You are here

John August's Blog

Subscribe to John August's Blog feed
A ton of useful information about screenwriting.
Updated: 48 min 4 sec ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 304: Location Is Where It’s At — Transcript

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 10:35

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 304 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show, we’ll be looking at how screenwriters describe locations and how those choices impact production and the final product. Plus, we’ll be talking a look at how podcasts have become a new source of IP for adaptations. Also, how to deal with that note to make your characters “more likeable.”

Craig: Argh.

John: Yeah. Craig, for the first time in 11 months, we are in the same time zone.

Craig: It’s so nice. So I am here with my family in Amsterdam and having a lovely time. And we are on the exact same time you are. Central European Standard time, which in France is nice because it’s – c’est – it is.

John: It’s really, really nice.

Craig: So yeah, we’re here at the same time. The place where I’m staying, it’s a very large room. You know, the Dutch people are the tallest people in the world. You knew that, right?

John: I did not know that. That’s scientifically proven that they are?

Craig: It is a fact. And so the ceilings here are very high. They’re so much higher than any human being would ever be. For instance, the average height in America, it’s shorter than you think. Because it’s an average. So, some people are very, very small. In the Netherlands, the average height of a Dutch man is 6 foot. That’s average.

John: That’s tall.

Craig: Yeah. In the United States, I think the average height for a man is like 5’8” or something, or 5’9” maybe.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They’re very tall people. So, anyway, it’s very boomy and echoey in here. But, hey, you know what? We’re on the same time, so there’s that for us. Nobody else will appreciate it, but we can.

John: I was going to say, it’s going to be one of those rare cases where neither one of us is tired, is except that you’re probably a little bit jet-lagged. So, we will get through this together.

Craig: Yeah, no, I’m actually not jet-lagged now. Today is the first day of non-jetlag. And you know, that’s usually two days before you leave. And in fact it is. So, it’s just beautiful how you get perfectly attuned and then you get on a plane and do it again.

John: Because you’re no longer jet-lagged, you probably have the energy in you for these first two things. So our listeners, again, the best listeners in the entire world, they sent us two pieces of chum this week, just like bait to get us going. And this first one was really targeted towards you. It’s from a place called Screenwriters University. Craig, get us started.

Craig: Well, someone sent this thing. First of all, Screenwriters University, which is not a university, of course, and I assume they mean it’s a university for screenwriters, but then wouldn’t it have an apostrophe? They don’t have an apostrophe. So it’s just Screenwriters University. Those two words. They sent a list of what those people think are 20 common sense script rules. Now, you know, John, you and I are big fans of rules here, right?

John: 100%. We’re completely rules followers. If you give us a template, if you can give us some sort of like dogma to follow, it really helps us out a lot.

Craig: Well, normally when people put these things out, we don’t necessarily know if they mean them as dogma or not, but the people at Screenwriters University did us an enormous favor because they just went ahead and said right there at the top, “Note: These rules will not make you a better writer. They will simply keep you from annoying your average reader or crew member.” What? But here’s the best part. Per Screenwriters University, “You must learn these simple rules or consider another line of work.” [laughs]

John: That’s a fairly strong statement. Like basically you have to do this or else you’re not even a screenwriter.

Craig: Yeah. You don’t have a chance. There’s no world in which you cannot learn – learn – the rules according to There’s no chance for you. If you don’t, you’ll never work.

So, let’s go through a few of these. You know, some of them, sure. So, for instance, Fade In at the beginning of your film. Fade Out at the end.

John: Well, see, I’m already jammed here. Yeah, I’m already in a horrible position here because I’ve written many scripts that don’t start with Fade In and don’t end with Fade Out. So…

Craig: Well, John, I’m going to have to ask you to consider another line of work. [laughs]

John: Fortunately today we are actually at the Musée des arts et métiers which is the arts and trades museum. And I saw all sorts of other professions I could get into, such as like plumping or weaving. So that could be my next step if I can’t master Fade in and Fade out. At least I have those.

Craig: I’ll direct you to Weavers University for their 20 cents common sense rules. All right, so then we have things like, for instance, slug lines have no times of day. No afternoon, morning, mid-afternoon, evening. No.

I do it all the time. I write afternoon, morning, mid-afternoon, evening constantly. Now, by the way, when I got to this – that was number four – when I got to number four I stated to think, “Oh dear, I’m only a fifth of the way in. I hate these people so much I want to fire them into space. How will I ever make it to the end?” And I forced myself, John. I forced myself.

John: Well, the way you got through it, you probably didn’t use a Cut to, because that’s line number 14. Don’t use Cut to. Specifically, “I don’t care if people still use it, or scripts you’ve read have it in spades. I’m telling you the reader will throw out your script for such a small and petty offense. Learn the proper way to do it, and when you’re world famous you can bring the Cut to back into everyone’s good graces. And then we’ll wonder what we ever did without it.”

So, again, just this last week I used a Cut to and, man, it’s a problem.

Craig: Well, you never learned the proper way to do it because you didn’t go to Of course, we get to number 15, your favorite, my favorite, the eternally favorite and wonderful Don’t Use We See. And this is what they say, “Seriously, one ‘we see’ per script is plenty. And that’s only when you absolutely must, because you’ve exhausted every other possibility of explaining what we see without actually saying we see.”

Now this is where I put my hands around the virtual neck of Screenwriters University, squeezed and rotated in opposite directions until I heard the snap.

John: My theory is that someone is deliberately doing this just to anger you. That you’ve made an enemy somewhere in your life and this enemy wants to sort of rile you up and distract you from other things. And so therefore they’ve created this whole website just to antagonize you. Because that’s the only reason I could see wording these things in this way. Because I look through all of these rules and at each one I could say like, OK, there’s a general case to be made for like pay attention to this thing, but absolute prohibitions are never actually valid.

So this list of 20 things, they are probably 20 things that are useful to look at here, but they are all phrased in ways that I find maddening.

Craig: Maddening. And inaccurate. And misleading. And then in certain cases just wrong. For instance, their “we see” thing is wrong for a hundred reasons. But what fascinates me is they don’t even understand what it’s for. They literally don’t get it. They think the “we see” is somehow a substitute for explaining something. It’s not. Rather, it’s indicating to the reader who is seeing something. Us. We are. As opposed to say the character. It is mindboggling to me.

Now, I’m going to say the following as diplomatically as I can. And this is where it’s good that I know, you’ve changed me, you’ve made me a better man, John. You have.

John: All right.

Craig: Because I think three years ago I would not have been this diplomatic.

John: I think in some ways you could draw a parallel between our relationship and the key relationship in Wicked. Because if those two protagonists had not met each other at that point in time, who knows the arcs that their lives might have traveled in. But because I knew you – because I knew you, I have been changed for good.

Craig: [laughs] That’s right. Well, I don’t know if you’ve been changed for good. I think I’ve changed you for evil. But you’ve changed me for good. So, I don’t say this diplomatically just to cover my tracks. I feel what I’m about to say. This is honest. I naturally was interested in who wrote this. They did not put a name on it.

So then I looked to see who actually teaches at Screenwriters University. Now, any one of these individuals may be a fine writer. That is absolutely possible. There is nothing that says that a lack of shiny credits means a lack of talent, nor is there anything that says a presence of shiny credits means a presence of talent. However, there is a general lack of experience here and what I would say relevant experience.

This is not a collection of individuals that inspires a tremendous amount of confidence in me that they are in tune and have good grasp of the way feature films are currently written and sold today. And I don’t see any other reason for anybody to be going to Screenwriters University and spending money – quite a bit of money – at Screenwriters University, because I do not believe their instructors are necessarily in a position that is any more informed in any substantive way than most of the people who are paying the money.

That’s the diplomatic version. How did I do?

John: Very good diplomatic version. Craig, I was incredibly impressed. You really withheld some of your umbrage and your fire. I think there’s some really good choices you made there.

What I will say is like some people go to college for the social experience. And so maybe you’re going to Screenwriters University for the social experience. Maybe you’re going there for the parties, for the fraternity life.

Craig: No.

John: Maybe you really want to play Division III football. So, I mean, those are all reasons why you might want to go to Screenwriters University. But I don’t think you are going there for the quality of the education.

Craig: Yeah. They don’t have any of those things. They don’t have a building or anything. So…yeah. No.

John: Then maybe you could save your money.

Craig: I think maybe you could save your money.

John: This was sent I think to anger me, but this is the second bit of umbrage bait. So Sony Pictures Home Entertainment announced that it’s going to start releasing clean versions of some of its movies. There’s a list of 20 movies that they have picked which “allows viewers to screen the broadcast or airline versions of select Sony films free from certain mature content.” So basically in renting the film you can rent the original filthy version or you can rent the clean sanitized version.

I think some people have sent this to me, but I also saw Seth Rogan sort of pleading with Sony like please don’t release the clean versions of R movies. So this was sent to me I think to make me feel like well that’s horrific and Sony should not ever do this. And I had a hard time working up a proper amount of umbrage over this. Because it looked like what Sony was going to be doing is essentially when you download a film you have a choice of the original version or the clean version, or basically they send you both of them. You get to choose which one you’re going to do. I’m kind of surprisingly fine with it. But, Craig, I want to see how you feel about it.

Craig: Well, I’m not outraged. It’s not like they’re eliminating the proper version. And we have children and we understand what it means. I guess I’m a little confused. I’ll just come at it as a parent now. I’m going to take myself out of the movie industry and I’m going to put aside any impulse I might have for artistic fury here and just talk as a parent. I can’t imagine that there is a movie that I want to show my child but I just want certain things taken out of it. At that point, I just don’t want them to see the movie. Either they’re ready for a movie or they’re not. The “clean” version thing is something that never really is very satisfying. You know, when I say to my child, “Hey, you should watch this,” I’ve thought about it and I thought they’re ready for this, if it’s something that requires that sort of thought. Obviously a Pixar movie doesn’t.

And so it’s OK. I don’t really think I would ever use this service. I don’t want my child to see Goodfellas but with the cursing and blood taken out of it, because they’re not going to like it. It’s going to stink. I’m not sure what this is good for.

John: I pulled up the site and it’s talking through the movies that they’re originally going to release with the clean versions available. And some of them I think actually do make some sense. And so like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is a movie that I can see kids enjoying because it’s just beautiful, but there probably is some stuff in there that you might want to have a younger kid see. I can kind of imagine that.

The three Spider Man movies, the original – actually all five Spider Man movies – they’d release a clean version of that. I guess. I can’t even imagine what’s so dirty about them. But I think they were PG-13, so it may move a PG-13 down to sort of more of a PG level.

But White House Down? I don’t want a kid seeing White House Down because of the language. I just don’t want them seeing White House Down.

Craig: Yeah. Exactly.

John: Captain Phillips?

Craig: Captain Phillips? What’s the point of watching a cleaned up version of Captain Phillips? What child is sitting there going, “I really want to watch Captain Phillips, daddy.” Well, I don’t know, there’s some cursing and there’s some blood. “Well, if we got rid of that, could I then watch the escapades of Navy snipers and shipping captains facing off against Somali pirates?”

What the F? See, I just did it myself. I cleaned myself up. So weird. Captain Phillips?

John: Yeah. So here’s the thing. There have been services out there that have been trying to do this sort of not officially sanctioned by the studios for years. And so to have essentially the airline version of this be available for people to choose, I don’t see a huge crisis there. Now, I do know that there are filmmakers who will take their names off of the airline versions because it’s not their original version. I think that makes sense as well.

And I guess I like that all the edited versions are just as a bonus feature. So essentially you’re downloading the real movie, but under the Extras feature you can choose to have the cleaned up version. I guess I’m just not that outraged by it. If it lets that 10-year-old kid who really wants to see The Amazing Spider Man, it makes his or her parents feel more comfortable watching that movie, I guess that’s not so bad.

Craig: Yeah. Like I said, I can’t. I’m not lit up on fire over it. I’m just more confused by it. As far as the airline thing goes, isn’t the airline cut kind of going by the wayside anyway? Because that was always – you know, in the old days they would have a screen that came down and your five rows were all watching the same movie together because there was one movie. But now everybody gets their own movie on the back of a seat, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I don’t think they clean those up anymore, do they?

John: Yeah. They do clean them up sometimes. I’ve definitely been on some flights where you’ll see a bit of nudity got blurred in the thing. I think it’s because they’re figuring there might be a kid sitting next to you who could be seeing the same screen. So sometimes you will see a little bit of cleaning up in those. But, yeah, I just can’t be that outraged by that.

I think a fairer question to ask is what does cleaned up really mean and what kind of content are they taking out? Because if they’re taking out that tiny bit of gay content in Beauty and the Beast, then I just get a little bit annoyed that that’s the filthy content that you have to protect young children from seeing. But I still can’t be all that outraged by it.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. You know, I’ve been kind of, I don’t know, marveling at the general liberalism and progressivity of the Netherlands here. I took my daughter to the science museum and they had half of a floor dedicated basically to sex. And this is one of those museums where, you know, elementary school classes are coming through. And there were young children there. They’re like, yeah, it’s sex. You’re here. Go look at the sex now. Let’s talk about how the sex works. They have no problem with it.

So, I can’t imagine what the Dutch would make of this whole thing where we’re snipping out pieces of a movie. I think that they would just find that absurd. So, I’m with you. I can’t get too upset about this. But, seems kind of weird and vaguely useless. I’m probably mostly just umbrage hungover from Screenwriters University. Which, by the way, just to bring it back to them for a second. You realize they’re charging people like $500? I’m going to lose my mind.

John: Yeah. It’s a lot. All right, so let’s give some free education here. Let’s dive in on a topic–

Craig: Segue Man.

John: That we’ve talked about in previous episodes, but a new thing came up this week which made me think about it again, which is location. Which is how we are describing the locations we’re using in the movie, how we’re picking those locations, and how the locations we’re using really can impact the story that we’re trying to tell. So, obviously Screenwriters University can tell you that locations are preceded by an INT or an EXT. But there’s an important level of specificity here. So I want to quickly go through some of the choices you’re making as a screenwriter when you’re picking a location for a scene. And then really look at how those locations you’re picking are going to influence what characters are doing in that scene. Because that’s the new piece that really occurred to me this week. So, let’s look through some questions that a screenwriter asks when picking a location for a scene.

The first one is always what is the most likely location for this scene. And so this scene is a police interrogation, well, that police interrogation headquarters room feels like the natural place for that. It’s the most obvious place for that. But the second question should be what is the most interesting place for this scene to have happen. And I think you always owe it to yourself to go through and like brainstorm five more interesting places for that scene to take place. Before you commit to that first location, really think through like where are the other interesting places I could set this. And what opportunities would occur if I set this at a different place.

Craig: Yeah. You know, you’re right that sometimes your best move is to present the expected location. If you do have, you know, you’ve given the example of an interrogation scene. We know where those take place. And for good and legal reasons it’s rare that you can do them on the rooftop or in a basement. They’re generally going to take place in that room.

But then your job as a screenwriter, I think, when designing that location is to say is there something about that location that is slightly off, a little bit of a twist. Is the paint peeling? Is there a leak in the ceiling because it’s raining outside and that’s this annoying drip-drip into a coffee cup while they’re having this.

You have to do something. Because otherwise it just feels, well, this is not to disparage television, because television is wonderful and they’re putting out better and better television every day, but when I think of the traditional style TV where they got to shoot really fast and they’ve got to shoot a lot and they just don’t have time sometimes to deal with stuff. So you’d end up with these stock locations. Especially if you’re writing a movie, you really want to either not be in a stock location or turn your stock location into something that’s interesting and memorable.

When Clarice goes to visit Hannibal Lecter, that’s the mental institution. That’s a hallway. That’s bars. That’s people inside. But look what they did with it, you know?

John: One advantage to using the stock location, the expected location, is you get a lot of stuff for free. And so going back to the example of an interrogation room or a doctor’s office, we know how those work. We’ve been there ourselves. We’ve seen them in movies before. So there’s no process of like getting the audience used to the location or having to figure out where this place is. We just get it immediately. We see it. We know exactly what it is. And in some ways it’s helpful because the location doesn’t demand a lot of our attention. And so that can be a very useful thing about picking a stock location.

But, I would just say like don’t default to the stock location unless you have to.

Craig: Agreed.

John: Another question I ask myself is are the characters moving or are they standing still? And if they’re moving, you need to give them a space to move through. And so in a location where they’re going to feel hemmed in, it’s not going to be a good choice for a scene that should be on its feet and should be up and moving.

Conversely, I get frustrated sometimes where I see in movies where they have this incredibly active and vibrant location and then they just have the characters standing there. It’s a real mismatch between the production designer picked this great location or the director picked this great location, but the action of the scene doesn’t demand them to be moving at all. And so therefore there’s just a bunch of business happening around them.

So, really ask yourself do the characters want to be moving through a space? Or are they standing there, sitting there, just talking through some idea?

Craig: Yeah. You know, there’s the question which is do the characters want to be moving. And then there’s also a question does this location want them to be moving. Because there are locations that entice you to move. If you’re at a fair, and there are people moving through and around. And there’s rides and things turning all around you, it’s really hard – like if you go to Disney World and you just get into the middle of Main Street and stand there, it’s going to get annoying really fast for both you and all the people around you. So, there is a natural need to keep moving, which is good. Obviously, there are scenes where the motion is the whole point. A chase, for instance, and then that’s a whole different idea.

But if you’re in a situation where you’re thinking, oh, it would be great if my characters were actually moving. They weren’t just standing on their two feet, find something in the environment that naturally gets them to move. Because what I don’t like is the unmotivated walk and talk. It’s just a dreadful thing. And you see it all the time. It’s just two people walking and talking and there’s no reason for them to be walking, because they’re not going anywhere. And they’re just doing it because the camera guy thought it would be nice. And it’s odd.

John: Yeah. They’re doing it because another static scene would just be a killer. Everyone would get bored if they were just standing there, but like there’s no reason for them to be moving. That’s the real frustration.

A question I ask myself is what color do I want to see on screen. And this seems like a weird thing, but we always talk about like hair and makeup and wardrobe and sort of what are we seeing. And hopefully you’re seeing something. But what color are you seeing? And I try in my movies and other things I write to really have a progression of color throughout the story. And so that we’re in a period where we’re in greens and we’re outside a lot, or we have periods where we’re in reds. We have a period where it’s white, because it’s a lot of snow. And so think about what color we might have seen in the scene before. What color would make sense for this scene? Do we want to be consistent? Do we want to mix it up? Just think about sort of what colors you want and that can help point you to a good choice for location.

Now, sometimes based on the nature of the story you’re telling, you may pick a look just to differentiate between two different things. For instance, you may have an A plot and a B plot. And when we cut between those two locations they have a very different color palette just by their very nature. If people watch The Americans, this last season we were in Russia for a lot. And they just slap this massive blue filter on every scene in Russia. And so I feel so bad for the people in Russia because they clearly don’t have enough lights and it’s always blue. But that’s just the nature of the show, the world they’ve chosen to describe. And so it’s always going to blue when we’re in Russia. So, I try to make some of those choices in my head while I’m writing and that can help inform people down the road as you’re actually moving into production.

Craig: Yeah. I put color in all the time. I’ll talk about the color of the walls sometimes, or the color of the floor. I don’t describe the color of everything, but there’s always one thing that I think will catch your eye. And that’s interesting. An old grimy yellow. I can see it now. And I know that it’s grimy because it’s neglected and that’s a thing. I also know that whoever painted it probably didn’t paint it in the last two years.

So, you learn these things from little bits and pieces. I do tend to think about them in contrasting ways. I don’t have an overall color palette for the whole thing. I think of it more the way I think of, you know, when we talked about transition, size changes, you know, like when you go over here suddenly it’s sort of very bleak and gray and cold. And then you go over here and you’re inside with different people and it’s warm and reddish and brown. But those notions of cold and warm, you know, temperature to me is part of location. And temperature informs color. I just think of cold as being bluish and grayish and I think of warm comforting places as those oranges and reds.

And it helps paint the movie for people. You know, this is I guess the opposite of Screenwriters University tells you to do, so forgive us. Because they’re really good. But we’re making a movie. I don’t know how else to put it. You’re making a movie. All these people that tell you, “Don’t step on blankety-blank’s toes,” there’s no toe I don’t step on. Just to be clear. When I’m writing a screenplay, I step on every toe. I am directing the movie, I am casting the movie, I am production designing movie. I’m putting props in the movie. I’m costuming the movie. I’m doing it all on the page as best I can in a way that is evocative so that all those people that come after have something to go on.

But more importantly somebody somewhere read it and said, oh yeah, I’ll spend the money to make that. That’s the point. So, I think it’s great. Color. Yes, use it.

John: You’re making choices that describe the feeling, and that’s sort of my next question I always ask is if this location were a character in the movie, what would its personality be? So if this location could speak, if this character could take an action, what kind of character would it be? And a lot of the adjectives you use to describe in this previous section really apply here. It’s warm. It’s cold. It’s inviting. It’s foreboding. Think about what that location would feel like if it’s a character and then try to figure out what location could embody those ideas. And that’s incredibly helpful to really think about is it sleek and cold and fastidious or is it a jumbled mess? And putting the same kind of scene in those two different locations will greatly impact the scene.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a chance for you also to impart some authenticity to your story, especially if the point is that it’s set in a recognizable place, a specific place. This is where doing research is really, really helpful. And it’s important when you present your version of this real place that you’re not just relying on things like, you know, we’re in Chicago. There’s Wrigley Field. There’s Sears Tower. But you also, you know, you get the vibe of the contradictions of the place, the magic, the ugly, the beautiful.

We spent – Todd Phillips and I spent a lot to time just studying Bangkok. Studying Bangkok online. Then going there and walking around into every kind of neighborhood. And offering people a glimpse of all of it, because there is squalor and there is wealth and there’s beauty and there’s ugliness and there’s crime and there’s peace. It’s got everything. And we kind of wanted to really hand that over. So, that’s kind of how you start to make the place the character is by knowing it as best you can. You know, obviously if you’re not there, start with Google, I guess.

John: That sense of like which Chicago you want to show is so crucial. Because I get really frustrated when I see the establishing shot of Wrigley Field and now we’re at that Fountain. That kind of stuff is just so cheap and tourist brochure that it doesn’t help me at all knowing what kind of movie it is that I’m seeing. And so, yes, ideally you should go travel to the place where you’re setting your story and figure out what parts you want to actually describe and what it actually feels like.

It also means giving yourself the space in your script to describe some of those things especially early on the script to give us a feel for the texture of where we’re at. And hopefully you’re not just flying by some of these places before you get to a real scene. Hopefully you’re setting some of your early scenes really in those places. So your main characters are moving through these locations and giving us a feel for what kind of Chicago we are seeing in this.

I get so frustrated when I read in scripts, you know, it just says, “Chicago,” but I have no idea of what just Chicago means.

Craig: What does that mean?

John: It could be anything. And you just don’t know. And also keep in mind that people are doing to judge the look and feel of your movie very much based on those early scenes. And so if your initial Chicago scenes are in these glamourous hotels and suites and skyscrapers, it’s going to feel like that kind of movie. So if that’s not what most of your movie is, or if we’re starting there and we’re going to someplace else, you’re going to have to spend some page real estate to really paint the picture of where we’re at for the rest of this story.

Craig: But you can do it economically. I mean, nothing of what you just said and nothing of what I have said requires people to burn a lot of space. It’s just that you have to be specific and know what it is that you want to communicate. Because ultimately whatever you want to communicate, it is in its own way going to be very directed and compact.

If you’re telling a story about the seedy under belly of someplace, that is a compact notion. Now, let us get that vibe without you saying it, but rather by describing a street, a place, a smell, a look. Taking a camera and showing me something beautiful and then the camera just lowers down, down, down, and now we’re below a bridge. Now we’re below this. Now we’re in the gutter. Whatever it is, it actually doesn’t require a lot of time. What it requires is attention and care. Sometimes I think that when we write scripts it’s like we’re a 3D printer and we’re putting these layers on top of layers on top of layers.

And the script comes out I guess misshapen if we forget a layer somewhere in there. And this is one of them. This sense of location is a really important layer.

John: So here’s an example. “Jane unlocks her apartment door and goes inside.” So, you know, if you just give me that sentence, I don’t know anything about the apartment. I don’t know anything about Jane. I don’t know anything about the neighborhood. But if she has to unlock three locks on her door, and there’s trash in the hallway, and the light behind her is flickering, and we hear off-screen shouting, then I know a lot more about Jane and her apartment building and everything that’s going on.

Versus if it’s like a sleek high tech glossy, people sort of float by silently, someone tosses a look over her shoulder that Jane’s not dressed well enough to be in this building, or is suspicious of Jane, that tells me so much more about the building, the universe we’re in, and who Jane is. And that’s two sentences early in your script.

Craig: Yeah. They also give you an opportunity to learn something about her. Because she’s interacting. You’ve given her an environment, a location that can be interacted with. So, how she responds tells me about her. When somebody looks down on her, does she internalize it? Does she not give a damn? Does she argue back? Is she scared of living where she is? Is she unscarable? This is the kind of feedback loop you can create. And it’s why you – it’s hard. Sometimes I feel like we give these lessons and it’s unfair to you guys because we’re making things sound easier than they are. They’re actually kind of hard. Because it’s like a circle that feeds into itself. And you have to figure out where you’re going to jump into the circle – character, location, description of location, reaction to location, purpose of moment.

All of that stuff weirdly has to feed into each other. So, you think I know what I need to do. Where would that kind of happen? It could happen here. What would she do? Well, maybe this place could help me show that if it were like this. But now this place means da-da-da, and so the circle goes.

This is how writing kind of happens. It’s hard, John, sometimes, you know.

John: So this last week I’ve been on a rewrite, and part of the reason why I wanted to do this episode was there was a scene that I encountered which I strongly suspect used to take place somewhere else and so the location does not match what’s actually happening in the scene. There’s a kind of generic conversation that’s happening between two characters and yet the location is really spectacular and kind of fascinating and really could speak very well to these two characters, but it’s not speaking to these two characters because I think they just changed the location and basically kept the scene the same way. And so as I look at sort of how would I redo this scene, the location is really driving my choices.

Because to me it just feels weird that they’re in this location and they’re not acknowledging it. It’s a really visual change in the movie and they have to acknowledge that they’re there. And so I’m using that as the basis for really the comedy that’s hopefully going to sort of help drive the information in the scene. So ultimately the scene will still get through the same – it will still stick off the same beats as before, but it’s just going to use the location to acknowledge why they’re there, what’s going on, and hopefully find some new life between these two characters that felt perfunctory before.

Craig: Yeah. Well, it speaks to how important location is, because when you’re stuck with it, that’s when you really feel how it drives so much. I mean, I worked on – I mean, it’s public record that Frank Darabont was going to direct The Huntsman and he left. There was an amiable departing. I don’t know, whatever you call it. And the studio hired a new director and yet kept essentially to the schedule, which meant that the principal photography was going to start in about two weeks. And so I got called in and they said, “All right, we’re starting in two weeks. We got to make a bunch of changes. Here’s the situation. We’ve built a bunch of sets and so we’re using them. And these are what these sets are for. These are the locations.”

That is a tough box inside of which to work. And, you know, these are the things of course people who casually comment on movies don’t understand. This is sometimes what happens.

So, you have to write some scenes in certain ways because the location has happened before you. That’s obviously a very rigid thing in a – that’s a fairly rare circumstance. But it’s a very common thing even when you’re doing a regular rewrite, but a producer or a big star says I really want to do – I love that sequence in Monte Carlo so we’re doing it. OK. I guess we’re going to work with that, but it is one of the fundamental pillars of the story. So, choices are now that much narrower.

John: But the same kind of thing happens on indie films as well. Because if there’s a kind of move that’s so driven by location, indies generally have a very limited selection of what locations they can use to shoot in. And so if you are making a film that is by necessity going to be taking place in one or two locations, those locations become exponentially more important to your story because we’re going to be seeing them the entire time.

Or, on the other hand, sometimes the choices about locations are not really the writer’s choices. They are the choice of production. And so some of the practicalities you’re going to be encountering are costs. Can they afford to rent that amazing penthouse apartment that you have written in page 37? If that location is just there for that one day, and they can’t make it work because of money, or more often they can’t make it work because of schedule, because there’s only sort of one scene there and it’s half of a page, so they have to marry it with some other days’ work. Sometimes you just can’t make that fit.

Sometimes they can’t make a location work because that’s great that you want to set the scene in Rio de Janeiro. There’s no money to go to Rio de Janeiro. So we’re going to have to set this in Guadalajara instead. That’s a change. That’s a change you’re going to have to roll with.

And finally controllability. And I find this a lot where people want to set things in big public spaces. Well, that’s great. And you get a lot of sort of free production value because you get all the monuments behind you or something great in the center of Paris, but you can’t control those locations. And sometimes you’re just not allowed to shoot there. And so figuring out what the balance is going to be can be a real challenging thing.

So, I guess we’re saying as the screenwriter you have to be ambitious in your choice of locations as you’re writing, but you also have to be smart in understanding what’s going to be changing during production and being able to roll with it to make the best use of the locations you actually do get to use when the line producer comes back to you.

Craig: Yeah. It is one of the most frustrating things because the first moment of rubber meets the road/reality check/whatever you want to call it is when you’ve written the screenplay and everybody is on board and it has gotten the green light. And then they come back and they say, “Well, we’ve gone through. This is our budget. This is what we can do. Here’s what we can’t. We just can’t do it.”

And it’s so hard because everybody has been so invested in creating this crystal tower with you, and now someone just comes along with a hammer and goes, “Nope. Not here.” And sometimes you end up in situations where you just think we are being asked to fail. The smartest of the Indies are the ones that anticipate all of that. You know, I’m thinking of for instance Phil Hay and Karyn Kusama and Matt Manfredi. When they did The Invitation they knew they didn’t have a lot of money. They barely had any money at all. So they made a movie that took place in a house. They spent a lot of time trying to find the right house. They found the right house. They’re good. They don’t have to worry about something falling through. That’s kind of the way to go. Protect your key locations because if you don’t, someone is coming with that hammer. And then, oh my god, what a mess.

John: Yeah. Get Out is another movie that is essentially all in one house. There’s a few things that venture out beyond the house, but it is essentially one house. My movie, The Nines, is largely one house. And so when the line producer came back with a budget which was wildly too expensive, I had to sort of talk her through saying like, no really, this one house is mine. We can control this. And you don’t have to worry about rentals or leaving and coming back. This is a safe place. And so that can be the jumping off point for all of the other little field work along the way.

When you are the writer-director, a lot of times you will have in your head like this is where I want to shoot this thing. That can be fantastic. But I had to learn how to let go of some things that I really wanted to shoot in certain places because it just wouldn’t work for budget or more often for schedule. Like there was no way to find that seedy hotel within a three mile radius of where we were going to have to shoot this other thing. And so you make it work.

If you go back to the conversation I had with Chris McQuarrie, he’s on a giant, expensive Mission: Impossible movie, but the same kind of things still happen. It’s like, well, we have this grand vision for what we want to do, but this is the reality of what we have. We don’t have enough extras to make this party scene work. And so we’re going to have to flip the scene around so these 200 people feel like enough people for this party.

That happens at every level.

Craig: You know, it’s funny, when I write and I come up with a location, I start doing some math in my head. It’s never about expense, per se. it’s more about how much is going to be required to dress it. Because what happens is when you get on a movie set there is a negotiation that begins to happen. This is really in preproduction, frankly. There’s a negotiation between the production designer and the cinematographer. And the cinematographer is essentially saying, “I want to be able to see as much as I can.” And the production designer is being held to a certain budget and knows that they have to plow money into sets and other locations is saying, “Yeah, but could you tell me where you probably will be looking? Because then I don’t have to create a whole bunch of world that you never even look at,” because that’s expense.

And one of the expenses that goes separate and apart from what production designers do is extras. Filling a space with people is expensive. You don’t realize it until you show up on a movie set and you see the area where they’re keeping the extras. And you go, oh my god, that’s a lot of people that we have to feed. And someone has to make sure that they’re wearing appropriate clothing. And they’re going to all get paid for the day. And wow.

[laughs] Bob Weinstein once asked me, he goes, “Hey Mazin, do all those people get paid?” I was like, yeah. He goes, “Really?” So, Bob, I think it’s slavery if they don’t get paid, right? And he goes, “Wow, man, never thought of it that. Ha-ha.” What a dick.

John: The only time I will somewhat come to Bob Weinstein’s defense is that it is a little strange that studio audiences for sitcom tapings are not generally paid. So, we are hearing their laughter. I guess they’re getting a free show out of it all. Sometimes they’re getting prizes. But they are not paid. But an extra is really paid.

The one other thing you will find if you are in a place where movies are being made often, sometimes you will walk into an area where they’ll say, “Filming is currently happening here.” And basically by entering this space you understand that you may be in a shot. That’s another thing that can happen.

So, in my movie, The Nines, there are some shots in New York where we didn’t control that at all and Ryan Reynolds is just running down a street and he’s passing real people and we make it all work. But there was one moment where we needed to have an upfronts party. So, when a new TV season is announced, when the network is announcing its whole schedule, they throw these giant parties in New York. And so I needed one of those giant parties. But I could afford like six extras. And so like how do you do that?

And so you do it by figuring out very carefully what your shots are going to be. We did the check in table. We used a hotel and we used a hallway at the hotel. And we just made those people feel like a lot of people. And you use sound design to make you feel like there’s a lot of people over there somewhere to your left, but we’re just not focusing on them. And it works for what the scene needs to be. We needed to sense that there was a big thing happening, but the actual scene was small and intimate so therefore I didn’t want to be in a giant space.

Craig: Yeah. These are the – it becomes a Rubik’s Cube. It really is. It’s a Rubik’s Cube of – once you get into production it’s a Rubik’s Cube of money and practicalities and creativity and vision. But when you’re writing your screenplay, remember your goal here is to attract financing and attract actors and attract directors, if you’re not directing, and terrific crew. Create the world you want to see, and then, you know.

Now, if you know, like I said, that this is the kind of movie where you’re going to be dealing with a couple million dollars for your budget, create a world that you’d like to see that you could probably do for a couple million dollars.

John: Absolutely. All right, our next topic. So, in previous episodes we’ve done How Would This Be a Movie. We’re usually looking at stories in the news to figure out how they could be converted into a big piece of blockbuster entertainment. But a new thing happened this last two weeks that I thought was really interested.

So Julia Roberts has attached herself to star in a TV adaptation of a podcast series. So it was a podcast series called Homecoming which is a fiction series created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg. And Mr. Robot creator, Sam Esmail, is supposed to be doing the TV adaptation of it. It was just really interesting that essentially it was a radio drama done as a podcast form but now going to be adapted into TV.

And the first time I could think of that transition happening, which I think we’re going to see a lot more of.

Craig: Yeah. You may very well. Again, you know, I don’t listen to podcasts. But it seems to me that the ones that I keep hearing about are the ones that are narrativizing true life things. This one was fictional the whole way through?

John: This one is all fiction. So, Catherine Keener played the main character in the radio version of it, the audio version of it. Julia Roberts would play her character in the next version of it. I think radio drama is really hard to do, and so god bless them for doing a good job with this. I haven’t listened to it, but I’ve heard only the promos for it. But people loved it. So that’s great. And it’s great that it’s getting traction in another form.

What I see more often happening is another Gimlet show called Start Up is being converted into a TV comedy called Alex, Inc. So Zach Braff is staring in that and it’s about the birth of a podcast company. So it is more the classic thing where it’s like it’s kind of like Shit My Dad Says, where it was a Twitter feed and it became the basis of a real sitcom. This is a comedy based on one guy’s quest to get a business started. And you can sort of more clearly see like, OK, you’re fictionalizing the real versions of people.

Craig: So when is our show?

John: That’s really the natural next question. So, when is our show? How are we divvying up the credits on it? Who is playing whom? These are tough choices, but I guess we should probably ask our listeners, because our listeners are the smartest people out there.

Craig: Well, I mean, look, I know who should be me. If it doesn’t work out with Homecoming, I would love Julia Roberts to play me.

John: Oh yeah. That’s a nice choice. I’ve always seen myself as a Sandra Bullock type. So, she’s both a free spirit, but also a little restrained at times. And I think the two of us, I think casting it as women opens up new possibilities. It really can speak to our sense of the challenges as working moms in this business.

Craig: I don’t think we’re interesting enough to get gender matching casting. It’s too boring. Literally, we need a gimmick. We need a gimmick. We have to be played by women because we’re not women. If we were women, we should be played by men. Basically, we should be the opposite.

John: So, I’ve been thinking like who should play Aline and how about Stanley Tucci?

Craig: Great.

John: Yeah. Just mix everything up.

Craig: Absolutely. Like really what I’m saying is the Scriptnotes show should not resemble Scriptnotes in any way. In any way.

John: Yes. But something I’ve learned about television development is by the time it would get on the air, it would not resemble the original pilot whatsoever.

Craig: Yeah. I’m requesting something that’s just going to happen anyway.

John: One of the first things that will come up as people start reading the script based on Scriptnotes is the same thing that Tom Sanchez tweeted at us this week. “Hey guys, I got a note to make protagonists more likeable. Any tips or basic principles or advice?”

So, Craig, when they read the script and they go this Craig Mazin character is not likeable, how do we fix that?

Craig: You don’t, because it’s not a problem. And this is the worst note to get, because it’s not a thing. This is hard. I don’t know how to combat it in any clean way. If I hear this, I know I can’t say, “No, that’s stupid. Doesn’t matter.” People actually love unlikeable people. There are entire actors that have made a career out of it. It’s wonderful. Grouches are delicious. And, I don’t know, I could sit here and name 4,000 television shows and 4,000 movies that you love that star unlikeable people.

I could sit here and show you Walter Matthau in Bad News Bears. But I don’t have time. I can’t say any of that, so in my mind I start backing for the door. I got to be honest with you. When I hear somebody say, “Well, the protagonist should be more likeable,” I judge that person for giving me the dumbest note in the world. It’s not a real thing.

It is ignorant of the way movies and television work. The key is that the protagonist should be understandable. So I guess that’s my only defense.

John: That is my defense of it, too. Is that sometimes you’ll hear the likeable note and they just don’t actually have a read on the character. There’s something about the Velcro of that character that’s not quite gripping. And so you may need to look for some moment early in the script that gives that character a specificity, something really fascinating about that character that makes people want to engage with them.

So, it could be, you know, a joke. It could be some action they take very early on that is interesting, relatable, remarkable, something about that character that makes say like, “Oh, I get that dude. He’s fascinating. I want to be on his story.” But I get the likeable notes, too.

And so in Big Fish, Will is always considered not likeable. And it doesn’t matter whether it’s the movie version, or the Broadway version, you always get the note “I just don’t like Will. Will is just not likeable.” And it’s just really a functional problem, because he’s the antagonist to a character who is tremendously likeable. There’s a sort of dual protagonist/antagonist relationship. And if he was this charming, life of the party kind of guy, there is no story. I can’t make Big Fish work if Will comes on as being the most likeable kid in the world.

So, we always have to be mindful of that sort of structural challenge in casting a Will that we just don’t cast the most dour, bleak person ever. You have to have a spark of life in the actual actor we cast. But functionally the role is not especially likeable at the start. And hopefully by the end of the story you’re loving him.

So, Tom Sanchez, when you get that note, I just say like, you know, try to figure out whether they’re understanding the character before you try to make huge changes to what the character is doing.

Craig: Yeah. It’s helpful, too, if you can at least point out that your character doesn’t like him or herself either. So they are aware. I do think that it is off-putting when there are characters who are unlikeable and are perfectly happy with themselves and we don’t quite know what to make of that. That’s just Ted Cruz, basically, right? So, we look at Ted Cruz and we say, “I don’t like you and, also, you seem to love yourself.” That’s a terrible combination. That’s where we start to feel like we’re dealing with an alien.

But with characters, for instance, Billy Bob Thornton in Bad Santa. It’s hard to be more unlikeable than that guy. He is a thief. He is a drunk. He is mean. He is racist. He’s hurtful to children. But, we know that he is in terrible pain. And that whatever it is that he is dealing out he is dishing upon his own head even more. And so we understand there is a potential redemption. And we move toward him. That’s important. If you can underscore that, then I think you’ll be fine.

But I hate it. I hate the whole likeable thing. It’s stupid. And basically it’s the kind of thing you’d expect to be taught at Screenwriters University.

John: 100%. I think you can actually get a special certification in likeability if you pay an extra $500.

Craig: [laughs]

John: All right, it has come time for our One Cool Things. I actually have three things, but they’re all short and related to locations.

So, the first two are maps. There’s a great new Metro map of Paris called the Circle Map designed by Constantine Konovalov and other folks. It’s just fantastic. So, every time you try to do a map of a Metro or bus lines or underground subways it’s always a balance between representing reality and sort of an idealized version that is clear and simpler to understand.

And this version is really just fantastic. It chooses to bend the lines into sort of circles rather than keeping them quite as naturally flowing as they would otherwise be. But it makes the Metro much, much easier to understand. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to that.

Also, a great one that Craig you’ll dig is the Roman Roads. So basically all the roads that the Romans built, but done as sort of a subway map of Europe. And showing sort of like, wow, they did a hell of a job. They really built out a lot. And it’s fun looking at the stops along the way to see what are now cities and sort of like how those Roman names of cities became the modern names of cities. So, another great one.

Finally, you can’t talk about locations without one of the greatest games I think ever for iOS that now has a sequel out. Monument Valley 2 is now shipping and it’s just delightful. So, it has the same impossible geography as the first one, with some other great choices and changes. So, if you’ve not played the first one, play the first one, then play the second one. They are both just great games.

Craig: Yeah. Currently, I don’t know how far in I am, but I’m in it.

John: I would also say Monument Valley, especially the second one, has really good storytelling between the mom and the daughter for like characters who don’t speak. Just their little tiny physical interactions are so well animated that I’ve just really loved watching them.

Craig: Yeah. It’s good stuff. Well, I have a One Cool Thing this week that’s also a game, but I have not loved a game with this much fervor and joy in a long, long time. It’s called Human Resource Machine. No, that’s not my nickname for you, John August. But, it is sort of John August-like. It is very simply a game where you are creating code. They don’t really tell you so much on the nose that you’re creating code, but they give you tasks. Here are a series of numbers or letters and here’s what we need you to do. So here’s your inbox. That’s what your inputs are. You take them, you design a system of things to do to them, and then there’s a result that goes out. But you don’t have a lot of commands. You have very few. In fact, I think there’s a sum total of 13 commands. And it starts off pretty darn easy, and then it gets crazy hard. But every time I did something, I was so proud of myself. So proud because it really hurts your brain. But it’s all doable. I loved it so much. And, it is also wrapped in this very bizarre kind of meta story that was kind of this extra bit of surreal glee for me.

So, the company that makes this game is called Tomorrow Corporation. They are I believe the people that did World of Goo, which I know a lot of people liked. But this is just – I’m just in love with this. Human Resource Machine. John, I think you will like this game.

John: Craig, I can guarantee that I will like this game. Because while you were talking I went through Google and this was my One Cool Thing in Episode 254.

Craig: [laughs]

John: So let’s pull up the transcript and we’ll see how you made fun of me for Human Resource Machine.

Craig: Did I?

John: You did. You made fun of me. So, let’s see.

Craig: OK.

John: This is what I said. The second one is a thing that Craig will make fun of me for. It’s called Human Resource Machine. It’s a game. “Oh, I get to make fun of you for it? Fantastic,” you say. So, Craig says, “This is so great because he is a robot. He’s a robot playing on a robot machine, pretending to be a robot.”

Craig: That’s accurate.

John: Yes. So, I’ll send you a link to the show notes for this one, too, so you can see what we said about Human Resource Machine. I really did love it. And so have you finished it yet?

Craig: The only one I – I’ve gotten halfway through my last level that I have to do which is prime factory, which is brutal.

John: It is brutal. And some of the things are – you know, the interface is delightful, but when you have to make really complicated ones, it gets to be just really, really exhausting. So I think there may have been some left hand forks of some of these things, which I didn’t end up doing, but I really did love the game and thought it was just perfectly well done.

Craig: Yeah. It’s great. And so you were right. And now here I am, 50 episodes later, which that’s about right. I need about a year.

John: I’m about one year ahead of Craig on all things.

Craig: Well, this is not the first time this has happened either. Generally speaking what happens is you say something, I go that’s stupid and you’re dumb, and then about a year later I go, John, I’ve heard of something wonderful.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then you say, “I said that a year ago and you called me stupid and dumb.” And then, weirdly, I don’t retract any of that.

John: No.

Craig: I say, oh, yeah, you were, but because I’m thinking it now, I feel it.

John: Yeah. The thing you’re doing right now, that’s the thing you do.

Craig: That’s right. That’s what I do.

John: You are 100% consistent. That’s our show this week. As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions, or things you want us to rant about, on Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

We are on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment. That actually does help in the algorithms of things.

You’ll find the show notes for this episode at Transcripts go up about four days later. That’s the only way that I can really keep Craig honest by proving that I did actually recommend something years ago.

Craig: Yep.

John: You can find the back episodes of the show at Godwin says that the USB drives have just now arrived in Los Angeles, so they are probably two weeks away from being available to order. So, if you would like a USB drive of all the back episodes, hold your fire because they are coming soon.

Craig: You should get those.

John: We should get those. We will also have a PDF version of the Scriptnotes Listener’s Guide, so thank you to everybody who has contributed to the Listener’s Guide. It turned out so, so well.

Craig: Awesome.

John: Those will be coming out soon.

Craig: Great.

John: Craig, have a great rest of your time in Amsterdam. Don’t fall in a canal.

Craig: I’m going to do my best to not fall in a canal and I will see you next week.

John: All right, thanks.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 303: 75% of Nothing — Transcript

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 10:29

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

Ira Glass: WBEZ Chicago. It’s This American Life, I’m Ira Glass.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

Male Voice: [Unintelligible].

Male Voice: I’m [Robert Grolich].

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

Phoebe Judge: I’m Phoebe Judge. This is criminal.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

Roman Mars: I’m Roman Mars.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

Karina Longworth: I’m your host. Karina Longworth.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 303 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the program, we will be answering listener questions about writer agreements, page-one rewrites, and resuscitating dead projects.

Craig: We’re not going to talk about what just happened though? [laughs]

John: What just happened?

Craig: The weirdest intro that we have ever had.

John: It’s a pretty great intro. So that intro came from Jonas Madden-Connor. Jonas, thank you for cutting that. Again, we have the best listeners in the entire world.

Craig: We really, really do. I don’t know, there’s been a number of these that people have done, but that one was the most interesting and therefore also the most disturbing.

John: Yeah. It was wonderful. I had an interesting disturbing day and I want to talk to you about it, because it was strange and I want your feedback on it. So, today I got an MRI. I got a brain scan.

Craig: Oh.

John: Which I’d never had before. So, to cut to the end, I’m absolutely fine. There’s nothing wrong whatsoever. And it was a scan that my French doctor wanted me to have and my American doctor says that’s ridiculous, you don’t need that. But I ended up deciding, you know what, I’m curious what a brain scan is actually like, what the experience is. And so I’m going to cross this off my bucket list. I will have a brain scan. The answer is it’s not especially pleasant, but was fascinating in a way that I’m glad I did it. So, I did it here in Paris. And I’ve had scans, like of my chest before, but this was the first time where like they lock your head into a cage and you can’t move.

And have you ever had that done, Craig?

Craig: No. But I’m actually going to in the summer because some researchers at Princeton – I may have even mentioned this on the show – are doing a study about writers and neurological function and I guess the idea of visualization in the brain. And they’re using screenwriters specifically. And so they reached out to me and I said yeah. That’s like everything I love all in one. So, I don’t know what the – the test is sort of a challenge test, I think, where they’re scanning your brain and then they’re also asking you to perform mental tasks.

John: Ah-ha.

Craig: And then they are looking at how it works inside your head. But, yeah, I’ll have it done then. And generally speaking, I mean, it isn’t really – there’s no real good reason, you really shouldn’t do it. But–

John: It’s not dangerous to do it. Here’s what I’ll say. I’m not a claustrophobic person, and I’m generally not claustrophobic in small spaces. I wasn’t freaked out about doing this whatsoever. But there becomes a moment about ten minutes into this where I did start to panic a little bit. And the fact that you cannot move your head at all is really jarring. The other thing which was strange is the way that the little cage is set up, there’s a mirror where I can sort of see my eyes, and I can sort of see forward, but I couldn’t quite figure out what I was seeing. There was sort of this landscape ahead of me that felt very sort of science fiction. And like I was moving through a tunnel in a Kubrick movie.

And it was only after a few minutes of staring at it that I realize like, oh wait, I’m actually looking at over my shirt and my pants at my shoes. But my brain couldn’t process what I was actually seeing. It was really strange – it was cool.

So, I guess on the whole I would recommend it to people, but it wasn’t a pleasant thing. Like I was happy to have it be finished at the end.

Craig: It doesn’t hurt.

John: It doesn’t hurt whatsoever. It was good for the experience. It was also good to prove that I do have – I now have a scan to show I have a brain and a heart, so I’m really not a robot.

Craig: You have what we would call a vestigial brain and heart. I think that you have those organs, but they’re essentially redundant because your CPU and I think you have some kind of pump. Like a motorized pump that moves the nutrient fluids and the lubricants, the coolants, through the ductwork.

John: It must be contained somewhere down in my lower extremities, because so far in the head and the heart the magnets haven’t been set off by that–

Craig: No, no, there’s no reason to mimic the inefficient design of the human anatomy. It’s probably all packed in somewhere around where your kidneys are, or would have been.

John: Great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That actually makes a lot more sense. I feel much better knowing that now.

Craig: I mean, that’s where your food port is, isn’t it?

John: [laughs] Indeed. That’s where I inject my food port. I go through all the efforts of looking like I’m eating normal food at restaurants, but no, it’s all for show.

Craig: You do this incredibly rhythmic chewing that actually freaks people out more, but you don’t know.

John: Oh, it’s good stuff.

We have some follow up here. Why don’t you start us off here?

Craig: Oh, Kevin Walsh. Kevin is a guy that you and I play Dungeons & Dragons with. I think we’ve mentioned him on the show before. We definitely mentioned him when we did the D&D podcast with the Wizards of the Coast folks. And Kevin is the ultimate D&D rules lawyer. And apparently also chess lawyer. So, he wrote in to say, “Just heard you guys discussing errors in specialized details. And the example of the impossible chess scenario in The Office jumped out at me. I’m a poor player, but I know enough to realize—“

He’s already lying, by the way. I’m sure he’s great. “The setup of two bishops on white squares, while highly improbable, is not impossible due to the promotion element of the game. When a pawn reaches the eighth rank, it’s almost always promoted to a queen. But you actually have the option to promote it to any non-pawn piece, so you could conceivably promote a pawn on a white square to bishop in addition to a bishop already on the board.”

Yes, that is technically true. Who the hell would do that? I mean, there’s no reason to do that, at all. Ever. I can’t imagine anyone has ever done that.

John: So, invariably when we do the podcast we talk about articles and blog posts we’ve read and we summarize because it’s in audio format, but if I recall correctly in the longer blog post that we were drawing from the author, who I believe was a woman, did single out that, yes, there is a possibility in which he could have gotten two bishops on white squares, but the way the game was actually set up, or at least how you saw the game being played, it wouldn’t have been possible.

Craig: It just doesn’t make any sense, because the queen moves in all directions as many squares as she wants. So, she’s already – she can be essentially every piece on the board. Well, she can’t move like a rook. I’m sorry. Like a knight. But she can move diagonally like a bishop. And she can also move one square over and then start moving diagonally, so who the hell would promote a pawn to a bishop? I don’t know, now a bunch of chess people are going to write in and call me–

John: They’re absolutely going to write in and you should write those things with Header Craig.

Craig: John, why would you say such things? [laughs]

John: In Episode 301 we talked about writing a pilot based on a property you don’t own as a writing sample. Charles writes, “I’ve written several episodes of a television series based on an existing property, specifically the Fallout game series.”

Craig: Ooh.

John: Craig loves Fallout.

Craig: I do.

John: “The game developer, knowing nothing about my script or plans for the series as a whole, won’t answer or return any of my calls regarding obtaining the rights for said property.”

Craig: [laughs] You don’t say?

