still really a part for you. And we really want to thank you.

Craig: That’s how he ends every audition. “Is this — Am I here?”

John Gatins: “Is this — am I good?” “Is this on?”

Craig: “Am I good?” [laughs]

John: So John Gatins, I just want to really say, thank you for coming in.

Craig: Thank you, Johnny.

John: I think it might be a good time to bring another — an actor up here.

Craig: Like a real one?

John: An actor who does it for — we have a really great one here. Could we welcome a director and actor, Jason Bateman.

Craig: Jason Bateman.

It’s our traditional greeting. It’s how we do it.

Jason Bateman: I thought that was really good, John. That was tight. We’d like to call you back next week.

Craig: Wow. Cool.

John: You wouldn’t do that over Skype. You’d want to be in the room with him so you can really feel his energy and his presence?

Jason: I mean, a couple of times I’ve been lucky enough to be on the other side. I don’t — auditioning is terrible. And it’s even worse on the other side when you’re watching an actor auditioning. It’s like, it’s just — it’s the worst situation in the world.

That was fantastic.

John: I have a line I’d like you to do.

Jason: I don’t do drugs anymore.

Craig: Shush. We’ll get to your drug problem shortly. Here’s a line of dialogue I’d like you to see if you can take a swing on this one.

Jason: Did you write this?

Craig: No. “It’s a delicious honey graham taste made to stay crispy and crunchy in milk.”

Jason: I’ve done that one.

Craig: [laughs] That is, correct me if I’m wrong, the very first taste of Bateman that America got in a Honey Graham –

Jason: It’s not.

Craig: It wasn’t?

Jason: No. My crap started earlier than that.

Craig: [laughs]

Jason: But I did do a very special honey — was it a Honey Nut Cheerios or a Honey –

Craig: It was a Honey Graham Crunch.

Jason: Yes.

Craig: Yes. You were in a go-cart.

Jason: I was in a go-cart on a golf course somewhere doing speed way too fast on a golf cart path.

Yeah. I did a bunch of commercials. And then after you do a bunch of commercials your agent says, “Well now you qualify to go out and start reading for, you know, shitty TV shows.”

Craig: And that brings us to Silver Spoons.

Jason: You book a few of those and you get to do some better ones, and then you work your way up to Identity Thief, Craig.

Craig: Yes, well. You were in it.

Jason: Yeah.

Craig: You were all over it.

Jason: There was no sarcasm in that.

Craig: Oh, no.

Jason: The shit was tight.

Craig: Tight. [Laughs]

John: But let’s talk about why you were in that movie.

Jason: Where did he come from?

John: I want to know the process of you as an actor and then later on, as a director, you’re reading a script. How much of the script do you actually read before you say like, “Yes” or “No” or like, “I don’t want to finish reading this”? What is the process you go through of figuring out like, “This is something I want to spend months of my life trying to do?” What goes on in your head?

Jason: It’s a really good question.

John: I ask good questions.

Jason: No, it’s great.

Craig: I had that one written down but it was after the Honey Graham commercial.

Jason: I mean, there’s a lot of different answers to that and I don’t want to put you guys to sleep, but you’re probably interested in this. Majority of you are screenwriters. Yeah?

John: Yeah.

Jason: First of all, it’s annoying that we idiot actors take so long to read scripts. I know that probably, you guys have been on the wrong side of like, “Wait. Have they not read it yet?”

I mean and it is so difficult to write scripts. I tried once when I was 20 or something. And it is, what you guys do, and I’m not just trying to curry favor, it is the hardest thing in the world, what you guys do. So, my hat is off to you. The least we can do is like, read it as soon as we get it, right? [Laughs]

So there’s that. And then, to answer your question, how much of it do you read? You should finish it which I do, but it takes me a really long time to read a script because I’m not just zipping through it.

You know, you’re trying to imagine it. You’re trying to see if you can plus it or fit it, right? Because that’s our job. You guys have written it, we have to act our part or play the character in such a way where these words would make sense to come out. So it should take some time, so it takes me some time. And I usually decide before I start reading it whether I’m going to do it because it usually has lot to do with the people that are involved. If you like the people that are doing it and those people are really good at what they do, you can make something that — you can make a script that is, maybe not as good as it could be, you can make it better, perhaps. Especially if the writer is on the set and they can see kind of what angles it’s taken. And can kind of change it along the way.

So I will decide pretty much before I start reading it. And then if I can’t find a way into the act, into the character, then I’ll say, “Well, damn it. This is not a fit for me.” But I wish it was, you know?

John: So as you’re reading through the script the very first time, are you stopping at the end of your scenes and saying like, “Could I actually do that? Do those words fit in my mouth?” Is that the kind of thing you’re working through? Or are you tiring to picture yourself being on that set?

What is the combination of things? Is it mostly the character and the role? Is it the other people involved? What’s making you say yes or no?

Jason: It’s really, it’s about the people involved. It’s not about the size of the role or whether it’s like, you know, Citizen Kane. It’s really about, is everybody involved with it kind of like, “Is this a party I want to get invited to?” You know, no matter — whether I get a good seat inside the party or not, like are these cool people that I want to like be a part of?

And then, as far as you said something about fitting in my mouth and I was writing a joke to that and I forgot the rest of the sentence.

Craig: I got, here. I got 12.

Jason: You got it. He’s so fast.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig’s quick with those jokes. But talk to me now about reading scripts as a director because like is this something you want to spend a year of your life trying to put this whole movie together. What is that process? And you’ve just directed your second big movie. What is that?

Jason: Not big. Big is not the right word.

Craig: No, I’m sorry. Big full-length movie. A movie that could show up on a big screen.

Jason: That’s it.

Craig: That’s what it is. Theoretically, 10 people in this audience –

Jason: It won’t be up on that screen long but they will be there.

John: I saw Bad Words at the Arc Light?

Jason: For a day.

John: Yeah. But I saw it there. So what is your process of that? Whether you want to dedicate your life to that, would you know how to do that stuff?

Jason: Yeah. I mean, it’s — I love reading a script that would demand that the director takes full advantage of the privilege of the position, which is, that is the job where you get to unapologetically lead multiple departments and just try to communicate in the most articulate possible way what you would like each of them to do in order to create one experience, shape one experience for the audience.

And so, some films, that’s not really — in some scripts that’s not really their intention. It’s maybe, it’s a joke thing or it’s an effects thing or it’s — see, I like stuff that’s a little bit more complicated. I mean, I enjoy all films but it’s stuff that I would want to direct — the stuff that’s really challenging where it would really demand that you know how to utilize each department to create that one thing. Like a glib comparison, but like a conductor, you know? Like you need a little bit out of the horns and a little bit out of the strings and together there’s one sound and, you know.

Craig: But this is not something that you’ve come to, now. This is — I did not know this. But you directed three episodes of The Hogan’s. The Hogan family television show –

Jason: That’s right.

Craig: When you were –

Jason: That’s right.

Craig: But here’s the part that kind of –

Jason: The three best ones.

Craig: You were — granted, stipulated. You were 18 years old. And now, let me tell you what I was doing when I was 18. I was stuck in a room with Ted Cruz.

Enjoy my pain. You could have been doing any of the things I wished I was doing instead of being stuck in a room with Ted Cruz. None of which was directing.

So you’re a heartthrob, you’re an actor, you’re on television. There are girls and probably some drugs. I’m just thinking maybe a little bit of drugs here and there. Just a touch.

Jason: I don’t know. I can’t remember. I think you’re probably right.

Craig: [laughs] But you chose even then to direct and you know, having worked with you and now, having seen your movies, I mean, you really are a proper filmmaker. Sometimes, actors I think arrive at this sort of later on. You, it’s always been there.

And this is a kind of a weird question and I don’t know if there’s an answer, but all this time have you been kind of a director who’s been acting? Or are you an actor that’s kind of also been directing? Do you know what I mean? Like where is your soul?

Jason: Yeah. I am — this is — you’re going to make me cry up here.

This sounds too precious but I would think maybe a director that was acting, only because starting so young, you get to see the process for so long and you know, look, acting is not difficult. I mean, Jesus Christ.

Craig: We just proved that. I mean, yeah.

Jason: I mean look at — John is like, Oof.

But we all do it, you know? You guys are different with your best friend than you are with your mom. Like that’s just behavioral manipulation in a convincing way, right?

Like your mom is going to know if you’re not being sincere so you’ve got a really kind of thread — you got to be believable. That’s acting. It’s so simple. So if you get bored by doing something kind of simple, you start watching shit that’s really interesting like, how a guy can like load a camera and like build dolly track. And so I started to really get an early appreciation for how much work it takes to build a fake world. I mean, there’s no one there that doesn’t need to be there.

And so, I started to watch what all these people do and saw who got to communicate with all of those people. And that was the director. So I really started to watch that process and said one day, hopefully, I can do enough work where I can create an opportunity to diversify or get the privilege to do that job.

Craig: And now also, you are producing, I mean you have your own company that produces the stuff that you’re in, produces the stuff you make, produces things that you’re not in, and so that’s a whole other vibe. Have you been working with screenwriters a lot as just a producer where you’re not in the movie but kind of going through that development process?

Jason: A little bit, yeah. I mean, I’d like to be doing it more but it’s hard. It’s hard to get you guys in the room and get you guys — you guys are busy.

Craig: They’ll line up for the room.

Jason: No. I mean, like there’s not a lot of people that are willing to do the hard work of writing. I mean, it’s difficult. It takes a lot of discipline. You guys like have to stare at the wall all day to come up with something even better than yesterday’s idea. Like that’s discipline.

It’s difficult to get people in there with great ideas and then once those ideas come in to try to shape them into something that you think you can kind of navigate and execute. Yet still keep it something that makes sense to you guys, that you can still have ownership on and it still lives inside of you because you got to do all the heavy lifting. I mean, that’s a really tough process, as well. And I’m just starting doing that but I really love doing it.

John: Can you talk us through, either as an actor or director, when you have that first meeting with a writer? So you’ve read the script. It’s really good. You’re sitting down with her and you’re talking through this thing. How does that go well? Like, what are the good versions of that first meeting? What are you saying? What is the writer’s saying so you can — ?

Jason: After you read the script, and you start talking about notes –

John: Yeah.

Jason: And things like that?

John: Yes. So how is that from an actor’s perspective, what is the best version of that meeting or a director’s perspective? Because we only know it from the writer’s perspective.

Jason: He asks so much better questions than you do.

Craig: I know. I know. He also — he does like everything. You know that, right?

Jason: Oh, I know. That’s good. You do that great.

Craig: I know. I’ve always done that.

Jason: I mean, the best version of that for us or the best version of that for the writer? Ideally, look, you’re trying to get it produced. I mean, we are on the same team at that point. We want to get the script into the kind of shape — I should ask Aaron Schmidt this — Aaron, we work together, and he helps me develop some of the stuff into stuff that’s a little bit better.

You’re trying to get it made so you’re trying to let them know what your partner at the studio wants to see, what they need, and is there room inside of your creative bandwidth to move it in that direction and still have it be something that you can deliver. You don’t want to change it out of something that you guys love and what you guys want to do. You just try to find, basically, that compromise, that creative negotiation there.

John: From the writer’s perspective, we played all the characters until the actors showed up. And so one by one, those roles are being assigned off to people. And so, can you think of examples of like really good hand-offs where like, you guys would come to the common page of sort of what this character was like?

Jason: Craig, gave me a great hand-off a couple of –

John: Yeah. The idea was — but like, so, Craig, that’s actually a good question for you, though, because you played his character for him.

Craig: I give you lip service. I gave you that hand-off.

Jason: John’s not — John doesn’t understand what we’re talking about.

Craig: Not at all. No, he understands, he doesn’t care. Look, that’s his face of not caring. That’s it.

Jason: He’s giving an eyebrow. He’s got to, it’s Yin and Yang, guys.

Craig: You know the thing with Jason — I’m sorry, Justin or Jason?

Jason: I get Justin as much as Jason.

John: Justine is your sister. She emailed me today and she’s looking for a nanny.

Craig: We were — I think we were sitting once outside like having coffee somewhere. And like, maybe, in an hour five people came up and said, “Can I get your picture?” And two of the five called you, Justin.

Jason: Yeah. That’s my average, everyday. It’s true.

Craig: Fantastic. That’s his average.

Jason: You know, it is an interesting point because you guys play all the characters as you write them and what I’ve noticed with some writers that are first-time directors, sometimes, that’s an uncomfortable transition.

You know, there are sometimes, not all first-time directors who are writers do this, but sometimes, I’ll notice that I’ll get or an actor will get a false-negative from that director. In that, you know why? The note will be coming from a place of, “Well, you know, you’re just not saying it the way that I’ve heard it forever and forever.”

And that’s not necessarily wrong because the audience, obviously, hasn’t read the script before. They don’t have any preconceived notion of what that line is going to sound like, what that character is going to be performed like. So, that’s one thing that is an interesting process to go through with a writer who starts to direct is trying to get a mutually-agreed upon finish line and then how we get there really should be kind of up for grabs. Like that’s where the actor needs to take a little bit of ownership. You know, not complete autonomy on that. There should still be a collaboration. But it is the time for the actor to start to pee on the furniture a little bit.

And sometimes, you know, a writer who is just starting out as a director, that’s an uncomfortable process. And I totally empathize with that. But it’s not done like, you know. And then even once the film is shot, then the editor gets to pee on it, you know. And, boy, that guy is smashed back there. That’s two. And then marketing will change the profile of it again and it keeps growing.

Craig: You know, we try — we talk a lot about being specific in our voice. And I try as best as I can to write for somebody that exists. I think the danger sometimes for writers is we write our characters in our head and we see these people. But they’re not people in the world, they’re people in our heads. That’s not a matchable thing. I try and write for somebody that I know exists. What’s interesting then is you don’t get that person a lot of the time.

But in a weird way, that gets you out of then being stuck because you say, well, I wrote this for somebody that exists, that means I can write it for somebody that’s similar, that exists. I mean, I think that that’s — I mean, look, the easiest thing in the world is the arrangement that we had where I know you’re playing this part and I know Melissa is playing this part. That’s a breeze.

And then we get rid of that thing. But for most people who are writing specs, they’re a mile away or three miles away from that.

Jason: Right. And then it becomes the director’s obligation to make a case with the studio that this person needs to play this part because if you try to put this round peg in a square hole, it’s going to make the writing not work. And the writing already works.

One of the really good things that I learned from doing so much sitcom work is that all these scenes work and you just have to pick the right kind of emotion or attitude to make it work, to fit that. Like, because you’re working with the same material for the most part all week.

So, if on Monday you’re playing that scene jealous, it might not work. But if you play it paranoid, then it starts to pop. And sometimes you need the writer and/or producer there to say, “Hey, you know, when we wrote this or when we broke it in the room, it was going through that sort of lens. That’s kind of how we wrote it. That’s how we see — so try playing it with that emotion.” And there’s nothing wrong with the writing, it’s the actor that’s making the wrong choice.

Craig: There you go.

John: He said it himself.

Craig: That’s it.

John: Done. We’re finished.

Craig: Right that. Perfect

John: Jason Bateman, you’ll never top that. I think we should bring up these guys who have peed all over Game of Thrones.

Craig: Yeah.

John: They made that –

Jason: A lot of peeing, a lot of screwing in that show.

Craig: A lot of screwing and blood.

John: A lot of screwing and blood.

Craig: And peeing and puking. Oh, look, it’s Stuart. Weird delayed cheer for Stuart.

John: Yeah, weird delayed cheer for Stuart.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Let us welcome up the co-creators and showrunners of Game of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

Craig: Let’s bring it down. Let’s bring it way down.

David Benioff: There goes the evening.

Craig: Can you feel the energy just.

David: You kept Jason here to make with the jokes. Keep it lively.

Craig: All right, we’re going to blow through these questions real fast, get these guys off the stage. Here we go. Do you have any introduction?

John: I do have an introduction. What I wanted to talk to you guys about was the sense that you’re starting your 6th season, well, you’re going to start airing your 6th season, but you guys, you’re actually ahead of all of that stuff. So an episode will come out — there will be a controversy in that episode — you’ll be having to address publicly the controversy in that episode, but that was like a year ago for you guys, and you’re already on the next thing. Where is the present tense for you guys when you are writing this huge thing that just keeps going? Is there any sense of like this is where Game of Thrones is, or is it just this big blur of time for you guys?

David: That’s what we tell people when they get upset, we say, that was a year ago. Get over it, it’s done.

John: It seems like, oh, they’re going to address that controversy in like the next episode or something. It’s like, “Well, no you’re not, I mean that thing is already done.” And your show is also block shot, so you have to plan your whole season way in advance. You’re going where there’s snow. You have these multiple units. You’ve made the most complicated thing for yourselves imaginable. Why?

Craig: Yeah, why?

Jason: Craig, you are the best.

Craig: Thanks man.

Jason: You are the best. John is slowing you down, man.

Craig: [laughs] That’s so true. Anchor around my neck. All right.

D.B. Weiss: I like that Melissa is just sitting here with her arms folded.

Jason: You’ve got to leave this guy, Melissa.

John: Dan?

D.B.: I remember getting, we got an email, I think it was the second season, an email from Greg Spence, one of our producers at the beginning of the week, it was a mass email to everybody and it said, “Everyone, this week we will be shooting scenes for 9 episodes with 5 directors and 4 units in 3 countries. Happy Monday.”

And that is kind of as you mentioned, we have to have all the scripts written before we start shooting because there’s no way to schedule the show otherwise because we’re shooting in multiple locations with multiple director/DP teams, and it’s just really the only way. It’s kind of a hybrid television/film scheduling model. But sometimes it gets confusing to keep it all together, but by the time we get to that point, we’ve written the scripts already, and before the scripts, we wrote a very detailed outline, and before the detailed outline, we were very steeped in the world of the books, so it gets confusing sometimes. We have Dave Hill who’s somewhere in the audience, one of our writers is there to keep things in order. I don’t know where he is. Where is Dave Hill? Stand up, David Hill. That’s Dave Hill.

We have a lot of help. We have a lot of really, really smart people who let us know what comes after what.

John: You may have smart people, but you’re also having to deal with a whole network, a whole marketing department. They might not necessarily really understand everything else that’s going on.

Craig: Are you trying to depress them?

John: I’m not trying to depress them.

Craig: What’s happening?

John: I’m just saying –

Craig: I want more of the show you. You’re literally going to make them quit.

John: Well, we’re talking about the present tense. Let’s imagine if you can travel back through time, and like these two young writers who are considering doing Game of Thrones, what advice would you give to those young writers?

David: Well okay, this is actually relevant because we showed our pilot, the original pilot to Craig, what was that, seven years ago?

D.B.: Yeah.

Craig: Wow.

David: We were on the lot on Santa Monica in Formosa, we had shot the pilot, we had spent I think three years trying to get the show up.

D.B.: Yes, 2006 to 2010, it was almost four years.

David: It took us almost four years to get the pilot made. And we finished it. We’d been overseas for about seven months. We finally got it finished, and we show it to Craig, Ted Griffin, and Scott Frank. And watching them watch that original pilot was one of the most painful experiences of my life. I mean, it’s probably like appendicitis and that. And Craig, as soon as it finished, Craig said –

Craig: You guys have a massive problem.

D.B.: I had this, because I was taking notes. We were taking notes, I had this yellow like legal pad and I remember just writing in all caps, MASSIVE PROBLEM, underlining. And all I saw from then on that night was just massive problem.

Craig: I wasn’t wrong.

David: No, you weren’t wrong. We ended up reshooting the pilot, 90% of the pilot was reshot. I mean, it was like 92%, I mean, literally, so much of it was reshot that a different director got credit. Craig didn’t really have any brilliant ideas, except he told us, and we believed him because he was right.

D.B.: Change everything.

Craig: Well, I will say that the story, I mean, obviously, it has a very happy ending, but it’s one of the moments I will never forget is being invited to the premiere of the first season where they showed the first, I think it was the first two episodes of the series, and I was just basically — and it was at CAA, so you know, it’s the first season, you don’t get like now, when you guys have a premiere, I think they shut down a city, right? And they sacrifice humans. But then, it was just the small screening theater in CAA like your dad was there, you know. And so I went in just thinking, well, I’m going to see how this goes.

And I sat there, and this show unfolds, the first episode, and I am stunned. Stunned. And I very specifically remember walking out in between and you were there, and I said to you, “That is the biggest rescue in Hollywood history,” because it wasn’t just that you had saved something bad and turned it really good. You had saved a complete piece of shit, and turned it into something brilliant. That never happens. Here’s the crazy part. You guys, it’s honestly true, you guys are like a die that has all 20s on it, and then there was one 1, and you happen to roll the 1 when you made that pilot. That was it, it was a fluke. Everything since then –

D.B.: A DND reference. He’s making a DND reference.

Craig: Everything since then has been outstanding.

D.B.: I find that pandering.

Craig: Yes. [laughs]

John: I do want to point out that like Craig is now taking credit for Game of Thrones. I mean, that’s a remarkable thing that’s happened like live on this stage.

Craig: I mean, I’m not taking credit, I’m just acknowledging the credit I deserve.

John: I do want to circle back to the question though. At that moment, at the premiere where it went so, so well, if you could talk to those people who just did that, the two episodes that went so great at CAA what did you not know then that now, years later you do know? Is there anything you would do differently about your life, about the show, about how this is all going? Because –

D.B.: We still didn’t know anybody was going to watch it.

John: Yeah.

D.B.: And at first, it was a very slow build. They didn’t tell us this in so many words, but we got the sense that they were not that excited about the initial number. I remember we were scouting when it was airing, we were with Carolyn Strauss, who, for those you who don’t know, was the President of HBO to whom we sold the pitch.

David: So you would think she know something about ratings and understand the ratings.

D.B.: Yeah, and so they were getting the ratings in, and she gets the ratings, and she does the math in her head. She went to Harvard, so she does the math in her Harvard head, and she goes, “You guys, 8.2 million people watched the premiere. You beat Boardwalk Empire and Martin Scorsese,” and we were like, oh my god, that’s great. And then she gets an email, like five minutes later, she goes, “Guys, guys, sorry, no, no. 2.2 million people.”

John/Craig: [laughs]

D.B.: And we were like, how do you get from 8.2, to 2.2? And she said, “Oh, I read the demo number wrong.”

Craig: You guys have been friends for a long, long time, you were friends long before you started working on Game of Thrones together, but I’m always fascinated by partnerships, and specifically about the fights. When you fight, because just based on what I know about you, I’m just going to guess that it’s just two stonily silent people pushing their anger down, and then denying it to each other, and then just quietly turning a little bit red. Is that right?

David: I think in the 20 some years I’ve known Dan, 20 years-ish.

D.B.: Something like that. Jesus.

David: I think he’s threatened to kill me while drunk at least three times. Not like in a joking way, like I will beat your skull in.

Craig: [laughs] Really?

David: And the next day, I always tell him, “Dude you threatened to kill me last night.”

D.B.: I don’t remember it though.

David: And he never remembers. He’s always like, “No, I didn’t.” Dan has this tactic, if we’re arguing about something to do with the story or whatever, in effect a queue, he’ll write a 14-page email, and he knows that after four or five pages I’ll get so bored that I’ll just like — I give up, and so he always wins the arguments because –

D.B.: It’s a self-limiting tactic because there’s only so much time we have to write 14 pages. So you really have to choose, you can’t do it on everything, you got to choose your battles.

Craig: I just like that you just get bored with your own show and the email. Yeah, just do it. That’s spectacular.

D.B.: Fine, Ned dies. Fine.

David: Fine, chop off his head.

Craig: Do you guys — wait, that’s why that happened? [laughs]

David: I didn’t know until it aired.

Craig: “What? That was what that email said?” Now because you are involved in this massive productions, like almost military campaigns put the show on, while you’re writing, you were aware that sooner or later you’re going to have to pay the bill for what you’re writing. I’m not talking financially, I mean just literally, the execution of it. In those moments, do you think of — do you care-take the person down the line or when you were in production mode, do you curse that scene?

David: That happened today. We’re in writer’s room, Dave Hill, and Bryan Cogman, and Ethan and Gursimran were sitting at the back. It’s the six of us. Six people? Five?

D.B.: 6.

David: 6.

Craig: Write him a long email.

David: Six. Yes.

D.B.: Math.

David: And we changed one scene from an interior, like a little interior four-hander, to this massive kind of parade through the streets of King’s Landing which basically made like a little five-hour scene into a three-day extravaganza in Dubrovnik, and we said –

D.B.: We just realized like if Bernie Caulfield, who’s our like producer, capo di tutt’i capi, like the producer who actually makes things happen, if she were in this room now she would be swearing because she just had a scene in the throne room that turned into like, David said, it’s like a thousand extras and a whole day thing. But one of the greatest things about being in a writers’ room is you’re just insulated from those considerations, and you put the dream version of it out there. And we always end up scaling things back, we always end up, you know, Bernie and a bunch of our other producers end up — she has the chopping block email, so in the course of the preproduction process, she’ll send out every week or sometimes twice a week there will be just the chopping block and it’ll be her suggestions and some of the other producers’ suggestions about what could change to make some of the stuff we really love more manageable, what could go, what scenes are necessary, what scenes aren’t necessary. And no one’s afraid of putting anything on the chopping block and it all comes down and we — it’s not dictates, we discuss it.

But at the end of the day, like you’re in there, in the room, and you’re creating the version of the show, or the vision of the show that is in your head that you would love to make if you had unlimited time, unlimited money, and you don’t. So you end up paring that down, but it’s always better to start with that because then at least you know what you’re shooting for.

John: Can you talk to us about the outline and sort of going into the season, do have it broken down by this is the arc that’s going to happen over the whole season, or are you figuring out each episode, this is the beginning and end of this episode, this is how this plot line would move in this episode, before you start working on the individual script?

David: Right, so the episodes for season seven that are up on the board, and we’ve got the index cards that Gursimran’s writing up and pinning to the board, and misspelling everything and then we give her shit about misspelling everything, and –

D.B.: Mercenary. Come on.

John: And David, at this stage –

David: Reneg, R-E-N-E-G.

Craig: Yes, you don’t want to misspell that one. That’s –

David: Come on, Berkeley — so we got that, and we’re going to finish putting everything on the board, and then –

John: And this cards for each episode, so this is basically all –

David: Cards for each scene in each episode. And then we’ll finish that, we’re almost done with that, and then we’ll start writing an actual outline. Last year, Dave, what was it, like 130 pages, 140 pages? 160-page outline for 10 episodes, really detailed outline and then we start writing episodes, and we have to finish all of our scripts before we start shooting because the entire season is cross-boarded, meaning, it’s all shot like a movie. We might shoot scenes from the final episode in the first week. And there’s so much prep involved that everything has to be written. I mean, we keep rewriting over the course of the season, but it all has to be written so that people know how to get it ready. And obviously, it’s a lot of work, but it also, I think it helps focus us because deadlines are really useful for us, it helps make us work –

John: It also means that you get to do one thing at a time largely, so you are writing a show, you’re shooting a show or you’re editing a show –

D.B.: No, because we’re outlining for season seven and we’re also editing season six, and tomorrow, we’re going in to do sound. Sound tomorrow?

David: Yes.

D.B.: Ethan, sound? Okay.

John: Right, so there still is that –

D.B.: It separates it more than you would normally have it separated. It’s at least the bulk of the writing has been done, so you’re rewriting while you’re shooting, and the bulk of the editing gets done after that –

David: People are leaving in droves, by the way. We need a new question.

D.B.: Well, that guy is going to the bathroom. So, is that Gatins?

Craig: All right, well here, I’ll keep them from leaving. Is Jon Snow alive or what?

David: Jon Snow is dead.

Craig: Okay. Next, I have a question for you. Wait, I have one last question for you. I’m going to say some presidential candidates, you’re going to tell me what character is best matched to them on Game of Thrones. Ted Cruz.

David: Joffrey.

Craig: What?

D.B.: Joffrey.

Craig: Not Ramsey? Because I lived with him.

D.B.: Oh, you know then.

David: Ramsey is actually kind of a badass. Like Ramsey fights –

Craig: You’re right, you’re right. He actually does, he accomplishes things. Correct. By the way, alive or dead characters, doesn’t matter, obviously. Chris Christie?

David: You almost got in trouble there. Go.

D.B.: I don’t know enough.

Craig: Terrible answer.

D.B.: Chris Christine?

David: Walder Frey.

D.B.: No, he’s better than that Walder Frey.

Craig: Yeah. That’s wrong, Robert Baratheon was the answer.

David: Yeah, yeah.

John: Yeah, that would be good, yeah.

D.B.: You have the answers, just give the answers.

Craig: Okay, two more, two more. Hillary Clinton.

David: Careful.

D.B.: You want us to say Cersie.

Craig: No, that’s not the right answer. There is an answer to this.

David: Olenna?

Craig: No.

D.B.: Well, what’s the answer?

Craig: The answer is Stannis because it’s like, “I’m supposed to be king.”

John: Wait…well, yeah, you’re good.

Craig: Why is there even a debate?

John: You could make the same argument for Jeb Bush, honestly, as Stannis.

Craig: Yes, but Jeb is more well, okay, one last one.

John: All right.

Craig: Ben Carson.

D.B.: I don’t, Mord the jailer? I don’t know.

Craig: Hodor.

D.B.: We both — we had the same answer.

Craig: The answer was Hodor.

D.B.: We had the same answer.

John: I like that special feature where Craig tells you who your characters are.

Craig: Yes, learn your show, guys.

John: On our podcast, on a weekly basis, we give a One Cool Thing. Craig usually forgets, but he remembered this time.

Craig: Yeah, I totally did.

John: So, Craig, do you want to tell us your One Cool Thing?

Craig: Yes. It’s going to sound freaking crazy, but I read about this in Wired, and it’s true. Microsoft Outlook, hold on, worst desktop email client ever. They have a client, they have an app for iPhone now, it’s outstanding, it’s really good, it’s better than any of the other ones I’ve ever used. So I’m actually using Microsoft Outlook on my iPhone and it’s free and it really works good, I mean, I know, it sounds crazy. But, you know –

D.B.: I feel like however many people left during my editing spiel, fives times as many just left after.

Craig: I got to point out, they’re riveted.

John: My One Cool Thing is a series of YouTube videos you can find which provides 12-hour or 24-hour loops of ambient noise including ambient noise from like the Star Trek –

Craig: See? See?

John: Star Trek Enterprise. And so you know you’re writing, so this guy who wrote in and who couldn’t write, he needs some background distraction noise, so they have the ambient noise from like all your favorite sci-fi movies.

Craig: You should be one of those noises by the way.

John: Yeah, yeah. So maybe rather than bleeping out this profanity, we’ll put in some ambient background behind all the stuff.

Craig: Yeah, ambient background.

John: And it was really good if you’re just like you’re at a coffee shop and you don’t want to hear the people talking next to you, you put on the headphones and listen to some ambient noise.

Jason: When is the last time either one of you guys got laid?

John: I got laid this week. It was amazing.

Craig: When did I last get laid? It was like last week. It was like last week!

David: Like last week.

Craig: Yeah. Last week-ish.

Jason: With some ambient noise and preceded by the five tones.

John: Yeah.

Jason: I get it. This is an incredible group.

John: All right.

Craig: We can’t all be good looking…

John: For writers, we’re pretty good. Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel, who’s here. Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro. Thank you, Matthew. We really need to thank Hollywood Heart for having us here tonight. Thank you guys so, so much.

Guys, thank you all very, very, very much.

Craig: Thank you, guys.

John: It’s been a tremendous amount of fun. Thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, guys.

Links:

Tuesday Reviewsday, vol. 3

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 17:22

One of my aims for 2016 is to leave more reviews for the products I love. Every Tuesday I’ll be writing reviews on the applicable store.

Today’s picks are:

If you’re looking for something to review, many readers are probably familiar with some of the things we make, including Highland, Weekend Read and Writer Emergency Pack.

Podcasts are especially review-dependent, because they signal to the powers at iTunes to feature certain shows. A review for Scriptnotes would be much-appreciated.

The one with Jason Bateman and the Game of Thrones guys

Tue, 02/02/2016 - 08:03

With a live audience in downtown Los Angeles, Craig and John welcome actor/director Jason Bateman to discuss what he looks for when considering a script, and how to best work with a writer on a script.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, co-creators and showrunners of Game of Thrones, join us to reveal the challenges of writing the show so far in advance, working through arguments, and Craig’s secret backstory on the pilot.

Screenwriter John Gatins tells us his history with Hollywood Heart, the charity organizing the event. Our thanks to them, our sponsors and everyone who came. The night raised thousands of dollars to help disadvantaged kids across the country experience summer arts camp.

You can find more info about Hollywood Heart in the links below.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Five jokes, considered

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 11:42

Jesse David Fox assembled a list of 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy.

I don’t necessarily agree with many of his choices, but it’s a good excuse to look at a few jokes and appreciate why they work.

“What’s the difference between a pickpocket and peeping tom? A pickpocket snatches watches.” – Redd Foxx

It begins with a classic joke setup, but instead of a punchline, it relies on the audience doing the work of parsing “watching snatches.” It’s naughty rather than dirty, and better for it. This kind of joke would be difficult to fit into a movie, because it relies on that pause while the audience figures out the second part.

“Turn right here? [Pause.] Well, now that was my fault again. You see I meant the next street. Not this man’s lawn.” – Bob Newhart

Newhart’s comedy goes hand-in-hand with his too-obliging persona, but the setup here is solid: he creates the expectation of a car turning right at an intersection, and then defeats it with a surprise visual gag.

In the movie version of this joke, the punchline would happen before the car turned. (“Turn right here. (beat) No, not this man’s lawn.”) Alternately, the car drives onto the lawn, likely during the initial pause.

“I was raped by a doctor…which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.” – Sarah Silverman

I was in the audience for the taping of Silverman’s Jesus is Magic special, and laughed so much it hurt the next day. Like many of her best jokes, it relies on a premise of “I’m a terrible person for saying this but…”

As dialogue, this kind of joke is easy to give to the right character. The same hold true for this one:

“The other kid we have, she’s a girl, and she’s 4, and she’s also a fucking asshole.” – Louis C.K.

This line from the Girls pilot also walks that line of knowing you’re saying something insufferable:

“I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.” – Hannah (Lena Dunham)

I don’t have reason to write many jokes. Most of the projects I work on are either dramas or premise-funny rather than punchline-funny. But I always admire well-crafted jokes. They’re tiny works of magic.

It’s franchises all the way down

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 14:52

Over lunch, I wondered aloud how many of the 100 top grossing movies were either sequels or the first film in a franchise.

Take a moment and think about it.

Of the top movies, what percentage are part of a larger franchise? And we’re only counting theatrical. For this exercise, home video sequels don’t count.

Around the table, guesses ranged from 50 to 83 movies.

The answer is 87. Yes, 87 of the 100 all-time worldwide top-grossing movies are part of a franchise.

