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Updated: 1 hour 23 min ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 328: Pitching Television, or Being a Passionate Widget — Transcript

Wed, 12/13/2017 - 11:02

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 328 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program we’ll be looking at how you pitch a television show. We’ll also wade back into the turbulent waters of sexual harassment to discuss what the responsibilities are of men, women, and labor unions to remedy it.

Craig: That’s not at all a minefield.

John: Not a bit of one. But a reminder, we have a live show coming up. That’s next week. Actually this week as you’re hearing this. This Thursday, December 7, in Hollywood we will be welcoming guests Julie Plec, Justin Marks, and Michael Green to talk about wonderful things, including television programs, so you should come. If there’s still tickets you should come.

Craig: That’s quite a group there. I mean, got some big movies in there and some big time writers and producers. And as always it benefits the Writers Guild Foundation, which is our favorite charity.

John: It is a fantastic charity. If you would like tickets go to wgfoundation.org/events and you will see us there and you can grab yourself a ticket. So, we still haven’t planned everything that’s happening, but I will have some surprises for you, Craig. Things you do not even see coming.

Craig: The good news is I don’t ever see anything coming. Everything is an endless surprise to me. I’m like a child.

John: Yeah. It’s lovely. You know, persistence of memory, you know, you cover something over with a napkin, oh my god it’s a surprise to you.

Craig: Right. You can play peekaboo with me and it still works.

John: That’s fantastic. It’s good stuff.

Craig: It is good stuff. Great stuff. That’s how I stay young.

John: It is. So, let’s get into sexual harassment because this is essentially follow up because in a previous episode we were talking about sexual harassment. Craig, you had some suggestions and guidelines you wanted to propose. And you got some feedback from that, so why don’t you take it from here.

Craig: Sure. I got a really interesting email from somebody that I know and I wanted to share it. And I spoke with her and so we’re going to leave her name out of it. We just agreed on the guidelines of things. And I’m editing down the email a little bit, but I think I’m hitting the important points. So I’m just going to go ahead and read this from an anonymous friend.

“Craig, you know that you’re one of my favorite humans.” You know, I wish I could I just stop there, John, honestly, because that’s amazing, right?

John: Like on a little thank you card, just write that. Just send it.

Craig: Just send it. Because I really appreciate that. Well, it goes on.

“Craig, you know that you’re one of my favorite humans but I feel compelled to disagree with some of what you guys said on the latest episode. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have had a minimal amount of weird and inappropriate interactions in my work life. I happened to have worked for mostly gay men and women. I’m cautious by nature and tend to remove myself when I feel uncomfortable. I’ve worked mostly in progressive areas in well-respected organizations and none of that has stopped me from having awful moments and interactions I would like to forget.

“You said that no one will be offended if you say you’re uncomfortable and I simply cannot stress how untrue that is. Offended may look different on different people. It may come off as anger, acting dismissive, annoyed, patronizing, etc. But it will be there every single time.

“I have been told I have offended people for far less than standing up for myself after a moment of questionable behavior by a colleague. The result of offended, no matter what it looks like, is the same. You will be someone that no one wants to work with.

“You also said to remove yourself when something feels rapey. Two things. I can’t ever remember worrying that a colleague would rape me. It’s almost never that cut and dry. If someone has a rapist t-shirt then, yeah, you should leave. Short of that, it will often just feel like you’re dealing with a guy who is maybe a little too interested but not crossing any big red lines.

“Second thing. If I remove myself from every workplace where there were someone that I had a bad gut feeling about, I wouldn’t ever work again. The conversation I would much rather have is around how do we talk to men about this situation. For women, this is almost mundane. It is such a part of our lives. Rather than us twisting ourselves in knots to figure out workarounds, can we talk about how men treat women?

“Let me tell you why this matters to me. The situations I had didn’t physically scar me or even traumatize me. Again, I’ve been very lucky. What they did do is slowly chip away at my sense of self-worth. They subtly tell you that the only reason you’re in the room is because you’re young and female and that your voice or opinions are irrelevant. You don’t get attention when you succeed or when you fail, which are net positive things. You get attention when you look nice and no other time.”

So, I read this and I thought this is a very fair criticism. I mean, first of all there’s a lot of great insights in there that I think you and I probably wouldn’t be able to have access to because we’re not in the same situation that women are in, so I really appreciated that point. And I also think that the larger point that she’s making which is it’s not easy to just say I’m offended and I’m walking away is true. And they’re right about that. They meaning anyone who agrees with that.

And I also think that it is true that even though we are trying to do a service by telling people how to manage difficult situations that are imposed upon them, it is true that we – I think you and I have a responsibility if we’re going to talk about that part of it to talk about the other part which is, “OK boys, how are you supposed to behave.”

John: Yeah. Fair. I think what I got so much out of her letter is that how do you deal with these difficult situations without being labeled difficult. And that she wants to be in that room. She wants to be doing her work and she feels like if she calls anybody on their behavior she’s immediately sort of ostracized as that person who is like, “Oh, she can’t play. She can’t hang. She’s not one of us.”

And that is a terrible situation. And so I think you’re right. We need to look at what are the responsibilities of men, women, and everybody else in that room and in those working situations to not let that happen. Because I think your advice was well-intentioned. You said that if you feel that you’re at an unsafe place, get yourself out of that place. And that is one end of this horrible spectrum of behaviors we’re seeing where there are literal attacks and assaults happening.

But in attempting to get yourself out of those possible bad situations, she’s saying you are opening yourself up for the other kind of bad thing that we see happening on the other end of the spectrum which is just like opportunities being taken away because you’re not longer seen as cool.

Craig: Yeah. And I think we heard a bit of this too from Dara Resnik and from Daley Haggar when they were on. And it’s a sense of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If you don’t say anything and you just stay there, you become a victim. If say something, protest, or try and get out, you become a complainer. And so what I think we’re hearing here, and it makes total sense, is that there are certain situations where there are no behaviors that women can engage in that end in a kind of victory. That really it’s just a competition between negative outcomes and you’re trying to look for the least worst situation, which isn’t ideal, so maybe we should be coming at this from the other side which is what can we say to the people perpetrating this stuff so that women aren’t in this situation of having to pick the lesser of evils.

John: Yeah. So I mean a couple thoughts. First is to listen to letters like this that make it clear that these situations happen. Because I feel like a lot of times I think men aren’t aware that they’re creating these impossible situations for the women they’re working with.

Craig: I agree. I think that that is very much part of what happens. I also think that there are a lot of guys who know exactly what they’re doing and just don’t care. And maybe, perhaps I’m naïve, but maybe if we just codify certain things it will be a little harder for them to get away with it.

John: Well let’s talk about codifying things, because I had a great conversation with a writer who is on a TV show this last week and he said that they’re looking in their room as they’re sort of figuring out for next season. They want to come in with a list of like “These are going to be the house rules. This is what we’re going to be doing. This is how it’s all going to work.” And the writing staff is going to vote anonymously on those things. And any one of those rules that gets like two people voting for it is part of the rules for that room. It’s part of the rules for how that show is going to work with the writers.

Will that solve everything? No, it won’t. But at least there’s a thing you can point to saying like, “Hey, this is how we’re going to do it.” And so if someone is breaking one of those rules, everybody sees that he is breaking one of those rules. And I think that helps not only the woman who is being harassed or bullied. It helps everyone else in that room be able to point out like, “Hey, this is not right. We agreed this was not right. You’re breaking the norms of what’s happening here.”

I think with rules you can help set norms. And norms are what’s not being followed here.

Craig: I totally agree. I think that’s actually really important that we distinguish between norms, social mores, and laws. It is illegal to sexually assault someone. But it is not illegal to make a joke that makes someone uncomfortable. And what it is is just a violation of a social norm and a social more. And I think a lot of times what happens is people throw up their hands and say, “Well you can’t legislate behavior.”

No, you absolutely can. Here’s an example. Let’s say I work in a writer’s room. And it’s lunch time. And we all eat lunch around the table. When lunch comes, I have the soup. And I decide to eat it with my hands. I just lift up handfuls of soup and just rub them into my face. That’s not illegal. There’s no law against that. It’s weird. It’s creepy. It’s wrong. It is a violation of a social norm.

Similarly, I can’t take my socks and shoes off and put my bare feet up on the table. It’s gross. We all know this. But somehow when it comes to creating a sense of social mores around the way we respect each other and particularly the way men respect women in a room, we get – we become uber libertarians who can’t imagine the notion of any kind of restraint.

Well, I have a bunch of restraints I’d like to suggest.

John: Well, Craig, I will say though both your soup example and your taking off your shoes and socks and putting your feet on the table, I have not worked on a lot of TV staffs, but I will guarantee you that someone could write in saying like that exact thing happened on our TV show. And the more powerful the person is who is taking off the socks or eating soup with his hands, the harder it is for other people in the room to call him out on that behavior. And so that’s I think part of the reason why you want to have some written out thing of like these are the things we – like if it says on the wall “Don’t take off your shoes and socks and put your feel on the table,” then we know not to do that.

And that is I think what I’m asking for people to try to do is to have a little bit more codifying of what it is that’s going to be OK and what is not OK.

Craig: I completely agree. I mean, I only really raise that point to say as a response to people who can’t imagine that it’s even possible to create rules.

John: Yes.

Craig: So I have some rules.

John: Go for it. I want to hear them.

Craig: I have ideas of rules. Here’s an easy one. Keep your hands to yourself.

John: Yep.

Craig: I mean, this is a nursery school rule. This is kindergarten stuff. Apparently it’s difficult for some people. So, let’s just make it a rule. Keep your hands to yourself. I don’t need to touch anybody to do my job. We’re not massage therapists.

John: Josh Friedman had an interesting tweet back as all this stuff was starting to break that when he is in a work situation, like when someone is a writer on one of the shows that he’s working on, like even if that woman is a friend they’re not hugging. They’re not hugging in the room because it’s just this weird moment. And so let’s just maybe not touch each other.

Craig: Keep your hands to yourself. And then when it comes to things like jokes, which seems to be an area where a lot of things go wrong, here’s a general guideline and I think these are all incredibly followable. I try to follow them myself. Until you have a sense that a certain area of comedy is safe with another person, just presume that their mom or dad is there with you. Then you’re not going to say that certain kind of thing. You got to find out if someone is OK with some sort of comedy before you get there. And we all know what we’re talking about. We all understand that some humor pushes the envelope. Some humor is edgy. Some isn’t.

You know what? Hold off on the super edgy stuff until you get a sense of whether or not it’s OK with the other person. And if you think it is, and it turns out you were wrong, and the person is upset, stop. Just stop. Apologize. You misread it. That’s it. Say you’re sorry and don’t do it again. That’s that.

John: So when Dara and Daley were on the show they talked about you have to have a freedom in the writer’s room to sort of pitch out stuff and not censor yourself from bad ideas, bad jokes, and sort of going into dangerous territory. I get that. And also people are going to point out the Friends’ decision which I will quickly summarize by saying there was a lawsuit against the Friends TV show by someone who was working in that writer’s room and she lost. And essentially you could read it to say all is fair game in the writer’s room. That’s too broad a reading of that. That was a very specific situation.

What I would point you to is like there’s still the possibility of sexual harassment in a writer’s room if things go too far, if you create a situation where people feel unsafe.

Here’s a good tip for a joke. Pitch a joke about a character. Don’t pitch a joke about somebody in the room. Don’t aim stuff at people who are in the room in general. Just let it be about the characters and the show, not about the folks who are sitting around you.

Craig: I agree. And look when I talk about a sense of humor, a show has a sense of humor. If you go to work on a show that is dark, then the room will be dark, because people are trying to pitch for the dark show. If you go into The Simpsons, then you know what that sense of humor is. You should be pitching within it. This is less to me about what you’re pitching in a room to try and get comedy going. It’s more about what you’re doing when you bump into somebody by the coffee machine, or in the hallway. That’s what I’m talking about.

I think that’s where it gets particularly pernicious when you’re just invading somebody with a sense of humor that they don’t like. What is the point of a sense of humor if the other person isn’t laughing? Just stop.

John: Yep. Agreed.

Craig: Physical guidelines like — there’s certain rules that people generally follow, I’m talking to boys. You meet somebody, a woman, in professional situation. You don’t know her, or you vaguely know her. Maybe you met once a long time ago. It’s a handshake.

When you are working with women and you know each other very frequently, it is just very common in our business that people will hug. There’s nothing wrong with it. I call it the business hug. Nothing wrong with a business hug. But make it a business hug. There’s apparently a problem where people don’t understand how hugging works. It’s about a second long. And the purpose of the hug is to finish the hug as fast as you can. That’s the way I look at it. There’s no squeezing. There’s no holding on. It’s not a real hug. I mean, how did people miss this? It’s not a real hug. It’s not the way you hug your child or your spouse. It’s a quick business hug. It is a formal act.

Same with the cheek kiss. I don’t really like the cheek kiss.

John: I don’t like the cheek kiss either. Let’s rule out the cheek kiss. This isn’t France.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It was lovely while I was living in Paris. We don’t need it here. Here’s what I’ll say about the hug is it should be the same kind of hug if you’re hugging a guy or you’re hugging a woman. And guys hug here. It’s fine. It’s natural. But it’s quick. It’s really quick. So don’t linger. It doesn’t need to linger.

Craig: Yeah. No, that’s a great guideline. Basically you’re hugging this person because they’re a professional and this is what we do to greet each other as professionals and that’s it. So the hug is the same for a man. It’s the same for a woman. That’s that. Real simple.

And I would also say — another guideline I would give to boys is – I like saying boys, by the way. We don’t say boys enough.

John: Boys.

Craig: Women refer to each other as girls all the time. It’s affectionate.

John: Craig, I would say though does boys infantilize or take away some of the sting of it. So essentially you know like, “Oh, they’re just being boys.” That’s my only worry about the “boys” term.

Craig: All right. They’re men. They’re people with XY chromosomes who are moving through the world and they’re adults. Men.

John: Men.

Craig: Don’t be a physical reviewer in the workspace. It’s fine every now and then if somebody changes their hair to say, “Whoa, cool. Nice haircut.” And it’s perfectly fine if somebody walks in with some awesome new shirt or some amazing new kicks to go, “Oh, I like that. I like the shirt. I like the sneakers.” But otherwise just shut up about it. Nobody cares. Nobody wants to hear your opinions about how people look about their hair, their makeup, their clothes, their body type, their shoes, whether or not they smile, whether or not they don’t smile, their funny eyes, their beautiful eyes, their stupid eyes. Whatever. Just shut up. Nobody cares. That’s not why people are there.

So when our friend writes in and says you get attention when you look nice and no other time, that is such a disaster. And if you are in a workplace and you are sharing your workplace with women, as I imagine you are and should be, then you just have to get it through their head that they’re there because of their minds.

I mean, we are creative people. We’re not doing physical labor. They’re there because of their minds. Comment on the quality of their minds. That’s it.

John: So, here’s an opportunity. If you are about to make a comment about someone’s physical appearance, you might stop and think if there’s something else you could say. I mean, you’re basically just trying to start a conversation or just like to fill an awkward silence or just do the normal social interactions of things, think of something else you can say rather than commenting on how the person looks.

Craig: I think that you and I have a decent starting list here, but this is by no means all-encompassing and I’m sure that different places have different call for different rules and different guidelines.

I think the important thing though is that men in this business have to start talking to each other about generally speaking how we’re supposed to be. And I do believe that if you are in a situation where you are saying things that you know would be hurtful to somebody but they’re not there and they’re never going to be there. Look, humor does as humor does. And there’s different levels of intention.

I know that people are flawed and imperfect. This isn’t about perfection. This is about when you are with people and it’s about not making life miserable for these other human beings. And I cannot promise you that you’re doing it because it’s going to make your life easier. I’m just telling you you should do it because it makes you a better person. It makes you a more honorable person. It’s just basic human decency. And I think we’re all better off for it.

John: Yeah. So I would say that if people have additional suggestions for things that should be on that list of like how not to be a jerk as a man, tweet at us. Send us an email. And we can certainly add to this list and maybe post this for things that people can think over as they’re moving out into the world.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We have an email from Carlton who writes, “I wonder if you could see any role for the WGA in preventing sexual harassment in your industry. Could you imagine the WGA or other unions calling for a mini-strike at a company where there are allegations of sexual harassment or assault, which are safety issues if nothing else? One thing that victims have been saying in all these stories is that there was no point going to HR or even no HR department at all these companies. I know if I had a problem at my workplace I could always go to my union.”

So, Carlton has a fair question. You know, unions are set up to help the workers of an industry. Basically we are there to provide workplace protection. And this is a situation where some of our workers are either physically not safe or they are being treated poorly on the job.

So, yes, that is that is a union concern. It is a concern for the WGA, for the DGA, for SAG, for everyone below the line. Yes, every union needs to be thinking about sexual harassment and how they can make sure that their members who are working at these places are being treated OK.

So, there’s a lot kind of going on behind the scenes. And so I would say that you’re going to see a lot of stuff in the New Year about what happens next in terms of how the unions can address this individually but also impressively together to have systems that help protect workers in these situations.

Craig: well that’s good to hear. I don’t think that we can pull strikes per se legally against an entire company. Like I don’t think if somebody experiences sexual harassment at CBS that the Writers Guild could strike all of CBS. I don’t think we could do that legally. But certainly the union should be involved in these things. All those unions you mentioned should be.

Interestingly and trick-ily, who are the people that are doing the sexual harassment? Sometimes it is management. Sometimes it is our own members. I mean, when we talk about some of the showrunners, we’re talking about Writers Guild members. When we’re talking about a director with an actor, we’re talking about DGA members. So it’s not quite as clear cut as it might be say for somebody who is working in food services at a plant and so you’ve got your shop steward saying, OK, management is doing something to one of the workers. It’s complicated.

John: It’s also complicated because sometimes if it is management or if it’s a producer or if it’s somebody else, a manager, that is a person who is not under any sort of union control. So how do you – and that same person could be harassing writers and harassing PAs and harassing actors. And so how do you keep track of all that? Well, I think there has to be an industry-wide response to these situations.

Carlton’s also question about going to HR, well in order to file some of these lawsuits to get some of these actions to take effect you do need to go to HR. But what I’d urge anyone listening to this to know is that you also need to go to your union. And so the same time you go to file an HR complaint, you go to the union and the union can come with you. I know it’s true for the WGA. I’m sure it’s true for SAG and for DGA.

So there’s people there who have your back. And so it’s important to sort of like – the union has a role to play here and so does every member of a union.

Craig: Do we have a specific person at the Writers Guild that people should be contacting?