John: “I’m sure an agent would be able to make some headway in this department, but as you’ve probably already guessed, I don’t have one of those. I’ve thought about contacting agents who have developed similar properties, but articles I’ve found on the subject suggest that contacting an agent without already possessing the rights would present a substantial hurdle. Any advice you could offer would be greatly appreciated.”

Craig: OK. Charles, here’s your advice. There’s nothing wrong with what you’ve done, per se. You’re into this and you’re writing episodes. What you’re writing is only valuable to the extent that someone might read it and say, “I like the way you write, Charles. I’d like to hire you to write something else. Or I’d like to see if you have something original that you’d like to write.” Under no circumstances will Bethesda, the massive corporation that makes the Fallout game series, and Elder Scrolls, be willing to discuss with you the notion of licensing derivative works. They maintain very careful control of those rights and they will only license them to the largest of entities for the most possible amount of money.

To date, I don’t think they have. I think they’ve actually – they don’t even want to license this stuff to Warner Bros, much less Charles. Do you know what I mean?

So, stop calling them. They’re never going to – and they will also very intentionally tell you that they’re not reading anything you’ve written because the last thing they want to do is deal with you then coming down later and saying you stole some of my stuff for Fallout 7, or your Fallout movie. So, they’re never going to read it. They’re never going to contact you. They may never acknowledge that you have even done what you’ve done.

Technically speaking, I mean, what you’ve done isn’t a violation of their rights unless you try and make money off of it. Then it is. So, you should stop pursuing this like it can happen. You should only think of this as either a writing exercise for yourself, great practice, a way to learn, or as a sample for other people to read who might be looking to hire a writer to adapt their video game which is perhaps a smaller property that isn’t quite as a massive as Fallout.

John: 100% correct. And I think this is a case of sort of over-applying something we said in Episode 301. So in Episode 301 we talked about this guy who wanted to do an episode of Dallas or a pilot based on Dallas that was turned into a comedy. We said, yes, go for it with the giant caveat that like that is a great writing sample. A writing sample is wonderful, but it is not a thing you’re going out to try to make. So, stop pursuing Bethesda. Stop pursuing an agent with the goal of making this into a thing. Try to make people read it because hopefully it’s really good writing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’m going to put a link in the show notes to a short film about Portal, made by Dan Trachtenberg, who is a guy we should absolutely have on the podcast at some point.

Craig: Oh yeah. He’s great.

John: He’s great. And so he’s gone on to become a director of note. But the first thing I was aware that he did was this short film inspired by Portal. And I don’t recall the full backstory on this. I don’t think he had any rights or blessings from the Valve folks. It’s a film that’s sort of set in the Valve universe, but it is not – to my understanding – was not sanctioned by Valve before he made it. But it was very useful.

So I think the same way that Charles’ Fallout script could be useful to him as a calling card, this was useful to Dan Trachtenberg as a calling card. But he was not setting out to make a Portal movie to make money.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, basically you’re writing fan fiction, Charles. And there’s nothing wrong with it. But you could – certainly you could put it on the web and just have people, if they want to read it, for free. Can’t charge them for it. That’s for sure.

John: Yep. Last bit of sort of meta follow up, in previous episodes we’ve done How Would This Be a Movie. We did a How Would This Be a Movie last week. A lot of those How Would This Be a Movie are becoming a movie. And so I wanted a place for sort of consistent follow up on like all those things we talked about, which ones of those are actually becoming movies. So, Godwin, our producer, is going through and tracking all those projects now. So, there will be a link in the show notes for sort of the tracking board of the previous projects to see what’s going on. So we’ll be updating that periodically as we have news on which of those movies are actually going down the roads into production.

Craig: Smart. Is he going to keep a little report card of how we’re doing on our predictions?

John: That’s a really good idea, too. We’re figuring out what the good forum for it will be. I think it will be just a single page on But it will be some sort of table. There will be, you know, a good little indicator of like what’s where.

Craig: Fantastic. Great idea. And you know what? Keeps Godwin busy.

John: It does. You got to keep him busy, because you know what? Our listeners are paying Godwin’s salary. Well, technically I’m paying his salary. But our listeners are helping to pay Godwin’s salary.

Craig: And, uh, idle hands are the devil’s playground.

John: They certainly are. You know who else works for me who has idle hands sometimes is Nima Yousefi. And he asked a question which I figured we would discuss here. So it is our first of many questions this evening. Is there a name for the kind of movie that is just stuffed with stars, like the Garry Marshall films, such as Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day, or Love Actually? Craig, can you think of a title for that kind of movie, that genre?

Craig: I don’t think there’s a specific one. Sometimes you might refer to those as star ensembles. But, you know, on television, when they used to make television movies, sometimes they would do this and they would call it an All-Star Cast. We don’t really do that in movies. That sounds ridiculous. I just call them Star Ensembles.

John: I guess a Star Ensemble would make sense. You know, it feels it could be weird to write that kind of movie if you weren’t anticipating it being stuffed with stars in a strange way. You know, it’s hard to envision Love Actually if you didn’t anticipate like, OK, there’s all these different characters who are sort of running around. If they weren’t kind of notable actors independently would you really try to make that move? I don’t know. I also think of like the Cannonball Run movies are just full of actors in ways that we don’t commonly make those anymore.

Craig: That’s right. I don’t know if Love Actually specifically – it’s not quite the same Star Ensemble sort of thing that maybe some of the Garry Marshall films are. Those really are like, look, over here, and over here, and over here. It’s not my favorite genre. I will admit.

John: I’d agree.

Craig: I’m not one of those people that loves or hates Love Actually. It’s such a polarizing film in a weird way. I like it. You know, like I’ve never felt passionate about it. But the holiday movies, they’re not really – mostly what happens is they get very sentimental in certain kind of way. And I like certain kinds of sentiment, and then other kinds of sentiment is just not for me. It’s just, you know, it’s a personal taste thing. So, I’m not big on those.

And I never really liked the Cannonball Run movies. I didn’t. Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World? No. Not really. No.

John: Not so much. You know, I think of the Judd Apatow movies and also the Seth Rogan/Evan Goldberg movies, they tend to have big casts, but it doesn’t sort of feel like I’m cramming this one actor in for just this one scene. They very much tend to stay on plot. I mean, Apatow will sort of like – sometimes you will sense that somebody was there just because they were funny and they sort of got three scenes because he wanted them in the movie. But it’s not the same sense of like, oh look, it’s that famous person who is just being that famous person and improvising.

Craig: Yeah. There are some filmmakers that have a little bit of like a Mercury Theater group of actors they always use. And those people keep showing up. And how some of those people get into that clique. It’s really more of a clique, because when you see a movie like the Valentine’s Day or Mother’s Day movies, you don’t get the sense at all those actors hang out all the time. But Jon Hamm seems to hang out with these people. Like he hangs out with Kristen Wiig. I don’t know how that happened. It just did. And now he shows up in those movies. So, that’s more of a – yeah, I would call that a Clique Movie.

John: It’s a Clique Flick.

Craig: Oh! How did I miss that?

John: See? I knew if we talked about it enough we would get it out.

Craig: It’s a Clique Flick. Dude, seriously, that’s great. That’s exactly what it is. So Apatow makes Clique Flicks.

John: So good. I think we should stop the podcast right here.

Craig: I think we should stop everything. I may just stop. That may be it. I may walk out into traffic now. I’m not sure how it gets better than this.

John: It’s all downhill from here.

Cord writes, “I was wondering, what percentage of the rewrite gigs that you take on are page-one rewrites? And would you say that percentage represents other writer’s workloads, too? Or are some writers more apt to say no to page-one rewrites and other writers yes?”

So, Craig, that’s an interesting question because I guess we have to define what is a page-one rewrite and does the notion of a page-one rewrite change how likely you or I are to approach a project.

Craig: OK. Well, we’ll start with the term. So page-one rewrite is an assignment where there is an existing script. Sometimes there are bunch of existing scripts. And either because the studio feels this way or they are going along with a writer, a new writer, who feels this way, we’re essentially starting over. We’re not throwing out the basic idea, but we’re saying, you know, we’re not taking the document of this script and then going into it and making adjustments throughout. We’re going to begin again. We’re going to break a new general plot. There could be wild shifts in character or tone. Certainly in story. And then we’re going to write – all this is new. We’re basically starting over.

I find that most of the time the rewrite work I do falls into two piles. One pile is you’re going to be on this for a week to three weeks. And then the other pile is page-one rewrite. It’s not that they come and say that. But inevitably if I’m not doing a short-term assignment, which means usually the film is in preproduction, it’s been green-lit. There’s a lot of pressure to color within the lines. A lot of times – you probably get this all the time, right?

So you get a call from your agent. They’re like, “Yeah, they’re calling about blah-blah-blah.” And you’ll say, OK, well what are they saying in terms of work? What do they think it is? “You know, they’re saying like three weeks.” In my mind I go, that’s a page-one rewrite. [laughs]

John: Usually I hear it, it’s like, “It’s a couple of weeks.” I’m like, oh yeah, it’s a couple of weeks.

Craig: Couple of weeks is trouble. Three weeks is right out. Because they underestimate everything essentially.

John: Here’s the interesting thing about a couple of weeks. A couple of weeks means that like, OK, they’re going to want to meet you and they’re going to have to have discussions and basically you’re going to have to pitch them what you’re going to do. And then they’re going to decide and then they’re going to hire you. So, a couple of weeks, it could be a couple weeks before you would even get the green light to sort of get to writing. And so then you’ve just burned a tremendous amount of time. At that point you could have just rewritten the whole script more like.

A page-one rewrite to me is – generally it’s an adaptation or there was something preexisting and whoever took the first crack at it didn’t deliver what they wanted to do. I don’t get a lot of the “this was a spec script we bought and now it’s a page-one rewrite.” That just doesn’t happen to me very much, just because not a lot of spec scripts tend to get sold. But this is like, you know, we’re kind of starting over here. Or we need to have a whole new framework. So even though you might take the same characters, you’re changing a lot.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I tend to say no to those, honestly because I would rather be the first writer on something or I would rather be working on my own stuff, because a page-one rewrite is really just a brand new movie.

Craig: That’s right. It is. I will do them probably more frequently than you will because I don’t mind so much that I’m not necessarily the first person in if the topic is exciting to me and I feel like I can see a way through. That’s what happened on Identity Thief. It was a page-one rewrite. But what I do find is that it’s actually rare that the studio will say, “This is a page-one rewrite.” They’re always weirdly hopeful that there’s a fast, easy magic bullet to fire at this thing. I mean, in their dreams they imagine a screenwriter walking in and saying, “Oh, you guys, give me four days. Pay me only for four days and I will fix everything. You guys didn’t see it. It’s just this, and I got it.” And they go, “Oh my god.”

That’s their dream scenario. That’s not realistic, of course. Normally what happens if there is something that’s troubled, you got to start over. And then, yes, it is a lot of time. I do prefer if I’m going to do all that to just be the first person in. But when there’s a really interesting project or a really interesting director, then I’ll come in and do a bunch of work. What I try and avoid is the middle. And I don’t always avoid it.

I’ll give you – perfect example from my career is the Huntsman sequel. That was the middle. So they had a screenplay. And they were happy with the basic shape of the story, the premise, the way the characters were moving in and out. They just wanted work done on tone and dialogue and some new scenes. And this and that and all the rest. And that became – that was essentially about seven weeks. And it was one of those middles. It wasn’t a page-one rewrite. It wasn’t a short rewrite. It was heavy rewrite. And then the movie got green lit and then I had to come back and do another two weeks for production stuff. But at that point a lot of things had gone wrong, including the director getting fired and a new director coming on, like a week before shooting.

And I never felt like, OK, I mean, the credits on that are absolutely fair. Even Spiliotopoulous and I really wrote that movie. He wrote it and I wrote it. Not together, but separately. That’s one I try to actually avoid. I’d rather just say I was never here. Nobody knew I was here. I do my two or three weeks. Or, I wrote it. You know? But, well, you live and learn.

John: Yeah. For sure. You know, the page-one rewrite generally comes up when it’s a project that the studio says, “We really do want to make this movie. This is just not the script to make this movie out of.” So it’s a big adaptation of some piece of property that they really want, or it’s a sequel. Those tend to be prime candidates for rewrites.

So, there’s a lot of Bruckheimer movies where they just page-one rewrite it a zillion times. And that’s a thing that happens and I try to avoid those. There are projects I can think of over the last few years where it was a page-one rewrite but it was basically like I had a completely different concept for how to take this existing property. And that was intriguing to me, so to me it felt like a new movie.

Craig: Right.

John: Certainly to the previous writers, it felt like a page-one rewrite. And both can be true at the same time.

I tend to only really look at the rewrites where it’s a movie that I would want to make anyway. So then, sure, I’ll go in and do it. Or, sometimes I’ll read something and like I really do have the pretty simple solutions to things. I can tell you exactly what’s not working here. I can tell you how to do it. And I’m so excited because this script is really good and I can fix these things that I think we all agree are the problems. Those are the times where you get to feel like, OK, I’m actually helping something.

Craig: Yeah.

John: A lot of times with these page-one rewrites I just don’t feel like I’m necessarily getting that much closer to them making a movie.

Craig: Well, yeah. I won’t take one of those unless I do feel like there’s a real chance. You know, that I have an excitement like it’s something new. And you’re right. It’s a bit like being handed a book. I mean, you don’t write the book but you’re asked to adapt the novel and you feel like you are the writer. Well, sometimes there is a book and also five scripts, which they’ve pushed aside. And they’re saying just go back to the book and start again. And then it feels sort of the same.

But I never want to take – I mean, Ted Elliott I remember once somebody asked him, we were on like a panel or something. And somebody said to him, “When people are offering you opportunities and movies that you can write or rewrite, what sort of movies are the ones that you want to write?” And he said, “Oh that’s easy. I want to write movies that they want to make.”

John: Yep.

Craig: And that’s kind of true. And sometimes you think I can make you want to make this. But that’s a harder circumstance than the normal one which is, “Oh, they want to make this. They really want to make this, so let’s see if I can be the last guy who gets the seat before the musical chairs song stops.” It’s risky.

John: I will tell you that as I do a mental survey of our screenwriting friends, the ones who are consistently employed but often the least happy are the ones who are doing a lot of those middles.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s the ones who are – they’re the fifth writer in on this project that has broken many other people before and will it break them? Probably. But they’ll pick themselves up and they’ll go on to the next thing. It’s a lucrative thing to be in that middle spot, but it’s not actually particularly enjoyable.

Craig: No.

John: So, at this moment I’m happy not to be doing a lot of those.

Craig: I agree with you. The one thing – let’s put money aside. Let’s say money is not the object. You don’t need a job at any particular moment. You’re lucky. And you have some choices. The one thing you want to avoid I think as a screenwriter is that gig where they’re clearly flailing around in the dark. And they’re hoping that somebody will give them something that excites them. They’re not already excited. Maybe you’ve got – they’re in a situation – there’s politics involved. There’s a property. A producer who controls something they need, a franchise, is also obsessed with developing this other thing. And so they’re letting the producer do it and they’re paying for development. They don’t necessarily really want it.

Or, there’s an actor who is attached to something. It’s a passion project. And they’re using that as bait to get the actor to do their franchise again. Those are scary. Because they will pay and you will work. And it will never satisfy. Because they don’t really want it.

John: What I will say is that as a young writer, some of those jobs were incredibly important to me, because they were a paycheck. And they were experience. They were a chance to sort of work in the system and figure it all out. So I don’t want to scare people away from those jobs early on. But you can’t only do those jobs because then you will never get a movie made.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so that’s part of the calculation you’re doing. I always say my favorite genre of movie is the movie that gets made. So very similar to Ted Elliott’s. And I’m always doing a check on things saying like do I really think they’re going to make this movie. And based on where I think that is, I will make a calculation like this is the right project for me to hop on or not hop on. And that’s shifted over the course of my career.

Early on, I needed to grab on to any movie that was going to pay me, any script that was going to pay me because that was incredibly important, to get both the experience and to keep the lights on.

Craig: Without question. Yeah, when you’re starting out, my god, take the job. Always take the job. Because let’s say somebody comes to you. The screenwriting fairy comes to you at night and says, “They’re never going to make it.” That’s OK. You’re going to learn something from the project. You’re going to be a better writer. You’re going to go through the experience of dealing with notes and producers and studio executives, politics, whatever it is. It will make you stronger. The experience will make you stronger. Even if it is an entirely negative experience, then you have learned something to avoid. Either way, there is no I don’t think, short of being abused, which unfortunately can happen quite a bit – there is no cost to taking a job when you don’t have another job to do. And you don’t have something of your own that you are burning to write. And you need to keep paying your bills. And you need to keep yourself as a viable option. They have lists. And you’re on one. And there’s upward and downward mobility on the list. Far more than you would imagine.

So, working is good. If you’re lucky enough to get to a place where you can be picky, well, look, I think probably you and I are in the same boat in this regard. We can kind of steer our ships between the three happiest islands which is: production rewrites, which are short, weeklies; page ones, where we can feel like we own something and make it; or our own stuff.

John: Yeah. And I’ve been happy to be able to do my own stuff these past couple of years. But I also enjoy working on other people’s movies. And so when those opportunities come up that make sense, I will do those as well.

Craig: Yep.

John: Let’s go on to Lucas’s question. Lucas from Melbourne, Australia writes, “As we all know, scripts can change during production.”

Craig: What?!

John: “So if the film itself does not include specific dialogue that was in the original script, how much can we as authors hold on to legally? I know ideas cannot be owned, but I’m wondering if dialogue can be.”

Craig: Uh…maybe Lucas you’re asking this question because you live in Australia which doesn’t have work-for-hire the way we do in the United States. But here in the United States, we don’t own any of it anyway. We’ve signed over all of the copyright on our work to the studios. They own every word that’s in the film. Whether we wrote it or an actor ad-libbed it. We actually aren’t the technical authors of our screenplays. The studios are.

So, it’s not applicable to us.

John: No, I think he’s saying morally. I think he’s really asking the question of like I wrote this brilliant speech in this movie and then the script was shot and then for various reasons it never filmed. So basically in the third draft of the 19 drafts I did on this movie, there was this character who had this speech, or had this moment, or had this line of dialogue. Can I take that line of dialogue that never shot, that was never used–?

Craig: Oh, and reuse it?

John: To use that somewhere else? Can I use something from a previous thing?

Craig: Well, I was just – he said how much can we as authors hold on to that legally. So, I was taking him at his word. But I think you might be right. That really what he means is sort of morally legally. And the answer is you’re fine, I think.

John: I think you’re fine, too.

Craig: If it never got used, and the line itself is sort of multi-purpose, I don’t see a problem with that. I can’t imagine anybody calling you up and saying, hey, that line was in script three of 12 of a movie. They won’t remember. And even if they do, they don’t care. They chose not to use it. It doesn’t really have any value. I can’t imagine.

You know, the way that these work from a legal point of view is you’re always asking, well, who is the damaged party and how were they damaged. And in this case I don’t see how they were damaged at all, really.

John: Yeah. It’s a really hard case to be made for like, oh no, Paramount was planning on using that line of dialogue from that script in some other movie two years from now. That’s a very hard thing to accept. So, I think you’re OK.

And, the other way to think about it is let’s say that your movie did get made and that line of dialogue was in there. If it was a line of dialogue, it wouldn’t be illegal for another film to use that line of dialogue. It would be kind of crappy. It would be like lame for them to use it, but it wouldn’t be illegal for them to use that same line of dialogue.

So, you’re fine.

Craig: Well, it depends. It depends on how much.

John: A line of dialogue is not going to do it.

Craig: Probably not.

John: A whole speech could be a problem. But a line of dialogue, you’re fine.

Craig: Yeah. It’s one of those kind of know it when you see it things. But it would be a bizarre case to bring. I have never heard of it happening in all of my years. It’s not – by the way, it’s not particularly common anyway. There are some writers who will say, “Oh my god, I saved this line. I’m definitely using this and definitely using that.” And I always think like, yeah, or make a new one. You know. I mean, you can make new ones.

John: Yeah. It’s very easy to imagine that these are sort of Lego pieces that you can sort of put together and reassemble, but I would say that in my life I rarely had the chance over, you know, I don’t know, god, 70 scripts I’ve written to use anything from one thing in another thing. There have been times where I’ve had ideas for like an action sequence or like some way that an exchange can happen that move from like one movie to another movie. But that’s really, really rare.

Craig: Yeah. For me it is rare to the point of it has never happened. I don’t recognize that being a thing that I’ve done. But in any case I think, Lucas, you should be fine. I don’t really think there’s going to be an issue there.

John: I agree. All right. This last one is a question that came in and the question was so long that I decided that it would actually make a much better blog post. And so if you go to or follow the link in the show notes you will see an article I wrote and it starts with a little preamble, but then it goes through this question by a writer named KB who is talking about this project that a mutual friend had pitched to her and her writing partner.

So, essentially this guy Patrick had come to this writing team with an idea, a premise for a TV show. And said like, “Hey, why don’t you guys go off and write that.” And so KB and her writing partner did that. They went through like six months of work. They brought it back to this guy Patrick but Patrick said, “No, I don’t really like it.” And it just sort of fizzled there.

But someone else did like the project and so it was starting to get some traction, starting to get some heat. And this Patrick guy said like, “Oh, OK, well no, I really do like it and I want 75% of whatever you make off of it,” which is just nuts. And it became a huge fight. There was no contract ever signed between Patrick and this writing team.

13 years later, this writing team still likes this project and wants to redevelop it and do it as an indie pilot and they wrote in asking for our advice. I gave them my advice. And, Craig, you read my advice, but I’d like to sort of talk through what you think about – first off, Patrick. Second off, best practices for dealing with writing teams/collaboration. This sort of early nascent situation.

And then maybe we can segue into talking about when do you dust off an old project and sort of try to bring it back to life.

Craig: Well, I would urge everyone to think of it like this. Hollywood has a very long history of negotiating these things between various interested parties. And over time there have been some best practices that have evolved. So, people that have ideas that then bring it to a writer generally are considered producers. Producers make their own deal, however they are attached to the project. The writers make a separate deal for the script, but they’re all associated through a chain of title.

This has all been kind of litigated over time. And even so, after all these decades, there are disputes. Now, you’re out there, you’re not in Hollywood, and some guy comes to you and you’re having a conversation at a coffee shop and you’re like, hey, we should do something together. You don’t have any history behind you. You have no best practices. You have no tradition, agents, lawyers, any of that. The odds of it going smoothly are essentially zero. You’re flying blind in a very, very dangerous situation. Collaboration is dangerous because ideas and expressions of ideas, it’s not like they’re physical objects you can carve up. There are no shares in the company.

And since no one has decided whose role is what and how much is you and how much is me. The potential for disaster is extraordinary. And we hear things like this. You and I hear these stories constantly. And it’s frustrating for us, but it’s also understandable. Because there’s a certain social contract when people start having a conversation and saying, “Oh, you know, I have this idea.” And someone is like, “Oh my god, I love that. What if blah-blah-blah. Ooh, that’s great.” And everybody is feeling good. They’re having a conversation.

It would be bizarre for somebody to say, “Hold on. Stop talking. Everyone stop talking. We need to get lawyers.” That would seem aggressive and weird.

It is, however, exactly what you have to do. otherwise, you end up in this spot where a guy like Patrick has wildly overestimated, at least based on this account, what his fair share and fair due is. And yet because there is no prior agreement, it’s all subject to disruption. And it is challenging in the best of circumstances to sell material to buyers. It is nearly impossible to do it when there is any kind of distressed attachment, challenge, legal problem.

John: So, let’s talk about when you introduce this idea of a contract or some sort of agreement. So, in the blog post I put a link into a surprisingly straightforward and standard collaboration agreement the WGA has available to download. So we’ll put that in the show notes as well. You can see what that looks like. And it’s the kind of collaboration agreement you might do with your writing partner if you are going to be co-writing something. And it feels like this Patrick guy, he was more than a producer, so maybe you fold him into this collaboration agreement as well.

But importantly it sort of spells out the terms of like who is doing what and what the splits are going to be. I think it also puts people on notice that like we’re taking this seriously. We really are going to discuss this, so Patrick can’t come back six months from now saying like, “Oh no, I should get 75%.”

Craig: Right.

John: This is no longer just a bunch like sitting around a table at a bar talking. This is like we’re going to actually try to write something. And so I think the time to introduce this kind of contract of this discussion is before anything gets written. Before anybody sits down to actually start saying like, “OK, let’s outline this. Let’s figure out what this all is.” That’s when you need to start doing this because you’re going to have a real problem before then. And so the minute it goes from just an oral conversation to words on paper, really break this out and start to look at it.

Craig: If you’re sitting there with your buddy and Patrick walks over and starts talking about this idea he has for a clothing store and you guys are like, oh my god, we’re designing clothing. And he’s like, “We should figure this out and we can open a clothing store and it will be a great clothing store.” You wouldn’t go, “Great. Let’s all start.”

No. No, no, no. That’s a business. Everybody would go, OK, let’s draw up a business plan. Let’s talk about how this is going to work. Terms of ownership and shares and collaboration. But when it comes to writing things, because the capital costs are essentially nothing, and there’s no barrier to starting, people leap. They leap before they look. All day long.

And you have to make a concerted effort to not be swayed by that zero entry, no barrier, no capital costs problem. And take that to mean, “So let’s just start.” You have to treat it like you are being asked to invest money, because in this case your time and effort is the equivalent.

John: I would 100% agree. And so I’m going to point you to this collaboration agreement. I can’t vouch that it’s the best collaboration agreement in the whole world. I will tell you that if I were in KB’s situation, I probably would not have hired a lawyer. I would have looked at something like this and probably have been pretty happy with this. And I think it probably would have dealt with most of KB’s situations. Again, I’m not a lawyer, but this is my best advice – this would have at least been a very good start into fixing the situation.

But what I found so fascinating about KB’s question is that this is 13 years later and now she’s looking at revisiting this. So, when I answered this on the blog I said, OK, there’s a chain of title problem here, because this guy came to you with some drawings and such. There is a chain of title issue here. He does own something. Clearly.

So if you try to make this without consulting him and you try to go to a festival, you try to sell this to somebody else, he’s going to come back in some way and it’s going to be terrible. So I said you’re going to have to bite the bullet, track him down on Facebook and say, “Let’s talk about what this is and sort of go through and find and an agreement that makes sense.” And if it doesn’t make sense, walk away, because it’s not worth trying to do this without him or do this with him too involved.

Your time is better spent doing other things. Do you agree with me on all that?

Craig: I do. You know, after all this time, you can always go to somebody and say, “Listen, we’re going to work on this, and we’ve been advised by attorneys that we’re free and clear to do so. That you have no copyright ownership of anything. However, we want to make sure that you’re attached as a producer. So here’s an agreement. You would be attached as a producer and you would be allowed to negotiate a fee should we set this up somewhere. But you have essentially quit claim on anything else.”

And then, you know, that guy has an opportunity to decide does he want a piece of something or 75% of nothing, because that’s the alternative. I mean, there are ways to do that sort of thing, but yes, you certainly don’t want to proceed and pretend that, oh, he won’t care. He will. He will.

John: He will care. He will find out and he will care. But let’s talk about the 13 years later of the whole thing, because my suspicion when I sort of looked into KB and why this project was coming back up is this seemed to be the only thing that was really getting attention out of all the stuff that she and her writing partner had done. And that might be why it was sort of coming back. And I want to dig into the psychology of trying to go back and pull up those old projects and make them happen versus writing something new.

And on the blog post I described it as being like a fashion thing. Like if you were a fashion designer and you made this amazing cape and people liked this cape, but it never sort of took off, it never really became a thing. 13 years later, if you look at that cape you designed, is this the time for that to break out into the world? Probably not. Fashions change. It’s unlikely that that cape is going to be the thing. You need to be designing for whatever fashion is right now. And my hunch is that whatever this thing was, it struck some zeitgeist moment right then 13 years ago. The odds that it’s going to strike the zeitgeist moment right now are small.

But I can understand why she might be attracted to going back to it because at least it had something. There was some heat. And there’s the nostalgia for like you remember what that felt like when we were younger and there was an excitement about what we were doing? I’d like to get that again. And I completely understand that, but I don’t think you’re going to get there by dusting off this old project.

Craig: We should do Scriptnotes capes.

John: Again, you thought there would be no other great ideas in this episode. You thought we should stop way back then, but Scriptnotes capes. Come on. It’s a writer’s cape.

Craig: Because, you know, when you sit down to write, what do you need? Well, you need a pads and pens, or you need your laptop. You need your cape. And a cup of coffee, really, I think.

John: Yeah. So next live show, any screenwriter, any guest who shows up with a cape I think gets some special reward. That person definitely gets a photo with me and Craig. There’s no question.

Craig: Oh, you’ll have to remind me. Because here is what’s going to happen. Somebody is going to walk up to us with a cape and go, “Check me out.” And I’m going to go, um, why are you wearing a cape? [laughs] And then you’re going to say, “Craig, do you remember…?” And then I’ll say, nope, but OK, let’s take the picture with the cape.

Yes, you are correct about this. There is a sense memory of the what-if. And the thrill of the anything is possible. The most exciting script in the world is the one you’re about to write. The least exciting script is the one you’re on page 80 of. And so it’s only natural to still carry this torch, the way that we can look back on our lives and think of a boy or think of a girl and say, “Oh, you know, there was a chance there and I went this way and they went that way. What if, what if, what if?”

Well, what if is, you know, maybe you would have had one or two terrific weeks and then, oh god. And then you would have never thought about them again. So, you have to put it in its proper psychological perspective. That said, if you’re in a meeting and a lot of times what a producer or studio executive will say to you is, “We really like what you’ve done here, and we like what you’ve done there. Do you have anything in your drawer?” They love to say that.

Again, they’re grasping for straws. They’re hoping for a magic bullet so that you go, yes, I have this Matrix trilogy in my drawer. Would you be interested in this? I forgot it was there.

Yeah, it doesn’t really happen. But it is fair for you to say, “You know, there was this thing, and we’re going to tell you what it is, but we’re also going to tell you right up front there’s this guy out there who feels like he owns a piece of it. But we’ll tell you what this is, and if you love it, well then you can deal with that guy.”

So now it’s all open, you know, in the air. And if they really do love it, and they want it, they’ll go find him. They’ll go make him go away. They’ll make him go away with money. Or they’ll make him go away legally. Whatever it is, it’s now their problem. And they’re so much better at it than we are.

So, that’s always a possibility. And at the very least then you’re not writing it in a vacuum. Someone is saying, yes, I want that. That would be nice.

John: That would be wonderful. Every once and a while I will hear a story of a screenwriter whose long lost project got made. So something that he wrote ten years ago. Actually, I was thinking, Damien Chazelle who did Whiplash, but then he did La La Land, I guess he had written La La Land many years before and then, of course, he got the chance to make it and it was terrific. So, you will hear that story of like, oh, that great thing that they wrote back then which they now got a chance to make and it’s fantastic. And everyone was a fool for passing on it back then.

I love those stories, but I also worry that the prevalence of those stories creates a false expectation about how common that really is. Because if I look through the things I wrote in my earlier days, or even ten years ago that haven’t gotten made, there’s generally a reason why those didn’t get made. And there’s very few of those that I really want to dust off and say like, OK, I’m going to spend all my time and energy trying to get this thing back up the hill to try to make it a movie. There generally was a problem or it just didn’t come together right. And I’ve usually felt that my time is better spent looking forward and writing the next great thing than the last great thing.

That’s not to say like, you know, on a phone call with an agent, like every couple months, I will check in with them about those sort of zombie projects. And I bet you have some of those, too, Craig.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Where it exists someplace. And a director could go on. Something could happen. And it’s still technically in development at the studio, but I just don’t know what’s going on with that. There’s no forward movement. And I could try to push that thing forward, but my history has shown that I’m not especially good at pushing that thing forward. So there are just some zombie projects out there that I kind of can’t do anything with.

Craig: Yeah. I have one of those for sure. And I just don’t think about it. I just don’t think. Maybe one day something will. Maybe something won’t. It’s just no sense in thinking about it. If they hired somebody else to work on it, then I would think, oh, OK, now I’m going to think about it.

But they haven’t, so it’s just there. There’s no point. And you’re absolutely right that we only tell stories of exceptions. We’re only interested in the notable. But by definition that means it’s rare. So it is notable and exciting and rare to hear about somebody’s ten-year-old script suddenly being reborn. And it is notable and rare because it is notable and rare. You certainly don’t want to rely on that. Almost always, it doesn’t happen. And we don’t tell those stories because they’re boring.

John: There’s a lot of silent evidence of all those projects that did not get reborn that are still sitting on shelves. And that’s most of what’s out there. It’s the dark matter of screenwriting.

Craig: I want to say that, because I’m a little hung up on Patrick. And I hear this a lot. These people have these crazy ideas about what they deserve. So here’s a little rule of thumb for you guys, when you’re sitting at the coffee shop with somebody. It’s real simple. If somebody brings you an idea – art work, a poem – anything that isn’t written, non-words on a page, but rather spoken or graphics, that’s great and that’s good. They’re a producer now. Either they are going to be writing or not. Writing is what the writers do. So the rights to the screenplay, the story and the screenplay, belong to the people writing them.

Now, that person then is attached as a producer because they have given you something of value and they deserve something of value in return. And that’s fine. But, when someone says, “OK, and then I get 75% of everything.” No. When it comes to the money that’s given to the people that wrote the script – or let’s forget that. The money that’s given for the script specifically, you get zero percent of that. Because you didn’t do it. It’s that simple.

So, you can say to somebody, OK, if you want to write the story with us, all three of us are going to work on the story together, then that means you’re writing it with us. We write a document that is a prose story of what a screenplay is going to be. Then we’ll go write the screenplay and the screenplay will say Story by the three of us, Screenplay by da-da-da. And then that money is divided in a very simple way, per the basic residual formula of the Writers Guild. That whatever money is given for that script, 75% of it goes to the people that wrote the screenplay, and 25% of it goes to the people that wrote the story, divided amongst each other equally.

Then if you want to get money, you deserve money for being a producer because they have to pay you as a producer, you negotiate that. And you know what we get of that? Zero. That’s how it works. That’s the way you should do it. Anybody that’s like I want 75% of stuff is, A, an idiot, and B, greedy.

John: I would also say that in Los Angeles, a special note for you will meet many, many actors in Los Angeles. And some of those actors are incredibly talented and you might say like, “Oh you know what? I want to write something for that actor.” Or that actor might come to you and say like, “Hey, write me something. It will be really fun.”

Maybe that’s a good idea. Maybe that person really is talented and really has a great shot. But, do what Craig says. If that person is going to write the story with you, then write up the story document with that person. And then in your deal make it clear that you are writing the screenplay and it will be Story by Actor and you, Screenplay by you. That’s all great and good. But just like the person who is showing up with a bunch of drawings for a premise, the actor is showing up with a premise. “It’s me, but in a comedy.” Don’t give them all your power, because you are the person who is actually writing the thing.

Craig: Seriously. And this is why Patrick drives me crazy, because first of all maybe he can make an argument he’s supplying story material. He’s flipped the percentages, so instead of 25/75, he’s decided it’s 75/25. He’s also asking for all of that. It’s parasitical and it’s insulting to what is required to write something. It’s ridiculous. It’s as dumb as a screenwriter saying, “Also, I want 75% of what the director makes, because I gave them the script.” What? No. They’re doing a different job.

John: Yep.

Craig: Ugh, Patrick. You know what, Patrick, it’s not his real name, is it?

John: I don’t think it’s his real name.

Craig: I wonder what his real name is. It’s probably Steve.

John: It probably is Steve. Damn Steve.

Craig: Steve. What a jerk.

John: Yeah. Jerk. Steve does not get a cape.

Craig: No.

John: All right. It is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a great essay that I was turned onto by Tess Morris. Tess Morris, friend of the show. Oh, I’m so excited to be back in Los Angeles soon to see Tess Morris.

Craig: Ray of sunshine.

John: She is wonderful. It is this great essay by Rebecca Solnit called The Loneliness of Donald Trump on the Corrosive Privilege of the Most Mocked Man in the World. You know what? People have written so much about Trump that it feels ridiculous to sort of write anything new about him, but man, Rebecca Solnit just does it. It’s a really great character study of what it must feel like to be him and to have had this kind of privilege and to have everyone kissing your ass sort of your entire life, and just be completely rudderless.

There’s a metaphor she uses where it’s as if all the compasses point north in whatever direction you tell it to point north. Basically you have just no way of knowing how the world functions. And there’s essentially an isolation, a loneliness that happens behind that. So, it was great writing. I took some solace in the reassurance that our president is probably miserable. And I just encourage everyone to read it.

Even if you love Donald Trump, I think you will find it a fascinating character study, because it makes you feel like, oh, there really is a great character there. I just wish he were not running our country.

Craig: Yeah. It was. I also read it. It was also just very well-written.

John: She’s a terrific writer.

Craig: She did a great job. So excellent choice there. My One Cool Thing is a fun game. I want to say it’s on the iPad and iPhone, but I play it on the iPad, of course.

And it’s called Faraway Puzzle Escape, which is a terrible generic name. There’s like a billion puzzle escape/escape room games. They’re mostly horrendous. This one is terrific. It’s beautiful. Faraway is one word, which makes me itch, but fine. It’s very Myst like in its vibe, but much simpler. And it is executive summary I think there are 18 levels. And you are proceeding from the start point to an end point. And each one works the same way. I have to get from here to this gate. I have to stick a thing into the gate. There’s a portal, I move onto the next level.

But the way in which you manage to get that piece and get through the thing involves puzzles that play on all sorts of interesting, very abstract things. And then there’s this bizarre meta game that you can also play once you finish the whole thing by collecting all these notes you found along the way.

It’s very good. It’s really well done. And I found it remarkably diverting. So, I strongly recommend Faraway Puzzle Escape. It is premium, I think the deal is like a bunch of levels are free and then you have to pay, plus there are a bunch of ads running. Or pay the $4. There’s no ads. And you can play all the levels and be cool.

John: Pay the $4.

Craig: Pay the $4.

John: All right. That is our show for this week. As always, our show is produced Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short ones on Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

We are on Facebook. Just search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes there. While you’re there, leave us a review. That is terrific.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts. And you can look for back episodes of the show at

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, thank you very much for a fun episode.

Craig: Thank you, John. See you next week.

John: Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 302: Let’s Make Some Oscar Bait — Transcript

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 10:21

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

Craig Mazin: Hi, my name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 302 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show, it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie, where we try to figure out how to adapt three stories in the news. Only this time we don’t want to just make a movie. We want to make our parents proud and enemies jealous by bringing home a shiny gold Oscar.

So, we’ll be aiming high with these adaptations.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Plus we’ll be answering–

Craig: I mean, I’m always looking for that Oscar. You know, I’ve come so close so many times.

John: Time and time again. So, this will be the one that finally does it for Craig.

Craig: Yeah.

John: After that we’ll be answering a listener question about why the hell the AMPTP can do what it does.

Craig: Well. Got a good answer for that. At least we have an answer.

John: There’s an answer. One of those rare things where’s actually just an answer.

Craig: Concrete answer.

John: We have some news and some follow up. So, the WGA deal was ratified by the membership. 99.2% of members approved the deal. That’s a good figure. Very close to 100%.

Craig: I want to meet, something like 18 people voted no, I think. I would love to meet them. Just kind of curious.

John: Yeah. So, we had promised that there will be an episode with Craig Keyser where we’ll talk through the deal and sort of everything in the landscape of the deal. And so we are still trying to schedule a time for that. So, there’s people traveling, but at some point we will him on to talk through what’s in that deal, what’s not in that deal, and sort of where things are in the process of us and the studios and film and television.

Craig: Yeah. And he is coming on. We’re just trying to figure this out between everyone’s vacation and all that.

John: Cool. Last month we actually crossed a milestone, but I didn’t notice it because I don’t often check the stats. But Scriptnotes crossed its 10 millionth download.

Craig: Whoa.

John: In its lifetime, which is just such a huge number.

Craig: That’s kind of insane. So, you’re saying that the show has been downloaded ten million times?

John: Yes. And that’s only since we moved over to Libsyn. So the earliest 50 or so episodes or even more than that weren’t on Libsyn. So since the point where we’ve had good statistics, it’s been 10 million, which is great. So–

Craig: God. I’m losing so much money.

John: Well, and things that used to cost us money, like each download used to cost us a lot of money, which is part of why we moved over to Libsyn, and now we don’t have to pay for that. So, that’s great.

Craig: Oh, so wait, so if we don’t have to pay for that, then am I finally making money again?

John: I think you’re making as much money as anyone is making on this.

Craig: D’oh. That’s still zero.

John: Sorry. But thank you to all of the people who are our premium subscribers, because you guys are fantastic and you help pay for things like Matthew who edits the show, and Godwin who produces the show, and all the other stuff around it. So, thank you for that. And our transcripts, which are one of our biggest expenses.

Craig: Yeah. That is awesome. We do appreciate that very much. So, John, let me ask you this question then. Because I know downloads are a bit like hits in that they’re slightly misleading. How many people – is there a way to know how many people listen to this show?

John: That’s actually one of the interesting challenges of podcasting, because it’s kind of a black box. So, podcasting works under a system called RSS. Basically syndicated – it’s an XML file that gets passed around. But basically you’re tracking downloads, but you don’t know a lot more information about that other than just like the file was downloaded and sort of the general things you figure out, like where it was downloaded. But you can’t tell when it was played.

And so right now there’s a movement amongst some of the providers to be able to provide much more granular data so they can sell ads against it. Basically they just want to know where stuff is.

So like Spotify has some premium things where they can tell you exactly who listened and who skipped the commercials and that kind of stuff. Midroll bought Stitcher, or Stitcher bought Midroll. They combined. So there’s changes happening in the podcasting world. And including Apple itself. So we’re not supposed to call it the iTunes Store. You’re supposed to call it Apple Podcasts. So, we ask for people to leave a review on Apple Podcasts now. And there’s talk that there will be some new stuff happening probably around WWDC with how podcasts work for Apple as well.

Craig: Well, as long as I continue to get ripped off, I don’t care. I just like to know the tune to which I’m being ripped off.

John: You know what else you won’t be making money from is Cotton Bureau sent an email saying that they’re going to print more of our t-shirts. So they’re going to print more of the blue t-shirts. If you are a Scriptnotes listener who does not have one of the softest t-shirts ever made–

Craig: Yeah, they’re soft.

John: They’re so soft. The blue Scriptnotes t-shirts are back up for sale at Cotton Bureau. So just go to Cotton Bureau and get yourself one of those. They’ll be up until June 8. And that will be the last day you can order one of those.

Craig: Those are good shirts. You should get one.

John: They’re good shirts.

Some news from WGA. So I got this email and I emailed her to ask if it’s okay to share with other people and she said sure. So, they’re doing a first-time staff writer boot camp for all people who are new staff writers on TV shows. It’s a one-day boot camp, which sounds like a really good idea, sort of talking you through the crash course and how to be a staff writer. What it’s like being in the writers’ room. Best practices. It’s a good idea. So, Saturday June 17, at the WGA. If you are first-time staff writer on a TV show, you can write into with BOOT CAMP in the subject line. You need to include in the message what the show is and who your showrunner is. Because they really will be confirming that it’s a WGA show and that you are staffed on that show.

Craig: Great. That’s an excellent thing. And anyone who is starting out should be grasping for any bit of driftwood in the water that they find. This a particularly good bit of driftwood to cling onto. I suspect that the people that are going to be teaching it will have been there before.

John: Yes.

Craig: Always a good service. I love that sort of educational effort from the WGA.

John: In the spirit of education and correction and making things correct in our podcast, last week I said the seed vault had flooded. It turns out the seed vault has not flooded and the seed vault is actually in much better shape than had previously been reported.

So, there’s been sort of a seepage, but the seeds themselves are fine.

Craig: Well it seems like if the seed vault is okay, we ought to get back to the busy work of destroying seeds left and right.

John: Absolutely. Because we got it back up there.

Craig: There’s nothing to worry about anymore. Let’s go burn some seeds.

John: [laughs] Or put them on delicious buns, because you never know what seeds – like poppy seeds are delicious. Let’s try all the seeds and see what you can make out of them. Or like a tahini. Grind up some seeds.

Craig: I don’t like tahini.

John: I love tahini. The little tahini made into a hummus? Come on, it’s the best.

Craig: See, hummus to me is hummus. That’s chickpeas. I’m down. I’m all over that.

John: But you can’t make hummus without tahini. Tahini is a crucial ingredient in hummus.

Craig: Yeah, I know. But it’s like a little bit of it. It’s not all of it.

John: Yeah. I get it. Finally, last bit of follow up. It’s also a good segue. Another one of our How Would This Be a Movie is being made into a movie, or at least being optioned as a property. So Universal bought the rights to the New York Times column You May Want to Marry My Husband, written by the late author Amy Krouse Rosenthal. So it was a bidding war between Paramount, Sony, Netflix, Studio 8, and Universal. And so it was Mark Platt, a very seasoned producer at Universal, whose credits include Legally Blonde, and La La Land, and Craig has worked with him. So he is going to be a person shepherding this project into the world. So no writers announced yet, but it looks like there will be a movie version of that story at some point.

Craig: Yeah. You know what? I’m really interested to see how this all works out. You and I both saw the opportunities in that piece, but I think we also recognized that there were real challenges to it. I’m currently developing a movie with Mark. It’s a musical, so it’s totally off the beaten path of this. But he’s a very prolific producer and if anyone can get this one made, I think it would be him for sure.

What is remarkable is how many people went after it. Sometimes I think that there are ideas that are harder to turn into a movie than people realize. But they have a certain immediate grabbiness that makes everybody want them.

John: Yep.

Craig: And then there’s that flip side movie where there’s nothing shiny or loud about something, but somebody just finds it in a pile and goes, “Oh my god, this is gold.” It’s interesting. I think this is one of those pieces that is going to be much harder to do than you might think. But that’s not to say that it cannot be done. It’s just going to require quite a bit of skill.

John: I agree with you. Let’s take a look at three new stories in the news and figure out which ones of those could become a movie. One of these I think has that shiny quality which everyone will chase. The other two maybe not so much, but I think there’s interesting movies to be made out of here.

The three articles we picked this week, the first one is written by Alec MacGillis, who is writing for ProPublica. Was also published in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, so everybody read it. This is The Beleaguered Tenants of Kushnerville. So I’ll give you a little bit of a synopsis of this. The story follows these housing developments where there’s 20,000 people living in them in sort of the Baltimore area, but there’s other developments across mostly the eastern seaboard. They were generally owned and managed by different firms. But the firms fell on hard times and this one company started buying them up and started managing them.

And people who lived in these units would often get out of their lease. They’d go on and do different things. The reporter follows some of these people who were then sued by the people who bought out these different apartment complexes. And were sued sometimes for really small amounts of money, but they were just really dogged in sort of going after them.

The apartment complexes themselves, there’s in some cases black mold. There’s bad maintenance. There’s a lot of things you could consider being the bad landlord kind of story. The fascinating twist on this is that the bad landlord, the person behind JK2 trust is…

Craig: Jared Kushner. The presidential son-in-law and I believe current architect of a lasting peace in the Middle East.

John: Yes. So, a busy person. But this was sort of a fascinating escalation of sort of what could be a very normal sort of situation of class and race and real estate. But this sort of bumps it up a notch. So, Craig, what are you thinking of this as a movie and how would we even get into this as a movie? What kind of movie would you see making out of this story?

Craig: Well, we have some real opportunities. We have a wide variety of people, because these apartment complexes are enormous. And inevitably there are going to be some people who move out, do nothing wrong. I mean, there’s a number of instances cited here where people followed the rules but either the paperwork was lost, or a mistake was made when money was moved from one account to another. And then Jared Kushner’s company pursues these people doggedly and tenaciously and ultimately cruelly and unfairly to extract money from them, even going so far as to garnish their wages, which means that essentially a court gets between you and your paycheck, takes that amount of money out that you owe somebody, and then gives you the rest.

So you have lots of different kinds of tenants. That’s exciting. You have single moms. You have black tenants. You have white tenants. You have some tenants who are Trump supporters who then find out that it’s Jared Kushner that’s doing this to them. So good opportunity there.

But it seems to me that the only efficient way in is a way that gives you an efficient way out. That requires some kind of funneling through a character. And if ever a movie were asking for the Erin Brockovich treatment, or the A Civil Action treatment, it’s this one. Somebody has to get a case and then go about that case, even if they’re not a lawyer or a private detective. They’re just somebody who is going to help do one little thing and they start pulling on a thread that begins to unravel this thing and go all the way up to somebody in the White House.

However, because it’s somebody in the White House, we have to kind of either wait for a news resolution to this story, or fictionalize who is actually in charge.

John: Yeah. So I agree that there needs to be a center point of focus. With something like Erin Brockovich, it’s an outsider who comes in, because Erin Brockovich is not directly involved with the water stuff until she becomes involved with general case work. I think it’s more fascinating if it’s one of these – if you could sort of take one of the characters who is living at that complex. We have a lot of names of people and they’re all great, but I think it may be a new person that you’re creating who is living there, basically has all the paperwork. They just picked the wrong person and she’s the one who said like, “This is not fair. This is not right. I actually have the paperwork. You cannot do this to me.” And she just keeps challenging them and ultimately uncovers, oh, you know who actually owns this, it is the president’s son-in-law. That feels like the natural way up through that.

And it would be great to have somebody who is inside it so that it doesn’t just feel like this weird way of the outsider comes in and saves everybody. That, to me, feels like the frustrating thing.

The other movie that struck me as being a good way into look at this is The Big Short. Because The Big Short was able to take a bunch of different characters looking at the same situation and see it from their different points of view. And so there’s complicated finance things to explain which some complicated finance people could explain to us, but there’s also all the dealings on the ground and then there’s the dealings in the White House or sort of the bigger legislative issues happening.

Craig: It’s a little tough to apply that to this because it doesn’t – this story doesn’t quite have the global impact or the cliffhanger nature of that event. It doesn’t have a major market crash. It doesn’t have mad geniuses pushing their crazy theories against conventional wisdom to be proven wrong and then to be proven right. But, I like your idea of maybe having our savior come from within.

I do always think about relationships. What is the relationship we will care about in a movie like this? And there is something really interesting – the bit that sort of jumped at me was this one guy is a Trump voter and he’s complaining about the state of affairs in this apartment building and how he’s been screwed over and his apartment is neglected. And the company treats him unfairly and everybody unfairly. And he’s told that the landlord is Jared Kushner and he goes, “Oh. Really? Like they don’t have enough money?”

And it’s a fascinating moment. Fascinating in part because these buildings, specifically where these – the Baltimore buildings are in this interesting transitional Exurb – it’s not quite suburb, you know – where you have poor black people and poor white people. A lot of people getting Section 8, which is federal support for housing. And I can see a situation where one tenant starts a crusade and tries to find help among her fellow tenants to essentially fight back.

And she encounters this guy. And they are completely different on paper and yet also if you take away race and politics exactly the same on paper. They have the same class and they have the same place and they have the same power status. And there is a relationship between the two of them. It doesn’t have to be romantic, although why not. But a relationship where the two of them change and become something together.

There is something exciting about watching people without power not only fight the power, but stop fighting each other. I think that sometimes is the most uplifting part of this. So, I think I would probably come at it from there. All that said, probably this is not going to be turned into a movie.

John: I would never say never, because there’s certainly a smart way to do it and the right filmmaker could find a way to do it. There’s also potentially – there’s The Wire. There’s the series version of this which could be really fascinating, too. Where you basically are examining this community from different sides. And you’re sort of looking at it from different perspectives. But going back to what is that fundamental relationship is you’re hitting on a key thing, because whether there’s romantic conflict or just straight on conflict, you don’t just want your protagonist going up against this sort of faceless entity or Jared Kushner, who is not going to be a person you’re going to be able to see directly.

You need to have somebody who is right there in his or her life who most of the conversations are going to be going with. So, think of Taraji P. Henson in Hidden Figures. And so she’s clearly your central protagonist character, but she’s surrounded by people who are interesting who are challenging her in interesting ways. So they’re her friends, but there’s also Kevin Costner’s character. There’s the Sheldon character. There’s other people around her who can be foils for her for her next step. And that may be the kind of thing you need to be trying to build out early on in the story figuring out who is it that she’s not going to just talk to, but who is going to challenge her to make it to that next step.