Here is the list:

Rank Title Type 1 Avatar Franchise Origin† 2 Titanic Single 3 Star Wars: The Force Awakens Franchise 4 Jurassic World Franchise 5 Marvel’s The Avengers Franchise 6 Furious 7 Franchise 7 Avengers: Age of Ultron Franchise 8 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Franchise 9 Frozen Franchise Origin† 10 Iron Man 3 Franchise 11 Minions Franchise 12 Transformers: Dark of the Moon Franchise 13 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Franchise 14 Skyfall Franchise 15 Transformers: Age of Extinction Franchise 16 The Dark Knight Rises Franchise 17 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest Franchise 18 Toy Story 3 Franchise 19 Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides Franchise 20 Jurassic Park Franchise Origin 21 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace Franchise 22 Alice in Wonderland (2010) Franchise Origin 23 The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Franchise 24 The Dark Knight Franchise 25 The Lion King Single 26 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Franchise Origin 27 Despicable Me 2 Franchise 28 Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End Franchise 29 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 Franchise 30 The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Franchise 31 The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies Franchise 32 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Franchise 33 Finding Nemo Franchise Origin† 34 Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Franchise 35 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Franchise 36 Shrek 2 Franchise 37 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Franchise 38 Spider-Man 3 Franchise 39 Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs Franchise 40 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets Franchise 41 Spectre Franchise 42 Ice Age: Continental Drift Franchise 43 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Franchise 44 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire Franchise 45 Inside Out Single 46 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith Franchise 47 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Franchise 48 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 Franchise 49 Inception Single 50 Spider-Man Franchise 51 Independence Day Franchise 52 Shrek the Third Franchise 53 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Franchise 54 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial Single 55 Fast & Furious 6 Franchise 56 Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Franchise 57 Spider-Man 2 Franchise 58 Star Wars Franchise Origin 59 Guardians of the Galaxy Franchise Origin 60 2012 Single 61 Maleficent Franchise* 62 The Da Vinci Code Franchise Origin 63 The Amazing Spider-Man Franchise 64 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 Franchise 65 Shrek Forever After Franchise 66 X-Men: Days of Future Past Franchise 67 Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted Franchise 68 The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe Franchise 69 Monsters University Franchise 70 The Matrix Reloaded Franchise 71 Up Single 72 Gravity Franchise 73 Captain America: The Winter Soldier Franchise 74 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1 Franchise 75 Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Franchise 76 The Twilight Saga: New Moon Franchise 77 Transformers Franchise Origin 78 The Amazing Spider-Man 2 Franchise 79 The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Franchise 80 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol Franchise 81 The Hunger Games Franchise Origin 82 Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation Franchise 83 Forrest Gump Single 84 Interstellar Single 85 The Sixth Sense Single 86 Man of Steel Franchise 87 Kung Fu Panda 2 Franchise 88 Ice Age: The Meltdown Franchise 89 Big Hero 6 Single 90 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl Franchise 91 The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 Franchise 92 Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones Franchise 93 Thor: The Dark World Franchise 94 Kung Fu Panda Franchise Origin 95 The Incredibles Franchise Origin 96 Fast Five Franchise 97 Hancock Single 98 MIB 3 Franchise 99 Iron Man 2 Franchise 100 Ratatouille Single

Films marked † have a sequel in production or very nearly so. Films marked * could be considered part of a franchise, but I’ve left them as Single for this list.

It’s worth taking a closer look at the 13 films that never got a sequel, and why:

Titanic, 2012, Interstellar
You can’t sink the same boat twice. (Or blow up the same planet.)

E.T.
There was apparently talk of a sequel at some point.

Forrest Gump
Eric Roth actually wrote a sequel.

The Lion King, Ratatouille, Up, Inside Out, Big Hero 6
There are rumblings of a Big Hero 6 sequel, and it’s not impossible to imagine big-screen sequels to all of these. I’d put money on some new version of The Lion King.

Inception, The Sixth Sense
DiCaprio has never done a sequel. But could you do Inception 2 without him? Sure. And you could do a Sixth Sense sequel without Bruce Willis. I bet we’ll get one of these.

Hancock
Not a hit, not a bomb, but not crying out for a sequel. Also, it’s low enough on the list that it will be knocked off soon.

Whenever you talk about the top-grossing movies, the first question is always, “What about adjusting for inflation?” (Also known as, “What about Gone with the Wind?”)

Fine. Let’s do that.

Here are the top 100 movies of all time, adjusted for inflation:

Rank Title Year Type 1 Gone with the Wind 1939^ Single 2 Star Wars 1977^ Franchise Origin 3 The Sound of Music 1965 Single 4 E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial 1982^ Single 5 Titanic 1997^ Single 6 The Ten Commandments 1956 Single 7 Jaws 1975 Franchise Origin 8 Doctor Zhivago 1965 Single 9 The Exorcist 1973^ Franchise Origin 10 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs 1937^ Single 11 Star Wars: The Force Awakens 2015 Franchise 12 101 Dalmatians 1961^ Franchise 13 The Empire Strikes Back 1980^ Franchise 14 Ben-Hur 1959 Single 15 Avatar 2009^ Single 16 Return of the Jedi 1983^ Franchise 17 Jurassic Park 1993^ Franchise Origin 18 Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace 1999^ Franchise 19 The Lion King 1994^ Single 20 The Sting 1973 Single 21 Raiders of the Lost Ark 1981^ Franchise Origin 22 The Graduate 1967^ Single 23 Fantasia 1941^ Single 24 Jurassic World 2015 Franchise 25 The Godfather 1972^ Franchise Origin 26 Forrest Gump 1994^ Single 27 Mary Poppins 1964^ Single 28 Grease 1978^ Franchise Origin 29 Marvel’s The Avengers 2012 Franchise 30 Thunderball 1965 Franchise 31 The Dark Knight 2008^ Franchise 32 The Jungle Book 1967^ Single 33 Sleeping Beauty 1959^ Single 34 Ghostbusters 1984^ Franchise Origin 35 Shrek 2 2004 Franchise 36 Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969 Single 37 Love Story 1970 Single 38 Spider-Man 2002 Franchise Origin 39 Independence Day 1996^ Franchise Origin 40 Home Alone 1990 Franchise Origin 41 Pinocchio 1940^ Single 42 Cleopatra (1963) 1963 Single 43 Beverly Hills Cop 1984 Franchise Origin 44 Goldfinger 1964 Franchise 45 Airport 1970 Franchise Origin 46 American Graffiti 1973 Single 47 The Robe 1953 Single 48 Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest 2006 Franchise 49 Around the World in 80 Days 1956 Single 50 Bambi 1942^ Single 51 Blazing Saddles 1974^ Single 52 Batman 1989 Franchise Origin 53 The Bells of St. Mary’s 1945 Single 54 The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King 2003^ Franchise 55 Finding Nemo 2003^ Franchise Origin 56 The Towering Inferno 1974 Single 57 Spider-Man 2 2004 Franchise 58 My Fair Lady 1964 Single 59 The Greatest Show on Earth 1952 Single 60 National Lampoon’s Animal House 1978^ Single 61 The Passion of the Christ 2004^ Single 62 Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith 2005^ Franchise 63 Back to the Future 1985 Franchise Origin 64 The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers 2002^ Franchise 65 The Dark Knight Rises 2012 Franchise 66 The Sixth Sense 1999 Single 67 Superman 1978 Franchise Origin 68 Tootsie 1982 Single 69 Smokey and the Bandit 1977 Franchise Origin 70 West Side Story 1961 Single 71 Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 2001 Franchise Origin 72 Lady and the Tramp 1955^ Single 73 Close Encounters of the Third Kind 1977^ Single 74 Lawrence of Arabia 1962^ Single 75 The Rocky Horror Picture Show 1975 Single 76 Rocky 1976 Franchise Origin 77 The Best Years of Our Lives 1946 Single 78 The Poseidon Adventure 1972 Franchise Origin 79 The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring 2001^ Franchise Origin 80 Twister 1996 Single 81 Men in Black 1997 Franchise Origin 82 The Bridge on the River Kwai 1957 Single 83 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen 2009 Franchise 84 It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World 1963 Single 85 Swiss Family Robinson 1960 Single 86 One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest 1975 Single 87 M.A.S.H. 1970 Single 88 Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom 1984 Franchise 89 Avengers: Age of Ultron 2015 Franchise 90 Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones 2002^ Franchise 91 Mrs. Doubtfire 1993 Single 92 Aladdin 1992 Single 93 Toy Story 3 2010 Franchise 94 Ghost 1990 Single 95 The Hunger Games: Catching Fire 2013 Franchise 96 Duel in the Sun 1946 Single 97 The Hunger Games 2012 Franchise Origin 98 Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl 2003 Franchise 99 House of Wax 1953 Single 100 Rear Window 1954^ Single

The ^ indicates that a film has been re-released, which can raise its rank. When in doubt, I’ve labelled films as Single (e.g. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs).

What can we learn from looking at the inflation-adjusted list? Well, of the top 100 movies, 53 are neither a sequel nor the start of a franchise. That’s a huge difference from the non-adjusted list.

Hollywood didn’t always make sequels from every hit.

A few observations I’ve made from this exercise:

  1. Franchises are a huge part of how Hollywood makes money, not just now but historically.
  2. Franchises have to start somewhere. You don’t get Minions without Despicable Me (which isn’t in the top 100).
  3. Some franchises I’ve ignored (e.g. The Hobbit, Transformers) have made bank.
  4. James Bond is a good business to be in.
  5. There’s a reason studios don’t want you to kill the hero at the end of the movie.

Weekend Read can read scripts aloud

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 11:14

Weekend Read, our app for reading screenplays on the iPhone and iPad, can also read them aloud. Here’s how to do it.

Ask Siri to “speak screen.” If you don’t already have Speech turned on, Siri will offer a link to the proper settings page:

Tap Open Settings, then switch on Speak Screen.

While you’re here, you can also choose a speaking voice in the Voices menu.

Then go back to Weekend Read and open a script.

To have it start reading aloud, swipe down from the top of the screen with two fingers, or just ask Siri to “speak screen.”

A set of controls appears, allowing you jump forward and back paragraphs, and adjust the reading speed.

Once you start it speaking, you can even change apps and it will keep going.

How did we do it? Honestly, we didn’t have to do a lot.

Almost all of this is built-in functionality provided by Apple’s Accessibility features. Behind the scenes, Weekend Read converts everything to Fountain, a plain-text format that feeds right into the system. By keeping it simple (and not cheating with view controllers) it just works.

For an upcoming version of Weekend Read, we’re working on small improvements such as “Mary says” and automatic expansion of abbreviations like “INT” and “V.O.”

You can find Weekend Read in the App Store.

Scriptnotes, Ep 234: The Script Graveyard — Transcript

Thu, 01/28/2016 - 10:06

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 234 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Very often on the program we will talk about the birth of a project, the excitement of bringing a movie to life. This is not one of those episodes. Today, we’re going to take a look at what happens to scripts when they die. So join us, won’t you, as we visit the screenplay graveyard.

Craig: I like that you did the “Join us, won’t you?” You’re picking up — it’s a Longworth-ism.

John: It is. I’m playing the Longworthicon.

Craig: Yeah. I think it’s — yeah, is it Longworthism, Longworth-ism?

John: Longworthism, yeah, sure.

Craig: But I like long. It’s like because it’s worthy.

John: As long as it was Longworthy, that’s important.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So Karina Longworth, we’ve talked about her podcast often. You Must Remember This is the name of the podcast. And also, like a good advice is that you must remember her podcast because it’s such a terrific resource for people curious about the early years of Hollywood.

Craig: Right. And all the people that she talks about are dead. So it’s a good — it’s in keeping with our theme today.

John: Indeed. On our last episode, we promised that if you left a review in iTunes for us, we’d read those reviews aloud. And so we’ve got a few of those. They’re all five-star reviews because you are the best, and apparently, you think we’re the best. So we’re going to quickly read some of these reviews that were left for us on iTunes this past week.

Craig: Should I start?

John: Start.

Craig: I like that the reviews get little titles. You know, people come with fun little titles.

This title is “Yes. This. Yes” by Arlow Thompson. “Possibly the most useful screenwriting tool ever created, not to mention engaging and very entertaining. I can’t thank John and Craig enough for the wisdom and humor they dole out weekly.”

John: Oh, thank you Arlow.

Craig: That’s really nice.

John: So Breezy Nuts writes — [laughs]

Craig: You know, I wasn’t planning this but it’s worked out great. [laughs]

John: “A Free Neuro Exam. If you have any interest in screenwriting and you do not like this podcast, please see a doctor immediately because something is horribly wrong with you.”

Craig: Like for instance, you’ve got breezy nuts. [laughs]

John: What I like about Breezy Nuts is like that’s actually the handle here she had to create in order to leave this thing. So if he or she leaves other comments somewhere else — let’s say — it’s a he — when he leaves comments for some other thing, it will be Breezy Nuts. [laughs]

Craig: There is literally zero chance that Breezy Nuts is a woman. [laughs] Women are simply too good. They’re too good to call themselves Breezy Nuts. [laughs] What is a breezy nut?

John: I don’t know, someone who is free-rolling, someone who’s not refined by briefs.

Craig: Right. Well, here’s somebody called Josephine. I’m not sure how to pronounce that. But regardless, it says, “Interesting even though I’m not in the industry. I write fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, and I find this podcast incredibly useful in terms of what makes a good story. It’s also just interesting to get a window into the screenwriting world, to hear about what goes into the movies and TV I love.”

John: Oh, well thank you Josephine.

Craig: I like when people that aren’t necessarily doing movie and TV listen to this anyway. I like — I think there’s — you know, we have a nice little community of writers. And writers, no matter what you’re writing, we’re all in the same boat of misery.

John: Absolutely. And Becca Baldwin calls this, “Team Scriptnotes. Interesting, inspiring, empowering, and free even, or $1.99 a month, so you know, free.”

So thank you, Becca, for that.

Craig: Awesome.

John: The $1.99 reference is for people who want the premium feed at scriptnotes.net where you can go back to the first 232 episodes of this show and listen to those and catch up if you’re a new listener.

But thank you very much for everyone who’s left a review. It actually really does help us a lot because it gets attention within the iTunes ecosystem and gets them to feature us more prominently. So it’s nice for that.

Craig: Thank you folks.

John: If you are a person who attended our Lawrence Kasdan session with Jason Bateman last night, I hope you had a great time. We’re recording this before that time so we have no idea how it went, but hopefully it was great. That episode will be in the feed some point in the future. So I’m not sure if it will be next week but we will definitely have that episode for everyone to listen to.

Craig: Can you just promise me that if, for some reason, Jason goes crazy, attacks Larry, Larry has a fatal heart attack.

John: Yes.

Craig: Jason is arrested and sent downtown for murder, that we will not edit what you just said. [laughs]

John: Yes. I will leave it exactly untouched. Matthew has strict orders to not address reality in this podcast.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: Yeah. Matthew is mostly there to make sure that my fumbles and misspeakings are not corrected.

Craig: Misspeakings was almost self-definitional. [laughs]

John: So it’s fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get to some follow-up from last week’s episode.

So we talked about How Would This Be a Movie? And two of the three things we talked about like How Would This be a Movie actually are movies or are about to be movies. So first off we had the Hatton Garden’s robbery, which was a bunch of old men who committed an audacious two-day bank heist.

Craig: Yeah. And not only is this something that I think is currently in production — or I guess it’s about to go into production or something. But I actually got an email from a producer friend of mine who said, “I went after the rights to that thing and lost to the guy that’s doing the version that they’re planning.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Now, we never know. You know, people get the rights to a story, and then they develop a screenplay and try and get financing. And sometimes the movie happens, and sometimes it ends up in the dead letter file we’re going to be describing later.

So we don’t know if it’s going to be a movie. But it certainly seems like, yeah, that was — I mean, we both felt that was the obvious one. And it turns out yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s pretty obvious.

John: So we’ll put a link in the show notes to an article in The Guardian that talks about the movie that’s apparently going into production. The script written by Simon Cluett. They say it’s in production. But really, if you’ve look at the language that they’re talking about, they’re not announcing the director or the cast. They’re really in development. But it sounds like they’re trying to get that movie made.

Also, a listener, Andrew Aman, wrote in to point out that the real men in this robbery were not nearly the Robin Hood characters that we sort of had described. They’re actually — I’ll put up an article that also shows sort of their criminal history and sort of the things that they’ve done, including like dousing a man in gasoline.

It seems like they’re actually a little bit more like old Reservoir Dogs rather than old Robin Hood. So sometimes real life doesn’t match what you kind of wish it would be for movie purposes.

Craig: Yeah. Well, you know, we did — I think when we were talking about what it could possibly be, we started to zero in on the idea that maybe one of these guys was actually pretty dark. Criminals tend to be dark.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. It reminded me a little bit, once I started reading about the real thing, it reminded a little bit of Begbie, you know, from Trainspotting, you know, there’s a group of mates, and then there’s one of them that’s just psychotic.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it does sound like — yeah. You know, all too often, we get suckered into the narrative. The Robin Hood narrative is very seductive. But generally speaking, people that do stuff like break into banks are not good people.

John: Yeah. I would tend to agree.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We also talked about — sleep paralysis was the second topic we talked about in our How Would This Be a Movie? And there actually was a sleep paralysis movie that I’d forgotten about. And so this was not strictly a fictional film. It’s by Rodney Ascher who also did Room 237 which looked at the conspiracy theory surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining.

So he made a movie that’s about sleep paralysis that uses a similar kind of technique to explore people’s experiences with sleep paralysis. So that’s out there in the world. But it’s not the horror thriller version that I think we both foresaw someone trying to make.

Craig: Well, it’s not too late.

John: It’s not too late.

Craig: Somebody will do it.

John: It’s an open ball.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Someone dive on that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Also on an open ball, I tweeted this this morning, you’ve seen about the ninth planet they’re pretty sure exists now?

Craig: Yeah. Yeah, I did see that.

John: Yeah. So I mean, someone will make a movie called Planet Nine. And we’ll see what that is.

My pitch for it was that it turns out it’s not a planet whatsoever. It’s actually some very massive alien thing that’s been lying dormant out there. And in our attempt to discover it, we will turn it on. And we’re going to regret that.

Craig: Yeah. I like that.

My pitch is, we discover this ninth planet and it’s totally inhabited. In fact, it’s almost exactly like ours.

John: Yeah?

Craig: And then we start to think, “Wait a second, is that a real planet, or is that just a reflection of ours? Or are we the reflection?”

John: Yeah. I mean, we’re already — we’re living in a simulation, regardless.

Craig: Regardless. But I’m going for — I’m going for trippy. I’m going for a head trip.

John: All right.

Craig: I like you’re going alien super structure.

John: They’re both great choices.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

The other bit of follow-up was from our discussion of Matt. And so if you remember, Matt was a guy who had a 10-block walk in the cold to his favorite coffee shop. He couldn’t do it in the winter. He’s in New York City. But he lives in a studio apartment with his wife, so he couldn’t write in the apartment.

And so we asked our listeners for their suggestions about places Matt could write or solutions to Matt’s problem. And five of them wrote in with really good ideas. So I thought we’d read through some of their suggestions.

Craig: All right.

So RJ has a pretty decent one. He said, when he first moved to LA he lived in a two-bedroom, one bath with his wife and another couple.

Wow, that’s a lot of people. That’s almost Charlie Bucket-esque.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There was no space for him to write. So what he did was he ended up locking himself in the bathroom. He put on headphones and he just worked in the bathroom, which, you know, he says worked like a charm.

Eh, you know, it’s still a bathroom.

John: Yeah, but it’s your own room.

Craig: It’s your own room, I guess, yeah. You know, if there’s — I would think that there would have to be — he says it’s a two-bed, one bath. So all the other people in your crash pad are just going to have to hold it in for a while until you finish your scene.

John: Yep. I got it. Someone has needs. You have needs, too. Your characters have needs. They need to be written. [laughs]

Craig: You know what this guy has?

John: What?

Craig: Breezy nuts.

John: Yes, breezy nuts. He’s free-balling.

Liz writes, I have two four-hour blocks per week in which my boyfriend is not allowed in the apartment at all. My boyfriend uses his time to practice flying his quadcopter or to go to the gym.

Craig: [laughs]

John: It took us awhile to come to this, but the degree of stress and resentment relief he saw in me when we made this time sacrosanct was significant enough to make it totally worth his while. And he actually likes having an enforced me-time out of the house that can’t be wasted on Reddit.

That’s a smart solution.

Craig: It is. And I feel like I know Liz’s boyfriend just from the description. He goes to the gym, okay. Gym bro.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But likes to practice flying his quadcopter and Redditor.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I feel like actually we’d get along pretty well with this guy.

John: I think it’s going to be a good choice.

Craig: Yeah.

David says that he finds himself in Matt’s exact same position. His solution, his apartment, and most have a TV room. Some call it a theater, some call it a movie room, but most apartments I’ve been in have something similar. If not the lobby, lounge is also good.

Well, Matt, I think said he was in a studio apartment. Studio apartments don’t have more than one room. They’ve got a room that bleeds into a kitchen. And the only separate room really is the bathroom, right?

John: So I think David is mistaken because I think he — wherever David is living, which may not be the US, stuff may be set up a little bit differently. I think he’s thinking sort of like more how dorms used to work, where there was like a TV room or like a –

Craig: Oh, like a common space.

John: A common room.

Craig: Got it.

John: And so that lobby aspect of it is true. And there very well could be some sort of public entry vestibule kind of place where you could kick back with your laptop and write. It’s entirely possible.

The laundry room is a possibility, too, if your building has a laundry room.

Craig: That’s an interesting one.

John: Some place that’s not your main space.

Craig: Yeah. In New York you’ll see that less frequently than you will in LA.

John: Oh, for sure.

Craig: Yeah. They just don’t have the space to waste it on lobbies and so forth, or big ones.

John: Yeah.

Do you want to do Tom?

Craig: Sure. Tom says he does a lot of writing at a local pub. So Tom is an alcoholic.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’m sorry, Tom.

He does a lot of writing at a local pub to the point that the first serious script he co-wrote was based in a pub. And when the owner — he’s such an alcoholic. [laughs] And when the owner of the pub heard about it, the owner offered up the actual pub as a location for the project. And they ended up shooting there for a couple of days. So that actually worked out pretty well.

John: That worked out great.

Craig: Yeah. As long as Tom isn’t just, you know, drinking himself to death, that’s the only thing.

John: Yeah. I’m a big fan of going to sort of bar kind of places for lunch because if you’re not actually drinking there, there are sometimes decent food and they are really quiet. So there have been times where I’ve been in New York and I will go to a place that’s sort of mostly a night place. And if you’re there during the day, it’s kind of empty.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Finally, Jessica writes, “If he doesn’t mind spending money, there’s an app called Breather that lets you book a workspace for an hourly fee. It’s available in New York.” And so we’ll put a link to their website, an article in Fast Company.

So this is not something I was aware of, but it does make sense, especially in a city like New York where everything is just so busy and so crowded that just assuming you could — you know, Uber for a car, you could probably Uber for some space to do some work.

Craig: This is really interesting. It’s sort of like the Airbnb of offices.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you could just hire an office for an hour. Because that’s the thing about New York, everything is so constrained and all resources are so diminished that if you have an office and you’re not in it for a day, you’re losing money by not renting it to somebody.

John: Yup.

Craig: Which is crazy, but true.

John: Yeah. So I mean, some sort of shared workspace might be a possibility. And you’re going to find some combination of things that will get through it. There’s probably not going to be one way that’s going to magically solve all of these problems. But just, you know, carve out the time more than anything else, and then find the space.

Craig: Yeah, absolutely. When there is a will, there is a way. You’ll figure it out.

John: Cool.

We have a question from John Hess. And John Hess has this website that does a series of videos about filmmaking that’s really useful. So there will be a link to his website in our show notes.

John Hess writes, “I am in the process of putting together a video for filmmakers and the general movie goer that tries to explain the function of every credit they would see in the end titles. It’s a big task, obviously, and I can only dedicate a little bit of time to each role. But I do want to dedicate more time to explain the role of producers, directors, and screenwriters. So I want to ask you, is there some common misconception about the screenwriting credit you wish the average movie-going audience would know?”

Craig, how about you? You can start.

Craig: That’s really good. I’m glad that he’s doing it.

Well, here’s one, a simple one. Unlike everybody else’s credit, which is, okay, you acted in the movie or you directed the movie, or edited the movie, we have two kinds of credits. We have story credit and screenplay credit.

So it would be great for people to know, first of all, that when they see Written By, it means story and screenplay. If they see a story credit, what that means is that those writers were responsible for what we think of as the basic plot, the basic characters, the basic idea, the basic themes. The way I like to put it is those people are responsible for stuff that could have been put in a prose document describing what the movie would be.

Screenplay is the credit we give to people that actually then are responsible for the authorship of the execution. So individual scenes, how they are crafted, the ins and outs, the transitions, all the dialogue, the way that the basic characters are expressed.

So it’s an interesting dichotomy. People aren’t aware that it exists. And sometimes you won’t see any story credit. And in that case it’s because the movie was based on an underlying property and the story of that property really is the story of the movie, so no writer is going to get additional story credit for it.

John: Yeah. I do think when people see the story credit, they assume like, “Oh, it’s based on a short story, or it’s based on something like that.” It just means that, you know, it could have been based on a screenplay but the screenplay’s story, a certain writer got credit for that and someone else got credit for writing the screenplay.

Craig: Yeah. Sometimes somebody will write a treatment, which is what we call a summary of a movie. You know, a prose summary of a movie. And then someone else will write a screenplay. Well, the person that wrote the treatment, that’s a story credit thing. And the person that wrote the screenplay is a screenplay thing.

Where it gets tricky is sometimes people do write screenplays. But then a subsequent screenwriter is really just taking the story elements from it and writing a new screenplay of it.

So you know, how you can get to a story credit? Lots of different ways.

The other thing you’ll see is Screen Story By. And all that means is, it’s the same thing as Story By. It’s just the term we use when the movie was based on a book or something. But the story of the movie is significantly different from the story of the underlying property or the underlying property didn’t have much of a story at all.

John: I’m trying to think of the simpler way that he can explain that because that was so long.

I would say a story is what we kind of think of as plot and screenplay is everything that you think of as being the movie. So the scenes — the scenes, the characters, the dialogue.

That’s the very short version. That’s not quite fully flushed out but would get people through most of it.

The simple thing I want to point out to people is the difference between the word and — A-N-D — and the ampersand, because people often ask about that.

An ampersand means that those two writers worked together as a team. The words A-N-D mean that those two writers worked separately. So you could tell if someone’s a writing team because there’s an ampersand between their names.

And so sometimes those credits look kind of strange because it will be Writer A & Writer B and Writer C. And that’s because letter A and B are a team and writer C worked on his own.

Craig: Correct. That’s a very good summary.

John: Great. All right, let’s get to our main topic for the day.

So this actually came up because over the weekend I decided to do some housecleaning. And I went through a bunch of old file cabinets, like literal file cabinets where I had stuff from a bunch of old projects. I also went through and cleaned up some stuff from my hard drive, moved some stuff on to Dropbox, got rid of some stuff I didn’t need. And I came across so many old things.

And one of the things I came across was this project called Father Knows Less. I’m like, “What is this?” And it’s like, “Oh, my god! I actually wrote this script and I did not even remember it.”

But I didn’t even start writing it. Aline Brosh McKenna, our friend of Scriptnotes, she wrote this script. It was a spec script she wrote and sold. And how I first met Aline Brosh McKenna is I was hired on to rewrite her.

And so I called her before rewriting and saying like, “Hey, this is incredibly awkward. But our mutual friend John Gatins said that you are an awesome person and I should talk to you before I start rewriting this.” And that was our first conversation ever in this entire history of the world was about her script. And so –

Craig: See, that’s wonderful, actually.

John: That’s wonderful. And that’s why — by the way, that’s what you should do when you’re coming on to a project, is talk to the previous writer. Unless there’s some crazy bad blood reason why you don’t talk to that writer, talk to that writer.

And so she was great. And she told me the history of the project and sort of where the bodies were buried and why she wasn’t writing the next draft. And I did my very best on the project and it never got made. It became a dead movie.

So I thought we would talk about dead movies, dead screenplays, the things we’ve written that have never gotten made.

Craig: I like the idea of dead movies. And I’ll tell you why. I always feel like I have two possible jobs. Either I’m going to convince everybody that we’re making this movie or I’m going to convince everybody to kill it. [laughs] To me, the only failure is when you don’t convince them to make it. And they’re also like, “But we do want to make it, just not with you.” [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I like — I’m always trying to either make it or kill it. And I’ve succeeded to kill quite a few of these things. [laughs]

John: I don’t think I’ve ever deliberately killed a movie. I think anything that died on the table was — it was just going to die by itself.

Craig: Well, no. I mean, I didn’t set out to kill it. But in my effort — I think what I did was I proved beyond a shadow of doubt that there was no possible movie there. [laughs]

They’re like, “You did the best possible job we can think of and you’ve convinced us to not make this.” [laughs] So this has happened a number of times. It’s very gratifying.

John: So each of us has in front of us a long list of movies that we’ve written that have not gotten made. And when I say movies we’ve written, I deliberately excluded anything that was just a rewrite. So these are only projects that I was the first writer on or sort of initiated.

Craig: Oh. Okay.

John: So you have a few that maybe some rewrites. But like, my list of like 15, these are like original things I wrote.

Craig: Actually, I’m looking at it. And nope, they’re all — one was a page one.

John: Right. So why don’t you quickly go through yours, I’m going to quickly go through mine. But then let’s talk about the patterns we notice about why these movies are dead movies.

Craig: Sure. Okay. So mine range from 1998 to 2011, and here they are in the order.

1998, the Texas Grease War. This was a spec script about guys in Texas who were stealing grease from fast food places to sell them. And it was this very morose, sad downer that I wrote mostly just to show people that I can write other things.

John: And that was a spec script.

Craig: It was a spec and it was based on just some information that a couple of friends of mine had brought me. They were producers. But it wasn’t anything anyone had ever asked for. And after people read it they’re like, “Yeah. Nice. But we don’t want it.” So that went to a drawer.

Next was a sad one, A Short, Happy Life. This was based on a Phillip Dick short story. And I wrote it for Miramax.

And that script actually got me a lot of attention, and it was really rewarding to work on. It was very sweet and people really liked it. But unfortunately, Miramax. So they couldn’t quite get their act together. They lost the rights to it. It just — it never — and it was also intended for Robert Benigni — I’m sorry, Roberto Benigni. And between the time I started writing it and the time I turned it in, Pinocchio happened. [laughs] So –

John: Oy.

Craig: Yeah. Then in — that was 2001.

Also in 2001, Into the Fire. This was a broad comedy that was loosely based on the idea of a guy going into the Iron Chef competition. This was during the Iron Chef craze.

And this was something that Neal Moritz and Erik Feig wanted far more than Sony ever did. [laughs] So I think they twisted Sony’s arm to hire me to write this thing. And then, Sony was like, “Well, as we said before — [laughs]

John: “We never wanted this.”

Craig: “We did not want this.”

Really sad one, from 2004 to 2006, Berkeley Breathed and I worked on various ideas for an animated movie based on Opus, his famous penguin character from Bloom County, a comic strip that has returned.

John: Yes.

Craig: It was incredibly rewarding because I was a lifelong Bloom County fan. I became friends with Berkeley. I’m friends with him to this day. And it’s just — it was so rewarding to work with him.

On the downside, Miramax. They –

John: There seems to be a recurring pattern here?

Craig: Yeah. They didn’t seem to understand that animated movies cost money and stuff. So they just couldn’t ever get their minds around the budget. It was a rough one.

In that same period, another great disappointment for me, I was hired by Miramax to adapt, Harvey, the Mary Chase play upon which also the famous Jimmy Stewart movie was made. And that one also got me a lot of great attention. And I was feeling really, really good about that. Miramax just couldn’t quite, again — it was like — it was hard. [laughs]

And none of those, like on every single one I’ve mentioned, after me, nothing, you know. I think they developed Harvey later. After the rights went away, they started a new chain of titles, so I don’t count that. At a different studio.

In 2009, for Jerry Bruckheimer, I was hired to — this was a page one rewrite. It was called Game Boys. And it was basically kind of a new take on The Last Starfighter concept.

And I loved working with Mike Stenson over there. And you know, they were really good about, you know, paying for drafts and stuff. They were total gentlemen.

Don’t write comedies for Jerry Bruckheimer. [laughs] He’s not funny and he doesn’t — he’s literally just like, why would I make a comedy?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Amazing.

Right after that, in 2010, The Secret Lives of Road Crews. This was a screenplay for Paramount. They were attempting to make a movie based on a series of Hasbro toys, which I don’t think people were familiar with then.

John: I’ve never heard of these.

Craig: I don’t think they’re familiar with now. Or they were trying maybe to create a movie that Hasbro then could create toys for. Anyway, don’t do that. [laughs]

John: Yeah. Don’t do that.

Craig: I needed a gig at the time. I was young and I needed the work.

And then lastly, The Game Changer. This was another spec script I wrote in 2011. This one I wrote for Michael Shamberg and Carla Shamberg, the producers.

And that was a great experience because, again, I was getting a chance to show like, “Look. I can do other things, you know, not just rated R comedies.” And that actually was very helpful. A lot of people took notice of it and it helped kind of open eyes. But it wasn’t a movie anyone was ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to make because it’s a very like small, thinky piece about stuff no one cared about. [laughs]

John: Before we get to my list, just on to that last thing, The Game Changer. At the time you were writing it, did you have the inkling that like, “Oh, this is too small, too quirky, and it’s never going to get made”?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Okay.

Craig: Yeah. No. I mean, in my mind, it was entirely about, “Hey, let me just show some people what I can do and if for some wackity schmackity reason somebody…” — and by the way, at this point, now even in 2016, I wouldn’t show it to anybody else again. I’ve got — I’ve done better and I’ve had better opportunities and it’s a little dated, even now, after just five years. But it served its purpose.

It was more — if anything, it was more of like a confidence builder, I would say.

John: I think I get that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. I’m going to quickly plough through mine because I have so many.

First is Here and Now, which was my first spec script. It got me an agent. But really, no one should read it. Very small. It’s sort of a Sundance movie. It’s just not fantastic.

How To Eat Fried Worms was my first paid assignment. It was for Imagine. I went through like six drafts on it. It got a director on it, Tommy Schlamme. And it was great to learn how to work with a director.

Eventually, that movie got made, but I think it’s really a very different chain of title. So I was not even involved with the arbitration on that. So it was a good first experience.

A Wrinkle in Time was based on the classic Madeleine L’Engle book. That movie I think also did get made from my chain of title but it was — I think they got — they made it really quickly as a way to sort of lock down the rights on something. So they made it like a cheapo version which I’ve never seen.

I wrote a spec called Devil’s Canyon, which was kind of aliens out west. It was like aliens in a Colorado mining town in the 1800s.

I like it. It was one of the few things I’ve rewritten sort of massively a couple of times. But then Cowboys and Aliens came along and everyone was like, “Oh, it’s like Cowboys and Aliens.” It’s like, “No. It’s not.”

Craig: I hate that.

John: Yeah. And that’s going to be a recurring theme here.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Demonology was not — it was actually technically a rewrite, but it was a page one rewrite. It was for Paramount. It was for Galen Hertz’ company. It was — like, if the girls from Clueless had to stop the apocalypse in Manhattan. And so it was a big, sort of very expensive action movie but with like Cher from Clueless. It was not going to be a movie.

Craig: [laughs]

John: I did Barbarella for Drew Barrymore. This was after Charlie’s Angels. And I loved Barbarella. And Barbarella is actually a movie I’d still love to get made. But rights became impossible on Barbarella. Two different studios controlled portions of the rights and so they got together, Warners and Fox got together to put the rights together. But still it wasn’t even clear that even they had the rights to make this thing. So they paid me.

American McGee’s Alice is my only Miramax experience. And I got Miramaxed. [laughs]

Fantasy Island was for Sony. And my take on Fantasy Island was Roarke dies on about page 10. And then the island starts falling apart and all the fantasies bleed together. And so it was — there were funny aspects but it was more of a thriller. And that was not the version that they were going to make. [laughs]

By the way, they’ve been trying to make a Fantasy Island for forever. There was an Eddie Murphy Fantasy Island.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: They’ve done everything.

Craig: I love those because eventually it gets made and then they send out the notice of credits and there’s like a thousand names on it.

John: It’ll be crazy.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. Fenwick’s Suit was — I should be giving years, too. This is 2001 Fenwick’s Suit. This was an adaptation of a charming, little book about a man whose suit comes to life. And it was actually very fun to write. It was fun to write a completely silent character and try to express emotion with a character that has no face and just has lapels. And it could’ve been great but it never went anywhere. That was Fox 2000.

Fury is a spec I wrote out of, kind of, anger. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Ruh?

John: Roar. And it is a very violent thriller about a guy who comes back from the dead. It’s actually sort of like Deadpool, in a way, but not even remotely funny.

Craig: So it’s like Deadpool without the thing that’s makes Deadpool good. [laughs]

John: Pretty much. If Deadpool was a straight, eh, or I guess that’s kind of The Crow.

Craig: Right. Yeah.

John: It sort of was like The Crow now that I think about it.

Craig: Crow-ish.

John: I actually had an offer on that. Sony wanted to buy it and they wanted to turn it into Ghost Rider at some point. And I didn’t want them to do that and so I just sat on it.

Shazam. I wrote Shazam, which was Captain Marvel, and I loved it. It was a great comedy about Billy Batson who has the power to become Shazam.

At some point The Rock was attached and The Rock is still apparently attached somewhere. But there’s some plan that he will fit into the DC Universe. That’s where I first met Jeff Johns, who’s a great, wonderful human being who runs the DC Universe. But it was not a great experience.