John: Yes. And so I’ll put a link in the show notes to that. So, yes, there’s a whole plan. And you’re going to see more stuff coming out from the Guild about exactly what steps to take if you’re encountering these situations.

Craig: Great. That’s very useful. Good.

John: Cool. A follow up question from Ben in Colorado. “On a recent episode you were both talking about how the screenwriters should not end dialogue with a parenthetical under it, except in animation. Can you talk about this exception and some of the other differences between writing for live action versus animation?”

All right, I can take this. So, in animation you do sometimes leave parentheticals underneath actor’s dialogue for sound effects or for like gasps. For things like that that would just be assumed in live action, but because you’re recording audio separately you actually mark all those gasps in there or like sneezes and other little things. You put them all in dialogue to make sure they actually get recorded when they go in to do the sound recording.

Craig: Efforts.

John: Efforts. Yes. The grunts. The groans. All that stuff. You put that in the dialogue track whereas you might drop that into action in a live action feature. Otherwise, animation scripts look almost exactly the same. The numbering happens a little bit differently because they do things by kind of these sequences, these reels situations. But other than that there’s not huge differences between the script that we as screenwriters are doing and for animation and what we would be doing in live action.

There’s, of course, a second step. So it goes from the screenplay into storyboards. And storyboards are these picture versions of our scripts. And things do change in that process. And so a lot of times the screenwriter will have to come back in and tweak dialogue based on the order of shots and sort of how the scene is shaping out when they actually board it. But script-wise it doesn’t look that different.

Craig: Yeah. I wouldn’t get hung up on it.

John: Last bit of follow up, the switch from documentary to narrative film. We had several people writing in to offer examples of adapted documentaries. On a previous thing you had said like, “Oh, it’s not a common thing to do to go from a documentary to a feature.”

Craig: [laughs] Apparently it happens literally every day. Sometimes I’m so wrong it’s like shocking.

John: Yeah. So do you want to read through some of these?

Craig: Well sure. So some examples that people sent in. Hands on a Hard Body was a documentary that follows a competition to win a new truck which Doug Wright and Trey Anastasio turned into a Broadway musical. A Broadway musical I saw.

John: Yes.

Craig: Hunter Foster, brother of Sutton Foster, was starring in that one.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Man on Wire becoming Robert Zemeckis’ The Walk. And Loving based in part on the documentary the Loving Story. So, those were three. But it was like a cascade of them. And someone even said like, you know, I used to work in acquisitions where all we did was try and find documentaries and turn them into movies. So, I’m an idiot basically is the point.

And it’s important to say to people, you know, you can’t just trust people because they have a stupid podcast. That doesn’t mean a damn thing. Just don’t trust me.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Not a word.

John: I’d also say that it’s important when you are wrong to admit that you’re wrong and to say it on subsequent episodes.

Craig: Oh god, yeah. Sometimes I’m not just wrong. Sometimes I’m gloriously wrong. I actually feel like that’s really the goal. It’s not very interesting to be slightly wrong. You know? Like you stumble and people don’t really notice. But if you can really trip and land with your hands to your side, so you’re catching the ground with your face, that’s fun.

John: That’s the way you do it.

Craig: That’s how you do it.

John: All right. Let’s see if we can be gloriously wrong in our next segment which is about pitching television.

Craig: Oh, no, I’m going to nail this. This one I’ve got. Yeah.

John: Previously on Scriptnotes we’ve done episodes about producers and pitching. That was Episode 55. And pitching an open writing assignment. That was Episode 248.

But we got an email about how do I go out and pitch a TV show. And some of our other writer friends have been chatting about that recently, too, so I thought we’d just dig into what it’s like to pitch a TV show. Because I’ve done this three times. Craig, you did it for your Chernobyl show, but have you pitched other TV shows? Or was that the only one?

Craig: That’s the only one.

John: Great. So I can go through my experiences and we can hear what Craig’s experience was with Chernobyl. But it’s a lot like a feature pitch but you’re pitching some different parameters and they’re looking for very different things as you go into that room. So, let’s talk through pitches in a very general sense because this is what happens in every pitch meeting. You go into a room. There’s five minutes of chitchat. And eventually you transition into, OK, now we’re going to start talking about the thing that you’re here for.

What’s different about television versus feature pitches is in television they’ve invited you in for a specific reason. So, either you’re going into the studio or you’re going into the network. They know in a general sense what the story area is. They want you to be in that room. They’re in theory happy to hear your pitch.

In features, previously we talked about the elevator pitches, that really tight version of a pitch which you don’t use that much. We’ll have pitches where we’ll go into pitch on an assignment that started there, so it’s like an open writing assignment or it’s based on a property.

With these TV pitches it’s this weird kind of middle form where you’re going in and they know the general area that you’re pitching but you have to really walk them through the whole idea. And so a pitch might be 15 minutes. It might be 30 minutes. But it has to be a really complete package, not just for what the pilot is going to be, but for what this series is going to be and why they need to bid right now to get this series so they can make it for their season.

Craig: Yes. I find it to be a very different kind of pitch than a feature pitch only because of the nature of the medium itself. I feel like it’s actually much easier to pitch television because what you’re trying to do is create a sense of ongoing interest. And in features you’re trying to create something that is whole and finished. It’s really hard to pitch something to somebody and then tell them how it evolves and then tell them how it ends. It’s hard.

And in television you’re just – I think your job is to get them as excited about the potential as you are. In features, it’s not about potential. It’s about you’ve done it.

John: Well, it goes back to the very nature of what is a feature versus what is a series is that a feature is about a story that can only be told once. A television show is a story that can repeat itself, or can grow and change and become a different thing. And so for a feature you’re pitching this is exactly what I’m going to give you, versus a TV show. This is the area in which this thing would go. Like you’re pointing towards a trajectory rather than one destination.

Craig: Right. See, in television I always feel like you’re pitching – I always feel like. I pitched one thing for television, but in my mind if I go and pitch another thing this is what I believe. You’re pitching an experience. And in features you’re pitching a product.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s natural, I think, for feature purchasers to want you to give them more of a sense of completion and more of a sense of the details having been worked out because you have one thing that you’re pitching, a beginning, middle, and end. In television, I think there’s a general relief valve. No one is expecting you to be able to pitch the beginning, middle, and end of ten episodes or 22 episodes. Not at all.

So, you can talk more about what the nature of the experience will be. I find that to be much more engaging for me. And I can only assume it’s more engaging for them.

John: So a writer colleague passed along this list by Peter Micelli who is an agent at CAA. I assume this is the list that he sends to his clients to send out. But it was a very good general sense of this is the flow of what a lot of TV pitches are like. You start by talking about the inspiration. Really like what the idea means to you. What you’re trying to convey is that this is, you know, something that is deeply emotionally connected to you, because remember you’re pitching not just this idea, but that you are the person to bring this idea to life. And that you are the person who is going to work 23 hours a day to get this show exactly right and perfect. That you’re passionate about it. So they want to hear that kind of from the start.

Then you’re pitching the general themes and sort of the concepts of it. This is what areas this touches on. This can also be the answer to the question why now. Why would we do this TV show in 2018 versus 2005? What is it about today’s world that makes this show especially compelling and really demands to have this kind of show be on the air? Why does it fit?

And only then are you sort of getting into kind of the show itself. You’re giving them the sense of the kinds of things that happen in the show. You’re starting to introduce the characters. But really at first you’re pitching a vision – a personal vision and then sort of a global vision. And only then are you getting into the meat of like so here are the characters, here’s how we’re seeing the characters do their thing. This is what happens in the pilot, but these are the intriguing things that are happening. These are open threads that are going to carry us through to future episodes, and ideally in the fantasy world into season two.

Was that at all your experience going into Chernobyl? Did you start with your personal connection, Craig?

Craig: Yeah. I had not seen this, but this is essentially what I did. And this is a guess, because I never sit in a room, nor have I ever sat in a room to hear a writer pitch me something to get me to give them money for it. But I have to imagine that the thing that person fears the most is somebody coming in there in order to get money from them. There are people, I mean, writing is a tough gig, and sometimes people need work. And sometimes people are desperate and sometimes people are trying. Sometimes people are trying to manipulate the system or game the system or get some employment. Whatever it is. And they come in and they just start going through the mechanics. And on the other side of the table they’re like, “But where is the heart? Where is the soul here? Why? I feel like you just want to get a job.”

And bizarrely that’s the worst way to get a job. It would never occur to me to walk into a pitch for a television show that I wanted to do and not begin with, “I want to do a crazy thing. It is going to take me a long time. It is going to be really, really hard, and I really want to do it. And here’s why.” Simple as that.

John: Simple as that. When we had Benioff and Weiss on to talk about Game of Thrones, their backstory on Game of Thrones was that they were just obsessed with the book. And I remember an anecdote where one of the HBO guys was at the gym and he saw – I think it was D.B. Weiss – just like going – like D.B Weiss was on the treadmill but still going through the book and marking stuff. And that’s when he saw like, oh, the passion. These guys are obsessed with making this TV show. That’s what networks and studios want is obsessed people who will work to death to try to make these shows happen.

So you have to start with that sense of like this is something I must do. I am the perfect person for this because of XYZ and this is the perfect time to do this kind of show.

Craig: Yeah. You become a force of nature then. See, like when I came into pitch my miniseries, I think they must have noticed that I was kind of on fire about it. And I had been thinking about it and researching it for a long time. A long, long time. And I was able to answer a lot of questions. And I was able to talk about specific moments. And really instead of trying to convince them of anything, all I was doing was sharing what had convinced me. So, that’s kind of the deal.

Nobody wants you to manipulate them into a decision. What they want from a good pitch, and I think this is true for features, too, is they want to be able to see, and feel, and experience what you saw and felt and experienced when you fell in love. And then, listen, sometimes they say, “You know what? You look at that and you see beauty, I look at it and I don’t. So, it won’t work out here.” But a lot of times they say, “Oh my god, yes, I’m seeing this through your eyes now and I’m excited.”

That’s the most important thing.

John: I’ve sold three TV shows as pilots. And in each case I genuinely loved it. I was genuinely obsessed with the idea and I could completely see what the vision was for the show. And I’d say – so I pitched to studios, and then I had to pitch to networks. And in every one of those meetings I was just as passionate about it. And some of them were like, “Yes, yes, we absolutely want this show.” And some of them were like, “Nah, not for us.”

And a lot of times I could feel as I left the room it was like, oh, that did not go well. That is not going to work for them. But in each time I was conveying the same excitement and the same enthusiasm because I really genuinely did want to do this. I wanted to put aside feature stuff to try to do this TV show. And they respond to that. They see that.

And even the places that didn’t pick it, they didn’t pick it because they didn’t believe in me. It just wasn’t a good fit for them. That’s still going to happen. You’re still going to have situations where they say no. But you’re going to have a much better likelihood of saying yes if they see that you are the right obsessed person for it.

Craig: That’s a really good distinction to make. I think for a lot of people that work regularly as screenwriters, television writers, we are being asked to come and help on things. And at that point what they’re saying is we want you. We want you for you. And there may be writers who hear, “OK, there’s an open writing assignment. A rewrite on blah-blah-blah. And so you’re going to go in and pitch on it.” And five other people are pitching on it. And what you’re pitching is you and your suitability for their needs. And when they reject you or pass on you, it is about you. And that can hurt.

When you’re pitching your own material it’s not about you at all. It’s about the material. They may love you, they just don’t want to make a movie about this. They may love you, but they have a television show already in development that’s kind of close to the one you have, or they once made a show that was a little bit like yours and it was a disaster for them so they just don’t want to deal with it. So it’s not about you. And that actually psychologically I think is a nice benefit if you are aware of it.

John: Absolutely. So, I would say it is about you in terms of like they want to see your passion and your excitement, but they can still see that and pass. And if they’re passing, then it’s not about you. It really is truly about sort of how it fits in their plan for what they’re going to try to make.

So when you were pitching Chernobyl, did you talk about the characters by their names? Did you talk about actor names? How were you describing the principal people who were going to be in your show?

Craig: Well, I narrowed it down to the three that I felt were the most important. And then a fourth that was important just so we understood what was happening with the other three. There are something like 100 speaking parts on this show. You can easily drown somebody in details. But ultimately I was able to say this is why I wanted to do this because of this person. And what this meant. Not only what they did, but what their whole connection to this whole process was. What it did to them. What it signified. And what it signifies for all of us. And their key relationships with these two other people.

And you sort of use that as a touchstone, because I do believe whether it’s features or television you should never talk about something that happens in a show or a movie without pointing out why it matters to a relationship, hopefully a relationship, but at a minimum to a character.

John: Absolutely. So when you are talking about these three characters, you used their – they’re based on real people – do you use their character names or do you refer to them as a Stellan Skarsgard?

Craig: No, I use their names. And because I don’t want to seem, I don’t know, too desperate or showy. I also feel like when you start mentioning actors you’re giving too much rope to the other side of the table with which to hang you. Because they may not like those actors for some reason. They may have worked with those actors and hated them. They may decide that your interest in those actors implies a certain poor taste.

You never know. So, what I like to do is only discuss that at the end if there seems like real interest. And then they say, “Well who do you see?” And then I’ll say, well, these are the kinds of people that I’ve been thinking about. And I never just put one down. But I have the one that I want.

And at that point I’m really kind of now – now I feel like I have them and now I’m actually kind of checking on them to see if they’re on board with me.

John: Absolutely. That can be a very useful thing. In a pitch I did last year, I needed to convey that it was a certain type of person. And so I ended up falling on it’s a Chris. It’s a Chris Evans, it’s a Chris Pratt. It’s a Chris Pine. It’s one of the Chris’s. Which was a useful sort of joke in terms of like there are a bunch of people who are sort of in that space who could do one of those things.

If you were in a TV show situation you could say, “Sort of like a TV Chris Pine.” That is a thing we can sort of understand. And so it provides a context for like the kind of person you should picture in your head for this role. And it was just helpful just for the pitch. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to cast a Chris Pine-type in that part, but just to get them through this 15 minutes of story it’s helpful if they have some image in their head of who this person is.

Some writers will bring in little boards with pictures on them to show different characters. I’ve done that. Sometimes it’s really helpful.

What can be helpful about having a physical thing is then when they’re going back through the pitch or they’re asking you questions they can point to the board that you were talking about then and it helps to remind them like, OK yeah, there was that moment. Tell me more about this guy again. And so having something physical they can point to can be useful.

Did you bring in anything in for Chernobyl?

Craig: Not a thing. And, you know, listening to you talk about the image board it strikes me that one of the mistakes that so-called gurus make, other than advertising themselves as gurus and taking people’s money, which they shouldn’t, is that they prescribe solutions as if this is the way to do things.

It seems to me that we are all very, very different. And the most important thing you can take with you into a pitch is your best move. The move that makes you most comfortable and the move that advertises your strength. And it’s not necessarily your strength as a writer you’re advertising, but your strength as an employee. So, you go in there and you show them this board and these images, because you’re comfortable – that’s your safe place. That’s a good place for you. You’re organized. You’ve thought it through. You’re planned. You have this thing here.

And for me, I find that more of an ad-libbed conversation, a back and forth, like a sense of mutual discovery of the show together is kind of – that’s how I’m happy. And while I’m doing it of course I’m leading the conversation. But I like a conversation. And whatever it is that works for you, do that. I mean, for god’s sake never let anybody tell you that you can’t do something like bring in an image board or just show up and talk if that’s what you’re best at.

John: Definitely. I had the opportunity to be on the other side of the table once for a project. We were going to do Tower of Terror over at Disney. And it all fell apart because it no longer exists as a ride.

Craig: That’s a good reason.

John: That’s a good reason. It no longer exists. I got the opportunity to sit across from three writers, or three writing teams, who had come in to pitch their version of it. And they were all fantastic. And I would have loved to have hired all three of them. We hired none of them because it never existed as a project.

But it was fascinating to see the different ways they were approaching the same material and the different ways they were approaching the process of pitching. And some of them were – they were all writing teams, so in some cases one person just did all the pitching and then the other person would come in for the questions and stuff.

Other times you could see it was a much rehearsed, like they’d worked through the whole thing. It was all a bit. It was funny along the way. Other times it’s just like one guy reads a paragraph, the other guy reads a paragraph. They can all work. The last one was probably the hardest to get through.

Craig: That’s a little rough.

John: But I will say that the ones that stuck with me most was not a person reading off a piece of paper. Because I can read. I don’t need you to read something to me. I need to see you describe it to me. And I need to see what your vision for this really is. And that’s especially important in television where they are making a long-term contract with you to be creating this show, running this show, to be there when everything goes horrible. So they need to see in your eyes that you really do have a vision for how this is going to work.

Craig: Such a great point. Because in features, in the back of their minds they’re always thinking, “Well, it’s a great idea. Let’s just—“

John: “Who could I have write that?”

Craig: Yeah. “You know what? Let’s pay this dude whatever we got to pay him, and then let’s bring her in because she’s great and we’ll pay her a lot. And she’s really going to write it.”

You can’t do that in television. I mean it’s theoretically possible. Occasionally it happens. But by and large they’re trying to avoid that.

So you’re absolutely right. For television they really are looking for long-term partners. I can only imagine they respond much more readily to confidence than to sweatiness. When you sound desperate, feel desperate, seem desperate, you are just immediately less attractive. There’s just no way around it. As an employee. There’s just no way around it. I’m not even sure that’s fair, because I think that a lot of people are not confident in that situation. But then would be remarkably confident in the room. And hopefully you have somebody on the other side of the table who can price that in. But generally speaking if you can be confident and most importantly if you can seem alive and interested.

John: Yep.

Craig: Then I think there’s something to hold onto. You want to be near people who have that positive passion.

John: Definitely. So a thing I think we should stress is that if you’re being invited in to pitch to the network, to pitch to the studio, you’re probably not a brand new writer. You’re probably a writer who has some credit under your belt. Either you were staffed on a TV show or there’s some other reason why you’re interesting or notable.

But that reason could be something really small or recent. So like when I came in to do my first TV show, D.C., my first feature Go had shot but hadn’t come out yet. I was newly hot. And so they were excited to meet with me because they liked my writing, they thought I was going to be a pretty big deal. And so I was able to convince them and convey that I’m the person who could do this show. But I was also coming in with an established producer who they had as a fallback. So they could look at my eyes and see the passion. They could look in his eyes and see that he can at least get a show on the air. And that was the combo.

So, it may seem like we’re pitching this pitching topic to the folks who are already staff writers on something or who are moving up the food chain, or the feature writers who are switching over to TV. But I really do think it’s not that far in the future for really anybody as a writer.

Craig: I agree. I mean, sooner or later, right?

John: Sooner or later.