Because it can’t just be like the next judge, the next thing. That’s not going to be interesting.

Craig: Right.

John: Erin Brockovich, you have her boss. And even though they’re on the same side, they have to be able to butt heads.

Craig: They have to be. And I think that this is a mistake that I encounter constantly in screenplays from new writers. They miss this big part where we really do experience narrative through the lens of relationships. It’s how we’re programmed as humans and it’s certainly how we’re programmed as movie goers and television watchers. We need it.

We don’t really feel – this is something that Lindsay Doran has talked about a number of times, including at Ted. The ends of movies are – what we feel at the end of a movie is not elation at something having had happened. We feel elation with a relationship experiencing joy in something having happened. And so it’s easy to just forget that part and write about somebody fighting the court. And that’s about justice. And that’s about what’s right and what’s wrong. These are moral things. You’d think they’d be enough. They are not. Even remotely enough.

John: It’s not emotionally satisfying. That’s why Star Wars doesn’t end with blowing up the Death Star. It ends with everyone being together and getting their medals. Which seems like, oh, you could just cut that scene. But, no, you can’t cut that scene because then it’s not Star Wars. You haven’t paid off the emotional arc of what those characters have gone through. And that’s the kind of thing you’d be finding for this movie is like what have the characters been able to achieve together and what does that look between those central characters at the end of this story? And that’s what you’re trying to build to.

Craig: Yeah. You get to this exciting courtroom conclusion and if it’s just legal fireworks, then it’s contextless. It doesn’t matter to us. It’s not within the confines of a relationship. Whereas when Luke blows up the Death Star, he’s doing it because he’s talking to his key relationship and he’s finally getting the lesson. When Tom Cruise lights up Jack Nicholson on the stand in A Few Good Men, we understand that that is the culmination of a character choice to finally stop playing it safe and be more like the man his dad was, which in turn is a response to the challenge he’s received from Demi Moore’s character. It’s all about the relationships. It’s not about the legal stuff. Otherwise, well, okay, yep, you got him there. You know? It’s just not as interesting.

John: That’s why this is a fascinating article because of the things it provokes, but you’re basically adding all new characters and all new character dynamics to tell this story. So someone comes to you with this, you can say like, okay, that’s a fascinating backdrop, but almost everything you’re going to be inventing wholesale to find a way to get at these things.

One of the most fascinating questions that the article asks and never really finds a great answer for is why is this firm so doggedly pursuing things that cannot really be profitable for them to pursue. They’ll go after these $5,000 bills and their legal fees are clearly much higher than that to go after them. And so one of the theories is that they do it just basically to intimidate everybody else who is currently in the building from trying to leave or from trying to raise any kind of a fuss because it will just get around that, no, no, they will sue you and they will never stop suing you.

I just finished rereading 1984 and there’s a long section at the end where Winston, your protagonist, is wondering like why are you doing this to me. You’ve already won. Why is it important to you that I completely surrender, because you could just kill me? And that’s actually the point of the end of 1984 is it has to sort of break you of that. And it seems like such a strange drive from the other side. And a movie could hopefully find a meaningful answer for that in the course of the story.

Craig: And this is where the story boils my blood, because it’s true. And because essentially this corporation is being punitive and bullying and somewhat sadistically so. And Jared Kushner should be held responsible. And I can only imagine, and this is where journalism can really work wonders, that these poor people – not figuratively poor, literally poor people – who cannot afford lawyers are about to get some. I can’t imagine there aren’t at least a few large firms who are looking at this going pro bono, let’s do this class action.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, it’s just outrageous. And maybe then that could – that might give you the ending you want. But we have like kind of an interesting opposite sort of situation with this next story. And I assume that this is the one you were saying is flashy/blingy for studios. I can only imagine – I mean, this is My Family’s Slave, written by the late Alex Tizon, who is writing for The Atlantic. If this hasn’t been optioned already I would be shocked. Shall I give a little summary?

John: Absolutely. And if you’ve listened to any other cultural podcast for the last two weeks, you’ve heard this discussed, because it’s been the focus of a lot of conversation.

Craig: Yeah. This is a fascinating one. So, Alex Tizon was a Filipino-American and when his parents come from the Philippines they brought along a woman names Lola who Alex’s grandfather had essentially given to his mother as a slave. It’s interesting how long it takes him in his life to realize that she’s a slave. She is always with them. She is their domestic. She is their cook and their nanny and their maid. She doesn’t get paid. She has a little space, but sometimes she just falls asleep in the corner with the laundry. Both of Alex’s parents are fairly abusive to her. The mother, in particular, has a very complicated relationship with her, in which she’s not only abusive but seemingly also jealous of the relationship that Lola has with the children, including Alex.

And eventually after Alex’s parents die, he takes Lola to come live with him, but of course not as a slave, just to give her a place to live and give her freedom and take care of her. And even so, she is not really able to do so and keeps sort of working because that’s the life she knows. And yet there’s this profound sadness with her. She never knows love. She never has sex. She never learns to drive. She never really lives independently whatsoever. And is permanently estranged from her family back home. And eventually she passes away and in a quite beautiful moment Alex brings her ashes back to her village where she is from and gives her back to her family.

But this story does not take place in the 1700s or 1800s. Quite obviously, it takes place in the ‘70s, and ‘80s, and ‘90s.

John: Yeah. It’s a fascinating story and unlike the first story which is all abstract, sort of like big picture things, this is nothing but characters. It’s all characters here. And so I think the reason why this is such catnip is because it’s a way of exploring our relationships with the people who work with us, work for us, and the sense of what is slavery. What does it mean to have somebody be working for you but not being paid? It’s all so relevant and the characters are so interesting and compelling.

The most fundamental question though is when do you start. When do you start telling this story? Because do you start telling the story when Lola is essentially given to the mother, so she’s 12 years old. Do you start the story then, back in the Philippines, and you sort of meet the crazy grandfather who is abusive, who beats Lola for something that the mother does? Or do you start it later on? Do you start it in the US with this kid who has this nanny he loves and eventually starts to realize, oh wait, she actually is not getting paid – this is sort of the family secret.

It’s a fundamentally different movie based on when you start it. Do you start it with Alex being in the story, or do you start it back in the Philippines and come to the US?

Craig: It’s a real challenge. This is the perfect example of a very shiny property that will pose an enormous amount of problems as you try and turn it into a movie. And, again, my question – it’s always my first question – what’s the relationship that we care about?

It seems here that the greatest potential of a lasting relationship that we can care about and find joy in is the relationship between Lola and Alex. She is his slave, too, even though he’s a child. And then later an adult. But she loves him clearly. And he loves her, clearly. And, in fact, a lot of the dissatisfaction and conflict he has with his own mother is because she mistreats Lola and because frankly he loves Lola more than he loves his own mother. There’s stuff there.

Now, this is a minefield because we have seen this movie before. We have seen the kind of movie where someone finally realizes that they have been taking advantage of and oppressing another person whom they love. And so they set them free, thus becoming the hero of the story when really they’re not. They’re just kind of correcting something that’s horribly wrong. And we’re meant to experience their kind of enlightenment as a positive, but ultimately for the slave there is really no happy ending.

So we’ve seen that. It’s a challenge to avoid that narrative here because there is no great change for Lola. There is really only the sadness of an unfulfilled broken life.

John: Yeah. One of the real challenges here, in the bad version of the story Lola is nothing but an object. She’s just something who is looked at but never sort of explored internally. And I think that is the real danger here is that you’re not getting inside what her drives are. Because they’re actually complicated. And Tizon does single out some moments where she kind of can’t leave, she doesn’t want to leave. She loves the kids. But she also wants to go back. She realizes that she has not ability to sort of function here and she’s scared what’s going to happen if she rocks the boat at all.

I wonder if the fundamental relationship is essentially a love triangle. It’s a love triangle between Alex, his mom, and Lola. And the very complicated thing between the three of them, because Alex loves his mom and he loves Lola, but it’s very hard to fit all that together. Like the mother is horrible to Lola and yet also needs Lola. And Lola needs to be needed. It’s messed up in really fascinating ways. To me, that feels like the crux of all this is the pull between these three people.

I mean, usually as an audience, we would probably sit with Alex because it’s the most comfortable place to come into the story. But I wouldn’t want to limit the POV to only Alex’s point of view because then I think we’re not going to really understand what the mother is going through and what Lola is going through.

Because if you look at the story from the mother’s point of view, she’s like look how hard I had it here. I came to the US. We had nothing. I worked three jobs. If I didn’t have this nanny, how would I do this? How would I provide for my family? She’s panicked at every moment. She wants the best for her kids. And Lola’s health and happiness can’t be anywhere on her priorities. I think it’s a fascinating story to look at where you have some sympathy for where the mother is.

Craig: Yeah. And then you don’t, because–

John: Then you don’t, yeah.

Craig: I mean, ultimately she didn’t have to be cruel. And the problem with the relationships there is that ultimately the stakes of those relationships which come down to “am I loved, who do I love, is it wrong to love you, is it wrong to not love you” all pare in comparison to the stakes of “I’m a slave.” It’s hard for me to–

John: Okay, and here’s the thing. You don’t want to slide into moral relativism or to – we could also post links to some good threads on people’s criticisms of the piece and support of the piece talking about sort of you don’t want to justify it based on like, oh, this is actually common in Filipino culture or like you’re misunderstanding what some of these things are. But I think there’s a universal aspect to this which I definitely felt where a person in Los Angeles who has a Latina nanny, like that is a complicated relationship. That person is being paid. But is that person living their best life? Are they living the dream that they had hoped to live? Well, they’re certainly in a better position than Lola, but it’s still complicated.

Craig: It is. Yes.

John: Here’s another complication. Imagine Lola was a relative. Imagine Lola was a niece or a spinster aunt who was basically in the same situation. Well, is that slavery? Well, technically I guess it sort of is. But that’s actually much more commonly accepted. Like a relative you are not paying. That’s sort of natural. It’s almost in a weird way that she was shanghaied into being part of this family with no choice of escaping.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, there is a genre where people explore the nanny relationship. It goes way back. Mary Poppins was a nanny. And then in The Help you had a nanny. And in the modern phenomenon of the Latina nanny in Los Angeles and the Jamaican nanny in New York. But they’re paid. That is a job. And you can talk about the nuances of class and love and race, but at the very least there is a basic dignity that they are paid and they are free to leave.

This girl is not even sold. She’s just given. She’s just taken and given and separated from her family. Not allowed to go back. She’s never taught to read. They deprive her of an education. It is hard to look past the fact that she is essentially imprisoned and indentured and is owned. And has no free will. And that, to me, trumps all of the other possible concerns. And it’s very heartbreaking. The saddest thing in the world is an animal that is so used to being in a cage that when you open the cage door it doesn’t even understand that it can walk out.

And when you see that in a human being, and you see that, people have spent a long time in prison. Notoriously have really hard times when they leave because the freedom is overwhelming to them. Well, she’s never even – she can’t even have the freedom when she gets the freedom, because she has been essentially – she’s been broken. And it’s hard for me to look past any of that. It overwhelms everything.

This will require a very, very deft touch. And, I do think whoever writes this should be familiar with this culture, because I think nuance is going to be really important here. And this is a very interesting take on slavery. We have a lot of experience with culture investigating slavery in the United States. But we had a very specific slavery of African people. This is a different kind of slavery. And it’s a different kind of culture. It would take a deft hand and a very knowledgeable hand.

John: Agreed. I think one of the crucial choices to make sort of going back to, you know, when do you start the story. If you came into the story not knowing that she was essentially indentured at 12 years old things change a lot. If you believe that she actually came into this at 18 or at 20, that it was a choice, and like that things didn’t go well, it definitely shifts how you perceive this story. So, if you start the story when she’s 12, I’m going to have a very hard time ever becoming sympathetic to the mother.

Unless, and this is again very tricky, but the mother is a child as well. And if the mother as a child just cannot fundamentally understand that this girl is being forced here against her will, then maybe you’ve got something. But it’s really tough.

Craig: I mean, there is a version of this with a slightly amended ending where you don’t talk about the fact that this woman is a slave at the front. She is the beloved nanny. The son is older now. The mother dies. And the nanny doesn’t know what to do. And the son realizes that she’s not really leaving him. And he’s not sure what the deal is there. And he starts to try and give her some life that she didn’t have before because of the mother. And he decides, you know what, you’re pretty old. Let’s take you back to the Philippines. Why didn’t you ever go back?

And she makes excuses. They go back. And they have a journey to this very remote village where she’s from. And along the way the ultimate discovery is you weren’t my nanny. You were a slave. The truth emerges. And then in the end she does die.

There is a version there which is a version of discovery.

John: Honestly, from the article’s point of view, I found the trip back to the Philippines to be the least interesting part. When I reread it, I ended up just skimming them because that wasn’t–

Craig: She wasn’t there. That’s what I’m saying. If she were with him.

John: She was just a box of ashes.

Craig: Yeah. If she were with him, I think that could actually be sort of interesting because here’s somebody who is uncovering what he thinks is a trip where he’s going to uncover his “past” because he’s going back to the place where his people are from. But really the past he’s uncovering is his recent past. That’s interesting.

John: To me, the most fascinating and sort of cinematic moments for me though are when Alex is I think 12 or 14 and a friend is coming over. And the friend starts asking questions about who is this woman. And he gets caught in the lie where like, oh, she’s a relative. No, you said she was your grandmother. And basically like it’s almost like The Americans where you’re caught up in these lies and you can’t risk it being exposed because if it did get exposed, because Lola doesn’t have documentation, like the whole family could get shipped back to the Philippines. So that pressure on a 14-year-old kid who both loves his mother and loves Lola, that’s a really fascinating moment.

And in a certain way if you didn’t move forward in time but just let it be about that, that’s a really fascinating meaty bit of drama right there.

Craig: Yeah. It is. I don’t know. It’s a tough one because we know. So we’re watching this and we feel bad. And then those people leave and we still feel bad. I’m looking for that engine to figure out how to make this story work. I mean, that’s why I’m going, “Is it a road trip?” I’m looking for something that is an engine here, because the other way to go is to go completely unconventional and do a magical realism take on this where we’re with Lola and she’s a slave and this is her life. But then she has this other life she leads in her head, which is the what-if. It’s really about what is the point you’re trying to make here and what is the thing you want to unlock for people. And the feeling you want to leave them with.

And you sort of make your decision there and work backwards, I guess.

John: Another choice you’re going to have to make early on is at what point are people going to start speaking English, because you feel like they’re not speaking English inside the house, but then that’s a lot of subtitles to read. So, figuring out how you’re going to make that split is really fascinating, too.

Craig: Yeah. I would think that you would stay pretty much in English. It’s accented English. I mean, you have a little help there in that the kids are American. So, even though they probably speak Tagalog, the parents and Lola will speak them in English, but then you can certainly hear – it would be interesting to hear the two of them fighting in Tagalog and not have subtitles and you just know it’s not good.

John: Yeah. All right, our last story is nothing like the other stuff, so it’s a completely different kind of story. This is The Mystery of the Wasting House-Cats. So this is a story in the New York Times by Emily Anthes and it tracks the outbreak of a really rare feline condition that they started noticing in the ‘70s which is hyperthyroidism. And basically cats don’t get hyperthyroidism where your – well, you should explain what it is because you’re the medical person. But essentially a gland in your brain pumps out way too much, is it insulin? What does it do?

Craig: Well, the thyroid pumps out growth hormone in part.

John: And so in humans when humans have hyperthyroidism they lose weight, they become incredibly hungry. It’s a thing you don’t see in cats. But then they started seeing it in the 1970s in cats. And so it starts to look at like, well, why would that happen. And scientists looked back at the previous autopsies of cats. It didn’t happen before then. So something new is happening, so they need to investigate why. And so it becomes a medical investigation story of like why are these cats getting it. What has changed? And the leading culprit is a flame-retardant which has been put into cushions for upholstery and other things. It’s meant to be there to protect us, but it’s getting into the cats and the cats are doing poorly for it.

And the real question is at what point does this become a human problem as well? Are these things we’re putting out there going to hurt us as well. So, it’s a detective story. It’s a little bit of an investigation. There’s a lot of cats, so you got to kind of like cats to like this movie.

Craig: [laughs]

John: But to me this struck me as it could be Erin Brockovich again where you’re going after the bad chemical makers. There’s something really interesting about this. It’s not Outbreak. It’s not one of those sort of disease movies. But there’s something fascinating about this. Craig, did you like anything of this?

Craig: No. By the way, I want to clarify it’s not really growth hormone. The answer is thyroids put out thyroid hormone, but I was like that’s not a really good answer. They’re mostly about controlling the metabolic rate. Which is why people who are hyperthyroidic, you know, get skinny and sometimes their eyes get a little buggy.

Yeah, the problem here is that the cats aren’t dying. So, when we see an epidemic where a lot of animals are suddenly dying like the collapse of the bee colonies, we’re like, “Oh no.” They’re not dying. There’s actually a pretty reasonable way to treat this. And it does seem like the cause here, the environmental cause, has been determined – PBDEs. And it’s not like the movie can really come up with a better solution than what we’ve already come up with which is to stop using those, because we have. So, those – I mean, they’re out there still because they’re sort of grandfathered into a lot of materials, but we don’t make them anymore.

And, first of all, cats will chew on things that humans don’t. So, we’re not necessarily chewing on our sofa cushions. It does not appear that there is a spike in hyperthyroidism among adults, or hypothyroidism for that matter among adults. So, it doesn’t really seem like there’s a problem for us, so mostly just seems like if you’re a super cat person, but no one is going to go to a theater and watch this. I can’t imagine.

John: There’s anecdotes in here that I really liked. In the 1950s in Minamata, Japan, all the cats seemed to go mad at once. And this seems kind of amazing. So they began to stagger, stumble, and convulse, limbs flailing in every direction. They hurled themselves at stone walls and drowned themselves in the sea. That’s cinematic. That’s crazy.

Craig: Yeah. Cool.

John: And so that’s terrifying. And then it started happening to the children. And, oh, that’s horrible. Now you’ve got a movie. At first you’ve got sort of like an “oh, that’s curious,” and once the kids start dying then you’ve got a real problem.

So it turned out to be that one of the local chemical plants was dumping stuff into the sea. The fish were eating the chemicals. The people were eating the fish. The cats were eating the fish. And that’s what happened. So, classically that’s a canary in the coal mine. That’s why often environmental impacts will be seen first in animals, and therefore you’re watching those to extrapolate out from there to other places.

And so in a movie where you saw cats or some other animals like suddenly perish, there will be that instinct of like, oh, isn’t that so interesting that that’s happening. But as an omen for things that are going to happen next, that can be a great way into the bigger problem that’s about to happen.

So, again, I’d love to pitch what the Oscar version of this is. And I’m now sort of regretting putting it on the outline, because I can’t see what that Oscar version is.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But in terms of the horror movie start, that’s the great horror movie start. The cats acting insane is a great horror movie start because then the people start acting insane and you get a good foreshadowing of what’s to come. That’s always delightful.

Craig: Always delightful. Yeah. And we do see in movies like Contagion and the Hot Zone, and what was it, not Contact, but–

John: Outbreak.

Craig: Outbreak. There is almost always a scene where an animal goes bananas. And in the case of the one cited in this article is methyl, not ethyl, methyl mercury into the bay. Because the anti-vaccine people love to think that methyl mercury and ethyl mercury are the same thing. They’re not, dopes.

So, yeah, that’s super bad. And there are definitely things, I mean, we have at times realized that we are in trouble because of the way animals were acting. But, of course, animals aren’t people and they will do things that people don’t do, like eat feces. That’s one of the big ones. We generally don’t. [laughs]

John: But if you saw people doing that in a movie, you would know something is wrong.

Craig: Or something was right, like in Pink Flamingos, the great Divine rest in peace. So, yeah, I mean, maybe there’s a crazy black comedy to be done like this.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: There was a movie out of New Zealand I think where the sheep went nuts.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Like a horror movie. Which is kind of fun. You know. And so the idea of cats going crazy is kind of fun. So it’s a black comedy or sort of like a horror-comedy. But there’s no Oscar potential here for the cats. They’re just going to get better after some mild treatment. [laughs]

John: There will be a Pixar version of it where the cats notice the humans are going crazy, and the cats have to band together to save the humans. The humans are the canaries in the coal mine and the cats realize there’s a problem coming.

Craig: Right. Like the cats suddenly realize that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.

John: No, no, we’ve got to stop him.

Craig: Yeah, that’s not good. Something has gone terribly wrong here.

John: The new Cat Constitution. We could stop trying to save it. I regret putting it in here.

Craig: No, you should never regret. Never regret. Ever.

John: No regrets. That’s the thing I’ve learned about 2017 is no regrets ever.

Craig: No regrets.

John: Predictions. Will any of these things become movies?

Craig: Yes. I think My Family’s Slave is going to become something. It may be a Netflix kind of television-only piece. But if you attract the right filmmaker, the right actor, and you really kind of nail a specific and enlightening angle on a story to kind of honor what’s unique about it and not jam it into the same old story that we’ve seen where the slave owner is finally enlightened by the slave, then yeah, I think that one. Certainly someone is going to buy it, if they haven’t already. That’s unquestionable.

John: Yeah. I think that’s a slam dunk. And I think Kushnerville, something like that could happen. I don’t know if it’s necessarily based around this article, but I think the idea of doing something about those housing projects is fascinating, but the hook of having Kushner be the guy behind it is also just great. So, I don’t know that it’s a big screen feature thing, but I could see a premium cable movie coming out of this. There’s something that it’s political, and targeted, and smart.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I could see something happening with that, but I don’t think there’s going to be a cat movie. At least not a cat movie based on this article.

Craig: [laughs] No, there is not going to be a cat movie. I think that there is a good story to be told. Someone should start working on this. Or, hey, just hire me. There’s a good story to be told about two people falling in love and one of them is – and it doesn’t matter which gender is which. It doesn’t even matter if they’re homosexual or heterosexual. All that matters is that one party is lower class and black, and one party is lower class and white. And you’re watching the two sides of that coin and the interesting thing that has happened in this country where they have been seemingly pitted against each other, coming together and actually falling in love I think would be spectacular. Because that’s the crazy thing.

I mean, I think we discussed that sketch on Saturday Night Live this year where Tom Hanks was on Black Jeopardy.

John: Oh yeah. Absolutely. That’s a great sketch.

Craig: And it kind of cuts right to it. Which is the experiences of our life are actually so much closer together than the experiences of say people like Jared Kushner, who don’t want to talk to either one of us, and don’t live like either one of us, and don’t respect either one of us. There’s something there. There’s a really good story to be told there. And this is an interesting – it’s certainly a way in. I don’t know if it’s the way in.

John: I agree.

All right, let’s get to our big feature question of the episode. This is from Nick in Los Angeles. And we have audio. So let’s take a listen.

Nick: This is a question that occurred to me during the last round of WGA negotiations with the AMPTP. And that is basically why is the AMPTP allowed to exist? Why are all the studios and networks allowed to get together and decide collectively what they’re willing to pay writers and directors and actors, even though they’re all separately owned companies, when that is not allowed to happen in other industries? Like, for example, Ford and GM and Chrysler can’t put all their CEOs in a room and say, “Okay, this is what we’re going to pay United Auto Workers Union next time there’s a negotiation. And if they want more than that, too bad. We’re all united on this.”

That’s an illegal trust and it can’t happen. So, I wonder why it’s allowed to happen in the case of the studios, even though it seems like it’s the same situation. They’re separately owned companies in the same industry that are basically colluding on what they’re going to offer their employees. So there must be a legal distinction there, but I don’t know what it is and I would like to understand. Thanks.

Craig: Well the AMPTP is considered a trade organization. And so this is a – it’s not just a phrase. It’s a term of law when it comes to collective bargaining. Specifically they are a multi-employer bargaining unit. And federal labor law, as has been interpreted by case law over time, because every part of the national labor relations act has been litigated up and down the line. The companies are allowed to form a multi-employer bargaining unit to negotiate with a common pool of employees. And it doesn’t always make sense, but a lot of times it does. For instance, in sports it makes complete sense.

So, if you’re Aaron Judge, you play for the Yankees. You are an employee of the Yankees. You’re not an employee of Major League Baseball. You’re an employee of the Yankees. But you are part of a bargaining unit, the Major League Baseball Player Association, that does not bargain with the Yankees. It bargains with the Major League baseball team’ multi-employer bargaining unit.

Similarly in Hollywood, we do the same thing. Nick says the CEOs of Ford, GM, and Chrysler can’t negotiate with the UAW as a group. I think they could, actually. They choose not to, and it makes sense in part because while the auto industry was once very, very centralized, it is no longer so. Hollywood is unique in this sense. It’s pretty centralized. There is this very specific walled-off pool of talent, just as there is in professional sports, which is the only real analogy I think to – or cognate to what we have.

Frankly, it probably wasn’t smart for the auto companies to not form a multi-employer bargaining unit way back at the height of the UAW’s power. But, yeah, long story short, they’re allowed to do it and they can do it. And for our situation here, it is not going to change any time soon.

John: It’s worth noting that I think nothing precludes – this is doing the 2007/2008 strike, there were discussion where the WGA was going to start negotiating with some of the members separately to do deals. And that’s a thing that could still happen. But I would like to remind Nick and other writers that it’s actually useful for the WGA to negotiate with all of the people at once, because if we had to make a separate deal with Paramount and a separate deal with Disney and a separate deal with Fox, it would be a mess. Because your terms would change based on who was employing you and that would be really bad really quickly.

Unlike the auto worker who is working for Ford and is working for Ford for 30 years, we are working for different people all the time. And it’s very useful to have common terms across all these different things. And so this is the fantasy of like, oh, we could pit them against each other. In real life, it would probably not work out very well for us.

Craig: Yeah. They don’t seem interested in being pitted against each other. They have chosen to band together in this multi-employer bargaining unit. And, look, it’s not just the big companies. The big companies are the ones that run the negotiations on behalf of the AMPTP. Well, I mean, the staff of the AMPTP runs the negotiations, but the big companies are the ones in the room with Carol Lombardini who is their chief negotiator.

But, the AMPTP is negotiating that deal on behalf of hundreds of companies. Every small company that wants to hire WGA writers has to become signatory to the contract. They essentially become members of the AMPTP. And it makes complete sense because why wouldn’t they? If they just agree to sign on board with the AMPTP, they get to have that contract. People who say, well why don’t we negotiate those people separately and get a better contract, the answer is because they don’t have to. Because they’ll just take that one. They can with the stroke of a pen. And so it goes.

John: There’s always going to be a discussion of like, oh, should we make a separate deal with Amazon or Netflix or some other brand new player who actually has a lot of money and is doing something different. That will always come up. I don’t know that it’s ever going to happen. But that does come up.

And the WGA does have different deals in certain cases because it’s a very different kind of company. So the WGA also negotiates on behalf of some TV news writers. It’s a completely different kind of thing. And those are done in a different way.

Craig: Yeah. And really specific, because for instance the WGA West represents news writers employed by KCBS. That’s it, as far as I know. Oh, and also 1010 WINS News Radio, I believe. So, they don’t even represent the whole business there, so that is an employer-specific negotiation.

Netflix and Amazon have agreed to just basically tack themselves onto the AMPTP. Smart business. I think they’re well aware that the only possible thing that could end up happening if they negotiate with us separately is them having to pay us more. Because we’re never going to take less than what the AMPTP gives us, so what’s the point? It just sort of resolves itself. That is kind of the deal and, yeah, it’s going to stay the deal.

John: It will stay the deal. It’s time for One Cool Things. Craig, what do you got?

Craig: My One Cool Thing is a bit of a sad thing, but also a very lovely thing. My grandmother-in-law, my children’s great grandmother-in-law, my wife’s grandmother, Millie Hendrick, passed away this past weekend. She was 98 years old. She was a spectacular lady. It was fun to know her for as long as I did. She was born in 1918.

John: That’s great.

Craig: You know, just imagine all the things you saw. Yeah, first six years, you don’t remember any of that. So let’s spot her at 1925 to make it a nice even number of when she starts realizing what’s going on. She’s there when the stock market crashes. She’s there during the depression. She’s there during WWII. She’s there during the Eisenhower era. She’s there during Korea. She’s there during Vietnam. She sees all of it. And then the computer comes.

Just think of the way the telephones changed. She was there when TV showed up. And there she was at the end just being her cool self. Fantastic lady. Lived a great life. Really active in the Peace Corps. And she loved bird-watching. My wife loves bird-watching. Bird-watching is one of those things where it’s like–

John: I just can’t.

Craig: What is that? [laughs] What possible joy are people – and yet they, oh my god, do bird watchers love bird watching.

John: I have to say, Craig, the way you feel about bird-watching is how I feel about most sports. I could totally understand some people find joy in this, but I just can’t find joy in this.

Craig: I mean, you can at least acknowledge that in sports there is an outcome. Right?

John: That’s true. There’s a mystery. Yes.

Craig: In bird-watching, they’re just watching birds. Anyway, she loved bird-watching. She was a terrific person and it was an honor to know her. And, you know, when someone dies at the age of 98, you can’t really be sad. I mean, you can be mournful.

John: Celebrate that they lived 98 years. That’s great.

Craig: What a run. What a run. So my One Cool Thing this week, Millie Hendrick.

John: Very nice. My One Cool Thing is a song and video called Dear Mr. Darcy. It is done Esther Longhurst and Jessica Messenger. It’s an open letter addressed to Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. It is just terrific. I just loved it. It reminded me of my favorite things about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Another Period, Hamilton. It was sort of like Empire with empire waist lines. It was delightfully perfectly done little short thing. So it’s just a little delicious treat to enjoy if you like Jane Austen things, which I suspect many people on this podcast do like.

So, I will use this as the outro for tonight’s episode so that people can enjoy a little bit of this song. And that’s our show for this week. So our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also a place where you can send questions like Nick’s today.

People ask us do you have a voicemail line for when people leave those messages like Nick’s. No, just attach you asking your question to the email and then we might use it. So, that’s a way to do it. You can just record it on your phone or however you want to do it.

On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We’re on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts as Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review, because that helps people find the show.

You can find the show notes for this episode, including links to all these articles we talked about, including additional things about My Family’s Slave, at That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts in about four days.

And all the back episodes of the show are found at We have 300 episodes back there, plus bonus episodes with cool other people. So thanks.

Craig: Thanks John. See you next time.

John: Craig, have a great week.

Craig: Bye.

John: Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 301: The Addams Family — Transcript

Sun, 06/25/2017 - 10:05

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 301 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the show, we’re looking at The Addams Family, not just the 1991 film and its sequel, but the property itself, to see what lessons we can learn when adapting for the big screen. I think this is the first episode that’s based on a previous One Cool Thing. Because your One Cool Thing a couple weeks ago was The Addams Family pinball game. And look at us now. We’re talking about the entire franchise.

Craig: Yeah. So, you know, here I am, I’m playing the Addams Family pinball game, and it has all these wonderful recorded lines from the movie and then some new ones that they recorded for the game. And it just made me, well, nostalgic for The Addams Family. You know, sometimes you go back and you watch these movies that you loved and you’re a different person now and you just don’t love them anymore. Well, I am a different person than I was when the Addams Family movie, the first one came out, in 1991. I mean, that’s, my god, 26 years ago.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But I love it even more now. I think as a screenwriter I have so much more appreciation for how good of a job they did at a task that has ruined many, many a filmmaker, namely adapting a television show that a studio is probably saying do because people know the title. And turning it into something of quality. And that’s what happened there. It’s just a terrific film. So, it’s going to be fun to talk about that and the sequel as well today.

John: Absolutely. So, a bit of follow up before we get into that. A couple episodes ago, god, maybe 10 episodes ago we talked about the Scriptnotes Listener’s Guide, or as Craig wanted to call it the ScriptDecks.

Craig: ScriptDecks.

John: Which was a catalog of all the back episodes where we asked our listeners to go through and single out the episodes that they thought people should definitely catch. Because we get new listeners every week and they are joining us at episode 301. And they’re like, well, which of the 300 previous episodes should I actually listen to, because it would be an entire life if you wanted to dedicate yourself to all the previous episodes, which some people have done.

So, people have been filing in these reviews of previous episodes and talking about why they were so important to them. And so that is now ready almost for consumption. So, Dustin Box has done a heroic job in putting it together. It’s about a 100-page booklet.

Craig: Wow.

John: Of the episodes that people singled out with their reviews and what’s in there and the summaries. So, we talked about printing it. It’s not going to make sense to print it. But we’re going to release it as a PDF for folks. And so it’s in pretty good shape. The thing is the most recent episodes have no reviews at all because they’re so new. So if you are a person who has listened to the last 20 or so Scriptnotes and you want to single out any of those, I really need some more reviews of those because it just sort of stops at 280 right now.

So, if you can go to, and if there’s any episodes in that last batch that you want to single out for why people should listen to them, please do. And I think we’re only a couple weeks away from being able to share it with the world.

Craig: And what will it cost, John?

John: The plan is for it to be free.

Craig: Wow.

John: Wow.

Craig: Look at you.

John: So the theory is like it’s free, but if you want to listen to all those back episodes they’re of course available at, which is $2 a month, and so you can go through and listen to all those back episodes. And we will be making more of the USB drives. They are actually extra cool USB drives. We think we’re going to be able to make the ones that I want. They will survive any catastrophe that happens in the world, I think. So, they are definitely a time capsule of the first 300 episodes.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, we want to make sure that after the apocalypse those episodes are still available. It’s a bit like the seed bank. Do you know about the seed bank?

John: I know about the seed bank. But you also know that the seed bank flooded because of the permafrost melting?

Craig: Oh.

John: That happened like just today.

Craig: It happened today? We lost our seed bank?

John: We haven’t lost it, but it has been damaged by the flooding permafrost, because they deliberately built it in an arctic location that was safe and cold. It is no longer safe and cold.

Craig: I like that the thing that we were using to hedge against the apocalypse was damaged by the encroaching apocalypse.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We could do better. I mean, the seed bank should be a little more protected than that.

John: So, I mean, I don’t want to go too deep into the Alanis Morissette discussion, but is that ironic? Is it ironic that–?

Craig: No.

John: No, so it’s tragic. But how could that seed bank thing be ironic in the classic definition of irony?

Craig: Um, it would be ironic if – here’s how. The world ends because seeds become incredibly aggressive and literally tear apart buildings and everything. So, the end of the world that the seed bank was preparing for was brought about by an overabundance of seeds.

John: OK. But couldn’t you say that deliberately placing it in – picking the location that was safe and arctic ended up becoming its undoing, that’s ironic. Is it not?

Craig: Just feels like bad planning.

John: Yeah, perhaps.

Craig: Yeah. Like it’s not ironic to say that I put my – you know what happened, I put my documents for my fire insurance in the fireplace. That’s not ironic. That’s just dumb. And then the fire destroyed them. You know, that’s just dumb.

John: I was listening to a podcast today. I was listening to Trumpcast. And the interviewer used Begs the Question completely appropriately.

Craig: Oh yay.

John: It was just such a delight. I got this little tingle of joy.

Craig: It’s like when Haley’s Comet swings around every seven or eight decades. It’s nice to hear it when it happens. You sit up. You applaud. There’s still hope, John. There’s still hope.

John: There is still hope.

Let’s get to some questions. So Doug in LA wrote in with a question. “What does it mean when you say a scene is working? Is a ‘working’ scene the minimum viable shootable version of a scene? Is a script full of ‘working’ scenes in a great script? Or is the working scene like pornography – difficult to define, but easy to identify?”

Craig: Oh, well that’s an interesting question. I mean, the truth of the matter is when we talk about these terms of art, it probably means different things to different people. For me, it’s definitely not – I can at least rule out one of these. It is not the minimum viable shootable version of a scene.

When I say a scene is working, what I mean to say is that whatever the intention of that scene was, it is coming across clearly. It is interesting to me. And the craft of the scene unfolds in such a way that everything feels harmonious and dramatic and interesting or funny. Whatever the ultimate entertainment intent of that scene was, it is happening in a very satisfying way.

John: I completely agree. I would also add to it that there’s a time-based element to this. So, you could say a scene is working when it’s on the page. You could say a scene is working or not working when it is in front of the camera and the actors are trying to do it. You see that it’s just not working. And you have to figure out what’s happening there or not happening there properly.

You also ask is this scene working when you’re in the edit room. And you’re looking at there like this scene is not working. And so sometimes the writing really was the issue. But sometimes something else is the issue. And so you’re going through and trying to figure out how do we get this scene to work because it is simply not doing the job it is supposed to be doing in this moment. It is not living up to the narrative potential or to the tone potential of what that scene is supposed to be doing.

Craig: Absolutely. And it is probably the case that we use this term most frequently when we are in the editing room, because that is the ultimate test of the scene. There is a scene on paper that ideally when you arrive you feel like this is a good basis of a working scene. Now let us go make a scene. But when you are in the editing room, it is very common to look at something and go, “It’s just not working. I’m feeling a little bored. I’m feeling a little confused. Maybe it’s too long. Maybe it’s too short. Maybe there’s one of those intangible things. I know I’m supposed to feel something at this moment, but I don’t.”

So, it’s not working.

John: The moment of panic is when a scene is not working and you’re on the set. So, you may have gone through blocking with the actors and they’re trying to do it and they’re like, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. This isn’t working for me. I don’t understand what’s going on.” And that can be a moment where as a writer you’re like the scene works, I know it fundamentally works, and yet you’re not able to make the scene work. And so therefore I’m going to have to have this conversation to try to figure out what it is that is not working for you and the director, of course, and try to find a way to make sure it works for everybody. Because if an actor has no idea what the scene is supposed to be doing, or cannot find his or her way into the scene, it’s unlikely – not impossible – that you’re going to be able to find that later on.

So, those are the moments I dread is when you maybe shot one, or you’re about to start shooting, and like they just don’t know what they’re supposed to be doing. And those are the moments where the floor just falls out of your heart.

Craig: Yeah. That happens. Similarly, you will find yourself in situations where everybody seems to understand what they’re doing. And it’s all going according to plan. And you’re watching it and thinking, “It’s not working. There’s just something amiss here.”

And in those moments, I think this is where experience really comes into play. They talk about this in sports all the time. I mean, you have two teams that make it to a championship game. A Super Bowl. The World Series. And so therefore they’re all not only professional athletes, but they’re at the top of their game. They are the best of the athletes in that league. But one team has been to the big show before. They’ve played in the World Series before. They’ve played in a Super Bowl before. And very typically people will say they have an edge because they have a certain experience.

And you think, well, it’s a game. The rules aren’t any different. There is this comfort that you get from having been there before. The longer you do this job, and the more times you arrive at a place where something isn’t working, first of all the impulse to deny that it’s not working, it’s not there. Because you’ve already felt the sting and the consequence of that denial in the past. So, there’s no struggle against that. You immediately accept that it is true. But you also remember that you were able to fix things. And if you take a breath, take a moment, think about what it was that this scene was supposed to do, and look with dispassionate scrutiny upon what the scene is currently doing, a lot of times with just 30 minutes or 40 minutes you can cook up something new.

And production is used to this. You will get to a place where you’re not quite sure – it’s clearly not right. I remember Todd Phillips and I, we were – it was I think the third Hangover movie. There was a scene where the guys were in a car. And Todd was really adamant about not shooting car scenes the way most car scenes are shot today, which is on a soundstage against green screen. He really liked the old school style of processed cars where you’re towing a car and shooting it for real.

And so it’s a very involved bit of production work, because you can only go so far in that car. You have to turn around, go back. So, takes take a long time. And the scene just wasn’t working. So, we sort of hit the red button, stopped. Said, “Let’s just shoot something else today.” And then we took a day to figure out what it was and come up with something else. And we did. And then we did that and it worked great.

That is something that I think experience teaches you about non-working scenes, because I think a lot of people, particularly early directors, first-time directors, and early screenwriters are hearing people say, “We’re here and we spent all this money. We got to make this work.” And so you just go, OK, I’ll do my best. It’s not working though.

John: You and I don’t have experience working on traditional sitcoms where they have a process where over the course of the week they’re writing and then they have a table read and they have blocking. And so they’re working on the script as they go through it. And in that process, at the table read, or while they’re first trying to stage things, they could say like, OK, that’s not working. They can see it in front of their eyes. Like, OK, that’s not working. And it’s built into their process. Like, the things that aren’t working, we’re going to fix them. And by the time we’re doing the real taping, we will get it worked out.

And so it’s a luxury we don’t often have in features, because generally a scene is in front of the cameras, that’s the only time you’re going to shoot that scene unless something crazy happens or unless you are in a movie where you have the luxury of being able to shoot things multiple times. I would just say like if something is not working it’s not a sign that everything is doom and gloom. It may just be part of the process. And it can be a really terrifying part of the process in a feature. And it’s probably less terrifying in the television medium where it’s expected that you’re going to keep working on things.

Craig: There’s no question. This is why movies, to me, are the tight rope act of our business, because you’re asking people to sit in a theater and experience this one time. That’s it. There are no commercial breaks, nor can they hit pause. Television always has more leeway because there’s a certain casualness to the manner in which it is consumed. Not so with movies where you’re asking people to go somewhere and park and sit and watch it with total attention, captive audience, and then go home.

And, also of course, in television, even serialized television single-camera dramatic stuff, there are so many locations and sets that are reused over and over and over. Obviously in sitcoms, well, let’s talk about the traditional three-camera sitcom, the sets are the same literally every week. So, the variables are reduced down to almost nothing. The only real variable is what are these people doing and saying and thinking. But you’re not in a new location. You’re not stuck there all day with a scene that doesn’t work. You know what I man?

So, always much more pressure, I think, in movies. Very scary business. But I will say that when Doug asks is a script full of working scenes a great script, I probably would say no because that’s not how we judge a great script. We judge a great script as a whole. So, yes, all the scenes should be working, but also they should be working together. That’s kind of one of the big factors.

John: Absolutely. In the show notes I want to put a link into an episode of this podcast that goes into the backstory of The Americans. So The Americans is a fantastic show and for the last few seasons Slate has done a podcast series where after every episode they do a spoiler special where they talk about the episode, but they also interview the showrunners and somebody else involved with the production.

And this past week, they talked with the producing director whose job it is to direct the first two episodes of the season and the last episode. And to work with the directors who are doing the course of the season. And he was talking about being the guy, in shooting the last episode, he’s also the guy who shoots all the clean up on previous episodes. Because there will always be some things that don’t work or things that they missed because of weather or an actor changes or something. And so he shoots all those cleanup things. And that’s sort of a unique thing as TV shows, at least how we’re doing them right now, they have that opportunity to go back and like fix things in a way which is just amazing.

Craig: Indeed. Indeed.

John: Indeed. Tim in Ohio writes, “Can a writer take a previously produced show, write a few episodes for it, then submit it as a writing sample? My idea is to take the former number one show Dallas and spin it into a sitcom.”

Craig: Oh, yeah. Generally speaking, what used to be common is now looked down upon, which is to advertise yourself as a writer by writing an episode of an existing show. So, when you and I came into the business and if you wanted to get into television, you would write a spec episode of Seinfeld, or a spec episode of Frasier.

People don’t really do that anymore. Now the folks who are hiring writers for television shows are looking for original pilot material to say, OK, how are you as a writer on your own creating characters and situations that are unique to you. But, in a situation like this, of course, you could certainly take a show like Dallas and turn it into a sitcom. That sounds very inventive. It could be really fun and funny to read.

A couple of warnings. One, obviously that’s never going to get made, because you don’t have the rights. So that really is just a calling card kind of piece of work. Two, it requires that the reader be familiar with the substrate. So, if Dallas was on the air when you and I were children, that’s a show from the ‘80s, it may very well be that some people who are reading this material and judging you as a writer are not that familiar with it. So, it might not work for them. It might not be that funny. But those concerns aside, I don’t see any problem with it.

John: No, I think it’s the right kind of idea. So, I don’t know if Dallas as a sitcom is the right idea, but the right kind of idea to sort of take something that people are familiar with and do a very different twist on it. That’s great. And it kind of busts the clutter a little bit, because these people are reading a zillion samples for things, they’ll remember this one if it’s a clever take on something that was familiar to them.

So, yes, I think it’s absolutely fine and fair. Are you violating somebody’s copyright? Well, not in a way that is meaningful, because you’re not trying to sell this. You are not trying to do anything other than prove your writing talent. So, it is a common practice to do spec episodes. This is essentially the same kind of idea.

Craig: Correctamundo.

John: All right. Let’s get to our big feature topic which is The Addams Family. When you and I first talked about this on email, we were going to focus on one movie and sort of do one of those deep dives like we did on Little Mermaid or Indiana Jones. And then as we started sort of talking through it and you were watching one movie and I was watching another movie, we decided let’s just talk about The Addams Family in general. So, you were going to focus on the first movie. I was going to take the second movie. But then I think it’s also interesting just to look at how would you approach The Addams Family overall. Because it’s the kind of property that if we were doing it right now in 2017, you would probably put together a room. You would put together a room of writers and they’d spend four weeks on it and figure out what the movie was going to be and what the spinoff HBO show was going to be.

It’s that kind of big property that you do things with. And it’s so interesting that we have already a TV show and movies to look at. So, The Addams Family.

Craig: Yeah. This could have gone so, so wrong. And it went so, so right. I mean, let’s remember that The Addams Family started as a cartoon in The New Yorker. Charles Addams did these one-panel cartoons. And I see here in the show notes, thank you for supplying this information, John, began in the ‘30s. So this goes way, way back. And it eventually was adapted into a television show in the ‘60s, which you and I, I mean, I certainly was watching that when I was a kid. They were in black and white. Was that one of the shows that then transitioned to color at some point?

John: I honestly don’t remember. And actually my memory of The Addams Family versus The Munsters is kind of blurry. The general, like there was a house, and there was kooky people living in it, but it wasn’t a clear distinct memory for me. Like I can remember, I can keep my Bewitched and my I Dream of Jeannie separate. But these kind of got conflated to me as TV shows.

Craig: There was a time, because there were only three networks, where you could get away with this. You could have a hit show and then another network can go, “Let’s make a that show. Make that exact show, just change a few names. It will basically be the same show.” And that’s what they did when The Addams Family came on. It was a hit. And then The Munsters came along to be the same show. It was kind of remarkable.

The show was very typical for television in the ’60s. It was a sitcom. It had a laugh track. It was pretty cheesy. And most importantly because it was meant for families, it pulled punches. The cartoons that Charles Addams drew were – they were a bit like Gorey’s cartoons. They were dark, macabre. They didn’t pull punches. And then the show sort of did.

And then you come along to 1991 and in a very typical Hollywood move they say, “We can get the rights to this thing. Everybody knows the name The Addams Family. Most people know the big characters. They love that song. So let’s make a movie out of it.” And what’s so amazing about the film is that it didn’t pull punches. And so the opening shot tells you everything about what this movie is going to be and it is essentially a filmed version of one of Charles Addams’ most famous one-panel cartoons, which shows a group of carolers merrily singing outside of a door. And then you go all the way up to the top of this gothic mansion and there’s this ghoulish family with a vat of bubbling oil and they’re going to pour it on these people. And the key, really the key to everything that makes The Addams Family work as a movie and as a cartoon is that they are so gleeful about it.

They are not – they don’t look vicious. They look happy as a family. It’s this wonderful – in fact, this is to them what caroling is to not them. This happy, warm feeling. And that general tone sets the path for the entire film.

John: Agreed. So the first film is 1991. The second film, Addams Family Values, is 1993. On the previous podcast I said, oh yeah, the second film, Addams Family Vacation, which is not really a film.

Craig: No.

John: But totally could be a film.

Craig: It could be.

John: So we’ll get into why that could be film.

Craig: It’s Addams Family Values, right?

John: Values is the second movie. There was a third film written that never shot. Raul Julia, who played Gomez, died. And they never shot the third film. But I think it would be interesting to figure out sort of what that would be.

There have been direct to video sequels since then. In 2010 it was announced that Tim Burton would do a stop motion version for Illumination, but that apparently never happened. But, wow, Tim Burton feels like a perfect match for The Addams Family.

Craig: Yeah.

John: In 2013, it was announced that MGM had hired Pamela Pettler, who did Corpse Bride with me, to do the script for the new animated version. I don’t know any more details about that, but it feels like she should be making something. And finally there’s a Broadway musical that our friend Andrew Lippa wrote, which has obviously played on Broadway but it is now in the UK and traveling around the world. So, we can also get into that for a little bit.

So, we can talk about sort of the common elements of all that, but also what is unique to sort of each version of The Addams Family.

Craig: Right. Well, so the 1991 film is written Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson. I don’t know if Paul Rudnick also worked on it. I can only guess. It seems like maybe he did. He is, I think, the only credited screenwriter on the sequel. And there’s a certain Rudnickian humor.

I mean, it’s funny, you can go through particularly the second film and the comedy is very one-liner based. And you can literally go through and divide the jokes into two categories. Jewish or Gay. It’s incredible. There’s like a whole academic study to be on what gay humor is and what Jewish humor is and how The Addams Family just is the king of both of those schools.

But Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson write the script for Addams Family, the first film. It’s directed by Barry Sonnenfeld who I think at this point – had he already done Men in Black? I don’t know.

John: But watching the film, it was so striking, because I recently watched Men in Black, and like his style is his style. It very much feels like Men in Black in sort of how it’s visually presented on the screen.

Craig: Correct. I mean, Barry Sonnenfeld started as a cinematographer. His style is very – is for the camera to be very present, very bold, big moves. But, here’s what kind of emerges from a screenwriting point of view, why I love The Addams Family. You have this enormous challenge ahead of you, and I always put myself in the shoes of Caroline Thompson and Larry Wilson. What do you do?

And so they make this brilliant choice right off the bat. I’m going to take this cartoon and in it is all the DNA you need for a movie. Specifically, family bonded together by the opposite of what most families are bonded together by. And in there also is this strand of the celebration of non-conformity. We all get a little squeamish by those perfect families. Think of Ned Flanders on The Simpsons, right? They’re perfect, we just then want to hurt them because of it, right?

So The Addams Family celebrates the perfect opposite of that. And in that they love each other. And so what is the movie? From a plot point of view, I think they actually make this brilliant choice by picking the dumbest plot ever. In comedy film, there is no more hoary plot than – HOARY plot – not WHOREY plot – than the grandma is going to lose her house essentially.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So they live in this mansion. They have all this money. And the plot of the movie is that their financial manager is scheming with somebody that he owes money to to take all of it away from them. And they’re going to do that by having this man pose as the long lost Uncle Fester, even though he is not, because Uncle Fester is the rightful owner of all of that. And once that happens, he can take it all, and kick the Addams Family out, and they get all the money for themselves. That is a terrible plot and it’s perfect for this because the joy of The Addams Family is not plot-based at all. It is entirely about how this family loves each other in the strangest way. This incredible romance between the parents, between Morticia and Gomez. And then ultimately what it means to actually be loved by a family in any way, shape or form.

And all of that requires comedy and set pieces to the point where you feel like you’re almost watching a standup show. And the choice of plot here is brilliant because really the movie is at its best when it doesn’t give a damn about any of that.

John: Yeah. Going back to your earlier comment about like it’s the intersection of Jewish comedy and gay comedy, there’s something really fundamentally queer about The Addams Family. And actually I searched “Addams Family Queer” to see who had done their Master’s thesis on it, and there really weren’t a lot of them online. But it is a family that is defined by its otherness to the world around it.

Craig: Right.

John: And in portraying itself as the alternative to everything out there, it is strangely normalizing. It’s all about this family that loves each other so much, even though they’re not like anything else around them. And all their individual, sort of the natural things you see in a family are magnified to these extreme degrees. So, Gomez and Morticia don’t just love each other. They love each other in a passionate way that is really bizarre. Like it’s almost uncomfortable, but also delightful.

Craig: Right. That’s exactly right.

John: And so Gomez is sort of feminine in sort of his fawning over his wife, but that’s kind of great. They seem to have a bondage/S&M kind of relationship. But that’s kind of great, also.

Then you look at the two kids, Wednesday and Pugsley, they have sort of the normal sibling rivalry, but taken to such an extreme degree that she’s always trying to kill him, like literally kill him. And you sense that she never really will because it’s the rules of the movie, yet she’s always trying to kill him.