I did Preacher, which was based on the amazing series.

Craig: I liked that script.

John: Thank you.

Craig: I’ve read that script. That was a good one.

John: Thank you. Preacher was great. And I was — I really wanted that to be made. That was with Sam Mendes. And then it was with another director after that. I just never had the love from Sony to try to get it made.

Monsterpocalypse. I wrote a movie in which people in these giant metal suits have to battle these aliens who’ve come to destroy the world.

And at the same time, there was a movie called Pacific Rim, which was about big monsters being fought by guys in big, giant metal suits. And they were remarkably similar. And theirs got to the starting line first. And so I remember the call where they said like, “You know what? That other movie is too close. Sorry.”

Craig: Argh!

John: I wrote a Lovecraft movie for Ron Howard. That’s not a good combination of director and –

Craig: No. [laughs] But I love the — was it about Lovecraft himself or was it –

John: Oh yes, it was about Lovecraft.

Craig: Okay. Okay.

John: It’s basically — I mean, all the things he was writing about were coming true.

Craig: Oh. Oh, so, okay. So it wasn’t like a bio pic, it was –

John: No. It was like a bio pic where everything became true. So it was trying to sort of be both. It was completely historically-based –

Craig: Right.

John: And yet there were aliens coming true.

Craig: And yet there was Cthulhu.

John: Yeah. Cthulhu. So good.

Craig: Okay.

John: I wrote my Fox project. So, I — on the previous episodes we’ve talked about the deal that you and I and a bunch of other screenwriters made at Fox where we owed them an original script. I wrote that script. It could still technically happen but it is — it’s not happening right now.

And then I put two pilots on here just for good measure. I wrote a pilot called Chosen, which was for ABC, which was about a young woman who may or may not be the reincarnated prophet of this cult. And then I wrote a pilot about an industry undergoing tremendous disruption which was about two years ago and which also seems to have stalled out completely. So neither of those shot.

So those are some of the projects we’ve written that we’ve been paid to write in some cases but are not movies.

Craig: You know what strikes me is, if I were listening to this podcast –

John: Yeah.

Craig: I would think good God. It’s not like you and I haven’t had a bunch of movies made.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So we’ve been working on those movies and when you do have a movie that gets made, you tend to work on that one a lot.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It takes up a lot of time because once it’s made, it’s like okay, now we got to deal with this actor’s notes, now we’re going to deal with the producer, now we have to deal with production issues, now we have to deal with the director, and on and on and on and on and on. It takes up a lot of time. So all this time dedicated to the movies that we’ve done that people know got made. And then on top of that, a bunch of time dedicated to movies that got made that our names aren’t on.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And in between all of that, all of this.

John: Yup.

Craig: And one of the things about this job that we have as a career for those of you listening and thinking and dreaming about doing this is, the amount of writing you have to do, if you stop and think about it is insane.

John: It’s incredibly daunting. I mean, just thinking about like those 15 projects I listed, each of those is 120-page scripts that I rewrote multiple times.

Craig: Exactly. And it gets to the point, you know, I’m now about like 50%, 40% of the way through this script that I’m writing now which is the first draft of an adaptation and I’m the first guy in, so there was nothing, right? And I started writing it and it’s like I don’t even feel Fade In anymore.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know that feeling of like, “Oh, boy, here we go.” I don’t even feel it anymore, nor when I get to the end do I feel like, “Woo. Did it.” It’s all — it’s like –

John: It’s all middle.

Craig: It’s like my life is one big middle. There is no beginning, there’s no end. It’s just this endless iteration. It’s kind of a crazy thing. It reminds me a little bit of like people that want to be baseball players and you’re like you pitch and stuff, but now, “Okay, you’re going to pitch year-after-year, year-after-year, year-after-year.” Once every 5 games, 162 games a season, season after season. It’s like the grind. You have to be mentally prepared for the grind. That’s what –

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s what this drives home for me.

John: The other thing — once I put these scripts in order that it made me think about it, is sometimes you’ll look at a writer’s credits and it seems like wow, there was a long gap between those two movies that got made. Like — maybe they left the industry for a while, maybe like — no [laughs]. They wrote a bunch of stuff for other people that just was never made.

Craig: Right.

John: And that’s — that — you look at like starting with Shazam in 2008 to this pilot in 2014, there were seven movies there that I’ve written, but none of them made.

Craig: Well, precisely. And then sometimes your — and sometimes the weird thing is you’re writing them in and around movies you are making, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So people go, “Wait, you had a movie that came out that year, and you also wrote two other movies that year?” “Yeah.”

John: Yup, yup, absolutely true. Or you wrote movies that were not your movies, so you didn’t get your name on it.

Craig: Exactly, exactly.

John: That’s the thing. So let’s talk about some categories of what happened and try to break these down and figure out the patterns for why these movies are not movies. The first and most obvious ones are, the movies that just never — you never actually wrote the script. And so the things we listed ahead were the full scripts we wrote, but my files are full of these things that never actually became movies, these are the projects you pitched on, that you didn’t get, these were –

Craig: Right.

John: Ideas that sort of never fully came together. So you have a couple of those, right?

Craig: Sure. And this is a big thing that occupies time especially earlier on in your career. It still, as you go on, you will occasionally, depending on what you want to do, sometimes you will get caught up in these deals where you’re trying — you’re working hard to get something.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But when you start, that’s almost all you’re doing, is working hard to get things. There’s a bunch of these. The one that comes to mind that I remember is, there’s a AY novel called Skulduggery Pleasant. I don’t know if you ever heard of it.

John: No.

Craig: It was an Irish guy who wrote this series of books and they’re really interesting. It was about this girl whose uncle was like this cool, like an Edgar, like a modern Edgar Allan Poe. And he’s the only one in her family that she really likes. She doesn’t seem to fit in with anybody else in her family. He dies and leaves her his entire fortune but she has to spend a night in his house. And that night, she discovers this portal into a world and she realizes all the things he had been writing as fiction were true and there’s this world of darkness and ghouls and demons and all this cool stuff.

And I really loved it. And David Dobkin was attached to direct, and he asked me to write up a treatment because he wanted me to work on it and I just remember at the time it was like, you know, this could — you can — if Warner Bros approves you, so a couple of guys from like British Warner Bros approve you, you’ll have the job, there’s only one other person going up against it but, you know, it should work out. Then, you know, I did this whole thing and in the end, these British guys who were very snobby about this property like it was, I don’t know, a Pulitzer Prize winning book or something, they didn’t hire me and they didn’t hire the other person.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And this was in 2009. And the other person, Kelly Marcel.

John: Our own Kelly Marcel.

Craig: Yes, and we didn’t — I didn’t even know until like later on, you know, I don’t know, like last year or something, I mentioned this whole thing. She’s like, “Oh my, God. I was the other person. You were the other person? I also had the other person. It was you?” So the two of us — although I actually like wrote up a thing and she was like, “Yeah, they were like you need to write a treatment. I was like, Nah. So I didn’t and then so I just pitched something. And they were like, where is the thing? And I was like, Nah.”

John: Nah.

Craig: So none of us got it and nobody — by the way, I don’t think anyone ever wrote it. Yeah.

John: Yeah. That’s sort of an indication that there’s no Skulduggery Pleasant movie out there for someone to watch.

Craig: You have not seen that franchise, have you?

John: So back in 1996 or so, I pitched on Highlanders. Basically a sequel to Highlander and I didn’t get it then and I think Goyer got it. I think Goyer did a draft. He was the person they hired on to do it. And in the meantime, they tried to do Highlander so many times. And like Ryan Reynolds was supposed to do Highlander and so it has come back to me several times, but that was a project I pitched on I never got.

I pitched really hard on Catwoman, and this was back in 1999. I went in to Warner Bros with Denise Di Novi, the producer, and we sat down with Lorenzo di Bonaventura and pitched Catwoman which is Michelle Pfeiffer who was still Catwoman and I had a really great take. And it was very exciting to do it and he said no.

And then also there was a movie I was going to write for George Clooney and Brad Pitt set in Sierra Leone and that didn’t happen.

Craig: Yeah, there’s — I mean there’s a ton of these, you know, the “that didn’t happen”. I guess in part, if you try and get something going and it doesn’t happen for you, and it doesn’t happen for anyone else, that’s a little comforting.

John: Yeah. I had one movie that I’d set up and never wrote, and that was called Monster. It was over at Sony, and it was a big monster movie. It was a sort of like a King Kong/Godzilla kind of monster movie set in Tokyo and it never happened. And so it’s one of those rare cases where I actually made a deal but then the movie itself kind of never came together and I never wrote it and we all just sort of agreed to walk away from it. Have you ever had one of those?

Craig: I — no, I’ve never had one that fell apart like that. I had one that we kept talking about like it was going to happen and all these people were interested and then just didn’t. It was this crazy independent comic called The Invisible Nine. And it was about — it was actually kind of awesome. The premise of it was that there were nine people in a space station circling the earth that were manipulating the world through the creation of brands. So for instance this conspiracy explains why there’s Zima because nobody — have you ever seen — does anyone drink Zima?

John: No.

Craig: It’s still for sale. So this explains Zima, but what was fascinating about the comic was that the nine people, the Invisible Nine, men and women, each were an outrageous racial stereotype. It was awesome. It was bananas. I don’t know why — and we — you know, I had my writing partner at the time, Greg Erb, I don’t know why we thought that this would ever be realistic. Betty Thomas was like, “I’m directing this. This is going to be great.” We would go around and pitch this thing and people would be like, “Wow, that is great.” I think everybody was just high, completely high [laughs].

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, that never happened.

John: That’s fine.

Craig: Yeah, nothing.

John: Never happened. So those are the movies that we never wrote. So at least there was less time wasted because we never wrote them, but let’s talk about the ones we did write, and sort of patterns about why those movies we wrote are not movies these days. So first off, it just wasn’t right. So there’s just something — it just fundamentally didn’t work. It could have been a flawed idea, it got developed the wrong way. What are some other reasons why the script just didn’t work?

Craig: There can be this weird thing that happens where you pitch something or you describe something and people get excited, and you think they’re seeing the same color you’re seeing but they’re not. They’re seeing a different color and so you turn it in and they go, “Oh, no, no, no, wait, what?” That’s actually exactly what happened to me on that Secret Lives of Road Crews. I said, “Look, I want to make kind of a science fiction ode to the working man. I want to talk about what it means to have true blue collar heroes and make them actual heroes and pit them, I mean, the enemy is going to be monsters, but the real enemy are the people that keep blue collar workers down.” You know like, yes, yes, and then I wrote that. They’re like, “Wait, why isn’t this Ghostbusters?” It’s like, because it’s my ode to the working man.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they’re like, “No.” I don’t know. They didn’t see the same color I saw.

John: Yeah. That sense of where you just couldn’t get everyone on the same page is probably a recurring theme for a lot of these things where especially you pitch a certain idea, you went in and did this. Maybe they were excited by the draft you handed in, but by the time they attached a director, that director had a different idea and it just got steered off track and it just never sort of went back to a movie that people were excited to make.

Craig: That’s a whole category of the — well, you know, let’s call them the toxic attachment.

John: Right.

Craig: There are directors who attach themselves and then never — literally just never pay attention to it ever again. This is typically a very big director, an A-list director, somebody with a lot of weight at the studio. They say, “I love it. I want to do it,” and everybody goes, “Okay, back off, that guy says it’s his.” And then that dude just puts them in a drawer because maybe he’ll do it, maybe not, but in the mean time, you can’t have it and then it just dies, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So it just goes into this weird phantom zone. Sometimes the studio says, “We’re jamming this actor in there,” and the actor starts to unwind everything because they’ve been emboldened to do so and everybody is just saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” because the name of the game is let’s see if we can get this person to finally agree to step in front of a camera with a script that isn’t completely unwound. And sometimes they lose that bet.

John: Yup, and you can understand why the studio is servicing that relationship because they want to be in business with that director, they want to be in business with that actor, and as long as they say yes, they’re still kind of in business with that actor or director. So Big Fish is sort of an example of this for us because Steven Spielberg was attached to Big Fish for about a year and he’s not a toxic person, whatsoever. He’s a lovely, wonderful, talented director, but it became kind of clear that he wasn’t actually going to direct the movie.

And so we had to had the really awkward conversation about, “Hey, are you going to direct this?” And he said, “I guess not,” and he left and Tim Burton came on board and that was great. But I have to give props to Sony for having the — you know, cojones to actually ask that question because so many other studios at that point would not have asked and they would just be happy that Spielberg was considering directing one of those movies.

Craig: I don’t know what he was making at the time. It becomes really difficult when that director is making a movie for that studio.

John: Of course.

Craig: Because then they’ll say, “Look, yeah, I like the script by Craig. It’s at Universal. I, Steven Spielberg, I want to direct it.” “Okay, cool,” “But first I’m going to direct this for you, Universal,” “Oh, well, okay.” And then I’m going to direct this for you at Universal,” “Oh, okay.” Well, every movie takes two to three years.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So in the meantime, these six years go by and you could think, “Well, that’s okay, I’m in the hopper, right, I’ll be next.” No, you won’t.

John: Nope.

Craig: Because along those — during that six years, 14 other scripts come in.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s getting — you know, I can’t blame directors because they need those opportunities, right, especially directors that aren’t writing their own material, they need that great script. They’re not going to say, “Well, I just got handed a script that I think would be incredible and I know I can knock it out of the park and I’m ready and available, but it’s not in the queue.” They don’t that.

John: No, they’re not going to do that. The other real challenge is, if you’ve been on their list for two years, they are bored with that project by now. They have no — you’re not exciting and new. They already know they have you, so they’re not going to focus on you. They’re not going to want to finally go back and direct that thing. They just won’t, so that’s why you have to be so careful about attaching people. It’s nice to be able to say, but like you could be so excited that a big director signed on to your project and at the same time go, “That’s just doomed.”

Craig: Yeah, and similarly it can happen where you have a powerful producer who is obsessed with something and believes that they can jam it through a studio and they can to an extent. They can jam a studio to pay a writer to write it, but what they can’t do is make the head of the studio press the green light.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And eventually, they just get — it’s a war of attrition. And you’re hired, you’re paid, I guess it’s a nice writing exercise, but none of us want to go into these things thinking that this is just academic.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, we’re trying to get a movie made, we all are. And you can occasionally get swept up in the enthusiasm of a producer who’s got a few chips they can cash in but to no real end.

John: Yeah, I agree. Another common pattern for why these movies stall out is a change of regime in the studio. So basically the president of production, the head of the studio has left and a new person comes in, takes a look at all the projects in developments and says like “Nah, not this one. This does not fit our needs at this time.” And this project that you’re writing is suddenly no longer a priority for them.

Craig: It’s probably the most common cause of script death.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I would say maybe the second most common cause of script death is regardless of what we think about your screenplay, we have read it and we determined that it’s going to cost too much for what it is.

John: Exactly. A related factor can often be a similar movie has just bombed and they look at that movie and they look at your movie and they say, “Uh-uh, this similar movie just tanked. People don’t want to see this movie. Therefore we are not making this movie.” So that could be the genre, it could be the actor, it could be the director, it could be something else that they feel like it’s too similar to this, we just can’t do it.

Craig: Yep.

John: In some cases, it’s another movie is about to go into production that is just too similar which was what I described for Monster Apocalypse, because everyone sort of knows that you don’t want to be the second movie in those circumstances, you don’t want to be the Deep Impact to Armageddon.

Craig: Right, or the Dante’s Peak to Volcano, or I can’t remember which one came first, but you’re right, this is always an issue. Although occasionally it works out, I mean everybody looked and said, wait a second, DreamWorks is putting out a movie called Ants, about animated ants, and then a month later, Pixar is going to put out a movie called A Bug’s Life about animated ants. And A Bug’s Life did pretty well, did better than Ants.

John: Yes.

Craig: You know, sometimes it works out, but you’re right, there’s two kinds of stinks you can have, you have the stink of being the also-ran and you can have the stink of being something that people think has just been proven to be a failure at the box office. Of course you and I both know that’s nonsense.

John: It is nonsense. So let’s talk about how dead things are because there’s different kind of levels of dead, so there’s completely dead, there’s movies that are impossible to make, that are no longer relevant, they’re are too much like another movie. So I would say, Monster Apocalypse for all intent and purposes is completely dead because it was too much like Pacific Rim, and because at this point the rights are gone, so you’d have to reassemble the underlying rights and get the rights to that script. It’s just very difficult for that movie to not be dead.

Craig: Yes, for sure. I mean on my list, a number of these feel dead, dead, but Into the Fire could, I mean you can’t be deader than that movie. There was one draft written of it, it was buried under concrete somewhere, you know, in Culver City. Nobody wanted it in the first place, and it was capitalizing on a trend that is now 15 years old. Dead.

John: Dead. There’s another status which we’ll call not really dead, but not really alive. And so these are the specs that you owned that never sold, they are things that a studio still owns, they could theoretically make it any time, they just don’t seem to be making them. They could be movies like are passed around all the time. So Unforgiven is a movie that sat on a shelf for 10 years, 15 years, the great David Webb Peoples’ script and Clint Eastwood said, “You know what, I’m going to make that script,” and he basically shot the white script and it became Unforgiven. So it does happen where those movies just sort of sit for a long time, and then suddenly are made, but they’re very rare.

Craig: Yeah, that one actually is a special case because Eastwood bought it early on and said, “I’m going to put this in my drawer on purpose, I’m not old enough to play this guy yet.

John: Okay.

Craig: I need to wait 12 or 15 years until I can actually play this character. But yeah, there are these scripts that kick around for year and years and years, and then suddenly, oh my god, it gets made, it can happen, you know. There’s that, you know, list of the Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays and you know, maybe one day, somebody might make one of them. The thing about the things that I have that haven’t, that are original to me that I haven’t sold, I don’t want to show them to anybody. In my mind, I’ve killed them, they’re dead.

John: Yeah. That actually is a conversation you will have with your agent after a certain point is which scripts that they have are they allowed to send out. And so my agent a couple of years ago said, like, people have been asking about Here & Now, your first script, do you want people to see that? I’m like, god, no. I can’t believe that anyone would ever read that script now. It doesn’t reflect my writing today.

Craig: Well, this is the scary part, like, so even as I was thinking about doing this podcast and you start to say these things, well then you’re like, you know, I’ve had meetings where people were like, well, what else do you have? Do you have anything that, you know, like a spec that nobody else bought, you know? Because then they can go, “Hey, you know what, I can get a John August script and I can get it cheap, and who knows?” But you know, maybe people didn’t buy it for a reason. And if I super duper loved it, you know, I would have pushed it earlier than this.

John: The final set I’ll say is like, things that will never die, and so I have two of those movies, so Shazam which I talked about before eventually, they’ll make a Shazam movie, and also Tarzan. So I was the first writer on Tarzan, and so the Tarzan movie which the trailer is out for now, I was a part of the chain of title on that Tarzan. My movie was completely different. My movie took place in modern day Africa with civil unrest, and it was a completely different sort of way of doing Tarzan. There was khaki and pith helmets, but that was my chain of title for Tarzan. So someone was going to make a Tarzan of movie and that chain of title is still uninterrupted. So that’s kind of a third theme. So like, my Tarzan is dead because this other Tarzan exists.

Craig: That’s really interesting. I always wonder about my Harvey script. I always wonder if it might get somehow revived, but probably not because see, it’s a rights thing, you know. So they followed Tarzan all the way through at Warner Bros. And similarly, you know, for Shazam, it’s a DC property, it’s Warner Bros, they could follow through. You know, Miramax blows the rights on something, can’t figure out how to pay for a movie, it’s dead. That thing is dead.

John: Well, let’s talk about raising the dead and sort of when that happens and when it doesn’t happen. You know, Passenger, which is a Jon Spaihts script, wasn’t dead, but it wasn’t getting made. So it was a really great script that people loved, Keanu Reeves was attached to star in it. He wasn’t a big enough star to justify the budget. It was stalled out and they were able to shake Keanu Reeves off and suddenly now they’re making that movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt and suddenly it’s going to be a big, giant movie. So it is possible to resuscitate some of these movies at times.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean so that’s an example of a movie that — well, first of all, it got Mirmaxed. So there. You’re looking for a pattern here, Miramax. So there are certain movies that tempt lots of people. Lots of people creep up to it and go, “I know how to do this. I know how to do this. I know — oh, no, I don’t.” “Okay, well, I do,” “Oh no, I don’t.” In that case, I don’t even think they — it’s not that they shook Keanu Reeves off. I think that Keanu Reeves was going to make the Miramax movie. Miramax couldn’t figure out how to pay for it or didn’t want to pay for it, so they let it go.

John: Right.

Craig: And then Sony picked it up and Sony had a different theory about who should be in it and –

John: All right.

Craig: But yeah, there are some movies that kick around and I don’t think of those movies as dead. I think of those movies as like dodging bullets.

John: Cool. So what conclusions can we draw from our visit to this script graveyard? Maybe we could talk about sort of letting go and sort of how you say goodbye to a script because the process of cleaning out these drawers, it may be looking at some of these projects and say like, “Oh, you know what, you were lovely but you’re gone now. I’m going to let you go. I’m going to stop ever thinking about you again.” Because they just — there’s — I’m never going to bring you back to life and that’s maybe okay.

Craig: Yeah. I feel like the value of these things in the past is that you did them. And I never think about these things as failures per se, I don’t think about them as wastes of time. I think of them as experiences I had writing.

The truth is that you can’t do all the work that you and I do without finding some internal pleasure in the experience itself. So that becomes its own reward, you know. For a while, I got to live in the world of Harvey. For a while, I got to live in the world of even the Secret Lives of Road Crews. And it was my world, and I lived in it, and I did the best I could, and I like to think that, you know, hopefully, I honed a few things here and there that made me a little bit better for the next time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But there’s no sense in crying over this stuff because it’s inevitable.

John: Yeah. There’ve been a few things I’ve circle back on that I was really glad I took a second look at. One of them was Writer Emergency Pack. So I started Writer Emergency Pack four years ago. It was going to be an app and so I had the artwork and it just sat dormant. And then when I looked at it again, it’s like, oh, you know what, it’s a card game, so like, that was a good thing to sort of resuscitate. As I look at some of these scripts I’ve written, there are a few that are probably worth a second look, both for, there’s essentially a really great idea there, or there’s a way to make this now, that I couldn’t have made it before. So there’s a few that I’ll probably revisit, but most of them, I have to honestly look and say, is my time better spent trying to rejigger one of these things that didn’t work, or doing the new things that I’m excited about. And I have so many new things I’m excited about on the list, that that’s probably where I should spend my time.

Craig: I completely agree. And I think that that spirit is why you’ve written so much because you’re always excited to move forward. I think the people that dwell on these things in the past are trying to continually resuscitate them over and over. I mean sometimes it’s prudent, but a lot of times, it’s a tacit capitulation to the thought that you don’t have something new to do or think and that you just can’t let that one go. I am thrilled, the second I’m done with a script, to me it’s like a plate of food I’m finished with, get it away from me. I don’t want to look at it. New. Next. Let’s go.

John: Yeah, maybe if there’s a lesson to take from a visit to the cemetery is that, to be glad that you’re alive and that you can write new things.

Craig: And to avoid Miramax.

John: Yes. And notice like cause of death, Miramax.

Craig: So many of these people died here. Most of them died of Miramax, that one was small pox.

John: All right, let’s do our One Cool Things.

Craig: All right. Well, my One Cool Thing is a French company called Wyvings. They’ve been around for a while, they make a lot of Internet of things devices.

John: I have a Wyvings scale.

Craig: There you go, so as do I. So it’s mostly health products. The Wyvings scale is very nice, you step on it, it measures your weight, it measures your body fat, and then it pipes that info wirelessly to an app on your phone, you can track things. And there are a lot of versions of that sort of thing. But, they have a new thing that is not yet on the market, it’s coming soon, and it’s called The Wyvings Thermo which is the most French way of saying thermometer, ever, thermo. Now here’s what’s so great about it. I hate thermometers. Thermometers, like the whole category drives me nuts. You have thermometers that you certainly don’t want to put them up your butt anymore, that’s old school.

You can stick them in your mouth, they move around, and then is it digital, if it’s digital, is it accurate, nobody really can tell, and then you have the ones that you put on your forehead which are junk. You have the ones that you can put in your ear, but if you’re holding it slightly wrong, it doesn’t work. There’s a million things about these things. Well, these guys seem to have solved it. So what they do is, and it’s you know, Internet of things, it’ll pipe into your app and all that, and that’s great, but here’s the genius part of it.

There is a way to take your temperature by using an infrared sensor on your temple. The problem is, it has to be done the right way, it has to be the exact proper distance from your temple, and ideally, you take a lot of readings at once, to try and you know, counter for fluctuations and things. So this thing is designed so that there’s a cup. The cup goes right up against your temple, and then it’s inside the cup, the proper distance from your temple.

It takes 4,000 measurements with 16 different infrared sensors in two seconds, and finds the hottest spot, which is the one you’re most concerned about, and gives you your proper temperature. And it adjusts the temperature because, you know, our body temperature like the whole 98.6 thing in the thermometer, really probably is supposed to go up your butt, so if you put it under you arm, or on your forehead, you’re not quite getting the same up your butt reading.

So if you have 101 from your forehead, you might actually have a 102 or 102.5, so I love this thing, I can’t wait to get this. This finally, I mean like, good, I know that I’m actually getting the right temperature here. Not so much for me, I don’t care if I’m sick, I’m sick, but when you have a sick kid, you kind of want to know.

John: Yeah, you do want to know. Cool.

Craig: There you go.

John: My One Cool Thing is an app that Apple put out this last week. It’s called Music Memos. And it’s a very smart little app for a very specific need. So if you are coming up with a song, you have a melody, and you want to record it, you can use the voice memos app, you can use Evernote, you can use — there’s lots of different ways you can record it. This is just so much better for the music of it all. And so when we’ve been doing stuff for Big Fish, we’ve been working on other songs, very often I’ll be sitting with a composer and we’ll plunk it out and we’ll just record it in Voice Memos, and you’ll label the note.

This is what it does, when it records it, it actually breaks it into measures, it tracks the keys, it can even build a simple accompaniment with it just so you can actually hear that idea and share that idea and really have a good sounding track to listen back to. It’s very smart, it’s very Apple, just really incredibly useful if you’re a person who works with little snippets of songs.

Craig: It’s like they knew that I was a few weeks away from handing a script over to Jeanine Tesori and then we were going to start making songs. It’s like they knew. I’m so excited to use this. I think it’s great.

John: Cool. All right. That is our show this week. So as always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel, it is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Sam Tahhan. If you have a comment for me or for Craig, find us on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin.

If you have a longer question like some of the ones we answered today, you can write into ask@johnaugust.com. Johnaugust.com is also where you can find the show notes for this episode, they’re always in order there. You can also find us on Scriptnotes.net, that’s where you find all the back episodes. On iTunes, search for Scriptnotes, while you’re there, you can also download the app. We have the Scriptnotes app which gives you access to the back catalogue, and it’s also on the Android app store.

As a reminder, I am hosting a Q&A with most of the writers who are nominated for the WGA Awards. That Q&A is happening on February 4th at 7:30 pm. There are still some tickets left, so if you would like to go to that, go to wgfoundation.org, or there’s also a link in the episode notes for this show.

Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John. Have a good week.

John: You too.

Links:

My writing setup, 2016

Wed, 01/27/2016 - 13:39

In 2011, I wrote a post detailing my writing setup. Over the past five years several things have changed, so I thought I’d give it an update.

Where applicable, I’ll include links. (Amazon links include my referral code, so you’ll help keep me stocked with pens.)

I work in an office built over my garage. My assistant Stuart works downstairs. Twice a week the rest of my staff (Nima and Dustin) comes in to work on app stuff and other projects. This year, we finally added a giant whiteboard. It’s been a godsend for planning and visual thinking.

I’m “in the office” from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., but I wander in and out of the house pretty freely.

I do a fair amount of my morning work — emails, listening to cuts of Scriptnotes — while walking on the treadmill. I MacGyvered an old film festival lanyard to hold my iPad, and use an Apple bluetooth keyboard. I find I can think coherently up to about 3.2 miles per hour. (Beyond that speed, it’s genuine cardio and I can only listen to podcasts and such.)

When I’m really writing — that is, buckling down on a specific draft of a specific movie — I do a lot of writing sprints. It’s one hour of focused writing with no distractions. If I do three of these a day, that’s a lot of pages written.

Getting away

When I start a new screenplay, I generally go away for a few days. I find that barricading myself in a new hotel in a new city helps me break the back of a story. I hand-write pages, trying to plow through as much as possible; my record is 21 pages in a day. Writing by hand keeps me from editing and second-guessing. At the start, it’s crucial to generate a critical mass of pages.

Every morning, I send what I’ve written to my assistant to type up. The Scannable app is great for this.

I find I can generally get 40 decent pages out of a good barricading session. I won’t paste the scenes together until I’m more than halfway through a script.

Hardware

When writing by hand, I like a white, lined, letter-sized writing pad with a very stiff back. It should barely bend. I’ve been using some generic Staples brand.

My preferred pen is the black Pilot G2 (0.7mm size). It’s cheap; it writes consistently; I never worry about losing one. For proofreading, a colored felt-tip pen is key. I like the Papermate Flairs. Again, cheap and losable.

I alternate between index cards and whiteboards for mapping out stories. If you’re going to be working in television, get comfortable with the whiteboard, because you’re going to be spending a lot of time staring at one.

My main computer is a 27-inch iMac. I love it.

Overall, I print very little these days. Almost everything is PDFs. But last year we replaced our decade-old laser printer with the Brother HL5470DW. It’s crazy how cheap and fast it is, and it uses a lot less power.

Stuart uses the DYMO LabelWriter 4XL thermal label printer for packages. It ends up being faster, better and cheaper than using laser printer labels.

Years ago, I had horrible carpal-tunnel problems, so I changed my setup significantly. I use the SafeType keyboard and an Evoluent vertical mouse. The keyboard is great, but command-key combos are a bear with it, so I’ve mapped a Logitech G13 gamepad to handle most of them. My desk raises so I can use it standing up. I try to be on my feet at least half the day.

For travel and kitchen duty, I have a 13-inch Macbook Pro. It’s good, but the screen is always getting overwhelmed with windows.

I used to talk on the phone a lot more, and found the Plantronics S12 headset essential. I still use it, but phone conversations are not nearly as important as they were just a few years ago.

We generally record Scriptnotes over Skype. I’m using the Shure SM7B microphone and Sony MDR-7506 headphones. This combo has worked well enough for me, but everyone has different opinions and preferences.

For recording in the field, I use the Zoom H5 four-track recorder. I love it.

When recording in the office with multiple guests, I use the Mackie 802VLZ4 8-channel mixer with a bunch of XLR mics and send the output directly into my MacBook with this cable.

After years of not using Time Machine, I just set up a one terabyte Samsung T1 Portable SSD to use as a backup drive. (If you get it, follow the advice in the “Most Helpful” Amazon review to remove the extraneous software Samsung installs.)

Software

I do all of my writing in the Highland beta. Highland was originally just for screenwriting, but version 2 adds robust Markdown support, so now it’s the only app I need for writing anything — including this blog post.

Slack is absolutely transformative. Our team doesn’t use email anymore. Everything is in Slack, sorted in channels.

Dropbox still seems like magic. In addition to storing my active projects, I keep a folder named Pending in the Dropbox with an alias on the desktop. Anything that would normally clutter up the desktop, I throw in Pending.

I still use Evernote, but mostly for household things like the grocery list. Random links go to Pinboard instead. (On iOS, I use the Pinner app.)

I’ve used a lot of GTD productivity apps over the years, including OmniFocus and Things. For the past few months, I’ve been using 2Do, which works very well on both Mac and iOS.

For outlining and show notes, I love WorkFlowy. Because it’s web-based, we can all edit the same document.

I use both Mail and Airmail, with some addresses going to Sparrow instead.1 I use Google Calendar with Fantastical 2.

I do all my RSS-reading on the iPad, using Reeder.

What I’d change

I’m pretty happy with my setup, but there’s definitely room for improvement.

My mail setup is a mess. The right combination of rules would probably allow me to sort out the wheat from the chaff, but I haven’t invested the energy. Plus, getting it to work properly in iOS would be a big challenge. Increasingly, the iPhone is where I’m doing email triage.

I’d like to push more of my email over to Slack, where it would be a better fit. An example is my D&D group. It’s six writers, so anytime there’s a conversation, it’s a chain of 20 emails, and you can never tell who is responding to what. In Slack, that thread would make a lot more sense.

Overall, the best thing that could happen to email would be to get rid of it.

  1. Google discontinued Sparrow, but the Mac app still works for now.

Tuesday Reviewsday, vol. 2

Tue, 01/26/2016 - 16:46

One of my goals for 2016 is to be better about writing reviews for the products I love. Every Tuesday I’ll be leaving reviews on the applicable store.

Today’s picks are:

  • Noizio (iOS) A really good background-noise maker, and free!
  • 2Do (iOS/Mac) A fantastic getting-stuff-done app that’s replaced OmniFocus for me.
  • Reply All (podcast) A “show about the internet”, but really about modern culture.
  • Forbidden Island (Amazon) A great cooperative game.

If you’re looking for something to review, many readers are probably familiar with some of the things we make, including Highland, Weekend Read and Writer Emergency Pack.

Podcasts are especially review-dependent, because they signal to the powers at iTunes to feature certain shows. A review for Scriptnotes would be much-appreciated.

The Script Graveyard

Tue, 01/26/2016 - 08:03

Where do screenplays go when they die? John and Craig take a look at their movies that never were, looking for patterns among dozens of their unproduced works. What can screenwriters learn from the dead, and is it ever worth trying to resurrect these flatliners?

We also have lots of follow-up on finding a place to write, and news of an old-man-robbers movie already underway.

Yesterday’s live show will be released as an upcoming episode.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

The rise and fall of Relativity

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 09:46

Benjamin Wallace looks at Ryan Kavanaugh and the implosion of Relativity:

Not yet 30 when he founded Relativity Media in 2004, he very quickly became not only a power player in Hollywood but the man who might just save it. With a dwindling number of studios putting out ever fewer movies, other than ones featuring name-brand super­heroes, Kavanaugh became first a studio financier and then a fresh-faced buyer of textured, mid-budget films. To bankers, Kavanaugh appeared to have cracked the code, having come up with a way to forecast a famously unpredictable business by replacing the vagaries of intuition with the certainties of math.

As we’ve discussed on the podcast, anyone who claims to have developed a mathematical system for picking hits is either delusional or willfully deceptive. Data analysis relies on numbers, and it’s easy to cherry-pick:

Relativity actually did look at whether to finance that Untouchables prequel, Capone Rising, with Nicolas Cage and Gerard Butler attached to star and Brian De Palma to direct. The company ended up passing, but someone close to the financial modeling recalls doing a double take at the rosiness of the Relativity algorithm’s prediction. “I read the input log for it. I thought: What’s missing? I said, ‘Where’s Snake Eyes?’” — a Cage flop. “They said, ‘Uh, we’re leaving that out.’”

What Kavanaugh was selling wasn’t an algorithm as much as a narrative: you can trust me, because look at these other people who trust me.

Say you’re a Chinese billionaire looking to invest in Hollywood. Meeting Kavanaugh, it was easy to see how successful he was. He had his name on lots of movies, some of them award-winners. He had celebrity friends and a private jet. He made huge donations to charities. And there were glowing articles portraying him as a boy-wonder maverick shaking up the system.

The thing is, almost everyone in town knew it couldn’t last. When you were selling a spec script, you wanted Relativity to bid, but you didn’t want them to win. You wanted the movie to get made, and everyone knew the clock was ticking.

Relativity filed for bankruptcy in July.

To Hollywood’s more sophisticated power players, Relativity’s declaration of bankruptcy was less intriguing than how long Kavanaugh had been able to stave it off, reeling in money over and over again despite mountains of evidence that the product he was selling was not what he claimed it to be. “You have to give him credit for keeping it going as long as he did,” says an old hand at a major talent agency. “The people inside the system were in on the joke.”

I’ve never met Kavanaugh, and as far as I know, he hasn’t been involved in any of my movies. I see him at parties and premieres, and he’s always struck me as an interesting character: bouncing and bold, eager to be at the center of the action.