Craig: I think everybody is going to be in a situation where they’re pitching something and they have nothing going for them. It may not be in TV, it may be in features, but I mean you and I both had those experiences. Every writer has that experience at least once.

John: Yep. The Duffer Brothers were just brothers at one point.

Craig: They were just brothers. [laughs]

John: The Duffer Brothers.

Craig: That’s right. And I remember those days and I remember understanding, OK, so I’m being brought in as a widget. They don’t know who I am. Their expectations are incredibly low. Every other widget is a certain kind of widget. I’m going to surprise them. I’m going to be memorable. I’m going to be smart and I’m going to be passionate. I’m going to get myself out of widget category. Sometimes you can. Sometimes – I remember very early on in my career I was pitching something — I won’t say who the executive is. I don’t think he’s in the business anymore.

And he just looked so bored. And so I just stopped and I said, “You know what? I’m boring you. I don’t want to bore you. Let’s just wrap it up. Let’s wrap it up.”

And he’s like, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. You weren’t boring me. You weren’t boring me.”

I’m like, “It’s OK. It’s OK.”

And he goes, “Oh, you know, I’m tired.” And he had some excuses, but I got out of there. Because–

John: I’ve gotten out of that room, too. And I wasn’t so forthright to say like, “Oh, I’m boring you. This is done.” But you’ve ripped cords in your pitch. And we’re going to jump through and now we’re done. Clearly it’s just not going to connect.

Craig: Let’s just get to the end here as fast as we can.

John: Yeah.

Craig: For those of you who are yet to do this, to have this experience, there are some bad pitches in your future. And nobody – nobody – manages to avoid them. At some point they will happen. Generally speaking part of the problem is, aside from the fact that you are new, because you’re new you’re pitching to people who are also either new or even worse not new but just slowly sliding down the ladder of Hollywood.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s the worst. Just the worst. And those are just awful because now everyone seems desperate. It’s like, “Oh my god, Willy Loman has come in to pitch Willy Loman.” Ugh.

John: [laughs] Yeah, both of you are just thinking let’s make this work. We could rub some nickels together.

Craig: Right. Everyone is just pathetic. It’s just like Jack Lemmon from Glengarry Glen Ross and Willy Loman. It’s the worst. And everyone is sweaty and sad and you didn’t even know what’s going on, or why. They’re coming. You can’t avoid them.

John: Yep. It’s gonna happen. All right, let’s do our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is super simple. It is a hair brush that was recommended on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, which is another thing you should check out because it’s a really good blog. I’ll put a link to that.

But my daughter has long straight hair and it is just a disaster to try to get a hairbrush through it some mornings. And so I’m usually the person who has to do that and I get sort of elbowed for hurting her.

Craig: Ah yes.

John: This hairbrush is really good. It’s called the Tangle Teezer. It sort of looks more like something you’d use to brush a horse. It has these really thin plastic things and you think, well, this wouldn’t work. But it works remarkably well. So you just go zip-zip-zip and it’s just a great piece of technology in plastic form. So I would recommend if you have long hair or hair that is difficult to brush with normal brushes, I’d say check this out because I was skeptical and incredibly impressed.

Craig: Yeah, the stuff that you and I know about hair. Oh boy.

John: Oh my gosh. Yes.

Craig: I’m lucky my daughter has always liked having her hair short. She has very thick hair and very straight hair, but she likes it short and purple. I think it’s currently purple.

John: Nice.

Craig: So I don’t have to worry about that. I do recall when she was younger and she had longer hair I remember hearing Melissa and her just having that classic argument. The ow…stop…you’re hurting…you have to…ugh.

See, oh man, your daughter is lucky she has you because if I were her dad she would just go to school with crazy hair. Real simple. Real simple.

I have a One Cool Thing this week that I just started with but I’m so far – so far so good. So far I’m impressed. It’s an app for iPhone and iPad called Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock, which is a bizarrely generic name for what it does.

So, it uses the microphone on your iOS device and it essentially analyzes your sleep and your snoring. And what it’s doing is it’s listening to you and it’s gauging how frequently you’re moving around. So we’ll put the snoring aside, just the moving around. Generally speaking, the deeper our sleep the less we move. The lighter our sleep, the more we kind of turn over or toss or wiggle.

And by listening to it and doing this analysis over a few days it starts to show you, OK, here’s how your sleep cycle is working. And it also will record you if you start to snore. So you can see how frequently you might have snored during the night and how loud it was. And you can play it back.

It’s also pretty smart. It knows to ignore your partner on the other side of the bed. It also knows to ignore kind of steady noise like a white noise machine or a fan. So it’s really looking for changes closer to it. It’s very smart. So far so good. I’m kind of digging it.

Oh, and the other thing it does is after it kind of gets you down, then you say, OK, look, I want to wake up – like I need to wake up tomorrow at 7:30. So you’ll say, OK, I need to wake up around 7:30. And it will say, “OK, we’re going to wake you up between 7:15 and 7:35. And we’re basically going to try and catch you on the upswing towards lighter sleep.” Pretty smart.

John: That’s nice. That’s very smart. So, I’ll check back in in two weeks and see whether you’re still using it.

Craig: Or find that just like, “Oh my god, I’m so tired. This thing is wrong.”

John: It would also be great if it was transmitting all your snoring data to be analyzed by machines or like if you’re talking in your sleep they’re building up evidence against you.

Craig: Yeah, that’s probably what’s happening.

John: That’s probably what’s happening.

Craig: Now that you’ve said it that actually does make the most sense.

John: Yeah. Maybe we could have a podcast that’s just Craig snoring.

Craig: I still wouldn’t listen to it. [laughs]

John: All right. That is our show for this week. It is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is by Phil Baker.

Craig: Oh, he’s new.

John: If you have an outro you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. For short questions on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.

We are on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps people find us. Also, if you’re listening on some other platform, there are other platforms, yeah, leave us a review there. That’s always great.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. I’ll also put up the outlines I have for the three TV shows I sold. So, basically I have kind of the pitch document that I went into the room with. It’s not exactly sort of what happens in the room, but it’s a good representation of the things I was talking about.

Craig: That’s good. You know, after Chernobyl airs, so we’re about–

John: [laughs] Three years away.

Craig: Well, a year and a half. About a year and a half away. But once it airs I will put all of that – I’ll put the scripts, the pitch documents, the bible. Everything. I’ll put it all up on your site.

John: Fantastic. You can find the transcripts for this episode and back episodes at johnaugust.com as well. Come join us on Thursday so we can talk to you and Julie Plec and Michael Green and Justin Marks about television and features and other great things. We’ll see you there at the live holiday show. Go to wgafoundation.org to get your tickets.

And if you want any of the back episodes, go to Scriptnotes.net. That is your best source. We also have a few of the USB drives left. They are $30 I want to say. They’re at store.johnaugust.com. They have the first 300 episodes of the program.

Craig: Doesn’t matter to me how much they cost because I don’t get any of the money.

John: You get none of the money Craig.

Craig: Go ahead. Charge $1,000. I don’t care.

John: Absolutely. The more we charge for them, the more we have to pay Megan and Matthew.

Craig: And to steal from me.

John: Yes. That’s the goal. Have a great week.

Craig: You too, John. See you soon.

John: See you, bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Five-Star Podnerships

Tue, 12/12/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig discuss showrunning, remaking existing IP, staffing, and fan behavior with Julie Plec (Vampire Diaries, The Originals), Michael Green (Bladerunner 2049, American Gods, Murder on the Orient Express, Logan), and Justin Marks (Jungle Book, Counterpart).

In light of the big Fox/Disney merger, we contemplate which other podcasts we should consider teaming with to preserve our market share and bottom line. We also take a look at some questionable five-star reviews.

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

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Don’t search with your eyes

Mon, 12/11/2017 - 16:35

This week, I’m editing the manuscript for the second Arlo Finch. I do most of my edits on paper because I find I catch a lot of mistakes I’d otherwise miss just scrolling on the screen.

One of the frustrations with this process can be trying to match up the errors you’ve found on paper with what’s in the file. You’re constantly scrolling, looking for the trouble spot. Highland 2 has a sidebar navigator and inline page numbers, both of which can help. But I’ve found the fastest solution is to stop scrolling altogether and use the built-in search function.

Let’s say you’re fixing a typo, like a missing ‘d’ on the door had been force open. It’s halfway down on page 183, but that doesn’t matter.

Hit Command-F and type had been force then return.

Boom. You’re right there. Fix the mistake and keep going.

Note that you want to search for a string of words, not just the one with the typo. You may have used force a dozen times, but you’re almost certain to have typed had been force just once.

In Highland 2 — and most Mac writing apps — the Find command starts searching from wherever your cursor is, so if you’re working through edits in order, you rarely have to be particularly narrow in your search query. Even if you use its claws scraped more than once in your book, it will always give you the next one first. That’s likely to be the one you want.

This technique probably saved me half an hour today, and a lot of eye fatigue. So try it out next time.

Scriptnotes, Ep 327: Mergers and Break Ups — Transcript

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 10:06

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 327 of Scriptnotes, of podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we’ll be discussing mergers, such as the proposed union of Fox and Disney. Then we’ll transition to breakups. It’s a new installment of This Kind of Scene, this time looking at how characters say goodbye for the last time.

Craig: Oh. This isn’t like a weird way for you to be breaking up with me, is it?

John: We’ll see if we get to the end of the episode.

Craig: Huh.

John: Yeah. But we should warn our listeners that there will be some bad words in this episode because some of the clips have some foul language. So if you are driving in the car with your kids, this is the standard warning about that.

Craig: Earmuffs.

John: Earmuffs. We have some follow up and news, exciting stuff. So, our live show, which we talked about last week on the episode, it is December 7, here in Hollywood. It is another event proposed and thrown by the Writers Guild Foundation. But we have guests now. It’s not just me and Craig. We have a bunch of showrunners joining us up on stage. So excited to announce that Julie Plec from Vampire Diaries and The Originals will be with us, along with Michael Green. He did American Gods and The Ripper. He also wrote some movies, Murder on the Orient Express, Blade Runner 2049, Logan.

Craig: Hmm.

John: Yeah, busy guy.

Craig: Heard of a few of them. You know what? He’s not lazy. That’s as far as I’ll go.

John: Absolutely. I think maybe his not laziness is one of the reasons why he’s somewhat successful.

Craig: Possibly.

John: Finally, Justin Marks. Justin Marks has a new show coming out called Counterpart. The trailer is great. I’m so excited to see his show. He also wrote this little movie called Jungle Book. And so the last time he was on the show we talked about Jungle Book, so now we will be talking about his television program which he filmed in Germany.

Craig: We get the best guests.

John: We do consistently get the best guests.

Craig: And the tickets are available now.

John: They are.

Craig: And I assume we’re going to be selling out, as we usually do, because we are the Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts.

John: I would hope we would sell out. But if you want to make sure you can get your ticket right now, don’t even look for the link in the show notes. You could look for that, but you could also just go to wgafoundation.org. Go to events and we are there for you to buy your tickets.

Craig: Yeah. And the Christmas show – I like to call it a Christmas show.

John: Yeah. No war on Christmas show.

Craig: Yeah. We don’t do that. Because you know, as a Jew, I have the privileged position of being able to declare that Chanukah is silly. It’s a silly holiday and it’s not an important holiday religiously. So, I appreciate Christmas. I think a lot of American Jews secretly appreciate Christmas because it’s so much better than Chanukah. And I don’t mind getting in trouble for this, by the way, not even in the slightest. Go ahead. Go ahead. Send emails about how great Chanukah is. I prefer Christmas as a secular Jew.

So our Christmas shows generally are a lot of fun. Everybody is in – you know what everyone is in? The holiday spirit.

John: The holiday spirit is a mighty good place to start any podcast and hopefully spirits are even more raised by the end of this show.

Craig: When you dump me? [laughs]

John: [laughs] On our last show, we had Scott Frank on to talk about his show Godless. Godless is now available to the whole world on Netflix.

Craig: That’s right. Have you started yet?

John: I have not. So I have only seen trailers. And so this is a thing which will make Scott sad, but he should also be happy. So I’m going to put it all on my iPad to take with me on my Christmas holiday travels because Mike will not watch it with me. I want to watch it. I will have ample time on planes over the holidays. So I’ll watch it with my good Bose headphones and I will enjoy it so much.

Craig: Yeah. That’s what Scott was hoping that you would watch it on your iPad. That’s his greatest – hey, by the way, how do you watch Netflix things on your iPad? Is there an app? A Netflix app?

John: There’s a Netflix app and you just click and download them. And it’s fantastic.

Craig: All right.

John: This past week I was traveling. I went to San Francisco, Chicago, and New York to do Arlo Finch book events, and so I had Stranger Things on my iPad saved. And so I could watch it on my iPad. It was delicious.

Craig: So you finished Stranger Things season two?

John: I have finished Stranger Things season two.

Craig: As have I. That was my London show. Pretty good, except that one episode. I just didn’t understand. And I don’t like saying bad things about shows, so I really enjoyed the series. I loved season one and I really enjoyed season two.

John: I really enjoyed season two also.

Craig: I was puzzled by Episode Seven. Just puzzled.

John: I was puzzled as well. And I thought you were subtweeting me when you said like I don’t say negative things about shows, because someone asked me about Episode Seven.

Craig: Oh, no. No, no. I think it’s fair to say that Episode Seven is – because look, if you like a show and the Duffer Brothers have done a tremendous job and once again the cast for Stranger Things is fantastic. And I watched all the way through, Episodes One through Nine. So they had me.

I like their show. But I feel then you’re allowed to say, “But, I’m also just puzzled by this one piece of it.” I think they are aware that it’s a polarizing episode.

John: For sure. Absolutely. I feel the same way as you do. I in many ways respected the effort and the attempt. It was like, oh, that was probably a fascinating idea on the whiteboard. I just didn’t think it actually became as good an hour as the rest of the hours.

Craig: We should get these guys on the show. This is a question I have. Because I’m really curious about it. And for those of you who have watched this show, you’ll understand. And if you haven’t, no spoilers here.

John: None.

Craig: Whatsoever. Do you think that part of the deal with Episode Seven was that they were essentially intentionally mimicking those kinds of movies from the ‘80s, in other words the tone of the characters, and that place, and the setting and all that stuff was essentially designed to be that way? Or were they just not hitting the mark of reality?

John: That is an absolutely fair and valid question. I feel like the overall style of those characters, I can see that as being you’re trying to pull from those other movie references. Great. I love that. But I didn’t believe them within the context of the world.

Craig: Yeah. Because once you bring in a character that you’re meant to believe is real, like Eleven, then it doesn’t quite connect up does it?

John: It does not quite connect up.

Craig: Doesn’t quite connect up. All right.

John: But I would love to ask the Duffer Brothers that question, because I think they made a remarkable run of terrific shows.

Craig: As do I. Yeah, come on the show guys.

John: That would be great. Lastly, I will say that if you would like to read the first five chapters of Arlo Finch, they are now up. That happened over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Craig: For free?

John: For free. So, just go to arlofinchbooks.com and you can look at the first five chapters there. There’s preorder links for the North American copy. But if you just want to read it, read it. And if you do take a look at it, it may be helpful to know essentially what you’re reading is kind of what I sold. Like that was what sold the book to Macmillan. Plus one additional chapter which is not included which is from later on in the book. But just a glimpse in to sort of what the book looked like before the whole book was written.

Craig: All right. Well, good luck with the sales. I expect this thing to be number one.

John: Well I hope to be somewhere on some list at some point and not of like the Most Disappointing Books of 2018.

Craig: Or Best Books You’ve Never Heard Of.

John: Yeah. Your daughter actually read it. Your daughter read an early–

Craig: Yep. She was a big fan. Big fan. She’ll show up for Arlo Finch 2.

John: Fantastic. So down the road I will be doing a book tour, so on future podcasts I’ll let you know. If you want to see me in some city near you, you can come out and see me as I sign books and talk to folks.

Craig: Yeah. Although anybody that comes out to see you will no doubt miss me.

John: That’s pretty much what it is. I’m going to travel around with a cardboard standee of Craig and maybe we’ll just record little bits of select umbrage. So people walk up and you just say something to them about them. That might be it.

Craig: Yeah. Just so they can get their fix.

John: Yeah. You just say “specificity” a lot.

Craig: And “intentionality.”

John: Intentionality is very good. There was a moment of intentionality–

Craig: Segue Man.

John: — the past two weeks. We sort of missed it on this last episode because it was a rerun, but Disney was in talks to buy 20th Century Fox.

Craig: And still are, right?

John: And still are. And also Comcast/Universal is apparently kicking the tires of Fox as well. So, I thought we’d start by talking about what this is and what it means. Because on previous episodes we’ve talked about integrations. We’ve talked about vertical integrations where because of consent decrees, like studios are not allowed to own exhibitors. They’re not allowed to own national movie houses. But this is an example of horizontal integration, where two competitors are merging and becoming like one bigger thing. And while there’s some fascinating things that could happen in terms of fandom unification and cinematic universes being combined, I don’t think it would be a great outcome for writers. I’m curious what you think.

Craig: Well, jury is out on that, I think. What they’re talking about buying is Fox’s movie production studio, 20th Century Fox films, or I guess 21st Century Fox films. And they’re also talking about buying Fox’s television production arm, which is Fox Television, but not Fox the network, not Fox News, not Fox Sports, and for reasons we’ll get into.

The question is what happens if one of the major movie studios seemingly disappears. And so two of this dwindling number of movie studios becomes one movie studio. One way of looking at it is, well, that’s that many fewer jobs for screenwriters. Another way of looking at is probably – I mean, unless a studio is considering buying Fox just for the library, the odds are that they’re still going to continue to put movies out and that in fact it’s not writers, producers, directors, and actors who will lose jobs, it’s studio employees who will ultimately be laid off. Because you don’t need – there is a certain economy of scale. You don’t need two full marketing departments to run Disney Fox. You need one slightly larger marketing department to run Disney Fox.

So, that’s where I think jobs will be lost. Now, it’s possible that they’re just buying it for the library sake and for certain rights, in which case then that’s a problem.

John: So when the news first broke I went back and looked at the 2016 box office. And if you add Fox and Disney together they control 39% of the US box office. That’s a huge figure. And so I think we have to be approaching this thinking like not only will this change the nature of Marvel things all coming together, or Disney would control The Simpsons which is a huge thing, too. It would really be a huge game changer just in terms of the overall industry.

If you are Paramount, or Sony, or Warners, suddenly you’re competing against this thing which is three times your size.

Craig: Yeah. And you’re absolutely right about that. Now, one thing that may come into play to sort of help out a little bit is that Disney has a certain brand contract with its customers that no other studio has. Everyone understands that Disney puts out a certain kind of movie. Now, back when we started in the business Disney had an arm that could put out Rated R films, and they did.