And then the kooky Uncle Fester. And Grandmama, they are the most extreme versions of the wacky Jewish uncle or the Bubbe.

Craig: The Bubbe.

John: She’s the extreme version of the Bubbe. So, it’s all those things taken to sort of their nth degree, and yet in the nth degree they become very normal. It’s revealing how normal a family they are in relation to all the cold outsiders.

Craig: No question. I think that’s exactly why the movie works. And that is the – the interesting subversion that’s in it, there is something – we’ll talk about, OK, the Jewish side of the humor is this – it’s not a suspicion of the perfect WASPY family. It’s more like, ugh, who wants to be perfect like that? You know, we’re not perfect like that. We’re loud, or we’re weird looking. Those perfect people are kind of boring and stuffy. So this is the sort of Jewish humor that you saw with for instance Harold Ramis when you look at movies like Caddyshack for instance. That’s a very Jewish kind of expression. Rodney Dangerfield’s character in Caddyshack. He could have just as easily been in The Addams Family. You get a sense that if he had walked into the Addams Family mansion, he would have made some comments, but otherwise been perfectly fine.

And definitely when you think about the queerness of it, that there’s this straight world out there that doesn’t understand the true fascination of being yourself completely. Because in the straight world, you’re born straight, and nobody gives you a problem with it, so you’re just yourself. There’s no effort to it. And here they’re making a conscious decision. They do love S&M. They talk about it without ever going too far, but, you know, she says – I mean, Gomez is very upset because he is starting to think that maybe Uncle Fester is an imposter and it’s not really his brother. And she says, “Gomez, why torture yourself? That’s my job.” And it’s all – and when they’re literally torturing her, she loves it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: She says, “You’ve done this before.” So, it’s very much about a total free acceptance of our non-conforming selves. And all of that is necessary. But I will argue that the reason – they lynchpin to this movie is Wednesday Addams and her portrayal by a very young Christina Ricci who did a sort of impossibly brilliant job. It’s one of the best jobs any child has ever done in any part.

John: I completely agree. So, we’ll skip ahead and give a taste of Addams Family Values, because my daughter watched this with me this week. And my daughter is 12 and has not seen any of it. She had no idea what The Addams Family was. And so she hadn’t seen the first movie and we just started watching Addams Family Values. And within the first five minutes she’s in love with Wednesday Addams. Because Wednesday Addams speaks her mind in an adult way but also in a kind of couldn’t care less way. She completely takes agency in every scene in a way that’s just remarkable.

And she says things that like no one should ever say, and yet she’s much freer for that. And so my daughter just completely fell for Wednesday because it’s just such a revelatory character. And Christina Ricci’s performance is superb.

Craig: It’s not surprising to me that she fell in love with her because the character of Wednesday Addams is almost a super hero. Everybody else is operating in this world where they are concerned about their love for each other, or money, or whether this brother is real or not. Wednesday Addams is operating on this plain above everyone where, A, she’s the first person to figure out that Fester isn’t really Fester. He’s an imposter. Although, spoiler alert, it turns out he really is Fester. She just knows that, inherently. She’s brilliant. She has this remarkable deadpan, which I think great deadpan characters – like I think of Martin Starr on Silicon Valley.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: What they convey in their perfect deadpan is that they’ve seen it all. It’s almost like you get the sense that that character on Silicon Valley or Wednesday Addams has literally already seen the movie, or the show. They know how it ends. It’s a confidence there. It’s a remarkable confidence. Unflappable. And violent but violent because of a passion to be in control of the world. It’s actually a very kind of traditionally masculine trait to want to dominate the world, right?

Wednesday effortlessly seems like she wants to dominate everything. You got the sense that if Wednesday just decided to end this movie early, she could. And that’s a wonderful choice. And Christina Ricci does these things when she reacts to things that are too cloying, too sweet, too nice, whatever they are. Her eyes go big and her eyes are just, I mean, they should – I wish we could copy them and put them in a museum to show people like this is what eyes can do.

How old was she when this movie was made? It’s just unbelievable that she could do those things.

John: Yeah. She was 12.

Craig: 12! My daughter is 12. Your daughter is 12. There’s just this preternatural confidence and ability that she had that was just so brilliant.

All right. So, I want to talk about a scene in Addams Family. To me, it’s the pivotal scene. It’s where the movie turns and you start to see why you fall in love with everyone.

So Christopher Lloyd plays this imposter. He’s pretending to be Fester. There’s all this hullabaloo going on. It’s not going very well. Wednesday doesn’t necessarily think – you know, she’s on to him. And he’s a bad guy. I mean, he’s a murderous thug who is basically being sent in there to be a criminal. And because of that, he’s finding a certain commonality. And the strongest connection he has weirdly is with these two kids because he likes them. He likes the things that they do. And at one point, when even Gomez is saying this man is not my brother. He’s an imposter. Imposter. You know, nice and big.

Fester sees Wednesday Addams and, oh, what’s the brother’s name again?

John: Pugsley.

Craig: Pugsley. Wednesday and Pugsley are pretending to sword fight and it’s nicely grim, you know. Pretending to kill each other. And he watches this. And so it was that old sword under the arm and Wednesday goes, “Oooh,” and pretends to die. And he’s, “No. No, no, no, no, no, no.” And he runs downstairs and teaches them the proper way to kill each other. And it’s in this moment that you understand that there is this connection between freaks that is deeper than the connection we suppose between people who are normal and therefore don’t need that depth of connection. And it pays off in this incredible scene where there’s a school play and it is the perfect example of the outsider behavior you were talking about and the insider behavior, because all of the perfect kids are like, la-la-la, school play.

And then up come Wednesday and Pugsley, who it appears have been well-instructed by Fester, who shows up to watch, proud of them, because now it is a family. And they engage in the sword fight and start lopping off limbs. They’ve rigged fake limbs. And fake blood is spraying everywhere. It’s spraying. And this is where I stand up and applaud. Spraying blood into the faces of audience members, like into their mouths, and this is a family movie and it totally works. It’s awesome. And it’s the best example of how this movie just refused to pull its punches. And you so loved it for that. And at the end of it, you cut to this great shot of this shocked into silence, blood-covered audience, and then the Addams Family standing up and applauding. Ah, brilliant.

John: So, the reason why that kind of sequence can work is because as the audience, our sympathies are with the Addams Family at all moments. And so even though we’ll meet other characters who are like normal, we will never go home with them. We’ll never follow them.

And so our experience of the movie is only through their eyes. And because we relate with them, that scene isn’t gory. That scene is hilarious. And so you can imagine the other version of that. Like the bad version of this where we have fallen in love with or tracked people who are outside looking at the Addams Family, they seem disturbed. And you would have natural concerned about the Addams Family, and then this bloody school play would read very differently. So it has to be the triumphant final act of these characters we’ve fallen in love with over the course of the story in order to see it. And you’re setting it up from the very first shot where we see the family trying to pour hot oil on the carolers.

Craig: Right. And that’s exactly right. So in that concept of DNA. You and I, we never say to people the Three Page Challenge has to be the first three pages. But, the first three pages should pack in an enormous amount of genetic information. That is the tension and the joy of The Addams Family is that they are on a superficial level horrible people who do horrible things and it’s even implied that they’ve murdered people, you know? But they love each other so purely and the movie is kind of a middle finger to the hypocrisy of family values, which was a big buzz word at the time, and obviously then became the title of the second movie. Because it was essentially saying everybody out there pretending to be all nicety nice, they’re great on a superficial level and rotten on an internal level. And we’re going to flip that. We’re going to make these people rotten on a superficial level and beautiful on an internal level, which is also a very gay/Jewish kind of mélange.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so to wrap up the discussion of the first movie, you have these moments that continue to reinforce the notion that Uncle Fester is drawn specifically to that authenticity. And in fact starts to sense that it is the very thing that will reward him, even though he is a freak. The fact that it turns out that he really is the long lost Uncle Fester is sort of a cherry on top of the sundae. And, in fact, an interesting fact that I read, initially that wasn’t the case. Initially he was not really Fester, but he becomes adopted as Fester. And apparently the cast had a real problem with that. And this is from the documentary, The Making of The Addams Family, Sonnenfeld stated that he meant it to be unclear ultimately in the end whether Fester was really an imposter or not. But all the other actors rebelled and chose, guess who, Christina Ricci, to speak on their behalf who gave this very impassioned plea that Fester shouldn’t be an imposter.

And so, in fact, they ended up changing that plot point to make the actors happy and says Sonnenfeld, “They were right. It was the better way to go.” And of course it was, because – see the thing is it’s not saying, oh, it only worked because of a genetic connection. It works before the genetic connection is ever discovered. That really is your reward essentially. Like, oh, and you really are a part of this. But only after they’ve accepted you as part of it.

So, it was a lovely thing. And it set up a second movie quite brilliantly.

John: I agree. So, let’s talk through the plot of Addams Family Values. So this is written by Paul Rudnick. Same director. Same producer. In the opening, Morticia gives birth to a new baby. This is Pubert, who is actually part of mythology. I assumed it was made up for this movie, but it’s actually part of mythology.

Wednesday and Pugsley are jealous, so they try to kill the baby. And so there’s a lot of sequences of how they’re trying to kill the baby. The family hires a nanny named Debbie, who is played by Joan Cusack, who is just spectacular.

Craig: Yeah.

John: She’s actually the Black Widow Killer, and so she plans to marry and murder Uncle Fester.

Craig: Which, let me just interrupt. Again, the dumbest plot ever. Perfect. Perfect. Thank god.

John: Wonderful. Debbie sends the kids off to summer camp and from there we’re cutting back and forth between the main A Plot storyline which is at the house and it is Gomez and Morticia and Debbie and Fester, and the other plot line is at Camp Chippewa where we’re following Wednesday and Pugsley there.

Ultimately Debbie marries Fester, but finds him impossible to kill. And she’s ultimately electrocuted by the baby at the very end. She’s basically kidnapped the entire family. She’s going to kill them. But the baby ends up killing her. So, that is his real crowning as an Addams is killing their killer.

Craig: So the plot of the baby is set up in I think the very last shot of the first film, where she announces that she’s pregnant and she announces this by showing this little onesie she’s knitting that has too many limbs. And, of course, Gomez immediately recognizes the meaning of it and is thrilled. And then they have this baby in the beginning and, of course, Morticia enjoys labor pains. And, by the way, just another brilliant thing that you got to give Sonnenfeld an enormous amount of credit for. They make a choice in the first film that they carry through the second film. In every scene, no matter what is happening, there is a key light going across Morticia’s eyes. And so Anjelica Huston has this wonderful face.

Now, a key light for those of you who don’t know, it’s a special light and it’s usually very well defined in terms of border. And very typically is hit across someone’s eyes to give a kind of dramatic pop. It’s like the Tabasco sauce of lighting. You use it very carefully in places. And they’re just like, nope. [laughs]

John: It’s not careful here. It’s just a giant spotlight.

Craig: It’s crazy.

John: There are moments, clearly she had very little, like once they did her blocking, she was not allowed to change whatsoever.

Craig: Correct.

John: Because there’s one inch of like that her face can be in.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So that she’s perfectly in the light. And so watching it this past week, there are a few times where she steps into the light, but essentially she’s frozen throughout most of the movie because of that light.

Craig: Which actually weirdly works, because she has this kind of insanely contained character. So even when she’s lying in the stretcher, being wheeled into the delivery room, there’s a key light across her eyes. [laughs] It’s just amazing.

So you have this Black Widow plot. And once again, by the way, Wednesday, she knows. Always knows. And you go back and forth between these things and the truth is that it is kind of a rehash of the plot of the first movie, which I don’t mind. Someone else is trying to steal their money in their house. And it certainly cuts to the family themes. But the movie sings and is at its best, and I think is beloved for all of the scenes at Camp Chippewa because those again cut right to the heart of that let’s just call it the queer Addams Family academic theory of outsiders versus insiders. And it does it in a way that is now even bigger and more obvious.

And it is outstanding. Just once scene after another. Christine Baranski and Peter MacNicol both being like the perfect foils. Every scene there is just gold.

John: Well, it’s also worth noting that the summer camp mythos is also a largely Jewish culture thing, too. So like the East Coast summer camp vibe is a real thing. I was trying to figure out whether this came first or Camp Crusty. And they’re almost the same time. The Camp Crusty, the phenomenal Simpsons episode where Bart and Lisa go off to Crusty’s summer camp.

But both of them are presaged by Meatballs, which is an amazing sort of distillation of what the summer camp experience is. So, all the Camp Chippewa stuff is just delightful. I found that my memory of the movie was that, oh, it’s mostly Camp Chippewa.

Craig: No.

John: There’s actually not that much. It’s just the stuff that’s there is like really, really good and funny. And you sort of remember the parts of the movie that Wednesday is in, and that’s the part of the movie that Wednesday is in.

Some things honestly don’t work phenomenally in this movie. And it’s worth noting what doesn’t quite work, because watching it this past week I had this suspicion that some scenes got dropped, or something got changed along the way. Quite early on Wednesday Addams starts to figure out like oh I think Debbie is not who she says she is. Debbie is going through these papers. But for whatever reason, Wednesday doesn’t say anything and Wednesday gets shipped off the camp. But Wednesday comes back from camp for the wedding, Uncle Fester’s wedding, and yet doesn’t say anything there either.

Craig: Right.

John: And then goes back to camp. There’s a weird stutter step there. And I would love to talk with somebody involved with the movie to figure out what happened there. Because there’s something that got dropped or changed there, because it was really weird to have Wednesday in some scenes where she could have been taking some agency and she wasn’t taking any agency.

Craig: I agree. I agree. There’s an interesting – you could tell that they obviously had made this choice. They want them to go to camp. It’s going to be great. This is how they can have all their fun. But how do you get them there? So, once Debbie, the Black Widow, realizes that Wednesday is on to her, she makes this impassioned plea to Gomez and Morticia to send the kids to camp. And she says, “And they’re going to tell you they don’t want to go, but they really, really do.” And of course Gomez and Morticia are shocked, because that’s just – fresh air and sunshine is so horrible.

But they go along with the plan. They’re fooled, which is fine, but Wednesday doesn’t really protest, which doesn’t make sense. So, that was – it seems like a cheat. It is a cheat.

John: It is a cheat. And here’s the thing. I feel like you could get that cheat if it was because it is setting up the fundamental premise, like they’re off at summer camp. So I bought it that moment. It was the stutter step where they come back to the house and then have to go leave again. That was a bridge too far for me. And while it makes sense that they should be there at their uncle’s wedding, if they had revised it in a way that the wedding had to happen suddenly and they couldn’t be there, that would have made maybe even more sense.

And I do wonder if the choice – if what happened in editing or in some sort of reshoot was like, oh, we want to have Wednesday come to this thing, or they want one more scene with Wednesday and the family, so they stuck her into a sequence that she wasn’t naturally in.

Craig: It’s quite possible.

John: Just a guess.

Craig: Yeah, it’s quite possible.

John: There’s another scene that doesn’t work towards the end or a little sequence that doesn’t work especially well towards the end. It’s that like Gomez and Morticia are phenomenal, but they sort of lose their agency once Fester and Debbie go off. And you sort of lose them as a centerpiece of the movie. So they go to sort of confront Debbie, and then they skulk away. And they go to the police station. There’s a scene with Nathan Lane which doesn’t need to be in the movie at all.

Curiously, Nathan Lane ends up playing Gomez in the Broadway musical, which is a small world kind of thing. But I was watching that scene wondering why that scene was in the movie.

Craig: Well, it’s interesting. It is a mirror of a sequence in the first movie, and I suspect that’s why it’s there. Because they felt that it was successful in the first movie, although I would argue that – so in the first movie, towards the – by the end of the second act, beginning of the third act, there’s about ten minutes, which is by the way a lot for a movie that I think is about a 90-minute running time without credits. There’s ten minutes where the Addams Family has been kicked out of their house and they have to go live in this motel. And it is really a sequence of gags. And they’re fun gags. And they even set up this girl who ends up showing up as the girl in the summer camp who is like the perfect little girl.

But it’s just too much. And you start to feel once the Addams Family is – well, OK, now we’re doing a fish out of water movie with the Addams Family? But that’s really not the movie that we were doing. That sequence goes on a bit long in the first movie, and here in the second one it seemed like they were trying to grab at that again. And I agree with you, it didn’t really need to be there. It was more frustrating than entertaining.

John: Yeah. But it’s worth talking about the dynamics they were trying to establish with Debbie and Fester and Morticia and Gomez, which is that Morticia and Gomez’s perfect love is intimidating. Like it sets an impossibly high standard for love. And so Christopher Lloyd, who we’re not talking enough about because he’s just phenomenal in both movies–

Craig: Amazing.

John: He’s great. And like imbues this bizarre character with a lot of heart. And at every moment is making fascinating choices. The sequences with him and Debbie and with him and Debbie and Morticia, they are really terrific, yet there’s a sameness to them. There’s not a progress. And if I could hope for anything it would be a little bit more engine behind them so that we’re not coming back to the same vibe again and again.

Craig: I agree. And it’s worth noting that Christopher Lloyd carries the burden of the protagonist in both movies and does it beautifully well. And it’s a very similar protagonism in each movie. In the first movie he is someone who is struggling with a desire to be loved. He has this unhealthy relationship with this woman who has adopted him who is not his mother, but he has clearly this crazy mamma’s boy thing going on. And bordering on oedipal, because he so desires to be loved and accepted. And then he finds that love an acceptance from his actual family, the Addams Family.

In the second movie, you’re exactly right. They make a brilliant point of setting up a new need in him that is not simply there because. It’s there in response to Gomez and Morticia’s perfect romance. He wants what they have. And they have all these wonderful jokes where he just talks all the time about how he watches them through a keyhole while they have sex and they don’t really seem to care, which is spectacular. I mean, also in the movie you have multiple scenes where Wednesday and Pugsley are not just kind of pretending to kill their infant brother. They are legitimately trying to kill him. And every single time either the baby foils it or the parents foil it and they’re like, “Oh, you kids. I know it’s hard.” Which is brilliant.

But you’re absolutely right. The part of the laboring of the second movie is that Fester’s desire to have a romance and therefore his attraction to Debbie kind of flat lines. When he understands she’s manipulating him, she keeps trying to kill him and it never really works because he’s Fester and it’s really hard to kill an Addams. We know this. It does sort of flat line for a while. And you start to get a little frustrated that Fester isn’t getting it.

In the first movie, Gomez figures out pretty quickly that this guy doesn’t seem like. We aren’t ahead of him. He’s with us. In this movie, we’re so ahead of Fester that it does start to get a little plodding.

John: Yeah. My daughter was rooting for Debbie at times. And–

Craig: [laughs] Oh my god. She’s sick. I love it.

John: You’re not supposed to, and yet, I mean, Debbie is a kind of very Addams character in a way. You know, to a certain degree she is a Wednesday Addams grown up in the sense that she’s completely empowered in what it is and what she does. And so she’s an outsider, too, she’s just homicidal in a not appropriate way.

And one of the strengths of the movie is like Morticia has a sequence where she confronts her and she’s like, “You do these terrible things, and I like that about you.” Basically sort of like you’re horrible and you’ve killed these men and I applaud that. And, yet, trying to explain that she could still have love for her I guess brother-in-law, it’s not really how everyone is related.

Craig: Yeah. That’s her brother-in-law.

John: But in previous Addams incarnations it’s actually her uncle. It’s all crazy. But there’s a specificity to sort of why she’s doing what she’s trying to do, which is really nice. I just wanted more of that.

Craig: I’m with you. I’m with you. There’s this – I mean, you want to talk about like the best jokes in the movie, and it’s so – when I think about Paul Rudnick and his sense of humor, it’s so brilliant. And a great example of like, OK, we’ll put that one in the gay column. When Morticia does confront Debbie she does so at this new mansion that Debbie has purchased with all the money she’s stolen from them. And it’s just the opposite of the Addams Family mansion. It’s all pinks and blues.

And Morticia says to Debbie, “You have gone too far. You have married Fester. You have destroyed his spirit. You have taken him from us. All that I could forgive. But, Debbie, pastels?” It’s just so great. It’s like that’s the thing?

John: That’s the thing.

Craig: Your bad design taste, you know, which is so not Goth. That’s the problem here. That, to me, is the brilliant consistency of the tone that they created in these movies that is just cherishable.

John: Let’s take a step back, because we brought up the idea that Fester is essentially the protagonist in both of these movies. Like he is the character who has to change over the course of these movies, and everybody else is just sort of swirling around, and like the family as a unit. And it strikes me that in most of these kind of stories there’s like two ways you could go. Either classically a story is a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. And both of these movies are essentially a stranger comes to town.

So, everything is perfect in Addams Family life, and then an outsider comes in and because he’s an outsider everything is questioned and there’s tumult. And ultimately order is restored. The normalcy is restored after the outsider is either tossed out or accepted into the family.

But I think the reason why I think you could make an Addams Family Vacation is there is a possibility of potentially a Little Miss Sunshine with the Addams Family, where you could take them out of that house and have them grow over the course of a journey. There’s a version of that you could make. It’s just we haven’t seen it yet.

Craig: Well, right. And that could descend a bit much into fish out of water, which is a certain kind of joke. I find that the Addams Family is so much more interesting when the fish that are out of water are the people visiting them.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: As opposed to them going to visit other people. But, I would pay many, many hundreds of dollars to see a new Addams Family movie where Christina Ricci is the new matriarch, because she’s so incredible. And we have to talk about, again, her acting ability in the Camp Chippewa sequences. But interesting that her storyline goes completely against the notion of a character arc. Wednesday Addams has no character arc. She is always the boss. And the entire Camp Chippewa story is really like – it’s just watching a superior person win.

John: I would say Christina Ricci’s character Wednesday, she has a tiny bit of growth where she gets a little bit closer to the David Krumholtz character.

Craig: Right.

John: Who is the asthmatic Jewish kid who is at the camp as well. And, again, it’s a tremendous stereotype and he is fantastic in that role. But her best acting is not a line she was given, but an expression she has to play.

Craig: Oh, that’s incredible. Incredible.

John: So you talked about her eyes. So, there’s a moment where she is forced to smile. And so the camera just holds her in a close up and you see her trying to evoke this smile and it’s one of the best sort of ten seconds of film you’re going to see. It’s just delightful. And that she could, I guess she was probably 12 or 13 at this point, pull that off is just remarkable.

Craig: There’s like a bookend. There’s two moments that I think of and that’s definitely one of them. Because in that moment she’s forcing a smile because she has a plan. And she needs to sucker everybody into thinking that she is now one of them. So she forces this horrible smile. And, of course, they’re horrified by it. But it’s incredible acting.

The other moment is a smaller, simpler thing, but it’s brilliant. They catch Wednesday, Pugsley, and the David Krumholtz character trying to escape. And they catch them at like a fence. And they start to sing Kumbaya. And Wednesday’s eyes get enormously big because it’s like she’s looking into the pits of hell. And she slowly backs up against the fence. It’s incredible. I just don’t know how – that’s the kind of thing where you go, listen, we’re writers, we feel great about what we do, but when you can find a human being that can do something like that, you just have to take off your hat and go, “Well done, actor. Thank god you people exist.” Because my goodness, that was incredible.

John: Yep. So, I want to wrap up by talking about a thing that fewer people have seen but is also really worth discussing because it has different challenges and different opportunities. So, there’s a Broadway musical version of The Addams Family. It was written by Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice did the book. Andrew Lippa, our friend, did music and lyrics. And it is fascinating because of what works differently on a stage.

So, the basic plot for people who probably haven’t seen it, so Wednesday is a little bit older in this. She’s late high school, maybe college. She brings her Midwestern boyfriend, Lucas, and his family from the Midwest also to come visit them at their house. And so this is, again, a stranger comes to town and this is that family and sort of what having that family there sort of unleashes within the household. There’s delightful songs. But I wanted to actually play one little thing, because I know it’s a song you like as well. This is – Uncle Fester sings a song in the second act called The Moon and Me.

So, this is part of Addams Family mythology is that Uncle Fester loves the moon. But in the song he literally loves the moon. Like he’s in love with the moon. The moon is a character. So, let’s listen to a clip.

[Song plays]

What I love about that song is that it reveals a part of Uncle Fester that would be very, very hard to do in a non-singing movie. It’s hard to get that character’s introspection without a song. And it sort of perfectly illuminates what’s going on inside his soul.

Craig: Yeah. That’s what musicals do best. And what movies tend to do worst. When you’re asking somebody to share this feeling inside of them, and it’s usually a romantic feeling. It’s usually a sentimental feeling. Movies are terrible at that. Just listening to people talk about how much they love somebody is a bit gloppy, you know? But when you sing it, it’s beautiful. And, of course, you have the delicious perversion of the fact that he’s singing it to the moon. And yet then again the answer to that which is, no, no, see, that’s your judgment. It’s actually beautiful and wonderful. And Kevin Chamberlin, who is a fantastic singer and great performer and Broadway legend hits that note at the end. It’s a high C. My god. What a – ugh.

John: Do that eight shows a week. Yeah.

Craig: Exactly. And do that eight shows a week. It’s just nuts.

John: Yeah. But again it’s revealing, we talk about sort of the queerness of it. Like it’s really queer to love the moon. And yet he loves the moon and he loves the moon so honestly that it’s delightful. And so if a character said he loved the moon, well that’s a crazy person. But when you have a song to go with it you’re like, oh, I get it. I get sort of what your deal is and you’re not a bad person. You’re a person who is in love. And that’s – it’s a remarkable little moment that is much easier to illuminate with a song than it would be just a character in a movie.

Craig: Yeah. I think Andrew’s key lyric in here and the really important one to speak to that is “though I’m told it’s wrong,” you know? And everything else is very sweet and it’s very much a straight kind of love song to somebody that you love. But he knows that other people think it’s wrong and he doesn’t care because the moon makes him feel great. And this is a real love. And you’re right. It’s definitely that kind of queer take on romance and acceptance and a kind of “I got to be me.”

John: Yeah. So, let’s wrap this up by talking about what we can learn from the Addams Family in terms of adapting a property. So, somebody comes to you with a preexisting thing. So, be it Scooby Doo. Be it some other Hanna-Barbera thing, be it something else that has characters in it, where do you start and how might you start differently looking at The Addams Family and the success they’ve had?

Craig: Well, the great hope is that there is some kernel of something that is going to light your way. And in The Addams Family, it’s quite clear from that great cartoon that they drew inspiration from, the kernel was this familial love and that inversion between superficial and internal and what looks bad and what is beautiful and good. And then if you can latch onto that, and in doing so you know you have a sentimental, positive payload for an audience that will deliver the joy of relationships to them, then pull no punches on the other side.

And so you’re looking for something that gives you these opportunities. So, when you talk about Scooby Doo, they’ve tried many times. They made some Scooby Doo movies. They were mildly successful. But the problem with something like Scooby Doo is that it doesn’t really have that payload. They’re friends, but they don’t love each other. You would have to start to invent these things. That’s where it starts to feel a little artificial and forced.

So, in a sense you’re looking for a property that maybe gives you a spark that you can then take forward. And the worst situation is when that spark is there and you deny it. And they did not do that here, which is why it’s successful.

John: Absolutely. I’m thinking back to Charlie’s Angels. And when I came to Charlie’s Angels, my first pitches, my first meetings on Charlie’s Angels, they weren’t about the plot or even specific set pieces. They were about the feeling of it and sort of what my feeling was towards Charlie’s Angels and having grown up loving it is that I was weirdly proud of the girls. I loved them and I loved their relationship between them. And they struck me as being like the three princesses who work for their father who is the king. And that it felt like a fairy tale in that way. And that the characters could be incredibly proficient when they were on the job and yet in the sense of this being a comedy they could be giant dorks when they were off the job.

And the tone that we sort of described in those initial meetings became the movie. Became what we ended up working on. It was like what it was going to feel like was much more important than what was going to happen at the start. I think the same would be true with The Addams Family. It’s like what does it feel like? And they found a good answer for that and were able to make that work for these two movies and other properties along the way.

Craig: No question. No question.

John: Cool. All right. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing this week is the first episode of the second season of Master of None. So we had Alan Yang on the show for our live show quite a while back. But this second season started and the first episode I thought was just remarkable. Alan Yang and Aziz Ansari wrote it. Aziz Ansari is the only one of the recurring characters who is in this first episode. It all take place in Italy. It is all black and white. It is just delightful.

And one of the things I like about it is that if you’ve never watched the show, you could still completely enjoy this episode. It is just a remarkable good half-hour of really great comedy. And just it’s specific and it’s warm. Aziz Ansari directed it. It’s great. So, I strongly recommend you check out this first episode of the new season.

Craig: People are talking. People are talking. My One Cool Thing this week comes to me through Boing Boing. And I feel bad, because I’m not sure how to pronounce Xeni Jardin, but am I doing it right, do you think? Xeni Jardin?

John: That sounds about right. Xeni Jardin. That, too.

Craig: She’s fantastic. And so she put a link up to this and we’ll have the direct link in the show notes. It is – so some folks who are working with neural networks where those are the kind of learning computers, they attempted to see if the neural network could learn how to name colors. So, what they did is they fed it a list of 7,700 Sherwin Williams paint colors, along with their RGB values. Those are the numbers that ultimately define what the pigment will look like.

So, they give it to this and then they just start having it learn. And where it ended up was amazing. So I’m going to read you some names of some paints. Clardic Fug. Snowbonk. Light of Blast. Burble Simp. And my favorite, Turdly.

John: Turdly is good. But Sindis Poop is also quite strong.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. We’re thinking about repainting our living room in Stargoon. [laughs] Here’s the thing, that sounds ridiculous, but actual paint names are absurd. At one point, when it was kind of like in the middle, so like – and it’s fascinating to watch how it’s learning. So like initially it’s coming up with things like Rererte Green or Gorlpateehecd. Then, it starts to kind of get in a little closer with Golder Craam and Burf Pink. Then it’s actually locking into words, like Ice Gray. That’s – I mean, it didn’t match Ice Gray to a color that looks like ice gray. But then Gray Pubic is probably not a color that you’re going to see in a store.

John: There is one color here. It’s 216 200 185. Stummy Beige.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And it actually genuinely looks like, oh, that’s what Stummy Beige would look like.

Craig: Yeah. That does look like Stummy Beige. I mean, Grade Bat doesn’t look like Grade Bat to me. And it’s not different enough from Grass Bat. But still, I mean, it’s pretty freaking amazing that it comes up with these like remarkable words that are sort of good, but wrong. It’s the uncanny valley of names. Spectacular stuff. So, I just loved it.

John: Great. We’ve talked in previous episodes about scripts written by AI and they’re not quite there yet, but eventually if they can name paint colors, then eventually they can do more and more of our job. At least the naming of our characters. I’ve seen a couple of like online character name things that are designed for like fantasy stuff. And they are kind of clever in the way they’ll put things together. Even these examples. Like, they’re all basically pronounceable. And like making something pronounceable is not simple.

Craig: Right.

John: God bless them.

Craig: Listen, we’re laughing now. We won’t laugh when we’re in their labor camps as the neural networks have us creating huge batches of Sturbil Blue or whatever it is. But, still, for now it’s funny.

John: For now it’s funny. It’s funny until we die.

Craig: Yep.

John: Our show this week is produced by Godwin Jabangwe, as always. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We’re on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast.

You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. And leave a review there while you’re on iTunes. That’s always delightful.

You can find show notes for this episode and all episodes at If you go to, you can leave a review for some of the most recent episodes so we can get the Scriptnotes Listeners Guide in top shape.

Transcripts go up about four days after the episode airs.

You can find all the back episodes of the show at We should have 300-episode USB drives eventually, but it could be a couple weeks. So, if you’re hankering for one of those, hold tight.

And, Craig, thank you for another fun show with the Addams Family.

Craig: Thanks John.

John: Cool. Bye.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Forever Young and Stupid

Tue, 06/20/2017 - 08:03

Craig and John take on a new Three Page Challenge, looking at three listener scenes to see if they follow the exacting rules set by Screenwriters University. (Ahem.)

We also answer listener questions on vintage screenplays, maturity, Smash Brothers and writing with a budget in mind.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

A last look at The Leftovers

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 07:03

Showrunner Damon Lindelof joined me for episode 206 to talk through the process of writing The Leftovers. Here’s how he described breaking an episode:

For the “blue-sky phase,” once we land on something that we like, you just write a sentence. Like, “Baby doll made in Tijuana.” And the last one is “Kevin throws baby out window.” It’s literally just those sentences.

After two days, you look and you have about 20 of those sentences up on the board. Then you’re ready to go into the next phase, which I think is what I would call the story-breaking phase, where you just go scene-by-scene and you start to pitch specific dialogue, character dynamics, etc.

Writing for Vulture, Boris Kachka takes an in-depth look at how the final episode was written, shot and edited. It’s a great look at the process from blank whiteboard to final cut. Highly recommended for anyone interested in making television.

Location Is Where It’s At

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 08:03

Craig and John look at how screenwriters describe locations, and how these choices impact production and the final product. Plus, we discuss how podcasts have become a new source of IP for adaptations.

Finally, we address how to deal with the note to make your characters “more likeable.”


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

75% of Nothing

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 08:03

Craig and John answer listener questions about writer agreements, videogame properties, and page one rewrites.

How should a writer decide whether it’s better to keep revising an unmade project, or start on something new? We try to offer guidelines for when to buckle down and when to move on.

Also, John coins a new term that will forever change film studies.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

This is why you want a writer’s agreement

Wed, 05/31/2017 - 08:51

I started this site in 2003 to answer questions about screenwriting. Over the years, most of those questions have drifted over to Scriptnotes. The podcast format is ideal for short questions with long answers.

But sometimes, you get a long question that doesn’t work well for audio. This is one of those.

KB writes:

About 13 or so years ago, a friend of a friend approached me and my writing partner about an idea he had. Let’s call him Patrick.

Patrick had a premise for a series that was loosely based on classic characters from pop-culture, but his idea subverted them and gave them new life. He provided us with no written material, but he did have hand-drawn artwork representations of the characters and some clear story concepts that he wanted to explore. He asked us if we could shape these things into a television pilot. There were some casual meetings to talk about how he saw these characters and what the world was like, but they were minimal in scope, which was why he came to us.

We agreed to take it on and then Patrick went out of town to work an extended gig.

During that time, my writing partner and I spent a good six months developing a series bible, creating the characters beyond their sketched images and what we’d been told via conversation, shaping arcs for the first season (and some beyond that), and then we wrote a two-hour pilot.

After sending the first half of the pilot to Patrick, he kind of shrugged it off and stated it wasn’t really in line with his idea, that we’d taken a different direction and he wasn’t digging it. As I recall, he casually suggested we take our parts of the idea and do what we wanted with it for ourselves.

Here’s the important detail: No writer’s agreements were drafted up and signed during all of this.

We were all young idiots doing this in good faith of our friendship. We weren’t professional writers, we were just trying to break in. I recognized that we had zero chance of getting this pilot sold. But it was a good premise and a great exercise in world-building, if anything.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine who was (and still is) a working tv writer, took a look at the full pilot, just as a courtesy to give us general feedback. He was interested enough in it that he called to tell me he was willing to pass it along to a producer he knew — if we got some paperwork sorted out with Patrick.

But when we met with Patrick, he was suddenly very interested in our vision and wanted us to sign away 75% of our rights to the project, claiming he had a right to that 75% as “creator” of the piece (comparing himself to someone who had multiple series on the air at that time), leaving me and my partner to split the remaining 25%…if and when this thing ever sold. His logic was that the overall total (which I think is a number he looked up online, somewhere) would be “enough” that we would be happy with 25%.

I would have been willing to possibly try and negotiate, but my partner was not. Both of us felt that we’d put in the creative grunt work on a version of the project that Patrick wasn’t interested in until there was a barely possible potential sale on the table. The project’s momentum and our friendship with Patrick died that day and we’ve been sitting on it as a very extensive writing sample since then.

Cut to: Present Day

My partner and I are still proud of this work and very interested in independently producing the pilot. Current technology has made this very possible compared to what it would have cost in 2004, which is why it’s coming up now in 2017. But I want to make sure we’re not investing more time and energy into something that’s a pointless pursuit.

Are we (and have we always been) free and clear to continue developing this property for production? And just how off-base was Patrick in his request for 75%?

This is the part where I remind everyone that I’m not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice.

But I’m glad you recognize that a lot of this drama could have been prevented if you’d signed some sort of agreement with Patrick early on. The WGA has a sample collaboration agreement which would have probably done the job. If nothing else, it would have formalized your discussions, and might have warned you early on that Patrick was going to be trouble.

Yes: Patrick was way off base asking for 75%. That’s nuts. Considering he seems to have done nothing with his great idea in the 13 intervening years, I’m guessing either (a) he’s not really in the industry, or (b) he has had enough success he’s not even thinking about this early idea.

Either way, you can’t just pretend Patrick never existed.

Even though you never signed anything official, there’s probably some sort of paper trail. Emails and whatnot. You don’t want this guy suddenly resurfacing when you’re trying to sell your pilot to someone, or screen it at a festival.

So I think it’s worth re-approaching him. Find him on Facebook and tell him that you’re looking at making this as an indie pilot for no money. Offer him an executive producer credit, or shared story. If you can come to an agreement, put it in writing.

And if not, drop it. Move on. Spend your money and energy on something new and unencumbered.

Let’s forget about Patrick for the moment and focus on you.

You signed your full name on the email, so I looked you up on IMDb. You’ve written and directed a few shorts and microbudget films, which is great. It’s important to make things.

But 13 years is a long time. I wonder if part of the reason you’re considering resuscitating this dead idea is that it’s the closest you’ve come to heat. From reading the bio you wrote on IMDb, it seems like this was the one project that got real interest from a producer. So it’s natural to want to circle back to it.

Yet that’s almost certainly a mistake.

It’s time to put on our Analogy Hats.

Let’s say you’re an aspiring fashion designer. After years of trying to get people to pay attention to your work, an editor singles out a metallic cape you made. It gets featured on page 94 of the magazine.

Was that cape better than all your other work?

Probably not. It was just the piece that got noticed. It could have just as easily been that belt buckle or, heck, your Analogy Hat. Either way, nothing much comes of the attention. You’re still basically an aspiring fashion designer.

Thirteen years pass. You look at this shiny cape the editor liked and wonder if now is the right time. Maybe the world is finally ready for it. You could spent all your time and money trying to launch it…

…or you could look around and see that, honestly, tastes have changed. Your cape was great, but it was part of its time. You’d be much better off designing something for 2017 and beyond.

If you were to do the same honest assessment of the Patrick project, I wonder if you’d reach the same conclusion. Maybe it’s really your metallic cape. Maybe it’s best left in the closet.

I suspect you’re also encountering a bit of the sunk cost fallacy here. You spent a lot of time on this project, and you love it. It feels like a waste to let it go.

But that’s probably what you should do. Devote yourself to making the next great thing, not the last great thing.

Let’s Make Some Oscar Bait

Tue, 05/30/2017 - 08:03

In a new installment of How Would This Be a Movie, John and Craig take a look at three stories in the news to discuss how to adapt them into award-winning movies.

We also discuss why the studios are allowed to negotiate as one for the WGA contract.

Midnight Blue Scriptnotes shirts are back up at Cotton Bureau for a short time, so don’t miss out. Link below.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

The Addams Family

Tue, 05/23/2017 - 08:03

Craig and John look at The Addams Family — not just the 1991 film and its sequel, but the property itself to see what lessons we can learn when adapting for the big screen.

We also answer listener questions on what makes a scene work and writing pilots based on existing IP.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 300: From Writer to Writer-Director — Transcript

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 08:55

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 300 of Scriptnotes.

Craig: Whoa.

John: A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. 300 Craig. That’s just amazing.

Craig: I mean, we sort of blew it because we had that big live show that ended up being 299, but in a way that’s us, isn’t it? We’re not numerologists.

John: We’re not. I actually had some big plans for the 300th episode, which I talked you through, and it was going to be so much work that it did not end up happening because other life things interfered. But 300 is still good. And this is a really good 300th episode. Today on the show, we have Chris McQuarrie here to talk about the transition from being an A-list screenwriter to being an A-list writer-director. So, it’s an incredibly relatable episode. I mean, it’s really for all of the A-list screenwriters out there who are thinking about what is my path to being an A-list writer-director. Chris McQuarrie can talk you through that.

Craig: Yeah, our 300th episode is speaking to fewer than 300 people. [laughs] That’s how I look at it. It’s for like about three people.

John: Yean, three, four.

Craig: Four, tops.

John: Depends on the day. But it was actually a great conversation. So, when we get into it you’ll see that it ends up being mostly me and Chris because of just time zone problems. But he gets into some really fascinating stuff about just, you know, he had some peaks and some valleys even after his career sort of got going. And we talk about that. And I think there’s actually a lot of really relatable stuff there about being the person when stuff falls apart. And putting stuff back together. And that’s a valuable lesson.

Craig: Chris is – I was sorry to miss a good chunk of that. Chris is a very good friend of mine and one of the most infuriatingly smart people I know. I feel like I serve a similar role for him in that we make each other crazy, but we’re the sort of people that like making each other crazy, and so hours will go by where we debate absolute nonsense and everybody around us just gets very tired and bored and leaves. And we like that. I just have the greatest respect for his abilities. And he is an excellent articulator of the interior life of the writer. So, I’m looking forward to this discussion as much as perhaps the three or four people to whom this applies are listening, looking forward to it at home.

But he’s terrific. It’s hard to believe that it took us this long. You know what? We’ll have him back on for Episode 600. How about that?

John: That’s a very good idea. So, a lot has actually happened since you and I were on the Skype together. You did a live show which was fantastic. I actually got to listen to that live show as I was on my bus on the way over to meet with Chris. And it was just great. So, thank you again for a great show. Thank you to Dana Fox for filling in for me. But Rian Johnson and Rob McElhenney were terrific. And people asked smart questions, or at least the questions that made it into the edit I heard were smart. So, thank you to everybody and thank you to Hollywood Heart for hosting us there.

Craig: Yes. And by all accounts we did in fact achieve the goal, which was to raise a pretty good amount of money for Hollywood Heart. So we felt really good about that. They were very happy. Dana was wonderful. Just did a great job. I’m going to go ahead and just say if I croak, she gets my gig.

John: All right.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Sounds good. So if there’s Russians out there planning to do things, know that we have a backup in Dana Fox.

Craig: There are Russians out there planning to do things. I just don’t think this one is high up on their list.

John: No, they got a long, long list.

Craig: They got a long list.

John: But listening to that show, it was fascinating because you were recording it on Monday night and while you were recording it at the other side of the hill they were still negotiating the WGA contract. And we did know when that episode was being recorded whether or not we would be on strike or if a deal would be reached. And the deal was reached and huzzah. So, it went past the midnight deadline, but they kept talking, and there is now a deal that is up for vote by the membership.

Craig: Yeah, it’s up for vote by the membership, which means it’s going to be our deal. We’re not going to turn it down. And by all accounts it seems like a pretty good deal. We are actually going to have Chris Keyser, the former president of the Writers Guild and one of the co-chairs of the negotiating committee come on the show. I believe he’s going to come and record with us next week. And he’s going to walk us through it. And he’ll walk us through as much as he can. I mean, ideally he’s going to explain the deal itself to us and how that works. And hopefully he can also give us a little insight in how the actual machinery of the negotiation worked, up to a point. Because of course there are certain things they can’t really talk about, you know, because leverage is a delicate manner. You don’t want to necessarily give away all of your secrets. But I was thrilled with the outcome, certainly.

John: I was thrilled with the outcome, too. And one of the things which hopefully Chris will be able to explain to me, because I have a hard time understanding it as a person who writes mostly for film rather than for TV is there’s a change in the definition of how many weeks of work can be ascribed to an episode. And he will talk us through that, because that has a lot to do with the changing way we’re making television and he’s making one of those shows that is in a changed model. So he’ll hopefully be able to talk us through that as well.

Craig: That’s the most important change, I think. And it has ramifications not only for the way writers are compensated and how much money they make, but also our pension and healthcare. It’s one of those ripple effect changes. So, yeah, we’ll definitely get into that with Chris.

John: Another bit of follow up. Two episodes ago I asked listeners for their advice – what advice would they give to a time traveler whose time machine broke down? You remember this Craig.

Craig: I do.

John: Like you had some basic ideas of stumbling up to a person and asking, hey, what year it is. And seeming like a crazy person. Our listeners, once again, prove themselves to be the best, smartest people in the universe. So, already they started pointed me towards like, you know, OK, here’s how the stars change, so therefore you can figure out based on the shape of the Big Dipper. But they had some more specific things. So I wanted to get into a few of those.

Logan Rap wrote in to say, “If you have your iPhone with you, you can have an offline version of Wikipedia that’s only text but then you have a pretty good sense of history. And that would probably help you out. And, of course, your iPhone would also have a compass. It would help you sort of figure out geography around you.” He also suggested a Wild Edibles app to help you find the 200 edible plants in your area to help you figure out sort of how you could survive. So, if your time machine is broken but you still have a phone, that’s potentially helpful.

Craig: OK. Yeah. I mean, I can see that. Personally, I would mostly be using that offline Wikipedia to find out the most painless way to kill myself. As we already pointed out, my strategy is curl up right away.

John: Yeah. Perhaps they have like a Poisonous Plants app you can download, so you can figure out what is the quickest, most efficient poison plant you can find that would do it for you.

Craig: But that doesn’t – I don’t want any cramping.

John: That’s true. Because poison we’ve learned can be incredibly painful.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You want something quick. Honestly, use the compass to find a cliff and jump off of it.

Craig: But then I got to deal with the whole falling. I don’t think you quite understand how cowardly I am. I don’t think you’ve gotten it through your head yet. I need a beautiful, quiet, lovely sleep that just, yeah. My time travel nap.

John: I get that.

Craig: Oh, you do? You’re like, no, no, I understand exactly how pathetic you are.

John: I think we all want a nice gentle death. But if a nice gentle death doesn’t come, I just feel like the bungee-less bungee jumping would be a pretty good way out. Because I’ve bungee jumped. And bungee is tremendously fun, especially when you don’t die. But if you’re ghost smack at the end. Eh.

Craig: I don’t know. No one really to ask about it is there?

John: No, there really isn’t. Renee wrote in to point out that since the earth is 70% water and it’s only had a breathable atmosphere for a small portion of its existence, the chance of my broken time machine landing me someplace where I would survive even minutes are incredible small. So, that was despairing.

Craig: I like that.

John: But she also had a good suggestion. That if I ended up around humans and I couldn’t figure out who these humans were, a portable DNA testing kit could be really helpful. And so once again if I had something kind of like a medical tricorder, I could probably do some DNA testing to figure out what group of humans I was around. That would help sort of narrow it down.

Craig: It’s stretching the definition of useful, I got to say. I got to say.

John: Yeah. Finally, I want to single out some things that Rich wrote. And so he wanted to point out that for all we know we are surrounded by lost and confused time travelers. So think about how many beggars you’ve seen in your life. How many of them are time travelers? How often have you stopped to give them time travel advice? If not, why not? What could hurt? You could approach that guy and say, hey buddy, today is Friday April 28, 2017. And you’re currently located on the corner of Alameda and Prime in Los Angeles, California, United States of America. I hope that helps you, in case you’re lost. Have a nice day.

Craig: I don’t think Rich has actually seen any beggars in his life.

John: You don’t think that Rich is guessing correctly about sort of how – you don’t think that the US homeless situation is mostly a result of failed time travel.

Craig: It’s the result of failed something. But not – you know, generally speaking homeless people aren’t shy about asking you for things. So, like what year is it – I don’t think they’d have a problem with that.

John: Yeah. I think that’s fair. You know, I think it’s probably a very small subset of the people you see–

Craig: [laughs] Probably.

John: The people you see who seem confused in life are just time travelers. There could also just be shy time travelers who aren’t in the right place, but they just don’t kind of know how to ask. And so I would say even sometimes here in Paris there have been times where like I kind of needed to ask a question, but I have just no vocabulary for how to actually ask that question. So I just let the question go unasked and therefore unanswered.

Craig: Was the question on the order of where am I and what year is this? Or was it more like, where can I find a place that sells Diet Coke? Sorry Coca Light.

John: Oh yeah, Coca Zero is my go-to.

Craig: Coca Zero.

John: Everywhere sells that. But more on the order of, like for instance, I had to call in to make a doctor’s appointment. And that is one of the worst, most frustrating things. It wasn’t actually even a doctor’s appointment. I needed to call to get the doctor on the phone to ask her a question about something. And they didn’t speak English. And it was just beyond my vocabulary level to actually get through that. And a phone call makes it tough, too.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s challenging. So, in some ways aren’t we all shy time travelers at times?

Craig: No. In no ways. [laughs]

John: That was a reach, even for me. But time travel actually played an important role in this next bit.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: With Chris McQuarrie. Because we went through a lot of different times to try to find a way that we could meet up together to all have a conversation. So, me and Chris in person, because Chris is here in Paris shooting Mission: Impossible 6. And you were going to Skype in. And it kept getting moved because their schedule kept changing and they’re shooting French hours. And so a new time was set and you were not there at that time because of this time and math and stuff got changed and you didn’t get the email.

So, Chris and I spoke for most of this time by ourselves, but then you were there for the last part of it. And so people are going to listen to this conversation with me and Chris, but then Craig gets to join in about three-quarters of the way through. And stays with us through our One Cool Things.

Craig: And I emerge in the most Craig way possible.

John: Yeah. You’re just suddenly there.

Craig: Yep.

John: And to make it extra jarring, we only have the backup audio for the last few minutes. So, I honestly don’t know how we’re going to edit it. So, Matthew, have fun. But we’re going to enjoy this conversation with Chris McQuarrie. It was really great and fun to talk about what he was doing and literally he was coming straight from the set of Mission: Impossible 6, so it was fun to see literally what he was doing that day be reflected in the conversation that we had. So, enjoy this.

Chris McQuarrie is a screenwriter whose credits include The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Jack Reacher, and Edge of Tomorrow. He’s also written and directed The Way of the Gun, Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, and the upcoming sixth installment of Mission: Impossible, currently filming in Paris.

Chris McQuarrie: That’s a very good introduction.

John: So, welcome to Paris. How far are you into shooting in Paris right now?

Chris: We are I believe four weeks in.

John: That’s a long time to be shooting in Paris. I’m guessing this is a globe-trotting movie that doesn’t all take place in Paris?

Chris: No, it does not. But I was determined, unlike the last movie, to spend more time in one location. I went back and I looked at the first movie, which started in Prague, and realized that they’re in Prague for the first half of the movie. So, I sort of pulled back a little bit on the globe-trotting. I think in Rogue Nation I think we might have been in six countries in the first ten minutes of the movie.

John: And if you hold to this production schedule, how many countries will you have reached before you’re done shooting this movie?

Chris: We’ll only be in three countries.

John: That’s great. There’s economy there.

Chris: Yes.

John: You’re saving the studio money.

Chris: Sorry, no, that’s not true. We will also be – we’ll be in four countries. There’s a little piece in Germany.

John: So I think I remember speaking to you after your first directing gig. You did Way of the Gun, and I remember a very specific story you told me in a van on the way up to Sundance where you were talking about dealing with a prop guy about the bags of money and how much would those bags of money weigh. Like the reality of that much money.

Chris: Yeah. That was a Benicio del Toro question. Benicio asked me how much does $15 million weigh. Which I had just arbitrarily picked that number. And Benicio was always asking a lot of questions like that. And it was in the middle of a very busy day and I thought, “Who cares?” And he said, “I care. I’m going to have to carry it. So how much does it weigh?” And in the script it was a bag. It was like a suitcase with $15 million in it. So I went to the prop guy, Ian, and I asked him how much does $15 million weigh? He said, “Oh goodness. OK, I’ll come back to you.”

So he came back and he said, “As you have it in the script, $15 million in tens, twenties, and fifties. I’m assuming that it’s even amounts of those three denominations. It would fill 27 printer paper boxes and weigh something like – it was like 1,200 pounds or 1,500 pounds.” It was huge. It was a van full of money. And I said, oh god, we can’t do that. So, how about thousand dollar bills? And he said, “I knew you’d ask me that. They don’t make thousand dollar bills anymore.”