It’s tempting to dismiss Kavanaugh as an opportunist, but I think that’s unfair. From the very start, Hollywood has depended on dreamers and schemers. Many of our best films exist only because someone was brave or foolish enough to risk money on them — and charismatic enough to keep finding new money when the first batch ran out.

The fall of Relativity makes for good reading, but I wouldn’t mistake it for a cautionary tale. Right now, young upstarts are devising the next way to raise hundreds of millions to make movies. Whoever they are, we need them. We always will.

Scriptnotes, Ep 233: Ocean’s 77 — Transcript

Fri, 01/22/2016 - 10:48

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: Now batting number 27, Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 233 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today, we are doing another one of those how would this be a movie episodes where we’re going to be taking a look at three stories from the news, and look at how those would become feature films. So the stories are including one about pensioners, performing a heist, demonic visitors, and revenge porn.

Craig: Those all could be one movie, I mean why not just combine them into one and make a movie.

John: I think it absolutely is. It’s sort of like Ocean’s 97 that takes a very dark turn.

Craig: So creepy.

John: Yes, like an Ocean’s 11 movie, but like one of the guys is actually already dead, like Danny Ocean is already dead, but he’s leading a heist from beyond the grave.

Craig: Hey, have you seen — speaking of creepy and not what you think it is, did you see the trailer for that new J.J. Abrams movie, what is it, 10 Cloverfield Lane or something?

John: No. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I’m behind on this.

Craig: I don’t know, like your whole thing like you can make a surprise movie, and I keep saying, no you can’t. Well he did. So he made a surprise movie. You got to see the trailer for this thing. It’s wow.

John: Great. Well I think we’re doing to stop the podcast right now and I’ll just go watch it, and then — no, no we’re recording, but I will watch it immediately after the podcast.

Craig: Yes. You will be pleased.

John: Cool. We have a lot of news and follow-up to get through.

Craig: Good news.

John: Such good news. First off, how about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Rachel Bloom, won the Golden Globe this last week.

Craig: Is there any limit to what you and I can do?

John: We can pull shows from one network to another network, and make sure that their star is a Golden Globe winner.

Craig: Yes.

John: That’s Rachel Bloom from episode 175 of Scriptnotes. She was on, not this past year’s but the year before Christmas Special with Aline, and now, look at her.

Craig: Now, look at her. And on that show as I recall, she sang her own original song, set to the tune of our theme. It was very funny. And so I mean obvious Aline is the living Joan Rivers of Scriptnotes. So she’s been on the show a ton, she’s our friend, and this is terrific news for her and her show, but also, just an amazing thing. You know, this is one of those deals where — because I guess, you know, I don’t know anything about television, I don’t understand television ratings. I know enough to know that the show has not been doing what you would call good ratings, and so what’s fascinating is you can rescue a show, I think.

I think the show has just been rescued, don’t you?

John: I think it’s definitely gotten a boost, and I mean it’s going to come back because she’s the Golden Globe winner, I mean it singles it out for the attention it really deserved from the very beginning.

Craig: Right.

John: The song she sang on Scriptnotes was When Will I Be Famous, set to the Scriptnotes theme. And the answer is, now.

Craig: Now.

John: Because now, she just won the Golden Globe, and she has a TV show that she co-created, that she stars in. One of my favorite moments from that whole experience was seeing a photo of Rachel waving to Aline, so it’s behind Rachel, waving to Aline out in the crowd, while she’s up at the podium accepting her award. And they’re both so happy and excited and crying.

Craig: The word, the word that you would say, if you were me, they were kvelling.

John: There were kvelling.

Craig: They were. It was in full kvell. And I was kvelling because another one of our live Christmas show guests got an Oscar nomination.

John: That’s pretty amazing.

Craig: Andrea Berloff, nominated for an Oscar, for Straight Outta Compton.

John: Yes.

Craig: And it’s just fantastic.

John: Yes. So Andrea Berloff and Drew Goddard are both nominated for Academy Awards for their writing in different categories, so they’re not actually competing against each other, and they’ve both been previous Scriptnotes guests. You can listen to the special bonus episodes with both of them.

There’s an episode I did with Drew Goddard where I — there’s a long interview with Drew that you can listen to. And, also, I did the special Straight Outta Compton thing with Andrea and the whole rest of the team, and those are available in the premium feed, so at Scriptnotes.net, you can listen to those.

Craig: It’s just fun watching it, you know. Now, it’s kind of fun like every year, just because of the amount of screenwriters that you and I know, it feels like every year I have a friend in it. And so it’s so exciting. And I also did this past week, I did an interview with Charles Randolph and Adam McKay who co-wrote The Big Short, and Adam directed it, and lo and behold that very day Adam got a DGA nomination, and then of course, this week, they both received a nomination for screenplay, and Adam also received nomination for director, and then the movie received a nomination.

So it’s just fun. It’s fun, because the truth is I don’t really care, I mean I’m sorry, I don’t care, I know you’re in the Academy. I don’t care about the Oscars. I don’t care about any of this beauty pageant baloney, but I do like watching my friends get dressed up, and I like rooting for my friends.

John: I like rooting for friends, too. Craig, I need to remind you the next time you host one of those things, you need to get the audio because we’ll put it up it in the premium feed.

Craig: I can. I can get the audio.

John: You should get the audio, put it up in the premium feed.

Craig: Yes, I’m going to get it from — because I did it for another fund raiser for the foundation. So sure, they’ll give us that. That would be great.

John: Yeah. I’m doing my own special thing for the WGA foundation. Just today, I signed on to do the Beyond Words 2015, 2016 whatever you want to call it this year. So I’m going to be talking with many of the nominees, all up on stage together at the Writers Guild Theater. That is on February 4th and if you want tickets for that, it’s just wgafoundation.org. So confirmed so far, Drew Goddard, John Herman, and Andrea Berloff from Straight Outta Compton, John McNamara from Trumbo, Phyllis Nagy from Carol, Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy from Spotlight.

So it’s one of those sort of bigger shindigs, so there’s like 6:30 cocktails, there’s 7:30 panel, and there’s desserts and coffee afterwards, so it’s a bigger night of sort of all of the nominees up on stage.

Craig: When you say dessert and coffee, I mean like a good dessert, you think?

John: I think it’s going to be a caliber of dessert that you would anticipate getting at the Writers Guild Theater.

Craig: Oh god.

John: Yeah. I may not be staying for the coffee part, but you know what, wine is good because it comes in a bottle.

Craig: Listen, wine is great, but just watch out for those union desserts.

John: And I’m going to have to really be careful with my alcohol intake because I will just come from our own Scriptnotes official thing with Lawlence Kasdan and Jason Bateman which also has cocktails involved.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So that’s this Monday, so if you’re listening to this on Tuesday, it’s six days from now. Our Hollywood Heart special benefit panel with them, not really panel, special conversation with them, which I’m so excited about. So we just today figured out all the sound check stuff. It should be a cool time.

It is a 6:30 cocktails for a 7:30 start. So come join us for cocktails, and then join us for a live show.

Craig: When I was at the guild right before we did this thing with Adam and Charles, they said, “Would you like some wine?” And the answer is always, “Yeah,” because wine is interview juice, and it’s great. But all they had was white wine. I was like, “You don’t have any red wine?” Like the worst red wine to me is better than the best white wine in the world.

John: Oh, Craig.

Craig: And they said, “No, we can’t.” And I said, “Why?” Why do you think, John?

John: Oh, because of stains.

Craig: Because of stains! Because they were worried that it would stain the carpet on the second floor of the Writers Guild. And I was like, this carpet is pediatrician office standard. This carpet should be so lucky as to get stained.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Anyway, I drank a glass of white wine. I got to tell you, I was furious.

John: Yeah. In general, I think people should have a choice of red and white wines. I do respect that, but having been the person who spilled an entire glass of red wine on somebody’s white carpet, I do sympathize with the only clear liquids approach.

Craig: You know what, if you spill a glass of red wine on somebody’s white carpet, you got a couple of choices, as I see it. One, flee the country, just start a new life, that’s it, right? Just let everything go, and begin again. Option two, you’re just going to have to take out a loan and buy them a new rug.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But in no case is there a third option called drinking white wine.

John: There are many delicious white wines, and actually, two years ago, so every year, not for a New Year’s resolution, I declare an area of interest for that year, and one of my areas of interest for I think it was 2013, was Austrian white wines because they’re fantastic.

Craig: You know what? 2013 was the worst year for you.

John: Give me a Gruner Veltliner and I’m very, very happy.

Craig: That’s not even a real word.

John: Yeah. This next thing on the outline is something you should say, because it sounds really boasty if I say it.

Craig: Oh, it does, it does, it does. So our very own John August, 50 percent of this podcast, has been awarded the very prestigious Valentine Davies award for civic service for 2015. This is the WGA’s highest honor for… — I mean, look, I could read you what the WGA says, but the truth is what it comes down to is being a great person. It’s being a writer that contributes to the writing community in a very positive way.

Now, I wish could say that all the winners fit that criteria because there are some on the list where I’m like, “What?” But in this case, they got it right. I mean they got it right so much. In fact, John, if you check the next Written By Magazine, you just might find a little essay in there about this, written by, hmm, someone.

John: I can’t believe that Craig Mazin who does nothing but mock Written By Magazine could have actually written something for Written By Magazine.

Craig: I’m sure Richard Stayton also couldn’t. He’s the editor. He’s probably also like, “Oh god, I got to talk to this jerk again.”

John: I thank you in advance. That sounds very, very lovely. Yeah, I didn’t know what this award was before I got it. And so I’ve known about it for a while, and they asked me to just sort of not say anything so they could announce it publicly in a fancy way. But last year, it went to Ben Affleck, and previous years it’s gone to like Alan Alda, just like the most random people, some of whom you’ve heard of, and some that you haven’t. But I’m really flattered. It made me feel really old. That was my very first thing because it feels like a lifetime achievement award, and I’m kind of young, so that felt a little bit weird.

Craig: Yeah, but everybody’s sense is that your basically finished. You’re all washed up.

John: That’s absolutely true.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So they’ve been talking to my doctors and they know that I only have, you know, six months left and they wanted to give it to me while I was still alive because that’s what they said, they want to give it to somebody who’s still alive.

Craig: They wanted to give it to you before your product cycle has deprecated. When do you think I’m going to get an award from the Writers Guild?

John: I don’t think it’s going to be too long. I think, you know, a lot of the things they said about me, they could say about you because you certainly had a lot of guild service. I think this podcast is a notable thing. I think your website was a notable thing. I have a whole separate software company which is a sort of different thing.

Craig: Yeah. That’s not really the big difference. The big difference is that they hate me and they love you.

John: Oh, they don’t hate you. They just don’t know how to use you.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I love it, I personally love it.

John: Yeah. I mean they will put you on the committee for the professional status of writers because you’re good to go into those rooms, and be just the right amount of confrontational.

Craig: Yeah. No, definitely, I’m a good bullet for certain situations. Yeah, that is true.

John: So anyway, if you are a Writers Guild member who wants to attend the awards, I think you can get tickets. I’m not really clear how the whole thing works, but it’s February 13th. So I’ll be in a tuxedo, and I will have one and a half drinks in me when I accept my award, and will try to say something not embarrassing.

Craig: I feel like that show is the Golden Globes of writing stuff, so you could actually get completely drunk.

John: I could get completely drunk. I think in previous years it’s been streamed on the Internet, so if that does happen to stream on the Internet, I will be sure to put up the link to that.

Craig: That would be lovely.

John: It would be lovely. A little bit of follow up from last week’s show, last week’s show we were talking about Scriptbook, which I guess it’s still in existence. I don’t think we knocked it out of existence in one week.

Craig: We were close enough.

John: But Sam in Seattle makes his living as a data scientist, and he wrote in to say, “Data science aims to enable hard core data driven decision making when there are numbers and models that do correlate well to give an outcome, it makes sense. Solely evaluating the script ignores the most important component in making a movie, human collaboration. Scriptbook might be better served in developing analytics for production companies in project management. Which projects are likely to fall behind, which ones are at risk of overspending, etcetera. At least with those objectives, there’s a clear path from the data, to the desired outcome.”

Craig: It’s a really good point. I think what’s kind of funny about it is that’s basically what the executives do, that’s kind of their job, I mean aside from developing. When you’re at that upper level of things, and you’re deciding what to green light, and what not to green light, that’s kind of exactly what they’re doing. Without the data, they’re just looking at the people involved and saying, “Okay, how much of a pain in the ass is this particular person? Does this budget feel real or does it feel like something that’s going to explode on us?

Their pulling on their own experience, it’s a little bit more like the Malcolm Gladwell Blink side of the equation. But his point is correct, if you were going to engage in data driven analysis, that’s exactly where you should do it, and not attempt to impose it upon something like creative work.

John: Yeah. I think, you know, number crunching is great when you actually have numbers, the problem is the script is not actually numbers, and so you’re arbitrarily assigning things, numbers to things that really can’t be measured in a meaningful way. But that sense of like, trying to take a big sample of like these are all the production budgets of movies that went over the last 10 years, and you’re looking for trends out of that. That’s totally meaningful. I could see useful things being drawn out of that. I don’t think Scriptbook is going to find anything meaningful to draw out of this thing.

Craig: Nor if they were to provide the proper kind of data driven analysis would they be giving the studios anything that is unique. The studios already have larger departments that are much better at it than these ding-a-lings.

So Scriptbook, just, you know, save your money. If you work at Scriptbook, everyday pocket the half and half.

John: Cash your check the minute it hits your hand.

Craig: Cash it the minute it hits your hand. Go ahead and maybe take a few extra, you know, laser ink cartridges because that ain’t going to work.

John: A friend of mine, his company didn’t pay taxes for something and so he ended up being furloughed. And it was this weird situation where he was neither like fired, nor laid off, but he was like furloughed, so he couldn’t collect unemployment. It felt like an impossible thing that shouldn’t be allowed to happen.

Craig: No, no. It’s a very possible thing, and it should be allowed to happen. If you don’t pay your taxes, they’re going to get them from you. And if you’re earning money, yeah, they’ll garnish your wages.

John: Oh, no, no, no. What I’m saying is that the company hadn’t paid its taxes.

Craig: Oh, the company.

John: The company essentially went broke. And so they didn’t lay off their employees, they furloughed them. And I didn’t know you could do that.

Craig: You can, but you’re basically — the people have a choice of whether or not to believe it and stay, you know. Yeah, I would get the hell out.

John: You’d get the hell out?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Speaking of getting the hell out, we have a question from Matt. Matt says, “I recently moved neighborhoods in Queens and there are no coffee shops, which is where I used to get my writing done, for nearly ten blocks. Now that it’s getting cold, taking that trek after work can be a nuisance. Normally I would be fine writing at home but I share a studio apartment with my wife. We used to still live in a 2-bedroom with doors that shut. Now I find it hard to focus on the task at hand if I try to write at home. Any tips?”

Craig: Oh boy, that is not a great position to be in if you’re trying to write. You do need some kind of quiet private space or you need a quiet incredibly public space where the publicness kind of washes away to nothing. But to write in a room with your spouse just kind of looking at you is tough.

John: Yeah. So I was in the situation for a long time when I was renting and when I had roommates and I do definitely appreciate what that is. So I have the luxury of having my own office now. But I also write in public spaces quite a lot. And I think it depends on sort of what your needs are in terms of privacy.

If you’re writing by hand, you can kind of write by hand anywhere. And as long as you’re good with headphones, you can sort of check out and to be writing. And so, while coffee shops are sort of the natural place to be thinking about doing that kind of stuff, really kind of any lobby might be okay. Basically, any place where people will leave you alone is fair game.

One option might be if there is another apartment in your building or somebody who’s just not around during the day. See if you can use their place for an hour or two. If you had a place where you could essentially check-in to and do some writing, and when you’re in that space you’re only writing, you’re going to get a lot more done.

So, if there’s a person who is a waiter who you know is always gone during those times, see if you can make a deal with him or her to, you know, essentially borrow their space for a certain amount per week or whatever.

Craig: It does, unfortunately, it sounds like Matt has a day job because he is talking about the difficulty of taking that cold trek after work to the coffee shop. So I suspect probably there isn’t something as convenient as a loaner apartment in his complex.

John: But except depending on sort of who his neighbors are. There are definitely people who are waiters who are actors in Broadway shows. There are going to be people who are going to be gone during that time anyway, so finding some other space to be in sounds like a good choice.

Libraries are always good. I mean sometimes you deal with like the homeless people hanging out in the library is a problem, but as long as you got headphones, you are able to tune people out and you can do stuff.

Craig: Yeah. I think unless something wonderful emerges for you Matt in your own apartment complex. I think you might have to just deal with the cold there and those ten blocks. Get yourself a nice jacket because I would gladly suffer the 20-minute cold walk over writing in a space with my wife staring at the back of my head.

John: Another option is to look at — we don’t know where you work. But if there’s a place at where you work that isn’t your office so that you can sort of be in that same facility but not at your office or at your desk, that might be another good choice.

Just like find some place that’s warm and dry and just buckle down. And like having a place you go to that’s only for writing, you will get stuff done. And if you get an hour a day of writing, you’re beating most of the Hollywood screenwriters we know.

Craig: Isn’t that sad?

John: It is so sad but it’s absolutely sure.

Craig: It’s so true. You know what? I remember I talked to a group of Princeton kids who would come out to Hollywood and, you know, probably it was the first time I felt old. Now I feel old every day. [laughs] But it was the first time I felt old because I was like 32 and they were all 21.

And I said to them, “You guys have to destroy people like me right? You have to want to beat us all.” And what you have going — what we have going for us is our experience and at this point we’ve accrued a lot of connections and friends. What you guys have is energy. We’re all tired and jaded and slow. Just write circles around us.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So true. Everyone out here is just — but you know, there is a theory that a good writer will get more done in an hour than a bad writer gets done in a year.

John: That so often is true. And you know, I think I’ve always like moved past those things and then I’ll find myself just like spinning my wheels for, you know, most of the day. And then suddenly at like 3:20pm like, “Oh, I suddenly know how to do all that stuff.” And I got more done in that, you know, half an hour than I did the rest of the day.

Craig: Endlessly frustrating.

John: If you want to be annoyed by how wonderful someone’s office can be, I’m going to provide a link to Aline’s office. So the academy did a video with Aline showing her office space. And Craig, I don’t know if you have seen this video. It’s amazing and her office is incredible. So it’s over at the Henson lot.

Craig: Oh yeah, I’ve been there.

John: Yeah, and she has two writing desks. So she has one for like doing a certain kind of thing and one for doing another kind of thing, and she has two separate computers and two separate spaces.

Craig: Yeah, that’s ridiculous.

John: That’s ridiculous but that’s Aline and look what she’s been able to do. She has –

Craig: You think it’s the desks? [laughs]

John: She created a show that won a Golden Globe and we didn’t.

Craig: No, that’s absolutely true. I should probably invest in more desks. It’s so funny because I’m, I mean, I have a nice — you’ve been to my office. It’s nice.

John: Yeah, it’s nice.

Craig: It’s perfectly fine.

John: It has two rooms. Yeah.

Craig: It’s two rooms. It’s very, it’s like, you know, the kind of place that a private investigator probably worked out of in 1930.

John: I was just about to say that. It is such a private investigator’s office.

Craig: It really is, which I love. In fact I kind of like — the furniture I bought is all — the only criteria I’ve ever had is would a private investigator have this? [laughs] But honestly, especially if I’m on location and there’s an option and someone says, “Okay, where would you like to work?” The answer is, in a cave, in a CAT Scan machine. Something with — I don’t need windows, I don’t need light, I don’t need — I need a plug. Give me an outlet.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’m very mushroom-like.

John: Yeah. There is that. Question from RJ who writes, “What are your thoughts on onomatopoeia? Pro or anti?”

Craig: Is that really something that one needs to come down on one side over?

John: I don’t think so at all. So let’s define our terms. Onomatopoeia is the technique in which you have words that sound like what they are, so roar sort of sounds like the sound a lion makes.

Onomatopoeia is awesome and I think you end up using a lot in screenplays to reflect this — you pick words that sound like what it’s going to sound like in the movie. So I think it’s actually really common.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t use it a lot. I think it can get a little cutesy if it’s overdone like anything I suppose you know. So, you know, occasionally I’ll pick up a script and someone’s got a kaboosh and a kershplat, you know, on every page.

But the script I was working on with Lindsay, there is a little bit where we wanted a chicken to just cross the road, and we wanted animals to watch it. And so I did it, and the chicken just goes brgak, B-R-G-A-K. [laughs] And I got more mileage out a brgak than all the stuff I really cared about.

John: Your poor director, when has to shoot that sequence and it is like “But the chicken won’t say brgak.”

Craig: The chicken will not say brgak.

John: It’s only funny if the chicken says brgak.

Craig: Well, we’ve started breeding them right now just for that purpose, brgak.

John: For Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, we did breed squirrels specifically to do the tasks they had to do in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Craig: Squirrel. I want a squirrel.

John: Squirrels are so good. Before we get on to today’s topics, I want to back up to the previous question. If you have a suggestion for Matt about what he should do in a situation where he doesn’t have a writing space, tell us. Because I think people listening to the show probably have really good ideas for what Matt can do to not write in his studio apartment with his wife and not walk ten blocks to the cold coffee shop.

All right, let’s get to today’s topic which is how would this be a movie. And some of these were listener suggestions. Some are just things I found. But the very first one was kind of amazing and feels like why is this not a movie yet. Why has Working Title not made this movie?

So this comes to us from a listener, Mariana Garcia, and here’s the setup. So, over the Easter Holiday in 2015, so last year, millions of dollars worth of cash, gems and jewelry were stolen from this London jeweler’s facility. And it’s what we would think of as being like a safety deposit boxes, so it’s that a big secured concrete block thing with a heavy vault door and the metal box is inside.

So that kind of crime happens. What makes this so fascinating is the criminals themselves. There were eight men who pulled it off and they were almost all in their 60s and 70s.

Craig: Right. So they were calling it — what are they called, The Dad’s Army. That is what the BBC had dubbed these guys and apparently that was an old British sitcom about old people.

So, lots of different ways to go here and unfortunately, well — no, I’m sorry. Damn it, you see this is the para-narrative. Fortunately they’ve almost all have been caught. [laughs]

John: There is one person who is still on the loose. And actually before we get into like how would this be a movie. Let’s play a little clip. This is from the Metropolitan Police. They’ve put together this video that actually walks through of how they did it and it’s really great. So, we’ll have a link in the show notes to how they did it and articles about it and these video walkthroughs. But let’s play this little clip that talks through how they actually got into the vault part of this.

[Video Plays]

Male: Once in this further corridor, they were now outside the vault door in which contains 999 storage boxes.

During the first night, they spent their time drilling this 51-centimeter hole of cement but were confronted with the rear of the safe deposit cabinets. They were unsuccessful in forcing these cabinets over. And on the first night, left the premises having not made their entry into the vault itself.

They returned on the second night with an extra piece of equipment, a hydraulic pump. With this equipment they were able to force over the cabinets and make their way through the hole and into the vault.

It’s inside this vault that they broke into in excess of 70 safety deposit boxes and removed the contents and took them back up through the fire escape and out to their waiting van before making off.

John: So first off, I love this guy’s accent, it sort of sounds like Adele’s brother. Every word he says is just kind of awesome. But the actual crime itself, they went in, they thought they could do it in a night but they couldn’t get it done in a night. So like they had the gumption to like “Oh well, we need to get this special tool. So we’ll come back tomorrow night and do it tomorrow night.”

It’s just like it was three years of planning but also just a lot of stick-to-itiveness that I just — I don’t know. I feel like our millenials today couldn’t pull this off.

Craig: Absolutely. There is an old joke — it’s a dirty joke. Should I tell a dirty joke?

John: You can tell a dirty joke and we’ll bleep stuff out.

Craig: We’ll bleep stuff out. So two bulls are standing on a hill, an old bull and a young bull, and they’re looking down at this meadow where all these cows are gathered. And the young bull says to the old bull “Hey, how about we run down there and each fuck one of those cows.” And the old bull says “How about we walk down and fuck all of them?” That is the wisdom of old men. You know these guys are like I could see young guys absolutely panicking and turning on each other or getting stuck in the hole. These old guys are like, “Right. Let’s come back tomorrow with a pump.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “No big deal.”

John: And they did it. I love that the guy like brought his heart medicine with him, like they had the whole thing planned. Ultimately, how they got caught was partly because there are some security cameras they hadn’t known about that recorded part of it. But they also were overheard bragging about it at a pub.

Craig: Yeah.

John: They were using Cockney Rhyming Slang but they got drunk enough that people could hear what they were saying and make it out.

Craig: Yeah that part, not so smart. So then the other, you know, I was talking once with a police detective. And I said, you know, why is it that all these criminals are so stupid? I mean, when you hear about like how they get caught, it’s always something so stupid. And he said, well, you have to understand that people that think the best way to solve their problems is crime are usually dumb. That’s kind of the deal. So they were — they are really smart about crime but then, you know, this is the problem with criminals.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They just can’t help it. It’s their flaw. That’s why there are so few people that get away with some huge crime.

John: Well, when you talk about flaws, thought, you think about great characters and –

Craig: Right.

John: It felt like this was a story that was just chock-full of great characters, not even honestly knowing the individual personalities, the people involved on this team. You just felt like there were so many great spots for really amazing characters performing the heist, investigating the heist, the family of people involved in the heist. It just felt like, I mean, it felt like a Working Title, you know, logo at the very start of this.

Craig: Yeah, I think so. I mean there is an old movie. I don’t know if you all saw this movie Going in Style.

John: No.

Craig: 1979, George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg. Three old men who are — I don’t know if they are in a, like they are not in an old age home but they all live in the same apartment complex. And they are just like retired and just bored to death. They don’t need to rob a bank. They just decide to do it for fun.

John: Sure.

Craig: And they get away with it. And then, so it’s a comedy but then it’s sort of a dramedy because a couple of them die and it’s sort of sad and it’s about family and about growing old and all that. And so it’s — there has been an “Old people rob a bank” movie. These guys aren’t that old. But in a weird way, I probably — I can imagine a lot of people saying this should be a comedy. I would probably not make a comedy out of it.

John: Okay. Well let’s talk about that. So let’s talk about, I mean, you can’t really talk about genre without talking about point of view. So what is your point of view on this movie? Who are the people you want to focus on?

Craig: To me, I would think that this was about one guy who can’t quite let it go. So it’s a story about masculinity and it’s a story about the end of masculinity when you define your worth through that typical masculine point of view. Vocation, power, control, authority, strength, competition, winning. All those things are so caught up in what crime is especially when you think about stealing something from someone. It’s kind of the ultimate sports victory right?

So one of these guys can’t let the life go and some of the other ones kind of wish they could and one of them is kind of gives them that inspiring, “You guys, look at your lives. Look at how boring it is. Look at who you are. Don’t you want to live again? Don’t you want to feel?” And inspires these guys to do it but out of a sense selfishness because really it’s just his pride.

And I could see an interesting — I guess, yeah. I would probably — it is — there are comic elements inevitably. But that’s probably how I would attack this and the heart of it about, something about toxic masculinity. Because what is interesting to me is that these men have lived long enough to let that crap go and they can’t. They’re still using power equipment to destroy things, to steal money, after which they get drunk and boast about it. That is 18-year-old testosterone, you know, nonsense.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s still there.

John: It’s 80 going on 18.

Craig: Right, right, and they can’t let it go. That’s the part that fascinates me.

John: So my first instinct was that — the reason why I kept say Working Title is it felt like The Full Monty but with old man robbing banks. That sense of like, you know, we’re going to show those guys and like that we’re rooting for this team of oddballs and sort of underdogs to pull off this big thing. So you would have to set up in some way that they’ve been wronged and that there’s some reason why you want them to succeed. Right now, they’re just trying to get a bunch of money and that’s great if you’re doing a normal heist movie, but I think this has to be something specific they’re trying to get. So if there’s something in one of those boxes they’re trying to get or something that have been stolen from them, then you feel victory and validation when they’re able to break in and do this thing.

We talked about with Rawson and Aline. We were talking through The Martian, we were talking through Spotlight, this idea of competency porn where it’s great to see people being really, really good at their jobs.

Craig: Right.

John: And so we could see that these guys are really, really good at the thing they’re doing but they keep facing these setbacks and I love the setbacks that happen here. I love that they like have this whole plan for how they’re going to drill through and they hit this metal box and they can’t get through it and have to figure out a new way through it. So I think plot-wise, I’m not nervous about sort of getting together a story. It’s just a matter of finding the right characters and tone and approach. There’s a various, you know, broad sort of it’s De Niro in this comedy with some other folks that isn’t as interesting to me.

Craig: No, not to me either. But you’ve raised a really interesting point if you’re going to do a heist movie. What you’re stealing has to be more interesting than what you’re stealing. So in Ocean’s 11, Ted Griffin had this wonderful scenario where George Clooney and his men are going to steal money from the Bellagio vault but really what he’s trying to steal is his wife back from the owner of the Bellagio and everything is connected to something personal that we care about because most people that go to see a movie aren’t interested in robbing a bank and that isn’t really something that they can root for fully. There has to be something connected to the object or the substance that we connect to.

So that leads you to the question, what is the need of these men or what is the need of the man who’s leading this but, you know, this is a fascinating topic because it’s a genre, right? Heist is its own genre. So this story could be told five different ways. Those five different movies could all come out the same weekend and I wouldn’t blink because they would be very different movies.

John: Yeah, and part of talking about point of view is also talking about timeline. And so is this a movie that’s tracking the three years of planning on this? Does it start when they like are breaking in to the building? Does it go on past the break-in? Does it go on through their arrest? How you sort of mark the edges of the story completely change what the actual movie feels like.

Craig: Have you seen the trailer for Eddie the Eagle yet?

John: No. What’s this?

Craig: So this whole discussion reminds me of it. Eddie the Eagle was a British ski jumper. He was in the Olympics. I think the Calgary Olympics. And he was terrible but the whole point was that England doesn’t have ski jumpers and he struggled really, really hard to get acknowledged so that he could represent Great Britain and ski jump. And it was very much a Cool Runnings kind of story but when you watch the trailer, it’s this fantastic — I mean, it’s very funny but I’m already kind of tearing up watching the trailer because it’s about this little boy who’s just desperate to be a great athlete and he’s terrible at every sport.

He’s even terrible at ski jumping but his heart is so big. And it’s this really dangerous sport, you can die doing it and he doesn’t care and he’s got this like ridiculous under bite and these big glasses and he’s just pure spirit and pure joy. And it just reminded me of this discussion because there’s a great example of taking a story like that and figuring out what actually matters and how it connects to everybody in the room. So many times, I think these things go wrong when they don’t find that thread back to you sitting in your chair, you know.

John: Absolutely. Well, going back to The Full Monty. The Full Monty is not really about stripping. The Full Monty is about, you know, these four guys coming together and, you know, sort of taking back control of their lives.

Craig: Yeah, about dignity.

John: Yeah. On the topic of strippers, both of the Magic Mike movies really aren’t about that either but they’re about that sense of like modern masculinity and that’s why they resonate so well. To this movie, the gem heist one, if I had a fantasy director for it, it would be Bart Blayton. So Bart Blayton did The Impostor. Have you see The Impostor? The documentary about the guy who pretended to be — I don’t remember if he’s British or Australian but he basically pretended to be this couple’s missing son.

Craig: Wow.

John: That showed up years later and it’s a fascinating documentary. I recommended it as a One Cool Thing many years ago but I’ll put a link to that. I think Bart would do a fantastic job. I read a thing that he’s going to do next which is not this kind of heist at all but that same sense of like trying to dig into what it means to just beat the system. And I think that’s — when you talk with these guys about why they did it, they didn’t necessarily need the money. They just wanted to do something and it was sort of one of those sitting around bullshitting things. It was like, “Well, we could just actually do it.” And I think that’s a real human instinct.

Craig: It’s a really good question. I think who came to my mind was Edgar Wright.

John: Oh my god, he’d be fantastic.

Craig: Just because I think that I’d love to see him do a kind of a movie like the Cornetto trilogy but not with those guys, with old guys. Like what does that feel like? How is that different? I’d be fascinated to see like how that changes his approach in storytelling but there’s something very — you know, there are a few directors that are really good at getting into the heads of men which is its own little thing and he’s definitely one of them.

John: The other guy who would always be on this list is Joe Cornish. And so Joe Cornish from Attack the Block. And it’s one of those sort of weird situations where people who don’t work at Hollywood must say like, well, he has one movie, like why are people are so excited about him? It’s because he’s really good and he actually ends up being attached to a lot of different things and whatever he does next will be fantastic and people love him because Attack the Block was just so great.

Craig: Yeah, for sure.

John: All right. Our next how would this be a movie is this article by Theresa Fisher was the inspiration but it’s really the general syndrome that I want to talk through. It’s called sleep paralysis and in this article she talks through how this neuroscientist named Baland Jalal has been studying what happens in sleep paralysis and sort of how you get through it. Sleep paralysis is the sense that you kind of wake up but your body can’t move and you have this dread and sense that there’s somebody in your room watching you. You feel like, you know, you’re going to die, that there’s a mortal enemy there at your feet. This story talks through Pandafeche. Did I pronounce that right?

Craig: Yeah, Pandafeche.

John: Pandafeche. This sort of Italian witch, demonic witch that some Italians will encounter. But essentially, in every culture, there’s this history of people having these kind of experiences and this is one guy’s explanation about what’s actually happening when that occurs. And so I want to talk about the general idea of a sleep paralysis movie or this researcher and his findings.

Craig: Right. So it’s a really interesting topic. Our brains paralyze us while we’re dreaming so that we don’t run around and do stuff unless you’re Mike Birbiglia and then you do run around.

John: Poor Mike.

Craig: Poor Mike, who is hurling himself out of windows.

John: When you see the movie Sleepwalk with Me, you’ll see a slightly fictionalized version of his experience.

Craig: Yeah, exactly as he runs away from the jackal. But for most of us, the brain is really smart. It essentially paralyzes us so that we can experience what it means to run around and move but we aren’t. And then there’s this weird glitch that occurs where we, you know, it doesn’t seem like you become fully conscious. You are in like a weird half-in like Twilight sleepy state where you are no longer dreaming, you are awake but you’re kind of hallucinating a little bit. And you are aware that your body is paralyzed. You try and move but you can’t. This is obviously in and of itself frightening. What this researcher found was that there’s this incredibly robust consistent thing across cultures which is that people see some kind of creepy humanoid figure hovering over them in their bed.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it manifests as a witch or as a creepy man or some sort of oil slick creature or Ted Cruz or something horrifying. And so you — so why? What’s going on there? And –

John: So –

Craig: Yeah.

John: So Craig, you’ve never had this happen to you?

Craig: I’ve never had it, no.

John: Oh, I have had it three times. It was absolutely true. It’s absolutely terrifying.

Craig: And so you saw the creature?

John: I saw the creature. And so the creature for me is a man made of shadows and so he has no face. He’s always just at the edge of my vision but he’s absolutely there and it is 110% terrifying. And so you try to yell out, you try to move, and you can’t do it. And eventually it just passes and then you wake up again. I would not wish it on anybody. Well, there’s some people I’d wish it on. But I wouldn’t wish it on anybody I like.

Craig: Well, there is this, you know, we know all about these out of body experiences. Very often somebody will say, “I, you know, I floated above my body when they were doing surgery on me,” and this and that. Well, as it turns out, they can actually force these things to happen in a laboratory. And it seems like this is what’s going on with this. The person you’re seeing is you. That your brain is getting incredibly confused about input and so it’s kind of giving you a memory of looking at yourself because it’s totally tripped out and misfiring. But the people that repeatedly see these demons, they’re essentially now integrating this weird trippy vision of themselves into what they understand to be culturally true.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Obviously, you hear the story and you think but what if it’s real, get me Stylez White, and, you know, give me Stylez and Juliet and let’s make a horror movie.

John: Absolutely, it lends itself so easily to a horror movie. So let’s put that on shelf for a second. Is there any other kind of genre movie you want to approach with this?

Craig: No.