John: Hollywood Pictures.

Craig: Hollywood Pictures. If it’s the sphinx it stinks. And Touchstone also was able to put out Rated R movies. And some of them were really Rated R. And at that time Disney didn’t quite have the same sort of all row in one direction philosophy. They don’t make Rated R movies at all. They don’t make films for grownups per se. They make all-audiences movies.

So, one thing that may happen is they may say, look, we don’t want this company to be called Disney Fox. We’ll be Disney, you’ll be Fox, obviously everybody is owned by the same parent corporation, but Fox can still make Fox movies, because that is a different brand. And that the purchase here, aside from the library, is about pulling in some of the properties that they wish they had that Fox has the rights to like X-Men, and so on and so forth. And also I would say probably limiting competition in the animation space, which is disconcerting for animation writers.

But I could see a version of this where actually the individual control on a day to day basis maybe is kind of separate. And so the person that runs the Walt Disney Pictures slate is not also overseeing the Fox slate. But, I’ll tell you one area where this is very disturbing and disconcerting, and that’s when it comes time every three years for the companies to negotiate with the unions. Because if you have one company that is responsible for as you say essentially 40% of the box office, they become the biggest voice in the room. And that can be a real issue.

John: Definitely. I think my concern even if you do keep Fox as a whole separate label and a whole separate brand, that only goes to a certain distance. I know from times where we’ve been trying to sell a spec script for a feature screenplay or to sell a TV series, ultimately they may say they’re separate buyers. They talk about things individually. But if you have a feature project going into Fox it may be going to big Fox, it might be going to Fox 2000 or Fox Animation. But they’re not going to compete against each other for a property. And I think the same thing would happen between Disney and Fox. If they both want something, ultimately some big person at Disney will decide, OK, this is where it’s going to go. They’re not going to get into a bidding war with each other.

Craig: Yeah. In all likelihood that is correct. There are provisions for those things and they do occasionally happen. Actually happened weirdly in a way with our sheep movie. But generally speaking you’re right. And Disney I think is probably less inclined to do that than any other studio would be. So, generally speaking this is going to be a terrific deal for Disney. I guess for the larger Fox Corporation this is about getting a premium on their library and so forth and just retreating to their core businesses which is “news” and actual sports.

John: Yeah. I don’t fully understand it from Fox’s point of view. I can understand if Fox decided like, you know what, we’re going to sell off all this stuff. Disney is the best buyer for it because you know Disney will pay a premium because Disney can get the most value out of it. I guess I just don’t see the benefit for the Murdoch Company to get rid of Fox. I think Fox feels profitable. It feels like a business you want to be in because people are still going to need these things.

I’ve heard it said that they are concerned that they’re not going to have the power to be able to stand up against a Netflix, against Amazon, as streaming becomes more dominant as we sort of move to a post-cable universe. But I just don’t fully get it. I don’t fully see that it’s a better idea just to sell off what I perceive to be a tremendous amount of value in these titles and in the things you’re going to be making down the road.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a little bit of a sign that they know something we don’t. You know what I mean? Because we can’t quite tell why they’re steering their boat to the shore. Perhaps we can’t see the waterfall ahead that they can. It may be that everyone at the corporate level has looked ahead and decided that if they can’t compete with Netflix, Amazon, Apple, etc. as their own streaming entity controlling their own material that they will suffer. And then that ultimately reduces their value and reduces their leverage. So, maybe Fox is saying, look, we can’t get there on our own. But we can get top dollar right now if we sell to Disney. Disney can get there on their own. And it will be even easier for them to get there this way. Because Disney is essentially going to create a competitor with Netflix.

John: Let’s take a look at the roadblocks in the way to making this kind of deal happen. So, theoretically the government could step in and say no-no that’s a monopoly situation or near monopoly situation. You already have sort of an oligopoly situation in terms of the limited number of buyers for certain kinds of properties.

The US government hasn’t seemed to be very interested in enforcing anti-trust rules or sort of going into new territory. They seem to perceive anti-trust as being anything that would hurt consumers. And it’s not clear that this deal would necessarily hurt consumers. There’s no evidence here that there’s any reason why prices would go up for consumers which seems to be the litmus test for a lot of anti-trust decisions.

Do you see any reason why the government would get involved?

Craig: I don’t. I mean, they’ll get involved to the extent that they have to vet the deal. But Disney apparently has removed the roadblocks prospectively. There was never going to be a chance where they could own two studios like Fox and ABC, for instance. There was never going to be a situation where they could control two major news sources like ABC News and Fox News. Nor would I think would Disney want to go anywhere near Fox News right now.

And then sports-wise, the biggest monopolistic or market control concern would be if ESPN and Fox Sports were the same company. Those are the two largest sports broadcasters, I believe.

So, no, I don’t think that there is anything in the way in terms of monopolies. Even monopolies technically can survive if they don’t appear to be harming consumers. There doesn’t appear to be any ability to squash competition here. There is still plenty of vibrant competition. No, I don’t see any reason that this wouldn’t go through.

John: So the other obstacles along the way would be someone else coming in and saying, “You know what? If you’re going to sell, we’re going to buy and we’re going to pay a premium that Disney isn’t willing to pay.” And it would have to be probably a huge company and a huge amount of money. But Apple could pay for it. Netflix maybe could pay for it. Amazon might be able to pay for it. Because especially Netflix and Amazon, they have a really good interest in sort of making sure that Disney doesn’t get too huge and keep them from getting access to some of the content that they want.

Craig: Yeah, that’s absolutely possible. Maybe the problem with Amazon and Netflix or Apple purchasing Fox is they wouldn’t really know what to do with it. They don’t want it. In other words the only reason to buy it would be to keep Disney from having it.

So, I don’t know. It’s a fascinating thing to watch. If I’m going to be pessimistic, my big concern isn’t that these two companies might be combining. My concern is that this is the beginning of the great combine of 2020 where suddenly we end up with three movie studios.

John: Do you ever play those simulations where you have little planets and you have other little planets circling and eventually they get too close and they glob together and gravity kicks in? That is also the vision I sort of see here. These two things combined become so big that the gravity sucks in Paramount. It sucks in maybe Warners, certainly Sony. I feel like lots of those little things could just become – you know, just three giant companies.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You know, in talking with booksellers this last week it’s fascinating to look at sort of the consolidation that is happening in publishing. And so you have to say Penguin Random House which just seems like too long of a name for something. But these giant entities are merged. And that’s challenging for everybody involved.

Craig: And generally speaking when two big companies merge, everybody that is remaining starts to look at each other saying, ‘Oh, apparently we’re pairing up for a big dance here so you/me, how about you and me?” Because you don’t want to become an also ran. And there’s a long history of studios that were once powerful and then sort of disappeared. MGM was once a real studio.

John: Oh yeah. RKO. Yeah.

Craig: RKO was once a real studio. United Artists. Orion. They existed. And then they stopped existing in part because it wasn’t that they maybe failed or got super small relative to where they began. It’s that they got super small relative to the size that everybody else was growing at. And so I could see where this leads to Warners/Universal, which would be really complicated. I’m not sure how any of that works.

John: Yeah. It would be very, very complicated. They would have a lot of land but what would their future be?

Craig: I was wondering how this would work out with the Fox lot in Century City, whether Disney would also be purchasing that lot or if the lot would be owned – I would imagine it would still be owned by Fox but then they would be renting space back to – or does Disney not even care about that lot?

John: Yeah. The real estate history of Hollywood and the film industry is fascinating. So I’ll try to find a good article we can put in the show notes for basically Los Angeles was in some ways shaped by where these studios set up their different home bases. And so Century City is called Century City because it was 20th Century Fox. And after I think it was Cleopatra, 20th Century Fox had to sell off a lot of their land because of their losses and that became Century City. Disney still has a big footprint. Paramount used to have a bigger footprint in Hollywood. It’s fascinating the degree to which these big sections of Los Angeles were all just film studios.

Craig: And at some point the land starts to become more valuable than the studio. I mean, Paramount for instance right now, I would imagine their greatest asset is their land.

John: It’s got to be. And I was reading an article recently, I’ll put a link in the show notes to this as well, that CBS Television Studios on Fairfax is looking at selling because that land now is incredibly valuable.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: So, right now they film soap operas out of there and they film soap operas out of there and they film The Survivor finale – hi Jeff Probst, if you’re listening.

Craig: Hey Jeff.

John: You know, that land is worth so much right now. It’s right next to the Grove. That’s prime LA real estate. And so–

Craig: And they can shoot those things anywhere. They can shoot The Price is Right in Pacoima. They don’t need to be right there at the corner, you know, right next to Fairfax High and the Grove. So you’re right. And similarly when you look at – in particular you look at Fox. I mean, that real estate, even though it’s smaller than the Paramount Lot, I believe–

John: Yeah, still great real estate.

Craig: The location, I would assume that real estate is on an aggregate basis worth even more than Paramount. So, I don’t know what’s going to – this is all fascinating.

But you know what, John? This is what the money people do and think about. We – we don’t have to think about this.

John: No. Because we think of the creative decisions. We think about what’s happening in the movies. And so let’s make our big transition the feature topic for today which is Breakups. So, last time we did a segment on This Kind of Scene, people afterwards suggested other things. And I think it was Alex Blagg in my Twitter feed who suggested, oh, you should do one on breakups, which is a great idea. Because so many movies have breakups. They’re kind of a crucial way of either putting a character out on a path or forcing a character to confront sort of a worst of a worst at the end of the second act as they go into the next phase of their life.

There’s a tremendous way of just revealing what’s going on inside a character and the choices the character has to make going forward.

Craig: Yeah. And it is an interesting kind of scene because unlike a lot of them it really can serve two wildly different purposes. And you’ve basically put your finger on it, right? If you have a movie about somebody that is recovering from a wound you want to start them with the breakup. And if it’s a movie where somebody is outgrowing a relationship or the relationship needs to be tested and either succeed or fail, or somebody is moving past something to go onto something bigger then the breakup can come later on in the movie. But they’re two completely different purposes. And also tonally breakups are incredibly flexible. You can do a really funny one. You can do a really sad one. You can do one that’s quiet. You could do one that’s screaming.

Think of a breakup really as a set piece. I mean, it’s as flexible as the notion of stopping your movie to do an event. Like a car chase or physical comedy scene or a fist fight or a montage.

John: Absolutely. And once that moment happens, the rest of the movie is different. By definition, you’ve changed the trajectory of the movie greatly once that breakup has occurred.

So on Twitter I asked people for their suggestions for breakup scenes. Once again, we have the best listeners in the entire universe. People suggested six or seven movies we’re going to take a listen to today. But let’s start with our first clip. Any discussion of film I think it’s required to include Casablanca at some point and we’ve never done that. So this–

Craig: That’s crazy.

John: This is from Casablanca, screenplay by Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein and Howard Koch, Directed by Michael Curtis. Let’s take a listen.

[Casablanca clip plays]

And scene. Craig Mazin, not only classic lines in this little piece, but also a character is speaking his truth. Tell me about the scene.

Craig: Well, first of all just aside from the writing and the story, it always makes me wistful when I see this because there is something that we have lost. There’s just a look of these people, you know, just Bergman and Bogie and just their faces and the way the black and white works. It’s just remarkable.

This is a breakup scene you can’t do anymore. It’s very much a scene where someone is dumping somebody else but for noble reasons, even when he says it’s not noble. But then he explains why it is noble and we understand it. And really what it comes down to is one person is telling another one why he has figured out what is best for the two of them.

From a story point of view, there are times when you need two people to break up, and you don’t want to feel bad about it. You want the audience to feel wistful, but you want them to feel like, you know what, this is what needs to happen here. Let’s be sad about it but accept it. It’s a tricky thing to do because of course in reality that’s nearly impossible to break up with somebody so cleanly, so romantically.

I mean, the thing about this scene is somehow my feminine side is even more in love with Bogie after he’s dumped me. [laughs] Which is remarkable. But, you know, look, there’s an enormous amount of old school patriarchy here. “I did the thinking for both of us.” And even the line, “Here’s looking at you, kid,” I mean, it’s so infantilizing. But he really is just laying it out for her.

You know, she is an international person who has been involved in politics and intrigue and now he’s explaining to her why their love story doesn’t matter because there’s more important things in the world. You know, “the problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans.”

Look, in a modern analysis it’s incredibly patronizing. But, inside of it it is a little bit of a masterclass on how to turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse, because you do end up understanding on an emotional level, putting all the politics aside, when Ilsa looks at him at the end there you know that she loves him for what is happening right there in the moment. And that’s an achievement.

John: Yeah. It struck me listening to this scene and then going through some of the ones we’re about to approach that breakups tend to be monologues, or essentially sort of slightly interrupted monologues, where one person basically lays out the case for why this breakup is happening. And the other person just has to respond. And there are a couple of cases we’re going to get to where it’s a little bit more even split between the two of them, but a lot of times it’s one character is driving the decision for why this has to end. Why this is the best choice or the only choice going forward.

And this is a very classic – this is – often you’ll see the breakup in the first act, really more the first ten pages, or going into the third act. But this is we’re walking off into the sunset. This is it’s all going to be over. This is the final parting. So it has a very different feeling. And I think you’re right, you’ve made this contract with your audience about what’s going to happen, and so part of that contract has to be respecting the investment they’ve made into this relationship and that you’re ending it in a way that leaves them hopeful for the characters. I think a crueler breakup, a crueler just like get out of here would not satisfy that contract you’ve made with the audience.

Craig: Yeah. Especially in the time. I mean, look, happy endings were the name of the game. And we’ll see an older film soon enough in our list here where it is the typical happy ending. So you can almost imagine the discussions that were happening when they were talking to the Epsteins. “OK, well, guys, we get that you don’t want them to have the happy ending, but you have to make us feel happy about it.” And they were like, “well, what if he sort of underlines how they have more important things to do?” And they’re like, “OK, yeah, but it’s not very romantic.”

“Well, what if he says to her that they once had a great love and that has now been rekindled in a way that they can carry with them in their own hearts separately?” “OK, that’s better.” Right? So this whole bit, “We’ll always have Paris,” we had it once and then we lost it, but now we have it again.

Look, there is a way to read this scene where it’s just a masterful sociopath manipulating this woman. I mean, because, look what is screenwriting after all but the manipulation of people. We’re using our left brain in combination with our right brain to create emotional feelings in the audience that we’re designing. It is definitionally manipulative. But we have to believe it and then believe that it feels OK. And certainly for the time I think they did a masterful job in making us feel OK about it.

John: Agreed. Let’s take a listen to another clip, this one almost completely the opposite in every way from Casablanca. This is from Forgetting Sarah Marshall by Jason Segel. Directed by Nick Stoller. And this one, it’s a little bit strange of a clip for us to be playing in a podcast because it’s really quiet. But I should give you some context if you haven’t seen the scene or don’t remember the movie.

As Kristen Bell enters the scene, Jason Segel is walking out of the bathroom just wearing a towel. He then drops a towel and flings his penis side to side, so that is the flapping you hear is his penis hitting on his–

Craig: Thighs.

John: His thighs basically. Let’s take a listen.

[Forgetting Sarah Marshall clip plays]

What I love so much about this clip is that it is so quiet. That it’s not – there’s no big talking. There’s no big explanation. He catches on just as we sort of catch on just by the vibe of the room. Like, oh no, this is terrible, this is going to end. And the notion of “if I put some clothes on then this is really over,” he wants to hang out in this really uncomfortable moment because at least he’s in this uncomfortable moment with her. And whenever this transition comes where he’s not in this horrible moment with her, he’s not with her at all.

So, it’s such a great notion that this is awful, but I’d rather stay in this awful than get on to the next thing.

Craig: Did I ever talk about David Zucker’s comedy term “driving instructor?”

John: No, tell me about that.

Craig: So, they were making Naked Gun and at one point they needed a car chase. And they wanted it to be funny, but they were struggling because they were just putting funny things that he was doing into the car chase. Like he would mistakenly hit something that he shouldn’t hit, or you know, stop at a light when he shouldn’t be stopping. Whatever it was. And it was just not working.

And then they landed on this idea that he was going to take over somebody else’s car. And that that car was in fact – there was a driving instructor – John Houseman, the great John Houseman – sitting in the passenger seat. And then a typical teenage girl sitting behind the wheel petrified because she’s never driven before. And he gets in the back and says, “Follow that car.”

So, John Houseman says, “All right.” He never changes his tone. He goes, “Put the car in drive. Proceed forward.” And so the driving instructor was the comic engine that allowed them to be funny throughout. It was the thing that gave a spine to this piece and gave them the ability to do multiple jokes.

And here it’s so smart that the driving instructor here is “I am hanging on, I don’t want you to leave me. I don’t want to break up. And I feel,” as you said, “if I put my pants on then our typical boyfriend/girlfriend intimacy is gone and it will be gone permanently. So, I have to keep doing stuff while I have not pants on.”

John: Yeah, John Houseman is basically Jason Segel’s penis.

Craig: That’s right. Which, you know, listen, that’s not an original observation. It’s been said many times. But that’s absolutely correct.

But this breakup scene is a fantastic example of a breakup scene that is designed to draw us to a character and make us love them. This scene is designed to evoke terrible empathy/pity. We now have an immediate rooting interest in this character getting happy again.

John: Absolutely. And I think what’s also crucial is we don’t hate Sarah Marshall. There’s a thousand versions where she’s the worst person on earth and we do not want him to pursue her at all, because we hate her. But because she still remains sympathetic through the scene, we are invested in like “maybe he has a shot. Maybe it’s not complete folly for him to go after her again.” And that’s what you need. That’s the driving engine of this whole plot. This is the premise scene of because of the nature of this scene he’s going to go on this journey to try to get her back.

Craig: Yeah. It would actually ruin the moment and drive us away from Jason’s character if she were somehow antagonistic. Because then we would think you’re better off without her, so I guess we’re just waiting around for you to figure that out. That’s unsatisfying. We don’t like to be ahead of our characters. I think probably every human has felt this at some point or another unfortunately. And it’s the feeling of rejection.

And we don’t feel that feeling when somebody we don’t like rejects us. We feel it when somebody we really, really love rejects us. And I think for us to identify with Jason’s character we need to also be able to look at Sarah Marshall, at Kristen’s character, and say “yeah I could see why he’s so in love with you.”

John: Yeah. Completely. All right, let’s take a listen to our next movie which is 500 Days of Summer by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, directed by Marc Webb. So, in the clip you’re about to hear we hear both Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel in sort of real time having a conversation, but we also hear Joseph Gordon-Levitt recapping what happened in the scene to I think it’s his sister, Chloe Grace Moretz. So that’s the cross-cutting you hear.