John: They don’t.

Chris: There was a time when they made them. And, in fact, they’re so rare, they’re worth more than a thousand dollars. And I said, OK, how about hundreds. And he picked up this huge duffel bag, like something you would go skiing with and said, “Each one of these contains $5 million in hundreds. And I suggest you reduce the amount to $5 million and we just make it the one big bag.” And I said, no, I got a better idea, let’s make it – let’s keep it $15 million and then let Ryan and Benicio figure out how to carry it. And that revolutionized the sequence at the end of the movie when obviously the sequence became all about two guys, three bags of money, and every time you get shot in the arm it costs you $5 million because you can’t carry the money.

John: That’s why I wanted you on the podcast today. Because it’s that difference between what you wrote as the screenwriter and what you actually encountered as a director. You had one thing in your head as you were writing that scene and you wrote a number in there, the $15 million was a fascinating number. But it wasn’t important to you as you were writing that like what does that actually look like, because that’s a director’s problem.

Chris: Yes.

John: And then once you became the director, you had to really dig in on what that was going to be like. And you found an interesting answer because of that problem the screenwriter had given you.

Chris: Yes. And I still do that quite a lot. I still run into things where you just sort of cavalierly throw something out there and then the rubber hits the road and you realize, oh, that doesn’t work at all. Or even things that we very carefully plan. Right now, this chase scene that we’re shooting in this movie. We went and picked all these fabulous locations. And planned this whole chase scene. You previs everything out. And then you put Tom Cruise in the location in a car and he drives through so fast, the location is gone in like ten seconds. And so we’ve learned over the course of shooting this sequence when we get to a location we say, “Well the plan is not going to work, because if we do what we plan we’re just going to blow through here. So we have to kind of think of ways to…” But instead of slowing Tom down, we figure out more creative ways to shoot it.

John: So this is in your – coming back to a Mission: Impossible film. So you actually had a sense of what it was going to be like the first time. As you came back to write this movie, did your writing change because you had gone through the process of directing one of these beforehand?

Chris: Absolutely. Well, my process changed over the course of three of them. Because I did a rewrite on Ghost Protocol. But my rewrite was an onset rewrite. I came in about ten weeks into a 17-week show. And they had a lot of the action, but the story – it was things like that. Things that had been presented and now suddenly reality was hitting that stuff and it just wasn’t gelling. So when I came to the second – the second time I came in, when I came in on Rogue Nation, I said let’s take all the lessons we learned from that movie, let’s have somebody else write a screenplay and I’ll come in and fix it. And Mission: Impossible kind of has a mind of its own.

That script just blew up as soon as we started making small changes to it. It completely fell apart and we had to then write a whole new script. On this movie, I swore I wouldn’t start a movie without a finished screenplay. And, of course, that’s exactly what happened. But, one of the things I learned from that movie, I developed a much more acute sense of what you were going to cut out of the movie. You start to feel a sense of this – I like this scene, but I can easily cut it out of the movie, so I probably should because I definitely will.

And Rebecca Ferguson’s character is back in this movie and her introduction in the movie was originally this page of dialogue when Ethan runs into her at this event. I also am working with a new cinematographer. And we kept talking about shooting things in longer takes, oners, less editing. And I realized that the scene that I had written for the two of them forced me to cut back and forth. And I was very frustrated in the last movie that every time people started talking, it eventually – the movie just stopped and turned into–

John: Coverage.

Chris: Shot of – just coverage. Just coverage, coverage, coverage. And I thought how do I get out of that. I want the camera to feel lighter. I just want the scenes to feel lighter. So, I realized this scene between Tom and Rebecca was going to just drag me down into coverage. So I started taking away the lines of the scene that weren’t necessary. And one by one I cut away every line until there was nothing left in the scene. And what happens now is Rebecca just bumps into Tom. Tom sees Rebecca. Rebecca sees Tom. And they have this whole moment. There’s a whole story between the two of them and there’s another person standing there. And she can’t say what she wants to say. He can’t say – and they just behave the scene.

And it was really liberating. So we’ve gone in and done a lot of that. We’ve just sort of chipped away.

John: That type of change that you’re talking about, is that a change that happens to Chris McQuarrie screenwriter who is there sort of watching the scene in rehearsals? Or at what point? Or was it still the conversation with your cinematographer that you realized I’m just not – as you’re talking through the scenes, like wow, I can’t actually shoot this scene I want to do. So, I’m going to send this back to the screenwriter and get a revision? Where in the process did that kind of change happen?

Chris: That happened from the conversation I had with Rob Hardy, I said I want to do a very different Mission: Impossible. The franchise relies on a different director every time. That’s what it’s sort of become known for. And so I want to maintain that, even though I’m coming back. And to that end, I’m going to defer to you on certain things. And Rob said, OK. I said, so how do you like to shoot? He said, “Well, I tend to shoot pretty much on a 35 and a 50mm lens. Everything.” Which terrified me, because I tend to start at 75mm. And so 30 and 50 I reserve for very specific things. He shoots everything. He covers scenes in it.

What was really interesting was on our second day we were shooting this car chase and we were into the hood mounts on the car chase. And Rob pulled out the 100mm lens. And the 135. And he was sort of shocked to find himself compelled to do it.

John: Because we don’t have people who necessarily are going to know the differences between these – the long focal length and the short thing. So, the shorter the lens, that feeling of being very close in their space, in a way, but it’s also the longer lens flattens things, makes people look better. There’s reasons for both type of lens.

Chris: If you look at a Tony Scott or a Michael Bay film, they’re all shot on long lens. If you look at a Sidney Lumet film, it’s all shot on wide lens. A wide lens, like a 50mm, is sort of like the human eye. And a 135 is a very long, very sexy lens that really blurs out the background and makes you very, very present. And, of course, you have to get very far back from somebody just to shoot them in a close up. It’s a very intimate lens.

John: It’s the real version of the iPhone 7 Portrait Mode, where it’s blurring out the background for you.

Chris: That’s exactly right. Well, actually, Portrait Mode in the iPhone 7 is like a 75mm lens. That’s kind of the effect that it gives you. What Rob and I have been doing is – he’s pushing me into wider lenses and the movie is pushing him into longer lenses. And both of our styles, we were determined to come to this with a specific style. And the movie and the action have just said, no, you’re going to do this. But it makes you more aware when you’re writing a scene. If I get into coverage, I’m going to have to start using the 75, because it just makes a nice close up. But if I don’t include a lot of dialogue in that scene, if there’s just behavior, then you actually want a wider lens. And suddenly your movie looks different from the last movie you shot.

So that’s what we’ve been kind of doing is I’ve been taking away the writing, the explicit writing in my storytelling. Again, I was determined to have – in Rogue Nation, in the middle of the movie, there’s a huge data dump. You know, they’ve had all these misadventures and now in the middle of the movie you have to explain why everything that has happened up to now is happening. I was determined not to do that this time. There’s no getting away from it. It’s right on page 60, characters start explaining why were you there and why did you do this and who are you loyal to. But we found ways to do them more elegantly, shorter scenes, to have a little more fun with it.

John: Now, if you were just the director or just the screenwriter, there’d be a conversation between the two of you, but there’s just you. So who else do you have these conversations with as you’re trying to figure out the narrative lenses through which you’re going to make these choices? I mean, who are the other people?

Chris: Well, obviously Rob Hardy, cinematographer, and first and foremost Tom. And Tom has a very distinct sense of what Mission is. He has a very distinct sense of what Mission isn’t. And Tom communicates in emotional terms. He’s not a guy who comes in and says, no, you have to do this in a Mission: Impossible movie. In fact, the only thing you have to do in a Mission: Impossible movie is Tom has to get a mission somewhere in the beginning of the movie. That trope is kind of the thing that differentiates Mission: Impossible. That’s really his only rule.

John: That’s sort of the contract with the audience you’ve made is that there’s going to be a mission assigned at some point.

Chris: Yes. And we have a really fun one at the beginning of this one which we’re very excited about. And it takes you in a direction that it hasn’t quite gone before. We’re quite excited about that. But then also getting back to your question, the other actors. The way the movie tends to come together, there’s a pretty good idea what the story is and what the screenplay is. And we hire actors with an idea of where their character is going. But what Tom and I like to do is work with the actor and on the set start to say, “Well, I’m feeling more of this from you.” For example, Vanessa Kirby’s character in the story started as one thing, and during our conversations, not even rehearsals, but costume fittings and props and things like that we started to play with is your character this – is this a good character or is this a bad character? Is it a character we like to see being bad, or is it a character we want to see get her comeuppance? And we played with all these different shades of the character until we found just who she was. And then on the first day we shot with her, that all proved to be wrong.

And Vanessa just found this beautiful tone that she played with Tom. And now I know how to write the rest of the movie.

We’re also very fortunate in that as long as we’re in Paris – we’re here for almost seven weeks, I only have three dialogue scenes in Paris. Everything else is action. All of the – the interior action in Paris will be shot in London. And what that allows me to do is play with the characters on a very, very, very minute scale and start to find what the movie looks like and know that, oh, I don’t have to explain what happens in this scene until the end of the summer when I’m in London. So it allowed us to sort of prioritize what did I really need to know in Paris before I left and what does that tie me into. And what we’re always trying to do is leave ourselves as many outs as possible.

John: So while you’re shooting this stuff, you are also cutting. There’s somebody who is getting all this information and cutting. So you have an editor who is working on this and–

Chris: Yes.

John: He or she is giving you some sense of what this movie is looking like and feeling like. Are you going in to watch those cuts of sequences along the way?

Chris: Not at this stage. Eddie Hamilton, who cut the last movie, and who cut both Kingsman movies, really brilliant editor, is in London, because he was finishing up Kingsman as this movie started. He’ll join us in New Zealand and then I’ll be back in London. But he calls me – if there’s something particular that is missing from a scene and he knows we’re still at that location, he’ll call me and say get a close up of this, or this thing was out of focus. But for the most part Eddie just calls and says keep shooting.

John: Great. Go back ten years ago and did you think you’d be directing big blockbuster movies?

Chris: No.

John: You were a writer of big movies and I thought you were at the apex of writing those big blockbuster movies. And I sort of assumed you’d keep doing that. So I was surprised that you ended up wanting to do – wanting to direct them. What was the change?

Chris: Somebody asked me. I think really it was – well, I directed The Way of the Gun in ’99 in the hopes that The Way of the Gun would be a stepping stone that would – I tried to do what Rian Johnson did with his career. I was going to direct the little movie, and then a slightly bigger movie, and a slightly bigger movie until I got to direct the big movie I wanted to direct. And that first movie was not successful. You could even go so far as to call it a tremendous bomb.

I guess it’s not a tremendous bomb only in that it wasn’t a big enough movie to be considered a tremendous bomb. [laughs]

John: Absolutely. I have one of those, too.

Chris: Yeah. But people really reacted quite angrily to it. No matter what I did over the next seven years to get another movie off the ground, I couldn’t. And I was working on two fronts. I was working as a rewrite guy and I was writing my own stuff, trying to get it made as a director, and was getting nowhere.

And it wasn’t until Valkyrie when I let go of something that was mine to direct and opted to be the producer on that movie. And as a producer, I learned so much more about both writing and directing then I ever did writing and directing my own movie.

John: Talk about the difference. Because when you’re doing Way of the Gun, you had the responsibilities for everything. So we talked about the bag of money. You’re dealing with all the department heads. You’re making those thousand choices a day, which always sort of terrified me about directing. But what was it about producing a big movie like Valkyrie, because it is just a fundamentally different beast for making a smaller movie like Way of the Gun? What was the change in Valkyrie?

Chris: Well, yes, the size and scope of the movie and also dealing with Tom Cruise, who at the time I did not know, and couldn’t safely assume anything about him. And so my intention was to take a producing credit for having put the movie together. But not actually go make the movie. I really didn’t want to do it. And Paula Wagner, who was still with Tom at the time, was running United Artists, which was the studio making the movie. Paula took me out to lunch to tell me they were making the movie and said, “Now, I understand you’re producing the film.” My intention was to say, “Well, yes…”

John: But you’re really going to do that.

Chris: Yeah. But no, I’m not… – And I sensed immediately how I answered that question would have a profound effect on my career. And instead of saying no, I said, “I am now.” And she said, “Good, because I’ve been on set with Tom for the last 25 years. This is the first time I won’t be able to be on set with him. So I want you to be there as Tom’s guy. I need somebody to be there day to day with Tom.”

And so I found myself very suddenly thrust into this position, which I had never anticipated. And Tom quite graciously took me under his wing. And he understood that my relationship with Bryan Singer was such that I could communicate with Bryan more effectively and probably with more force than Tom could. It allowed Tom to have a very comfortable relationship with Bryan. He never had to push Bryan. All he had to do was create with Bryan. And then he would come to me and say, “Hey, here’s what I think we should be doing.” So Tom and I worked together very well on that movie. And that sort of translated into the next thing, and the next thing.

The next job was we worked on a draft of The Tourist together, which is how I ended up on that movie. He dropped out of The Tourist and then called me up to Ghost Protocol. And he called me up to Ghost Protocol after reading Jack Reacher, which was not something to which he was originally attached.

John: And Jack Reacher was a project you adapted from the book originally?

Chris: Yeah. Don Granger, who was also at UA, and who had been at Cruise-Wagner before that, he’s at Skydance now. Don Granger saw the writing on the wall. Saw that UA was not going to be a going concern. And he said I’ve got this series of books at Cruise-Wagner and I think this is the best prospect at getting a franchise made. So, he offered me the movie and I said I’ll do it on the condition that the studio offers me the movie to direct. I’m not going to ask for permission to direct movies anymore. I’ve been doing it for ten years and getting nowhere. And they did. So I handed Tom that script to read as the producer. And he called me the next day and said, “Script is great. I need you to get on a plane and come up to Vancouver right now. We’re working on Mission: Impossible and I need your help.”

So now I was thrust into a very big movie, bigger than Valkyrie, and it was a movie that more than halfway through the show was in a critical state of confusion as to what the story was. And having worked on Valkyrie and having had that crash course in moviemaking, I now understood, OK, here are the resources I have. Here are the scenes that have been shot. Here are the scenes that haven’t been shot. Here’s the sets they haven’t built. Here’s the sets they haven’t struck. Here are the roles that they haven’t cast yet.

And so I had to make a puzzle out of things you had and things you didn’t have yet. And I could only reshoot what I still had sets for. Like sets they hadn’t torn down. And it gave me this sort of creative puzzle to solve. My first six days of my one week on the movie – I was originally only supposed to go for a week – my first six days were just meeting with department heads and saying, OK, well these are the sets you still have. Can I get rid of this set? Can I move these resources somewhere else if I have this idea? Is there something you can build? And so that really gave me, without ever having to stop and think about how daunting the task was, it gave me this fundamental grassroots understanding of how those big movies functioned. So that when it came my time to do it, I had a slightly better – I had a better understanding of the allocation of resources. And it’s very interesting that that career trajectory is the exception and not the rule. For me to have made an $8.5 million movie, didn’t make another movie for 12 years. That was a $60 million movie. With Valkyrie in the middle, which was like $70 million. But I wasn’t directing. And that the budgets continued to get bigger over time, now what you have is a guy directs a $5 million. The studio says, “Hey, that movie cost $5 million, made $60 million. Let’s give him $100 million and he’ll make a billion.”

That’s a very, very, very hard turn for a lot of filmmakers to make. And now I have another career, which is coming on to those movies and supporting that director and saying, OK, so now you’re making your big movie, here’s what’s important. Because what happens with a lot of those guys is they haven’t gone through the trial by fire where they realize there’s only so much reinventing the wheel can take. They’re still coming at it like an indie filmmaker, but somebody has given them $200 million and a giant franchise. They don’t really want to believe that they’re making mass entertainment and they struggle against that. And I’ve seen two kinds of filmmakers in that. There are the filmmakers who very quickly listen to reason and adapt and survive. And then there are the ones who just their movies get taken away from them.

John: Yeah. We can think of the ones whose movies got taken away, or the really bad scenarios there.

Chris: Yeah.

John: So, if you are coming in to be a director whisperer on a project, at what point is there a realization that there’s going to be a problem? Like are they bringing you in right when that person is hired on to say like this person is going to be a consigliere to you? Or it’s like something has gone horribly awry and now let’s get Chris McQuarrie there to help?

Chris: There’s a sweet spot I call 4-in and 4-out. If you’re four weeks out from shooting, or four weeks into shooting, you’re in this zone where you’re so freaked out you’ll do anything the doctor says. If you’re any deeper into production, you kind of get entrenched and you get blinders on and you’re afraid to change anything. And if you’re too far out, you’re afraid to change anything because you think, oh, it’s too daunting a task. And there was one movie in particular that’s coming out. I’m very interested to see it. I won’t say its name. I begged the director not to go in the direction he was going. Because I really did believe in the material and I thought it was wonderful. And there was one specific plot element that completely degraded the main character of the film. And I said if you just take this thing away, your movie will become really powerful.

But there was a visual idea. Either it was clearly an obsession with this particular idea, and there was a refusal to recognize that this very idea that gives you one visual aspect of the movie is going to tear the movie down. And he said, “Well, it’s just too much work.” And I said, “You’ve got nine months. You don’t realize how many times you can reinvent this movie.” And more importantly, because of the movies I’d worked on, I come into a movie like that and say, “I’m not going to change anything about your movie. I’m not going to change the sets. I’m not going to introduce new characters. I’m going to take the resources you have and kind of reconfigure your movie to give it a more emotional journey.” Because that’s really all I care about.

It took me a long time to learn that. I was an information guy. And it was what I was telling the audience. I was a writer who was all about dialogue. And I’ve since learned about emotional drag. That’s my catchphrase.

John: That 4 weeks in/4 weeks out thing is really interesting because you look at these filmmakers who are coming from – like you and I on our first movies, like those were four weeks, you’re almost done with your movie on a $5 movie.

Chris: Yeah.

John: And so it’s a very different thing. But you know we’ve both also been involved with these movies that just shoot for forever. And you and I both have helped out on those movies where you come in where the train is already running, but generally if we’re coming in as a screenwriter we’re just there to fix sort of the visible screenwriting problems. And so we’re not doing the thing of what you’re talking about with Mission: Impossible where you actually had to sort of talk to all the department heads and really get their buy-in.

A couple times we’ve had guests on the show, Drew Goddard, or Damon Lindelof recently, who talked about the big opportunity, the thing that changed everything was coming into a project that was in crisis. It was, you know, the TV show that was going down, that didn’t have any more scripts. In this case it was a movie that was sort of swirling around. And that’s also been true in my career. It’s the editing rooms where they couldn’t find the movie that I could come back in and actually really help.

Chris: Yes.

John: And those are the moments. And if you haven’t had both the courage to step up when those things happen, but also the education to sort of know what are the right questions to ask, you know, how to push for the best thing. It can be really daunting. And if I were that filmmaker that you’re coming in to help, I would be scared to ask for help. Because that’s an admission of failure. That’s an admission that someone made a mistake in hiring me to do this job.

Chris: Yes. It’s the moment in Terminator when he says, “Come with me if you want to live.” You walk in and you say to that director, “Here’s what’s happening on your movie and here’s what’s going to happen.”

There was one director in particular, his movie is in trouble, he was four weeks in. There was going to be a big change. The script was going to be gutted. There was a lot of panic. And I said, “Can I just go in and talk to him for half an hour before you guys all come in so that he doesn’t feel like I’m the studio hatchet man?” And I have had that happen, too. I have had studios try to sort of manipulate that. They try to position me as being the hatchet man and I won’t do it. I’ll go to bat for the director every time.

So I walked in and I told him here’s what’s going to happen. They’re going to come in and they’re going to say these are the things we want in the movie. And a lot of them are ideas that I have suggested for how to fix your movie. I’m going to strongly urge you to say, “I’ve heard everything that Chris has suggested. I don’t like any of it. I don’t think any of it works. But if you think that’s what the movie needs, I look forward to seeing how it turns out.” I said, what you will then do is you will put the responsibility that has been placed on you onto the producers. And the producers will feel that you are working to make their movie. The studio will feel that you’re working to serve what they ultimately need served. And he didn’t do it.

And we had another meeting and half an hour before I went in and said, “Now remember, just say this, and the pressure will come off of you.” And he didn’t do it again. And eventually everything he was afraid would manifest itself manifested itself. And I don’t even think by the time he was through the process he even recognized that his movie had sort of been taken over. His worst nightmare sort of happened. That was the other thing. When you’re talking about working on those movies on those – those movies that are falling apart, you have an emotional detachment that you wouldn’t have if it was your own story.

John: Absolutely.

Chris: You’re able to come into it and say, “Well, there’s a clarity that I have on everybody else’s movies that I will never have on my own movie.” I’m dying right now in the middle of Mission: Impossible, trying to figure out the turn on page 70. I know what happens in Act Three. I just can’t – know what’s supposed to happen, but I can’t quite figure out how to get there. If it wasn’t my movie, I would parachute in and just be like, oh, you just have to do this, and you know, and it’s just so much easier when it’s not your baby.

John: Can I ask you, a thing that’s happened to me over only the past few years where I will get on something that I will get stuck and I just can’t get past it. And I would never ask for help, but I have started asking for help. And so like just this last week with this book I’m doing, there was this one thing that I couldn’t get to work. And I was like you know who would actually know the answer to this thing, my friend Lisa. She will know the answer to this. And so I just called Lisa and I described the situation. And she absolutely had the answer. Do you call anybody? Do you bring anybody else onto–?

Chris: I call everybody. I’m going to call you right after this. [laughs] I have specific people that I call all the time. And we all kind of get stumped together. Because the problem with something like Mission, the action is dictating the narrative. And I was determined to change that on this movie. And I started with that. I started with more of an emotional story for this character and more of a character arc within it. It’s definitely more of an emotional journey for Ethan Hunt in that movie. But then the action comes in. And the ambitions of that action, so there’s a sequence at the end of the movie which is fabulous. It’s never been done. It’s all photo real. It’s going to be incredible. You then have to create the contrivances for that sequence to happen. And then there’s only a few locations in the world where you can shoot that sequence. So suddenly you find yourself going, well, I have this resource and that resource, and I have to put them in my movie. Why are they in my movie? And now I’ve got to explain that.

So suddenly you find yourself writing. And you know how it is. Especially when you’re writing for studios, you get to a place where you go, god, it would be – I know what I should write. If I didn’t have to turn right here and I could turn left, I’d know where this movie would go. And that is kind of the – that’s the thing you’re always struggling.

John: You’re trying to find a way to finesse it so it feels like it’s a natural turn, that it’s not just – and now we cut to a new sequence, because we all know the directors who would just like, OK, this is my big – on the wall here I have all the different sort of sequences and like find a way to connect them all together. Go. And those are the jobs I despise and ultimately get out of because I don’t want to just be the person who is stringing those things together.

Chris: Oh, it’s soul-sucking work. It really is.

John: It pays well, but it kills you. And you’re always just…

Chris: Yeah.

John: You’re responsible for just creating a trailer for the moments that are happening in front of you. It’s maddening.

Chris: Yes. Well, it’s funny you say that, because that’s another thing that we think about now. That since just before Rogue Nation, the lesson I learned, having had fights with the studio about the marketing of Jack Reacher, my first meeting on Rogue Nation I just went to marketing and said, “Tell me what to do, tell me what you need so that I’m not fighting with you.” And that has evolved for me. So that in this movie, Tom and I have a rule, you give marketing one shot a day. Every day you get a trailer shot. It’s like doesn’t matter–

John: That’s great.

Chris: And you look at it and go, yep, that could be in a trailer. OK, send it away. And then they’re happy. They’re invested in your movie as opposed to you’re fighting them. But we also know that movies like this need lines like, “You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.” You know, you just – I don’t know what that means in the context of the rest of the movie. I don’t ever particularly feel that he is a kite in a hurricane in that movie. But the sexiness of that line in a trailer is really effective. And so you develop a sense for where those lines might go in a movie. And we have little placeholders.

There’s a scene between Tom Cruise and Sean Harris in this movie and we have a blank space there were it’s like that’s where we know the villain is going to say something that is going to communicate the story of the movie in that one sound bite. I never really thought that way until this franchise.

John: Well, if you think about people who run TV shows, they have to think about this episode of television that they’re making, but they have to be thinking of the whole series. They have to be thinking of like how am I going to keep this thing on the air. And it sort of sounds like part of what you’re doing is that realization that you’re responsible not only for this two hours of entertainment, but you’re responsible for this giant ship that is going to be sailing through its berth and the success of that. And so it’s not just these two hours of film, it’s everything around it. It’s this universe of marketing around it that you also have to be aware of. And from an early time. You can’t just like make your movie then get involved with the marketing.

Chris: Yes. And what is Mission. It’s the life of whatever this thing is, so that your movie leaves it so that another chapter in the franchise can exist. And I guess that’s where jumping the shark comes in. You know, you worry all the time. Am I taking this in a way that it can’t go? And we had a big conversation about tone. Because Brad Bird really changed the tone of the franchise and Rogue Nation embraced that tone completely. At the beginning of this I said to Tom, “I don’t think we can do that three in a row. I think now it’s going to become cute. I think we need to take it another direction still.” And we did.

But now we find ourselves going, you know, are we going where Bond went where Bond became–

John: Dark and serious.

Chris: Serious. It’s another kind of tone. Which, by the way, has not hurt their bottom line at all. They’ve really found their place. But we can’t go there. We were sort of laughing because we were looking at Rogue Nation and saying, “Well thanks, Bond, for not doing that anymore, so we’ll do it.” Now we’re looking at it and going, “But we can’t keep doing that.” We suddenly hit that same wall and understood why Bond went the way they did. And we’re at this kind of emotional crossroads with the franchise saying well how dramatic can you take Mission? It’s not going to a dark place. It’s going to a more emotionally dramatic place.

John: When we were making Charlie’s Angels, when we started making the second one, I talked to the team and I described it as like I really want to approach this as we made an amazing pilot and now we’re going to make that first episode of the TV show that actually – of the series that really is the series. Where we sort of learned everything from the pilot and now we’re going to make the most amazing one. And we didn’t. Spoiler. It was as much of a trouble and more so than the first one.

But that was sort of the fantasy. You want to be able to make the sort of movie series. Marvel is able to do it remarkably well. DC, yet to see whether they’re going to be able to make a franchise-y series out of the things they’re trying to do. But it’s laudable. You understand why people want to do it.

Chris: Well, DC has a tough road to hoe because they’ve got to do something different than Marvel. Marvel has staked a claim so strongly in a very specific tone. And Marvel has Kevin Feige, who is not a traditional studio head. He’s not a traditional producer. He is a producer of the old school. That’s what producers used to be like in Hollywood. They were the guys who came in and said this is the movie. I guess the closest analogue in something other than comic book movies is somebody like a Scott Rudin who really he owns the material and he is a filmmaker in his own right and has specific control.

Warner Bros has to do something to differentiate itself from that. And what is that? There’s Christopher Nolan’s Batman, but that’s not a universe. That’s one character. Whereas Iron Man and the Marvel universe sort of set the tone for all those other movies. I mean, if you had told me even a year before it came out that Captain America would work as a movie, or that Thor would work as a movie, that I’d find those characters appealing, that I’d actually find Captain America one of the more appealing characters in the Marvel universe. I just would have laughed at you. And we had grown up seeing so many bad attempts inn these really cheesy TV movie ways.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen some of those Captain Marvel movies or–

John: They’re amazing.

Chris: Oh my god. Oh my god. So, it will be very interesting to see how DC defines themselves.

John: So, switching just for our last topic here, we just finished the negotiations for the WGA and so there’s not going to be a strike.

Chris: Thank god.

John: What would have happened if a strike had occurred while you were making this movie? Like what do you do?

Chris: Well, we had an emergency plan in place, assuming that if there was going to be a strike. On the day that the contract ran out, we were hedging our bets and saying there will probably be a ten-day extension. There wasn’t the feeling that it was acrimonious and that a strike was just going to happen that moment. So, I had a friend who is a writer friend of mine who I have worked with on other movies and he was on deck. And if there was an extension, he was ready to get on a plane, fly out, and during that ten days we were going to generate as many pages as we possibly could. And then we figured the lights were going to go out.

John: So you get past your page 70 thing. You just have something you can shoot at page 70.

Chris: You had to have something you could shoot.

John: Our friend Aline Brosh McKenna calls that the Rocky Shoals. It’s that point where the movie is transitioning from sort of one thing before it becomes that third act.

Chris: Yes.

John: And it’s often a challenge in scripts, but it’s often a challenge in cuts. So I sympathize.

Chris: Yeah. It’s funny, on the last one, that wasn’t the problem. On the last one it was how does this movie end. I know the ending of the movie quite vividly. I don’t know – there’s this weird middle bit that’s happening in London. And I know what the last five pages of it are. I know there’s a confrontation that Ethan has at the end of that, which is this scene that I really love. And what happened was when we sensed that the strike was coming, I had all of these action scenes that had been storyboarded and worked out and in many cases prevised, but no one had ever written a page of those sequences.

There was something like 30 pages of material that existed in concept. We were building sets and rigs and all sorts of things. I just didn’t have them in script form. So I had this friend – the storyboard artist called him and said here’s everything we’re doing. And he took that 30 pages off of my docket. He wasn’t creating anything, but he was writing it in script form so that I could more quickly rewrite it. And he wrote this one scene, but not in any way, shape, or form the way I would have shot it, but inspired this idea where I was like, oh my god, I’ve got this really fun idea. So we know what that sequence is now. Or at least we know how that sequence ends. I just don’t know how it begins.

John: One of the things that was a big topic of the WGA negotiations was the move to shorter seasons and sort of how writers were being held for a very long time on these shorter seasons. And their writing fees was being applied against producing fees. But we see also a change happening in features where there are these mini rooms where they are bringing together a bunch of screenwriters, some really high levels, some newbies, and they’re working through a giant property. So they’ll take–

Chris: Transformers.

John: Transformers was an early example of that, where they’ll say, OK, we’re going to spend four weeks and figure out Transformers and generate, you know, a TV series and three movies and we’re going to figure out what this all is. Where do you see yourself fitting into that universe?

Chris: I believe you can create all of the Transformers stuff you want. You can build out the whole universe. You can finish all the screenplays. It goes back to the very beginning of the conversation we were having. When the rubber hits the road, that’s all going to change. They’re going to call you. They’re going to call me. They’re going to call Drew. They’re going to call somebody in at some point and go, “None of this works. It was all great in theory, but we just suddenly…”

An actor drops out. Or the budget changes. And things happen. What I try to impress upon writers going into it now, I believe the future belongs to the writer-producer. That is not to say you have to be named a producer on the movie. But that you need to be able to function on a level where you are – you need to understand editing. You need to understand elements of physical production. The more you understand that, the more valuable you will be to those people. The more you’re selling yourself and not your writing.

Writers right now – and I did it for a long, long time – tend to believe I’m going to write this script and the script is the commodity. It’s not. It’s your ability to write a script that is the commodity. The truth of the matter is, if everybody could write they’d do it. They wouldn’t call us. The fact that the strike was going to happen and had people nervous, if we went on strike, movies just – nobody would write it. It’s a lonely, miserable, very difficult particular skill.

And everybody thinks they can do it. I think the same way everybody feels like playing guitar looks like it would be easy.

John: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, just pick it up. Just strumming.

Chris: Well, yeah, you teach me the basics. You teach me a couple of chords and I’m like, oh, this is very easy. Then show me Van Halen and say do that. And, by the way, do it with two weeks before you’re going on stage. In those writer’s rooms and things like that, this thing with the television seasons that they’re dealing with now. The nature of television is changing and it created a really prickly situation in this atmosphere with the strike.

I can see the studios looking at it and saying, “Well, yeah, now there are only ten episodes. There used to be 22 and now there’s ten. Why should we pay you more if there’s only ten?” And we’re saying, “But wait, you’re taking us off the market for this much time.”

The studio’s argument is going to be, “Go and create your own show.” It’s going to thin the herd out. It’s going to define who those writer-producers are. And I think what it’s going to do is it’s going to shape writer’s opinions of themselves. Writers have been trained to believe that they are simultaneously necessary and totally dependent. That you can’t make a movie without a screenplay, but I can’t get my screenplay made unless you buy it and validate me. And now you’re at a place where you can be more a part of the process.

Here’s the dirty little secret, and it’s something you know better than anybody. A lot of directors don’t know how to direct. They simply don’t know how to do it. They have some specific skill or some specific vision, or a team around them that helped them, but of great many of them don’t really understand the fundamentals of storytelling as much as they understand some specific visual style.

As a writer who understands editing, you will be invaluable to that director. You may not get the glory. You may not get the credit, but if those things aren’t important to you, if being valuable is what’s important to you, you will always work. And that was really the big change for me in my career. I wanted very much to be in control of my own destiny. And by letting go of that control, my destiny has become that much more in my control.

You were asking me at the beginning, you know, how did you – did you ever expect that you would be directing these blockbusters. I very distinctly remember when I was trying to get Valkyrie made, and I thought Valkyrie was going to be a little movie, no one would read it. It didn’t matter who I was or where I came from. They’d hear it’s about the German generals who, and they were done. They didn’t care.

When Bryan Singer attached himself, people were then offering to make it without having to read it. And I had a very painful realization which was I’ll never be at the level to direct the things that I really want to do. Booth and Valkyrie and The Last Mission and things like that. All my history stuff. Because I’m never going to direct X-Men. And X-Men gets you to a level where you can step down to do a Valkyrie. I’m just never going to get there. So I let go of that dream. And in doing that I became a producer on Valkyrie, which led to rewriting Mission: Impossible, which led to Jack Reacher, Edge of Tomorrow. And on Edge of Tomorrow, Tom said, “You should direct the next Mission.”

So I never aimed for that target. I just showed up at work saying how can I help you make your film. How can I help you make your movie better? And not worrying about where the path was taking me. And at the beginning of this process, there was a thing in the press the movie fell apart. The movie was shut down for a while. It was shut down over contract stuff. And when it did, I felt this very strange relief. First, I was freaked out, for a minute. But I remember hanging up the phone. I got the call and I was in New Hampshire at a friend’s house, where we visit them in the summer, and I was in the same room that I had been in ten years to the week when Bryan Singer called and said he wanted to make Valkyrie. And my career took off again.

And I thought to myself, wow, that was – I’ve been working with Tom for ten years. We’ve made nine movies in ten years in some capacity. I’ve worked on nine movies with him. That’s a pretty good run. You can’t take that for granted. That part of your life is over now. Because Tom is going to go off and do something and I’m going to go off and do something else. And who knows when our stars will align again.

And for those two weeks, I was looking at a completely different life for myself. So that when Tom called me back up two weeks later and said, “Hey, we’re back on,” I went, I don’t know. I don’t really know about it. I’m not sure that’s what my future is. I had gone back to London to pack up my apartment. Because I had moved my family back to LA. My girls were in school. Two weeks into school I get the call that we’re back. And he goes, “Let’s go for a walk and we’ll talk about it.” We go walk around Hyde Park. It’s one of the reasons Tom loves London. He can just go out and walk places and everybody is very respectful.

And we talked all about it. And my apprehension and sort of the catharsis I’d been through. And he said, he goes, “Look, you’ll do whatever you want to do. You want to make this movie, make this movie. You don’t want to make it, don’t make it.” He goes, “I’ll always work with you. We’ll work on something else together. This is a go movie. That’s all I’m going to say. I don’t know what else you got going on, but this movie is going.” And that’s a really hard thing to achieve. And he was right. The other stuff that I wanted to do wasn’t immediately happening. Still isn’t happening. So, I got back on the train.

And now when I go to work in the morning, there’s days you get up and you don’t want to go. Don’t want to go to set. You’re not ready to face the material. And that the lesson I’ve learned is the days that I don’t want to go turn out to be the best days. Those are the days where you’re just like, “I don’t know what to shoot, and I don’t know how to do it.” And you find yourself creating this shot. And it builds, and builds, and builds. And you end up just starting with a problem and you walk away from it, just shot by shot, having created one neat little moment in your movie. That’s just a great feeling.

And the fact that these movies afford you the opportunity to do that on such a grand scale is really, really fun.

John: Comparing that to your life as a screenwriter, there are definitely days where you or I, we don’t want to sit down and write that thing. It’s almost always torture to actually get me at the computer.

Chris: Yes.

John: But at least with the director, you have a call time on the sheet. Like someone is going to pick you up and take you there. And then you’re going to be responsible for those decisions. And that’s terrifying and there are definitely days I don’t want to get in the van, but once you’re there, there’s a whole bunch of people there who are there to help you. And there’s at least some plan for what you are supposed to do. There was some assignment you were given. Like this is the thing that is theoretically on the call sheet. So, we got this location, we got these people, it should be something like this. And you can figure it out.

And, you know, some of my favorite days in directing were things had gone horribly wrong, or there’s a rainstorm and it won’t match cut into anything else, but we have to shoot this. It’s the only day on this location. And you just make it work. It’s going back to remembering like, OK, what is this actually supposed to be about. What is here that we can use to do this and how can we sort of make this problem seem like a solution?

Chris: Screenwriting is pushing a rock up a hill. And directing is running downhill with the rock behind you. [laughs] That’s really what it is. It’s going, and it’s going to crush you if you don’t run. But, also, the other night we were – I think this was in our first or second week of shooting. We were at the Grand Palais. We had this big sequence at the Grand Palais. We had all these extras. And extras in France get paid quite a bit of money. So, you had to pick and choose what nights you had a lot of extras. And finally we were shooting outside the Grand Palais. There’s a scene where Tom and Vanessa Kirby and another character come – and Henry Cavill all come running out of the Grand Palais.

And there’s a big event inside. And that night there’s 150 extras. And we put the camera in front of the building and Tom and Vanessa and Henry come walking out and they’re just like three people and 150 extras barely – it’s just deserted. And you came from this big event inside to suddenly – it’s so big. There was nothing you can do.

And the cinematographer loved the building. And he said, “But this is great. This is a great shot of the Grand Palais.” And I said, “But it’s deserted. How do we make 150 people look like a thousand people?” And instead of shooting the outside of the building looking in, we went inside the building and put a long lens on the camera and created a narrow funnel of people. And had the actors rushing through the door with all the extras coming towards you. And it turned into this – the fun of it was we were shooting Mission: Impossible, but we were making an independent film. Where like I only have 150 people. What do I do to make this shot big?

And we had the best time that night. That was like really one of the more fun attacks we had. It was great.

John: So, at the end of our podcast we often do a One Cool Thing where we recommend one thing that people should check out. My One Cool Thing this week is a new tool from Google called AutoDraw, which is actually just madness and wonderful. So, it’s just a sketching program, but you can just freehand draw with the cursor and draw something that looks like a terrible horse and it will provide good line images of a horse, or it will guess basically what you’re trying to draw and give you a much better version of it.

Chris: That sounds crazy.

John: It’s just our modern computers doing smart things. And so it’s just

Craig: I’m going to stump AutoDraw. I guarantee you. I’m that bad. I have the drawing skills of a stroke victim. There’s no way. I’m going to try it. I’m going to try it. I’m going to try and draw a horse and I guarantee you it’s going to send back, “We’re you thinking of a transaxle? We’re you thinking of a pill?”

John: It pulls up along the top a bunch of images that sort of could be like what you’re trying to draw, so at least you get a sense of like what it thought you might be trying to draw. Like earlier today I was trying to draw a skeleton, but it kept giving me like lobster people. And it’s like, you know, I could see why they thought I was trying to draw a lobster.

Craig: Yeah, no, for sure. I mean, lobster people are certainly more frequently drawn than skeletons. So that makes sense. I think I’m going to try this and Google is just going to direct me to a site, You May Be Having a Stroke. And that’s useful.

My One Cool Thing this week is a game, a little tiny game. The best games for your phone are the little tiny stupid ones that do one thing. They don’t try and do a whole lot of things. Remember Dots, remember that one? Where you’d make the square with the dots? Did you ever play that?

John: Two Dots, yeah.

Craig: Two Dots. There you go. Two Dots. That was fun because it was incredibly simple. Well, so these folks have come up with a game called Zip Zap. I hate that name. I hate it. But, the game is so brilliant. It’s the simplest thing. You have basically – they’ll show you a couple of little girders. They look like little Lego type girders. And one of them if you tap on the screen – no swiping. Swiping does nothing. If you tap on the screen, you can make one of them contract in a certain way. And the whole point of this is to just move this thing around towards a goal.

It’s so simple. And at first you’re like, this is great, because I’m good at it. And then very quickly you’re like, oh, god, oh no. But it’s all brilliant. The level designs are all brilliant. And it’s the kind of game where you can just – it’s very level-based. I’m on like 3-16 right now. Great time waster. And it’s free.

John: Yay. We like that. I actually made it to the third screen of Zip Zap and gave up because it got to be really maddening. There’s a lot of times where like you’re trying to flip it in a certain way and then you’re going to – it’s like my daughter flipping the water bottle stuff. It just drove me crazy after a while.

Craig: Is your daughter doing the spinner thing? The Fidget Spinner?

John: The Fidget Spinner has not made it to France yet. And thank goodness.

Craig: Yeah. It’s here, buddy.

Chris: The thing I was going to tell you about is the Fidget Cube.

John: Oh, he’s got the Fidget Cube.

Craig: Oh, Fidget Cube. Yeah.

Chris: Somebody had just given me this as a gift. Here is the Fidget Cube.

John: Can I get a picture of you holding the Fidget Cube to prove we were here?

Chris: You can take a picture of me holding the Fidget Cube. Somebody gave this to me on set and I had read about it as–

John: It was a Kickstarter, yeah.

Chris: And like most things on Kickstarter, I go that looks cool. That’ll never get made. And sure enough, it did. Somebody gave this to me on set and it has been with me every day since. And when I’m nervous, which you quite often are on the set, you’re just – time is getting more and more horrible and you’re just getting agitated, I am constantly playing with this thing. And it’s actually quite satisfying. Have you seen one of these?

John: I haven’t seen it in person. But I’ll play it.

Craig: The Fidget Cube, I think wasn’t the initial application for people with ADHD?

John: Yeah. But we all sort of have something.

Chris: Yeah.

Craig: No, no, no, McQuarrie has it. There’s no sort of.

Chris: I don’t know what you would describe what I have as.

Craig: It’s advanced. It’s AADHD.

Chris: But my problem isn’t the hyper activity part. I don’t think you can call me hyper active. I’m actually hyper lazy.

Craig: Yeah. You know what you have? You have Attention Deficit Hypo Active Disorder. So you don’t move around, but you also don’t have an attention span. It’s perfect. Actually that’s a perfect director thing because you sit in your chair, but then you’re like show me something new.

Chris: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

John: I meant to ask you, are you shooting French hours while you’re in Paris?

Chris: We are. Yes. The ten-hour days, you mean?

John: Yeah. Is it as amazing as everyone says?

Craig: Love those.

Chris: Well, we’ve always done it. We did it on the last Mission: Impossible as well. We were in London, but shooting French hours. It’s great. You don’t lose that momentum that you do with breaking for lunch. And an hour is really two hours. You don’t think about it in those terms. The difference is that when the day is done, most days I get in the car and I have real energy all through the day. I get in the car to drive home and I am unconscious before I get back to the hotel. You just feel like you’ve been in combat. You’re just drained.

But then when you wake up again, then it’s very hard to get to sleep. It’s really – it’s quite unusual.

John: But you came from the set right to recording a podcast, so thank you very much for doing that.

Chris: Yeah. But this thing is engaging. Sitting down and talking about ideas and talking about movies and stuff like that, I could stay here till four o’clock in the morning. It’s when I walk out this door, halfway up the steps I’m going to pass out.

John: All right. That’s our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you an outro, you can send a link to That’s also where you can send longer questions. For short questions, I am on Twitter @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Are you on Twitter?

Chris: I’m on Twitter.

John: What is your Twitter handle?

Chris: I am @ChrisMcQuarrie on Twitter. And Christopher McQuarrie on Instagram.

John: Fantastic.

Chris: Although I’m not kind of doing all that much on Twitter anymore, because it’s become – I put pictures on there, but Twitter has become a very angry, militant place.

John: Yes.

Chris: Everyone is an activist.

John: Craig goes to war every day.

Chris: Yeah.

Craig: Every day. Every day.

Chris: When you make a comment, you make a joke about the global marketplace and are accused of being a racist, it was time to [unintelligible]. So now I just put pictures on Twitter. And I find that Instagram is a much more–

John: Nice and calm.

Chris: Welcoming place. And I think because it’s not words, it’s images, that’s much more. Anyway.

John: Anyway. We are also on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. But don’t look us up individually because I don’t friend anybody on Facebook.

You can find us on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at And that’s also where you find the transcripts. They go up about four days after the episode airs.

You can find all those back episodes at

Chris McQuarrie, thank you so much for being on the show this week. This was amazing.

Chris: Thank you. And how cool that we’re doing this in Paris?

John: It’s in Paris. I live here.

Chris: Because you live here. Paris is fantastic. You’re an ex-pat.

John: I am an ex-pat for two more months.

Chris: Awesome.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 299: It’s Always Sunny in Star Wars — Transcript

Mon, 05/22/2017 - 08:48

John August: Hey, this is John. So, in today’s episode of Scriptnotes there are enough bad words that you probably don’t want to listen to it in the car with your kids, or at work if you work at some place that doesn’t like to have occasional swearing.

Craig Mazin: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin.

Dana Fox: I am not John August.

Craig: And this is a live Scriptnotes coming to you from Hollywood, California. Folks, let them know you’re here. To set the stage for you playing the home game, we are in the ArcLight Theater in Hollywood. Big 400-seat theater. The whole thing is sold out. Everyone is here to benefit Hollywood Heart, which is a wonderful charity that helps out kids in need. And this is something that we did last year and we’re doing it this year. Not, you know, I don’t want to go out of my way and say that last year’s show wasn’t great. It was great.

There’s no chance that it’s not going to get better this time. We had David Benioff and Dan Weiss from Game of Thrones.

Dana: That’s nice. That’s good stuff.

Craig: There you go. Yeah, that was good.

Dana: Those guys are good. That one guy is tall.

Craig: Yeah, very tall.

Dana: Weirdly attractive. The other guy I’ve not met yet, but also I believe to be weirdly attractive. I’m just trying to set the stage because it’s not a visual medium.

Craig: This is the sort of stuff I don’t get with John August.

Dana: I’m trying to just—

Craig: Ever. But tonight we have incredible, incredible guests. But first, just to kick things off, I figured we should just catch up a little. You know, John likes to do follow up. I’ll make it easy for you as we go.

Right now, maybe we’re going on strike.

Dana: Oh boy. Yeah.

Craig: Are we going on strike?

Dana: I don’t actually know, but I do know that like a hot minute ago I pressed send on a really not super great script that had to be handed in today before this event. [laughs] So, you’re welcome, America. I hope you enjoy that movie.

Craig: Yeah. Flash ahead to a couple years. When you’re in the movie theater you might go, “Ohh, this was what she was talking about. It’s not that great.”

We’re hopeful that there isn’t going to be a strike. If some of you are writers, and you’re a little tense, don’t worry. We all are. But we’re hopeful.

Dana: If anybody reads anything on their phone, definitely yell it out. Like right as it happens.

Craig: Yeah, like if we’re going on strike, interrupt the show. And if we’re definitely not going on strike, yeah, interrupt the show.

Well, I think we should probably get started with our guests, because we have a busy show. And what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk to our guests and then at the end of the show we’ll open it up to some questions from you guys, as we always do. And then afterwards apparently there is a party that only one-quarter of you may attend. So, just decide amongst yourselves. Who thinks that sounds like a good idea?

Dana: Sorry.

Craig: Yeah, should be fine. Our first guest tonight – my cards are—

Dana: Your cards are amazing, Craig. You’re doing so good. I love this.

Craig: John does everything. You know that, right?

Dana: Oh, you’re doing amazing.

Craig: I feel like I’m doing all right.

Dana: You’re doing great. I love this. Go.

Craig: Because normally I just – normally I get to do what you do. It’s so much more fun, right?

Dana: Keep crushing. You’re doing great.

Craig: Our first guest tonight is the creator, executive producer, writer, and star of a television show that is now the longest running live action comedy in television history.

Dana: Woohoo.

Craig: So, screw you, Leave it to Beaver, or whoever they beat. I’d like to welcome to the show Rob McElhenney.

Rob McElhenney: Is this where you were sitting?

Craig: Yeah, is it nice?

Rob: Yeah, super warm. Are you nervous?

Craig: I’ve done 299 of these. This is our 299th – you’d think that we would have done the 300th like this, right? Not interested in round numbers. Fuck them. Does that answer your question?

Dana: You know, the penultimate episode every television show at the end of the series is always better than the final episode. So in a weird way I feel like this is it.

Craig: This is the one. This is the one.

Dana: This is the Ozymandias, or Rian will tell us how to pronounce it when he comes in.

Craig: It’s a very famous poem. It’s Ozymandias. We all know.

Dana: Clearly not John August. Like living up to not being John August right away.

Craig: Rob, I want to just ask you, how do you even wrap your mind around the fact that you’ve done this show that is the longest running live action comedy in television history. Does it feel that way? I mean, does it feel like you’ve run a triple marathon? Or are you like, no problem, we can keep doing this forever.

Rob: I certainly feel like we could keep doing it forever just because we’re having so much fun with it. And our audience seems to grow every year, which is great.

I will say that even just driving here, as I was driving down Fountain, it all looks exactly the same to me as it did 12 years ago. And I was sort of reflecting on the last decade of my life. And it seems to have gone very quickly. Even though I was obviously in a very different point in my life when I created the show.

Dana: I have a follow up question. Do you have children and do you know their names?

Rob: I do. I have two children. Two boys. And, well, I’ve been lucky enough because my wife is also on the show with me. So, we have – they have their own trailer. They’re not going to be fucked up. They’re fine.

Craig: You still haven’t even mentioned the names. It’s boy 1 and boy 2.

Dana: Boy 1 and Boy 2, super grounded.

Craig: Yeah. Boy and Shorter Boy.

Rob: My wife takes care of the names. The nanny does the schooling. No, I get to spend a tremendous amount of time with them. And, in fact, we kind of got the show down to a system now where our writer’s room is we come in at 10:30 or 11 and we leave by 5 or 5:30, no matter what.

Dana: I always heard that the Modern Family people had a “No Headlights Rule,” which is like they don’t leave if they have to turn their headlights on. And at like two o’clock in the morning when I was making my show, I was always so jealous of that. Do you guys have the “No Headlights Rule?”

Rob: No. Usually we just watch to see when Charlie’s eyes glaze over. And as soon as that happens I’m like, all right, it’s just diminishing returns at this point.

Craig: It seems weirdly seasonal anyway. I don’t like that rule. You know, think about a show like—

Rob: By the way, I’m going to interrupt you for a second, because that’s just kind of fun. I’m going to continue to do that throughout your own show. We’re not the longest running sitcom as of right now. We will be as per our current contract.

Craig: Who do we have to beat?

Rob: Ossie and Harriet.

Craig: Oh yeah. No problem.

Rob: Yeah. We just stepped on My Three Son’s necks, all three of them.

Craig: Nice. Because Ossie and Harriet, they’re all dead.

Rob: Yeah.

Craig: They can’t come back.

Rob: No.

Craig: OK. We’re good.

Dana: It’s got to be a little bittersweet. What is it like to strangle your idols to death?

Craig: He didn’t say they were his idols.

Rob: I was probably born 25 years after that show was canceled.

Craig: I’m kind of curious about, when I first – I remember years and years ago when I first started out, I was talking to somebody who worked in television and they said the key to television is likeability. The characters have to be likeable.

And even then I thought that doesn’t make any – I don’t like many of – the characters that I love on TV seem really grouchy and grumpy. And then Seinfeld came along and defined the notion of a show where everyone was unlikeable, even to the point where in their season finale they all to prison and the show is literally saying these are bad people.

You guys went, nah, nah, nah, we’ll show you bad people. I’m kind of curious, the fact that everyone is sort of sociopathic, I mean, I don’t know if you would agree with that diagnosis, but the fact that they’re all sociopathic, does that kind of – does that kind of help you just generate endless ideas? You don’t seem – like you could go anywhere with these characters.