John: No. Is it even a movie? So part of me thought like, oh, is this actually more of a series and then I thought like, oh my god, it’s going to be the world’s most boring series where it’s like a bunch of sleep researchers. And that’s honestly a part of the problem with this as a cinematic concept whatsoever. It’s like you’re relying on people going to sleep and it’s like, eh. So there are examples of course. There’s Nightmare on Elm Street where people are trying not to fall asleep.

Craig: Right.

John: There is Flatliners where people are sort of deliberately killing themselves or stopping their hearts so they can crossover to the land of the death, but in general it becomes a very frustrating routine when you have people deliberately knocking themselves out in order to go into a fantasy world.

Craig: Yeah, I could see a movie where somebody is doing research on this because they don’t believe it, you know. So our hero is maybe a scientist and he comes up with a way to force it, you know. He wants to force it to be seen. Maybe a loved one died of fright as they say and so he’s on a bit of a crusade and he achieves his goal. He sees it and then he wakes up and he’s like, “Wow, that was terrifying. I’m not going to do that again.” Except now it’s out, you know, Pandafeche is coming for him. I could see that but here’s the thing, like I don’t really like these movies. So I mean people love them, I’m not a huge horror movie fan so I feel a little weird about this one but I don’t know how else you could possibly do it.

John: So I think one of the things you hit on in your approach is that you quickly moved past one of the aspects of it which is paralysis. If your movie involves people who can’t move a lot, that’s not going to be a very good character. That’s going to be a very frustrating character. So you have to find ways to allow your hero to be active in a situation where they really are naturally a passive victim and so you’re going to have to find ways to let them take some ownership of the story, take some control.

Craig: Although have you ever seen the movie Patrick?

John: I have not.

Craig: They remade it recently but it’s a 1978 Australian movie and my — I think I’ve talked about it on the podcast before. My wife was terrified by this movie as a child. Patrick is a young man who is paralyzed, I think in like a swimming pool diving accident or something and he can’t speak. So he’s in a hospital bed and he can’t speak. All he can do is he can do the following, he can go “th” or “th-th” and that’s — one is yes, two is no. And he gains telekinetic powers and begins killing and destroying from his hospital bed and he never moves.

John: That’s awesome.

Craig: He never moves. Patrick.

John: But he’s not the actual — he’s not the hero of the story so someone has to figure him out.

Craig: Yeah, definitely but he’s the villain and he didn’t go anywhere. Yeah, Patrick.

John: So I say, mixed bag on sleep paralysis. I’m going to put up a link to this article, but I feel like there’s another approach that’s probably not going to involve a sleep researcher. There’s something, I don’t know. If people have a shared vision, or there’s something, a message is being communicated from beyond there, that feels more likely the story area. I just feel like a producer could come to me with this article and I’d say, yes, but the Wikipedia entry on sleep paralysis would be about as useful.

Craig: Yeah. If somebody came to me with this, I would say, “I totally understand why you want this to be a movie, and it will be a movie, but not with me.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know. I can’t. It’s not my thing.

John: All right. So our third and final topic is about Revenge Porn. It’s about this guy named Scott Breitenstein, who runs a site that allows for people to put up photos of their exes, basically nude photos of their exes. And the way his site called Complaints Bureau works is he will not take anything down, and so it’s becoming a notorious place for people to post revenge porn, essentially like, “You broke up with me, and I put naked pictures of you up on the site.” And it’s sort of most notoriously, not only will he not take things down. If you try to file DMCA suit to get those photos taken down, he will countersue you. So here is a clip from this to set up sort of what he’s doing.

[Video Plays]

Male: So what they do is they file a DMCA complaint, Digital Millennium Copyright Act. We disable it for the 72 hours within 10 days, 10 to 14 business days if they don’t file for an injunction, then the post is going back up, that wastes our time. So what we do is we charge them $10,000

Male: From a woman whose nude photos ended up on Complaints Bureau, and I try to get them taken down, I can end up getting sued by you, for $10,000.

Male: Right. Yes.

Male: Scott also optimizes Complaints Bureau’s search engine rankings so that people’s revenge porn is often the first thing that comes up when you Google their names.

Male: How much money do you make off these sites?

Male: I make — I make about $1,200 a month on Complaints Bureau, STD Registry and Report My Ex, some months it’s $600, some months it’s $900. Sometimes $500. It just varies.

Male: And where does that money come from?

Male: Google.

Male: You have like Google ads?

Male: Yes.

Craig: God.

John: Yes, so this guy’s a winner. So I’ll fast forward to essentially Kevin Roost did this documentary, interview with him, and over the course of it also played women who we’re talking about sort of like what this had done to their life, and so this guy took down all of that and basically after years of putting it all up, took all that stuff down. So that is the outcome of the real story. But I’m curious what you think the movie universe is for something about revenge porn.

Craig: It’s a real scummy little corner of the world. God, and for an amount of money that it’s just like every time you hear a documentary like this, you’re waiting for them to say, $30,000 a month. $500, like what? What? You can get that working at Walmart. Why are you doing this, you know?

John: So when you hear about these, he’s going to charge $10,000, if you don’t actually file this lengthy paperwork, that scares these women away. Essentially, it’s kind of a blackmail. I’m sure there’s a specific term for where you essentially are saying the threat of the countersuit is enough to sort of make people back away, or you just charge them.

Craig: Yeah, I get, maybe he made a little bit of money there, but it’s not like he was running a proper blackmail scam where women would write in and he would say, well, for a $5,000 fee, I will remove this. He’s saying, “No, no. I’ll sue you for $10,000 and I’ll keep it up there.”

So these guys, I mean the video is eye-opening because it’s almost too cliché, I mean you’re looking at these folks in Dayton, Ohio who just seem down on their own luck, really hardcore, self-professed Christians, who are doing the most bananas thing with no rhyme or reason, and this is what’s challenging to me about making a movie out of this.

I demand that my villains are rational. I don’t necessarily agree with what they’re doing, usually I don’t, that’s why they’re villains, and so — but I need to understand that there’s a reason for what they’re doing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean sure, occasionally, you can have fun with somebody like the Joker, but even the Joker had a reason, like –

John: Yes, there’s a consistency of thought behind his actions.

Craig: Right. This is inexplicable.

John: And the fact that he backed away from doing it after all these years, basically like he didn’t have — it seems like he hadn’t actually done the introspection to figure out what he was doing. And that’s a person in the real world, but I don’t think we would take that as a dramatic character. I don’t think we’d buy into the movie if that was his same motivation.

Craig: Yeah. I guess I’m struggling with how to portray this in a way that is anything other than punishing.

John: Let’s talk about our characters in general. So the characters we could have in this universe is we have this guy who runs this terrible website. Our frustration is that the real life person is, he’s doing a despicable thing, but he’s not interesting enough, and he’s not consistent enough, he’s actually not a great character at least from what we see so far.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We have a journalist, we have the wronged women, and they are potentially fascinating. And so if you are a woman in the situation, you are potentially fascinating because what you’re doing and sort of how you rise up, is potentially great. There’s sort of a missing Erin Brockovich character who could be fantastic for this.

I wonder honestly if the villain of this story is essentially part of the reason why I left Google in there is essentially, Google is what’s making this possible. He’s selling Google ads — are paying him his $1,200 a month off this, is that you know, there’s some systemic villain who might be the real person you want to go after here.

Craig: The problem is that Google, $1,200 for Google is a rounding error in their coffee budget for the day, you know, it’s like, I don’t believe that they are — my guess is, they had no idea, it’s just the robots are, you know, picking up crumbs of money from everywhere. There’s a movie to do, maybe that gets off of the website completely, and connects into somebody who does it.

So a guy posts a woman’s picture, and she comes after him. You know, I could see a revenge movie, I could see a cat and mouse game.

John: Yeah, that’s actually really interesting. So I think the systemic movie is basically Spotlight. I think you could do a movie that is essentially Spotlight that is taking down revenge porn. So, the same way Spotlight was about the Catholic Church and pedophilia, this would be about the revenge porn and the industry that is protecting revenge porn out there.

But the personal version of the story doesn’t involve computers to anywhere to the same degree. It’s really about sort of what is the relationship between these two people now that they’re no longer together. And what is the motivation behind revenge porn? What is the drive to punish somebody who has wronged you? That sense of, you know, betrayal, and that would drive someone to post these nude photos.

Craig: Yeah, there is a cinematic tradition of revenge against people that sexually exploit others through media. So thinking of the movie Hardcore, the George C. Scott film, there was, I think the Joel Schumacher film, 8mm.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Joel Schumacher did that one? So about an underage girl who is caught up in the world of pornography, or people making snuff films which as it turns out, I think is just ultimately an urban legend. Somewhere I read an interesting article that it just doesn’t exist. But so there’s that kind of old school way of doing it where a girl has her picture posted online as part of a revenge porn, she kills herself, the father decides he’s going to track those bastards down with a shotgun. And we actually like stories like that, I think.

John: We do.

Craig: They’re very satisfying in a very primal way in that kind of — there’s something deep in our evolutionary genetics where we want to see daddy hurt somebody who hurt his little girl. But it’s been done, there’s nothing new to say there, and it’s also distasteful. You know, as an aside, don’t let people take pictures of you naked, just don’t do it. And don’t send them pictures of yourself naked. And I know that there are people that do it all the time. But I don’t. I mean, I don’t have anyone to send them to anyway, [laughs] but you know, I just don’t.

John: I whole-heartedly agree with you, Craig. And at the same time, I want to acknowledge that my endorsing that advice doesn’t mean that somebody who does take pictures of themselves naked is a bad person, or that there’s anything, I don’t know, I don’t want to undermine the ability of you do you, and if you’re doing you, that does not give anyone else permission to post those photos.

And so I don’t want to sort of — I think there’s a victim blaming that can naturally happen whenever I give the advice to not take pictures of yourself naked, but of course, that would be my general blanket advice is that, we know we live in a time where you can never count on anything not getting out. And so the only way you can make sure that there are no naked pictures of yourself is to make sure there are no naked pictures of yourself.

Craig: Exactly, exactly. There’s nothing — it’s not a crime to take a naked picture of yourself, it’s not a crime to take a picture of somebody you love, or any of that, but it’s not prudent. There’s a difference between something that is acceptable and okay, and something that’s imprudent. It’s just imprudent because you’re relying on the goodness of other people. And I do rely on the goodness of other people every time I cross the street, I just hope to god that I’m crossing in front of the guy that doesn’t like running over people, but then there are situations where I’m like, I just don’t know you well enough to bank all of this on that.

John: That’s why I’m always making eye contact with that person before I cross in front of the car because if I made eye contact, I know they saw me. If I don’t make the eye contact, I’m just not convinced.

Craig: So funny, I do the opposite. I don’t make eye contact because I feel if I look into their eyes, they’re going to be challenged.

John: They’ll recognize that they should just hit the accelerator.

Craig: They’re either going to see something in me, or they’re going to feel like I know who they are, really, and then they hit the gas.

John: So circling back to don’t take naked photos of yourself, I think if you are going to make the revenge porn movie, that has to be an argument that’s raised in the course of the movie because that is a meaningful part of this, is that, there’s a natural instinct to blame the victim here and say like, well, you shouldn’t have let him take photos of you. And so I think you have to raise that as an issue because the audience will think that as well and so address it. You have to hang a lantern on that idea and make sure you are really doing an interesting job of dramatizing that argument and that discussion.

Going back to your sense of the revenge story, so it’s the daughter who killed herself, it’s the father who’s going after this guy. The guy he arrives at the house, finally to confront, if it’s this guy, it’s interesting. I don’t know if it’s dramatically satisfying for the movie, but I think he is an interesting character because he’s not this terrible demon that we sort would assume that he is. I think you might be kind of — you might end the movie kind of frustrated the same way I was frustrated at the end of Prisoners, or at the end of Zachariah where it was just like, well, but I wanted some closure, you’re not giving me closure.

Craig: Well, if you arrive at this guy’s house and confront him, the frustration for you, the hero, and we in the audience that are identifying with you, is that this guy is a dullard. He’s not — there’s nothing there, it’s almost like you’re — what are you going to do? You’re going to beat up a guy that’s kind of — low IQ, checked out, depressed or something. Like, I don’t know what was going on with that guy. He just seemed so weirdly disengaged with his own life and his own thing. Like, here’s a news crew coming to talk to you about this website that has affected, like at one point, they show some post with revenge porn, and a guy has put up a woman’s pictures, and he shows that a million people essentially have looked at them. And he just doesn’t seem to care about any of it. He seems so weirdly detached.

We don’t want weirdly detached villains that have — when we get them in movies, we’re waiting for that moment where we finally go, “Oh, that’s the thing. That’s the thing. There’s the sickness.” There’s just nothing to this guy.

John: Yeah, that’s frustrating. Basically, we’re anticipating an argument that never comes, we’re anticipating a showdown that never actually happens, which actually reminds me of my sort of New Year’s resolution for this year, which was to stop having imaginary arguments. There’s a bad tendency I’ve noticed with myself, and I’ve always done it, but I think I’ve just been much more aware of it recently, is something will annoy me, or piss me off, and I’ll anticipate the conversation I’m going to have with that person, and I will spend an hour thinking thorough like, well, they’re going to say this, and I’m going to say that. Basically, I’ll work through all of my arguments and all of my points specifically and clearly, but then, that phone call never happens, it never comes. Or if it does come, I’m never able to say the things I wanted to say because I’ve scripted this thing, this interaction that will never actually happen. And so my 2016 goal is to not waste the time to have those imaginary arguments.

Craig: That’s a good goal because, yeah, that’s — well, it’s just silly, John.

John: It’s just silly.

Craig: Later, after this podcast, John will have an hour-long argument with me in his head about why it’s not so silly.

John: 100 percent true.

Craig: I’ll show you.

John: Craig, out of the three movies we discussed today, which of these do you think will actually happen?

Craig: Easter gem heist.

John: I completely agree.

Craig: Yeah, no question. There’s just so many different ways to do it, and people love heists and it just feels like there’s way more opportunity for human drama.

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

Craig: I put one here, but I’m going to throw a little audible, because I just remembered something. I watched a documentary the other day that I thought was great and in the middle of it Kayla Alpert appeared.

John: I love Kayla Alpert. She is a writer and friend of ours.

Craig: Yeah. She just appears in the middle of this movie. So the movie is called, Do I Sound Gay? Have you heard of this movie?

John: I’ve heard of this movie and Dan Savage is also, who is a previous podcast guest, in there, too.

Craig: Yes he is, as well as George Takei, and Margaret Cho, and David Sedaris who is hysterical as always. And it’s a documentary done by a guy named David Thorpe, and it talks about this really fascinating thing that everybody is kind of aware of and yet nobody has ever really thought about it as thoroughly as this guy does. And it’s the speech patterns of gay men and how some gay men you listen, you go, “Oh yeah, you sound gay.” And this is a man who wants to sound less gay. And he goes through this interesting journey where he talks about it with his friends, he talks about it with straight people, he talks about it with gay people.

He shows you a straight guy that everyone thinks sounds gay. He shows you a gay man that everyone thinks sounds straight. He talks to linguists, he talks to a straight linguist, gay linguist. They analyze speech down to these little bitsy things. They get into this whole thing about the lisp, you know, there’s the stereotype of the gay lisp, and it’s actually not a lisp, it’s just a sibilance.

And David Sedaris tells this amazing story about how he was in speech therapy as a kid, and they were all boys in the speech therapy class. And as he grew up, he kept meeting other gay men who are like, “Oh yeah, I was in speech therapy,” and he would meet so few straight people in speech therapy. And he finally realized, like oh my god, all of those kids in that class were gay. We just all sounded gay, and they put us in speech therapy. It’s a really interesting movie about this fascinating topic. And I liked it. I just liked the way it ended, and I liked how kind of honest and confrontational it was about this quirky little aspect of human communication.

So it is available on iTunes and Amazon, and all that stuff. So, Do I Sound Gay by David Thorpe.

John: Fantastic. My One Cool Thing is how Mickey Mouse avoids the public domain. So we talked about copyright and copyright extension on our program previously, but this was a really good article by Zachary Crockett for Priceonomics that talks through sort of how copyright extension has kept Mickey Mouse from falling into the public domain which it should have many years ago, and many times before. And essentially, we keep kicking the can back, and we extend copyright for years longer than it was originally supposed to be. So it’s not just Mickey Mouse that stayed under copyright, but a whole bunch of works that should be public domain are not public domain because we keep extending it.

Right now, I think it’s up through 2023, but inevitably it’s going to extend longer, and it really raises the question of, “What is copyright supposed to do, what is it actually doing, what is the sort of function copyright serves society, and to what degree is it disserving society by extending it for so long?

So as screenwriters, we like copyright because copyright lets us get paid for our work. Hooray. But as people who actually need to make things, it can be really frustrating that certain things are impossible to make because of copyright extension.

Craig: Yeah. There’s no question that our law in this country has been weirdly distorted by one character. And you can understand why. Disney, I mean because, you know, okay whatever, so let’s say it goes into public domain, whoop-dee-do. Well, you know, there’s all that Disney World here and Disney World there. I mean, they have this enormous business built around this character. And it’s not so much that they would stop having that business, I mean, look, they don’t make Mickey Mouse cartoons anymore. They have Star Wars now, they have Pixar, they have Marvel, they have all this stuff that makes money. They’ll be fine.

It’s just more that I think they don’t want the black eye of other people, you know, kind of lampooning Mickey Mouse in front of them. I mean, once Mickey Mouse is in public domain, the next thing you will see that day is porn in which Mickey is having sex with Minnie.

John: Yeah. So the kicker I think to this article which is absolutely true, and I’ve been thinking about this a lot, is Disney has trademark over the Mickey Mouse character, his design, and a lot of other things. So even when the copyright on Mickey Mouse goes away, that trademark thing will be incredibly difficult to get around. And because their whole identity, because their logo is his ears and stuff like that, they’re still going to have so much protection over that image that’s going to persist beyond that.

So it’s a mess, but I think this is a good article, really showing how the Mickey situation has influenced the way we’re able to approach things. And if you really look at Disney’s output, so many of their movies are based on stories that would not be in the public domain if the same copyright law had applied.

Craig: Oh yeah, I mean, that’s the fascinating thing about Disney, is that they have done an incredible job exploiting a wealth of works in the public domain while savagely guarding their own original creations from being in the public domain. So you get Cinderella, and you get Maleficent, and you get Sleeping Beauty and you get –

John: The Little Mermaid which is actually very specifically the Hans Christian Andersen Story.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So yeah.

Craig: That’s right. Exactly. I mean, tons of it, almost all of it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s kind of amazing. So it’ll be interesting to see what happens. It’s going to be harder for them, I think, to re-extend it once it goes past 2023. It’s going to be hard.

John: Cool. All right. That’s our show for this week. As always, you can find the links to many of the things we talked about on today’s program at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. You can also find all of Scriptnotes, all the back episodes, at scriptnotes.net if you want some of those previous episodes. You can pay us $2 a month, and that gives you access to all the back episodes, and you can also listen to them through the Scriptnotes app which is available on the app store for both Android and for IOS.

If you are on iTunes for any other purpose, please do stop by and leave us a review on iTunes for Scriptnotes, this podcast you’re listening to. That actually really does help people find out about us, and every once in a while, Apple will feature us and it’s just great to have new people listen to our show. So thank you for that. So leave us a comment because we actually do read through those. And maybe next week, we’ll make it a goal to read some of our favorite comments from that.

Craig: Great, sure.

John: Up on the air. If you would like to write something to Craig, he’s on Twitter, @clmazin, I am @johnaugust on Twitter. For longer questions like the ones we addressed today, you can write in to ask@johnaugust.com. Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Our outro this week is by Martine Charnow and this is actually something she found, I believe. So this is from a Honda Days thing, so basically an ad and the Honda Days little theme music is actually the Scriptnotes outro.

Craig: Awesome.

John: So put together a couple of notes and they’re going to sound the same. So if you have a Scriptnotes outro you’d like to send to us, just write in to ask@johnaugust.com and provide us a link like Martine did. And Craig, I will see you next time at the live show on the 25th.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: With our great guests, Jason Bateman, and Lawrence Kasdan. This is coming out right before then. So if you’re listening to this, you can still check to see if there are tickets, there might still be some tickets left. That’s at hollywoodheart.org/upcoming. Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thanks, John.

John: Bye.

Links:

Torrenting the Oscars 2016

Fri, 01/22/2016 - 08:27

Every year, Andy Baio tracks online leaks of Oscar-nominated films:

The median number of days from a film’s release to its first leak online was only nine days, the shortest window since 2008.

More than a month before the ceremony, 97% of Oscar nominees have leaked online in DVD or higher quality, more than last year at this time.

Baio notes that since Blu-ray screeners have proven unpopular with studios and voters,1 most of the leaked films are “only” DVD quality. And the number of cams (surreptitiously recorded in the theater) has dropped.

As Baio pointed out last year, there’s no point torrenting a DVD rip if there’s already a higher-quality telecine or HD version available. You only need one, which creates a race to be the first to put up a given movie.

One group, Hive-CM8, was responsible for 15 of the leaked films, including The Hateful Eight. Afterwards, they offered an apology-slash-justification to Quentin Tarantino:

“If let’s say 5% of the people planned to watch this movie at cinema date, due to this media push we unintentionally created, we believe that now 40% of the people will watch this movie in the cinema [because] everyone is talking about it and everyone wants to see the movie that created so much noise. This will push the cinema ticket sales for sure.

“We really hope this helped out the producers in the long-run, so that the production costs are covered and more.”

So by leaking the movie before it was released, then backtracking, they’re pretty sure Miramax will make its money back because imaginary math is magic.

  1. Each year, the studios send voters a postcard asking which format they would like for screeners. I have a Blu-ray player, but always choose DVD so I can watch screeners on vacation.

Changing heroes mid-stream

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 13:39

Germain Lussier looks at how and why the upcoming Zootopia switched out its lead character late in production:

In Zootopia, which hits theaters March 4, a young bunny named Judy Hopps leaves home for a job as a police officer in the big city of the title. There, she must team up with a con-man fox named Nick Wilde to solve a crime. Nick, voiced by Jason Bateman, is jaded, sarcastic, and believes everyone is exactly who they are. Judy, voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin, is exactly the opposite. She’s cheery, optimistic and believes anyone can be whatever they want.

For years, Nick was the focus on the film, with Hopps playing a crucial, but secondary role. But on that fateful November day, a little over a year before the film’s release, director Byron Howard realized they had to make the switch.

In live-action films, the stages of writing, production and editing are distinct and sequential, so you rarely see this kind of major 11th-hour refocussing. By the time you realize you’ve made a fundamental mistake about your central character, you’re largely stuck with what you’ve shot.

Animation, on the other hand, is iterative. As you move from screenplay to storyboards to scratch reels, you see the story coming to life — and the problems front-and-center. At each step, you’re screening and debating and rewriting. Talk to animation folks and you’ll hear countless stories of sidekicks promoted to heroes, and whole plotlines ditched.

In our Scriptnotes episode with Jennifer Lee about Frozen, she described some of the major changes to Anna and Elsa while in production.

I’ve mostly worked in stop-motion animation, which falls in the middle between live-action and CG animation. For Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie, we had a lot of flexibility up until the shutter clicked. From that point forward, it was very difficult to make significant story changes, much like a non-animated movie.

Tuesday Reviewsday

Tue, 01/19/2016 - 15:38

As someone who makes apps and other things, I know how helpful reviews are. They let makers know how much you love their products, and encourage potential customers to give new things a shot.

One of my goals for 2016 is to be better about writing reviews for the products I love. Every Tuesday I’ll be leaving reviews on the applicable store.

Today’s picks are:

Leaving reviews is not a big time commitment. I wrote all four of these while waiting for an appointment.

If you’re looking for something to review, many readers are probably familiar with some of the things we make, including Highland, Weekend Read and Writer Emergency Pack.

Podcasts are especially review-dependent, because they signal to the powers at iTunes to feature certain shows. A review for Scriptnotes would be much-appreciated.

Ocean’s 77

Tue, 01/19/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John play “How Would This Be a Movie?” looking at three articles in the news.

A band of pensioners pull off an audacious jewel heist — but is it a Working Title comedy, or something darker? Where does the story begin and end? What’s the MacGuffin?

A researcher investigates sleep paralysis and visions of an Italian witch. Is the movie a straightforward horror thriller, and if so, how do you make the audience care about your hero?

A revenge porn king is confronted by his victims. But would the movie version be an investigation (like Spotlight), or a tale of personal justice (like Taken)?

We also need your suggestions for finding a non-coffeeshop place to write when sharing a studio apartment.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

What screenwriters mean by IP and YA

Mon, 01/18/2016 - 14:30

Sven in Germany writes:

In your January 5th episode with Aline and Rawson, you spoke about IP and YA and I kind of got the idea from the context, but couldn’t figure out the exact meaning of the abbreviations.

IP means “intellectual property,” and in a general sense could refer to anything covered by copyright, trademark or patent.

But for screenwriters, IP means some pre-existing property that a studio is hiring you to adapt into a movie. IP includes comic book characters (Iron Man), games (Clue), and all manner of remakes and reboots of other movies and TV shows.

A friend was hired to develop a TV series based on a candy logo. That’s crazy, but that’s IP.

When Rawson notes that it’s hard to get a movie made that’s not based on IP, he’s saying that studios want to spend money on projects that they feel already have brand recognition. Given two identical navy-vs-aliens scripts, they’ll greenlight the one called Battleship.

YA stands for Young Adult. It’s fiction that’s technically written for teenagers — but is often read by adults. The Hunger Games and Twilight series are YA books that became best-sellers and huge movie franchises. (We don’t talk about movies being “YA.” Only books.)

Notable movies based on YA books tend to be dystopian dramas and supernatural romances, but YA itself isn’t a genre. YA is more about who the intended reader is, which very often reflects the age of the hero.

Middle-grade fiction is written for kids roughly 8 to 12 years old. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson would generally be considered middle-grade. (Of course, Harry and his friends age up over the course of the series.)

In Hollywood, I’ve never heard anyone say “MG” aloud the way YA is thrown about.

Screenwriters don’t really need to know much about the publishing world and its target audiences. When adapting a book, you’re just thinking about the movie. But if you’re curious, Malinda Lo has a useful collection of thoughts about the differences between middle-grade and YA fiction.

Scriptnotes, Ep 232: Fun with Numbers — Transcript

Thu, 01/14/2016 - 18:09

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 232 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program, we will look at what the giant success of Star Wars means for screenwriters and the film industry. We will look at a startup that uses exclusive algorithms to predict which movies will be hits or flops. Ooh, get your waders because there’s going to be some umbrage muck there.

A WGA proposal that changes the number of years board members can serve. And in the craft corner, we’ll look at how you tell an audience what your characters’ names are. So a busy episode.

Craig: Indeed. Plus we have some questions and things.

John: We have a lot to go through. But this is our first normal episode in a while. Last week, we had Aline and Rawson on, and that was so much fun. But Craig, it’s honestly great to have you back.

Craig: Well, thank you, John. I’d like to think that everybody likes the original formula of Coke. You know, we are the original formula. This is it.

John: Well, it’s fascinating. It’s like the original formula of the Coke has been sort of supplanted by Mexican Coke. Classically, I mean, you should think that American Coke is Coke. But in Los Angeles restaurants, you order Mexican Coke because it’s made with sugar rather than being high fructose corn syrup.

Craig: Right. It’s made with cane sugar instead of — or, well, I don’t know, sugar. It’s funny, like, most sugar comes from beets, I guess.

John: Yeah. Sure.

Craig: But none of it’s really the original Coke because the original Coke had cocaine in it.

John: It’s so good.

Craig: Yummy.

John: Somewhere on Twitter, a person linked to this photo of some product that was sold and the ingredients in it were amazing. It was like alcohol, cocaine and like morphine. And it was like an over the counter thing you could buy.

Craig: Cocaine wine.

John: Cocaine wine.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Oh, more cocaine wine for Hellen Keller.

Craig: Oh, so good. [laughs]

John: All right. Let’s do some follow-up because there’s a bunch of it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Alex writes in, “In Episode 7, another wonderful episode wherein you guys offered your thoughts and opinions on female health issues — “

Craig: Yes.

John: “Craig ended up by promising, ‘Next week’s episode is entirely about vaginosis.'” Alex continues, “I’m not saying that things don’t come up from time to time to bump the planned schedule, but for the next 222 episodes or so, I’ve been waiting for this episode.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: “Before I continue spending my $2 per month, do you guys have an ETA on the vaginosis episode? And if the solution comes down to yogurt, I’m going to be very disappointed.”

Craig: Yeah, it’s a great question. So I’m going to try to make this as quick as I can. This is the vaginosis episode, okay? And this should be family-friendly. It’s just science, folks.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So what is vaginosis? Vaginosis. Everyone’s like, what the hell is going on? Vaginosis is not a yeast infection. A lot of people think they’re the same thing. They’re not. Vaginosis is actually far more common than yeast infections. And it’s one of those good bacteria, bad bacteria things.

So you know, like there’s a whole thing now about good bacteria is really important for our health. We all know that’s sort of like in our gut bacteria is really important. Well, it’s also really important in the vagina because a particular kind of bacteria called lactobacillus keeps the pH balance in the vagina slightly acidic, and that helps kill bad microorganisms that come to the vagina.

Okay. I’m going to say vagina about 1,000 times, by the way.

Sometimes that balance gets out of whack. And a different kind of bacteria called gardnerella begins to proliferate, and that kills off the good bacteria, the lactobacillus.

Why does this happen? It just gets in there. You can think of ways it might get in there. I mean, the point is the vagina is an opening and stuff gets in openings. That’s just life.

Anyway, the point is, another — well, there’s another reason it happens. This is the worst thing. Sometimes women douche, and they should not. As far as everything I’ve read, that’s just like the worst thing. Because what it does is, perversely, the thing you’re doing to clean your vagina, is just cleaning away the bacteria that keeps your vagina clean, and then you can end up with this situation which is vaginosis.

And what are the symptoms? I’m not going to go into the symptoms. They’re unpleasant.

The point is this, she’s asking about yogurt. So people went, “Okay, well, if vaginosis is caused by things being out of whack and there’s not enough of the lactobacillus in there, how do I get more lactobacillus? I know, yogurt. Because it has lactobacillus.”

Sort of not really. Two different strains. And also, eating it isn’t really the same thing as putting it in your vagina which, by the way, people have tried to do. They’ve literally dipped tampons in yogurt and stuck it up in there.

And there’s like one study that says that might work. One study. But mostly, the studies say no, eating yogurt doesn’t really do anything. Even taking probiotics doesn’t really seem to help, because it’s just kind of the deal.

So this is a bummer, Alex. We’ve finally gotten to the vaginosis episode and what I’m telling you is I can’t even give you yogurt. I can give you nothing except, unfortunately, antibiotics. Which is not great because those come along with all other issues.

But it’s just one of those things. The vagina is an opening, things get in openings. Sometimes there’s infections. I’m sorry.

John: Yeah. It feels like one of those intractable problems that we often face as screenwriters where, you know, it’s just the way things are and you have to accept that it’s the way things are.

Craig: It’s just the way things are.

John: You could sometimes be vigilant for like things not to do. So you’ve given some useful advice on like not douching.

Craig: Yeah. So don’t douche. There’s no cause for it.

The worst of them actually not only wash away the good bacteria, but then they raise the pH of the vagina which then makes it even harder for the good bacteria to survive or come back. There’s just no reason for it. I know why it’s there, but don’t do it.

John: Lewis in the UK writes, “On your live show, you urged people currently using their parents’ Netflix accounts to get their own. This got me wondering what difference it would make to you, the screenwriter.

Assume I currently use my dad’s Netflix account and there are 1 billion people identical to me following my actions. What effect does it have on you if I and my clone army get my own account under the following conditions? One, neither of us watch your movie. Two, I watch your movie. Three, both I and my father watch your movie. Cheers, Lewis.”

Craig: Cheers, Lewis.

John: Yeah. So Lewis is asking what difference does it make whether I watch something on my dad’s Netflix account or my Netflix account. And the answer I think has to do with just overall numbers of subscribers to Netflix and that the more people Netflix have watching movies, the more money they have to spend to buy the rights to our movies.

Craig: Yeah. But there’s another thing, too. I think there’s residuals issues because Netflix pays the studios.

Now, we don’t really know how Netflix pays the studios, it’s a big bit of a mystery. But I suspect that it is somewhat metric. They’re not going to be paying Warner Bros. as much for a movie that made $2 million as they are for a movie that made $100 million that people are constantly clicking on and watching.

So Netflix has metrics for everything. The more people that are watching a particular movie, the more probably they’re going to send to the studio a portion to that movie. And then that becomes gross proceeds for the studio, which then impacts our residuals on our end.

If one person watches the same movie five times on Netflix, I don’t know if Netflix says it was watched five times. Maybe, but possibly not.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But if two individuals watch it each once, that may count as two viewings.

John: Yes. So in general, it comes down to we do not get paid — in sort of the iTunes model, we get paid a specific residual for you are renting that movie or you are purchasing that movie. And that is lovely and it’s much more straightforward.

When a services licensing a movie for a period of time at a certain rate, we don’t get a portion individually residuals for that one person who watched it. But the more people overall who are watching that movie on that service, the more likely that service is going to say, “You know what? We better have The Hangover Part 3 next month because a lot of people love to watch that movie.” And that’s the service you’re doing us by getting your own account and watching that yourself.

Craig: I mean, of course, there’s the — I mean, Lewis isn’t — he’s asking a very specific question about how it affects, but then there’s just the moral thing, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Stop leeching off your parents. [laughs] You know, like, it’s embarrassing.

John: Spoken as the father of a teenager, yes.

Craig: Well, yeah, it’s embarrassing. Like, I mean, the last thing I would want to do is be leeching off my parents.

John: Yeah. It’s generational.

Craig: That’s just me.

John: Sean writes, “My script has been picked up by a couple of producers to be made next year and they’ve asked me to direct.” Congratulations, Sean.

Craig: Nice.

John: “They have chosen a venue and hired actors for a read-through. I’ve asked around and gotten some recommendations from others who have been in similar situations. Common advice was to watch those attending and read their body language, et cetera to find any spots that lag, spots that are engaged. My question is, what advice do you guys have about the questions I should ask those who attend the read-through so I can get the most out of it?” Craig?

Craig: Well, that’s interesting. I’m not sure that this whole body language — I mean, you really should just watch it like an audience member. I mean, you have to kind of take yourself out of the seat of being the director so to speak, because when you’re doing a live read-through, they’re just going to read it through. You can’t stop and start them. At that point, you really should trust yourself rather than — now, what you can do is you could have somebody set up a little camera to film the audience. Film, record the audience, that you can then review later to look for squirming. You can see like, for instance, if it’s a comedy, did we remember — was that a big laugh or not a big laugh? We can’t quite remember.

But mostly, I would say, just place yourself in your audience mindset and you experience it. And you take notes. And you monitor how you feel.

What do you think, John?

John: I agree. I think the value for the read-through is for you as the writer-director and for the actors. And if the audience and the producers and other trusted friends are watching this and they’re able to give you helpful things based on their observations, that’s great. But really, let the experience be about you and connecting with the actors.

The read-through is going to be one of the few times where all those actors are in the room performing the entire thing together. Movies aren’t like plays where the entire thing is staged each time. This is probably going to be the only situation in the entire process where the entire thing is performed. So just get a sense of what it feels like as a whole thing.

I would say, when you’re taking notes for yourself, look for lines that certain actors have trouble with. Look for moments that seem kind of clunky, or where the actors’ instincts about how to play something are not your instincts so you can go back and work through those before you show up on set and have to deal with those.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I would say let that experience of a read-through be a chance for everyone to sort of come together and sort of celebrate the work as a whole, because it’s never going to be whole again until you see these people at the premier.

Craig: Quite, quite true.

The other thing to look out for is judgments about particular actors in the role at the read-through. Some actors really are film actors. They come alive when it’s quiet and the camera is on them. And they act to a camera, and they’re brilliant at it. They’re not great stage actors. Sometimes they’re intimidated by being on stage. Sometimes they tank it on purpose. They just don’t want to be judged, so they get very small.

I’ve seen so many big movie stars do this at read-throughs where they just suddenly seem so small, almost like they’re afraid to be big because it’s embarrassing to them.