[500 Days of Summer clip plays]

All right, Craig, so this scene is sort of doing both things. It’s talking about the end of a relationship but it’s structurally at the start of the movie because things are happening out of sequence in the film.

Craig: Yeah. So it’s a real shot across the bow. I mean, we just said you can open your movie with this breakup scene the way that Sarah Marshall does and we understand the movie is about you somehow healing that wound. You can end a movie like they did in Casablanca with a break, which is about two characters ascending to some higher plane separately without each other.

Here, right off the bat, Scott and Michael and Marc say to us, hey, we’re not doing the normal story. We are going to be telling a romance story. These people are going to meet. They’re going to fall in love. We’re going to show you that they broke up right off the bat. You’re never going to have to worry that you’re ahead of us. We’re just going to lay it all out there because that’s not what this movie is about. This movie is about the spaces in between. It’s not about the story, or the what. It’s about the why.

That said, it’s a terrific breakup scene. Even if it had been in sequence. Because it’s so cruel.

John: Yeah. It’s cruel with a smile in a way that’s really sort of important. And what I find so fascinating is because it’s recognizing that the audience is catching up with these characters, it has to be very methodical and very clever in how it’s letting you know who these characters are at different points in the relationship. It needs to know what you are thinking, what the characters are thinking.

I have to imagine even on the set as they were shooting these scenes they had to be just really careful with not only where the characters were at, but where the audience was at based on what the audience already knew about the characters.

Craig: Yeah. But it’s very brave. They are not really holding your hand too much. They are right on the edge of confusion. And the important thing for us watching it is we may not quite understand how he so quickly gets that she’s dumping him because we haven’t seen the relationship yet.

Once you get through the movie, you go back and watch it again, you’re like, “oh yeah, I completely get it now. I, too, would also know what she’s doing here.” But it was enough for us to know that he knew.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And when he walks out, Scott and Michael give us a little gift. So, congratulations, you’re not puzzled. She’s going to say, “But we can still be friends.” Yes, we knew what was going on. We got it right.

John: Yeah. For sure. All right, next let’s take a listen to Love & Basketball. It’s written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. This is a scene between Sanaa Lathan and Omar Epps. And in the longer clip you’ll see that she actually is talking about how busy she is before it gets into the section that we’re going to listen to. But let’s take a listen to their breakup scene. This is happening in the second act.

[Love & Basketball clip plays]

Craig, Omar Epps would still like to be friends.

Craig: So, we can still be friends is the universal oh-god-no statement. And, again, I believe everyone at some point or another has heard another person say that to them, completely sincerely, or insincerely, but unironically. I love this scene. This is my kind of breakup scene.

So, this is traditional. I think of this scene as a traditional breakup scene where two people who are in a relationship have a fight. So there’s a back and forth. There is a parrying and I think far truer to the way real breakups work where there is a back and forth and essentially a blame game. And both people are trying to kind of get the perspective advantage on the other person. I’m seeing this from a bigger point of view. No I am. No I am, no I am. Back and forth. Back and forth.

What I love about this scene is that there’s a shape to it. A lot of times fights will be flabby. They just sort of run along. As they do in real life. They go in circles and things are repeated and they run along. This is very well structured. And there’s a surprise. The breakup part is a surprise. And I think this is the challenge we have as writers when we’re doing traditional scenes. And Gina Prince-Bythewood does exactly what you need to do, which is figure out a way to be fresh. She decides what I’m going to do is I’m going to do a breakup scene but I’m going to make it seem like the point of the breakup scene is “how do we stay together.” And then at the end he reveals, “no-no-no, you think that’s what this argument is. What I’m building up to is I’m dumping you.” And that’s really smart.

John: Absolutely. So she’s trying like how do we save this relationship because he’s already pulling the rip cord.

Another crucial thing which I think we need to talk about is this scene is semi-public. And by semi-public means they are having a conversation just between the two of them, but at a certain point people cross through the scene. And so they have to stop arguing so that people can get past them. And it forms a very natural break in the scene. So it’s useful writing wise because it gives a chance to pivot. But it’s also a thing that happens in the real world. It makes it feel more grounded and real. Suddenly not everyone has left the college campus just so these two people can have this argument.

Like letting some other people drift through the argument gives these characters a little more ground and a little more reality and makes the scene feel appropriately real for this kind of movie.

Craig: Yeah. And I really liked the reactions that were going on because there isn’t tears. There isn’t sobbing. There isn’t screaming or yelling. It actually operates in a way that I think again most breakups do operate. They are spoken. The tears come after. The screaming, and the crying, and the sobbing comes after, unless you’re trying to be comedic like Forgetting Sarah Marshall where you should go over the top. That’s the point.

But here it’s really more of a sense of being stunned. That is what you’re kind of getting to is that shock of having the rug pulled out from under you. And that’s why it’s so important when you’re writing a scene like this to shock the audience as well as the character, otherwise when she’s shocked we’re not.

John: Yeah. So once again she’s the Jason Segel character from Forgetting Sarah Marshall. This has come as a surprise to her. The difference is it’s not clear that Omar Epps walked into the scene knowing that he was going to say what he was going to say. It just sort of happened in the course of the scene. It’s a longer scene and as the fight began it got to this point, versus Sarah Marshall where she shows up with an agenda. I’m going to end this thing.

Craig: Right. And you can believe that he may have thought in the back of his mind, “All right. I’m going to give this one more shot here.” And it just quickly goes south.

When these things happen, when you tell somebody that you don’t want to be with them anymore, I think oftentimes they are the result of an emotional snap. It’s rarely planned out ahead of time. I think a lot of people are trying to kind of keep it going. And then finally you just go, “oh god, I have to listen to myself at last. The pain of this confrontation, of guilt, of having to absorb the burdens of the feelings I’m about to create in another person are no longer as burdensome to me as my need to stop this.”

So, I believed it.

John: Yeah. It’s also fascinating when you see quiet people having fights. Because this isn’t a big loud shouting fight. Last year when we were in Paris, we were waiting to pick my daughter up at school and we were crossing this bridge and there was this couple that was having the loudest fight I’ve ever seen. Screaming at the top of their lungs. And to the point where we kind of interceded because we were trying to make sure that the woman felt safe and stuff. And both these people fighting turned on us and said like, “Stay out of our business.” And then they proceeded to keep yelling at each other.

It was such a weird moment, but I realized that as a basically quiet person I could not even perceive that you could have a fight at that level. And this is a thing that could happen in the real world. I kept looking around for cameras, like who has this kind of fight.

Craig: This cartoon fight?

John: But they kept walking and shouting at each other until they finally faded in the distance. These characters in Love & Basketball are not those big loud shouters. And so they have the same feelings, but they’re quieter feelings. And when they come out this is what they sound like. So I was impressed by the reality of this.

Craig: I like that somewhere there is a French couple that talks about this nosy American.

John: Totally, yeah.

Craig: Who took it upon himself to solve their – they weren’t even having a real – it wasn’t like one of their real fights where they burn each other with cigarettes. It was just one of their average fights where they scream at the top of their lungs.

John: They were throwing trash at each other. Like they would go through trash cans and pull stuff out and throw it at each other.

Craig: Those two people actually sound amazing. Like I wish – Melissa and I have never loved each other enough to throw trash at each other, you know. We have a more subdued love.

John: You know who had a really subdued love?

Craig: No.

John: It’s those two guys in Brokeback Mountain. So that’s our next clip.

Craig: Very subdued.

John: So a screenplay by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana. This movie is directed by Ang Lee. It is delightful but I’d not watched it since it came out and I had not listened to it. So let’s take a listen to this clip. This is the one that has the most bad language, so warning on that. Let’s take a listen.

[Brokeback Mountain clip plays]

Oh, Jack and Ennis. Craig Mazin, did you wince a little bit when they said Brokeback Mountain?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. It’s just one of those things where when you say the title of the film you’re like, oh no, no you didn’t just do that.

Craig: Yeah. They did it. They did it. But, you know, the thing is we all know the name now. I guess when I saw the movie it was still a term that hadn’t been said a billion times. Also, this is one of those lines like that we always misremember. So I always remembered it as, “I can’t quit you.” But it’s actually, “I wish I could quit you,” right?

John: “I wish I knew how to quit you.”

Craig: “I wish I knew how to quit you.” It’s such a great line. So, here’s an example where people are shouting at each other and it’s incredibly high drama. Like super high drama. Everything is pitched at a nine or a ten, including a full breakdown and everything. But, it is in fact the culmination of a very long, quiet, repressed, volcano of a romance. So it makes sense.

And really this breakup scene isn’t so much about them breaking up as it is about Ennis turning his back on himself and the man he loves.

John: Yeah. I think so many breakup scenes though are really about a character’s sense of their own identity. Do they see themselves as existing independently of this other person? Who do they want to be beyond this point?

And you have two characters here who want different things out of each other. And they cannot come to terms with that and that’s the nature of the conflict between them.

But, I mean, in many cases every relationship is about each person wants some different things. And in this case it’s just the most extreme version of that.

Craig: It is an example though of how you need to identify with one of the sparring partners. So when we look at Love & Basketball for instance, I’m identifying with Sanaa Lathan because she’s the one who is about to be surprised, so I get surprised with her. And also she’s trying to explain herself. It just feels more like her scene. And similarly here I identify with Heath Ledger because I feel like he’s the one who is going through this other thing. And in a weird way they’re having this argument and I think that Jack is right. You know, I mean, they’re screaming at each other but Jack is correct. Because Ennis is going to pull this baloney on him and basically say “if you’re sleeping around with other guys, if I were to know that I might kill you.”

And Jack basically reads him the riot act and he’s totally right. And this is where Ennis, Heath Ledger’s character, just cannot – ultimately can’t handle it. He just cannot let the lie go. And they both know at that point it’s over. That’s it. He’s made his choice.

So, there’s a perspective there that I think is really important to keep in mind when we write these scenes. It should be a good argument, but sometimes it’s OK if the argument is out of whack in the sense that we’re like, “no-no-no, that person is absolutely correct. They win the argument.” Because the person who loses the argument, there is information in why they lost that could be very valuable.

John: Well, always be mindful of the audience’s expectations and the audience’s hopes. And so I think the audience’s hope at this point is that Jack will convince Ennis that, you know what, we really do belong together. Let’s make this all work out. And that is sort of why we’re on Jack’s side. That’s why we’re rooting for Jack to succeed here.

But I think this is an interesting scene in that so often in breakups all of our energy is with one character. Like we can only really see one character’s perspective. And the other character is a monster. Here I am very sympathetic to Heath Ledger’s plight. And because we spent quite a bit of time with him as well.

So often in these stories you really have your protagonist and you have the love interest who is attached to the protagonist but you’re not seeing their point of view independently. And in this case we are seeing what their lives are like separately and we understand a lot more what’s going on with Heath Ledger. And so it’s a tragedy because we know why they’re not together, but we still are hoping somehow they will get together.

Craig: That’s right. And I think that this scene is a great guideline for the sort of character and story meat that needs to be there to warrant this level of drama.

John: For sure.

Craig: Which is bordering on melodrama. You basically have to have somebody not just breaking up with someone. They have to be torpedoing their entire life. Otherwise it just feels like soap opera. And soap operas get a bad rep in part because they just indulge in this sort of melodrama without these kind of enormous upheavals going on underneath. But when you’re writing a movie you can do it. You just need to earn it. And in this case they earn it because of what happens with Heath Ledger. If it didn’t end that way, then that scene would have been a bit ridiculous I think.

John: Yeah. We always say that movies are about stories that can only happen once. And this is a scene that can only happen once between these two characters. If it happened more than once then you’re annoyed with these people because you can only have this fight once.

Craig: [laughs] You’re just like, I was totally into you emotionally, and now I realize you’re just annoying, screamy me-mes who like to just yell at each other all the time. And you don’t have any real – like you’re just nuts. That’s the problem with you two. You guys are just crazy.

So, you’re right. You can only do this once.

John: Yeah. I won’t single out any one picture for it, but a lot of times in biopics I will see basically they go to the same scene like three times. It’s like, no I’m done. This scene, this happened once. We’re done. Let’s move on. But because they’re biopics, in real life people do kind of linger around each other, or they fight and they make up and they stay together. But in a movie I want it once. I don’t want it again and again.

Craig: No question. It just loses its impact if it happens more than once.

John: All right. For our final scene let’s take a listen to Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It is by George Axelrod, based on the novel by Truman Capote. This movie directed by Blake Edwards. I always forgot that Blake Edwards directed this movie. Let’s take a listen.

[Breakfast at Tiffany’s clip plays]

So, a thing you may not have caught from the audio clip is she has her cat and she puts her cat out in the rain. And then we see this single shot of this cat, just like drenched in rain, staring back at the car as it drives off. I have never been so angry as I’m seeing this cat just sitting there in the rain.

Craig, talk me off my ledge.

Craig: Someone left their cat out in the rain. That’s the most melodramatic song ever written. MacArthur Park. Not about a cat, but a cake.

Well, this is dated.

John: Yes.

Craig: You know, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a movie that is beloved for all sorts of good reasons. It is also remarkably dated for so many reasons, most notably perhaps the single most racist performance in film history. And that’s saying something when film history includes Birth of a Nation. So it’s dated.

This is a very operatic sort of thing. And they’re making this point. We would do this so differently now, because I just think we’re more sophisticated now. The idea is that this is going to be a breakup that unbreaks-up. And it unbreaks-up because this man delivers a kind of stinging rebuke of this woman’s problem. He states her problem. He summarizes her problem. It’s all incredibly written. I mean, nobody talks like this. Nobody has the presence of mind to deliver this. We would say now that feels written.

But the whole point is you’re afraid of being in love, which is a very shopworn problem that movie characters have far more than real people. I’m still waiting to meet a real person that is afraid of being in love. Yes, she realizes that he’s right, of course, and then runs after him. But the cat becomes a symbol of their love, and she threw it out of the cab. And then about two minutes later she desperately wants it back. Finds it. Is super happy. And then they’re together and they kiss.

It’s very simplistic. And I think this is sort of an example of what to no longer do.

John: Yeah, it’s interesting that we’re bookending this with Casablanca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s because they’re both classic movies and loved for reasons they should be loved. But in both situations the female characters are not being well-served by their male screenwriters. Casablanca, you get sort of why it is this way. But to have the man explain to the woman what’s really going on and what she should want is a frustrating trope.

Craig: It is. And they’ve also stacked the deck. They’ve made it so that she has this glaring problem that he can just summarize before stepping away from a cab. This also, in general I think when characters do things like unceremoniously get rid of a symbol of their love, like the cat, we’d like a little bit more time to pass before they go looking for the cat again. I think in today’s world the cat would be gotten rid of. She would go home. He would go home. She would be alone. She would miss the cat. She would go out at night to try and find the cat. It would take some time, you know.

It’s all so compressed. And I think fake. And I don’t mean to beat up Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Again, there’s a classic romantic aspect to it. And we generally are able to put these films in their time period and emotionally adjust on the fly. But the ending never struck me as particularly compelling. I never felt it, you know? Whereas the ending of Casablanca I absolutely feel because Ingrid Bergman sells me 100% that she feels in that moment. And that’s the key, you know, is that she feels through that thing, even though the screenplay completely robs her of agency at the very end, which is a disaster. But at least emotionally she feels true.

And here I actually don’t feel that Audrey Hepburn is emotionally true. It seems like it’s all being acted.

John: Yeah. I would agree with you here. So what lessons can we take overall from these breakup scenes? I guess I would look for breakups are this opportunity to really have characters talk about their feelings or expose their feelings that would be hard to get out in normal scenes. We’ve used the term operatic a few times here. But operas have songs. They have the ability to give introspection and let people sing things they wouldn’t otherwise say. And I think sometimes these heightened moments let characters kind of speak their subtext more, where we’re comfortable with them saying things that would be weird to say in other scenes because they are pitched up a little bit.

Even this Love & Basketball scene, which was overall pretty quiet, they are talking more about their inner wants than characters would normally be able to do in a scene.

Craig: That’s a great observation. It is a chance for you to maybe not be so concerned about burying everything under layers of subtext. Although in the case of 500 Days of Summer they did a pretty good job there burying things, maybe as a function of where it was in the movie. But I agree with you. I think that it is an opportunity to have characters state these things in an on-the-nose way. And in that opportunity one finds tremendous potential for danger.

So, things to watch out for when you’re writing breakup scenes. If you’re going big and melodramatic, the result of that breakup has to be more than just a breakup. There needs to be something bigger happening. Some larger relevance so we understand that something is being permanently damaged.

We want to keep that as sort of the high point emotionally, not in terms of positivity but just intensity. That is the most intense scene you want I think in your movie if you’re going in that direction. And also when you’re structuring a breakup scene, particularly if it’s a traditional breakup scene, you want to maintain some sense of surprise. If it starts out like a breakup scene and then an argument ensues and then it ends with a breakup that is going to feel very weak. Whereas if it starts one way and then it reveals itself to be a breakup scene, then you have the potential for a character to experience shock and the audience to feel something with them.

John: All the scenes we looked at today were romantic partners who were breaking up, but I think the same general lessons about breakups could apply to any kind of two character – sometimes even three character – situations where you have this tight group, this tight bond, that is being split. And so it could be best friends. It could be people on a mission together. It could be – there are other kinds of relationships which can break apart and really function in much the same way as these breakups. So we picked sort of all romantic relationships here.

But I think the same general rules apply. And you should look at, you know, whenever you have your protagonist and another character who are this tight couple, is there a reason why you need to split them apart. There’s something that could come between them. And is that an interesting thing for your story?

You know, if you’re making a romantic tragedy or a romantic comedy that’s probably going to be more likely to happen, but I love to see breakups that are part of stories that aren’t all about romance.

Craig: I agree. And whether you’re looking at a non-romantic breakup, like for instance we just had our Thanksgiving here in the United States, so Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Classic non-romantic breakup. But whether you’re doing the non-romantic or the romantic breakup, one thing to be aware of is if the breakup happens in a moment because one character says this incredibly cutting thing to the other person, which is exactly what happens by the way at the end of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, whether the audience knows it or not consciously, they will have an expectation that if that cutting truth is true, and if it weren’t why else would be so cutting, the person to whom it is said will come around to recognize the truth of it. And in recognizing the truth of it that relationship will be healed.

So just know when you fire that particular missile you are setting up an expectation that the breakup is not permanent.

John: Very good point. So, thank you again for suggesting all these movies for this breakup episode. If you would like to suggest another This Kind of Scene for a future episode, hit us on Twitter and let us know what you think we should do for a future installment of This Kind of Scene.