Rob: Yeah. I mean, the fact that the characters don’t grow, or change, or learn anything ever is helpful because you reset at the end of every episode. So it’s a blank slate.

Craig: That’s tragic actually.

Dana: Like morally bankrupt Finding Dory sort of?

Craig: Right. Yeah.

Rob: That’s how I pitched it.

Dana: Ish.

Craig: Because it just seems like, you know, shows will say, well, the show was kind of going along and then it jumped the shark. You know, but you guys, I think you’ve avoided the shark-jumping because all you do is jump sharks. It’s all you do, every episode you’re jumping some kind of shark.

Rob: Yeah. We jumped shark within the first three minutes of the pilot.

Craig: Exactly. So you’re going to be fine.

Dana: I haven’t watched all 7,000 episodes, but have you guys ever tried to jump the shark by not doing something insane, like having it just be a normal episode of television?

Rob: Yeah, we’ve done a fair amount of just straight episodes. Certainly we do a lot of bottle episodes, where there’s not a lot going on. It’s just all very insular. In fact, we did an episode this season called The Gang Tends Bar. And it’s literally just about us running, operating a drinking establishment.

Dana: Like an actually working bar?

Rob: And one of the characters, it was brought up that this is like the greatest scam in history. We sell something that’s addicting to people for money. We get them addicted. And then they give us money. And we think we came up with that scam. And we’re like who came up with the scam? We’re like, we did when we bought the bar 12 years ago. And really the guys that first started creating alcohol and selling it created that scam.

Craig: Right. This is why you can go forever. Because you can just write an episode where they just tend bar. I mean, there’s really nothing limiting you, I mean, because a lot of shows will say, well, Simpsons did it. That’s the problem. You know, Simpsons, there’s been 4 billion episodes and they’ve done all these high concept.

You guys don’t really do, well, I guess occasionally there’s sort of high concept.

Rob: Yeah, we’ll do musical episodes. We did an episode this year where we turned black for the entire episode. We thought, well—

Craig: How’d that go?

Rob: It was fairly well received, thank you very much. There was a splattering of applause. See?

Craig: Yeah, they’re very accepting.

Rob: Yeah. That’s really the lifeblood of our audience is the smattering of applause across the country. Mostly in metropolitan markets. For the last 15 years.

Craig: It’s kind of amazing. Between the ages of?

Dana: But for real, like dialing in for real, how do you actually keep it feeling fresh after that many episodes? It’s sort of shocking to me that you guys are able to still be that good after that many episodes.

Rob: I think it’s mostly because it’s our faces that are out there. I really do believe that. I think, look, running a show as you guys know is really difficult and time-consuming, and tedious, and it takes a tremendous amount of effort. And also we’ve had the luxury of only doing between 10 and 15 episodes a season. We’ve never done more than 15 episodes a season, which I think helps.

But beyond that, the fact that we know that eventually we have to shoot it and it’s going to be our face that goes out there adds that extra element of let’s not fuck this up in the writer’s room. Let’s get it right. And let’s make sure we continue to have fun.

But also beyond that, we still enjoy it.

Craig: But that’s another interesting challenge that you have that I can’t really think of anybody else that has it quite like you. You create a show, you write a show, you produce a show, you star in the show, you’re married to one of your cast members. Now, over time there are inevitably moments where there’s, I don’t want to say there’s strife or anything, but there’s some conflict, or there’s competing interests, or – how do you–?

Rob: Between me and my wife?

Craig: No, I’m talking about the cast and, you know, normally if you have a problem as a writer with a cast member there’s a producer that you can talk to. Or if you are cast members having an issue with each other, you can go talk to a writer. There’s nowhere to go. You’re always there. How do you manage the blurred roles that you all seem to kind of have on that show?

Rob: We fight quite a bit. And we continue to fight. The truth is that over the years we’ve tried to figure out ways to sort of alleviate some of that conflict. And oftentimes what happens is when we do, the work is garbage. And at the end of the day, we realize that the conflict – the confluence of all of these very strong-willed people is what makes the show great, from the writers, to the performers, even to some of the grips. I mean, we’ve had people with us for 10, 11, 12 seasons. And we got to a point where people are free to add joke pitches.

I mean, I’ve had grips and a teamster actually gave me an idea for an episode. What you have to approach every day with is that it’s all about the work. It’s not about your ego. It’s not about me. It’s about the show being good. And as long as the fights are about the show being good and getting better and not about ego, then that’s going to yield the best result.

Craig: Those are good, clean fights. I mean, those are the kinds of fights that are productive. But it’s still – it is a marriage of a kind, especially with comedy, too. It just seems like, I don’t know, funny people can be tricky. And it’s an interesting thing that you guys have managed to keep that marriage. And it’s been so consistent.

You know, a lot of times these shows will go on, and then one big person leaves and they replace that person. So, you know, it’s not Sam and Diane, it’s Sam and Rebecca. And it kind of keeps going after that. But that really hasn’t happened with you guys.

Rob: Well, we’ve had the luxury of working with Danny, too. So, Danny, who has a – oh, he’s only an icon.

Craig: He’s a television legend, worth a mere smattering.

Rob: And he gave us a tremendous amount of perspective. I mean, you know, he was on one of the great – he played, I think, one of the top five greatest characters in the history of television, on an amazing TV show. His wife was in one of the greatest TV shows of all time. And then they both went on to fabulous careers outside of it. And Danny obviously was a huge movie star. And he would pull us aside and be like, “Look, I promise you, it’s never going to get better than this. Ever. Ever.” And I believe that. I believe it.

And so when you have somebody like Charlie, who over the last four or five years has gone on and done really, really big movies, he comes back and every time he comes back he says, “I don’t want to do that. I want to do this. This is what I want to do. So if I have to sacrifice that for this, I will do that for the rest of my life.”

Craig: That’s great. That’s great. Good for Charlie.

Dana: It’s kind of emotional.

Craig: All right, I have kind of a looking beyond the show question for you, because you know Charlie goes on, he does these things. You, too, I know have interest in doing other things beyond the show. And the nice thing is one doesn’t have to preclude the other. You can do both. But when you think about, I don’t want to say cheating on your show, but maybe doing something else, do you run in the opposite direction from what you’re doing on that show? Because Charlie, you know, he stays in the comedy pocket pretty much. Are you thinking that’s there, I’m going to try something completely different when I branch off?

Rob: Yes. I mean, the project that I’m working on right now couldn’t be any different than – any more different than Sunny. And I think I never saw myself as a sitcom person. I never considered myself funny. I just happened to meet really, really funny people and I was desperate and I was waiting tables and I was like I’ve got to figure out something.

And I wrote this script that was super dark, but when I put it into Charlie’s hands, or into Glenn’s hands, they made it funny. And I realized, oh wow, this could actually be a sitcom. But the truth is I never had any aspirations to get into comedy writing at all.

So when I look for an extension outside of Sunny, I kind of run away from it.

Craig: Wow. Interesting.

Dana: I feel like there are probably people here and who are listening who would love to know just like the trajectory of how you actually made it happen. Because I think people who are as successful as you, it’s like we all sit here and we talk about the career and all the amazing stuff. And most people are out there just going like, “I just wish someone would answer my phone,” or, you know, phone call, or read my script, or whatever it is.

What was the sort of defining moment for you? What was your trajectory to get you where you are right now?

Rob: Well, mostly just desperation. I mean, I was working in every bar and restaurant in NYC. And I was just acting, or I was trying to act, I was auditioning, and not getting any jobs. And complaining about every script that I read, whether I thought that the script was garbage or that I wasn’t getting the job.

So, I was encouraged very aggressively by my agent to stop bitching and to write something myself. I got the Syd Field screenwriting books, which, you know, are—

Craig: Yeah. Page One. Page Three. Yeah.

Rob: And the William Goldman. And I just tried to understand the—

Craig: And just so I figure out if I have to kill you or not, was the first thing that you wrote It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?

Rob: No. No. The first thing—

Dana: You will make it back to your car tonight.

Rob: The first thing I wrote was not a comedy at all. It was really super dark. Really dark. Because that was the time in my life when I was very dark. I wrote the script about a crime that took place in NYC and I wound up giving it to my agent. And he said maybe I could sell this. And we wound up optioning it to a company called Propaganda Films. Remember them?

Craig: They do commercial work, right?

Rob: Yes, or they did. They were shady. Shady people.

Craig: Oh, they were shady?

Rob: Oh yeah. Big time.

Craig: The name is kind of a tip off, isn’t it?

Rob: You’d think so.

Craig: Yeah, like let me tell you all about Propaganda Films.

Rob: They did. I will say though they wound up getting it to Paul Schrader. Paul Schrader, I don’t know if you guys know Paul Schrader.

Craig: Wrote Taxi Driver.

Rob: Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. And he signed on to direct it. So, I got to work with Paul for six or eight months rewriting the script.

Craig: That’s kind of cool.

Rob: That was really cool. Really cool. But if you know Paul’s work, the movie got darker and weirder. And darker and weirder. And then by the end, Propaganda was waiting to get paid and they didn’t really pay me anything. And by the end I said, hey Paul, like what’s going on? Are you going to make this movie? He said, “Well, I’m going to go off and do this other movie first, and then I’ll come back.” And then in the meantime Propaganda went bankrupt and the whole thing fell apart.

Craig: I mean, you must have one of these, right? I have one. We all have one of these.

Dana: Everybody has a creepy, sad story like that.

Craig: Yeah. You know like when you get that first moment where you’re like, oh my god, this is it? That company is going out of business in like a week. So your smart move is to short the stock.

Dana: Short the stock, yeah.

Craig: Just short the stock. Like whoever offers you your first gig, short the stock. Make some money.

Dana: But not to sound like a platitude, but I’ve always believed like it actually matters more how you get up from that one. Because like it’s going to happen for sure. And then it’s how do you handle yourself? Do you like cry like a bitch and get really mad about it and never write anything ever again? Or do you just go like, all right, pulling on my pants. I’m going to be a grownup. I’m going to start over.

Rob: I cried like a bitch. And I didn’t write anything for a long time. Because I was like that’s miserable. I mean, who wants to do that.

Craig: That’s a great question.

Rob: Yeah. I don’t even like writing. I hate writing. And if there’s any other writers in here, you guys know that writing is the worst.

Dana: It’s horrible.

Rob: It’s like the dumbest, dumbest job.

Craig: We’ve said it many times.

Dana: It’s like sad, and painful, and thankless.

Craig: The only thing worse than writing—

Rob: No recognition.

Craig: Yeah. The only thing worse than writing is listening to a podcast about writing.

Dana: Yeah.

Rob: It’s so much better to say the words that someone else wrote. And then you get all the money.

Craig: I know. It’s amazing. They even tell you were to stand.

Rob: They do everything for you.

Craig: Everything.

Rob: They just point the camera and you just say the words.

Craig: Somebody dresses you like a child.

Rob: Yeah.

Craig: It’s amazing. I know. But I don’t have the facial symmetry for it. Good job, man. That’s pretty sweet.

Rob: I can’t help it. Anyway, so then I moved out to Los Angeles and I decided to write again, but I just wrote something. And I thought I want to write something very simple so that I don’t have to give it to somebody else. I want to go shoot it myself. And so I shot – I wrote a little short film that was very dark, but I brought it to my friends, Glenn and Charlie, and they thought it was funny.

And so we – and I was like all right.

Craig: Boy, did you dumb fuck your way into a billion dollars?

Dana: Oh yeah, that’s what I was going for. It was funny.

Rob: I just hitched my wagon to those two and just like held on for dear life.

Craig: This just blows my mind. Like you get Charlie and Glenn and Tim Herlihy, a friend of ours, when he was at NYU his roommate was Adam Sandler. I got Ted Cruz. This is unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable. Like, I must have been – you think I’m bad now, I must have been a real piece of shit in a previous life.

Dana: I just want to know, because you know they didn’t match that stuff up just randomly. There was some weird algorithm that thought you and Ted Cruz were like fucking—

Craig: It was like a Saw movie. Let’s just watch a man break down. Let’s do it. Let’s just see it happen and it’ll be fun.

Dana: There were cameras everywhere. You just don’t know.

Craig: Exactly. It was horrendous. So, you know, you’re like, oh yeah, look, I wrote a thing. Let me give it to my talented friends.

Rob: And I just decided I want to make this. I want to learn how to make it. So I didn’t know anything really about filmmaking, but I didn’t know anything about writing. I just got all the books and tried to – obviously I watched as many movies and TV shows as I possibly could over the course of my life.

And so I just went to Best Buy. And I didn’t have any money, but I got one of their credit cards. You know, it was super high interest rate and it was like, “I’ll pay you back.” And I did. I did pay them back.

Craig: You did? You paid them back.

Rob: And I bought a camera, like a prosumer-camera, and then I got Final Cut and learned how to cut. And then we just shot it. And then I cut it together. And it was terrible. Like, terrible, terrible. But I realized it was terrible. And then I rewrote it. We shot it again. That was also terrible. And then we reshot it maybe three or four iterations, and then I realized, oh wait, maybe this isn’t so bad.

Dana: The takeaway is there are no excuses. I mean, people talk all the time about like, well, I could, if I would, if I this, or if I that. It’s like you have an iPhone. Do it. Stop talking about it. Just do it. Because you’re going to suck for a very long time, so you might as well start sucking. Oh god. Sorry honey.

Craig: That’s Sexy Craig’s job. He handles that stuff. We don’t talk about the sucking. It’s true that that is necessary. It’s also true that a lot of people will shoot it, it stinks, they shoot it, it stinks, they shoot it. And then it never does get better. I mean, that’s the fascinating thing. That’s the thing I just wish I could go in time and watch all those little moments where people just go this way or this way. And people that have the potential and are talented, and there are some of them here tonight, who can go either way.

And they just decide to go this way. You know, because the funny thing is most of the people that insist and persist and prevail against all odds actually just never make it because they were never going to make it. It’s funny, like I worry sometimes that the people who can make it get too easily discouraged, because they’re aware. Like you said, “I know it sucks.”

Dana: They’re smart enough to know that it’s not good. Yeah, that’s what I was like.

Craig: What is it, the Dunning-Kruger effect? Is that what it is? I think we have a president who currently…anyway.

Well, that was enlightening. I think we got a pretty good sense of why it is that the show has been going on so long, and it’s because you do have that thing where you marry talent to this endless commitment. It’s really remarkable. I mean, it’s an incredible accomplishment.

Television has been around a long time. And for you to beat those records is unbelievable. And I can only presume, what are we talking about here, another 20, 30? I mean, basically until you die?

Rob: I guess.

Craig: All right. Well, you heard it here. We made news.

Rob: I don’t know. If you keep watching, we’ll keep doing it.

Craig: Keep watching it. He’ll keep doing it. Thank you, Rob.

Rob: Thank you.

Craig: Rian, come on out, buddy. We haven’t talked in a while. Looper was good.

Rian Johnson: Thank you.

Dana: I loved Looper.

Craig: And anything, anything since?

Rian: Well, it’s been slow.

Craig: It’s been slow. It happens.

Rian: It does.

Craig: But you know what?

Dana: I’m sorry. I feel so bad for you.

Craig: Brother Bloom was a little bit of a dip there. You got a little slow. Got a little sluggish. But then you came back. You bounce back. You’ll be fine.

Anyway, thanks for coming, Rian.

Rian: Yeah. Good talk. Good talk.

Craig: Rian Johnson, this is great. I don’t quite know how it’s taken this long. Maybe just because, I don’t – I don’t know. I always feel like, I don’t want to put you on the hot seat or anything.

Rian: I’m getting so nervous right now. I don’t know what’s about to happen.

Craig: But this is why. I don’t want to make you nervous. But Rian and I have been friends for a long time. And, of course, we all know of his story, his legend. Rian wrote and directed Brick, which came out in 2005. And he won the Originality of Vision prize at Sundance, which that year at least that’s accurate. I don’t know if it always is. That year, completely accurate.

Rian: It’s original. That’s like the better word.

Craig: It’s originality. Yeah, we’re not saying it’s good. But we haven’t seen that before. 2008, aforementioned Brothers Bloom which I actually love.

Dana: Bigger applause than Danny DeVito.

Rian: And Ozymandias.

Dana: And…yes.

Craig: And in 2012, I’m sure you all saw Looper. We’ll be having a contest later to see which one of you can explain the plot to me. But it is awesome. Also, Rian has directed some of the best of the Breaking Bad episodes, including Ozymandias. Ozymandias, look upon my works in despair.

And recently Rian has written and directed Star Wars: The Last Jedi. So what happens in it? [laughs]

Rian: Yeah, there’s a Jedi who is…the last in…

Craig: The last, possibly. OK, here’s how I want to start. You really are, when it says originality of vision, I thought that was apt. Because you are unique to me in that no matter original and, well, we’ll see monastic a lot of writers are, at some point along the way, and maybe peppered in throughout, they will work with other people on things. I’m thinking of Scott Frank, for instance. Scott always has time each year to write his own thing. But then he’ll go and he’ll work with James Mangold on Logan, for instance. And he’ll bop around and do things.

Not you. You have always been Rian Johnson Industries, kind of. I write Rian Johnson screenplays and then I direct Rian Johnson movies. And I think that’s part of the reason why there isn’t one every year. You take your time. You’re careful about it.

Then, this happens, and it’s sort of like the absolute opposite of solitude. You have now hundreds of people. And, on top of that, you also have this existing culture behind you and these other movies and characters that have been handed. How did you adapt to that new reality?

Rian: Well, I mean, it’s been so nice having lots of other people and not feeling so lonely. But I should actually back up and say one of the most surprising and nicest things about this whole experience has been how similar it actually felt in terms of the process to the other films.

Craig: Interesting.

Rian: It was really a come up with a story that I care about, write it, and then direct it. And I had my DP, Steve Yedlin, my producer, Ram Bergman, my editor, Bob Ducsay, from Looper. I mean, people I’ve been working with for years. And bizarrely just kind of felt like a – it felt like we were just all making another movie. And creatively, because Disney and Lucas Film were so terrific, also just creatively it felt just like coming up with something I want to make and making it. It’s been weird.

Craig: That’s very good news, I think. Because I think sometimes people will say, well, if somebody makes their own films, they are sort of an auteur for lack of a better word, and then they get involved in some large other thing, maybe their vision gets muddled. But what you’re saying kind of is you actually just did it again.

Rian: Yeah. I mean, yeah, and I think because people who are much more talented than me have done stuff this size, and it can go the other way very easily.

Craig: What do you mean by the other way?

Rian: I mean, it can be a bad experience. And that’s what Ram, my producer and I, before we came into this we waited really carefully, because on the one hand it’s Star Wars. It’s this thing that you love so much. But that also means that if it isn’t a good experience and it goes south, it would be the worst nightmare in the world to be fucking up Star Wars. And to have a miserable experience making the thing you great up loving.

Craig: Well, we’ll find out soon enough, won’t we?

Rian: Exactly. I was going to say. Spoiler alert.

Craig: So enjoy this time. This is nice.

Rian: I will just be listening to this podcast on repeat. Huddled in a fetal position behind a Denny’s.

Craig: That’s how I met you.

Rian: In Pomona. Yes. Flashbacks.

Craig: Memories. Dana, what do you have to say about this guy?

Dana: I wrote some stuff down.

Rian: Look at this.

Dana: I brought a pink pen just as like a fuck you to you guys.

Rian: That’s good.

Dana: So, I asked my kids to ask you questions. So, I said I’m going to interview the director of Star Wars tonight. I said what do you want to know. And Charlotte, my two-year-old, said Darth Vader. And Oliver, my four-year-old, said, “That’s not a question. You have to ask something like what’s the new movie about. Tell me the plot.”

So, if you want to elaborate on that. And then I said I don’t think he’s going to be able to say that, so you have to ask something else. And he said, “OK, I want to know why does Daddy’s phone only have some of the Star Wars’ songs on it, but not all of it.”

And then I said I don’t think he knows the answer to that, so you have to ask one more. So he wants to know why Boba Fett was a bounty hunter.

Rian: Ohh.

Craig: Answer the question.

Dana: Let me ask a follow up adult-style question. How did you get over the institutional memory of it enough to actually get in there and start doing it? I mean, I feel like it’s such a coveted brand for, you know, a company, but it’s more so I think we all think it’s our own thing. Like it’s all our favorite thing. So, how did you get over that initial feeling of like how can I touch this perfect thing?

Rian: Yeah. I mean, from the outside just looking at it, that was a really scary thing. And once I kind of started actually working on it, it’s funny, I found that the exact thing you think could be a big burden was actually the main thing that helped the whole process. Because telling any story, and you can look at – this is definitely what Lucas did when he made the original movies, he went out there trusting his own instincts.

And he was out there to tell a story that he cared about and that made sense to him. And at the end of the day it was coming from a really personal place. And so for me, knowing that I had that grounding of from a kid these movies meaning that much to me, and being so deeply ingrained, I kind of – I felt like that kind of gave me permission to trust that and to not freak out about what it means in any kind of bigger sense. And just say, OK, I know why I wanted to be Luke Skywalker when I was a kid. I’m going to believe that that’s a good compass to follow.

And so kind of turning inward like that actually was kind of a lifesaver. And I would think is the only way you could approach something like this and make it, you know, kind of mean anything to you I guess.

Dana: Is it weird if I cry during this Q&A? That’s like really beautiful.

Craig: John has never cried.

Rian: In life?

Craig: Ever.

Rian: No.

Dana: That’s the only thing I can bring to the table.

Craig: When John was born he didn’t cry. He just came on out and—

Rian: Just clipped himself off.

Craig: Exactly. Yep. And then plugged himself in. Yeah.

Dana: Have you always trusted though that gut instinct that like your point of view mattered and meant something? Because I think for me my trajectory was going from a person who was just trying to survive and get a paycheck and have a job to someone who felt like, well, maybe my specific perspective on this is interesting. And I should follow it. Did you always have that? Or when did you get that?

Rian: Well, I never was like good or smart enough to like get industry work before I made my first movie really. Basically I wrote Brick right out of college. And essentially just like tried to get it made through my 20s. I didn’t make it until I was 30. But the whole time I was trying and it kept almost getting there and falling apart.

But I was working some really wonderful jobs. I worked at a preschool for deaf kids for a while. I worked at the Disney Channel producing promos for like Bear in the Big Blue House. Like really good jobs, but nothing that was like I’m making money doing what I, you know, what my sights are set on.

So, when I started doing it, it was starting with this thing that was this really personal thing. And then was very, very lucky and able to just kind of keep doing that, I guess.

Craig: But there’s something about you, though, that a lot of people start out, they have a dream of what they want to do. They can’t quite get there. They’re making promos for Blue’s Clues.

Rian: Bear in the Big Blue House.

Craig: I’m sorry, the what now? The Bear?

Rian: Bear in the Big Blue House.

Craig: Oh, I remember him. Oh yeah.

Rian: Great shows. Henson. Anyway, go ahead.

Craig: Yeah, it was. It was good. So, you’re working on Blue’s Clues and you get this big break to make your movie and I think for a lot of people at that moment when someone turns to them and says, “But…” there are a couple of things you need to do that maybe don’t feel right to you. In that moment you say, oh OK, I don’t want to go back to the Bear in the Big Blue House. I want to keep moving forward here.

You’ve always struck me as somebody who would just say, well, then no. I’ll just go back to the Blue House.

Rian: It’s not like I had written something that had huge commercial value and somebody was going to say, “If you let us do this, we’ll make you a billion.” You know? Brick is such a weird movie. You can imagine how weird it was on the page. And with a first-time director, like it’s not like there were a ton of things like that that you’re talking about. But there were a lot of times that I would show it to different people who were producers or knew somebody somewhere or something, had that tantalizing like, you know, oh, maybe if I follow this. And they would say, “Yeah, if it’s just not set in high school, maybe then we’ll do it.”

Craig: I remember – can I tell a Looper story? Can I tell a story about seeing Looper? You had a few of us come to see Looper. I don’t know if you recall.

Rian: Oh, I recall the screening. We call you guys now the Wrecking Crew.

Craig: Well, we all liked it. I mean, you should have—

Rian: Did you, though?

Craig: You should have seen the Game of Thrones pilot. That was a wrecking crew. There was just blood everywhere. No, it was good. It was good. It was a little long. It was the usual stuff, right?

But I do remember that there was, and there was a bunch of us there, and a lot of good writers. I mean, I think Scott Frank was there. And I think Ted Griffin was there. And maybe John Gatins, too. And there was – you guys have seen Looper? Great. If you haven’t seen Looper, you don’t get to go to the party. And just like that, we solved the attendance problem.

So there’s a moment where Bruce Willis has a choice about whether or not to kill a child because that child may or may not grow up to become a terrible, despotic mass murderer. And he chooses to kill the child. And it turns out, wrong kid.

And there was a debate, I remember, in the room. And I remember specifically thinking, ugh, I don’t know, but I think so. It’s ballsy as hell. It’s brave. I don’t know. And I remember you just watched this whole thing. And at some point I remember thinking he doesn’t give a good sweet goddamn what any of us think about this. Not one bit. He’s made up his mind.

And that, in a weird way, is precious in our business to have an instinct and to adhere to it, even when a lot of people might say, “Whoa, that’s a little cray-cray.”

Rian: Yes, but, I guess. Yes, but you still need to – like for instance I was listening to you guys and I was really tuned into the fact that – like and this was actually very, very interesting. Because Looper, I had worked with some great, very famous actors before, but nobody who is like the type of star that Bruce Willis is. And a big fear going into it from the page to the screen was are we going to lose – is his character going to totally lose the audience when he shoots the kid? They’ll disconnect from the movie and say I don’t care what happens, I’m not invested anymore.

And so I was actually very tuned in and listening to every conversation I could listen to about—

Craig: Maybe it’s just your face looks like you—

Rian: That’s very possible. But, I mean, the fascinating thing is we found out it takes a lot to turn an audience against Bruce Willis. It takes more than shooting a child in the face. He shoots a child, an innocent child in the face. And like we talked to people afterwards saying like, “Yeah, but we figured he must have had a reason for doing it.” It was a very useful lesson actually.

Craig: Absolutely terrifying, actually.

Rian: Steve Buscemi in that part might not have been the—

Craig: No, no, that’s it. Boo. Walk out. Burn the theater down.

Dana: I think all of America must be like me, because I just see him and I’m like, “Dad?” Like he’s just everybody dad. So we’re like, I guess I forgive him. Maybe he’ll be a nice guy next time. Don’t worry, my dad doesn’t listen to podcasts.

Craig: [laughs] I don’t think anyone’s does. So, here’s something that I think people here will – it’s a nice warming thought. That if you are trying to break into the business, you’re trying to get into Hollywood as a writer or filmmaker, everyone really is Rian Johnson in 1997, right? Everyone has a script. Everyone has some sort of lack of visibility about what’s ahead of them.

But what do you tell folks who come here? I mean, how to approach their own path when they are being beset on all sides by advice and–?

Rian: Well, it was actually listening, Rob, listening to you guys talk. You said exactly what I feel like I most often respond to with that which is – and this was my experience, too, which is I think if you put energy into how do I break into the industry, how do I get an agent, how do I – it’s putting the cart before the horse. I think that ultimately first and foremost practicing. Shooting it. And then reshooting it. And reshooting it. And rewriting. And just getting, working on yourself and getting better. But just doing it.

Like getting a camera. Getting whatever camera you can get your hands on. And making stuff. And then getting out there however you can. I really, it sounds naïve a little bit when you say it, but I actually think practically that’s the industry – you can’t say the industry will be the path to your door, but I think that’s the best way to find your career is just to do what you do and get it out there however you can I think.

Craig: Substance.

Rian: I really believe double down on substance. And that ultimately is, you know, what everybody is looking for so hard out there. Everybody wants something that’s interesting and good, I think. I hear a laugh.

Craig: That guy is like, “I own Disney.”

Rian: I may be totally skewed on this and wrong, but I feel like that’s – end up coming down on that, you know?

Dana: I was just going to say, do think that Brick would get made now?

Rian: Yes, if someone made it. Yeah. I mean.

Craig: That was kind of Yoda-like.

Rian: It didn’t get made then until they made it.

Dana: And how did you truly not give up after like ten years of trying on the same thing? How did you know your thing was worth something, and not that it was not, you know, people are slamming the door in your face for a reason? Like you pushed past that.

Rian: Well, I mean, I’m sure everyone here has a similar thing where it’s not like – you’re not always boldly up on the horse going forward. You do end up sobbing and crying. You do end up needing a weighted blanket occasionally to comfort you. But I don’t know, so it’s not a steady process, but I think ultimately like me if you’re dumb enough and have little enough talents outside of this industry, you have no other options really and have to just keep blindly moving forward, I think.

No, you just keep doing what you do, I think.

Craig: That’s accurate. I don’t think you’re good at anything else.

Rian: Yeah.

Craig: I have a question for you. Because you’ve always written what you’ve directed, and you’ve always directed what you’ve written, is there a director you’d like to write a script for? And conversely is there a writer whose work you would love to direct?

It’s one of those fanciful, rhetorical, imaginary questions.

Rian: Well, I mean, there are so many directors that I love, but writing, like you said, writing sucks, writing is terrible. I hate writing.

Craig: Welcome to Scriptnotes.

Rian: I feel like directing is the fun thing. No, writing – you love writing—

Craig: If I go through the pain of writing, then I want to direct it?

Rian: Exactly. Yeah. If you go through all that work, then why wouldn’t you get to make the film?

Craig: Interesting. Directing seems so hard to me.

Rian: No, it’s so easy.

Craig: Because you’ve got to wake up.

Rian: It’s so easy.

Craig: Every day you have to wake up. And all the questions. These glasses or these glasses? This tie or that tie?

Rian: Those glasses. That tie.

Craig: Oh, wow.

Rian: What was hard about that?

Craig: Film School with Rian Johnson. OK, I have one last question for you. Not to bum everybody out, but Carrie Fisher was not only our first princess and wonderful actor and a huge part of our culture, but she was a great, great screenwriter. And when she passed away, John and I talked about that. She was one of us.

And so I just thought I would invite you to share any thoughts you had about Carrie, because you were probably the last director she worked with, right?

Rian: Yeah. That’s how we connected as writers. And that was just an instant thing. The very first time I met her, I ended up just spending hours at her house. And she was like, “Tropic of Cancer. I’ve got it here somewhere.” And we ended up, even after she read the script, you know, that was kind of our bonding experience. Sitting together for hours, going through all the different lines.

Anyway, she had a brilliant mind. And I really loved her, man. I’m very, very, very sad she’s not around to give me a piece of mind – give me a piece of her mind about the movie when she sees it. She’s wonderful. I’m happy that we have a wonderful, beautiful performance from her in the film. And I’m just really happy and grateful I got to meet her and have her in my life, even briefly.

Craig: Fantastic answer. Thank you, Rian. Maybe we could open it up to some questions and answers for Rob, and for Rian, and for Dana.

Dana: Please, let’s not be weird about it, guys.

Craig: We have some microphones we can hand around.

Audience Member: The Last Jedi has what I think is one of the best posters ever. Was there any point where you send it back and send this poster sucked? What level of involvement did you have with it?

Rian: Well, no, they – I had little to nothing to – I had nothing to do with it, really. So I can agree with you and say it’s a gorgeous poster without being an asshole.

And really the way it worked, I walked into a room just with like 40 posters on the walls of all of these different ideas. And it was me and Kathy Kennedy and some other folks. And we all – it was like magnets. Our eyes just, whoop, right to that one.

Then there were just a couple tweaks to it, but really right off the bat they just made this. I agree, I think it’s a stunner. I’m glad you like it.

Audience Member: My question is for Rob. You mentioned that it took a lot of encouraging from I think you said your agent to get you to finally write something. And I was wondering what finally got you to do it, or now when you don’t want to write, or when it’s hard, because like you said it kind of sucks, what gets you to finally do it? What helps?

Rob: Desperation. I mean, because the truth is I hate it. If I didn’t make that clear. I hate it. It’s the worst. It’s the worst. The worst. And I wasn’t working. I was working in a restaurant. And I just got sick of it. So I started writing. And now I do it for money. And when there’s a deadline and I have to do it because we’re shooting. You know, and the truth is when I’m really – when we get into it and things are happening and things are moving forward, there’s not a greater feeling in the world, because as you know if you’re a writer, staring at a blank page or a blank computer screen is the absolute worst, but when you fill it up and when you read it back through, and you truly believe in your heart. And you know that it’s good, you created that.

And it’s the only art form in our industry where you create something from whole cloth. And what can be more satisfying than that? So I still fucking hate it, but I derive an incredible amount of pleasure from a finished project.

Dana: Yeah, and also a little practical advice, too. Just like take your pajamas off. Because if you don’t look like you’re at a job, you won’t feel like you’re at a job. And if you don’t have real pressure, create fake pressure that you actually are so fucked up you start believing in. Because if there are no deadlines and if you don’t have to do it to get paid, and if none of that stuff is there and you’re just in a vacuum going what should I do, it’s all just this wonderful blank page.

The last strike we had, I was like, oh, this is going to be amazing. I’m going to sit down and I’m going to write this spec that’s inside me. I did not write one word. Because there were no constraints. Nobody was saying like it has to be a little bit of this, and do your best job making it that. So just create fake constraints on yourself.

And even if that is doing an It’s Always Sunny spec so that you don’t feel the pressure of I have to have my voice figured out. Just figure out how to write a good scene the way that that show writes a good scene. And study their show, you know, study a bunch of their episodes and try to do your best at that. And that will just get you in the muscle of it.

Craig: Got any advice for the blocked or the reticent?

Rian: No. I think that it’s, I don’t know, it sucks. There’s no cure for it. Except I find literally just switching and thinking about something else for a while or if you don’t have the luxury of doing that, yeah, then staring at the wallpaper until it starts peeling off. And I’m just going to describe the rest of Barton Fink right now in detail. This is going to take two hours, but it’ll be worth it.

Craig: That is very Swedish. He’s our little Swede. I’m a big fan of the shower. I don’t know for whatever reason. Taking a long shower lets me kind of imagine. I don’t like writing—

Rob: How environmentally responsible of you.

Dana: There’s a drought in California, Craig.

Rob: The worst drought in the history of our state. Oh, you just take your long showers.

Dana: Craig created the drought.

Rob: Because the world needs more of your movies.

Craig: More, exactly. They’re not even – it’s not even water. It’s hand to blood. It’s awesome.

Audience Member: Excuse me. I lost my voice last weekend, so I have to growl like Batman. Batman wants to know, it’s for all four of you, is there one pilot or one movie that you wish you had written or directed?

Craig: Oh my god, just one?

Rob: Man, I watch Mad Men, and I’ve watched that series through twice. And then started a third time. And I’m just fascinated by that show on every level. Insofar as it is not a subject matter that interests me at all. There’s not much that actually happens. There’s no hook. On paper, having not read the scripts, I just mean in terms of like a one-line pitch, it seems boring as all hell.

And yet I was riveted more watching that show than almost certainly Game of Thrones. I’m going to tear them apart.

Craig: I mean, I like the show. I just don’t like them.

Rob: I actually hate them. I happen to love Game of Thrones, and Breaking Bad, and I was riveted watching all those shows, but I’m inherently interested in watching a chemistry teacher turn into Scarface. I’m inherently interested in watching dragons going and kick ass. I’m not inherently interested in watching a bunch of guys smoke cigarettes and drink whisky and talk about marketing.

And yet I was thoroughly riveted at every moment of every episode. And humbled by the fact that there was a person and/or people out there that were able to do that with the writing.

Craig: What about you, Rian?

Rian: Paper Moon is the – I love a lot of movies, but if there’s one movie that I watch and I feel like, god, this feels so close to everything I love. It’s Paper Moon.

But what Rob said, I mean, I think – like I just saw Certain Women, the Kelly Reichardt movie, recently and it’s – like I find myself fascinated by things that are so outside of my skill set. And it’s a similar thing where it’s such a gentle, such a – you know, such an observational film and yet you’re riveted every single second. More so than in most Hollywood blockbusters. And that’s magical to me, because I don’t know how it’s done.

So, yeah, that’s, yeah, similar.

Craig: What about you, Dana?

Dana: Don’t patronize me. Nobody cares. No, because Rob said – I’m kidding. I’m sitting next to Rian. Because Rob already said Mad Men, I would have to say The West Wing, because I’m in love with shows that are about people having a work family and loving their work so much that they have these relationships that are not sexual at all, but that are like deeply loving. And I find that fascinating. That’s what I loved about Mad Men is I was so obsessed with the Peggy Olson/Dan Draper characters, because they had this beautiful love affair that was totally platonic.

And because they loved their work. Craig, what do you think?

Rian: Nobody cares.

Craig: I’m going to say Toy Story. And I’m going to say Toy Story because it was, I think – maybe it was the first time that the technology of storytelling finally perfected narrative. It was just perfect. There was nothing there that was wrong. Everything was right. Everything worked. Everything fit together beautifully. And Pixar has done it over and over and over.

But I remember seeing Toy Story and thinking that’s a flawless thing. Even if it’s not, you know, I know it’s not Taxi Driver, but it’s a flawless thing. Who wouldn’t want to have that, to be able to say I did that? That would be remarkable.

Dana: And I have kids, so I can tell you that if you’ve watched it 147,000 times, it doesn’t get boring.

Craig: There’s no mistakes.

Dana: It’s perfect. It’s amazing.

Craig: There’s just not one mistake. It’s just a remarkable thing.

Audience Member: Hey guys. Myself, like many in this room, I’ve written a lot of screenplays, gotten attachments, or good notes, or lots of nice things, and all these breadcrumbs of hope that have never led to a sale or a film necessarily getting made. So, I guess I’m just asking the four of you, since clearly you’ve seen success and know what you’re doing, what are some enduring qualities that we all need or should hone in on and strap in for, because I know that even once you get a sale, or you get something made, it’s not like your problems go away.

So, can you maybe talk about some of those qualities?

Rob: Qualities in a script? Or qualities—

Craig: I think he means in him.

Audience Member: Oh, I’m sorry. Just as a writer/producer, just person living and working in this city?

Craig: Well, I’ll tell you one thing that you’re going to run into, people are going to read your work and then they’re going to say things about it. And they’re not, even if you’re working for them, and they’re paying you, or they’ve purchased it already, they will say things like, “That just doesn’t work.” And it will feel terrible. It will feel much worse than you think it will feel.

It never stops feeling terrible in a weird way. It’s a strange thing to have that, you know, I always think like if actors dealt with what writers deal with, it would just be one take after another of, “Nah, that’s not, no.”

Rob: We do. It’s called auditioning.

Craig: Oh, yeah, there is that. That’s to get the job. We also do that. It’s called pitching. But you are going to have to learn in those moments to put that pain second, because where a lot of young writers, new writers go wrong is they cannot handle that emotional dissonance. It’s hard. And they become either defensive or discombobulated.

And in the end people have choices of who they want to work with. And you don’t want to be unpleasant. And it’s not our fault, it just happens. It’s human. But I think having some kind of emotional resilience is a really important thing.

Dana: And congratulations on having breadcrumbs. I mean, that’s more than most people have. So, keep going, dude.

Rob: Certainly resolve is something that Craig was just talking about, but I think it’s also just a lack of cynicism. And Mazin is like one of the most cynical people I’ve ever met to comedic effect, but the truth is he wakes up every day – I believe this is true. You can correct me if I’m wrong. But you still have a sense of wonder and joy of the fact that you are living your dream.

And I think you have to remind yourself of that every single day. Whether you’re getting paid for it or not. Because you could be working, you know, on a roof somewhere laying grout. You know, you’re not.

Craig: Flashing.

Rob: Flashing?

Craig: You could be flashing a roof.

Rob: Sure. Whatever profession Craig was headed down.

Craig: Flashing. On a roof.

Rob: Sure.

Craig: Yeah. It’s the stuff that goes—

Dana: Around the thing. It plugs the holes.

Craig: Nah. It’s more like, some of you know what I’m talking about. Some of you have spent time on a roof like I have.

Rob: Anyway, it’s really easy to get cynical. And to get hardened. And to become so angry at the world or at the industry or, you know, whatever – whoever you need to blame. But the truth is that if you wake up and what you love to do is write, or what you love to do is make films, you can do that right now.

And you are doing it already. And I think that takes a certain sense of innocence and maybe naïve joy and sense of wonder. And if you lose that – and even the most hardened, I’m pointing to Craig, of professionals, I still think keeps that.

Craig: Oh, this is, you know, a lot of these people I assume have been listening to the show for a long time. You start to realize that I’m – John is actually the hard one. I’m a mush. I really am. And I am endlessly amused and fascinated by what we do.

When you do get to walk onto a sound stage, every single time I walk on a sound stage I get excited. Every single time. And when I see dailies, and when I see things like movie posters, I get excited. And when, I don’t know, when it becomes real, even storyboards get me excited. And the truth is what no one can ever take away from us is we get that time on our own where we’re completely in control of it. And in those moments, you should feel nothing but passion for it.

I mean, you guys all seem to hate writing. I love it. And I love it even when it’s hard. I love it because it’s just, I don’t know, it seems like the most wonderful mode of living. I think if you just stayed in there, obviously it would be bad. They would find you days later. But that’s, you know, that is so much preferable to me than I don’t know what are the other options. Like heroin, I guess? Just something to make everything else go away?

Dana: And more practical advice. If you have to have a job, like most people do when they’re trying to get into the business, you have to like pay the bills. Give your good hours to your writing. And don’t tell John August, because I was actually John August’s assistant. I’m sure he won’t listen to this. Wah. Sorry John.

But I used to wake up. I worked for John, and I would get to his house at like 9:30. And I used to wake up at 4:30 in the morning so I could write before I got to work. So, then I was like answering his phone like, [slurring] “This is John August’s office.” And I did nap a lot. He did see me napping a lot.

So, you can’t always do that. But if you can do that, I would recommend not saying to yourself like, oh, I’m going to do my writing when I get home from work in like the two shitty hours where I’m exhausted at the end of every day, because that’s like saying you’re going to become a surgeon in your spare time, you know, on your lunch break or whatever. That’s not doable.

Craig: All right. I think we’ve got time for one more.

Audience Member: I have a question for Dana. I’m sorry that it’s probably the question you get a lot. Do you feel like you had to work harder breaking in as a woman? And what advice do you have for young women screenwriters.

Craig: Let me answer that for Dana.

Dana: No, no, no, Craig, you don’t understand. I’m going to answer it, and then you’re going to tell me why I’m wrong. You’re going to explain it to me later why I’m wrong.

First of all, no, I don’t think I had to work harder because I was a woman. I think I just had to work really, really, really hard because this business is really hard. And anyone who wants to do it has to work really hard.

You know, there have been times where I think being a woman is not awesome. For example, you’re getting ready to pitch something and you have to go get a blow out and that takes a fucking hour. And no guy has to do that. And then you’ve got to worry about your outfit, because you’re like do you think he’s the kind of guy who likes tits or doesn’t like tits? And does he hate his ex-wife, or does he love his wife? Like I don’t know. Do I remind him of his daughter, or his wife, or you know, it’s like, ugh. So that’s a fucking drag.

Craig: Did you know that was going on? I didn’t know that was going on.

Dana: I mean, you have to think about it. So, you know, there’s that.

What I will say is that there was a certain point at which I stopped tap dancing and like pretending that it was every guy’s idea. Because I did a lot of that for a long time. Like I would plant things in guy’s heads and then they would say it back to me. And I’d be like, “Oh my god, you’re so smart.” But that got kind of exhausting. So I stopped doing it. And I think my advice would be just like work harder than – it’s the same advice I would have for me which is like work harder than everyone else. I was always wherever I had to be before everyone else. And I always stayed later than everybody else. And I always treated every single meeting and every single interaction I had with anyone like it was an audition to get invited back into the room the next day.

And no matter how much success I’ve had, I still feel like that. Every single day I treat my job like I’m the luckiest person on earth that someone is paying me to do it. And I better just leave everything on the field, or not on the field. How does sports work?

Do you want to leave it on the field? Or do you want to take it off the field?

Craig: Do they like tits? Do they not like tits?

Dana: Do they like the boobs? Do they not like the boobs?

Craig: It’s basically the same question.

Dana: It’s very complicated.

Oh, and one thing that was hard was when I started running my own TV show, and I was the boss of like guys who are a lot older than me. That was weird. So, you know, you do have to deal with that kind of stuff. But I’m sure you guys have had your version of that. You look like a 12-year-old. You probably still have that. Like a hot 12-year-old.

Rob: I leave my boobs on every field I go to.

Craig: I think that pretty much covers it. And that’s our show.

As always, Scriptnotes is produced by Godwin Itai Jabangwe. Godwin. And it is edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also wrote our awesome, fantastic intro. Matthew.

If you have questions, you know where to find us. For short questions, you can reach us on Twitter. I am @clmazin and John is @johnaugust. For longer questions, such as the ones that were posed here, you want to email those to

Show notes for this episode will be at Transcripts go up four days after. With that, I want to thank so, so much my cohost, Dana Fox. The amazing Rian Johnson. The incredible Rob McElhenney. John Gatins, and all the folks at Hollywood Heart, it was such a pleasure. Thank you guys for coming out and supporting this great cause.

Thank you very much.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

From Writer to Writer-Director

Tue, 05/16/2017 - 08:03

Chris McQuarrie (THE USUAL SUSPECTS, VALKYRIE) joins us to talk through how he went from writing giant movies to directing them.

We talk about the pitfalls directors face as they move from indie features to tentpoles, and the advice he gives them. Chris is currently, and conveniently, in Paris directing the next Mission: Impossible.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 298: How Characters Move — Transcript

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 11:28

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 298 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at how characters move and how screenwriters can use character movement to their benefit. Then it’s another round of Three Page Challenge where we take a look at reader’s submissions and diagnosis what’s working and what could be improved. So, this is usually the spot where we have follow up, but there’s not really a lot of follow up. I mean, we’re in this weird place because we’re recording this on a Thursday, so all of our listeners are way ahead of us. They’re living in the future and we are far back in the past. So, by the time people are listening to this, we’ll have more insight into what’s happening with the WGA negotiation. The live show at the ArcLight will have already happened.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So whatever Craig said about me I don’t know yet, but you as listeners might possibly know if you were one of the 400 people in that theater.

Craig: Right. Like they may know as they’re listening to us have this discussion that you and I aren’t talking anymore. Like that’s it. They heard it. This is the last camaraderie we’ll ever have. By the way, the last time we had this whole you all are living in the future discussion, it was because of the presidential election.

John: Yeah, oh great. That turned out really well. So, that’s a good omen.

Craig: How do we get back to the past somehow?

John: Yeah. Some time travel would be good. I actually did a post about time travel today for the blog. I rarely write on the blog, but I did a post about time travel because I was working on a project a couple years ago for a studio and it never happened. I never actually fully wrote the whole thing. It fell apart for other reasons. But, in that time travel movie, it was – you’re traveling back and forth in time, but you’re always physically in the same place. And so you’d be in Los Angeles but it would be, you know, 20,000 years ago. But, that’s as much of a cheat as anything is. And so my sort of thing that keeps me up at night sometimes is if I were to travel back in time, and the time machine broke, or I was sort of set back in time like how Kyle Reese would be in the Terminator and landed someplace in the past, how would I know where I was and when I was if I didn’t have any of my stuff to tell me that.

Craig: Right.

John: And so I speculated a little bit in the blog post, but I really asked people to contribute their own thoughts for the best ways to figure out where and when you are if your time machine breaks down. And people have already had some good suggestions. That was just this morning and people had some good thoughts.

But, Craig, you’re a smart person. What would you do? How would you figure out when and where you are?

Craig: I suppose I would just follow what movies and television have told me to do, which is to either grab the nearest newspaper or ask somebody, “What year is it?”

John: Yeah. You seem like a crazy person then. In my head, I was always thinking back to there’s no one else around, or if there are people around, it is like a primitive civilization.

Craig: Oh.

John: So like I can’t just go up to a person. I could go up to a person, but they wouldn’t speak my language most likely. So how would I–

Craig: You don’t.

John: Figure that stuff out?

Craig: No idea. None.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, stars? I wouldn’t know.

John: So, apparently stars are useful because I don’t know if it’s the Big Dipper or Little Dipper, but you can actually chart to see where you are at in periods of tens of thousands of years based on what the Dipper looks like.

Craig: If you knew that–

John: If you knew that. Yeah. You got to know a lot. So, in my post I said like a biologist would be able to look around and see what was nearby. And then Nima, my friend, who is a biologist actually said like, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Because biologists don’t necessarily know what the ecology is of a place.” So it’s an ecologist rather than a biologist I needed.

Craig: Yeah. And even then, ecological periods are incredibly long. So, you might be able to say, “Well, I’m clearly between 8000 and 4000 BC. Well that’s not very useful.

John: Yeah. If there were trilobites running around then I would know that I’m back in a time, but I wouldn’t know where I am in that time.

Craig: You’d know you’re screwed. That’s the deal. You’re screwed.

John: You know who are really smart people? Are our listeners. So, if you have a good suggestion for me on how I can figure out when and where I am if my time machine breaks, I would welcome that.

Craig: You know what I’m going to do, what I always do in these hypothetical situations when I’m faced with very difficult odds and a challenging circumstance like arriving back in time at some unknown time and place, I just immediately give up. I curl up into a ball and I pray for death. Pray for the sweet release of death.

John: Yeah. You protect your internal organs from the predators coming after you.

Craig: Or just let them take me.

John: Or just let them take you. Yeah. Just jump off the cliff. Find a cliff that you can fall off of it.

Craig: Find a cliff. Leap. That’s it. Not realizing that five minutes later they would have picked me up. They would have found me. Or that I didn’t even go back in time.

John: They were looking for you the whole time.

Craig: Yeah. I didn’t go back in time at all. I was just having a mild stroke.

John: Yeah. It’s like the ending of The Mist where you think everything is at its absolute worst and then if you’d waited another 30 seconds everything would have been fine.

Craig: Oh, you wait – that by the way is a theory I’ve heard from people regarding our prior strikes. [laughs] We just needed to strike one more day and we would have gotten everything.

John: Everything you want.

Craig: Everything. I don’t know about that. Oh, dear.

John: I’m realizing at this moment we actually do have one piece of follow-up. In last week’s episode, we talked about – we did a bunch of follow up. And at the very end I said that if we were a podcast that had music, this would be the place where we played the music to close out the follow up. And so Jonathan Mann, a very talented composer, created a piece of music just for wrapping up follow up.

Craig: I know.

John: So, let’s take a listen.

Craig: [music plays] Well that sounds exciting. I think that will be fun. I’ve had enough of follow up. I think follow up is done. Follow up is done. [music ends]

John: Follow up is done. And now let’s get to our first topic. So, this is something Craig proposed. So, kick it off.

Craig: Well, I was thinking about this because I was watching something and there was a character who was so physical and was doing so much physically. And it occurred to me that one of the things that you and I like to do when we talk about crafty issues is pull out little things that maybe writers don’t think about as tools in their toolbox. We’re so textual and I think for a lot of people we tend to focus down on action and dialogue. And you and I have talked about the importance of place. And we’ve talked about the importance of sound. And we’ve talked about the importance of transitions. And nonverbal communication.

John: And hair styles. And wardrobe.

Craig: And hair and wardrobe. All these things are part of our palate. But when I don’t think we’ve talked about is physicality itself. Have you ever taken an acting class?

John: I’ve taken no acting classes.

Craig: I took an acting class when I was in college. And it was really instructive. And I took it because I was trying to write and I thought if I want to write things for actors I should probably have some sense of what the hell they go through. And the thing that surprised me the most about class number one was the fact that we spent the first ten minutes stretching, breathing. These are things that every actor is like, yeah, dumb-dumb, that’s what we do. Our bodies are an enormous part of our instrument.

And the first acting assignment we had, and I will never forget this, because it was mean and it was cruel. And it was exactly the kind of lesson you don’t forget. Our teacher said, “OK, first acting assignment, each of you, you’re going to sit in the chair and what I’d like you to do is perform sitting in a chair. And you have one minute to do whatever you’d like to perform sitting in a chair.” And each person, including myself, performed some sort of remarkable little mini drama while sitting in the chair.

Waiting nervously for somebody. Shooting up drugs. Crying. Remembering something terrible. Yeah. And then when we were done she goes, “OK, now it’s my turn.” And she sat in the chair and she sat there, believably, for a minute. And we were all like, gulp, because that’s a huge part of what you do.