So, I wouldn’t make anyone a hero out of it, and I wouldn’t make anyone a goat out of it, because there’s an enormous difference. A little bit like when people say, you know, there’s that term daily laughs –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Where, you know, it’s a big laugh in dailies or it’s a big laugh on the set. And then you put it in the movie and it’s like, “Nah, it doesn’t work.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Make note of the context. Sometimes the performances will not at all be what you’re getting when you’re there on the day.

John: Yeah. All right. Our last bit of follow-up harkens back to Episode 112, and we looked at this video that had gone viral that week called “Dear JJ Abrams” which offered four points of advice for what JJ Abrams should do now that he was setting off to direct the Star Wars movie. [laughs] So I thought we would revisit what those four points were –

Craig: Okay.

John: And see whether those were actually meaningful. As I recall, you were openly kind of skeptical and mocking of this guy who made this video. But here are his four points.

Craig: Because he was saying obvious things, I think. [laughs]

John: Yeah, he was saying kind of obvious things. But here were his four points. Star Wars happens on the frontier. Is that true to Star Wars 7? Yes, it was.

Craig: Uh, yeah.

John: Very much. The future is old.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah, absolutely. Like the movie starts with the wreckage of previous battles and I think it is very old.

Craig: And also the equipment was just taken directly from the prior — from the original series. So the blasters looked old. Yeah.

John: Yeah, they did. And there were lots of old people in it as well. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

John: The force is mysterious. I’d say, mixed bag here. Because there wasn’t a lot of talk about the force in this movie.

Craig: Well, I think it were — I mean, we all know what it is at this point.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I did like that the ball was moved a little bit forward on the force. You know, the whole staring, grunting duel between Kylo and Rey was something new. We hadn’t seen that before.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It was a little X-Men-y.

John: Yeah, it was a little X-Men-y. Kylo gets to make a blaster bolt hover in mid-air. That was cool.

Craig: That was awesome.

John: That was cool.

Craig: Loved that.

John: Finally, Star Wars isn’t cute. [laughs]

I would counter with BB-8. BB-8 is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in an entire movie. I want nothing but BB-8 in my entire universe.

Craig: It’s not true. Star Wars is cute. I mean, even Jawas were cute. BB-8 is cute. R2 is cute. C3PO is cute. The little woman with the big eyes was cute. Yeah. I mean, even that monster on, you know, that was rampaging at one point was kind of cute.

No. Sometimes Star Wars is cute. There’s nothing wrong with that.

John: There’s nothing wrong with being cute.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, I don’t know, I still — I’m actually angrier about this baloney advice to — I love his advice to — I mean, I don’t know what I said. I’m guessing, if I could go back and listen to 112, that probably what I said was, “This is lame because all you’re doing is giving obvious advice that later you can take credit for.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Oh, he must have listened to me.” No, he didn’t. Stop it.

John: Yeah. No, he didn’t. Correlation is not causation. That’s going to come up later on.

Craig: It’s going to come up, yeah.

John: All right. Let’s go back to Star Wars. So new topics here.

Craig: Yup.

John: Star Wars is going to be the biggest movie of all time.

Craig: Yup.

John: We’re recording this about 10 days before this airs, the episode is going to air. So by the time this comes out, more of these records will probably have been broken. But on Box Office Mojo, which is probably the best place to look up sort of like how movies are doing over time, it’s fun that Star Wars knocks down sort of every record. So like fastest to 100, fastest to $200 million, fastest to $500 million.

The movie is also incredibly well-reviewed. And so I thought we might talk just for a minute about like what the impact of Star Wars will be on the film industry and for screenwriters in the coming years based on its gargantuan success.

Craig: Well, I did feel — I think I said on a prior episode that this would be — we would find out just how much money a movie could make. I mean, that’s kind of what’s happening here.

Very exciting for our friend, Rian Johnson, who’s making the next one, because I think that we will find out how much more a movie could make when he — I think his movie will become the biggest movie of all time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s really exciting. Implications for the film industry? I don’t think there are any. This is a little controversial, but to me, this is a little bit like saying, “Well, what were the implications for Harry Potter?” Harry Potter was unique.

There were some other YA properties that came out, but they in themselves were — they had their own fan base and they had earned their way in. Like, say, The Hunger Games had earned its way in.

Star Wars is unique. I don’t know if anyone else can look at this and think, “Oh, well, let’s just do that.” You can’t.

John: Well, you can’t do that.

So in terms of it being unique, I think it carves out a space of like, you’re not going to make any kind of movies that are even like Star Wars for a while because Star Wars is Star Wars. And so I think if we were trying to make a big space opera, just put that on the back shelf for like 20 years because this is going to take up that entire universe. And anything you’re trying to make that is a big space opera is going to be compared to Star Wars here.

I think if you’re trying to make a giant Dune right now, it’s going to be compared to Star Wars in ways that aren’t entirely fair but would be natural.

Craig: Well Dune actually is not a bad idea. Hold on a second. [laughs] Hold on, because I agree with you.

I remember when Star Wars came out, it was succeeded by a series of terrible rip-offs and knock-offs, some of which I actually kind of liked because I was a kid and I liked that stuff. But Dune actually, this is probably a great time for Dune because –

John: You think so?

Craig: I do. Because I think people’s appetite has been whetted for the grand space opera. Game of Thrones is just Dune not in space, right? Dune is amazing.

Look, you’ve hit a little bit of a weird spot for me because I’m obsessed with Dune. I mean, I love the David Lynch movie. I’m obsessed with the David Lynch movie for so many reasons. But Dune’s incredible. And I do think it would be — this is a great time to do Dune.

Who has the rights to Dune?

John: They’ve been trying to make it for a long time. Pete Berg –

Craig: Paramount?

John: Yes. It was Pete Berg at Paramount. I think Favreau had a version at Paramount at some point.

Craig: That seems like a weird — I mean, you know, sometimes these weird matchups work. I wouldn’t have said Favreau for Dune. But regardless, I mean, maybe he could figure it out. It’s just, Dune is amazing.

This is not a bad time for Dune. Hold on. [laughs] I think you figured something out by saying no to it.

John: So here’s some implications I do think it will have, is that, sort of like the giant Marvel movies sort of just suck up all of the oxygen, and all the box office around them, whenever these Star Wars movies drop, it’s going to take — it’s like a huge meteor impact, and it’s going to be very hard to open a movie around those. And so that sense of like what weekends are left is going to be incredibly challenging.

So knowing when the next Star Wars comes out, knowing when future things down the road comes out, there are going to be fewer and fewer weekends in which you could safely program things. And so you’re going to have to look at sort of inadvertent counter programming, which is like, well there was no other place to put this movie, so we’re going to put this movie — this time I wouldn’t call it counter programming, but it’s really — we had no other place to release it.

Craig: We’re going to call it counter programming, yeah. [laughs]

That’s a very good point. That is the true impact on the film industry of Star Wars is that when the next Star Wars film comes out, no one can be on that weekend. They’re actually just going to give them the weekend. I mean, yeah, they might do — like Sisters was I guess their attempt at counter programming, but it’s interesting because –

John: It was a mixed bag.

Craig: It doesn’t really counter program. You can’t counter program Star Wars because Star Wars is for everyone.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Every age, every gender, every race, everyone all over the world. Therefore, you can’t counter program it unless you’re literally just showing movies to animals. Like if animals could buy tickets, like pets, then you can make like — this is a decent movie. Okay, on Star Wars weekend, you should have a film of like bacon being made and you invite dogs. That would work. [laughs]

John: I think maybe in the sixth or seventh week, they probably will have like a bring-your-dog-to-Star-Wars day at some theaters because like you want to go see the movie with your best friend, and your best friend is your dog. [laugh]

Craig: That’s the saddest — that’s so sad. [laughs]

John: I think it’s wonderful.

Craig: Oh my God, it’s the saddest thing ever.

No, you’re right. I didn’t even think about that. That’s another reason why I think Rian’s film will be the biggest movie of all time because it will have nothing. Nothing will be around it. You’re right, huge –

John: Well, nothing was really around it this weekend. I think this last time, people recognized that like, you know, they couldn’t compete. And that’s why so many, I think, the for your consideration movies got released earlier, like more towards Thanksgiving rather than on Christmas because I think they could see that it was going to be just a disaster to try to open against one of these things.

Craig: Right.

John: I mean Hateful Eight, I had a hard time getting the screens it wanted. It was a challenging time for other movies.

Craig: Yeah. Well, it was a challenging time in the Galaxy. And you know, one kind of okay thing is at least, you know, there are two big seasons to release these A-bombs, you know. One is summer, which is getting longer and longer. And one is the Thanksgiving-Christmas time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So if it were in the middle of summer, it would — they’re smart to not do that. This is the Harry Potter time, which is that, because, you know, summer becomes exhausting. It’s exhausting. I get so tired of the onslaught.

John: One of the nice things about Christmas holiday, because I know there was — they were originally trying to make this a summer movie. And when they pushed it back to Christmas, there was a concern like, “Oh, they cost themselves some box office.” But adults have a lot of time off over the holidays. And so adults can see movies twice over Christmas in ways they couldn’t during the summer. And that’s useful.

Craig: Great point. And I think Lord of the Rings was a Thanksgiving-Christmas.

John: Absolutely. And Titanic was. Avatar was. So there’s precedent for making a huge amount of money at this time of year.

Craig: Yes, for sure.

John: But let’s take a look at sort of the content of the movie. Some people slam it for, like, it gives the fans exactly what they want. And it’s like, well, yes, it gives the fans exactly what they want, which is basically it feels in some ways like a soft reboot. It sort of performs the Stations of the Cross of the original movie. But also, it gives the fans what they want in terms of like, they want the universe to sort of grow a little bit and sort of not all be like white men running around. And they made very smart choices for that.

So I think as we see these re-explorations of classic properties, the chance to go back through and address some of what’s new in 2015 and 2020 versus the original films could be great.

Craig: Yes. I mean, it’s not going to be like this. I mean, this is — Star Wars is unique. I cannot bear to read one more think piece about Star Wars. It’s atrocious. It’s a movie. Go see the movie. Enjoy the movie or don’t. And then go home. Stop essaying every freaking thought you have and comparing it — no one cares.

The tidal wave of static that has erupted from the keyboards of the obsessives is overwhelming. I mean, it’s just a movie. I went to the movie and I enjoyed it. I could have a conversation about it with my friends. Sure. I’m not going to write some essay about it as if to say, “Guys, guys, guys, guys, I know a million people have written about this, but this is the one.”

John: This is the one.

Craig: This is it. This is correct. That’s the subtext of all those, which makes me nuts.

John: Perhaps the conversation that you do want to join in on though is on the January 25th special episode of Scriptnotes where we’ll have Lawrence Kasdan, the writer of Star Wars. And he’s going to talk to us about the movie.

Craig: Segue Man. Yes. He is going to talk to us about the movie and many other things.

Lawrence, Larry to those of us — Larry is fascinating for lots and lots of reasons. But what I really want — I mean, to be the guy that writes Empire and Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Body Heat, and then 30 years later, co-write the biggest movie in history. Wow, it’s unbelievable.

John: Yes. It’s going to be great. So again, we’re recording this episode super early. So I don’t know if there are still tickets available. But if there are tickets, you can find those at hollywoodheart.org/upcoming. And that is where you can get tickets to our special show of Scriptnotes.

But I’m not sure yet if it’s going to be a normal episode of Scriptnotes in the sense that it will be in the feed. We have to figure that out with sort of the actual technical demands of where we’re recording. And also, this is sort of a special event. So I don’t want to promise that everyone can get this free on Tuesday and not truck down to see us in downtown Los Angeles.

Craig: Yes. And Jason Bateman will be there, which is great.

John: Oh my gosh, Jason Bateman.

Craig: Yeah, and he’s terrific. And it’s for charity. It benefits children.

John: Yes. It’s a good thing. You know what does not benefit children? [laughs]

Craig: Segue Man. [laughs]

John: Segue Man. [laughs] It is a small Belgian company called Scriptbook.

Craig: Oh, god.

John: So the pit on Scriptbook is that they are using data science to figure out which movies are going to be hits or going to be flops. [laughs]

Craig: Thank God.

John: And so the CEO of the company, Nadira Azermai, raised money. They have a million dollars’ worth of financing. They are apparently in discussion with studios, not clear which studios, about their technology and their ability to predict which movies are hits or flops. So I just want to play one little clip from a promotional video they did so that you can get a sense of the company in her own words.

Nadira Azermai: I like data but — there is a big but, I also have a strong gut feeling. Sometimes you just want to back your gut feeling. And if I can back my gut feeling with really something that’s scientifically proven, then I have peace of mind.

John: Craig, I feel like this was forged in a lab just to anger you. This was like — this was a grain of sand introduced into your inner oyster belly.

Craig: Yeah, yeah. And here comes a pearl of absolute contempt and disgust.

John: Right.

Craig: Putting aside the stupidity of what Ms. Azermai just said, which is that she has created a number and database algorithm that is completely trumpable by her own gut feeling, this is not even new. That’s the thing, this snake oil baloney isn’t even new. She is the — I don’t know what, 12th of these things that have popped up that we’ve discussed. I mean, remember there was that one guy, Rocko, or whatever his name was.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There are so many of these guys. They’re all peddling the same thing. And what they’re peddling — okay, what they say they’re peddling, is an algorithm designed to analyze screenplays, and then out will come success. But what they’re really peddling is the oldest thing in the game — confidence. [laughs] They’re peddling confidence.

And so they’re saying, “You can be confident now. You can be certain. You can be relaxed. We’ve got it covered with our baloney. You don’t need to live in a scary world where you aren’t in control of outcomes.” I am so, so sorry to say that this business is scary and we are not in control of our outcomes. We can influence them as best as we can.

It’s a little bit like raising children, you just don’t know. And anyone who tells you they know is lying. These people are — and what numbers? What are they — what possibly can you pull out of a screenplay?

The whole point of it is that it’s exciting and has this weird mystical interconnection between movie and audience. The script itself is not the movie, so you can’t tell from the script. And these people are stealing other people’s money, and it’s making me crazy.

John: Right. Since there are so many factors to tackle this on, so let’s talk about the script, and sort of like, basically they’re talking about breaking down a script and finding the things that work and the things that don’t work.

Fundamentally, those are always going to be qualitative characteristics. Unless you’re talking about like the number of words per page, or the number of pages of the script, I mean, all of these things, they’re going to be qualitative. Things like, you know, what is the act break? Well, three smart people can disagree on what the act break is. Are there four jokes on this page or two jokes on this page? Well smart people can disagree.

So you’re relying on human fallibility to, or human opinion really, to determine which of these boxes get ticked in which ways.

Craig: Right.

John: That is an inherent issue that nothing in their materials made clear how they’re making those decisions about what the actual stuff in the screenplay is.

Craig: Yeah. They’re not waving some kind of Geiger counter over this. It’s not what we call observable fact. It is intuitive judgments that they then assign facts to. Well, those aren’t facts. You can’t rate that. It’s ridiculous.

Furthermore, what they’re comparing the screenplays to are movies. Let’s be honest, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: They look at a screenplay and they say, “Well, this screenplay has the following elements that have succeeded in these movies.” Screenplays aren’t movies. If you want to really do your data baloney nonsense, go to movies that have succeeded, then go back, find the screenplays. Not just one, all of them.

John: To be fair, I actually did look at the website, and they do do that.

Craig: Okay.

John: They’re trying to compare screenplays to screenplays.

Craig: Okay. So they go back to which screenplays? The final shooting script? It doesn’t work. Doesn’t count.

I assume that’s what they’re doing. That’s baloney. No. To be properly predictive, you have to go back to the first draft or to the pitch or to the spec.

John: I think it would be fair to go to the draft they put in production, whatever draft you green light.

Craig: Okay, fine. Then that, even that. But they don’t have access to that. They don’t. Because as you and I both know, things change constantly. And then of course there’s editing and all this other stuff. It just doesn’t work.

John: Nope.

Craig: It doesn’t work. And on top — even if they had all the information, if they had every single word that was written, it still wouldn’t work. And here’s why. Because movies are not controllable. That’s the big secret.

Remember — did you see that movie, Nixon, the Oliver Stone movie?

John: Yeah, I did see it.

Craig: There’s this point where Nixon is, I think he’s at the Lincoln Memorial and he gets into a debate with these hippies who are yelling at him and saying basically the whole thing is his war machine and you’re not even in control of it. [laughs] And he gets into his limousine, he’s like, “She’s actually figured it out. The truth is, I’m not in control. None of us are. We’re just kind of holding on to this thing that’s galloping out of our control.” That’s a movie.

So you can run this all through your software. Here’s what the software doesn’t account for. Robert Downey, Jr doesn’t want to say those lines. That’s it. Software done.

John: So let’s check another vector of why this is so problematic. Let’s talk about Ryan Kavanaugh and Relativity.

So Relativity, it was a company that financed a bunch of movies. They ultimately started making their own movies. And the pitch behind Relativity was always, if you saw the articles about Ryan Kavanaugh, the charismatic CEO of it, was like we have our own software that makes it so we can’t lose money. And then they actually proceeded to lose a bunch of money.

So they’re not the first people to ever come up with this idea of like we can predict what’s going to work and what’s not going to work because we have software, except that it didn’t work.

Craig: It’s just, I’m tempted to call it arrogance, but I don’t think it’s arrogance. I actually think it’s just a crafted lie. It’s just very clever people who see an opening and an opportunity. And the opening and the opportunity is a bunch of scared executives who are desperately trying to figure out why things work and don’t and how to keep their jobs for God’s sake because they have children in private school and they have mortgages. And these people come along and throw them a life preserver. The problem is the life preserver is made of lead.

John: Yes. So I want to talk about what’s actually useful or meaningful about this kind of work, which is that, studios already — every studio in town already has a department. They have people whose job it is to find comps.

And so as they’re looking at like, do we make this movie or do we not make this movie, they have a whole department whose job it is to figure out how much can we anticipate making on this movie, in this market, and that market, and that market? And basically like, is this a smart investment for us or not a smart investment for us?

That’s kind of fine. And I don’t fault a studio for doing that because if the studio is saying like, “I don’t know how we’re going to possibly make money on this movie,” that’s a reasonable reason not to make that movie.

Craig: Sure.

John: The challenge is it can be so hard to find a comp for a certain kind of movie. So I was talking with Andrea Berloff for Straight Outta Compton, when Universal — I think it was actually Warner Bros. before Universal had it, they were trying to figure out like what comps to compare Straight Outta Compton to. And they’re like, “Well, is it Get on Up, the James Brown bio pic?” Well, of course it’s not that, but that’s the comps they had because there hadn’t been a movie like Straight Outta Compton.

And that’s the truth about most movies unless you’re making a low budget horror movie or a certain kind of mid-range comedy. It’s very hard to find a template that’s going to fit what this movie is you’re thinking about making.

Craig: And then the sick thing is that what they’ll try and do development-wise is force the movie toward a comp –

John: Yep.

Craig: Which is the stupidest thing of all. Now they’re literally making movies to feel comfortable in their data nonsense.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Some movies you just have to say, “This doesn’t have a comp.” That’s the point. That’s the point. “You know what? Let somebody else use our movie as the comp. We’ll be the new comp.”

Now, you could say Straight Outta Compton is a comp for other things. But until you have somebody say, “I’m just going to make this movie because I think it’s good and I think people are going to like it and enough with this comp baloney,” all that stuff really is, is them arguing to somebody that there is a science behind what they do. But this is a fact. I’m now giving you a fact. All of you, there is no science behind what they do. None. All of this, whether it’s from the outside people or from their own internal departments, all of it is designed to make it appear as if there is a science. There is not. That’s that.

John: So we’re going to ask Alex who wrote in about vaginosis. We’re going to ask Alex to put this in the follow-up file to make sure we do come back and look at Scriptbook in, I don’t know — do you give it a year, like two years, whether that still is a company that exists?

Craig: I mean they’ve all — we’ve given them all loads of time and they’ve done nothing. [laughs] Nothing.

John: Nothing.

Craig: No, nothing. I think Nadira — Nadira? My dear Nadira, if I were you, I would figure out a way to pocket as much of that million dollars as I can because no, this is not going to work.

John: I don’t think so either.

All right. My bit of umbrage this week is sort of related. It comes from an article by Todd Cunningham in The Wrap. Before I say the headline, I know that writers often don’t get to pick their own headlines and so we have to sort of discount any headline as being sensationalistic because it was probably editor that did it. But anyway, here’s the headline, “Box Office Shocker: Movie Reviews Matter in 2015.” That’s the headline.

So here’s the actual meat of the article. Cunningham says that 12 of the top 15 movies this year were well-reviewed by critics. And he says, “Not one of the year’s Box Office bombs had more positive reviews than bad.” This doesn’t seem shocking at all. So he says it’s a growing trend because critics liked 9 out of the top 15 movies in 2010 and 10 out of 15 movies in 2012. He doesn’t say anything about the other years.

So the obvious thing that I was screaming at my phone as I was reading this on Twitter was correlation is not causation. It’s like basically you’re saying like, “These two things happened at the same time.” And it’s like, “Well, yes, maybe people like good movies.” That should be the headline for the thing. “People Like Good Movies.” And so if a movie is good and if it succeeds at the Box Office, it’s because people like it. And if it succeeds critically, it’s because critics like good movies, too.

There’s nothing here. And it drives me so crazy that so many words were spent making it seem like, “Oh, you know, we have to really worry about what critics think because they have a huge impact on Box Office.”

Craig: We are swimming in a sea of stupid today, my friend. I mean, the stupid on this burns so bright, so hard. Here, let me rewrite the headline for you. “Film Criticism Shocker: Film Critics Now Copying Audiences.” [laughs] I mean, so yeah, film critics are people and audiences are people, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Sometimes film critics hate a particular movie and audiences seem to love it. I’m personally familiar with that syndrome. [laughs] Sometimes film critics love a movie and audiences are like, “Yuck.” Sometimes, there’s overlap. In this case, the weird cherry-picking here has led this guy to believe that there is a significant overlap all of a sudden. [laughs] That the overlap is meaningful, and the overlap is in one direction and not say film critics finally going, “You know what? Maybe we should adjust our tastes to what people generally like.” It’s nonsense. You can’t draw any conclusion from it, whatsoever. This is stupid. The stupid grows by leaps and bounds.

Here’s another fact, another fact for everyone out there. Anytime people start talking about movies and statistics, you should just start getting pre-angry because stupid is almost surely going to follow.

John: Yeah. And possible conclusions will be drawn out of that supposed data.

Craig: Crazy, just crazy.

John: So two of the examples he cites were Fantastic Four and Terminator Genesis, both of which tanked and both of which got bad reviews. The reality is everyone knew those movies were going to tank before they tanked. The tracking on those movies in the weeks leading up to them was low. People seemed to sense that these were not good movies and they were correct.

And so while I do think it’s true, and that you could probably study this, is that word spreads about bad movies faster because of Twitter and social media and Facebook and everything like that. That’s not critics. That’s just people being people.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so it’s a slightly faster version of what’s always happened. And it’s maybe harder to hide a bad movie for very long, which I think explains why movies can drop off so quickly and especially bad movies can drop off so quickly, but that’s not critics. It’s just reality.

Craig: It’s just reality. And first of all, we don’t even know if these movies are good or bad based on these things anyway. So a Box Office bomb doesn’t mean you’re a bad movie. There have been famous Box Office bombs that are amazing movies. Blade Runner was a Box Office bomb, was it not?

John: I think it was a disappointment at least.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, so that in and of itself doesn’t mean good or bad. But yeah, it seems to me like a company puts a trailer out for a movie, people watch the movie, they go on Twitter, they go bananas in their hatred of the trailer, and every film critic is on Twitter going, “Well, I’m pretty sure I’m going to hate this. Everybody else seems to hate it. I’m not blind and deaf, you know.”

John: Yup.

Craig: So here’s a new headline for Todd Cunningham’s article, “Movie Critics Reading Twitter.” [laughs]. Stupid.

John: Stupid.

Craig: So stupid.

John: Yeah, it’s not great.

Craig: Come on, Todd.

John: All right. Next topic. The WGA sent out a list of proposed constitutional changes to its membership.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There are three things in the constitutional changes. Craig and I have not discussed them whatsoever, so I don’t even know what Craig’s opinions of these things are.

Craig: Exciting.

John: Yeah. I will tell you that on the day this podcast comes out on Tuesday, January 19th, there’s an informational meeting. So if you’re a WGA member who wants to informationally meet about these things, it’s 7 pm at the 3rd and Fairfax main building in the conference room.

Craig: No one is going to go there.

John: No one is going to go to that.

Craig: That meeting is constitutionally required and nobody ever goes.

John: Obligatory. So let’s pretend we are at this meeting and we’re having this discussion. [laughs] There are three things that are being proposed, three amendments.

Craig: Yes.

John: I will start from amendment three and work my way back to amendment one which I think is the reason — the only one we’re going to have disagreement on.

Craig: Yes.

John: Amendment three, reducing the number of signatures that a candidate needs to be nominated by petition. So essentially, if you are going for the Board of Directors, it reduces how many signatures you have to get on your petition or your application, whatever you want to call that to be considered.

Craig: It used to be 25 signatures, now it’s 15. Obviously, those 10 signatures are going to really make a difference — I mean, come on, who cares? It doesn’t even matter. Like if you need 25 signatures in today’s day and age with social media and you can’t find 25 signatures, it means you can’t find one signature. It literally means your mom won’t even sign it. So 25, 15, 1, who cares? If you want to run for the Board and you’re a member in good standing, just go ahead and run.

John: Yeah, go ahead and run.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Amendment two, reducing from 16 to 12 the number of candidates the Board Nominating Committee is required to nominate. You and I have both served on the Board Nominating Committee so this is — basically, every time there are like eight seats open, we have to get 16 people to run for those seats and that can be challenging. So what is your feeling about reducing this number?

Craig: It’s a little bit of a mixed bag, but I get it. I mean, what ends up happening is the nominating committee will put forward 16 candidates, some of whom are legitimate and have a shot and are good, and some of whom are just either cannon fodder or we just need to fill out the spaces, you know?

The problem with reducing it is just that there is a sense that if you’re not nominated by the committee you’re not a real candidate. But I don’t think that that’s the way the directional arrow works. I think it’s more that it’s people who are legitimate then ultimately end up getting nominated by the committee, not vice-versa. People that you know have a lot of support, have stature, and are likely to get elected are then people that the NomCom will always nominate.

So I don’t see reducing the burden on the nominating committee so they’re not stuck, it’s not a bad thing. I don’t have a problem with that. I mean, if the nominating committee puts out — what is it? Instead of 16, what is it down to?

John: 12.

Craig: 12, and nobody else runs on petition, so you have 12 candidates for eight seats. I’m okay with that.

John: Yeah, I guess I’m okay with it too.

Having been the person who had to twist some arms to get people to run, I know, it’s this weird thing where like — you don’t actually say this, but like, “Would you please run? Because I promise you won’t get elected.” Which is the weirdest thing, but like sometimes you are throwing some people in there just like — just to fill stuff out. And when those people don’t get elected, they’re sort of relieved not to get elected. And that’s not really good for anyone either.

The only thing I would say that is good about when you have to find 16 people is like sometimes it makes you think past your obvious choices and like — I’ve had to go really deep and like, “What writers do I know who actually I think could maybe do this job? And I’ve reached out to people who I haven’t talked to in years to try to get them to run and they’ve thought seriously about running.” So that could be a good thing.

Craig: Yeah, I agree. I don’t think that this rule will change much, to be honest with you. I think that the — for instance, the nominating committee that you and I are both on, I feel like we actually nominated more people than we had to.

So a lot of people want to run. I think, you know, if somebody comes in and says, “Look, I got the 15 signatures, you want to nominate me?” “Yeah, sure.” The truth is the voting population, they have no clue who gets — it doesn’t really matter.

John: Nope, it doesn’t.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Finally, amendment one, increases from two to three years the length of the terms of the board members and officers and modifies the election cycle and term limits provisions accordingly.

Craig: Right. So this one, I’m not such a big fan of. Everybody serves for two years. On the Board, everybody serves for two years as an officer. Here is the value. The value is, well, A, fewer elections. The value is that once they begin this thing, it’s set up in such a way that there won’t be an election during a negotiation year so you’re not having elections conflicting with the, you know, membership votes on contract.

It provides more stability for staff. They don’t have to wonder like, “Who’s going to be president, you know, in two years?” They can wait maybe there’ll be a new president in three years. Because that’s a whole thing for them like –

John: Yeah, sure.

Craig: You know, whose in-charge of this place, and that’s fine.

Here’s what I don’t like personally. I don’t care that it’s annoying to have elections during contract season. Tough. I don’t like the idea that we’re going to get — look, here’s what it really comes down to. There are two types of union politicians for writers. There’s the kind that is dynamic and wants to change things and has great ideas and is positive and has skin on the game and is aware of what’s going on in the world. And then there is the kind that is just bored and looking for something to do and really likes sitting in a room making “decisions.”

There have been a ton of bad, bad Board members and some bad officers as well. And frankly, there’s more bad ones than good. I don’t know how else to put it. And the idea of extending the lifespan of some of those terrible ones just makes me, ugh, I don’t like it.

John: Yeah. To me, it comes down to the question of quality of candidates as well. And I think that sometimes you’re able to get really great people to serve for two years that wouldn’t be willing to try to serve for three years, and that’s just the reality. And so I would rather have to vote one-and-a-half times more often and get good people in there and get bad people out of there than to have people in there for three years.

Craig: I totally agree. I don’t mind reading the pamphlet once a year for eight Board candidates. I don’t mind reading the pamphlet once every two years for officers. It’s hard for me to go to a working screenwriter and say, “I need a three-year commitment from you.” Two years is hard enough, you know.

So where you’re going to end up is you’re going to end up with moving our system, I think, closer to what you see like, I don’t know, with the jury system where it’s a lot of retirees or people that don’t have quite as much going on. Because, you know, people who are busy just can’t commit to three years. They can’t.

How do you say to a writer/director or writer/producer or a writer that’s getting stuff made, “I need you for three years?” “Well, there’s, I don’t know, a 50 percent chance that I’m going to be on location for a chunk of time in the next three years, how can I agree?” It just doesn’t make sense. I don’t like it.

I’m not going to vote yes on that one. I got to talk to some people — I got to find out like what — I want to talk to Billy Ray about this and find out like why this is necessary. It just feels dumb to me.

John: I think Billy Ray is an example of a kind of person who you do want to keep around for longer. I mean, as long as you can have Billy Ray on the Board, you’d be delighted to have it. He’ll get termed out more quickly because of — if this doesn’t change.

Craig: Yeah, but here’s the thing, Billy, yes you’re right. But there’s so many more bads than goods. And the good ones –

John: Agree.

Craig: Can influence things regardless. Billy can be the chairman of the negotiating committee forever.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He doesn’t have to be a Board member to do that. Well, he could be the co-chair or the effective chair. I mean, my point is there’s other ways. And frankly, we need new people anyway. We can’t just have Billy do it over and over and over again.

John: Agreed. Let’s talk about Negotiating Committee and sort of negotiations and trying to schedule in a way so that we don’t have an election during a possible negotiation. To me, it feels like negotiation isn’t really that time where we’re sitting in a room opposite the other people, it’s really that year leading up to it.

It becomes so long. You don’t really know sort of when the bulk of that work is going to be anyway and when the strategy and planning for that is going to happen. So I think, yes, you don’t want to change horses mid-stream, but like that’s — the stream is so wide now that you have to change horses at some point. And I don’t think it’s going to really matter whether it’s a two-year or a three-year thing.

Craig: No, I mean, the idea is that if you have — if I were Patric Verrone, I would love this idea, right? So I can be president for three years. I’m guaranteed to both run the lead up to negotiations and the negotiations and the aftermath of the negotiations and I cannot be interrupted.

John: Yep.

Craig: So it puts way more power in the hands of the president. Way more power in the hands of the president. And frankly, less power in the hands of the Board as I see it, because it also puts more power in the hands of the executive director. Because if the executive director and the president are close, as is often the case, then the executive director — the one bit of leverage that the civil oversight has in our guild is that you can fire the executive director, which we have done.

John: Yeah.

Craig: If you got, you know, a friendly president, that’s three more years of job security. If that guy can run again, usually incumbents win, and now you’ve got six years of job security. It’s too much job security.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It is. I don’t like it.

John: I don’t like it either.

All right. So that was our quick take on these things. Again, you could go to the meeting or you could also just read other people’s follow-up. There are arguments, of course, in favor of all these things. And so, you’ll get the packet and you’ll be able to look through why they did what they did, and why they’re proposing these things.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Cool. All right. Our last bit is some craft stuff which has been saved up for, god, many, many episodes. But I want to talk about character names, not basically how you pick character names but how you tell the audience what the names of the characters are. Because in a screenplay, obviously you’re reading it, obviously you know all the characters’ names because you’re reading their name above every bit of dialogue. But if you’re watching a movie, you don’t necessarily know what the characters’ names are. And sometimes, that’s fine.

I was thinking back through my own movies and in the middle section of Go, the characters that James Duval and Breckin Meyer played — Breckin plays a character named Tiny. James Duval’s character’s name is Singh. You wouldn’t really know it in the movie because no one ever calls them by name, and it’s fine. But in other cases, it really is very important that you know who the character is because people are referring to a character who is not even on screen.

So I want to talk through the ways you can introduce the names of characters to an audience who’s just seeing the movie and who’s not reading on the script.

Craig: Great idea.

John: Cool. Easiest way to do it is simple introduction. There might be some reason why a character introduces himself to another character. So, in Go, Burke says, “Hey, I’m Burke.” And Ronna goes, “Ronna.” And therefore, you’ve established Burke’s name and you already knew what Ronna’s name was. But that’s the simple way to do it.

Craig: And these things do happen. They don’t happen frequently. In life, when people meet, usually somebody’s introducing you to somebody or — but you know, occasionally, people — you’ve probably had that experience where you’re talking with somebody on a plane or something. I mean, I don’t talk to people on planes, ever, but maybe you do. And after 10 minutes, one person finally goes, “By the way, John.” And the other person goes, “Oh. Craig.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: That can happen. I mean, people do introduce each other.

I see in — a lot of times I’ll read screenplays where people are just introducing each other. They’re just shouting each other’s names out almost like they have Tourette’s. It’s crazy. So you just got to be careful that it doesn’t feel forced and stupid.

John: Yeah. It should only be a situation in which it would naturally would come up. And if it all feels forced to do it, I would say, don’t do it.

The next most natural way to do it or common way to do it is just the simple question and answer where someone asks another character what their name is and they reply. And therefore you’ve established the names.

So in the last Star Wars, the question is like, “Oh, what’s your name?” And he says, “FN2817.” “I’m going to call you, Finn.”

Okay. You’ve just established the character’s name, and it’s actually a plot point. Like, we don’t — this character didn’t have a name and he’s now been given a name. And for the rest of the movie and for the rest of the franchise, his name will be Finn because of this scene that happens in a tire fighter.

Craig: Yeah. Very cool. Giving somebody a name is a great way to learn somebody’s name, for sure. But it doesn’t come up often. I guess what’ll underlie a lot of these suggestions is just as we’re constantly looking for ways to vary exposition or make it gentle or elegant, we do the same thing with names. We’re always looking for these little tricks of ways to not just — not feel like the record needle is skipping.

John: Yep. Third way. Character A calls character B by name. And so it’s that thing where in talking with somebody, you use their name and that’s how a name comes out. And so that’s the “Damn it, McGonagall” way of establishing who somebody is in the scene by having another character say their name aloud.

Craig: This is the one that is the hardest to pull off well.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because generally speaking, we don’t say the other person’s name when we’re talking to them. If I’m talking to you and I know you, we presume that we know each other’s names. It’s so rare for me to say, “You know, John.” “Oh, you know what I think, John?” [laughs] It just — it doesn’t — we don’t do it that much.

John: You do it more often if there are multiple people talking where you actually have to direct something to somebody, then you might use their name to pull their attention back. Or pull their attention if they’re doing something else. You might say, “John, look at this.”

Craig: Yes. And where I think that we probably the great majority of times we say somebody’s name is when we’re talking to a different person about them.

John: Yep.

Craig: This is, I think, the easiest way to introduce names is for somebody to look at somebody else and go, “What’s with John?” “What’s with her?” “Did you hear about John?” That sort of thing generally helps.

Of course, the other way of introducing characters’ names is to introduce it, well, we’re going to get to that. That’s the last one. I don’t want to give it away.