All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is the Merriam-Webster Time Traveler. And so it is a website you can go to and you can look at the year you were born, or any year that you care to look at, and see what words were new that year. So basically the first known occurrences of these words on that year.

And so for the year I was born, 1970, first appearances of dorky, micro-aggression, op-ed, survivalist, herstory, Tourette’s Syndrome, and viewshed, which I didn’t even know what viewshed was. I had to look it up.

Craig: What’s viewshed?

John: Viewshed is the area you can see from a place. And so it’s basically what’s visible from where you’re standing. I think it’s important for sight lines and for protecting one’s view from a building.

Craig: Hmm. Interesting. OK.

John: But I love this kind of stuff. I would have assumed that dorky was older than that. I would have assumed micro-aggression was much newer than that. Op-ed feels like it should have always been around.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. I’m looking at my year. 1971. Sexual assault and sexual harassment.

John: All right. So they started with you.

Craig: They started with me. Also sadly post-racial. Not yet, 1971. Not even close. Still haven’t gotten there as far as I can tell. But there are some nice ones like minibar. We all love a minibar. HMO, not so good. Homophobe, 1971.

John: Yeah. There wasn’t even such a thing.

Craig: Well, I mean, there were definitely homophobes but now they knew what to call themselves. [laughs]

John: And wiseass.

Craig: Wiseass. You’re right.

John: So this is the Merriam-Webster version of this. But I’ll say another really good thing to take a look at is Google’s n-gram viewer. I think this is a previous One Cool Thing for me, but I used this a lot with Arlo Finch to figure out whether certain words existed at a time, or like which of two variants of a word was more popular.

So, if you go to books.google.com/n-grams, basically all the books that Google has digitized, you can look through and figure out when the first occurrences of a word were in books overall in print. And that’s a fascinating time hole to be falling into.

Craig: One movie word that came into use in 1971, high-concept.

John: Oh, very nice.

Craig: Yeah, before that everything was high-concept.

John: Yes. Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?

Craig: I sure don’t.

John: You’ve got nothing?

Craig: Yeah, I’ve got nothing. You know what? It was Thanksgiving. A lot of confusion going on in my head. And I just thought, you know, is there One Cool Thing in the world right now? No. No Cool Things.

John: You just didn’t do your minimum amount of work required.

Craig: That is an alternative explanation for what I just said.

John: So while Megan and I were going through these clips and figuring out what movies we should be doing, you didn’t do any of this work whatsoever.

Craig: No, that’s right.

John: All right, so I understand that’s your prerogative. You want to do that, that’s fine. So you don’t want to do it, that’s fine.

Craig: So we’re breaking up? [laughs]

John: I mean, I hope we can still be friends.

Craig: This is, by the way, a bad way to end the breakup scene. Well, maybe it’s a good way for somebody to say, “Wait, are we breaking up? Is it happening? It’s happening right now.”

John: I’m sure there’s a scene that’s done this where like you as the audience are way ahead of the other character and you know they’re breaking up and the character has no idea that they’re being broken up with.

Craig: No question. There’s definitely a bunch of those. No, you can’t quit me.

John: I can’t quit you, at least not before the live show. So people should come to see that.

Craig: That doesn’t sound positive.

John: Live show tickets are available right now. They are December 7 here in Hollywood. It is at the LA Film School across from ArcLight. You should come see us, along with our terrific guests. If you would like to read the first five chapters of Arlo Finch, that is at arlofinchbooks.com.

Our outro this week is by Jukebox Experiment. It is a great one. It turns out we had more outros than I thought. They had just been put in a folder I did not expect them to be in. So, we have some great ones, but we would always love more great outros. So, just write in to ask@johnaugust.com with a link to your outro. Here’s a reminder. I’ve listened to a couple recently where it’s like that’s lovely music. It has nothing to do with our theme. So, all of our outros use the five notes of our theme. So, [hums]. Or, [hums]. Something like that. Minor is also OK. But I have to be able to hear that it actually has the Scriptnotes theme in it, otherwise it’s just lovely music.

Craig: Hmm. And John is rigorous about these things.

John: I’m very rigorous. I’m a rule follower. I’m a rule maker and a rule follower. But not as much as Megan McDonnell who is our producer. Thank you Megan for getting together our clips this week.

Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Apologies to Matthew because we just messed up a ton this week. Probably a new record for how much we messed up this week.

Craig: I don’t know if I would say “we.”

John: Well, you had a few yourself.

Craig: I had a few. For me relatively speaking it was a bad week.

John: If you have a question for us, you can write in to ask@johnaugust.com. But on Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. So, tweet at us and tell us what you’d like for the next installment of This Kind of Scene.

You can find us on Facebook and on Apple Podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes while you’re there. That’s always lovely.

The notes for this episode, including the PDFs for all the scenes we talked about, is at johnaugust.com. Just search for this episode. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts for the back episodes.

You can find all those back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. It’s $2 a month. And we have more of the USB drives which have the first 300 episodes, plus all the bonus episodes available at store.johnaugust.com. Delightful Christmas shopping if you’d like to stick on in your friend’s stocking. That sounds so disturbing.

Craig: [laughs] If you’d like to stick one in your friend’s stocking.

John: No, that’s never a good thing to do.

Craig: Go to store.johnaugust.com.

John: Yeah. That’s where we have them.

Craig: Stick it in.

John: I hope we can still be friends.

Craig: You know, I think Stick It In is a fantastic holiday motto for us, John.

John: Yeah. Stick It In.

Craig: Stick It In. Great show. And for all of you out there listening, please do get your tickets now because they’re going fast. Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts.

John: See you.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Pitching Television, or Being a Passionate Widget

Tue, 12/05/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig share their insight into pitching for television. How is it different that pitching features? How do express your passion for the project? How do you avoid being a Willy Loman pitching to a Willy Loman? (Sometimes you don’t.)

We also follow-up on the conversation about sexual harassment, with a focus on how men, bosses, and unions can work to make a safer, more comfortable workplace for everyone.

Reminder that the Scriptnotes Holiday Live Show is this Thursday in Hollywood. Ticket link below.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 326: Austin 2017 Three Page Challenge — Transcript

Wed, 11/29/2017 - 11:10

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John.

Craig Mazin: And this is Craig.

John: So we are both traveling this week, but today’s episode is one we recorded at the Austin Film Festival. It is a Three Page Challenge live with the people who actually wrote the scripts, who come up on stage and talk with us.

Craig: Yeah. And we had some pretty good guests as well helping us out.

John: We had an agent and a manager, so we’ll introduce them as the episode goes along. But we should be back next week with a normal episode which will be our Thanksgiving Week episode, so join us then.

So today’s episode of Scriptnotes has a few bad words. So if you’re driving in the car with your kids, this is the warning.

We’re also going to be doing a live show in Hollywood on December 7. So by the time this episode airs, we’ll hopefully have details up, so check the show notes for this episode and come see us live in Hollywood.

Craig: Enjoy.

John: Yes. On with the show.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: We host a podcast called Scriptnotes. What is Scriptnotes about, Craig?

Craig: Oh, it’s…

Audience: A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig: Thank you.

John: That’s really well done.

Craig: I don’t ever listen to that part so it’s the first time I’ve ever – I haven’t really heard that before.

John: So one of our favorite little segments we do on the show is called the Three Page Challenge where we take a look at three pages that our listeners send in. And we talk about what we see, what we notice, what’s fantastic, what could use some work, and try to offer some useful suggestions.

So one of the nice things about being here at the Austin Film Festival is we get to sometimes talk to those actual writers and bring them up and ask all the questions that we can’t ask when they’re just PDFs.

Craig: Right. Plus we get to see their faces. You know?

John: It’s nice to see that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: One of the other things we’ve been doing when we have these live Three Page Challenges is to invite up some special guests to read through these pages with us. And so today we’re very excited to welcome two really amazing people. Daniela Garcia Brcek – I did it – is a literally manager at Circle of Confusion. Come on up here.

Daniela Garcia-Brcek: Hi everyone.

John: Hello. Welcome Daniela. And Cullen Conly is an agent at ICM, but I actually knew him from Sundance Labs. And so he worked at Sundance Labs and was instrumental in their feature film program working with really talented filmmakers on their screenplays. He was fantastic at that. I’m sure he’s a fantastic agent. Cullen Conly, please come on up.

So we put out the call on the show for people who were going to be coming to the Austin Film Festival who had three pages for us to look at. And we got 73 entries, which was great. Of those, 38 were written by women. So that’s also great. That’s the highest percentage we’ve ever gotten. So I don’t know why it happened that way, but fantastic that it happened.

Craig: The world is changing.

John: The world is lovely.

Craig: I wouldn’t say that.

John: No, but the world could be lovelier. We’ve all read these pages, but if you out there want to read these pages with us you can. Go to johnaugust.com/aff2017 on your phone and they’re there. So you can find the PDFs, but also we made it so you can just scroll through and read along with us if you want to. So, the PDFs are always the best sort of way to read them. But that’s available to you. They’ll also be in Weekend Read, either now or by the time this show posts. And we’ll give a recap for folks who have no idea what we’re talking about so you have some sense of what this is.

But first I want to talk to you guys about what you guys – how many scripts you’re reading and sort of what you’re finding in scripts. So, tell me, how many screenplays are you reading in a week?

Daniela: I’d like to think that I read 15 a week, at least. That’s the goal. But it’s usually between five and ten, like full scripts.

John: So five and ten full scripts, and are there other scripts that you’re not finishing?

Daniela: Oh yeah. That’s what I mean by the – the other five to ten–

Craig: You gauge five to 15.

Daniela: Yeah. So.

John: And so when you say you’re reading these scripts, are they from represented writers, unrepresented writers? Are they clients?

Daniela: It’s all across the board. So there will be scripts people are talking about that I’m like “I need to know what these scripts are.’ Potential clients. And then actual clients. And then some projects that I’m just like, ooh, this is – I’m a fan of this writer, or I’m a fan of this genre, and I just want to know what it’s about.

John: Cullen, how many scripts are you reading in a week these days?

Cullen Conly: I would say I look at 15 to 20. And, again, for different purposes, if it’s a client’s script I will read it cover to cover. I tend to work more with writer-directors and specifically writer-directors and then some playwrights that are transitioning. So I also have to read a lot of open directing assignments. And with those, you know, I can sometimes read the first 20 and the last 20, fully get what it is, and figure out who the clients that should read it are.

John: Wow. So, OK, first off I want to go back to “look at,” which is such a fascinating euphemism for like not really reading, but you’re sort of like – so how much do you need to look at a script to say that you’ve looked at it? How many pages does that mean?

Cullen: I would say like 15 pages I can get a good sense – especially for potential clients. Like is this a voice? Is this something that’s gripping me? And do I want to read more? I can get a good sense from 15.

John: Daniela, do you look at scripts the same way?

Daniela: I do “look at” them. Yeah, I would say if I’m being generous, 15. But sometimes even first 10, depending on what it is, as an assessment of can this person write, can this person engage, and also does this not feel too familiar.

Craig: That’s pretty much why we started doing this. I mean, the purpose was to, I guess, hold writers accountable but also inform them that this is how the world works. I mean, the amount of screenplays that you guys have to read, or just are obligated to read, is massive. And therefore the only ones that are going to be read-read, right, are the ones that actually, I don’t know, keep you going.

I mean, there is this thing you can do where you can – do you ever do the skimmy thing? Like the skim through?

Daniela: No, not the skimmy. But I heard about this thing that I don’t particularly like where it’s just you read the first 15, the middle 20, and then the last 15 for features.

Craig: Well at that point you’re reading the damn script. Just finish it.

Daniela: And why would you enter a movie like halfway through and be like I know exactly what’s happening because there are some characters that are there and the conflict and all that stuff. So I don’t subscribe to that. Because if it doesn’t engage me in the first 15 then that exercise is just futile.

Craig: Pointless. Yeah.

John: Is there such a thing as coverage for what you guys are doing? Like are you reading coverage on scripts ever? So, Cullen, you’re nodding.

Cullen: yeah, especially at an agency, our policy is usually if it’s set up at a studio, get it covered, because agents do have a lot to read. We have the reputation for being lazy when it comes to reading. And so, yeah, I mean, I would say most scripts at the studio are covered. And it is helpful. My taste isn’t massive tent pole films, so if I’m covering that project I probably don’t want to sit and read the whole thing, so I’ll read a little bit, read the coverage, have a good sense of what the movie is, and be able to do what I need to do for it.

John: A question we get often on the podcast is “How important are loglines?” Do loglines matter for you guys? Does a well-written logline intrigue you and make you read the script or not read the script? Do you see loglines?

Daniela: I mean, loglines are helpful to be like, OK, how is this person framing their story, but I’m still going to want to read how they’re setting it up. Because loglines can be deceiving. It’s like, “Girl gets kidnapped. Father seeks out revenge.” And, you know, I’m describing Taken. And so I love Liam Neeson and I love Taken as sort of a popcorn fare thing, but the logline would be really disinteresting to me. So, I think loglines are important, but it’s really about what’s on the page. Don’t spend too much time on the logline.

John: Cullen?

Cullen: Yeah, I mean, I think just being able to describe your movie in a way that feels fresh and original is important at an agency. I think, management companies are a little bit different, but in terms of blind queries I’m not really supposed to look at them anyway, so I just hit delete for better or worse.

Daniela: We look at them all the time. Yes. Circle of Confusion was essentially started off of a query letter. A letter written by two house painters in Chicago to our company saying we love the name of your company and those people were the Wachowskis. So, as a company policy we accept queries and in that sense loglines are important, but it’s also about personalizing the letter to the company and personalizing the letter to the person you’re sending it to to make sure that it’s not just, “I’m just sending this to the void hoping I get discovered.” It’s like, “This is why I want to be represented by this company and by this person at that company.”

Cullen: Yeah. I do actually enjoy when I get a query that’s addressed to a different name. I’m like this is – I love this.

John: Last sort of question about framing here. So let’s say there’s a script that either came through a query or someone recommended it and it’s about maybe a client you want to represent. What are you looking for as you start to read that says like, “Oh, this is a person I want to meet. This is a person I want to continue on a discussion with.” What is it that gets you to a place where you’re excited about a script or a writer?

Daniela: I think it’s like oftentimes style and having fun on the page, regardless of what the genre is. There was recently a script that I was like let’s do a con-tage. And I was like, yes, this is a movie about being a con artist and we’re going to do a montage and it’s called a con-tage. And I was having a fun experience reading the script. And so I think that the voice and the style and feeling personality on the page and not being bogged down by details and just, you know, having fun with the story.

John: Cullen, what are you looking for as you’re starting to read for a client?

Cullen: I mean, as I read scripts, what I’m so craving and I think what most of us are craving is please god surprise me and please god – like god forbid – move me. Whether that’s making me laugh, making me cry. Some sort of sensory experience as I’m reading something.

You know, and then otherwise it’s just a very subjective experience. I mean, there are scripts where the whole town seems obsessed with and I read it and I’m like, uh, I don’t really respond to this. So, a lot of it is you can’t really quite put your finger on it, but you know it when you see it.

John: Cool. All right, let’s get into our four Three Page Challenges.

Craig: Let’s begin.

John: I’ll read the first synopsis, but maybe Craig can take another one. We’ll start with Baptiste by Jenny Deiker. Jenny, am I saying your name right?

Jenny Deiker: Yes sir.

John: Fantastic. Jenny right there. Thank you. A synopsis. A Minnesota business man, Jonathan Parks, ambles with his fishing rod to the edge of a lush Louisiana bayou. He is followed at a distance by Richard Devilliers, 50s, who speaks with the soft accent of an important Louisiana family. Richard encourages Jonathan to catch a catfish and Jonathan admires the landscape.

As Jonathan casts his line, Richard draws a circle on the dock with powder from a small pouch. When Jonathan asks about it, Richard describes that it’s a voodoo ritual for the union of predator and prey. Jonathan is impressed by the Louisiana touch. Richard’s wife, Marie, 50s, approaches and shares a knowing glance with her husband.

Richard draws a slash through the circle before kicking Jonathan into the swamp. Jonathan struggles. Marie watches dispassionately. Jonathan is promptly sucked under water, gone. Richard and Marie’s son, Kevin, 29, joins them, sweeps the powder away with his foot, and tells them they’ll be late for mass. And that’s the end of our three pages.

Daniela, will you start. So if you just read these three pages, what is your first impression? What are you taking from these?

Daniela: I have to say like by the very end of those three pages I was like “what is this about?” which is a great question to have. But at the same time I did feel that there were a lot of characters for the three page sequences that I was like maybe there needed to be a little bit of mystery. Like the son coming and delivering that line, while it’s a little bit of a mic drop, I felt that I wanted to breathe in the moment of this guy just got sucked into the space and let that breathe a little bit more. So, that’s how I felt.

John: Cullen, you’re very first impressions?

Cullen: Yeah, I mean, I have to say – I’m assuming – is this a pilot? given that it’s a teaser. Absolutely wanted to read more. I’m from Louisiana, too, so I loved the setting of it. My biggest question mark was about the powder and what is the significance. That was the one thing that I was like is this a total red herring. Does that actually have significance? But I loved it. I was pretty hooked.

I think my critique of it is probably in the first paragraph. It felt very adjective-heavy and, you know, I sort of circled what is a “stagnant, breathy morning.” It felt like slightly writing for writing sake.

John: Craig?

Craig: Yes. So, by and large I did enjoy this. I liked where it went and I liked what’s happening. And I think substantively we’re in a good place. But let’s talk about how this begins. Have you ever heard of purple prose? Right? So this is green purple prose. “Spanish moss melts from bald cypresses in the sweaty, sickly sweet soup of Louisiana air. Live oaks and palmettos line a wide, dead-calm river, dotted with fallen branches and blankets of algae.” That’s a lot of – just a biome. That’s a biome full of adjectives. There’s some alliteration going on in there which weirdly – the thing about alliteration is even though it’s not intentional, I know, these are the kinds of things that start to literally lull people. Which I know in a sense is not so bad, but I think you could actually get a lot of the sense quicker and easier.

I also think that it’s important, when you get to “Camera PANS to find a sturdy, wooden DOCK,” camera pans to me implies that we’re sort of static and then we move. But this all feels like it should be in motion anyway, like whatever eats Jonathan, maybe we’re that. Right? Just moving through. So there’s a sense of discovery.

Your first line is Exposition Theater. “I think you’ll find the biggest catfish in Bayou Baptiste right here off our dock.” Oh, do you? Right? So I think we don’t need that, right? I think that’s a line that can just go. I think you can start with, “It really is beautiful here. You’re a lucky man.”