And I never forgot that. So, I thought today we would talk about how we as writers can employ this and think about this while we’re writing. Whether it’s something we’re calling out specifically as we’re writing, or whether it’s something that we’re using to inform what we’re having our characters say as opposed to not say and so forth.

Do you do a lot of thinking about this sort of thing when you write?

John: I would say in general as I’m sort of looping through the scene, sort of in the pre-writing process where I’m seeing what the scene is like, that’s where I’m sort of doing the blocking for characters and figuring out where they are and sort of what they’re generally doing in the scene. And so some characters are not – they’re not running around. They’re standing there. They’re sitting there. I’m placing them within the mental set I’ve built for them. And because of where I’ve placed them, that will inform their choices definitely.

But I would say in general I don’t think a lot about this consciously. And so when you proposed the topic, I went back and sort of retroactively looked at the choices I have made in different movies and some of those were really helpful choices. So, I’m eager to sort of have the discussion about thinking through what character movements could be and when it’s helpful to call them out. Because I think a lot of time I’ve seen them in my head, but I haven’t bothered to describe them on the page.

Craig: Yeah. And that’s normal, because the truth is it’s not always something that is necessary. I will always be necessary for each individual actor to make a choice about their own physicality. And I’m talking about everything – how they stand, how they sit, how they walk, how they move through a space, all of that. But in key moments, it’s important for us to think about it. And you can kind of break these things down into two large categories. One is situational and one is I’ll say constitutional.

So, you think about a character like – you watched Breaking Bad, I presume.

John: I did not watch Breaking Bad. I’ve seen episodes, but I did not watch it as a whole series.

Craig: All right. Have you ever seen Giancarlo Esposito’s character, Gus Fring? Have you ever seen any of those?

John: Absolutely. And I perceive him to be a very active and physical character, even when he – if he’s listening to you, I think it’s a very active listening.

Craig: Right. So, he – that character – that actor, and the writers together have made a choice that this person is going to exercise total control over his physical self. He stands rigid. His posture when he sits is always perfect, to the point where it’s almost unnatural. When he talks to you, he tends to put his hands flat on the surface, palms down, evenly spaced. It’s a remarkable series of choices but it says so much about who he is, which is an intense control freak to the nth degree.

That is a kind of constitutional decision. This is who this guy is. But then there are these moments characters can respond to something and then how they respond physically can sometimes tell you so much. So, I guess, first we could about just motion. How actors are moving through a space and what it means for us as writers. These are simple things like how fast are they going, or how deliberate are they. Are they in control of their physical self at that moment? Are they clumsy or are they graceful?

They can also indicate things to us, I mean, the physicality of a character can indicate things. For instance, like I mentioned, posture. But there are also things like strength, general strength and weakness. You can tell when, and these are questions that actors will ask. And if they ask a writer, it’s good for you to know. Is this person weak? Are they physically weak? What does that mean for them? Do they have a disability? Sometimes a slight limp does this remarkable thing.

We know, for instance, watching No Country for Old Men, and you see Anton Chigurh, and that–

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Odd limp. It’s the strangest thing. And it’s so important. So important to his character. 99% of writers will not really go there. But they should. It doesn’t mean you always want to do something like that, because it can quickly tilt into affectation. But when you’re creating a monster and then giving him a slight imperfection like that that almost harkens back to Frankenstein or something, it can be really interesting.

John: Absolutely. And I think if you’re calling this kind of detail out on each character, it loses its unique quality for the characters it’s actually important for.

Craig: Right.

John: And it can also feel like you’re setting something up that you don’t mean to be setting up. So you have to be really mindful of it, but for I think Anton Chigurh is a great example of a character whose menace is amplified by this perceived weakness.

Craig: Precisely. And there are also little behavioral ticks that all people have. If you – you know, we sometimes say if you want to learn dialogue, I mean, I do think there’s a certain innate talent for that. It’s a little musical. But we’ll say, listen to people right? And sometimes we’ll suggest record two people having a conversation, with their knowledge, of course. And then just listen to the rhythms and see how that works.

Similarly, just watch people with the sound off in your head. Watch their bodies. Watch what they do. Watch how they fidget. Do they bite their fingernails? Do they chew gum? Do they pull on their pants? What are those things that they do? Those little things sometimes tell us so much and the audience tends to enjoy learning these things, like little detectives who are spying on somebody. Because we’re watching a character on screen and while they’re talking they’re nervously fiddling with their shirttail. They feel – the audience feels a satisfaction. It’s a voyeuristic satisfaction. They know that that character isn’t really aware of it. Right? That’s what kind of an unconscious habit is.

So, we’re kind of titillated by the fact that we’re learning something about them that they don’t necessarily want us to know.

John: Absolutely. Well, I think what you’re talking about is you’re giving them a specific differentiation from all the other characters in the world. We often talk about that first moment where you introduce a character. So, they get their uppercase because it’s the first time they’re showing up in the script. And you can sometimes cheat a little bit and like give an extra line of description that isn’t really necessarily filmable, but it helps sort of anchor for the reader who that character is.

But sometimes a movement is a fantastic way, really what one of these constitutional movements, is a great way to sort of anchor that for the reader. Because you’re giving them something specific about, you know, in the case of the Breaking Bad character, how precise and measured he is. And sort of how he sits so ramrod straight.

That’s useful. And it’s a thing that actually can help inform the actor. Help the director understand the character’s role in the thing. But it helps the reader see that character in his or her head.

Craig: It also starts to help you as the writer cast. Even if that’s not the cast that you end up with, in your mind you’re saying this character has this kind of physicality. Who fits that? You know, I remember in that acting class I told you about in college, at the end of the semester we had to partner up with one other person in the class and perform a scene. And she assigned the scenes and the characters. And I got True West, which this other guy, and I was the hard ass brother. I was the tough brother.

John: All right.

Craig: Because she said, and you know, it’s so funny, she said, and she’s right, and this is why I’m not a good actor and why I can’t do it well, because I’m in my own head too much. She said, “You have this physicality you will not access, and I want you to access your own body. I want you to get in this guy’s face. I want you to intimidate him. I want you to be scary.” Which I don’t feel, in my head, but I have the kind of physicality – it’s not like I’m a super heavy built guy, but if I were a bad person I have the kind of body that helps that out. You know? Got some broad shoulders and sort of barrel-chesty.

And so as you’re thinking about the physicality of these characters, you also then start to think well who could play this and who does this physicality match up to? And a lot of times where that takes you, and this to me is maybe the most important aspect that I think about routinely is this kind of relational physicality. Two people are in a space, how is their physical presence impacting each other?

John: Classically, if you ever take a class in negotiations or sort of like interpersonal communication where you’re trying to convince somebody of something, there’s that process of mirroring where you sort of do back what they’re doing to you and then like you can sort of change the dynamic. Even like those sort of gross things about how to pick up women, they’re all about the interplay of space between you and the other person. And so how you put those two characters in the scene and how you sort of suggest that they’re going to be moving in the scene really will influence the dynamic.

If a character is approaching the other character, that can be read as they’re entering their space for a positive reason or they’re trying to control that person. And you have to make those decisions.

And just even that line of dialogue or the parenthetical honestly, like approaching, changes the read of that next line of dialogue.

Craig: Absolutely. And similarly you have a choice of how to respond. In this way you can have a fight without ever throwing a punch. Someone can lean in – you know, sometimes instead of saying he gets it – like I will read in scripts, “He gets in his face, or he gets in his comfort zone.” But to me that’s not very specific. I mean, if somebody, you know, juts his head in, these are things that people do to get into your space without just weirdly walking close to you and specific. And then how does the other person respond? Because if they don’t flinch, that tells me a lot, too. And then the other person maybe starts their – their performance starts to fall apart. Their performance of being strong.

And there are all these body language things that people just do traditionally and I think it’s good to think of about those things as well, even if you don’t spell them out. If in your mind your character is arms crossed and eyes down, it will affect how you have them say things.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: So, in that sense it’s not always necessary to spell it out, but you should be thinking about it.

John: Well, the general rule for sort of everything we’re talking about in scene description for the scenes that we’re writing is you have to know what all the things are and be very judicious about the things you’re actually saying because screenwriting is an art of economy. So, you’re not saying 90% of what you know about the scene. You’re only saying that 10% that’s actually crucial for the understanding of the intention behind the dialogue and the intention behind the actions, the crucial actions that they’re taking in the scene.

So, you know, the scene may really not be about sort of where those two characters are or sort of like how they are physically interacting, but if it’s helpful for the reader to understand the intention and for the actors to understand the intention, you’ll make the choice about like, OK, I’m going to be very specific here. And, again, there’s always that worry like, oh, I’m directing from the page. Well, sometimes you’re actually just directing the reader’s attention to what’s important in the scene. Moments that might be lost if you hadn’t actually called them out.

Craig: Absolutely. And if you think about the comparison to dialogue as music, that there’s that rhythm and melody and the rests and the notes, then the equivalent comparison for physical motion is dancing. And I do think about these things like little dances at times. And that doesn’t mean to say that they have to be arch. But how people are leaning and moving back and coming together, whether it’s out of intimacy, or threat, or fear, frightened people are the most wonderful dancers in movies. It’s so much fun to watch them.

I remember another Coen Brothers example, Miller’s Crossing. What’s his name, The Schmatta, that’s what the character’s name is? When he’s begging for his life. “Look into your heart.” He’s so folded over and pathetic. It’s like they took his bones out or something. It’s really amazing to watch what servility looks like, and fear, and it’s similarly I’m always impressed by truly scary people in movies. Not fake, fighter, corny ones, but those live wires that are dangerous like Begbie in Trainspotting. I mean, Begbie, the character, what, he weighs like 120 pounds maybe. And he’s, what, 5’8”? And he’s absolutely terrifying because it looks like electricity is in him. And he leads from his, in surprising ways, like explosively from his neck. You know? And that’s amazing to me. It’s such a wonderful dance to watch.

John: Well, that idea of dance, I think, is a crucial reason why – and I’m curious what your take is on this, because I almost never have characters sitting down. I think it’s because of the dance aspect of that. So, even in situations where in the real world they might be sitting down, I’ll almost always put them up on their feet. And so now that I’ve said that, people will watch movies and TV shows and they’ll recognize like, oh, you know what, it’s really kind of weird how rarely people sit in movies and TV shows. But it’s because you want people on their feet. People pay more attention to people who are standing up. And it’s a strange thing. But if people are standing up then anything can happen. If people are sitting down, less can happen.

And the transition from being seated to standing up is a big change. And so you can do that, but you’re also sort of taking up time to do that.

Conversely, I think one of the reasons why people are often standing is then when you have somebody sit down, it really does change the dynamic. And sitting down can be a major power move to sort of say like, no, no, we’re not going to hurry. I’m going to sit down.

Or, like Hannibal Lecter, you have a character who is mostly sitting down and he’s eerily calm, which is, again, a powerful position.

Craig: Actually, I was thinking of him as standing. That’s interesting.

John: Well, sometimes he’s standing, leaning against the wall, but I think in a lot of those conversations he’s seated in the chair opposite Clarice.

Craig: Oh, is that right? Well, yeah, because the first time we meet him, not only is he standing in a Gus Fring ramrod way, but he’s floating in the middle of the space. By the way, as good of a time as any way to say rest in peace, Jonathan Demme. It’s very sad that he passed away.

John: 100%. Yeah.

Craig: But also an amazing example of what body control and defining a character by body movement is. But I agree with you, sitting is a fascinating choice. And this is where you know you’re talking to screenwriters, because anybody else would just say, what, they’re sitting, who cares. So to me sitting is always about negotiation, or intimacy. Or exhaustion, literally exhaustion. But when people are sitting across from each other, I think that there’s either a negotiation going on, which I think is very typical. We think of that as across the table, or an intimacy where two people are kind of together and sharing something quietly that is in a so-called safe space I guess is how I would put it.

But when one person is sitting and one person is standing, that’s always fascinating to me, too. Because then there are times when the seated person is the one in charge. Then there are times where the seated person is the one in trouble. And you’ll see that dynamic quite a bit.

John: I think back to Star Trek, and you look at the bridge of Star Trek and its different incarnations, and obviously the caption has his seat and in the Next Generation there were seats next to him, but it always – you could tell the actors never really wanted to sit there. They always wanted to be up. And even from the initial Star Trek, they found a reason for why Spock had to be standing to look into that little monitor thing. There’s no reason why that monitor thing couldn’t be like seat accessible, but I think they wanted him standing up because if he was sitting down he was sitting down. And the characters who were sitting down were kind of less important.

There’s a reason why Spock was standing, because he was the second most important person on the bridge and Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura, they were sitting down. And while we love them, they were not the driving force in the scene.

Craig: Yeah. When people are standing, there is a chance that one of them will attack the other one. Physically. Or there is a chance that one of them is going to kiss the other one, physically. And so that is exciting. There is – you’re absolutely right about that. And it is good advice I think to ask yourself, because I fall, and we all fall into this trap, ask yourself do they need to be sitting here? And if they don’t, what would be going on if they were standing? Because you also don’t want them to just stand dead, you know. And then this leads you down the path of what other kind of discussion could occur.

And this is the challenge of the screenwriting. I always feel like writing a script is a little bit like those old school printers that had to run through a color, then come back and do another color on top to get to the final colors, you know. So they’d do one color at a time. And oftentimes I feel like there’s only so many layers we can do at once. But, it’s a good exercise to go back through on a rewrite and ask yourself why are they sitting, should they be sitting, and how are they sitting, and if they’re not sitting and they’re standing, what can I do with their bodies? What can I think about with their bodies?

The more you give your actors to do physically, the more they will be able to be real. I don’t know how else to put it.

John: That’s absolutely true. All right, I think that’s a great discussion on some movement. Some physicality. So, if you have suggestions about physicality or movement, write in with those ideas.

Before we go, one last actually really concrete example I can think of, from The Crown, so the Netflix series, The Crown, a big sort of plot point is that Churchill doesn’t want to sit down. Churchill always wants to be standing to give his information to the Queen. And she makes him sit down at one point. And it is a very clear sort of power move. When I’m telling you what you have to do, and making you sit down, I’m taking away your agency. And it’s a really interesting moment.

Craig: Yeah. You know, we go through this – I mean, you and I, we’re getting older. Every now and then you tweak a little muscle or something. Even just being aware, body conscious, we are conscious of our own bodies. Ow. You know, if you have a scene where someone sits down and they just wince a little bit, that’s interesting. I’m already interested. They seem real.

John: Even as we’re recording this, I think you are sitting in your chair in Los Angeles. I am standing at my desk in Paris. It’s the difference between us.

Craig: That’s right. I am incredibly lazy. [laughs] So lazy. Slouched over. Basically I’m Charlie Kaufman’s character in Adaptation. I am. I’m just like – my posture – I’m the opposite of Gus Fring. I’m basically a comma.

John: I am some other Nicolas Cage character in some other movie.

Craig: Let’s go with The Bad Lieutenant. And…? Three Page Challenge time.

John: Perfect. So I just reached back and picked up my iPad to talk through our Three Page Challenges. So, as always, when we do a Three Page Challenge, we’ve invited listeners to write in with the first three pages of their script. So they have gone to, all spelled out, they have read a little form. They have attached a PDF and said that it’s OK for us to talk about these on the air. And, in fact, if you would like to read along with us, we strongly recommend it. So, in the show notes for this show, or just go to, you can download the PDFs and see what we are seeing, what we actually have in front of us.

So, if you feel like pausing the episode and downloading them, it really is good because we’re going to talk specifically this week about very specific things on the page that could be looked at for a rewrite.

And we also love to have a wonderful not us person to read aloud the descriptions. So, if you’re listening to this in your car you have a sense of what we’re talking about. So, we’ve had Jeff Probst, we’ve had Elizabeth Banks. This week–

Craig: So good.

John: We went international. And so it is Rebel Wilson who is going to be reading our summaries.

Craig: Oh yeah. Rebel.

John: Rebel. So, she was so generous. We tweeted at her last night and she did it right away. And she’s just the best. So, if you would like to hear more Rebel Wilson, she was on a previous episode. We’ll have a link in the show notes. She was actually on two episodes. So we had a normal clean episode, then we did a special dirty episode which is in the premium feed for subscribers. And the premium episode, if I recall correctly, involves a hat and diarrhea.

Craig: Yeah. Of course it does. Of course it does. By the way, now, so we’ve had Elizabeth Banks, Banksy, and we have Rebel, I feel like we should just keep rolling through the Pitch Perfect cast, you know?

John: 100%.

Craig: I think that’s the only people that we should have doing these, other than Jeff Probst. We should just have Pitch – we should get Anna Kendrick. And we should roll through.

John: Done.

Craig: All right.

John: All right, let’s do our very first of these. And Rebel Wilson, if you will please introduce our first script so we can discuss it.

Rebel Wilson: OK. Hey guys, it’s Rebel Wilson here. OK, first up we have Alice by Ted Wilkes. Oh, I feel like the person at the table read that reads out all the stage directions. We open in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant where a toad and a cat are hard at work. We are in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland reimagined as a sprawling metropolis with a Victorian twist. A perp races through the kitchen, chased by Rabbit White, aka, the white rabbit, now a hard-nosed bail bondsman.

In voiceover, Rabbit tells us why the perps always run, even though they know it’s pointless. Then, in the alley, Rabbit catches the perp as he’s about to climb over a fence. He cuffs him. As Rabbit muses on how things have changed in Wonderland, the perp reveals that he knows where she is, the one Rabbit is hung up on. Enraged, Rabbit knocks the perp out. At the WPD, Harry Mad Hatter Harrington, balding and fat, watches Rabbit. He confronts Rabbit about smoking inside the station and warns him about beating up suspects. And with that, that’s the bottom of page three.

John: And thank you Rebel Wilson. Craig, do you want to start us off?

Craig: Sure. So, this was a little challenging for me. There’s a choice that’s made here. And I understand it. There are times when you want to – your action description wants to be a character in and of itself. And there are times when you want to impart things to the reader quickly and efficiently so they kind of get it.

So, here we start in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, and then we’re already a little meta because Ted Wilkes says, “Because that’s where chases always take place.” I haven’t seen a chase yet, but I guess I’m going to, which I don’t really love. Let the chase unfold. Let me actually watch the movie. But he says, “However, there’s something different about this one. We’re in Wonderland. The place where Lewis Carroll’s novella was set. However, it’s years after the hallucinations of Alice Liddell which gave birth to that narrative. Turns out that the place is actually a sprawling noir metropolis (with a Victorian twist) when you put the book down.”

Now you’re just pitching me the movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that’s not what screenplays do. So much of what we want when we read a screenplay is to discover. And I understand at some point you may need to clarify. First, just lay it on me. And then let me discover it. And I think that choice is kind of infecting even the way the scene is working, because we have a film noir voiceover from the Rabbit who is clearly basically a film noir detective. Or in this case bail bondsman, which we know because he tells us in the action. “The white rabbit from the stories became a hard-nosed bail bondsman.” Again, before he’s even said a word. So we’re pitching. He has some voiceover and then they start to run.

And understand what’s going on here. And we see a lot of these in Hollywood. I mean, Travis Beecham wrote a spec called Killing on Carnival Row which was sort of like fairy creature world, you know, noir gumshoe. So this is Alice in Wonderland noir gumshoe. It’s a very similar sort of thing. But it seems to me that I kind of need to get one thing at once, like maybe just give me the white rabbit. And I think it’s Alice in Wonderland and he’s checking his thing, because he’s going to be late. And then he looks up and he sees somebody running by. And then he runs out after them, chases them down, catches them, and knocks their teeth out, which is a very similar thing to what’s happening here.

And then I discover, oh my god, Wonderland is not the way I remember it. But it seemed like I was getting too much before it happened. So, by the time I was done, and this is sort of just a global problem with these three pages, by the time I got to the end of the third page, I thought to myself I don’t need to see this movie. I think I get it.

John: Yeah, I felt like I got it, too. And I had a lot of the same objections you did in terms of it didn’t feel like it was presenting itself fairly. It didn’t feel like it was actually a screenplay. It felt more like a pitch document for the idea rather than the thing itself.

The idea of like combining two different genres together to make your own unique thing, that’s great. I have no issues with it. And, you know, an Alice in Wonderland noir drama, I’m fine with that. I think my concern is that it didn’t seem particularly interested in being a noir genre. I didn’t sense that this actually cared about the chase. It was just – the chase was just there to set up stuff. And I didn’t feel invested in the action, partly because let’s see, so we’re talking, you know, in the kitchen there’s a toad washing pots by the sink, and a cat is cutting onions in the corner.

But then we have this Perp, 40s, races through the kitchen. We never get any description of what the perp is. Is he human? I don’t know.

Craig: Right.

John: So, it wasn’t – yeah, I don’t think – if Ted had an answer for it, he wasn’t giving me the answer because it didn’t seem like it was important to him. And so I didn’t know whether to invest my attention on any one detail of all this.

So, the voiceover from the Rabbit, it feels like gumshoe voiceover, but it didn’t feel like specific to this world of a gumshoe voiceover. It felt like it could have been in a different movie and it could have been in a different movie. And that’s where the gears started to not fit very well for me. Is that we visually see that he is the White Rabbit, but nothing he’s actually saying or doing feels like Lewis Carroll’s world at all.

Craig: Yeah. You know, if you want to start with that classic noir vibe, and again, this is my theory of do one thing at once, so show me some dirty streets and some fog and the camera is moving through. And a dog is barking and there’s sounds of clatter and garbage cans. And we hear a voiceover. And the voiceover, I’m just reading from Ted’s pages here. The voiceover, we don’t see anyone. We just hear someone say, “They always run. They know that it’s pointless… I always get them. It’s just something to do with the nervous system. You see a threat coming your way and your feet start turning in the direction of the nearest exit…”

And now we move through a window and we arrive at an ashtray and a glass of scotch. And we hear, “… It’s the amygdala. The place where our brain gets all its emotional signals from. Once it kicks in, it just takes over and no matter what you were just thinking about, you’re not in control anymore.” And then a hand reaches in, takes a cigarette. And then you hear, “And that’s where I come in,” or something.

And then we reveal it’s a rabbit. You see, somehow or another we need one thing at a time. I’m also thinking about, I love Men in Black. Boy, that’s another movie we should deep dive into. And Men in Black, one of the things that I love the most, when I knew I was going to have a great time in that movie more than anything was after the chase scene where Will Smith chases down this purse snatcher. And the guy–

John: They race up through the Guggenheim and–

Craig: Right. And then that guy is doing things that you couldn’t really do. And then his eyelids do this weird blinking thing, like there’s eyelids inside of his eyelids. And then he jumps. And later Will Smith is saying, “Yeah, his eyelids were doing this weird thing.” And the cops are like, “You’re out of your mind.” And then in comes Tommy Lee Jones and he says, “They weren’t eyelids. They were gills. He was out of breath.”

And you go, whoa. This is cool. Right? Like he knows stuff. And they’re taking it seriously. They live in this world. It’s not cute. It’s not meta. It’s real to them.

This all felt like it was – it had that glaze of a pitch. There was like a weird meta thing sitting on it, so that I wasn’t really in a movie. I was just more getting hit with a lot of flash.

John: Yep. I agree with you. Let’s take a look at the words on the page and see if there’s things that screenwriters in general can look at here and learn from. So, a thing which bugs me a lot and I suspect bugs you, too, is when scene headers go more than one line. And so here we see, this is bottom of page one, EXT. DARK ALLEY, BEHIND THE CHINESE RESTAURANT, WONDERLAND – NIGHT, and the night breaks over to the next line. Don’t do that. I’ve never had a good outcome with multiline scene headers. Find a way to shrink that down. EXT. DARK ALLEY – NIGHT. Done.

Like I know we’re in Wonderland. You don’t have to keep calling it out every time.

Craig: Right.

John: If you’re going to keep the same Chinese restaurant kitchen opening, I would have gotten rid of the first scene header all together, because he’s repeating it in the second line. So, it just says, “It’s the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant because that’s where chases always take place.” That line bugs me less if I didn’t just see it in the scene header.

Craig: Yep.

John: A general thing, but in screenplays, two dashes are the sort of punctuation dash. So one dash by itself just looks like a minus. This was inconsistent. So that would be helpful.

He’s got a voice like gravel in a mixing bowl. Sure. That worked for me. I could hear what that sounds like.

Craig: And it’s a little cheesy, but true to noir. That’s kind of how they talk.

John: That’s why I liked it. Bottom of page one, “Chiaroscuro light fills the alley as two shadows run up the wall, just about visible through the thick fog circling around the place.” Really close, just a little too long. So, you can get the Chiaroscuro and the fog, great, and the shadows running up the wall, but then it just went on too long.

But in general, I felt the noir vibe there. Great. Just little less would have helped me there.

Page two, there’s a semicolon that’s not really a semicolon. “The Perp CLATTERS against it; then tries to climb as fast as he can.”

Craig: Right. That should be a comma. Or take out the then.

John: And I share you concern with we are told that he’s a bail bondsman, but nothing we actually see him do really sells that idea. And so it looks like he’s just a cop arresting him. And even when we got to the station, I was really confused sort of what his relationship was with everybody there. It took me three times on the third page to really understand like, oh no, he doesn’t work there. He’s just returning this guy who ran away. So that was confusing to me as well.

Craig: Yeah. I agree. There is a disconcerting spelling error on the bottom of page two. “A rye smile from the Perp.” You want to say W-R-Y there. Not rye as in the drink. And the reason it’s a little disconcerting is because, look, mistakes happen, but I like it when my writers read. And it just – you don’t want to shake anyone’s confidence. You never want somebody to look at that and go, oh, this guy is just not well-read. Because I’m sure Ted is well-read. This is probably just a think-o instead of a typo. But you got to check these things. It’s really important. And that’s something a spell checker is not going to catch, obviously.

John: Top of page three, “Rabbit tees off on the Perp’s face.” I didn’t know what that meant. Did it mean slug him?

Craig: Yeah.

John: What does tees off mean?

Craig: Tees off means take a big swing at basically. Like a golf club. I was a little more confused by, “I’ll have a vowel please.” I didn’t quite get the joke there. Because the perp–

John: He’s got a vowel.

Craig: Yeah, well, the perp, the rabbit has caught him and the perp says, “I know where she is.” And the rabbit says, “What did you say?” And the perp says, “You’re the one they keep talking about. Hung up on that girl. What’s her name?” Now, that’s just not real. It’s forced exposition. It’s forced drama. That’s not the sort of thing that you would just calmly toss out. What is he trying to achieve exactly in this moment? He’s trying to get away from a guy? What is he doing? It seemed ill-motivated.

Then the perp says, “…A…”

And then the action says, “I’ll have a vowel please,” in italics. “Rabbit tees off on the perp’s face. Goodnight, Scumbag.”

I mean I understand the vowel, like I guess it’s a Wheel of Fortune thing. But what? I didn’t quite – I was confused.

John: Yeah. It didn’t work for me either. Let’s talk about this as a concept in general, because I got confused about the tone and sort of who the target audience was for this. Because it felt like a – I think there’s some F-words in there. I didn’t know who this movie was aimed at. And it could be OK to not necessarily have a perfect audience, but if this landed at my desk and I was a studio executive, I wouldn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with this. Because I wouldn’t know is this to our children’s division, or is this to – it felt expensive, but adult.

I didn’t know sort of who this was aimed at.

Craig: Yeah. This would really function best as a sample. Once you have a talking rabbit, any producer or reader or executive is immediately going to think, well, this is going to be expensive. And it will be. Well, if it’s going to be expensive then that means a lot of people have to come see it. This doesn’t seem – I mean, the whole gimmick here is we’re going to take something with an enormously wide appeal, the classic Alice in Wonderland story, and narrow it down, which is fine to be niche and cool. Just no one is going to spend the money to make it.

But, you know, OK, so maybe it’s mostly just for the writing, but then the writing has really got to be just wonderful.

John: Got to be great.

Craig: Yeah, it’s got to be great. And let’s take a look at the very last bit here between the Hatter and the Rabbit. And I get a little confused here because the Mad Hatter is a police officer. And I thought, OK, the Rabbit chasing somebody has a general connection to the traditional role of the Rabbit, because I assume partly here what we want to do is see, oh, there’s a dotted line – even if it’s thin – between the character we know and the character that’s being presented to us.

So the Rabbit runs a lot in Alice in Wonderland. And here he is running again. OK. It’s just a different kind of running. Interesting. But the Mad Hatter is not a cop in Alice in Wonderland. There’s nothing he does that’s cop like. And yet here he is. So, I start to wonder what exactly is the connection to Alice in Wonderland other than the names and maybe some of the clothing. Makes me a little worried.

John: It makes me worried, too. Have I ever talked about this on the podcast, that Go was originally an Alice in Wonderland story.

Craig: Oh, that’s interesting. No.

John: Yeah, so Go was originally conceived to be an Alice in Wonderland story. And so the yellow Miata which hits Ronna was supposed to be a white Volkswagen Rabbit. And so there was a bunch of things that if you kind of squint you can see that like, oh, this is a thing I was trying to do. But along the writing of it I was like, you know what, I’m trying to force people into these roles and they don’t naturally want to be in these roles. And so I gave up on that as a concept and the movie is much better for that.

I did feel like, you know, in this case the writer is trying to force these people into these zones. Granted, it’s only three pages, so maybe it does make more sense later on, but I share your concern that Hatter doesn’t feel like he any relationship to the Hatter I know from the stories.

Craig: Yeah. And like I said, you feel like, well, at some point he’s going to be talking to the caterpillar. And then there’s going to be the Queen. And, you know, Alice in Wonderland is not really something that hasn’t been imagined or reimagined I should say thoroughly many times before. It has. Many times before. So, that makes me just think, hmm, the gimmick may be a little played out here. This may feel a little, well, you just don’t want to feel like it’s homework to go through it.

So, I think that there’s some conceptual issues here and some character issues. But the most important thing I would say, Ted, is let’s just give you the benefit of the doubt. This works out great from here on. You really have to think about how you’re introducing us to the world. And how you’re introducing the audience. It can’t feel like a pitch. It will just never, ever work that way.

John: I agree. But you know who knows something about pitches? That would be Rebel Wilson. So let’s turn back to Rebel to talk us into our next Three Page Challenge.

Rebel: The second Three Page Challenge is called Black Leather Jackets by Gerald Decker. Nighttime in Arkansas. A man who looks like fat Elvis jumps off a semi and goes inside an Astro Burger. A character called Rambling Man, the only other customer in the restaurant, pops some pills and downs them with coffee. Elvis orders a Fatty Fat, a chocolate shake, and some fries. Rambling Man approaches Elvis and offers him a lift.

In the truck, Rambling Man asks Elvis on why he chose to be fat Elvis rather than one of the other incarnations. Before Elvis can answer, though, a ball of light shoots past and disappears over the horizon. The truck suddenly stalls and rolls to a stop. The two men exit.

The ball of light reappears and now lands in the middle of the road. It’s a saucer-shaped craft. Rambling Man laments how no one is going to believe him and how no one will believe Elvis either. The craft then opens up and three Nwabalans are, again, I don’t know whether I’m saying that correctly. Nwabalans. OK. I’m guessing kind of like alien creatures exit on Harley Davidsons. The lead alien reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small silver object. He tells Elvis he’s a sight for sore eyes. Elvis then says, “Why, thank you. Thank you very much.”

That was not a bad Elvis impersonation when I’ve never done one before. All right, OK, and then that’s the end of page three.

John: All right. So, this is by Gerald Decker and this is written in a way that’s different than a lot of the Three Page Challenges we look at, so I’m excited to see this.

So, most screenplays you read are going to have INT/EXT as scene headers, but you will come across some scripts that are sort of written in a continuous voice. Basically it’s just one continuous flow. And the slug lines or sort of scene header thing is just, you know, a general indication of when we’re inside and when we’re outside. Ultimately, if these movies go into production they get scene headers like everything else and it works out fine. But this one is written sort of like just one continuous flow.

And so it’s an interesting thing to look at if you are curious what that looks like on the page.

Craig: And it works for me. You know.

John: It works for me. Yeah. So, this one starts, “ONE NIGHT OUTSIDE THE ASTRO BURGER ON ROUTE 64 IN ARKANSAS,” which is essentially the scene header. “A semi drives away, leaving a man who looks suspiciously like ELVIS at the restaurant. This first paragraph brings up one of my biggest frustrations with how this was written is that there were just a lot of run-on sentences that I think hurt the read. It was actually harder to sort of get through and figure out what was really going on the sentences kept going on a lot.

But the flow of getting in from place to place, that actually worked kind of fine for me, despite the sort of strange style.

My overall general take on this is that I was certainly surprised by the things that were happening in the first three pages, but I didn’t have a tremendous amount of confidence that this was going to be a movie that I was excited to keep seeing. Because it was going through a lot of tropes really quickly. And I wasn’t convinced that I was going to be taken on a better journey than things I’ve seen before.

Craig: Yeah. So, what we’re talking about here is three pages in which Fat Elvis, who we presume is Fake Fat Elvis, turns out to be – it seems – real Fat Elvis. And real Fat Elvis does in fact have awareness and knowledge of aliens. And we’re meeting the aliens now. So, sort of a National Enquirer pastiche into a movie. And that can work. I feel like we’ve seen similar kinds of things. The territory of all of the crazy stories about Elvis are really true is something that has been mined. But I will say that Gerald has written something that is consistent.

The tone feels consistent. Which that is an indication that you can write. And something like this, the tone is very specific. And I felt at home with it the whole way through. It’s odd. But it’s odd in its own way. And it stays odd in its own way. And I could see it. I could see every single thing that happened, which I really liked.

When that happens, it’s so much easier to forgive things like, OK, you’ve capitalized the word Chewing in chewing gum in a parenthetical when you don’t start those things with capitalizations. You know, stuff like that. There were little mistakes like when they’re in the truck Ramblin, who is the name of the truck driver, Rambling Man, who is giving Elvis a ride says, “As Ramblin sings along, Elvis eats his Fatty Fat Burger and his skinny fries. RAMBLIN (Shouting over the music) So tell me.” Well, is he singing or is he shouting?

So, there are these things like this. And, you know, that’s fine. But I could see all of it, which I really enjoyed. When you look at page three, you’ll see that there’s actually an overdose of something that I generally love. I like to use white space on a page and I really like to break up my action lines. Sometimes the best way to get across a vibe, a feeling, a mood is to not write paragraphs of action, but single lines.

However, if you do it too much, then you start to get a little bored visually. I think you could probably combine lines like, “The three lights stop in a line, one next to the other. Behind the lights are three Harley-Davidson motorcycles. On top of the motorcycles are three dark FIGURES.” That could be one paragraph, right?

But, you know, I mean, the last line put a smile on my face. And I thought to myself, well, I don’t know where this goes, I think there’s a possibility that this script becomes something like a Buckaroo Banzai which is amazing and specific and bizarre. And it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t give a damn whether you like it or not, or understand it or not, because it understands itself. I love things like that.

Or maybe this sort of never gets there. But, there is real promise here and there’s an interesting love of – and an evident love of language. Elvis is drinking a shake that’s called a Fatty Fat while he eats Skinny Fries. It’s just fun. I mean, I feel like Gerald is in control of his pages here.

So, by and large I thought there was a lot of promising – there was promising execution if maybe the topic itself wasn’t the freshest thing.

John: I agree with you. A few moments of dialogue did not click for me. So I wanted to call them out. So, I’ll start at the end. On page three, Ramblin says, “You ready for this?” “I was born ready.” I did not understand this at all. I didn’t understand why Ramblin wasn’t freaking out more. This is where I think the character underwriting was hurting it. Because I just had no sense of who Ramblin was in this moment.

On page two, Ramblin says, “You see that?” Ramblin’s voice fades away as the ball light reappears. The line was too short to fade away. So, I think it called for a longer line. There’s more stuff happening. So, give us that longer line. Give us something that can actually fade away. Give us a dot-dot-dot to come out of it.

This is personal choice, but on page one Elvis looks over the menu selections. Yeah, give me a Fatty Fat. One of the chocolate shakes and some home fries. Waitress says, “We just have Skinny Fries.” It always kind of annoys me when a character speaks who hasn’t been called out yet. And so there was, you know, if he’s looking over the menu selection as the waitress sort of leans on the counter or taps on her pad, you know, let us see her first. Because then I think stuff is going to work out better. We understand sort of the scene around him as he’s talking to her.

I didn’t understand why Ramblin was giving him a lift. That seems like an obvious thing, but the timing of it all felt really weird. Like, did his fries come? Did they not come? Why is Ramblin giving him a lift?

Craig: Yep.

John: So, all these things are helpful. The last thing I want to single out, and this is because a copy editing thing that Arlo Finch made me think of it. So bottom of page three, it says, “It is not human. This is a NWABALAN. His skin is deep blue, his eyes are huge.” And so it an “its” or is it a “his?” And so once you give even a non-human character a gender, stick with it, and don’t be switching back and forth.

Craig: Right. I think those are all very, very valid observations and Gerald would be wise to take all of those suggestions. Check also, you know, little things. Put periods at the end of sentences. The sound of the Allman Brothers’ Rambling Man plays, period. You know, if you don’t want to – I don’t care if you underline or italicize song names. All that stuff. None of that stuff matters.

John: An example of the Allman Brothers’ Rambling Man plays, that’s his running on sentence. So the Allman Brothers’ Rambling Man plays inside the cab at a deafening volume. So, that’s his style. And so, you know, his scene header is still a part of the same sentence.

Craig: Oh, I see. So, it’s inside the cab, at a deafening volume. OK. Yeah, so in cases like that, I like to do a dash-dash to let me know.

John: I agree.

Craig: And then a dash-dash back in. So, plays, dash-dash, then inside the cab, then dash-dash, at a deafening volume. Just to help connect people.

But that’s again, that’s not going to sink you one way or the other. Like I didn’t care that you were capitalizing the parenthetical. None of that stuff really matters. I mean, you know. I mean, fistful is not two words. It’s one word. Stuff like that. I don’t know. Whatever.

But I will say that when I meant it’s consistent at least to itself that this style of no INT/EXT and a kind of flowing, informal moving around felt quirky in the same way as the characters and the dialogue. It all felt very quirky.

John: Agreed.

Craig: So, you know, in that sense there’s an intelligence behind this which I think is important. I don’t know how it turns out. I hope it turns out well for Gerald’s sake. There is a mind at work here.

John: All right. Let’s go back one last time to Rebel Wilson to set up our third and final Three Page Challenge.

Rebel: Now the third Three Page Challenge here is called Thicker than Blood by Phillip Rogers. As a ’69 Mustang drives through the desert, Vince Sutter voiceovers complaining about how heroes in movies are always running off into the sunset without an explanation what happens to them afterwards. Vince we see is in rough shape, missing a finger. His passenger, a sharply dressed man named Kim is spooning a duffel bag in the backseat.

Banging comes from the trunk. At the side of the road, Vince opens the trunk to reveal a pissed-off and bound Nick. Nick was scared someone would kill him. After making him promise not to freak out, Vince tells Nick they stole $5 million from Cheung. Nick freaks out. Vince shuts Nick back into the trunk, declaring he’s not ready to come out just yet. They’re headed for the border. Vince says there is no plan B.

Kim suggests they stop and work on plan B, but Vince is worried that Nick’s girlfriend will soon realize he’s missing. Kim then tells Vince to not worry about the girlfriend. He took care of it. And that’s the end of the third page. All right, thanks guys. Thanks for letting me read this. It was fun. OK, bye.

Craig: Bye.

John: Oh, bye.

Craig: Bye. God, she’s the best.

John: The best. Craig, start us off with Thicker than Blood.

Craig: Well, we have another voiceover beginner here. Now, I must admit that when I started it, every orifice puckered as I sensed the arrival of a Stuart Special, or perhaps a Jabangwe Jump. Is that what we call them?

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: The Jabangwe Jump?

John: I don’t think that is the situation.

Craig: It didn’t happen, so I was really thrilled about that. But then also kind of wondering why the hell I needed the voiceover at all. I’m not sure what it was giving us here.

Here’s the thing about these voiceovers. When you start with a voiceover. Voiceover is pompous. Now, sometimes pomposity is exactly called for, because you’re telling some sort of serious tale. So Lord of the Rings has this wonderful, I mean, Galadriel deserves pomposity. She’s the Queen of the Elves and she’s telling you a tale.

That’s not really what’s going on here. And the tone of it doesn’t have the kind of zippy devil-may-care feeling of say Ray Liotta’s voiceover in Goodfellas which is ping-ponging against lots of fun things and these wonderful images. Instead, it’s very ponderous. Very serious. Very philosophical. And then we get what is essentially a scene we’ve seen many times before. There’s a guy in a trunk. There was nothing particularly special about any of this. It all felt very generic to me. We have two characters in the car, Vince and Kim. Kim is a man. And Kim is asleep while Vince does his voiceover.

And they’re driving. And then there’s a banging from the trunk, which again, Goodfellas, and many, many other movies.

John: And Go.

Craig: And Go. And circa 1990-something. We’re now in 2017. Says, “BANGING comes from the trunk. Vince’s eyes dart to the rear view mirror. Kim shifts awake.” Kim: Sleeping beauty must have finally woke up.

No. That’s not what you do when you wake up. You don’t wake up and immediately speak a scripted line like that. That’s not human. That should be something either Vince says after Kim wakes himself up, but then I would be confused about who he is talking about. Or, Kim should wake up and just go, “Ahh,” right, because he’s hearing the banging and realizes why he’s just been woken up.

That’s such an alarm bell to me, because it means you’re not really writing people, you’re writing lines.

John: You know, I think I took this in a very different way, because I enjoyed this much more than you did. And I took the voiceover as sort of hanging a lantern on that this sort of a very classic scene. This is the moment we’ve seen in a lot of these stories before. And the Vince character was sort of aware that we’ve seen this scene in things before.

And so, you know, this is generally the kind of moment that happens later in the story, but we’re sort of starting here. And we’re going to be filling in sort of what got us to this point. I thought there was a kind of meta quality to it that didn’t come through for you. And I think we’re just seeing different movies here kind of.

Craig: Well, I understand. Here’s my problem. What he’s saying is in his voiceover, I don’t like it when movies end off with the good guys just riding off into the sunset. Essentially what happens to them next? We’re just supposed to assume everyone lives happily ever after.

Then the banging from the trunk. And the scene is there’s somebody in the trunk who is screaming and we know that Vince is hurt and the guy in the trunk is screaming. The guy is Nick. Nick had been taped. His mouth is taped. He’s freaking out. They’ve killed somebody. And they put the tape back on.

This doesn’t feel victorious at all. It doesn’t feel like the scene he just told us he doesn’t like to see. So, it doesn’t seem like they’re taking off on that at all. There was a clash there, so I just – I didn’t feel it.

John: I get that. The three pages end on a discussion between Kim and Vince. And right now it’s all done OS, sort of like as the car is driving away. I had real questions about whether it can sustain that long of an OS.

Craig: It can’t. The answer is it cannot. No. Nothing can.

John: You would shoot this on camera and then make a decision down the road where it juts out the car. But I actually liked the play between Kim and Vince here. So let’s just read this last couple lines here. I’ll be Kim. Kim says, “I really think there should be a plan B. What if we stop for a drink and come up with a plan B? Or– just– stop for a drink anyway?”

Craig: Can’t. The girlfriend’s gonna realize he’s gone soon.

John: Don’t worry about the girlfriend. I took care of it.

Craig: What d’you mean you took care of it?

John: I took care of it.


John: So, that was at least intriguing enough to me to make it clear that I had assumed that Vince was the person in control of the whole scene, because he was the person who had all the information. He was the person who was missing a finger, who was driving the car. So that got me curious enough that I’m going to read another ten pages of this script.

Now, am I going to love it? Is it going to set my world on fire? I don’t know. But all this felt confident and competent enough that I was really curious to read what was going to happen next.

Craig: Interesting. Yeah, you see, to me everything that I’ve seen and heard tells me we’re in the middle of a story, not at the end, which is why I was struggling with the voiceover.

And probably why you really can’t do what he says you’re going to do, because it’s not the end of their – the good guys aren’t just riding off into the sunset because they haven’t won because they’re still in the middle of something. Someone has been killed. Someone is in their trunk. One guy has been hurt. They need to come up with a plan B. They have a goal which is to cross the border, but they don’t know if they can do it or not. That just does not feel reflective.

But here’s the thing that I would love to see. If Kim is in control, I don’t actually know who is in control. It seems to me like this is more of a kind of Hangover vibe where it’s just buddies. But if they’ve killed someone, maybe one of them is a little more dangerous sounding than the other. They both just have that kind of bro patter going on here, which is fine. But one you have one guy basically implying I killed her, then that’s not a bro. That’s a killer.

So, am I supposed to be rooting for this guy? I have so many questions and I wanted it to be more specific and I wanted the characters to be drawn better. It’s well laid out. Believe me, it’s well laid out. Phillip did a good job of that. I think this VO should be tweaked, personally, or eliminated. And I think just whatever you can do to avoid what I would just call generic “we’re in trouble, bro” patter.

John: Yeah. I get that. But I’m curious sort of what happened on page four and page five. And where that’s going to go. Because I like that even by page three my assumptions about sort of what the power dynamic was was proven incorrect. So, that was exciting to me. But I will say, I agree with you that of the three of these things we read, this is the most classically put on the page. It looks the most like a normal screenplay.

Craig: Right.

John: And reads well. There’s very little here that I could object to. It’s Courier Prime. It looks beautiful. The italics look so nice.

Craig: [laughs] You know, take note, people. If you want to butter this guy up, Courier Prime.

Hey, I have a question for you. What do you – I have since abandoned the CONT’D for character lines. Do you still use it?

John: I use CONT’D, so we’re describing when a line of action interrupts – the next person speaking is the same character who spoke before. That’s what you’re describing?

Craig: Exactly.

John: So like Tom, intermediary line, and then Tom again. I still do the CONT’D in most situations. Because I won’t – I hate when Final Draft automatically does it, which is why we don’t do it in Highland. But I only will do it if I’m typing it myself. Because the automatic version is terrible because sometimes you have like three paragraphs in between, but then it’s a CONT’D? That’s ridiculous.

Craig: Right.

John: So I will do it if it’s like a line or two and it’s really one continuous thought and I’m using that intermediary line basically like a parenthetical. The reason why I find the CONT’D helpful is that sometimes literally as an actor is reading it they just won’t connect the dot, like, oh, I’m still talking. It just helps them see that. And I think the actor in the reader’s head, it just makes it clear that it’s the same character talking the whole time through.

So I still do use it.

Craig: Yeah. I can see that. I’ve basically just chucked it because I just got tired of looking at it. And, I don’t know, it just seemed a little archaic. In here it’s fine that it’s being used here by Phillip. However, when you get into off-screen stuff, for it to then be also attached to the off-screen, that just looks ugly. Kim (OS) (CONT’D). It’s not even continued because he’s not even on camera. I don’t know. That’s a picky thing, but it seems like Phillip is into formatting because he’s done a nice job here, so.

John: It is. So, I used to do cont’d as lower case. And I gave up on that. I really liked how lower case looked. It was like sort of less pushy. But I’ve given up on that, too.

I was going to say on Ted’s script, the first one we looked at, had or doesn’t have a CONT’D, and I found it jarring. Because I kept expecting – here’s what it is. Is if there’s two characters in a scene and they’re talking to each other, and the one character talks twice in a row, I will still put the dialogue in the other character’s mouth, because I’m not really looking for who is talking.

Craig: Oh, that’s interesting.

John: And so that’s where I think it’s really useful to do that.

Craig: Well, I’m screwing up there. But you know, I’ve planted my flag and I don’t like change.

John: But you are a single spacer now, aren’t you? Or are you a double spacer?

Craig: Oh yeah. No, no, I’ve been a single spacer for well over a decade now, sir.

John: Very, very nice.

All right. Those are our Three Page Challenges. So, thank you again to all three of our entrants here, people who wrote in with their three pages. And thank you to everybody else who has written in with three pages that we haven’t gotten to yet. Mostly thank you to Godwin Jabangwe, our producer, who has to read through all of them and pick ones that he thinks are going to be interesting for us to look at. So, again, you can read these PDFs. Just go to the links in the show notes, or at

If you want to submit your own three pages, it can be a feature script. It can be a pilot. Hell, I’ll probably even take a play if you want to send us three pages of a play. Send it in. You attach a PDF to the little button and send that through to us. And we’ll take a look at those in the future. But mostly thank you to Rebel Wilson. You’re the best.

Craig: She is the best.

John: I’m imagining hugging her right now.

Craig: Bye!

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

Craig: I do. My One Cool Thing is a very tiny, tiny thing. And it’s only for people with mustachios, John.

John: Never me.

Craig: It is the Kent Saw Cut Handmade Mustachio Comb.

John: Wow.

Craig: I know. I think it’s the 81T model. Yeah. I can’t explain how good it feels to comb your mustache. [laughs] It is the stupidest thing. I feel like – I’m doing it right now. I feel like some, I don’t know, like Poirot. Like look at me, I’m combing my mustache. But it feels really good.

John: So, Craig, I haven’t seen you for eight months now. So, you’ve shaved the whole beard and now it’s just a very long handle bar mustache?

Craig: No, no, no. I still have the beard. But the mustache is connected to the beard. I mean, the mustache is – you still have the sections of mustache, of beard rather.

John: But what happens if you use the comb on the beard part, rather than mustache part? Does it all fall apart?

Craig: It gets stuck. Gets stuck. Yeah. Because the mustache hair is very different than the other beard hair.

John: All right.

Craig: Have you – you’ve never – can you even grow a beard?

John: I can grow stubble, but nothing that you really want to – nothing that anybody wants to see.

Craig: No, and Mike doesn’t look like he can grow a beard.

John: Oh, he can grow a beard like tomorrow.

Craig: No way. Really?

John: Yeah. But he hates it.

Craig: Oh, well you know what, I get it, because it itches like crazy for a while, but then it stops and then it’s great. So anyway, there you go. For those of you with mustachios or perhaps those of you who aspire to a mustachio, the Handmade Kent.

John: Great. So, if we were a podcast that took ads, then that could be a podcast sponsor because it’s always like the razors and things.

Craig: I know. By the way, the great thing about this, I made it sound like it’s really expensive, like it’s a $98 mustache comb. I think it costs like five bucks. You can get a 12-pack on Amazon. I think it’s – I don’t know, it’s $0.12.

John: My One Cool Thing is actually a research paper that I read a couple weeks ago and loved and I just thought about it again because of stuff that came up in my life. It is titled A Large-Scale Analysis of Technical Support Scams. It was done by three researchers at Stony Brook University. And it’s interesting because I’ve heard of tech support scams and I’ve read articles about this, but this was actually a scientific research paper where they looked at sort of like how tech support scams worked. And they went to their ethics department to get permission to participate in this study, because they were having to record these conversations without people’s consent. And they just did a deep dive into sort of how tech support scams work.

And generally it’s people visit a website that they shouldn’t visit and it leads them to a page that says like your computer is infected. Contact this number. They call into a “tech support site” that gets these people to download software that then takes over their computer. And then they charge them the money to get free of it.

Craig: Ransomware.

John: It’s Ransomware basically. I first learned about this because it happened to my mother-in-law.

Craig: Of course it did.

John: And it was horrible. And it preys on people who are not tech savvy. And so anyway it’s a really good paper, but I also really like the recommendations they make at the end of this, particularly about ways that browsers like Google Chrome or Safari could really help the situation by just giving people a panic switch. Basically like click this button and it will close all the tabs and wipe everything.

Craig: Right.

John: That would have saved everyone so much time and hassle. So, I recommend people check this out. It was also just fascinating to see sort of what a modern university paper looks like on a tech topic. So I’ll put a link to that in the show notes.

Craig: How great would it be if this paper were a scam?

John: Oh, wouldn’t that be great? Basically clicking the link in the show notes leads you to one of these devastating pages.

Craig: That would be amazing.

John: So my mom is – she’s not great with technology, but she can still do some basic things. And so when we had our weekly Facetime call, she’s like, oh, and can you take a look because something is wrong with my switchboard. I’m like, what switchboard. It’s like, oh, it’s what I use to look stuff up. And so was a site that people used to use to look up things a zillion years ago.