John: A version of what Craig just described is that sense of like you refer to somebody by name who you’ve not met yet. And then, generally, in the next scene, you meet that person. So you’ve established the expectation of going to — that you’ll meet this person and then you actually see the person.

So in Go, that’s the conversation about the skipping over to Simon to by the drugs. They say like, “Oh, I don’t need Simon, I’m going to Todd.” And the question, “Todd Gaines?” And in the next scene like, we’re at Todd Gaines’ apartment. And that sort of establishes like “Oh, his name is Todd Gaines.” And that’s useful and helpful.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The final way is to literally show the name like to have it printed out someplace. So classically on a door, a mysterious slip of paper, there’s something with a name written down which will become important.

Craig: Yeah. You see this all the time. Look, here’s the truth of this — it’s funny. On the script that I’ve written for Lindsay Doran, after I don’t know how many drafts, she said, “You know, we never hear this character’s name.” I was like, “Oh. Well, I guess we’ll have to figure out a place to do it without seeming clunky.”

The truth is, a lot of times when I watch movies, I think, certain characters, I don’t need to know a name because they’re personality is kind of their name, you know, if they’re side characters. So I wouldn’t obsess over name stuff. But obviously, for your main characters, you just have to figure out how to work it in without seeming clunky.

John: Absolutely. And so while you’re working it in, particularly for your main characters, it’s important enough that you find a good way to do it naturally early on because, I think, if it’s a main character who I don’t know their name for like 20 minutes, I get really kind of frustrated. And something bubbles up that says like, “Hey, wait. I don’t even know who that character’s name is. I don’t have like a box to put my information about that character in.”

For minor characters, I agree. Sometimes it’s not even worth worrying about because any chance to like really force that out is going to feel weird. Ask yourself, you know, if the audience never knows that character’s name, will it impact their enjoyment of the movie?

Craig: Right.

John: If the truth is it doesn’t, then it just doesn’t.

Craig: Exactly. It just doesn’t matter. It’s like, you know, it’s funny. We always watch The Ref. Every Christmas, I watch The Ref with Melissa because we love it. And Christine Baranski, I can never remember her character’s name and it doesn’t matter. She’s crazy screamy aunt something. [laughs] Like, you know, that’s — she’s just great. And so it doesn’t matter what her name is. I just know that she’s the sister and she’s crazy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. Sister-in-law and she’s crazy.

John: Yeah. Cool. All right. I think it’s time for our One Cool Things.

Craig: All right.

John: My One Cool Thing is called Ghost Streets of Los Angeles. It’s a blog post that looks at Google satellite imagery of streets in Los Angeles. And what you’ll notice if you sort of zoom in and zoom out, there — most of Los Angeles is on a pretty clear grid. But there’s sometimes, there’ll be weird buildings that are, I don’t know, strange diagonal and you can sort of follow that diagonal. Even though there’s not a street there, it feels like there’s this weird diagonal throughout Los Angeles in different places. And those are because there used to be streets there.

And so what this blog post is doing is it’s looking at some of these ghost streets that are no longer existing streets but used to be streets and how they’ve changed the property lines of different buildings. And so you can see sort of — you we can basically follow where there used to be streets that are no longer there.

Craig: That’s creepy.

John: It’s actually kind of cool.

Craig: It’s creepy.

John: Creepy. And it reminds me sort of in screenwriting, a lot of times, you’ll see a movie and you’re like, “Why is that thing there?” It’s because of like a much earlier draft. There’s a reason why that was there. And like the underlying causes are not there anymore, but you still see like the echo of a previous draft being in there still.

Craig: Right. A ghost scene.

John: Cool.

Craig: Exactly. Okay. That’s interesting. Well, my One Cool Thing is One Sad Thing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Vilmos Zsigmond, the great cinematographer, passed away on January 1, 2016. Which in a way is kind of — if you’re going to die, die on the first of a new year just so you get that extra year on your grave stone.

John: Sure.

Craig: So he was the cinematographer behind these incredible movies, most of which dominated the ’70s. He was very — I was thinking of his movies and his work as being very ’70s. McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Deliverance, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Deer Hunter, Heaven’s Gate, Blow Out.

And you know, there’s that period of ’70s movies that we, you know, all cinephiles kind of adore. And I always think of him when I think of those because he was this uniting piece across all these incredible directors like Robert Altman and Steven Spielberg and Michael Cimino. And he had this — all of it’s wizardry to me.

I don’t understand cinematography. I mean, I understand what I see, I just don’t understand how they do it. So it’s kind of fun to watch them and not know what the hell they’re doing.

John: When you’re on the set and you see them like setting flags and cutting — I just have no idea what they’re actually doing. And like, they’ll spend like five minutes like tweaking things. I just don’t understand what they’re doing.

Craig: I have no idea. I don’t know what — I honestly don’t know what stops are. [laughs] I don’t know –

John: I know what stops are.

Craig: Okay. You know what stops are. I don’t. I mean, I know the difference between long lenses and wide lenses, but I don’t understand all the other stuff they’re doing back, all of it. I don’t get it.

But there was something about — so Zsigmond, he had this style that seems so real in the sense that movies, you know, can be very candy-coated. They can be very glossy. They can look like movies. They can have that shine to them. There was something about his cinematography where it always just looked like I was actually there.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It was drab in a beautiful way. It felt like naked eye to me. He was so good at that and it was so perfect for that time and those movies. I mean, McCabe and Mrs. Miller was, you know, didn’t want to be like those –

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, old westerns or something. It wanted to look like that, like you were there. So a big fan of his. Sad to see him go. And so, adieu. Adios.

John: Adieu. Great. Craig, it was nice to have you back on the show.

Craig: Well, thank you.

John: It’s so good to — it’s good to be back in our normal environments here.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Mary Webb. If you have an outro you’d like us to play at the end of our episode, you can write in with the link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place to send questions like the ones we answered at the top of the show.

On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. If you want to come to our live show on January 25th with Jason Bateman and Larry Kasdan, you can probably still get tickets at hollywoodheart.org/upcoming.

If you would like to leave us a comment in iTunes, we would much appreciate it. That helps people find the show. Just search for Scriptnotes in iTunes.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that’s our show for this week.

Craig: Awesome.

John: Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Scriptnotes, Ep 231: Room, Spotlight and The Big Short — Transcript

Tue, 01/12/2016 - 17:53

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August. And this is Episode 231 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program we will be looking at three movies that are getting a lot of attention this award season — Room, Spotlight, and The Big Short. And we will discuss how they work on a story level. We’re also going to discuss what we learned in 2015 that we’ll be carrying with us into the New Year.

Craig is off on assignment. He’s in New York finally seeing Hamilton, so he can stop talking about Hamilton. So to fill in today we have two special guests from previous episodes of Scriptnotes. First off, Aline Brosh McKenna is the co-creator of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and the screenwriter of so many movies, including The Devil Wears Prada.

Welcome, Aline.

Aline Brosh McKenna: Woot-woot.

John: Next up, Rawson Marshall Thurber is a writer and director whose credits include DodgeBall, Mysteries of Pittsburgh, We’re the Millers, and the upcoming Central Intelligence. Welcome back, Rawson Marshall Thurber.

Rawson Marshall Thurber: Thank you, happy to be here.

John: I have to use all three of your names because –

Rawson: [laughs]

John: Aline, do you always use your three names?

Aline: Professionally, I do.

John: Yeah.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: Me too, professionally.

John: You do, too? Yeah.

Rawson: Yeah.

John: I was always surprised when I heard that Marshall part of your name.

Rawson: It’s strange. It’s definitely strange. I didn’t realize how strange it was until I did it for the first time on DodgeBall and then I got made fun of a bunch and I think it was too late and so I just sort of stuck with it.

John: Do you ever say Marshall aloud or only as a printed credit?

Rawson: Almost only as a printed credit. But I do use my initials, RMT, when I’m signing something off or stuff like that.

John: Sounds good.

Rawson: Yeah.

John: So before we get into these three movies, I wanted to talk through some stuff about the year that just passed. So we are now in 2016, which seems impossible. So a bunch of movies came out in 2015, but a bunch of movies came out in 2014 and I thought we might play a little game where I’m going to ask you the title of a movie and you can tell me if it came out in 2015 or 2014.

Rawson: Oh, wow, okay.

John: Do you think you can do this, Aline?

Aline: Hmm.

John: All right. So do you want to start? I’m going to ask you.

Aline: Sure.

John: The Cobbler.

Aline: It came out this year.

John: All right, you’re correct.

Rawson: Wait a minute now.

John: Yes.

Aline: Because I think Adam –

Rawson: You mean this year, you mean 2015?

Aline: ’15, yeah.

Rawson: Okay.

Aline: Because I think Adam Sandler had three movies come out this year.

John: Yeah, he did. And this was one of them.

Aline: Cobbler, the nine whatever — what’s that movie? The Magnificent Nine — the Ridiculous 6.

Rawson: Ridiculous 6.

Aline: The Ridiculous 6.

John: Ridiculous 6 and then he also the Drew Barrymore one, or was that the year before?

Aline: No, there’s one more and it was –

John: Oh, Grown Ups 2. Yeah, so it’s all confusing.

Aline: Okay.

John: The Cobbler is also directed by Tom McCarthy who directed Spotlight, so that’s part of the reason why it’s so interesting to have that movie come up.

Rawson: Mm-hmm.

John: So we’ll answer ’15 or ’14.

Rawson: Okay.

John: All right. Focus, Will Smith.

Rawson: Oh, ’15.

John: Right. Horns. Aline Brosh McKenna, do you remember Horns? That’s the Daniel Radcliffe grows horns movie.

Aline: Never heard of it.

John: Rawson, do you know the answer? Can you steal this one?

Rawson: I think I know that movie. I believe it was — I think it was ’15.

John: It was ’14.

Rawson: Ah!

John: Oh! Black or White with Chris Rock. Rawson Marshall Thurber.

Rawson: I don’t know this one. Aline?

Aline: That’s not the movie that he did that was –

John: I think it was Julie Delpy who directed it.

Aline: Oh, I don’t know that one. The last Chris Rock movie I saw was the one with Rosario Dawson. And that was ’14, I think.

John: Yeah. Black or White was 2015. Yeah. Or it could be I’ve got the title completely wrong and it’s not even the right movie.

Aline: [laughs]

John: The Boy Next Door. Rawson Marshall Thurber.

Rawson: The Boy Next Door?

John: Jennifer Lopez.

Rawson: Oh, that was my — just a guilty pleasure. I knew this one. Yeah. [laughs]

John: ’15 or ’14?

Rawson: The Odyssey. Right, ’15.

John: ’15 is correct. Ouija, Aline Brosh McKenna?

Aline: ’14.

John: You’re right.

Rawson: That was good one.

John: Stick with you with Horrible Bosses 2.

Aline: ’14.

John: Correct.

Rawson: Mm-hmm.

John: Rawson, The Hundred-Foot Journey.

Rawson: The Hundred-Foot Journey, this is the –

John: Helen Mirren.

Rawson: Yeah, Helen Mirren. It’s not the hotel one, right?

John: No, it’s not –

Rawson: It’s essentially the same –

John: Essentially same idea.

Rawson: I’ve got a 50-50 shot, right? I’ll say 2015.

John: It was ’14.

Rawson: Am I winning?

John: I don’t know. We –

Rawson: I think I’m losing. I think I’m down at least a point at this point. Wait, you’re not even keeping score? [laughs]

John: I’m not really keeping score.

Rawson: Why are we doing it then?

Aline: We’ll have to go back. We’ll go back.

Rawson: Why are –

John: We’ll go back and check the transcript and figure out who –

Aline: I’ve seen the prize. It’s really good.

Rawson: Have Stuart figure it –

John: It’s pretty amazing.

Rawson: Because I want to win.

John: Aline, Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

Aline: ’15.

John: You’re right.

Rawson: That’s a good one.

John: Was it a good movie?

Rawson: No, no, I mean it’s a good question.

John: It’s a good question.

Rawson: That’s really –

John: Yeah, it’s really on –

Rawson: Because when you asked Horrible Bosses 2, that’s a tough one because that came out Thanksgiving 2014.

John: Yeah.

Rawson: So that’s like right in the danger zone of –

John: That dangerous pocket.

Rawson: Yeah.

John: Rawson, Annie.

Rawson: Oh, 2014.

John: You’re right. Aline, you worked on Annie, so you –

Aline: I did.

John: You would know that one, so I gave it to him. Final one, Run All Night. Do you know it?

Rawson: Yeah, I know it. It was 2015.

John: It was 2015. What is that movie?

Rawson: I don’t want to say it’s a Taken knockoff. But it is essentially that. I think it does have Liam Neeson in it and I believe a very sort of talented director whose name escapes me. And I think he’s not an American. And it’s a thriller chase piece where Liam Neeson needs to, I believe, clear his name and/or rescue someone. And it’s at night time.

John: Oh, because –

Rawson: And there’s a lot of running. I saw pieces of it. And it’s beautifully shot.

John: All right. According to Wikipedia, Run All Night is a 2015 American action gangster crime thriller written by Brad Ingelsby and directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, starring Liam Neeson, Joel Kinnaman, Common, Ed Harris. It was released on March 13th, 2015.

Rawson: Wow.

John: Wow.

Rawson: Okay.

John: So before we get into these movies –

Rawson: I won, though.

John: I think Rawson may have won. I don’t know.

Aline: No. I think I was just in there going ’14, ’15.

Rawson: [laughs]

Aline: ’14.

John: All right. So we’re going to have Stuart check the transcript and figure out who won that game.

Aline: Okay.

John: Before we start with our movies from this past year, I want to talk over sort of general lessons we may have learned from 2015 or things we’ve noticed in the industry or the business that we are in and sort of what they might indicate about where 2016 is headed.

And so, something I noticed from my side is I feel like we may be nearing the end of sort of classic studio development. So when I started as a screenwriter, it was common for a film studio to have a big slate of things in development. And there might be 30 projects that were in different stages. I just don’t know that that’s going to happen or continue to happen anymore because as I go in and pitch on projects, granted there’s some selection bias, it’s the kind of things I’ve being brought in to pitch on, feels like they’re not even going to bother developing these movies because they have no spot to release them.

You look at, you know, the Disney label, it has all the Marvel films, it has all the Star Wars films. There’s no more spots to develop for. And I feel like, increasingly, all the studios are going to be in a similar situation. Aline, Rawson, do you notice anything like that?

Aline: I mean, I remember around the time of the strike people were saying the whole movie business is going to move towards branded entertainment and, you know, theme park kind of movies. And I was always the person saying that’s ridiculous, that’ll never happen.

The people that we know, you know, who we came up with, our school of screenwriters, by and large are working on some kind of branded entertainment. It’s much more difficult to get things through now that not that that are original scripts. The ones that are getting through that are originals are writer-directors like Rawson’s movie, you know, some other people that we can name. And, you know, now that business is dominated by your David Russell, your Alexander Payne. You know, writer-directors, I think, are developing the kind of character-driven, smaller movies that I came up writing, you came up writing.

But I often think about my friends who are so brilliant, so many of them are taking their genius and kind of using it to really elevate these genre pieces and these branded pieces. And that’s great in certain respects because those movies now are much better than they have any business being. But I miss the movies that those men and women would have made if they were focusing on or at least alternating those movies with the more personal original pieces.

John: Rawson, I see you setting up projects left and right. And you probably, at least since We’re the Millers, at least six new projects got set up someplace.

Rawson: Yes, it’s in that ballpark, yeah.

John: So it is still happening. You’re the kind of person who’s getting these things set up.

Rawson: Mm-hmm.

John: And We’re the Millers was a long time development project.

Rawson: Mm-hmm.

John: I just wonder if right now We’re the Milllers would have sold and if it would have gotten made.

Rawson: That’s a great question. I don’t know. I mean, it’s been a while since I’ve been on the spec market in that regard. So I really don’t know who’s buying and necessarily what they’re buying. I think your take on it is pretty accurate, that each of these studios sort of following — I mean, frankly, following Marvel’s lead, are desperate to create what they would call a cinematic universe, even where one doesn’t quite exist.

And you look at Disney of course and they’re buying cinematic universes, right? They buy Marvel, they buy Lucas. And even like Universal, right, they’re trying to do that with their monsters, right, with Dracula and Werewolf, the Mummy, et cetera. And Warner Bros. is playing a little catch-up in the DC cinematic universe. So I think you’re absolutely right. Like the opportunity, the slots, I think is what they call them, available for a true spec or something that’s not based on IP, I mean, that bull’s eye is getting smaller and smaller and further and further away.

You know, I just had a really interesting meeting at this sort of new insta studio called STX, run by Adam Fogelson and a few other smart folks. And their whole model is we don’t develop, right? [laughs] Their whole model is, “Bring us a script that you love and if we love it, we’re going to make it. And we’ll tell you how much we’ll spend on it and we’ll tell you how we’re going to market it and we’ll tell you what we’ll put in it or who we need to put in it.” But, yeah, the sort of traditional, “Hey, I got an idea for this or what about this script,” I’m not sure that exists in the same way that it used to.

Aline: Well, it exists in a very different way. You know, when we’ve been getting the screeners and we have two piles, we have the Fast and Furious pile and the Infinitely Polar Bear pile.

Rawson: [laughs] Yeah.

Aline: And those are the two kinds of movies now. And it’s shocking how much you get a screener and they go into one of those two piles. It’s very rare, you know, those movies like The Martian, Argo, a few years ago, which are big studio movies that are character-based, not IP-driven, very, very small pile.

Rawson: Mm-hmm.

Aline: Very small pile.

John: Well, if you want to look at whether it would be The Town or Black Mass, like Warner Bros. makes one sort of like Boston crime thriller a year.

Aline: [laughs]

John: That’s a slot. I mean, it’s basically like it’s either Ben Affleck or somebody like Ben Affleck making that movie.

Rawson: Right.

John: They’re going to do one of those per year. And so they’re sort of done. They’re not going to make another big character drama that’s going to, you know, go in the fall. That’s their one thing.

Rawson: Right. And they’re not making that movie without Ben Affleck. And they’re not making that movie without Johnny Depp. So, you know, it’s not a big roll of the dice for them. I mean, they’re paying, you know, a reasonable number by their estimation for a movie with a big star that could break out. I mean, that’s not chancy.

John: But let’s talk about the things you set up recently –

Rawson: Sure.

John: Because were they all based on IP or were some of them just ideas?

Rawson: Well, let’s see. A couple of them were IP and one was an original idea. And I think it does help when, like on the one that was an original idea, I had a very experienced producer, Scott Stuber. I had a great screenwriter named Pete Correale and we had a really commercial sort of high concept idea. And I was — am and was attached as the director, so we sold that to Lionsgate.

So when you come in with sort of your bases loaded like that, it’s an easier thing for I think a studio to say yes to. And we weren’t trying to sell something that was obscure or difficult. You could kind of, as they say, sort of see the poster on it. So it was an easier sell there.

The other thing I sold, it was based on a very kind of obscure tabletop game. When I was eight years old, I used to play like this and I think the people I was selling it to felt the same way. And it was a relatively inexpensive purchase on the rights side for them. But at least it had some IP, which I thought was kind of interesting because it’s not an IP that most people know, and yet it still has value.

Aline: And if 10 years ago I told you that you were selling movies based on tabletop games –

Rawson: [laughs] It would be hard to believe. Hard to believe.

Aline: Yeah. I’m taking out a Cribbage pitch. [laughs]

John: Yeah. It’s going to be great.

Rawson: My favorite games.

John: Yeah. Like don’t get pegged. I mean, you know, is one of the characters named Peg?

Rawson: Yeah. [laughs]

John: It’s going to be good. It’s going to be a race.

Rawson: Yeah. You’re going to get skunked.

John: You’re going to make your 15s, your 5s and all that, yeah.

Rawson: Yeah, yeah. So, yeah, it was a combo. But I think your earlier point on the We’re the Millers, because that was a script that existed — it was sold 10 years before I came on, roughly, eight or so. And I think there’s still room for high concept comedy on the spec market and on the pitch market just because it’s something that you’re essentially selling on the pitch side that you’re selling a knock-knock joke, right? You’re selling a clean premise that you get with what’s funny about that or what the friction is in the pitch.

And those aren’t particularly expensive to make. You know, if I was starting now and I wrote some sort of galactic space opera as a spec, not based on an IP or a YA novel, I mean you’re sliding uphill. I mean, that’s a real, real tough one.

John: I agree. Speaking of sliding uphill, one of the classic ways to get one of these movies made is to have a big star attached. But this was also the year where a lot of movies with big stars in it didn’t do anything. And we’ve always had some, you know, big star vehicles that didn’t work but it was surprising to me this last year how many movies came out that’s like, wow, I can’t believe that person can’t open that movie.

So you see that with Bradley Cooper in Burnt. You see that with Julia Roberts and Billy Ray’s movie, Secret in Their Eyes, a few other examples. I mean, Mortdecai –

Rawson: Mortdecai, you have it with Our Brand is Crisis. So the same weekend, right, Sandra Bullock in Our Brand is Crisis, right, and Bradley Cooper in Burnt, both came out the same weekend. They both did not perform as hoped for. And I was baffled. I asked everybody, like what is the lesson from this weekend. I asked, you know, the smartest people I know. And the response that I got was really interesting. It was like, “Oh, it doesn’t matter. That doesn’t count.” And I was like, “Well, why doesn’t it count?”

Aline: Well, I think it goes back to the William Goldman thing of, you know, the picture is the star. And I think, you know, some of the stars I’m, as a fan, desperate and hungry for them to make the movies that they made their names on, but as we’ve been discussing, it’s harder to get those movies made. So those character-driven dramas and comedies which, you know, a lot of the people you mentioned, you know, be it an Edward Scissorhands or an Erin Brockovich or The Proposal or, you know, those movies that those stars made that we loved, so much harder to get those made.

So again, I think those movies that we’re talking about that didn’t work were a little bit more in the Infinitely Polar Bear grouping of the, you know, smaller, more prestige movies. They went up for that ball because the big studio films are largely dominated now by superheroes. So the stars who don’t have a superhero franchise tend to not be in the bigger movies.

So this is particularly acute for women now because they’re just not making the movies that women became stars on. Jennifer Lawrence or Scarlett Johansson are really, you know, in my mind to be admired and rewarded because they are stars in interesting genres and are seeking out interesting work and — but it’s just difficult now to mint these stars in these movies I think when people do movies that are sort of in the shape that we enjoy seeking them in, then, you know, it does work.

John: Well, Our Brand is Crisis, when I saw the trailer, it’s like, “Oh, that’s totally going to work.” I mean I saw the materials for it. It’s like that’s a Sandra Bullock in a good Sandra Bullock role where she is the smartest person in the room but sort of overwhelmed. It felt like the right kind of movie. And the reviews didn’t help it certainly. And the reviews didn’t help any of these movies.

Aline: But it’s still, it’s a small political satire. So it’s in the small genre. I don’t think it was trying to tick the boxes of the — it was trying to tick the boxes of the kind of prestige, political –

John: A George Clooney kind of movie.

Aline: The George Clooney kind of movie. And so that’s just a very narrow needle to thread. And I think that people who are hardcore Sandra Bullock fans are kind of waiting for The Blind Side or The Proposal.

Rawson: Yeah. I had the same reaction that you do when I saw the trailer for it. I thought it looked good. I wanted to go see it, then the reviews certainly didn’t help. And that’s a David Gordon Green who’s a fantastic director. And then you also look at In the Heart of the Sea, right? It’s Chris Hemsworth and Ron Howard who’s, you know, First Ballot Hall of Famer. And that didn’t work. I loved that movie. I went and saw it with my family and just loved that picture.

But I think what Aline said is right which is — and it’s this sort of this cop out and kind of the answer that I got from the, you know, I asked a studio head and I asked a big fancy producer like what’s the lesson from this weekend, right? Our Brand is Crisis and Burnt, both underperforming significantly with two big stars, two of the biggest stars. And they both said essentially what Aline said which is like, “And those aren’t the right movies for them.” Like they’re stars in the right movie. If you put them in the right “vehicle” and the thing that we want to see them do, then they’re stars.

John: Yeah, but see I would say — I don’t think that’s fair. Because I think if you were to describe Bradley Cooper in that movie, Burnt, it’s like a comedy about a burnt out chef who’s like trying to get his business back together. It’s like, yeah, I could see Bradley Cooper’s charisma carrying that movie. And it didn’t seem to work that way. I feel like Ryan Reynolds gets slammed a lot for like, “Oh, he wasn’t able to open that movie.” It’s like, well, lots of stars aren’t able to open certain movies.

Rawson: Right. But yeah, what’s the old saying about stars, right, they’re parachutes where you pay them to open. And if they don’t, then what are they?

John: Yeah.

Rawson: You know. And so then you look at someone like Chris Pratt who’s super, super talented and really funny and he’s in two of the biggest films, you know, of recent memory.

Aline: But again, I would say and I adore Chris. I adore Chris Pratt, but the picture is the star.

Rawson: I guess that’s what I’m saying.

Aline: And so he’s in movies that, you know — but if you put Chris Pratt in the movie about the charismatic chef –

Rawson: Right.

Aline: What’s your result? So I think the audience is still looking for the movie to excite them. But I do think because we’re missing those kind of mid-range movies where — I mean if we go down the list of the biggest stars, Tom Cruise and Julia and Sandra and Brad Pitt, they all broke in these mid-range movies. I mean the first time I remember seeing Brad Pitt is in Thelma & Louise. And, you know, we just –

Rawson: Tell me about it.

Aline: [laughs] And we just are not — it is hard to mint these. And now the place we mint them is in the superhero movies. And so if you’re a star who doesn’t want to do that — I mean the other thing about stars I think is interesting is that they now have become products in a way that they weren’t before having to have a franchise, having to have some sort of corporate deal, you know, all the — they’re all modeling watches and, you know, expensive products and face creams because they are now sort of businesses in a different way than when they were our people.

Rawson: And what’s interesting about that is a star as being brand as opposed to actors, right? But I think that’s even become a bigger element I suppose now with Twitter and with Instagram that that connection, a star’s connection with his or her fans is so much more direct and such a big part of their connection with their audience and also how they sell a movie. Like sincerely like I’ve got Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson in Central Intelligence which is the movie that –

Aline: And Dwayne is one of the biggest, most famous.

Rawson: They both are.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: They both are.

Aline: All right, they both are the top 10 for Instagram and Twitter.

Rawson: Yeah. Yeah.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: And it’s amazing what they do to kind of connect and communicate with their fans. And that’s a huge, huge thing. And I think that speaks exactly to what you’re talking about of actors now becoming — movie stars becoming more willing to openly sell product. I’m not sure exactly what that connection is, but I think there is one in terms of like I’m not just an actor that you pay, you know, $13 to go see twice a year. You also get to interact with me every single day. And now I’m a human being with you and now you get to see me at my house. You get to see me, you know, walk my dog, et cetera, et cetera. Therefore, maybe that barrier to selling is less.

Aline: Well, it’s interesting because it’s also in the area of era of reality television.

Rawson: Right, that’s a really good point.

Aline: We’re expecting 360 access to these people.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: I then become a little nostalgic for the days of, you know, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman –

Rawson: Right.

Aline: And Al Pacino and Sissy Spacek and, you know, showing up to the movies with this wonderful mystery about people.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: And I think that might swing back.

John: I think it may swing back, too.

Rawson: But I think that’s a really, really good point because the actors of yesteryear as it were, they kept mystery about them, right? So that when you went to see them in the theater, when you went to go see them perform, they could be somebody else. They could transform into a different character –

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: Because you didn’t know anything about them.

John: Well, look at Oscar Isaac who’s been in so many great movies this last year, but I don’t know anything about Oscar Isaac. And so the reason why I think he looks — he seems so different in every movie is because I just don’t know anything about him, so I have no baseline for sort of what he normally is. And so I can’t tell what’s acting and what’s actually him.

Rawson: Yeah.

John: It’s a really useful thing about the actors who we don’t know who they are, is that they can be just — we can project anything on to them.

Rawson: That’s an excellent point.

John: Any last observations from 2015 that you’re carrying with you into the New Year?

Aline: About the overall movie business?

John: The movie business, television.

Aline: I mean I was — you know, I think we got to say from our point of view is that everyone we know has migrated to television in some way, shape or form.

John: But this was your big year of television.

Aline: Yeah. I mean it was for me –

John: You have one of the most critically acclaimed shows and Rachel has a Golden Globe nomination.

Rawson: Congratulations.

John: It’s really amazing.

Aline: Thank you.

Rawson: Well earned.

Aline: But it was — you know, I was the last person to get on that bus because I had done TV early in my career and I kind of knew what it entailed. I didn’t gravitate towards it, but, you know, every screenwriter now that I know pretty much has some kind of television in development. And those sophisticated character-driven dramas and comedies by and large now are on television. And so it’s not surprising that a lot of writers are migrating there because they can tell the kinds of stories that movies used to tell routinely. And now you just struggle to get them made. And the TV business is hungry for those kinds of stories.

And one thing I’ve noticed which I think is interesting is that the difference between film executives now and television executives is that film executives are approaching their job much more like corporate executives. My husband works at a big mutual fund. And I’ve noticed that when I talk to movie people, they’re much more conscious of their stuff as product, how it’s going to work in the marketplace, how it’s being marketed, how it’s being monetized.

And television because there is so much niche stuff going on because people can go and make an excellent show on a streaming or cable in particular where they don’t have the same kind of financial exigencies, the executives in those businesses are much more driven by love of material, we’re doing this, I know this is outside of the box. I mean we’ve certainly benefitted tremendously, our show, has from people who just love the story, love the show. And that has been I think kneaded out of movie executives because they have to think now in these more corporate product terms. So in a funny way like the ’70s have moved from movies to television.

John: Something that I think you’re going to hear more about much more about this coming year is the reality of television, you kind of can’t lose money. And so one of the reasons why you see some low rated shows that stay on the air is because –

Aline: We’re trying to prove that wrong.

John: All right. [laughs] So your show is critically acclaimed but it’s not a big giant hit. And I think in another year, it would be much harder for you guys to have kept your back nine.

Aline: Yes.

John: And just keep going.

Aline: Yes.

John: But I thing which some much smarter people than I sort of showed the numbers on is that your studio and your network, they’re making money off your show even though it’s not a giant hit. And, you know, it’s worth it for them to sort of –

Aline: Well, we’re still in the network business so we have some of these exigencies really still pressing on us. But for the streaming and the cable things, I mean what’s interesting is that particularly for streaming, their programming is, you know, can function as a loss leader because it’s not their core business.

So it’s almost like a — it’s marketing. You know, it markets the rest of their business. And that comes from cable, but that’s particularly true in streaming. And so those show creators are really left to do what they want to do and what they’re encouraged to do is things that are provocative and –

Rawson: Make noise.

Aline: Make noise and nobody really looks at the numbers. I mean in the case of Netflix and Hulu, we don’t really even know what the numbers are.

John: Yeah.

Aline: That’s just really a seismic sea change. I can’t point to anything like that in the movie business because the studios are so squeezed with trying to make these kind of big IP movies and then if you’re trying to make an independent movie which was the path I was kind of going down before the show happened, in a funny way, that’s a more money-driven business even in the studios because those people need some assurances. They need cast, they need the budget to be low, low, low. So, you know, if you’re talking about making a prestige-driven or character-driven or, you know, something that would have been a Sydney Pollack movie, you’re now making that movie for $11 million with financing that you’ve cobbled together from six different entities and you’re shooting it in Croatia.

And so the TV business now has that thing of sort of, you know, people wanting to take chances and spend a little money on that. So that’s why you’re seeing this giant migration of people over there. That is just I think just an enormous trend for our business, as somebody who really only wrote screenplays for, you know, the majority of my career.

John: One of the things I’m curious about for 2016 is whether we’re going to finally just break and there’s for me like there’s so much television that you couldn’t possibly catch up. And so I feel like on a weekly basis, someone will bring up a new show or something new that I need to catch up on. And I have to just basically decide like, “Is this going to be part of my life or not part of my life at all?” because otherwise I just can’t — I just have to acknowledge I’ll never be watch that show because it’s not going to happen.

Most recent thing is Making a Murderer, the Netflix show which is apparently brilliant and I really want to watch it. But it’s a choice between watching that and watching –

Aline: But how great — I have to say, I totally, and the FOMO is insane.

John: Yeah.

Aline: And it’s, you know, you feel like I can’t — I didn’t watch that show. I have to opt out of all these conversations. But how great is it that we walk around with people saying, “You have to got — oh my god, you haven’t seen this? You have to — oh, stop what you’re doing. You have to watch this.”

John: Yeah.

Aline: And I just want to stop for a moment and think about the last time there was a movie that felt like that where everybody you knew was talking about it and saying you have to — now, obviously the Star Wars movie. But it’s just rare to have people saying, “Oh, I can’t — you got to go, stop what you’re doing. Run out and see this movie.” And with TV shows, it’s just this like –

Rawson: It’s endless.

Aline: it’s endless and it’s just — you know, look at the list of the sort of the top 30 best reviewed TV shows, that could be your whole life.

Rawson: Yeah. I have the exact same feeling that you have, John. Like it’s — you know, Making a Murderer, I heard the exact same thing.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: I’m dying — ha-ha — to see it. And there’s just no time. Like, you know, I’m so far behind on everything else. Like The Man in the High Castle which was my favorite Amazon pilot, so excited. Watched the pilot. I wanted to binge watch all of them. It wasn’t even made, right? And a year later, I was waiting, waiting, waiting for it to come out. It finally comes out, I still haven’t watched it.

John: Oh, Rawson.

Rawson: It’s terrible. It’s terrible.

John: But it’s not terrible because like –

Rawson: I could do a whole list of shows –

John: Yes.

Rawson: Starting with Friday Night Lights that I have not seen that I’m dying to see. There are truly, truly not enough hours in the day.

John: Yeah.

Rawson: But I agree with Aline that it’s — what a wonderful time to live in.

Aline: But I just want to circle back to, you know, there’s — when I think of, you know, John’s breakthrough movie was Go and your breakthrough movie was Dodgeball, which is the McKenna family movie, and my sort of breakout movie, Devil Wears Prada, tough going man now to get those through. I mean if you came to me with Go, I would say that’s a Netflix show. If you came to me with Dodgeball, I would say that’s an FX series. If you came to me — somebody came to me with — the Devil Wears Prada was a pre-established — you know, it was a hit book, so maybe that would probably go the movie route again.

But, you know, other things that I’ve written like 27 Dresses, I think I would say try and get $5 million and shoot that, you know, in New Orleans and hope for the best. Those movies are really tough to get through. And if you’re in a movie meeting and you’re saying, this is totally out of the box and insane and doesn’t make any sense, and if you’re my friend and you’re telling me you have that kind of idea, I would recommend, you know, five or seven cable, streaming and in some case broadcast network places that, you know — I think of Ridley’s doing American Crime, and he’s doing it on a big network, wouldn’t that have been a movie 10 years ago? Wouldn’t that have been like a big Oscary movie? So aren’t we going towards the thing also where my kids don’t care so much what platform it’s on, you know?

Rawson: Yeah, I think they’re platform agnostic.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: From what I can tell. But John back to, not your kids specifically, but the kids today, the Millenials. But yeah, but John, to your point, the sort of glut of gold, right, of the television gold, you know, we have to be at some point hitting peak drama, right? There’s just too much. Too much great stuff, you can’t keep up.

So on the TV side, that feels like what’s going on. On the feature side, it is cinematic universe is robust, right? Everything else can take a hike. And it’s a really strange difference between the two, right, where one is — we’re creating an interlocking set of $150 million movies that all feed each other and inform each other and make $100 million on the opening weekend. And we don’t really care about anything else.

John: And there’s FOMO to those movies. Like that’s why, you know, you have to see Star Wars the first week or else it’s all going to be spoiled for you.

Aline: Right.

Rawson: Sure. And then the other side to what Aline is saying is on the television side, it’s just be interesting, we don’t really care. We don’t even know what the numbers are. If it’s kind of cool and different, that’s great. So it’s a very — like it’s so –

Aline: I think it depends also what drew you into the business. Because a lot of my friends who were big genre writers or producers, like the stuff that drew them into the business, you know, was Star Wars, were these kind of bigger, you know, it’s like Star Wars, Die Hard, you know, those kind of early, big franchise-able things. You know, for me, personally, I was — I was drawn into the business by — this is really quaint — movies from the ’30s and ’40s. And Sydney Pollack and James Brooks –

Rawson: That’s adorable.