And so there’s a little bit of – you can see you’re trying to get some of this information in. I wouldn’t panic about it. The thing about the opening of a pilot like this is it’s all about surprise and mood. We will find out who that dude was, where he was from. Don’t care. He’s got eaten. I assume he’s dead. Gone. So, I don’t care if he’s from Wisconsin. I really don’t.

And I think there’s a question of perspective. I want to know that the perspective here is with Richard. I would love for this to be a little bit more from his point of view because he is the one in charge here. I mean, the powder to me was good mystery. I assume the powder is either meaningful or just a side bit that he does, because the great catfish monster doesn’t need – whatever it is, I was fine with the mystery of it. It’s really just about I think writing less and creating perspective. Before anyone talks, the perspective as you move through. And then trying to root out some of the unnecessary exposition. But it was very – I like that he got eaten by an invisible fish. I assume it’s an invisible fish. It might be something else.

John: So, I’m going to disagree with Craig and so I think–

Craig: But I’m right though. I mean, you know that, right?

John: So, what I wrote here was that this is the upper limit of scenery setting, but I think it hadn’t crossed too far. And so it was skating right there at the very edge, but I though the alliteration helps. It helps put me into a place and to a certain mood. And so the sweaty, sickly sweet swamp of Louisiana air. Great. I had the same note about I don’t know what a breathy morning is. So it pushed a little too far. But I dug what you were going for and I could feel it, I could see it. There was a tactile quality to it which is great.

I’m also going to disagree with Craig a little bit about Jonathan. So, Jonathan, the Wisconsinite, I sort of knew he was chum from the start because I was only given the Wisconsin thing. And so some bit of specificity or something that gives Richard something to play off of, or something – a response that’s not just about “let’s push him into the lake.” There could be something more there so it’s a little bit more of a misdirect. Because I felt I was a little ahead of you because I could see what the setup is. Once there was a glance to the wife I’m like, OK, he’s going to die for some reason.

Daniela, often we talk about the difference between mystery and confusion. And you work for a company called Circle of Confusion. How often—

Daniela: It’s a cinematography term.

John: Yeah. Is this a thing – were you confused in these pages or were you intrigued? What was the line for you?

Daniela: I was intrigued more than I was confused. I think the beginning with names like Jonathan and Richard, at times I felt I had to revisit who was who. And that might be a byproduct of me not being from the States, so those names are foreign to me. And so, yeah–

John: Daniela, you’re from Venezuela?

Daniela: I’m from Venezuela. And I grew up in Southeast Asia. So, you know, names like Yosuke and Mohammed were very much my Jonathan and Richards, or Jorge and Fabian. So, yeah, and I think that creating a little bit more of distinction between the two of them and also using terminology like having an “upper class accent of someone from a very old and very important Louisiana family,” I don’t know what that sounds like.

Craig: I’m from the United States and I also don’t know what that sounds like.

Cullen: I did.

Craig: Well, yeah.

John: So Cullen, talk to us. What does that sound like?

Cullen: I think it’s a sort of self-important, heightened southern accent.

Craig: But you do acknowledge that unless we’re from Louisiana like you, we would not know that.

Cullen: I guess I would have replaced – you could replace the word Louisiana with southern is how I kind of read it.

Craig: Like a gentile, aristocratic southern accent? I would know what that is.

Cullen: Like I grew up in Lafayette which is a sort of Coonass/Cajun accent. There’s a different New Orleans yachty accent. So maybe you do have to be a little more specific.

Craig: Yeah, I don’t know what any of those things are.

John: I want to talk to you about on page two, so midway down the page Jonathan turns and watches Richard. Bewildered. And then Richard says, “Voodoo ritual. For the union of predator and prey.” Those were moments where I felt like it was just too leading. Like I just knew something terrible was about to happen here. And so to back off from that, or to at least keep us in a little bit of a question could really help us out there. Because by that point I sort of knew like, OK, a dark thing is about to happen. And especially because it said teaser from the very start. Like, OK, someone is going in the lake. I was a little ahead of you there.

Craig: Yeah. You know, the other thing about Richard, because he survives this teaser and Jonathan does not. I really can’t tell you anything about Richard. It would be good if there were something intriguing about Richard beyond simply the actions of what he is doing here. If I got a sense of something. A history to him. A sadness. An excitement. Is he nuts? Is he murderous? Is this really depressing to him?

I just need something there to fascinate me with the human beyond the ritual itself.

Daniela: Yeah. And just to add onto that, especially since this is a pilot, like we need to be very invested in the character. And the narrative engine isn’t just plot. So having an opportunity to be really invested in this person. Is he an anti-hero or a hero? And creating that central dilemma within even the teaser itself.

John: Cool. Can we have you come up and so we will ask you these questions in person. So let’s all give a round of applause. Jenny, where are you from and what else have you written? Talk to us about–

Craig: Louisiana.

Jenny: Pretty sure you could have guessed that. Yeah.

John: And have you written the full pilot? Or just the teaser?

Jenny: Yes. This is written.

John: Tell us about Kevin who appears on page three and doesn’t do anything.

Jenny: Well, the funny thing about, you know, y’all were saying make sure Richard has some distinguishing things and some more character development stuff. The funny thing is on the next page that you don’t have, all those folks die.

Craig: You mean Richard and–?

Jenny: Richard and his wife and his son.

Craig: Oh, that’s a lot of death in four pages.

Jenny: All die. Yeah. It’s to set up, our hero is going to be the grown daughter of that family, who is going to come back to Louisiana to take over the family business. The family business is a very quaint, beautiful bed and breakfast, but the real family business is doing this.

Craig: Got it.

Jenny: So, yeah, it’s about the daughter. But I wanted to set up that this is a normal thing for this family. They all know about it. This happens on the somewhat regular.

Craig: Interesting.

John: Great. And so good about the bed and breakfast, because that was one of my questions for you, too, is I thought your landscape was beautiful but I didn’t know what it was connected to.

Jenny: Right, OK.

John: And so I guess that this guy was probably a guest at something like a bed and breakfast, but it was a little too disconnected. And I think if I had felt something about something to indicate that this guy was a guest here or that there was something in the distance, the plantation house in the distance. Something there that would connect this to a place.

Jenny: OK, yeah, totally. I understand that.

Cullen: Yeah, I thought it was maybe a work conference of some kind.

Daniela: A film festival.

John: So, talk to us about this pilot. So it’s a one-hour pilot. Is it written with act breaks or as a straight-through like a cable?

Jenny: It has act breaks.

John: Great. Tell us what your first act break is.

Jenny: Let me think. Let me think. My first act break. Holy cow. I’m completely blanking. You guys make me nervous.

Craig: I know. This is the worst feeling, isn’t it?

Jenny: It’s so terrifying.

Craig: Yeah. Because your mind goes blank.

Jenny: My mind is blank. And it’s really good, you guys. It’s a super good act break.

Craig: It happens to me all the time. It’s the worst feeling. I assume that when your first act break happens there’s probably some revelation about what’s happening in the water. Or maybe the daughter kills somebody. I’m just guessing. I’m trying to help you now.

John: Let’s all speculate. It’s OK.

Jenny: Holy cow.

Daniela: Is it the daughter like taking on the responsibility of like this is me now entering this world, like accepting her fate?

Jenny: She’s the last in a very old bloodline and, because everybody else has died, this is now her responsibility.

Craig: But she knows what they do, right?

Jenny: She knows what they do but she has had the luxury of like moving away and forgetting about it.

Craig: She doesn’t necessarily like that they do it?

Jenny: No. She doesn’t like it and she doesn’t think she wants to be a part of it.

Craig: Can I just ask you a question? Because I’m so fascinated by the fact that she comes back to do this. It’s really, really interesting. I’m not saying do this, but from the perspective of a girl coming home and like doesn’t want to see her parents. We think it’s just this regular grown woman coming home for her parents and the whole thing. And there’s the dad out in the – where’s your father? Oh, he’s taken somebody fishing. And she’s like, “Oh, god.” And she goes out there and she walks out. And then we see him with this guy, chit-chatting. And he kicks him in the water and she’s like, “Ugh, I’ll be inside.”

You know what I mean? Like “whoaaaaaaaa.” Anyway, I just love the idea of this woman knowing this and having this creepy family and then – now I’ve just changed everything. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that. But that would be exciting to me because there would be a relationship that I cared about that lasted.

Jenny: Right. OK. I could do that.

John: I think you raise an interesting point though. What is the tone of this overall? And so from this, this could be a dark comedy, or it could be Breaking Bad. There’s a whole range. It could be True Blood. What does it feel like to you? Is there an analogous thing out there?

Jenny: It’s a southern gothic horror story. So it’s very much like Fall of the House of Usher. We’re going to go into some deep family shit.

Craig: Fall of the House of Usher certainly has that.

Jenny: And I just listened to Craig’s talk, so I’m fully prepared to talk about theme.

Craig: Oh, good good. Good.

Jenny: But it’s sort of the theme of the sins of the father visited upon the children. So this is an old Louisiana family, named after my family, who–

Craig: Did they do this?

Jenny: This is their curse. I am a swamp monster. This is their curse for the legacy of slavery in the south is having to do this.

John: Cool.

Craig: Got it.

John: Great. Jenny, thank you so much for these three pages.

Jenny: Thank you guys. Thank you.

Craig: All right. Are we moving on to the next one? All right. So our next Three Page Challenge comes from Andrew Cosdon Messer, and it is entitled Seaworthy.

A derelict sailboat floats in the open ocean. A catamaran carrying dad, 50, and the girl, 14, approaches. Dad jumps into the sailboat and when he confirms that it is safe to board he beckons the girl. Upon seeing the starved bodies of a family in there, the girl points out these people did not eat the others when dead. I guess it means didn’t eat each other when dead.

The girl removes the corpse boy’s clothes. Corpse boy.

John: Yeah, corpse boy. The unpopular sequel to Corpse Bride, yeah.

Craig: Sequels are hard. The girl removes the corpse boy’s clothes and thanks him. Dad and the girl bury him at sea. The girl, holding the family’s bible, wonders if they should say something. Dad says, no, it clearly didn’t help them. A storm is approaching and the girl asks if they can outrun it. Dad thinks not. When the girl notices a spot of blood on her seat, she reaches into her shorts to check for more. Panicked, she calls to her dad. He finds a rag, but he is not equipped for this. Probably not.

And so that is Seaworthy. So, maybe we’ll start with Cullen. What did you think about this and how did it strike you?

Cullen: I was intrigued. I sort of – I liked the world. I had, you know, to John’s point, I think it was slightly over the line of mystery versus confusion. On a personal level, and to be hard on you, I felt like the writing was very self-conscious. And I had some questions about, you know, for instance what is a “faded man” and what does “an extension of the boat mean.”

There’s a line, “Names will come later; they have little use for them now.” As a reader, it’s like, well tell me their names. I get that – it felt sort of effort-heavy in that regard. And yet at the end of the three pages I wanted to know are we – I guess my questions, which were good questions, are we going to be at sea the whole time? What is this sort of ritual and this world? Who are these people? That was sort of my initial reaction.

Craig: All right. Daniela?

Daniela: Yeah, just to echo that, I felt that there were a lot of interesting like movements in this, but there were too many details, or too many – I was like, OK, did this girl just get her period? And now we have this relationship with her dad. OK. And then there are corpses. And then there’s also this biblical element. And I just felt like taking a step back and being like “Let’s explore these characters within this scene, but not have these elements weigh down it.” Because I kept trying to like sift through everything to be like what am I sinking my teeth into? The fact that there are dead bodies in this boat? The fact that this girl has this relationship with her father? Or where they are?

So there were more questions, but they weren’t story questions. They were more just about the world itself.

Craig: John?

John: So, we’ve seen a version of this scene a lot, which is basically it’s scavengers in a post-apocalyptic world. So oftentimes they’re in the desert. I think I’ve seen boat versions of this before. But it’s a good version of that. And so I was happy to see these are people who are going through their ordinary life even though it’s a really hellish, something terrible has happened.

And I was curious for the natural reasons of like, well, what happened to this family out here. Something terrible has happened.

There were moments where — I don’t know that there was too much detail, but I had a hard time locking into some of the details. An example would be they find these bodies. And so the girl ducks inside to see the abandoned interior and the starved bodies, a family. But what does that look like? And I was trying to figure out whether that means are they bloated, are they mummified, are they skeletons? Where are we at? How much time has passed?

And that feels important for this kind of story. It describes the visual world we’re in and sort of what this is going to feel like. So that texture felt really important to me.

I shared Cullen’s frustration of these characters not having names. Because even if they’re going to be dead on page four, you know, like Jenny would do, I want to know their names because that makes me invested in them, even just for these three pages. And because they have enough lines of dialogue, I felt like they needed some names.

There’s also, in a slug line we have – or sort of intermediary slug line – “The girl, 14, she can drive better than that.” I like that as an idea. But then we go to, “The lanky teenager stands at the stern of the catamaran, wearing a SHELL PENDANT and a bemused smile.” I just got confused of like – we have a reaction about her before we’ve ever seen her or sort of know what she’s like. So, just the order of events and the order of descriptions I think could be optimized a little bit better here.

Craig?

Craig: Yeah, I think that there’s a really interesting scenario and I think you are probably – I agree with Cullen, you’re one notch a little too far on the mannered side of things. You don’t have to actually impress anybody with action. And you never need to be clever. The weirdest thing about screenplays, you never actually need to be clever. We sometimes find clever things in screenplays and that have turned into wonderful movies and we think that’s why. But I assure you by the time those pages were being handed around to grips and electricians, nobody gave a shit about the clever. It’s really what’s underneath. It’s the performances, the actions, and the intention.

So, “Faded man, steady on the deck, extension of the boat,” is clever. I’m not really sure what it means. And also I just think it’s ultimately bric-a-brac here.

I think you may have a dramatic ordering issue. There’s something fascinating about seeing a father and a daughter on a boat. I would describe maybe a little bit more about them. Have they been out there for a long time? Are they weathered, sun-beaten? Did they look hungry? Chapped lips? Like what’s going on? Right?

And then I would start with her getting – if you want to do a girl getting her period and not knowing what a period is, which is really informative about the world we’re in, I would do that first. And like deal with that weirdness. And then they bump into a boat and they’re like, oh, let’s check it out. Now that we’ve handled the trauma of the period that she didn’t know was a period, then when she goes into a boat and finds a dead family and she doesn’t really react strongly to that, we go, oh, well that’s interesting. We’re starting to get more of a sense – there’s a dramatic ordering I think that would help you there.

I have no idea what starving bodies look like. All bodies are starving. Because they can’t eat. Right? I mean, all bodies. Starved people look exactly like well-fed dead people after a week. They are all sort of the same. So I kind of got caught on that as well.

And I agree with John completely – some of the ordering – I think you have a lot of ordering issues. So when you say, “The girl, she can drive better than that,” I liked that concept.

Take a look at the way – you’re doing a lot of that kind of break up stuff. Normally I love lots of white space and everything. But, “ANGLE ON a healthy boat, bobbing alongside. THE CATAMARAN.” That’s all in caps. Then, “A faded name is engraved on the once-futuristic twin hulls.” By the way, I have no idea what once-futuristic twin hulls means at all. And then it says, “Seaworthy.” But I thought it was named the Catamaran because it was all in caps there. So I’m starting to get a little – and all those things are – so I think just weeding out some of the stuff, ordering it a little bit better.

I really did like these moments where you’re indicating attitudes in sparse ways. She sees a family of dead people and she says, “They didn’t eat him.” And he says, “No, they didn’t.” So I really like that. And I was interested in their relationship. The most important thing I think that can come out of three pages is a sense of a relationship that matters, even if it’s between one person and an environment. And here you have two people.

And so I think there’s really promising stuff here. I just think you’ve got some ordering and some reduction to work on.

Cullen: Their dialogue together helped sort of establish this relationship that I was very intrigued by. For me, the very end of the three pages went to a very basic thing with writing, at least for me personally. I’d be curious what you guys thought. But show don’t tell us. So, dad doesn’t know what to use. They’re not equipped for this. He’s not equipped for this. I would rather see that in his actions than be told that.

Daniela: Yeah, I agree. Like what is that frantic father looking for something and that realization—

Cullen: It’s a really interesting moment and dynamic, but you’re just telling me that as opposed to—

Craig: Yeah. I agree. I think in a moment like that I would probably just write, “He stares for a moment, blankly. Then turns, goes inside, rummages for a rag.” We’ll get it. You know, like we understand. There’s some things you do need to tell people because the circumstance doesn’t clearly lead to a certain kind of reaction, but in this case I think we would be able to do the math. And it’s always more fun to do the math.

John: I want to look at a moment on page two. So there’s a new slugline for “EXT. THE DERELICT. LATER.” Later can be anything. And so I don’t know if later if five minutes later or if it’s three hours later. So I would just call out a specific amount of time because it feels like the kind of story where the time is important.

Then it cuts to “EXT. SEAWORTHY – DAY THUNDER echoes. Dad scans the clouds.” So that’s a time cut. Like time has sort of passed. That felt like a good moment for a transition to or something else to cue us into we’ve moved on, we are no longer dealing with the abandoned derelict.

Lastly, I would like to – I actually really liked the period being the last thing we saw in these three pages.

Craig: I’m so right about that.

John: Here’s why I think it’s good and why it’s interesting. As I said at the start, we’ve seen this kind of setup a lot of other times, and usually there’s a monster. There’s going to be a zombie. There’s going to be something else terrible that’s going to happen. And so for the surprise at the bottom of these three pages to be like a normal, natural human thing was really interesting to me. So that actually made me want to read what happening next a lot.

Daniela: I have to be really honest though. I had to reread it several times.

John: Ah.

Daniela: Did this girl just get her period? Because I think it’s the way it’s written. You can be – kind of make people uncomfortable with the fact that here’s a girl that just bled on the seat and now how is she checking if she doesn’t know what exactly is happening. Because otherwise I was like, did she just – like there are dead bodies in the boat, so is it something else that’s causing it? And it’s the world that can cause that confusion. And it’s only until it says he’s not equipped for this I was like, “Oh, Daniela, you’re so foolish.”

So, you can make it very clear.

John: A question for the two of you guys. This is on your desk. You’ve read these three pages. How many more pages do you think you would have kept reading?

Craig: He’s right there.

John: I know. He’s right there.

Daniela: This is an honest exercise.

John: Just based on what you read, how intrigued were you to read page four, page five, page six?

Cullen: To your credit, I was. If I wasn’t gripped by their relationship and also had answers to the questions I had by 15 I would have put it down.

Daniela: Yeah. I would say I would want to know what’s going to be the inciting incident of like this is the world that they’re in, so what’s their call to action. I’m sure when you come up to the stage we’ll know more about it. But if I don’t get to that, even by page 10 of that, “OK, what’s the story going to be,” I’d put it down.