And so–

Craig: Switchboard?


Craig: I’m going there right now.

John: If you go to it right now you will see that it comes in with a very scammy-looking like Click Here for a Survey kind of thing.

Craig: Oh, it’s this nonsense. Yeah.

John: Yeah. And so I said, mom, don’t do that. Just Google it. And so I was looking at her browser and right next to the Switchboard, that URL in the bookmarks little bar there was MapQuest. And she still uses MapQuest to like find directions to places.

Craig: Aw, that’s so cute.

John: I’m like, oh, that’s MapQuest.

Craig: Is she, that’s it, like the MapQuest Board of Directors, every day they have a meeting about your mom.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Like how do we retain our customer?

John: Absolutely. Nancy is crucial for our ongoing survival.

Craig: How is her health? [laughs]

John: Indeed. [laughs] They send her flowers every year for her birthday. Because they know all her personal information.

Craig: Of course.

John: They know exactly where she lives because she’s always getting directions from her house to someplace.

Craig: From MapQuest! Oh my god.

John: So anyway she wanted to keep MapQuest, but I got Google Maps on the toolbar right next to that, so she has another modern choice. And I showed her how to use it. And I’m like it’s just so much faster and better.

Craig: Well…yeah.

John: Once again, it’s all time machines. She’s living in a slightly different time period. That’s how I get – if I went back in time, I could check to see, go up to a person and ask, “Hey, how do you get directions to this place?” And if they said like, well, check MapQuest, then I’d know, oh OK, I’m in like–

Craig: It’s 2003.

John: I’m in like early 2000s.

Craig: Right. Exactly. And they’re like, I don’t know, why don’t you look it up on Excite. [laughs] I remember when Excite was the bomb, dude.

John: That was the best. Here, let me load up Netscape Navigator and we’ll take a look at where that stuff is.

Craig: Let me crank that sucker up and get on, jump on AltaVista and let you know what I think.

John: This last week I’ve been playing quite a fair amount of Star Craft, the original Star Craft, which they just made free. Blizzard made it free. And it’s still a really good game. There’s a few things that are annoying, but the basic dynamics of it still work very, very well.

Craig: You know what? I’ve been playing – I’ve been trying to play Zelda, the new one, Breath of the Wild.

John: Yeah. It’s beautiful.

Craig: Here’s the thing. I don’t like it. I don’t know what to do?

John: You don’t like it?

Craig: I don’t know what to do.

John: I’m sorry.

Craig: Like, if there were ever somebody that was supposed to like it, it’s me, because I’ve loved all of the Zelda games. I’ve played them all. And I love big sandbox environments. And I love all of – and I love quest-based adventuring.

John: It’s not working for you.

Craig: It’s tedious. I find it so tedious.

John: But, Craig, you can climb anything.

Craig: Slowly.

John: So slowly.

Craig: And for a short amount of time before your endurance runs out and then you just fall. Also, they have the most insane weapons mechanic in this. Basically every weapon you have, doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter how special it is.

John: It breaks. Yeah.

Craig: Breaks. Like within, I don’t know, two encounters. So, you’re constantly picking up weapons and putting down weapons. I just – and you run around for days and you find nothing. [laughs] I’m so depressed.

John: Except for sadness.

Craig: I’m really depressed by it. I don’t know what to do. I’m supposed to like it, and I don’t.

John: I don’t have the new Nintendo, but Jordan Mechner came over to visit and he had the new Nintendo. And we were so excited to plug it in and play it on the big screen, but it requires more power than a Macintosh USB-C cable can give it. So, we couldn’t actually power it. So we had to play on the little screen. And so I enjoyed my ten minutes of playing on a little screen, but I could see how it would be frustrating. I think many, many weeks ago I talked about how I really wanted my daughter to play Portal 2 and I was bummed that it wasn’t available on PlayStation 4.

I don’t know why I didn’t think that actually available on Steam. So, she’s been playing on her MacBook.

Craig: There you go.

John: And you know what? It’s still a remarkably good game. And the voice acting in that game is just so top-notch.

Craig: Cake is a lie.

John: The cake is delicious. So, you never made it through the part where you got the cake? Oh, you should play that game again. Because the cake, when it actually comes, it’s the best chocolate cake. We were sitting there and I came to the piece of the best – the best chocolate cake.

Craig: Well, yeah, you don’t get chocolate cake in Zelda. But you can make a wide variety of foods which are the only way to restore your health, so you’re cooking a lot. I can’t, I mean–

John: Did you cook at all in Skyrim? I never cooked in Skyrim.

Craig: Not once. See, that’s the thing. It’s taken all the things that actually annoyed me about Skyrim and it’s only those things. And it doesn’t have all the awesome.

And again, I loved the Zelda games. I loved Twilight Princess. I mean, obviously Ocarina of Time. Everybody loves that. But I don’t – meh. Bummed out. I know everyone is going to tell me I’m wrong.

John: All right. That’s our show for this week. As always, it is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Andres Cantor.

If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place to send longer questions. But for short questions, we’re on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

We’re on Facebook. You can search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on the iTunes Store, or whatever they’re calling iTunes by the time you’re listening to this. Just search for Scriptnotes. Leave us your review while you’re there, because at least for right now that helps us out a tremendous amount.

You can find the show notes and all the PDFs we talked about today at That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts, which I think are now back up to speed. And you can find all the back episodes of Scriptnotes at, including the two episodes of Rebel Wilson which are definitely must listens.

Craig: Mm. For sure.

John: Craig, have a wonderful time in the past with the live show. I hope it will go/did go very well. And I will talk to you again next week.

Craig: See you soon, John. Bye.

John: See ya. Bye.


Scriptnotes, Ep 297: Free Agent Franchises — Transcript

Mon, 05/15/2017 - 11:13

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 297 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at the future of James Bond, script-reading robots, and the realities of overhauling a movie in the editing room. But first, we have quite a bit of follow up.

Craig: So much follow up. Let us follow it up. Two weeks ago, Malcolm and I answered a listener question about ellipses in dialogue. And you’d think, John, that that would have gone smoothly. But, no, no.

John: No. There were pauses.

Craig: Yeah. And there was an issue. And the issue was raised by big shot movie director, former Scriptnotes guest, friend of the podcast, friend of me and you, Mari Heller. And this is what she wrote. “I totally disagree with Craig.” John, I’m tempted to just end the follow up there.

John: That basically does it. On any issue, she probably disagrees with you.

Craig: Probably. And I feel like it’s going to happen a lot. But no, she says, “I totally disagree with Craig. Craig said that actors don’t worry about the punctuation of a line and it won’t affect the rhythm of their performance. I just finished working on a movie with two wonderful actors, who had a lot of respect for the script. Often we would get into conversations about how the script was written and where the punctuation was guiding them. They took each clue laid out as a guide and tried, unless we decided to dismiss it, to follow the breadcrumbs that the script gave them.

“What’s more, when I got into the edit I realized the editor was also using the details of the script as a guide in creating her assembly. If a beat were indicated, or it was written that an actor hesitated or trailed off, she went to great lengths to find takes that matched the script. I believe when we write scripts all of our choices, like punctuation and parentheticals should be viewed as clues for our collaborators about the rhythms we intend.”

John: All right, Mari, thank you so much for writing back with us. First off, it sounded like you had a great experience with really dedicated actors and editors. I would say that your experience has not been classically my experience. But, Craig, I’d love to hear what you think.

Craig: I agree. I think this speaks very highly of Mari and her cast and her editor. More often, what I find is that people will come to me – this actually happens all the time – people will come to me and say, “There’s a mistake. There’s a problem.” “What?” “Blah, blah, blah says so and so’s name like they know them, but they haven’t yet met.” “Yes they have.” “No they haven’t.” “Yes, see, here. On this page.” “Oh, you know what? When we did it that day we did it a little differently, so they didn’t meet.” “OK, fine, I understand. However, the script is full of clues.” It’s full of them.

Editors, in particular, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in an editing room and watched something and I’m like, well, why not just do it this way. And they’re like, “Ooh…” and I said, “You know, that’s the way it is in the huge binder next to your keyboard that has this clue book.”

So, the truth is what is Mari is describing is like writer heaven. People are actually paying attention. I guess what you and I were saying about punctuation is given the general state of affairs where people don’t, it’s probably not that much of a thing. But, yeah, ideally it would be.

John: Yeah. So, I do like your description of punctuation and parentheticals being the clues that you are leaving to the next people to touch your thing. And it’s great that she has the ability to not only direct this project, but also hire really smart people who are looking for those clues. So, congratulations once again Mari Heller.

Craig: Yep.

John: Yep. So I was there for the first part of that episode and we addressed a listener questioner about why there was so little non-penetrative sex in movies and TV. Basically where are the handies and blowies? And so while we were having that discussion we left out like one really obvious movie which was Moonlight, which features a very crucial handy there.

Craig: Yeah. It was a mistake.

John: We weren’t thinking clearly. We were recording this late. I was in London. I lost a microphone. But there is an obvious Oscar-winning movie that has a non-penetrative sex moment that the whole story hinges upon.

Craig: It’s an Academy Award-winning handy.

John: Yeah. It’s quite a good one. And just a few days later, like this is always the situation where like the minute you notice something you start to notice it everywhere. So, I was watching an episode from this season of The Americans and Keri Russell’s character receives oral sex in a way that I had not seen certainly on TV before, and it was actually completely on story and on point. So, I would like to once again congratulate The Americans on being a fantastic show. And just put a spotlight on my own ignorance to these acts that are in these shows that I’m just not seeing.

Craig: Yeah, you know, this is probably going to happen, right? We say that something doesn’t happen and then of course it happens. We just didn’t see it. We missed it. Or sometimes we do see it and then we just forget about it. Really, I’m arguing that we just end the podcast. We’re so close to 300. How great would it be if we just ended it at 299 and we’re like, Nah.

John: Yeah. There’s days I definitely think about that. Just going out in a blaze of glory.

Craig: Right. Exactly. 300 podcast episodes is like having 300 wins as a pitcher. That’s a big thing. I think that that gets us into the podcasting Hall of Fame automatically.

John: Yeah. I think it’s sports metaphors all over the place.

Craig: You’re always lost when I do this. It’s wonderful.

In a previous episode, John, we talked about movie clichés for expressing shock or bad news. Zack from New York writes, “I’m proud to say that I splashed water on my face today, possibly for the first time ever. I did not receive bad news or experience something terrifying. But I did take a 20-minute nap on my couch and woke up discombobulated. After staring at the wall for a few minutes, I went into the bathroom and threw water on my face. I think it half-worked. I’m awake enough to write this email, but still sort of discombobulated. However, I’m out of ideas.”

John: What I love about Zack’s email is that it’s so present tense. It’s right about this is the moment I’m experiencing right now. And I like that he thought of us first in that moment.

Craig: Right.

John: So I just want to salute Zack for writing in to to let us know that he splashed water on his face, which we had singled out as a movie cliché that no one does in actual life, but it seemed to sort of help Zack in this moment. So, again, just like with handies and blowies, we’re often wrong.

Craig: Oh, god, are we ever. Well, what about this whole situation with you and Lindelof?

John: Oh, it’s the worst. So, Damon Lindelof and I talked about the notion of idea debt and we thought like, oh, we’re being clever. But you know who else was clever? Chekhov.

Craig: [laughs] Yeah, he was pretty good–

John: A little writer. A little writer named Chekhov. So, this is what Chekhov wrote in 1888. So, for the record, that was before we recorded the podcast episode.

Craig: Just a little bit, yeah. Just a little before.

John: Chekhov wrote, “Subjects for five big stories and two novels swarm in my head. One of the novels was conceived a long time ago, so that several of the cast of characters have grown old without ever having been put down on paper. There is a regular army of people in my brain begging to be summoned forth, and only waiting for the word to be given. All I have written hither to is trash in comparison with what I would like to write.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s Chekhov.

Craig: I mean, that is succinct. It’s beautifully said. He did really put you to shame there. And Damon. I think the both of you should feel bad.

John: We do feel a little bad. I want to also single out Jason who wrote in with that Chekhov quote to make us feel a little bad. But also I do want to thank everyone on Twitter who said that it was one of the best episodes they’d ever heard of the podcast. So, Craig, at some point–

Craig: I’m going to read it.

John: If you were to listen to it or read it–

Craig: I’m reading it.

John: You might enjoy that episode with Damon Lindelof. Finally, we often do segments about How Would This Be a Movie. So, in Episode 214 we did an episode about the French train bros. These were the three American tourists in 2015 who prevented a terrorist attack.

Craig: We’re calling them bros? [laughs]

John: Well they’re bros. They’re three guys traveling through France. They’re bros.

Craig: I guess. Sure.

John: They prevented a terrorist attack on a train from Brussels to Paris. They overpowered a guy who had an AK-47. So we said like, well, this could be a movie and Clint Eastwood agreed. So this last week it was announced that he is going to be making a movie based on the book The 1517 to Paris: The Trust Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes, which was written by the eponymous American heroes, along with a guy named Jeffrey Stern. The screenplay version is going to be written by Dorothy Blyskal, and from what I looked up it seems like this is going to be her first screenwriting credit. So, congratulations Dorothy. You answered the question How Would This Be a Movie.

Craig: Yeah. And that’s one that people will see. You know, boy, I wish I could be on a Clint Eastwood set. I’ve just heard so many amazing things. You know, just the speed. We’ve all heard the stories. I wish I could see that. I’m not going to be able to.

John: Are you? Is there some sort of secret thing where you actually will be able to see that?

Craig: No, no, never going to be able to there. I’ll just be in my office reading about it. Well, that sounds exciting. I think that will be fun.

John: It will be fun.

Craig: You know what? I’ve had enough of follow up. I think follow up is done.

John: Follow up is done. So, if we were a podcast ahead, like musical interludes, then we would put the music here and then move on to the next thing.

Craig: Follow up is done. Yeah!

John: So the big feature topic which we obviously have to talk about this past week because everyone on Twitter wrote to us about it. And follows ScriptBook. Well, what is ScriptBook? Well, back in Episode 232, so it’s kind of follow up, we talked about ScriptBook and I actually remember this conversation. I remember the setting of this conversation because I was in Australia at the time and we were talking about this sort of ridiculous AI thing that would read through the scripts and figure out how successful this movie would be. Basically it had digested a bunch of screenplays and it was pitched towards financiers to help them figure out is this a movie to be investing your money into.

But this last week, someone else decided to use ScriptBook and it didn’t go as well.

Craig: Yeah. So, Franklin Leonard over at the Black List worked out some sort of deal with the ScriptBook people where he was offering to his customers an opportunity to get their analysis, the ScriptBook analysis of their script, in exchange for $100. And it did not go over well. You know, he put it out there. And seemingly put it out there in good faith. It certainly wasn’t anything he was requiring people to do. If they wanted to use the other parts of his service, which you and I generally quite like.

Boy, it just didn’t go well for him. I mean, certainly both you and I felt that ScriptBook was stupid, and fake, bordering on completely useless. And therein is the problem. Because there’s two ways of looking at it. One way is this is potentially useful for people. And the other way is this is absolutely useless.

If you believe the former, then you can see where, OK, he’s offering a product. You either like it or you don’t. But if you believe the latter, if you believe it’s truly useless, it starts to feel a little bit scammy. Like you’re selling me snake oil. And I personally do believe it is utter snake oil.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And a lot of other people seem to agree as well.

John: Absolutely. So, the minute sort of the word got out about it, you and I were on a long email thread with Franklin about it, but there were also threads on Reddit and there was a lot of sort of hubbub on the Internet about what this was and what it was doing. So, I think we should sort of spoil the punch line here by saying that Franklin has pulled the product, so it is no longer a thing that the Black List is offering, and so we will put a link in the show notes to his original explanation for what the product was and then his email out and sort of his letter about sort of why they were removing it and why he listened to the community and pulled it out of there.

So, I want to talk about two things, which is that question of like is this potentially useful. Like in a perfect world, if this were free, is this a thing you would want to exist in the world? And then the concern of like, well, is this a thing that we feel like screenwriters should be paying $100 for?

Let’s talk about in the perfect world where it’s free, Craig, did you see any value in the product?

Craig: No. None. Well, net zero value. Because where there may be little bits of possible potential usefulness in the free version of this, there’s also potential problems that it causes. And that really was the biggest issue for me. So, you know, some of the stuff you go, well, I guess the AI is saying that my predicted genre is half sport and half drama. It’s a sports-drama, but how did I not know that? Um, there’s a predicted MPAA rating, which again really what it comes down to is it’s telling you everybody knows what G is and everybody knows what R is. So, then somehow tell us if you’re PG or PG-13. Nobody in the world cares about that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There is stuff about your character likeability. That to me is just dangerous. Because you might think, oh, my character is not likeable enough. Nobody – what – no, that’s not how it works at all.

Predicted target audience. Absolutely useless to you. The marketing department will tell you what the predicted audience is. And then there’s production budget. Potentially useful if you were maybe trying to produce this on your own. Or you were maybe considering to whom you ought to submit the work. And you know, OK, well these people are looking for movies in the $10 to $20 million range. Well, ScriptBook tells me that my script has a 46% chance of being in that range, which ultimately isn’t really very useful either. Because nobody is going to make a budget based on what ScriptBook guesses. They’re going to make a budget by breaking it down and making a budget.

John: Yeah. Exactly. So, in the show notes we’ll link to a file that the Black List put up which was a sample report for Fences, the Academy Award-nominated script from this past year. And so as you look through it, it’s a nicely presented report. It’s three or four pages long. It talks about rating, genre, the Script DNA, character sentiment, character likeability. I had concerns with all of these things for the reasons that Craig laid out.

Where I think this is actually interesting was there’s this grid where it shows movies that this is like. And I think the axes as they’re labeled are really unfortunate. So it says Audience Rating, in this case from 3 to 10. And creativity from 0 to 1. So looking at this you would say that well Fences is more creative than Hope Springs, or Sideways, but it’s less creative than The Iron Lady or The Verdict. And it’s also more creative than Beasts of the Southern Wild, which seems kind of remarkable.

Craig: Ugh.

John: So, that was troubling to me. And yet if I were to take away the lines and the axes and just say like this is a cluster of other movies that feel kind of like this, that I could actually see being somewhat useful. Because I would never think of Fences as being like Milk or like The Iron Lady, but in a way that the people who like Milk would probably also like Fences, or the Iron Lady, that actually seems to make some sense.

So that is reasonable to me. And I was actually a little bit impressed that the AI was able to match these up to some degree. Now, I would love to see it matching Identity Thief and seeing what are the movies around that and see if it actually has a good sense of what that is. I thought that was somewhat interesting. But I don’t think it’s $100 interesting for an aspiring screenwriter. I don’t know what an aspiring screenwriter who is putting a script up on the Black List gets out of knowing that it’s like these things. I don’t see how that’s actionable information.

Craig: It isn’t. And it’s also information that you as a human are layering your own insight upon. Because the truth is we don’t know – you can say, well, Fences is – I guess in a strange way Fences and Milk are somewhat related. Are they? Really? Well, they’re both dramas. They’re both about adults. They both take place in cities. They both have middle-aged men kind of at the center of it. But, are they really? I mean, I guess anybody could just – at that point you could just say any movie with people like that and go, oh, that’s interesting. I guess those movies are sort of like…

Fences and Sideways are nothing alike. Nothing, as far as I’m concerned.

John: But I would say they are both in terms of who they are appealing to, I think they’re actually more common than you might necessarily believe. Though the fact that it recognized that Fences was potentially an award movie seems interesting.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But again, we don’t know. We’re looking at exactly one example. So I don’t know how much to read into this. But I found that at least interesting. I put the T in there for Aline.

Craig: It is vaguely interesting. But anybody who just scrolls through a list of award movies, right, you have Fences. That’s based on a brilliant play. So you’re making an award movie. Just run through a list of award movies then, I guess. I mean, this is not – I don’t understand these metrics. So you have this creativity metric and, well, you could say Fences and Milk are equally creative sort of, I guess whatever that means. But apparently Raging Bull is less creative than Hope Springs. What?

John: I don’t know what that means.

Craig: Wait. The Usual Suspects is less creative than Malibu’s Most Wanted. That’s right. Let me say this again. That’s the Jamie Kennedy movie, I believe, where he’s – isn’t that right – where he plays a rapper?

John: I think it is. Yes. He’s a rapper.

Craig: The Usual Suspects – here are the movies that are less creative than Malibu’s Most Wanted: The Usual Suspects, Cool Hand Luke, Heat, Michael Clayton. [laughs] What? And The Avengers.

John: Yeah. The Avengers and Catwoman down there at the bottom there.

Craig: I’m sorry. Computer, you’re wrong. And Malibu’s Most Wanted shouldn’t be on this. It makes no sense.

John: It should not be on there at all.

Craig: I also don’t understand the vertical axis of Audience Rating. So, how do we have the audience rating exactly for Cool Hand Luke? What audience? I mean, the audience of over 30 years? Or then? Beasts of the Southern Wild less creative than The Blind Side. And, I mean, I don’t understand this.

John: I don’t understand it either. But here’s what I would say zooming way back. I mean, is it clear that there are AI things that can actually find patterns where we wouldn’t see patterns? Absolutely. Do I think this is a case where the kinds of patterns it is finding are going to be useful for the target audience of this service? No, I don’t. I just don’t think that sticking Milk and Fences close to each other on a graph is helping a writer. And a lot of people seem to feel the same way.

So, let’s segue to the scamminess of it all. Because you and I both know and like Franklin. He’s a smart, good guy who is not scammy. And so in our conversations with him, we wanted to sort of make it clear that this felt scammy, but we didn’t think he was scammy. And that we were concerned for him and for the brand because that’s not the way we want to see him out there in the world.

Craig: Well, yeah. And he did the thing that people so rarely, rarely do. He listened.

John: Yep.

Craig: He listened. I mean, Franklin is a humble guy. He’s a business man and he’s an aggressive business man, but he’s not afraid to say, OK, I made a mistake. And in this case what happened was it wasn’t about you or me. We hadn’t talked about his involvement with this on the air prior to his decision that he made to remove it. But he listened to writers on Twitter. He listened to writers on Reddit. Keith Calder, a good producer, who really went after it on Twitter I think made an impression. And he said, “OK, you know what, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t like this. I did. And I thought people would like it and I think some people still could get use out of it. On the other hand, I hear you. So, we’re dumping it.”

And that’s a big boy grown up thing to do. And in today’s world, it is a rare thing. And so–

John: It is. Yeah.

Craig: I had a lot of respect for that. And, you know, again, you and I, we like the other part of what Franklin does, which now that we’ve gotten rid of this thing, that is what Franklin does. We like him. He’s our friend. And I think that his general service is a good one. So, it looks like we’re back to a good situation.

John: Which is a very good thing. All right, next topic is the battle for James Bond. So, this was – I’m going to link to an article from the New York Times by Brooks Barnes. I’m sorry, Craig.

Craig: You know, Brooks Barnes, I had to correct him the other day. He wrote an article about the strike and referred to the long strike of 1998, which did not exist.

John: Did not happen.

Craig: Oh, Brooks.

John: So I can’t verify that all the facts in this article are true, but I will say that in a general sense it raised an interesting issue of what happens when you have a franchise that is essentially a free agent. So, that’s James Bond. When you see a James Bond movie, the opening credits are United Artists, MGM/United Artists. But that’s not actually who releases it. And so for the past four James Bond movies they’ve been released by Sony. But that contract is up. And so now five different companies are competing for the right to make that next James Bond movie. The companies being Warners, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Sony, and Annapurna, which is the little small label that mostly does fancy award movies.

So, that’s kind of an interesting and unusual thing to happen in Hollywood is to have this franchise sort of up for grabs.

Craig: It is. And it’s sort of up for grabs, because the truth is they’re not really going to be making it. What they’re going to be doing is giving MGM/UA the money or a big chunk of the money to make the movie, and then they’re going to be advertising the movie and distributing the movie. And therein is the problem, because when you actually look at the way the deal has been structured, if we’re to believe what Brooks has said here, there’s not that much profit really coming back to you. In huge success, you’ll make a pretty good amount of money. You won’t make as much money as say they’re making off of Get Out, because your profit is capped. It’s seriously capped.

So what he describes as under the previous agreement, and I can’t imagine in a bidding war why the new agreement wouldn’t be even more favorable to the Bond folks than the previous one. But, in the previous one Sony paid half of the production costs. So, you pay half of what it costs to make the movie. That’s just to make the movie. And in return for that, you get one-quarter of certain profits, once costs are recouped. That’s probably the certain costs there for those things may involve taxes and insurance and things like that. And obviously, you know, you’re only getting your share of the ticket price and so forth.

John: It’s also unclear if Sony is releasing this internationally, like what distribution fee do they get to charge for their distribution services. The math behind this can be very, very complicated.

Craig: Extremely. Yeah.

John: So it’s not a matter of the film itself becoming profitable. They’re getting money in at every step of the process.

Craig: Well, they’re putting money in and they’re taking money out all the time. So, you’re right. For instance, they’ll say, well, we’re going to spend $60, $70, $80 million of the total marketing spend. We’re going to be accountable for that. So we’re spending $80 million. But we’re going to charge you $20 million in marketing fees. So it’s always this weird game. But in the end, here’s the truth: all these people want it because it’s kind of a sure thing. And there is the potential for many more movies. We live in an interesting time.

So, you say to a studio, “You have a choice. Roll the dice on a $20 million movie. It will either make $4 million, or it will make $120 million, but there won’t be another one. Or, make this movie. You will make $30 million off of it. And you can do five more of them. And each one will make you $30 million.” They’re going to go for that second deal all day long.

John: Yeah. I think so. And I think it’s as much about the psychology as the actual dollars coming in. So in think about it if you are the head of one of these studios. If you make the Bond movie and it just does OK, no one is going to call you an idiot for making the James Bond movie. It was a safe bet and everyone is going to acknowledge it was a safe bet.

Also, you are keeping the entire machinery of your studio engaged to do it. I mean, one of the weird things about a studio is you have these whole departments that have nothing to do unless you give them a movie to work on. And so a lot of times when studios are in crisis it’s because they actually don’t have a movie. And so they have these huge divisions that have nothing to actually do. So this is a thing to do. It’s a reason to keep all those people employed doing their jobs. Bond is one of those few kind of known brands that whether it’s a fantastic James Bond movie or a just an OK James Bond movie you know you’re going to clear a certain bar with it.

Craig: That’s correct. And you know that you’ll have the right to attach one of your other movies’ trailers to that, because studios can do that where they’re like, OK, if you run this movie you have to at least run our trailer with it. And you know that you’re going to be attracting a certain amount of talent which then if the relationship goes well you might be able to transition into a different movie, filmmakers. You’re keeping people close.

The difference with Bond is the people that control Bond are notoriously protective of it and really they do it. You actually don’t really do anything when, as a studio, other than you sell it and you distribute it. So you’re not really getting much back. It’s an interesting thing that all of these studios are so into it. I mean, it just goes to show you that they make more money and they make it more consistently than we know.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: Because if they can make consistent money off of this arrangement, and they want to do it again, yeah.

John: Yeah. They’re doing OK.

Craig: They’re doing all right.

John: Let’s look at some of the other reasons why you don’t want to make the Bond movie or why you don’t want to chase it. It has a limited upside. So, you’re capped at sort of how much you can get out of it. Including you’re capped on this movie that you’re making, but down the road if like let’s say you reinvigorate the Bond franchise, well another studio could make the next movie. And it’s like you’ve helped them, but you’re getting nothing for having helped them. So, that’s a concern.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You have limited creative control because the Broccoli family controls it so tightly. Also, you’re weirdly forced to make it. Like, let’s say you get the script and got the director and you’re reading this and you’re like I don’t want to green light this. You have not choice basically. You have to green light this. That’s part of the deal you’re making right now. So these guys are pursuing the rights to Bond, but they’re not looking at a script right now. There is no script right now, I assume. They’re just talking about the idea of making a Bond movie. Maybe with Daniel Craig. Maybe not with Daniel Craig. So, it’s a mystery. And they’re on the hook to make it kind of no matter what happens.

And, finally, there’s an opportunity cost. So, if you’re making the Bond movie, that’s another movie you’re probably not making, either because you don’t have the resources to do it, you know, money wise, or there’s just not a slot in your schedule for another movie right now. Which for some of these studios is probably a good thing, because they’re just looking to do the minimum it takes to sort of keep them in their jobs.

Craig: Well, I think that the – you know, it’s so interesting when you talk to people that run studios, one of the things that I’ve heard from a number of them, and it’s very sad actually is that they never really have any moments of victory and joy because when they make these movies, and this is a perfectly good example, they run a spreadsheet and they go, “Well, we are expected to make between this amount and this amount in terms of profit.” The movie is made. It comes out. It either hits that target or it doesn’t. Maybe it exceeds it somewhat. Usually doesn’t.

So, let’s say they have predicted that the movie is going to be quite a success and it’s going to make them $80 million in profit. Two years later, someone says, “OK, yeah, you did it. Check. You did the thing we asked you to do.” There’s no dancing around. There’s no big “oh my god, it’s a huge hit, wow.” Because that implies that they are all just guessing. They’re not.

Unfortunately what also happens is if you miss that target on the low side, the studio bean counters and overlords will say, “Hmm, well, you’re going to have to make it up on one of these other ones.” So even when you exceed expectations, even that triumph is muted because really somebody is going to say, “Well, all right, you should bank that because one of these other ones might miss.” Either way, by the time we get to see the movies it’s like an afterthought for them, because they’ve already priced it and thought about it. And, in fact, they’re now worried about what’s coming out two years from now. And you never get to enjoy it.

John: I think if you’re a studio executive, maybe you’re trying to build a hand of three different kinds of suits. You want the guaranteed hits, like the things, you know, Fast & the Furious 9. And, yes, there’s already a spreadsheet for how much that is supposed to make, but you want to be able to hit that thing and hopefully exceed it. You want a couple of cards that are just like they could break out. They have low expectations but they have possible of a lot of upside. You want the Get Outs. The things that could become a Get Out.

And, finally, you want a few of those things that could win awards, because if you’re looking at whether you’re going to be able to reup your contract in a few years, I think you want to be able to show all three things. That you’ve done the expected hits, some surprise hits, and you’ve also gotten the studio some awards. And that’s a lot to try to manage.

Craig: Yeah. It is. And I don’t envy them. Honestly, I don’t. I know right now we’re in a bit of a contentious period between writers and the companies, but in terms of the people that I know and I work with, I don’t envy them their jobs. I’m sure they don’t envy me mine. I think everybody that isn’t a screenwriter is horrified by the thought of having to write a screenplay, and I don’t blame them.

But, that’s a difficult gig. And it’s scary. And there’s so much that’s not in your control. That’s the part that’s hardest for me to get my mind around, because you know at the very least we have this wonderful period where we’re in control. And it’s when we’re writing. They never really have that.

John: Yeah. It’s a strange part of their job is they seem to be the decision makers, and yet they don’t have ultimate control of the thing they’re trying to do.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Before we wrap this up, let’s take a look at some other franchises and just look and see where they fall on sort of this matrix, because the James Bond is like one of the most free-agenty kind of things out there. At least in terms of how MGM partners up with a different company every time.

But Terminator strikes me as a similar situation, because that was made by Carolco way back in the day. It keeps I think passing through different sort of financiers who own the rights to it, but it could end up different places.

Craig: It has a home now.

John: OK, where is it now?

Craig: It is at Skydance.

John: OK. Well, Skydance I would sort of count as sort of an MGM type situation where they’re a place with a lot of money, but they are not – they don’t have their own distribution deal.

Craig: Right.

John: They just distribute through somebody.

Craig: Right.

John: But Marvel for a while was sort of like the James Bond situation where they have a bunch of properties and some of them are at Paramount, some were at Fox, some were at Sony. Spider Man was at Sony. Ultimately they all ended up over at Disney, except for the X-Men universe at Fox, and for Spider Man at Sony. But even then they sort of reached back in and sort of reinvested in Spider Man. But for a while they were doing what James Bond was doing. They could move their movies from studio to studio.

Craig: They could. And then they got purchased by Disney. So, once Disney bought them, you can see there is just a general effort now to hold all of that in. And the only ones that are left straggling out there are the X-Men, so you have the X-Men part over at Fox, and you have Spider Man at Sony, which they are now co-producing. I don’t know how long that X-Men – I think the deal with the X-Men is they keep it if they keep making X-Men movies, or something like that. I read something like that.

John: That’s my understanding is like they’ll keep making X-Men movies because that’s how they keep their rights to.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Finally, Star Wars was for a while Lucas Film owned it, so Fox distributed it. But I think Lucas Film really owned the first three prequels that they made, and now of course Disney owns that whole franchise as well. So, again, sort of bringing it in house.

Craig: And Disney has been kind of brilliant about this, you know. They just buy the whole company, you know. So, you can negotiate with MGM/UA about the rights to distribute James Bond movies. But if you really want a James Bond movie, just buy MGM/UA. Right? The problem is that’s all they have. They have that. They have the Bond, right? And Bond is very narrow. It’s a fascinating franchise. I’m a huge Bond fan. I’ve seen them all. But it is a very narrow franchise. There I don’t believe there has ever been a Bond spinoff. The entire point is you have James Bond. And then you have a couple of villains that repeat every now and again. Your Blofelds. But there’s a new woman that comes in each time. She comes in, there’s sex, she leaves. Next movie. You know, you have a character like Felix Leiter who is a CIA buddy. No one has ever gone, you know what, now there’s a Bond universe where we’re going to have a movie just about Q and we’re going to have a movie just about Felix Leiter. I’m sure they brought it up at some point or another. But as far as I can tell, nobody on the Bond side of things seems interested in that. So–

John: I do remember speculation about Halle Berry’s character being spun off from her movie. Jinx, or whatever her name was.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There was talk of that, but none of that ever came to pass. And it does feel, I agree with you though. Like if another person were to come in and buy that whole franchise, if they bought out the Broccolis for some reason, you would see a universe being formed. Because we know a lot about that universe and it feels like there’s something more you could do with that if you had it.

Craig: Yeah, you know like if they had an extended Bond universe, you know the movie I would want to write?

John: Tell me.

Craig: I would want to write the movie of M. Young M.

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: And how M is a spy and it is WWII. I would do a period piece. And sort of the early days of spying and the creation – the notion of why you create the Double O. There’s a great story to be told about why you decide as a person and as a government we need an agency where certain people are allowed to murder. Not shoot in self-defense, or be a soldier on the battlefield. Just kill someone. That is a fascinating question. Licensed to Kill.

John: Absolutely. I also think you look at some of the classic villains and, yes, they are people who are up to their own – they have their own plans and devices, but like there’s an Elon Musk-y kind of character who is sort of right on the border between a villain and a hero who could be a fascinating centerpiece to a movie. Who ends up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. There’s something great about that kind of character as well.

Craig: And there is really room there. There’s room there. But for now–

John: For now it will be Bond. Our next topic was also suggested by many of our listeners. So, this past week there was a video put out by Nerd Writer on recutting Passengers. Basically proposing the question of what would happen if you did a major cut on the movie Passengers where you sort of limited it to Jennifer Lawrence’s point of view, at least for part of the movie, so she wakes up first. So essentially like she wakes up and Chris Pratt’s character is already walking around the space station. And you and she don’t know that he woke her up deliberately.

And, Craig, I don’t know. Have you seen the movie?

Craig: No. But I know the story of the movie. And so I understand the purpose of this change. I’m not really sure – I mean, it would be different.

John: It would be different.

Craig: I don’t know if the people’s primary objection to that – I mean, no matter how long you delay it, at some point you find out that he woke her up and then you’re asked to believe in their romance. And that seems to be the problematic part for people.

John: Absolutely. So, I think it’s an interesting idea. I enjoyed the movie, but I think my problems with the movie were sort of the problems of they had to work really hard to sort of keep Chris Pratt likeable, even though he was doing an unlikeable thing, and it sort of strained under that weight. So, this would be a way of addressing that. But I don’t want to actually get into so much the creative solution proposed here, and just talk about what would happen and what does happen when you are facing a movie and you have this idea for a massive restructuring after it’s already shot.

So, let’s say that you saw this movie before it came out and you were the studio executive, or you are the producer, or the director, and you say like, “I think I want to try this thing.” How would that actually come to pass and what are the realities of trying to implement a change like this?

Craig: Well, the first thing that has to happen is a general decision about the scope of the work. Because they’ll make a movie, they’ll test the movie, and then they will discuss – let’s just presume it doesn’t go well, OK? So, the question now is what are we talking about here. Do we need a couple more jokes in the movie? Do we need this one scene that would help improve that? Should we fix the ending? Or, do we have something fundamentally huge going on here and we need to do a lot of work? We need to do two weeks of shooting and shoot a lot and recast a couple of parts?

So, first triage.

John: Yeah, and a triage moment only happens if there really is a disastrous test screening. If people really just do not like this movie. And I don’t think that was the case with Passengers. My suspicion was, from people I’ve talked with, the movie tested pretty well and the movie was like pretty well and they were surprised by the reception it got, which wasn’t as strong as they’d hoped.

So, I think you would have to have that bad test screening. The studio panicked. The producer panicked. You have to have a director who is on board with making big changes, or a director you can replace.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Those are the only situations in which you’re able to do big things. But, you’re often doing small things. And so what I will say is that even after a good test screening, you are talking about recuts, reshoots, looking for things that aren’t working, finding your jokes. That happens all the time. And I’ve never worked on a movie that hasn’t had changes based on those early screenings and people’s reactions to them. So, but what’s not common, and you and I have both been in situations where they have done the big recut, that is sort of an emergency all hands on deck. You’re really talking about big brand new ideas. Like, what if we were to rethink how this all works?

Craig: Yeah. And I’ve done that. I’ve done that. And it’s hard. It’s hard because first of all it’s a rare thing for the people who are involved in the creation of the movie up to that point to continue to be involved. So, we have a huge problem here. We’re probably going to need a different director to come in and do this work. And we should bring a different writer in to come in and do this work, otherwise we’re at risk of repeating the same mistakes, plus there’s just a lot of emotions and defensiveness. And it’s understandable. It’s a mess.

So, when I come and do this, I sit – I watch the movie. And then inevitably after that there is a discussion of here are the things we just can’t do. We can’t change this. And we can’t change that. We have this much that we can change. How should we best do it? So, it is a very tricky puzzle. This is very Rubik’s Cubey. Figuring out how to fundamentally change a movie without touching a whole bunch of it. And it’s rarely perfectly successfully. It can make a huge difference. And it does. I mean, you can see it in test scores. They run the movie and they’re like, my god, look at the difference.

And I always think, well yeah, but there’s still something just – this movie is still just not right. It’s alive. Very tough to do.

John: Yeah. When I come into these situations, I always sort of start with like what is actually working. Are there moments of the movie that actually work that sort of suggest the movie it wants to be? And oftentimes it won’t be at the very start of the movie, it’ll be some moment in the middle where like, OK, just for a moment there you kind of found what the movie was. And it’s possible just through cutting and through moving stuff around, you’ll be able to find more of that movie and sort of get us to that place. But in general I find you want to let the movie be one thing rather than the three things.

When a movie is really not working, it’s trying to do too much at once, and it just loses its focus and its tone. It’s just not a consistent experience. So figuring out what that experience should be is really important.

The first Charlie’s Angels was notoriously a very chaotic production. It was chaotic in post as well. But I remember when I came back in on that movie, one of the first things I really worked on was the opening title sequence, which shouldn’t seem that important, but it was really helpful for setting the tone.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: We’d shot all these scenes, but figuring out what it felt like and sort of what the right kind of goofy was. And so I was sitting with the editors working on do the wipes across and make it feel like the TV show in ways that are fun and right. And once we got that and sort of got that locked, we could sort of step back and say, OK, let’s look at the rest of our scenes and see how we can be a little bit more like that in our style, and that was really helpful.

But ultimately there were reshoots. There were simplifications of logic. They were getting rid of things that didn’t need to be there. Classically, World War Z is a movie that had a much, much bigger ending in its original form. This big assault on Moscow. And the movie did not want to be that. The movie ultimately wanted to be a more intimate movie with Brad Pitt and his family and his own survival. And so that was that whole new third act that Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard had to figure out how to do.

Craig: And Chris McQuarrie.

John: Chris McQuarrie as well. So, it’s a bunch of hands on deck, really smart people. Looking at what’s there. Looking at what was great, which there was a lot that was great in the first two-thirds of World War Z. And finding a way to carry that through to the end, in that case incredibly successfully.

Craig: Yeah, you know, those situations are not – thank god – common. It is more common that what happens is – I did this recently. You watch a movie and everyone says, “Here are the things that we’re kind of getting back from the audience on some spots.” And I’ll say, yes, I had those same reactions myself. So that’s good news. It means everybody is kind of in agreement.

Maybe all we need to do here is add a line. You know, so two people are talking and maybe this person says something that just isn’t quite right. It’s causing confusion. So, let’s just have them record a new line and we’ll just be on the other person’s face. And it’s just one line and suddenly that all makes sense now.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: The disruption of experience through poor logic is so dangerous and happily, typically, easily fixable. My least favorite call is come and make the movie funnier with some lines. That’s not going to work.

John: Yeah, to try to joke it up. And that will never work.

Craig: No.

John: What I think you’re describing though when you’re adding in a loop line to sort of make something clear, is you talk about people being on the ride or off the ride. And it’s like when did they fall off the ride? And they fall off the ride, they fall off the – they stop believing in the movie when enough things just don’t add up for them. When they start getting confused and sort of confused and annoyed and then they just check out. And so if you can keep them from checking out, if you can keep them engaged, and curious about what’s happening next, you’re probably going to keep them at least somewhat of a fan throughout the rest of the movie.

It’s those moments often in a first act, early in the second act, when people kind of give up on your movie. And if you can keep them from giving up, you’re going to be able to make a lot of those things which weren’t working are suddenly going to feel a lot better.

Craig: Exactly. And this is somewhere where a new person coming in is of great help. Because when you’re there from the start and you’re making the movie, you have certain things that you believe. Making a movie is essentially making a million guesses. And you may make almost all the correct guesses, except for two. But, the audience is saying we don’t understand why she’s saying this now but before she said this. And you say, well, it’s because of blah, blah, blah. Right? And somebody else will say, “Well, I didn’t quite get that. I think maybe somebody should say that.” But the people who have been involved, sometimes their feeling is, “But that’s just so on the nose.” Because in their mind it’s in there already. And a new person can say, “It’s kind of not.” And so this is one area where I know it’s going to grate you, because it sounds like it’s on the nose, but for the audience it’s not going to feel – it’s going to actually be interesting, because they’re not getting what you have.

When you do these jobs, you’re actually – this is where being a feature writer feels great, because everybody is, I think, incredibly grateful to the writer who comes in at this point and helps.

John: 100 percent. So, let’s wrap this up by talking – go back to Passengers. And so let’s say this is an alternate history version of all this, where they saw the first cut of Passengers, and it wasn’t working. It was sort of like the final movie. And they said like, “You know what? We have this idea for a wild experiment.” What they would actually do next? And we live in a time of wonderful digital editors, so a lot of what the video suggests trying to do, you could actually just do. You could do that in your non-linear editor. I don’t say Avid anymore, because people yell at me when I say Avid.

You would actually chop it up and if there were things that didn’t make sense, you would put in little cards to explain what would happen in this moment. But it’s a day or two to sort of build that cut of the movie and sort of see what it feels like. And maybe it feels great. It certainly would change a lot of your experience of the movie. And then you would have to get buy-in. And that’s where I think they would have a hard time with this radical rethinking, because suddenly your two big movie stars you’re paying $20 million each, they’re not playing the same characters they signed on to in the movie. And they may love it. They may like it a lot more. But suddenly you’re going to be sending them out there in the world to promote this movie which wasn’t at all what they thought it was going to be. You may have already put out a teaser trailer that promised this romance, but the movie that you’re cutting sort of feels more like a thriller.

That can be a real problem as well. So, it’s not honestly as simple as just like, we’ll make the best movie. Make the most compelling movie. There may be reasons why you can’t do some of the things you want to do.

Craig: That is precisely why I get frustrated with things like this. Because there is an implication that we out here are just smarter than you. You dumb-dumbs couldn’t see, but we can.

Almost always, no offense to the people that make these videos, they are not thinking of something that we haven’t thought of. Almost always, it’s been thought of and tried and didn’t work with audiences, or it’s been thought of and tried and rejected by the very large number of competing powers.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The one thing that people don’t quite understand is it doesn’t matter if something is right. If the movie star, who is going to promote this movie, doesn’t like it. And you may say, “Well, hold on a second. Before we just surrender, can’t we…” And I just want to put my hand up and say, “You’re describing my life. You’re describing my career. That’s half of my job.”

Half of my job is to figure out what to do and get people to agree. The other half is to figure out what to do when the one person who we really need to agree doesn’t agree. Now what do I do? That’s the world we live in. This is collaborative. And some people have an enormous influence on the work.

Sometimes you wish they wouldn’t. But that’s the deal.

John: All right. Enough of recutting movies. Let’s go to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, I actually have two. I’m cheating. My first is a newsletter put out by Quinn Emmett, a friend of the show. It’s called Important, Not Important. And it’s just a weekly recap of the things you may have missed in the news, but also sort of other headlines. Sort of a little bit deeper than what you could get on Twitter.

I find it delightful. I’ve been reading it for months. We’ll put a link in the show notes to that.

The other thing I loved this week was this Brazilian artist named Butcher Billy. And what he does is he takes a serious of ‘80s pop songs and he reimagines them as Stephen King book covers. And so if you click through the link in the show notes, you’ll see what I mean. Like Careless Whisper or How Deep is Your Love. There is a Light Never Goes Out. It’s sort of like if you take those titles, they actually can be really good Stephen King books. And so he does the artwork for what that Stephen King book would be. And I just thought they were delightful.

So, I always love sort of reimagining things. I love the unsheets, the sort of make believe posters for movies that we’ve all seen and loved, so I thought this was delightful.

Craig: This is pretty great. I’m looking at it right now. That’s cool. Love the font.

My One Cool Thing is Pinball Arcade. Are you a pinball fan, John?

John: I’m not a big pinball fan. I’ve never been good enough at it to be a big fan, I guess.

Craig: Well, here’s your chance to get good. So, pinball is one of those things that actually they can simulate now brilliantly. So, you know, there’s an app and you can play lots of pinball games. But the cool part is that they’ve gone and licensed and recreated a whole bunch of real pinball games, including maybe the best pinball game ever made. Which was the Addams, Family, the pinball game–

John: I remember the Addams Family pinball. I have played that.

Craig: It’s great. And so it’s based on the movie from the ‘90s, which in and of itself was based on a television show, which itself was based on the cartoons. And it’s fantastic. I play the Addams Family pinball game every day. It’s so much fun.

By the way, John, do you know what?

John: Tell me what.

Craig: The Addams Family would actually be a pretty great movie for us to do a deep dive into. It’s so well done.

John: It’s so, so, so good. I just love The Addams Family. I love the second Addams Family almost more. The whole camp thing is fantastic.

Craig: Amazing. Amazing. In fact, maybe we should do the second Addams Family movie.

John: Maybe we should do Addams Family Vacation. And we sort of know Paul Rudnick on Twitter.

Craig: I know. You know what? We should get Paul Rudnick to come on the show and talk about it. Oh my god, is he brilliant.

John: He’s really good.

Craig: So good.

John: Circling back to the pinball game. I will say that one of the things I do love about real pinball games is they’re hot. The lights are actually hot. They have a warmth to them that I find just delightful. They smell a certain way. They have a heat. That is a good thing about real pinball machines.

So, I’m sure they cannot duplicate this quite as well digitally, but still.

Craig: They can’t. There’s actually a very interesting – so they’ve had pinball simulators for years and years and years. But the Addams Family only recently, because the rights situation was a nightmare. The game – they had to get clearances from the Addams’ estate. They had to get clearances from Paramount, which made the movie. They had to get clearances from Raul Julia’s estate and from Anjelica Huston. And from – just literally everybody whose voice was in it.

Then they had to go get clearances for the music that was in it. And they wanted to do everything correctly, you know. And they did. Finally they did. So now you can play it.

John: Fantastic.

All right, so I will not get to see you at the next Scriptnotes, because you are doing a live show. So you are doing a live show this coming Monday. This episode is out on a Tuesday. On this next Monday, you are recording a live show in Hollywood at the ArcLight. I’m so incredibly jealous for you to hang out with Dana Fox, and Rian Johnson.

Craig: A guy named Rian. Well, we have Rob McElhenney who is good.

John: Oh yeah. He’s good.

Craig: And then we have Rian Johnson who is whatever.

John: Just whatever. Delightful.

Craig: They can’t all be winners.

John: He’s a talented photographer.

Craig: [laughs] He’s a good photographer. So, those of you who are still looking for tickets, we have a few left. So, this is – I think it’s a 400-seat auditorium and we’re getting pretty close to 400 at this point. So you better rush.

If you go to, then you can buy tickets. The event is May 1 at 7:30pm in Hollywood at the ArcLight. This is all for charity. Hollywood Heart is a wonderful charity that our friend John Gatins is very involved in. Oscar-nominated John Gatins. And the price of the ticket is $35. And we apologize if that seems a little steep, but again it goes entirely to Hollywood Heart.

Once again, I make nothing.

John: Yep. I don’t even make anything on this one.

Craig: Even you. [laughs]

John: Even I make nothing on this.

Craig: God, you’re so rich.

John: That’s our show for this week. So, as always, we are produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Big thanks to both these guys because we recorded late this week and they killed themselves to get this out. So, thank you guys.

Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. But for short questions, on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.

We’re on Facebook. Just search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes.

Craig, I think the word iTunes is going to go away. I think we’re going to stop saying iTunes.

Craig: Why?

John: Because I think they’re actually going to get rid of iTunes as a concept completely. My prediction is WWC, they’ll say like Goodbye iTunes. Because they actually got rid of iTunes Podcast and now it says Apple Podcasts. I think they’re just going to call it, I don’t know, Apple–

Craig: What are they going to call it?

John: Something else.

Craig: Whoa. Weird.

John: Whoa. But if you’re on iTunes, or whatever they call it next, just search for Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. And you can find all the back episodes at

Craig, thank you for a fun show. Have a great show on Monday. I will look forward to good reports.

Craig: Thank you, sir. We’ll do our best.

John: Cool. Thanks.

Craig: Bye.


The two kinds of title pages

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 02:00

This past week, I found myself proofreading the typeset version of my book. That’s when I made an amazing discovery that many readers probably already realize:

Books have two title pages.

The first title page has only the title of the book. The second title page has the title plus the author’s name, along with the publisher’s logo.

Like most things that seem oddly wasteful at first glance, there’s actually a good reason for the two pages. I dig into the history and terminology over at the Arlo Finch blog:

And now I’m kind of obsessed, grabbing every book on the shelf to check. It’s that classic case of once you notice something, it’s ubiquitous—at least in American hardcover novels.

I’ll be doing a follow-up post looking at the information on the back of the title page, from publisher data to ISBN.

Lying builds character

Sat, 05/13/2017 - 01:45

Chris Csont looks how a little deception makes heroes feel more genuine:

As the audience, we have an important advantage over the other people in a character’s world: We can see a character when they think nobody’s watching.

When we see the contradiction between a character’s presented self and their internal self, it helps to make a fictional person feel dimensional and real. We relate to that feeling of having a part of yourself cordoned off from the rest of the world, and we also recognize the discomfort of having that barrier breached.

It’s a great piece with lots of examples.

It’s Always Sunny in Star Wars

Tue, 05/09/2017 - 08:03

Craig and guest host Dana Fox welcome Rob McElhenney (It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia) and Rian Johnson (Looper, Star Wars: The Last Jedi) to the live show at the Arclight. The four discuss breaking into Hollywood, handling rejection and sticking to your vision as a writer/director.

We also answer audience questions on motivation and holding onto hope.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.

How Characters Move

Tue, 05/02/2017 - 08:03

Craig and John take on a new round of Three Page Challenges. There’s a fat “Elvis,” a bounty hunter White Rabbit, and a guy locked in the trunk of a speeding Mustang.

We also look at how characters move, and how screenwriters can use character movement to their benefit.


Email us at

You can download the episode here.