Aline: Elaine May. Yeah, it’s really — it’s like saying, you know, you grew up playing with the dolls with the real hair and the lace dresses. It’s like I didn’t grow up playing with collectible. In fact, some of the stuff I’ve not heard of. Like people will say, “We’re working on this line of toys from the ’70s that was like cool robots who are, you know, like” — and I’ve never heard of it, you know. And it is also very male-driven by and large.

So I think the way we’re wicking people into the business now is different because of the kind of things that we’re making. And I think if I were starting out again and I came to myself for advice, I’d probably say, “Go try and get a job writing, you know, You’re the Worst or something.”

John: Yeah. Good shows. All right. So we’ve been talking about how much great TV there was this year, but there’s also been a lot of great movies. And so we want to focus on three of those movies that are up for awards this season. We’ll start with Room.

So Room tells a story of five-year-old Jack who has spent his entire life in a single room because his mother was kidnapped at age 17. The movie tracks her life inside the room and their attempts to escape and reintegrate with the world outside. It was written by Emma Donoghue, based on her best-selling novel.

Rawson, you just saw this movie last night.

Rawson: I did. And I loved it. I had — I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know what you just said about it. I didn’t watch a trailer.

Aline: That’s great.

Rawson: I knew nothing. And I was blown away. I wonder if I would’ve liked it as much if I had known anything. Because when they were — I guess there will be spoilers in this episode.

John: There were be spoilers. We can’t avoid it.

Rawson: So I had no idea why they were in that room. You know, I was like, you know, is it — is this a post-apocalyptic thing? Can she not go outside because of radiation? Is it, you know, is she hiding? Did she kill someone? And, you know, obviously, as it goes along you kind of puzzle it together.

So that, just the opening experience of just sort of being drawn in and trying to figure out what the puzzle is or what the reasoning is for them not having left the room was fascinating and unlike anything I’ve seen in a long time in the theater. And then, of course, as it — as it unfolds, you know, the escape sequence was — I haven’t felt that way in a movie theater in a long time. I was writhing in my chair and so nervous.

Aline: I was sobbing so loudly. I was barking.

Rawson: Oh my god. [laughs]

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: Yeah. It was something else. And then the other part that was so interesting to me, which I guess I wouldn’t have expected was, we have to talk spoiler again.

John: Yeah.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: So after they escaped through the — after they escaped the room, I guess I just — because I’m, you know, a studio hack. Like I was just like, “Oh, well, that’s the end of the movie, they get out and they hug, it’s a thing.” And that’s the midpoint. Like the — some of the most fascinating stuff is what happens after that and sort of recalibrating and what is the world like if you’ve never ever, ever experienced it. And I just thought it was a beautiful piece of cinema and expertly told. And some of the best performances I’ve seen in a long time. Man, what a fantastic picture. A-plus.

John: Yeah. On a story level, what was so striking to me about it is that it doesn’t sort of follow any normal rules. And so in terms of like who’s the protagonist, who’s your antagonist, that it’s three acts. It’s really a two-act sort of movie. And the two acts are very, very different. And you sort of think like, “Oh, she’s the one who’s going to change, and she’s going to have to save this kid.” But it’s not really that.

And it was — I found myself frustrated in the second half of the movie where I was like, “Well, where did the mom go?” There’s moments where she disappears from the story. And it wasn’t until, you know, the credits rolled that like, “Oh, wait, it was actually the boy’s story.” And so –

Rawson: Oh. Oh.

Aline: Yes.

John: Yeah. And so if you look at it from the boy’s point of view –

Aline: Yes. That makes perfect sense.

John: Like some of the moments that didn’t actually make a lot of sense to me in the second half I think were because it’s really based on what the boy’s understanding of what these adults are actually talking about and how these are working. Like William H. Macy’s character, I didn’t really believe or buy, but I think I buy it more if I see it from the kid’s point of view. And it’s like –

Aline: Yes. Great point.

John: He has no idea what the — why this man is saying these things.

Rawson: Yeah.

John: And it makes more sense with that.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: I mean, it’s by far my favorite movie that I’ve seen this year. And it’s probably for me the movie I was most excited about since Frozen, which sounds strange, but remember I had like a big freak out over Frozen.

John: I did. And you can listen to that episode in the premium feed of Scriptnotes where Aline and I talked with Jennifer Lee about Frozen.

Aline: I mean, I’m obsessed with this movie. I think it’s a clinic. I think it is — I don’t know why everyone’s not talking about it. It feels like to me the movie everyone should be talking about it. I will say that a lot of people I’ve talked to have a weird idea of what it is. Like even Rawson was saying, “Is it really scary? Is it going to upset my life?” And I just keep saying to people, “It’s just good.”

I just want to say two things. One is, as a writer — and this is one of the reasons I love Frozen so much — you know what’s hard and what’s not hard. You know what things are difficult writing-wise and what things are not. And there’s just sometimes I see a movie and I think, “Well that’s wonderful, but I know that the level of skill it took to do that is not that high.”

The level of skill that it takes to pull off Room is extremely high, extremely high degree of difficulty. You’re telling such an intimate story, such a character piece. But it’s also a thriller. It’s also like a great propulsive story. It plays with genre. It upends genre. I just thought from the point of view as a craftsman looking at a table, you know, as someone who makes tables examining another table, I was really effing –

Rawson: It’s a hell of a table.

Aline: Impressed.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: And then the other thing I want to say is that, you know, it’s a story about a woman and a child, and her mother, primarily. And I got to say, you know, there’s a lot of great movies out that are getting a lot of attention, but part of me has to think that if it wasn’t about women and children it would be getting more acclaim. And I’m kind of turning into this guy. I’m kind of turning into this person as I get older and I see what happens in the world. I just think stories about women and children, which is really all this movie is and what this — it’s the best movie about parenting I’ve seen ever.

Rawson: Oh, yeah.

Aline: And their relationship is so real and so gritty and so interesting. I just think — I just want more people to see it. I’m desperate for more people to see it because I think we’ve seen a lot of terrific movies this year but the level of achievement here in terms of storytelling, character work, and performances. I mean, the very last moment, when Brie looks back at the room and she says goodbye to it and she whispers, she doesn’t say it, she doesn’t make any noise, it’s — I think it’s stunning.

John: So this is Emma Donoghue’s screenplay based on her book, and that to me was a really fascinating thing to look at because we’ve had other novelists adapt their own books. Gillian Flynn did a great job adapting Gone Girl.

Aline: That’s who I thought of, too.

John: But what struck me about this is that, you know, looking at the book Room, you have the ability to have character introspections, so you get to know what the characters know, you get to see inside their thoughts. She had to do this without any voiceover, without any sort of ability to sort of get out what’s happening inside these characters’ heads other than dialogue.

Aline: Which is, again, why I say clinic.

John: Clinic. And so this first half of the movie, you feel like, “Well, that could be a play.” You theoretically could stage that first half of the movie as like a play. And then when it actually breaks out, it clearly has to be a movie, because the only way you get that suspense and that tension is by going outside in that world and, you know, it was brilliantly directed and really brilliantly shot. And then just keep going to these new environments, it really did ultimately become a film. But to able to understand both like how to do all the very small chamber character work and then break out and do the suspense was remarkable.

Aline: You know, for some reason, one of the moments that has stuck with me so much is the moment where Joan Allen’s boyfriend builds this bridge to the kid. And, you know, he’s not a major character. He shows up two-thirds of the way through the movie.

Rawson: In kind of a creepy fashion, by the way, just standing in the hall.

Aline: Right. And he’s sort of — yeah, you don’t really know what to make of that.

Rawson: He did a great job.

Aline: But you really — it’s such a testament to the power of human connection that these two characters reach out across each other. And it’s exactly what you said, so smart. It’s the boy’s story and it’s about how he learns to start making connections in the world that are not his mother. And so I think that’s the reason for me that is such a big victorious moment, that you feel like this kid’s going to be okay because he can learn to trust somebody. And it’s really great that it’s not his grandfather, it’s somebody else.

Rawson: I think that’s an excellent point. And like — and it is surprising that that character, Lee or something, I think, is the one who sort of connects with Jack, right? And he’s the only one who doesn’t have, doesn’t carry any baggage with him toward Jack, right? He is essentially a stranger. And I thought that was surprising and wonderful.

But John, back to your point, like she does use — Emma does use voiceover. And she uses Jack’s voiceover in the picture.

John: You’re absolutely right.

Rawson: Throughout, right?

John: Yeah.

Rawson: And so like to me. And then what was interesting about what you said of, you know, whose story is this? And to me, really early on, it seemed like it was really clearly Jack’s story because he’s the one explaining what room is, right?

Aline: Yes.

Rawson: And then when Nick — Old Nick shows up, he — Jack goes into wardrobe and stays there –

Aline: And we see it from his perspective.

Rawson: And we’re in there with him.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: So something that you talk a lot about, which I steal all the time when I’m writing and thinking is like who do you give the storytelling power to, right?

John: Yeah.

Rawson: That’s so critical, and something I learned from you. Really, I thought it was — as I think Aline might say, you know, a master class in specifically that, right? This is only Jack’s story. It clearly is his and we only see it through his eyes and from his perspective. So when he’s rolled up in the rug and taken out, we don’t — we never see Brie Larson again until –

John: Yeah.

Aline: Right.

Rawson: Until she comes running out toward the cop car. Which heightens the tension, right?

Aline: Yes, so much.

Rawson: Because we don’t know what’s happening.

Aline: We don’t know what’s happening there. I just want to say one more thing about the movie which is –

Rawson: Sure.

Aline: If we’re talking about trends for me in 2015 is that it’s the best movie I’ve ever seen about rape and the aftermath of rape and how confusing and damaging it is. And this is the year where I watched The Hunting Ground which I cannot recommend highly enough. I watched it with my kids who are teenagers.

Rawson: Is that the CNN documentary?

Aline: It’s not CNN. But yeah, it’s the people who did the documentary about rape in the military, did a documentary about rape on college campuses, and it is blistering. I also read the Missoula book, Krakauer’s Missoula book about the college rapes in Missoula. And then, obviously, we have the Bill Cosby thing.

I am hoping that as a culture our view and our understanding of rape and rape victims and what happens to them starts to change now, has to change now. And this is the best microscopic examination of what a rape survivor goes through and, you know, her triumphs and her defeats, and what’s complicated and how it’s imprinted on her and how it affects her mental health and how she becomes suicidal.

Rawson: Absolutely.

Aline: And, you know, you can be brave and you can, you know, work through these things, but it damages you forever. And I think we still don’t understand that as a culture. And so I really have to applaud the movie for depicting that in a way that’s not homework. It’s not spinach. It’s not vegetables. It’s just human.

Rawson: Yeah. I thought Emma Donoghue did an incredible job adapting her own work. I haven’t read the book but I can only imagine the challenge. And it seems like it would be even more difficult if you were the author of the novel to be — to sort of what I can only assume is to hack and slash your own work up to make it fit into 120 pages. But –

Aline: Yeah. Hats off to her.

Rawson: Yeah. But then the last thing I wanted to say about Room was — and it’s connected, Aline, to what you were saying, which is this sort of clean line, the clean premise of a 17-year-old girl who gets abducted and kept in a shed. She’s raped. She has a son from that rape and loves that son, right? The clean idea of a mother who loves her child even though that child was the offspring of a horrific and violent act is so ripe for drama and ripe for investigation. Like, you know, there were very few times in my life where I’ve sort of stumbled across or come up with a clean dramatic construct like that that you just get so excited. I mean, it’s — I mean, I can almost picture Emma Donoghue when that idea struck her. I feel like, “Oh my god, of course. What a great idea to explore.”

Aline: It’s funny it’s in the same year that Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt came out.

Rawson: I was going to say that. [laughs]

Aline: Which is sort of, you know, it’s sort of — it is a great idea. It’s a gonzo weird comedic take on Room that –

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: That they’re a great double feature.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: And it’s, you know, Kimmy Schmidt is so intelligent and bizarre.

Rawson: It’s fantastic.

Aline: And it takes a completely, you know, through-the-looking-glass view of the same topic. But I could really go on and on about Room just as a craftsperson. I really –

Rawson: Not as funny as Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Aline: Not quite as funny, no. But it did have some great moments of humor I have to say.

Rawson: It does.

John: So while Room was a very small story with a very tight group of characters, Spotlight is a much bigger story. It follows this team of journalists working at The Boston Globe, working to expose widespread sexual abuse, again, of children by Catholic priests in the Boston area. It’s written by Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer. It was listed on the 2013 Black List of unproduced screenplays and now it’s a movie up for a lot of best pictures.

What struck me about Spotlight, and I — again, I really enjoyed Spotlight. It’s almost exactly the opposite of Room. It’s like where Room was so detailed and charactery and it’s all about sort of these very intimate feelings like silent moments, Spotlight was sort of all talk all the time. It’s all business.

Aline, I heard you describe it once as sort of like The Martian but like with journalists. And so it’s very sort of technically detail-oriented.

Aline: Yeah. That’s something I wanted to talk about and see how you guys felt. Because I have noticed, you know, that both of those movies — and it’s something I’ve noticed in movies more and more is the characters in both of those movies, they’re really work procedurals. And the character development is, you know, is — I think they deliberately underbaked the buns there, you know. They kind of pulled it out of the oven without overdoing.

Like in The Martian, you really don’t know a lot about the backstory of this guy who you’re spending a lot of time with. When he talks about his parents, I thought, “Oh gosh, I don’t really know anything about his home life.” And then in Spotlight, each character has like one little scene, you know, going to the neighbor’s house, eating pizza for Mark Ruffalo, loading the dishwasher for Rachel McAdams. I mean, they have little, tiny character grace notes, but they really work procedurals about characters whose function in the movie is to do things and not to kind of exhibit character behavior.

And I think it’s really interesting in light of what we’ve been talking about with TV. You know, TV is all about these interesting, naughty, complicated characters where you’re really delving into them. And I feel like it’s interesting to have a movie where you have two prestige films that are excellent and I think are going to get a lot of awards, where the character stuff I think is deliberately a little, you know, pencil drawn, maybe to make the functioning of the work stuff more prominent in a way.

John: So you’re talking — that these two movies being The Martian and Spotlight. In both cases, we don’t know a lot about the characters’ backstories. But even when the movie begins, they’re not given a big arc to sort of — to conquer. There wasn’t a like there’s a thing which they as a character couldn’t do at the start of the movie that they can do at the end of the movie.

Aline: Their arc are obstacles.

John: Yeah. And so they just like, stuff gets in their way and they have to keep knocking down these things that get in their way but it’s much more sort of — it’s procedural. It’s just like, are they going to be able to unscramble this puzzle that will get them out of this movie successfully?

Rawson: Absolutely. I mean I think the only real sort of character quandary or challenge is from Michael Keaton’s character, right? Because in that picture, in Spotlight, he gets sent the box of like, “Here’s the damning evidence, do something about it,” and he ignored it for whatever reason, right? It’s the right choice for that story, right? Because what’s most important in Spotlight is what these guys did, what these priests did, what the Catholic Church did. And I think the choice of telling the story that way of just the facts ma’am and not delving into character backstory or tropes as you say, is precisely the right choice because that’s not what’s important about that story. What’s not important about the story is –

Aline: Exactly.

Rawson: Oh, gosh, the relationship between the journalist and her boyfriend and are they going to make up?

Aline: Right.

Rawson: Like, who cares?

Aline: Right.

Rawson: That’s not what it’s about, it’s about –

Aline: This is what happened in the world.

Rawson: That’s exactly right.

Aline: And in Martian, it’s about science and it’s about the importance of iteration. You know, I think it’s — if you don’t process emotions very well then you’ll really enjoy the Martian because [laughs] –

Rawson: I really did.

John: There’s not a lot of emotions there.

Aline: Because — no. Because it’s such a great tribute, to — I mean, I thought it was a great movie for my kids to see because it’s like try again, try again, try again. It’s a really great movie for writers, too, because it’s “How do you skin this cat?” You go back, you try again. He tries everything.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: I mean, I never thought I would be so excited about seeing plants sprout in a hothouse.

Rawson: Yeah. I mean, yeah, The Martian was — I mean, Drew Goddard did an incredible job.

Aline: Incredible.

Rawson: What was so — one of the things I love about The Martian, though we’re not really talking about that, is the way that Ridley and Drew use humor in that film.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: Humor throughout and how important that is to keep — at least to keep me and I think the audience, engaged in the story, because it could have been a really bleak, hopeless slog.

Aline: And also Spotlight. I mean, you know, Keaton, Slattery, Rachel McAdams, Mark Ruffalo –

Rawson: Liev Schreiber.

Aline: They’re all — Liev, yeah. They’re all great dramatic actors but they all can be funny. And they bring — there’s a kind of lightness to that movie in a funny way.

Rawson: Stanley Tucci, also.

Aline: Right.

Rawson: Right. Kind of stealing the show.

Aline: Yeah. So exactly, kind of steal — yeah.

Rawson: I want to say one thing about Spotlight which is my friend Blye Pagon Faust produced it, and I didn’t know she produced it until I saw her name on the screen.

Aline: Wow. So you guys are close then?

Rawson: Well, we’re not that close. But I know her pretty well and I sent her e-mail. I didn’t realize until — well, actually I saw. I knew before I went to see the movie but I didn’t realize until I think she posted on Facebook, “Go see my movie,” and I went “Oh my God.” And I was — it’s always kind of fun when someone you know, a friend of yours, even lightly, kind of comes out of nowhere and has a big, big success. It’s just like exciting.

Aline: Yeah.

John: Well, let’s take — let’s take a look though at Spotlight and, I guess, The Martian as well. Both these movies have a noticeable lack of conflict, and generally, like if your movie doesn’t have a lot of conflict between the characters, I’m just not going to care. And what both of them do have, which I think is maybe a very new kind of thing, they have really competent characters. And so this is sort of a thing called competency porn where it’s like –

Aline: Totally.

John: It’s really fun to see people who are really good at their job, and see people doing a really good job at their job. And so for The Martian, it’s –

Rawson: I don’t want you to watch me work.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Aline: But it’s funny. I actually think this might also be a little bit tinged by reality shows and by the extreme like excitement of watching people cook things and build things.

John: Or survive out in the wilderness.

Aline: Yes. I think there’s a thing now where, you know, some character work can seem — backstory stuff just can seem corny, tropey, and so –

John: Mark Ruffalo had a couple of corny tropey moments for me in this movie. There’s sort of one moment where he blows up at Michael Keaton and it’s like I didn’t really kind of buy it. And there are a few moments where it’s like I felt like he was getting angry to get angry because it’s a thing that a character in this movie is supposed to be doing, is getting angry. But no one else in the movie was doing that, and so it felt a little strange. It was so fascinating for me to see like Stanley Tucci or Liev Schreiber, actors who generally can get kind of big and kind of emotional, be really tamped down.

Rawson: Yeah, it’s my favorite performance from Liev in a long, long time.

John: Yeah. It’s exciting. All right. Let’s look at our third and final movie. It’s The Big Short. It’s based on the non-fiction book by Michael Lewis. The Big Short tells the story of three groups of investors who foresaw the collapse of the US Housing Market in 2007. It’s written by Adam McKay and Charles Randolph.

This is, again, a movie with a zillion people in it and a lot of talking, but also, structurally, just bizarre, and point of view, bizarre. It breaks the fourth wall consistently. Characters will turn to the camera and speak and then resume their scene. It took a lot of really ambitious narrative choices. And I really dug what it did.

Aline: I loved it. I mean, I think Adam McKay is kind of interestingly one of the most subversive brains in Hollywood. I don’t know that he totally gets credit for it because even his mainstream comedies have some crack going on in them, all of them. He’s so super smart and it comes across.

And I just — I loved what he did formally with this movie in terms of being so free and the way they shot it and the way it was edited. I mean, it’s a long time since I’ve seen a movie edited in a way that I was like, “Wow, we’re holding here. We’re hanging out here,” you know. So I thought, formally, it was — it was fantastic.

I had two thoughts about it that maybe prevented me from like completely immersing myself in it. And one was that it’s about people who are trying to exploit the crash, but you root for them. And they see that it’s all screwed up, but they’re still all betting against the common. Now it’s kind of a genius move on the part of the movie that it was able to get you to root for and care about people who are playing against everyone and playing against the system, so that’s — but that’s a tricky inside out kind of thing it’s doing.

John: Yeah, it has the structure of a heist movie in a way and like “Are they going to be able to get away with it?” And yet you know that the end result is a really negative outcome for the universe and for all humanity. So it’s a strange sense. And to McKay’s credit, I thought he did a nice job of letting you both feel some victory in that it happened and the characters themselves acknowledge the very bad thing that happened. So Steve Carell, his character, you know, really feeling despondent even as he’s become a billionaire.

Aline: As he becomes a billionaire.

Rawson: Yeah. And that — yeah. Look, I love the movie, I loved the book. I thought McKay did an incredible job. But you know, just as someone who makes comedies myself, to get to see someone who’s a titan of studio comedy work creating the opportunity for himself to do something that isn’t that and doing such an exceptional job was just really heartening and exciting for me.

Aline: Yeah, it’s great. And it was interesting because it’s funny but it’s still — so it’s still — I felt like it had the DNA of an Adam McKay movie in some ways, but obviously it was going off into these other directions.

Rawson: Sure. I mean especially with what John was saying, breaking the fourth wall, like I think it’s three separate times where McKay uses that device to help explain a very complicated idea. And it seems like there’s two real big challenges going into the adaptation of that book. One is, of course, the complexity of the derivatives market, right? Which Michael Lewis does a brilliant job of explaining in the book, a fantastic book if you want to get angry. And McKay I think chose a really McKay-like way of doing that, right? Margot Robbie in a bubble bath, Anthony Bourdain, I think it’s Vanessa Hudgens –

John: It’s Selena Gomez.

Rawson: Selena Gomez, my fault. Selena Gomez at a blackjack table, which I thought were all super, super clever. So one challenge is the complexity of that.

And then also, like you were saying John, like it is a heist picture, so trying to keep all those dishes spinning and keep that tension going. And heist pictures are incredibly difficult to write and execute, but the last piece of it is the most important which is, “How do you root for these guys? How do you root for these guys who are essentially profiting off of the corruption of the system and making those billions of dollars that Johnny and Jane taxpayer are going to have to foot the bill?”

Aline: Yeah, that’s what I was saying. Yeah, and the people who are going to get wiped out by these things are satirized.

Rawson: Yes, right.

Aline: Right? Like the boneheads in the, you know, who sell the –

Rawson: Yes, Max Greenfield. Fantastic. [laughs]

Aline: Yes, amazing. And the stripper and, you know, they’re sort of depicted as yahoos on the other hand, you know, they’re victims. I actually thought, you know, the guy who’s been paying the rent but the landlord hasn’t been –

Rawson: Yeah, that was so sad.

Aline: That was so sad and he appears again later in the movie –

Rawson: And he’s okay.

Aline: Yeah. And that was the most kind of humanized thing. It’s interesting. It does go back — it goes back to sort of what we were talking about.

John: Well, let’s talk about how he actually did make you feel sympathy for our lead guys who theoretically could be schmucks for, you know, what they’re doing to everybody else. You create bigger assholes around them, and so like they’re standing up to bigger assholes who are openly mocking them.

Aline: Yeah.

John: So when he’s going in to try to pitch the portfolio like –

Aline: Yeah.

John: “Will you sell me this thing?” And they’re like snickering. “Oh my god, we’re going to make so much money off this idiot.” That’s the way to sort of make our guys feel like the underdogs.

Rawson: That’s right.

John: And we’re going to root for the underdogs.

Rawson: That’s exactly right.

John: And consistently with all three storylines, we’ve let them be the underdog, so like –

Aline: Yeah, smart.

John: Our young guys aren’t even allowed to go upstairs and so they have to sit in the lobby and they get talked down to you by an assistant.

Rawson: That was a great scene.

Aline: That’s my favorite guy.

John: Yeah, the guy who plays the –

Rawson: The little guy is so good.

Aline: That little guy is the greatest.

Rawson: Whoever he is, good job little guy.

John: That’s one of the moments where you break the fourth wall and they pick up this prospectus and one of the actors turns to you and is like, “This isn’t actually how it happened — I didn’t get it here.”

Aline: It’s great.

John: And it was such a smart choice because it reminded you like, “Oh this is a real story.” So even though we are playing fictional characters, this really did happen to a degree. It reminded you like, “Oh, that’s right. This is all real.”

Rawson: I loved that scene because as soon as they picked up the prospectus, I’m like, “This is bullshit.”

Aline: Right.

Rawson: And I was like grabbing my pitchfork, and then he turns to the camera and I’m like, “Oh, bless you heart, Adam McKay.” But you’re exactly right, John, that you create bigger assholes and you make our heroes the underdogs, which is almost impossible not to root for. And then there are two other critical scenes in that film that very clearly are there in an attempt to make you like our heroes, right?

One is when they’re leaving, I think it’s Vegas, and the two young whipper-snappers who couldn’t get past the lobby just placed their bet and they’re super, super excited and they’re dancing. And Brad Pitt, of all people, right, the biggest star in the picture, turns around and says “Don’t dance.”

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: “This is what this means, this is what you’re betting on,” right? And it’s fine, but don’t dance, right?

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: Which is precisely the right tone and note to hit for the audience to go, “Okay, I’m glad you acknowledged it. Now, we’re cool. We can root for your guys.” And then of course the end piece where Steve Carell, who does a beautiful job in the film, you know, hems and haws, and is tortured about becoming a billionaire.

Aline: Well also, he’s been given — Steve Carell has been given what we would think of a more traditional thing which is that his brother committed suicide. And so that’s something that would be a more traditional piece of scene where –

John: I could have lost all of that. I don’t know how you felt about that.

Aline: Although the scene where he was in the support group and just comes in as really disruptive and leaves, I just thought it was amazing.

John: If you we’re going to lose –

Rawson: I loved that scene.

John: If you’re going to lose that plot line, you basically lose Marisa Tomei, you lose sort of any other woman you recognize, which is a challenge, but –

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: But that scene where Steve Carell’s character sort of talks to Marisa Tomei about it, the way that that’s edited, I thought was just beautiful.

Aline: Yeah.

Rawson: And really one of the few moments in the film where I felt pathos, right? I felt really attached and understood his struggle. You know, I was angry at the bad guy — you know, at everybody.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Rawson: But like that was the one time where I felt like an emotional connection. So I can understand very easily cutting that scene out because it’s sort of, you know, off book a little bit. I think it does what it’s supposed to do which is make you understand that this is a person who has gone through real trouble in his life and that you care about him and want him to come out the other side of that. And I guess this sort of vindicates –

Aline: I mean, you know, it’s a good kind of segue into one other thing I wanted to say kind of in general about this time for me every year when you look back on these movies is, you know how you can judge — they say you can judge a country by how it treats its women, that that’s a good hallmark of how free it is and how much democracy it has. I feel the same way about movies, and I feel like every year there’s movies that I really like but I wish they had drilled down a little harder on the women. Because I will judge a movie differently if they managed to get in an interesting complicated female character.

And there’s a thing which I didn’t realize was a thing until last night which is there’s this thing where there are leads in movies now, particularly in these genre pieces, where the women just are spunky and they have moxie, but they don’t have characters. And you know what I’m talking about.

Rawson: Yeah.

Aline: So this is a thing. I was talking to someone about this at a party last night because that is the overwhelming in the genre big movies, these women who are like defined by — they just have a lot of spunk and pluck but they don’t really have flaws or things to overcome. And if they don’t have flaws, if they’re not 360, or if they’re not just frankly in the movie at all, a lot — some of these movies, just if you look at the, you know, best reviewed movies of the year, some of them just don’t even have female characters in them or have very minor ones.

You know, to me, I just — it’s harder for me. And again, I told you, I’m turning into this guy, this lady. If you can’t invest in, you know, all genders in the same way and you can’t invest the female characters with the same kind of humanity, it’s just tougher for me to fully embrace the movie.

John: One thing I’ve noticed about all three of these movies, and I think part of the reason why they all succeed, is in each case the writer has great sympathy for all of the characters in the story. So looking at The Big Short, there’s an African-American woman who’s Steve Carell’s –

Aline: Yeah. She was the best female character in that movie. Also because she was just wrong.

John: She was wrong, but also, the movie had sympathy for like when everything was falling apart, you really could see like, “Oh, everything is falling apart for her, too.” And the movie allowed you to have sympathy for her.

Aline: Right.

John: So you understand her both being angry at the start and sort of being, you know –

Aline: Yeah, I preferred in a fun way — I mean, I love Marisa Tomei, but Marisa Tomei’s character was a thing we’ve seen before.

John: It’s just functional.

Aline: Which is, yes, functional. Whereas that lady was, she’d also gotten like opened the door and the snow had fallen in on her.

John: It’s such a great example of like Steve Carell like at the very start acknowledges that she’s pregnant and sort of says nothing more. And then it’s like, all this time has passed and now she has a baby and all that stuff. And it was a great recall on the character.

Another examples of sort of sympathy for characters, in Room after the boy escapes, just the police officer, the cop, who like figures out like where it is, and like, had such sympathy for like that’s a character who only has a very limited window of time but like just drilled down and exactly nailed who she was and sort of why she was the right person to be in the backseat of the car with him, just brilliant and genius.

And then sympathy, I think even in Spotlight, where you get to like Jamey Sheridan’s character, who has been protecting the church. And you know, we suddenly are showing up at his doorstep and sort of ruining his Christmas. I still had sympathy for why he was doing what he was doing. And so it’s so easy to make terrible villains, but to have sympathy for these villains too in some of these cases is a huge achievement.

Rawson: Yes. I mean I agree. The one thing — I mean on your point of, you know, not having fully-baked female characters in these pictures. But if you look at like The Big Short, I guess my question would be, that’s a non-fiction novel. And so the characters in that novel are all men. Do you think that McKay should have made one of them a woman? Or is that — or I guess that’s like what are you supposed to do when the story is about dudes doing these things?

Aline: Yes. I mean but then we’re just pointing to the fact that he invented a female character. Or I don’t know, maybe that character exists.

Rawson: I can’t remember.

Aline: But, you know, he created some. So that’s, you know, obviously some stories are that. Again, those tend to be the stories that we’re telling more and that we’re privileging. So if you make more movies with just a more of a diversity of characters, gender-wise and frankly race-wise.

But I’m just, you know, I’m sitting here again with you guys, like your movies always have female characters that are interesting and weird and Go is — and you do, too. I mean, you’re also, you do a thing which I enjoy and which Craig does, too, which is, you’ll write female characters who are just kind of assholes.

And that’s, you know, we deserve to have — I mean, my favorite thing about Identity Thief is that she’s an asshole. And then she’s not, of course.

Rawson: Right.

Aline: And she’s that great. But men get to be assholes, men get to be flawed, men get to be messes, men get to be complicated. And I sort of feel like, you know, for women, we just — between the genre movies and the smaller movies, I think we’re restricting ourselves a little bit in that regard.

Obviously, if it’s a movie where, you know, it’s about men — if it’s, you know, if it’s all about the — you know, the basketball championship. But I still think that to really depict a 360 world, you have to include their voices in it and do a good job with them.

Rawson: Yeah, absolutely.

John: All right. It’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a gift that my daughter got for Christmas. It’s called Compose Yourself and it’s these clear plastic cards that have measures of music on them, just like simple notes on them.

And what’s smart about it is, because they’re clear, you can flip them over and turn them around and look at the measures different ways. And it goes to a website and you punch in the code number on each of these cards. It builds a song both into sort of simple note melody, but also like full orchestration. And so it’s a great way of sort of like looking at this is what notes look like on the card, this is what it actually sounds like when you put it together.

So for, you know, anybody who’s interested in sort of music theory, or sort of like sort of the call and response of measures, it’s really, really cool. So I really dug it.

Rawson: What’s it called?

John: It’s called Compose Yourself. It’s by a guy name Philip Sheppard and there’ll be a link to that in the show notes.

Rawson: Cool.

Aline: Great. What do you got?

Rawson: I have a game that I love that is not out yet, it’s called The Division.

John: All right.

Rawson: Tom Clancy’s The Division. It’s for Xbox One. It will be PS4 and PC platform. It comes out in March. I played the Alpha. December 9th to the 12th is a very small window. I’ve been waiting for this game for about three-and-a-half years. I’ve been going to E3 and playing it and waiting and waiting and waiting.

And it is fantastic and super fun. It’s a third person RPG shooter, set in kind of post-viral outbreak Manhattan. And your job with your friends, up to three friends, is to get services back online — electricity, water, paramedic, police, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s a super fun game to play. But it’s so beautiful. The light and weather effects are incredible and some of the best I’ve ever seen.

And if you like video games at all, The Division, Tom Clancy’s The Division, comes out in March.

Aline: Wow! Can I just take this moment to say I’ve never played a video game?

Rawson: Oh. Aline.

Aline: Never.

John: Never even on your phone?

Rawson: Never once?

Aline: No, on my phone. But I never like sat down with a remote.

John: With Xbox controller.

Aline: Yes. My kids do it constantly and I wouldn’t even know where — so I guess I did Wii back in the day and I can do some Guitar Hero. So that counts.

John: My daughter first learned how to play NBA 2K14 from your sons playing that game.

Rawson: NBA 2K16 is supposed to be the best sports game ever made.

John: I completely agree. I remember watching your kids playing it with Amy and I thought they were just watching basketball. That’s how good it looks like.

Aline: Yes. The graphics are insane. You know I often think they’re watching basketball, too.

I’m going to do again because I’m turning into this guy. I’m just going to beg everyone to go and see The Hunting Ground. I know it’s been out for a while but they just aired it on CNN again.

It’s so good. And it’s so important. And it’s so infuriating. And it’s so interesting. And it’s super well-made. And I would really just go see The Hunting Ground and then go to the website. And they’re talking about something that was, you know, I went to Take Back the Night marches when I was in college and it’s still going on. And it’s time to do something about it. And it’s just so worthwhile.

John: Cool. Great. That’s our show for this week. So as always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Aline: I don’t see Stuart Friedel anywhere here.

John: Stuart Friedel is off on assignment. No, he’s off — just –

Aline: Stuart?

John: Stuart — where’s Stuart? We’re recording this on New Year’s Day, so Stuart has the day off.

Rawson: Happy New Year!

John: Happy New Year to everyone. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did our outro this week. A reminder that we are doing a live show on January 25th with guests Jason Bateman and Lawrence Kasdan who wrote a little movie called –

Aline: Well done.

John: Yes. Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Aline: Where are you doing that?

John: We’re doing that downtown in Los Angeles. So you should come see it.

Aline: Fantastic.

John: It’s a benefit for Hollywood HEART so you guys — we can get tickets for you. But if you, as a listener, would like tickets, there’s a link in the show notes where you get them. You can also just go to hollywoodheart.org/upcoming.

Our show is available on iTunes. So click and subscribe in iTunes so everyone knows that you’re subscribing to our show. Leave us a comment because we like to read through those comments.

If you’d like to listen to one of our back episodes, like the Frozen episode with Director Jennifer Lee, you can go to scriptnotes.net. There’s also an app which you can listen to all those back episodes. On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig, who’s not here, is @clmazin. Rawson, are you on Twitter?

Rawson: I’m at Twitter. I’m on Twitter @rawsonthurber.

John: Aline Brosh McKenna is not on Twitter but she’s on Instagram but not even publicly.

Aline: No.

John: You’re secret on Instagram, too. No. She’s unreachable.

Aline: I live on a desert island.

John: But if you have a question for any of us, you can write to ask@johnaugust.com and we’ll try to answer your questions. And thank you all very much and thank you Rawson and thank you Aline.

Rawson: Thank you.

Aline: Thank you.

John: All right. Bye.

Aline: Bye.

Rawson: Bye.

Links:

Fun with Numbers

Tue, 01/12/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John discuss the impact of Star Wars knocking down all the records, both for the industry and big-screen sci-fi.

We also look at yet another start-up that promises to separate hits from flops, the shocking revelation that critics are humans, and three new WGA proposals. Finally, we look at ways to let an audience know a character’s name.

Note: This is also the long-promised vaginosis episode.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 1-14-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

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