John: Cool. Andrew, come on up here. Andrew, thank you for sending this in.

Andrew Cosdon Messer: Thank you for helping me out.

John: So tell us what this is. First off, is this a feature or a pilot?

Andrew: It’s a feature. Feature drama.

John: And our dad and daughter the main characters?

Andrew: Yes.

John: Great. At what point do you give them names? Or do they never get names?

Andrew: She gets a name right around the first act turn. And he gets a name right in the middle of the second act.

John: And why that choice?

Andrew: I wanted to leave them as their relationship, which was dad and his daughter. And they don’t have anybody for the first act. It’s just them. And then they have to sort of rejoin civilization and society. And that’s where names come into play was how do we identify you. And I ran into trouble – the reason that line is in there is because so many readers said just give them names. Well, they don’t have the names because when he’s referring to her as her name, it sounds clunky when they’re talking to each other.

Craig: But he could call out to her.

Andrew: Which is exactly how it happens. He does call out to her.

Craig: But in the middle of the movie?

Andrew: At about 27 pages in.

John: He could do it on page one there when he says, “Jenny—“

Daniela: “Jenny, you just got your period.”

Craig: He could do it when he does it and you could just tell us what their names are. Because the thing is it doesn’t actually impact the movie. It only impacts the read.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Andrew: And now I understand, that’s what I’m doing. It’s impacting the reading as opposed to what’s onscreen.

Craig: Exactly.

John: What is the nature of this world? Obviously you’re saying they’re not meeting other people, at least for this first act, what has happened? Basically you’ve answered my question. How long are the people that we see in the derelict boat, how long have they been dead? And will we know what killed them in the course of this movie?

Andrew: We won’t know what killed them. Just the starvation was the idea. They ran out of food. But mummified was the answer. They sort of dissected and dried out.

I like to think in my mind when I wrote it this is what happens when the world ends out of food and people have to sort of get – the land can’t support life anymore. So that’s what has driven people to survive wherever they can. Our story happens to be on a boat, which is the easiest way to survive.

Cullen: Which I feel like it’s going to be food wars, next, depressingly enough.

Andrew: And also water wars, eventually, sort of in this.

John: More questions?

Craig: No.

John: Andrew, thank you so much. This was awesome. Thank you. All right. Our next one is called Finding Mason. It is by Amy Leland.

Craig: Mason.

John: Finding Mazin. That would be a tragic comedy.

Craig: You found me.

John: Yes. A woman in her 30s, Mary Richards, hangs up her wall phone, takes a deep breath, and goes to wake a young girl, Sam, 10, who is asleep next to her dog. She tells Sam that they will have to go pick up Mason. Sam resists saying she’ll just take the bus to school. It sounds like this happens a lot.

Mary insists that they go. At the police station, an angry Mary leads Mason, 14 and innocent-looking, out to the car. Sam and the dog scramble to catch up.

As they drive, Mary seethes. Mason takes a sip from his mom’s travel mug, but the coffee is cold. He pours it out the window, but then accidentally drops the mug. He timidly alerts his mom, who throws the car in reverse to make Mason pick it up. But he can’t, because she has run over it.

Mary and Mason reluctantly burst into laughter, but Sam remains annoyed in the backseat. And that is how far we’ve gotten at the bottom of page three.

Craig, why don’t you start us off? What was your first impression reading these pages?

Craig: They were very nice. You know, they were nice. These are hard to evaluate in terms of projecting out where this goes. I think this is probably a movie, right? Thank you, oh, there you are. Because there are some movies that are very much a family study and the first three pages aren’t going to have killer swamps and boats of corpses and stuff.

And so what I’m then looking for on pages like this is a sense of verisimilitude and reality and a consistent tone and that was all there. I’m just going to give you one little thought that’s sort of a general creative, and then I want to talk just about how you’re writing this stuff out, which is a little bit of a problem.

We find Mason, her son, right, and he’s 14. And we’re sort of fascinated because this kid apparently has been arrested. Again. And what happens after didn’t make me feel what I think you would want me to feel. I’m not sure what you wanted me to feel. But certainly there’s this interesting turn that you’re intending where this kid is a juvenile delinquent and a recidivist criminal and her son. And but what he does is kind of cutesy – there’s nothing really interesting about it to me. Where I kind of fell down on these was the mug bit. Because on that page what I wanted – if this mother is going to start laughing, then I want something else that’s just fascinating to happen there. And it wasn’t quite fascinating. It was just sort of mundane. And I’m OK to live with mundane for page one and page two as long as this moment of getting out of jail gives me a little bit something more. Or, there is no laughing, it’s just drive home.

The other thing to just take a look at is your formatting. I’m not a formatting Nazi by any stretch of the imagination, but you’re costing yourself a lot of page space here. There are these big gaps between the end of your scene and the beginning of a next scene. I don’t know how to count paragraph breaks here, but I like a nice double space before INT. something. But you’ve got like a triple space going on.

Amy Leland: I swear to god Scrivener just did that.

Craig: Scrivener.

John: Oh Scrivener.

Craig: Oh Scrivener.

John: All right. Are they sponsors or something?

Craig: It wouldn’t stop me, as you know. When we’re in parentheticals we don’t capitalize. It’s a little jarring to see that. And you really never want to end a dialogue break with a parenthetical under it.

John: Yeah. That’s a thing you do in animation but you never do in live action.

Craig: Correct. And again we’ve got some random capitalizations sticking up in there. So, stuff like that – you’re kind of going a little crazy on the parentheticals, which I don’t think you need. But, you know, by and large I was with you here until that third page when I wanted more. I wanted to care more.

John: Daniela, what was your first read on these?

Daniela: So, I really like the intimacy of the characters and the story and sort of this mom’s struggle. But it was kind of unclear to me whose perspective I need to sympathize with until the very end of the three pages, where it’s like this is Sam’s perspective on her family dynamic. And so looking back and like is it then from her perspective whether it’s a phone call that interrupts her sleep, and then her mother waking her up. And I don’t want to put words in your mouth of just whose perspective are we following throughout the story.

I would agree that there’s a lot of heavy detail that I don’t think is necessary, because it sort of distracts me as to – I don’t really care where Cinco’s head is when they’re sleeping, or when they’re in the car. I think that that can all be condensed and made more precise. I think I wanted more from Mason coming out of jail and just, you know, like their attitude. Once his character is introduced, I felt then that every character had the same like dimension to them until Sam’s reaction to their laughter. So just adding a little bit more of a dimension I guess is the word that I’m going to use again.

John: Cullen, your first impressions?

Cullen: I will probably be a little repetitive. I think similarly I had a point of view question in terms of is this Sam’s movie. And, like Daniela, had the thought, OK, then we probably shouldn’t start on the mom and see her enter the bedroom. It should be either like the first moment is her being woken up.

I was really compelled and intrigued by that dynamic of clearly this has happened before. She’s waking her daughter up in the middle of the night to go pick up her son. The daughter is saying I need to go to school tomorrow and the mom is like, “Well, so what, you’re coming with me.” Like that to me is a really sort of fresh interesting dynamic, so I was intrigued by that. And then like Craig, it was sort of – I was really confused and baffled by that last scene. And it also felt a little clunky of like so we dropped a mug, she rolls in reverse. Like was it a paper mug? Was it a glass mug? Like it just didn’t feel real to me, whereas up until this point it had a pretty – to your point – intimate, real family dynamic. And that scene left me really confused.

John: Cullen, I thought of you as I was reading these pages because it reminded of some Sundance scripts that we’ve read in that sometimes their story space is small, and intimate, and sort of like stories that get overlooked. And yet sometimes when we read these Sundance scripts, these writers are newer at the craft and so I would see things – I would see craft issues that I wouldn’t see in other writers’ scripts. And so I’d have to blur my eyes to not see those things and really see what was underneath that.

And that’s kind of what I felt like here. Another example would be like you have headers on your pages and you don’t need those headers. You just need page numbers. It felt like your screenwriting software, Scrivener we can single out, was doing some things that were sort of fighting you on some stuff. And I think just through writing more and through reading a lot more scripts, you sort of get a sense of vibe of what works on the page and what you don’t need to put on the page.

There’s a lot of very specific direction for actors in terms of looking this way, you know, basically where everybody is in a space. And you find an economy where you don’t need to do so much of that. So when you do call it out we really pay attention. Because sometimes when there’s longer blocks where it’s just where everyone is looking we don’t pay as much attention.

I thought the coffee mug moment could work. What I liked is that bump where he drops the coffee mug. It’s just unexpected. And so I think there’s a version of that scene that I think could be really effective. But I wonder if it’s really going to work if we don’t know anything about Mason’s voice or know anything about Mason. It feels like if it had come after a fight or an argument, and like then it happens, then if I’m invested in him as a character that coffee mug moment could play better.

Craig: Yeah. There’s something just missing in the purpose of that moment, I think. Because if I have a mother who is dragging her daughter out of bed to drive to jail, once again, to get the kid out. And she puts him in the car and I’m sort of marveling at her patience, and her emotional restraint. And then the kid drops this coffee mug and she flips out about the coffee mug I think, OK, I understand. The coffee mug is there really just to sort of show that she was hanging on by a thread and anything could kind of make her go. But that’s not what happens here.

And so I’m not quite sure – in the end it sort of just feels like a little bit of a contrived moment to have a family laugh in a strange situation. So I think it’s probably not the right choice there to pay off what you want to pay off. I completely agree that if we’re talking about this from Sam’s point of view we want to start on a sleeping face of a kid being jostled by a hand – like when the Peanuts teacher is sort of like into frame. Just to let us know. And then I would try and keep it all within her perspective.

Like the mom is going into the jail. She’s sitting in the car. Is she looking out the window? Or is she in the waiting room? Everything should be from her point of view. Her noticing – all of it – it will be so much more interesting I think.

Cullen: Yeah. To add on to what you’re saying, I think if you showed at the jail a little bit more specificity of the dynamic between Mason and the mom from her point of view, then maybe that coffee mug moment could work.

Craig: Right.

Cullen: But we don’t get anything. It’s sort of like they sort of march out all silently and you don’t know – I think you could hint at what the mother’s head space there is pretty subtly and effectively that then would allow that next moment to work more effectively.

John: Yeah. You can envision the scenario where you’re setting up the coffee mug as an important prop from the start. Basically they’re getting in the car and she leaves the coffee mug up on top and as an audience we’re thinking, OK, she’s going to drive off with the coffee mug up top. And she remembers and she brings it in. Then you’ve shined a spotlight on that coffee mug so we’re looking for it down the road. That may help you.

And getting back to Sam’s POV, it comes down to even sort of scene geography. So on page one, she hangs up the phone, she walks down a hallway, she opens the bedroom door. We cut to inside the children’s bedroom. Really practically that can be just inside the children’s bedroom looking out, and that tells us that it’s Sam is the important one and the mom is looking in. And so it’s a simplification on the page but also helps us focus on what’s going to be most important here.

Daniela: Did you guys crave description of the bedroom for the child’s bedroom? Because that was something that I was like what kind of family is this. Because then when it’s this phone call of “My kid is in jail,” I’m like “OK where are they socioeconomically.” And you can get that from description of the bedroom, or even of the car. Because otherwise I’m projecting a lot of things onto this, and I don’t think that as the writer you want that, because then you’re going to get different kinds of reads from other people.

Craig: That’s a great point. I completely agree. You know, like my whole obsession about hair and makeup and wardrobe. But it really does help people to see – in this case also set dec. I mean, we’re really talking about the department heads who will eventually be asking these questions if they don’t know the answers from the page. And so you’re always balancing too much versus not enough, but certainly it seems purposeful that they have a certain socioeconomic status.

This is I assume a single mom in 1981. The boy is dirty, right? He’s like physically dirty. He’s bedraggled, I believe. And he’s in jail, again. This feels lower socioeconomic. And so you do want to kind of just set it. You want to feel it, you know.

Cullen: Even as much like do they share a room? Is this her own room?

Craig: Correct.

Cullen: There’s a bed on the other side of the room that’s completely made up, so you know the kid snuck out. There’s just little details that I think would add so much.

Craig: I agree.

Cullen: And even I had a question for you guys, because I wrote it down “Where are we?” And then you tease out like Texas Oklahoma drives by, which was helpful, but I did have the question like should we know that sooner. And maybe the bedroom would even hint at that’s where we are.

Craig: A good old license plate will tell you a lot. And also because you’re a period piece, showing these little things, you know, what does a poor kid in 1981, a little girl in 1981, have on her bed stand? What is that 1981 thing? My sister, because we didn’t have money, and so my sister had like stickers. Definitely had stickers. You know, the rainbow unicorn stickers, the puffy ones. And then posters from like Scholastic Book stuff, you know, because they would give you those for free.

So there are just things that you can do to help give us a sense of time and place and make us feel – you actually, it’s so weird how you begin to feel more for a human being when you believe them and they’re not just as a prop for a moment of action. You know?

John: Last little sort of craft thing. On page three, we use the word seething or seethes three times. And so seethe is like a special word. Any word that sort of stands out you don’t get to use it very often. So, use – one seethe is plenty.

Also, multiple punctuation can be useful when you really, really, have to single out something as being a giant question or a giant exclamation. But it happens twice here, so I think dialing back on that will help you out as well.

But let’s bring you up here, because we want to hear the rest of this.

Craig: All right. Amy Leland.

John: Amy, thank you so much for submitting these pages.

Amy: Thank you.

John: So tell us about – is the whole script written?

Amy: It is a feature. The whole script is written. I actually submitted the first draft to this conference two years ago, because I use this conference as my deadline, so I submitted a first draft I knew would never go anywhere, but I made myself do it.

Craig: There you go.

Amy: And it did not get to the second round and I got some feedback that really helped me understand why. And I’ve gone through several rewrites and a reading with some wonderful actors in New York. And you all have actually also answered a huge question for me that nobody has ever had before. I now really get the three page thing. He wasn’t in jail. He was at a police station. He’s a runaway, not a criminal. And so now I’m like, “Oh, I need to make that more clear.”

Craig: Oh, yeah, because I was thinking about like the police station has the jail in it, like the rural police station always has the jail. Oh, he’s a runaway.

Amy: The first six pages of this screenplay are autobiographical and then I completely fictionalize it from there. But the coffee mug moment was actually an ashtray and in one of our first readings somebody said, “Your lead mother is letting her 14-year-old smoke and isn’t making him stop and now we hate her.” And I was like, “OK, great, it’s a coffee mug then.”

Craig: No, actually, that is so cool. And I would go back to it. I swear to god. It’s really interesting. Because that’s real. It’s 1981. So my first year of high school was 1984. And in New Jersey in 1984 in like shitty – well, I grew up in Bruce Springsteen’s home town, which if you’ve heard the song you know how shitty it is. And I went to the high school he went to. And we – I mean, I didn’t start smoking until I was 17 I think, which is still a dirt-baggy age to start smoking. But 14 year olds, 15 year olds would stand outside underneath this overhang and that was the smoking area.

People – kids smoked in 1981.

Amy: Yeah, my brother gave me my first cigarette.

Craig: Yeah. It’s real.

Cullen: Also, how telling of that relationship, too.

Craig: Yes.

Cullen: The fact that she is letting him and the daughter feels like the outsider. Go back to that for sure.

Craig: There’s so many ways to actually make her sympathetic. If he’s like, “Can I have a cigarette?” And she’s like, “Yeah, but you got to quit, man.” And he’s like, “Well you got to quit.” Or Samantha is like, “You both got to quit,” and they’re like, “Shut up.” Whatever. There’s so many interesting ways to see they’re tortured and they’re struggling. That’s so much more interesting. And now it’s just a coffee mug. No, you find that person—

Daniela: Yeah, find that person. And I also think too often writers are so fixated on, “Oh, my character needs to be likeable.” Your character needs to be relatable.

Craig: Yes.

Daniela: So, a mother who is a single mom who is sort of exhausted by having the same conversation over and over again, we can all relate to that. And so having that moment, you know, that’s totally fine.

Amy: Thank you.

Daniela: And just adding—

Amy: No, my mother actually like reminded me of that story when I told her I was writing this. She’s like, “Oh my god, you have to put that story in. I love that story.”

Cullen: You guys must talk about that frequently, about the word likeable.

Craig: The worst note in the world.

John: Tell us your thoughts.

Cullen: I just loathe it so much, because what does that even mean? And I don’t want to like someone. I want to understand them and be interested in them. And for me, and maybe it’s a taste thing, but I would so much rather someone who is dark and twisted and deplorable because I understand where their actions are coming from than someone who is likeable. Like it drives me insane.

Craig: I believe that we on our show have called it the worst note in Hollywood. Because it is. It’s not only wrong, it’s damaging. And, in fact, if you take even a moment to look at movies and television that not only a lot of us individually like, but have been incredibly successful. Just factually financially successful. They have characters, they feature characters that are loathsome, and then you kind of like them and it’s fascinating to see your relationship with them.

It’s the stupidest note. So never. No, never. Never I say.

John: Amy, thank you so much for submitting these. Thank you so much.

Amy: Thank you.

Craig: All right. Well, we’ve got one more. So, our last Three Page Challenge comes from writer Jess Burkle. And it is entitled American Fruit.

In Costa Rica 1904, Charles Keston poses in an explorer outfit for a portrait. He insists that it look dignified and the fresh-faced photographer gives direction. Satisfied with the photos, Keston suggests that they stop there. He conspicuously name drops his girl back home. When asked about her, he quickly asks the photographer to forget he’s heard that. Heaven forbid that rumors start swirling.

The photographer points out that they should see Keston’s railroad in the photos. He’s right. Maybe Keston hasn’t been doing enough pointing. Keston spots a bunch of bananas and runs to collect it for a prop, but he doesn’t see the snake that gets shaken out of it.

While posing again, Keston spots the snake approaching the photographer but is unable to speak. He points furiously, but the photographer mistakes it for posing. The snake bites the photographer, who collapses. It seems that he is dead and that Keston is now alone in the jungle. And that is American Fruit by Jess Burkle. John, kick it off.

John: So, I understand that you actually have a history with Jess Burkle. So this is not a stranger to you.

Craig: We lived together for four years. Where is Jess Burkle? Hey! How are you doing? I was a judge, I was a judge in the final pitch contest here last year. And I remember your pitch for this. I remember you were hysterical. And you got a pretty good placement in there, right?

Jess Burkle: Second.

Craig: Second. And I remember, I may have been – anyway, you did a really, really, really good job. It was a very funny pitch and you had terrific energy. And so now here we have some evidence.

John: Yeah. And to be clear, Megan was the one who picked it, so you had no idea that this was–

Craig: Yeah. No, I did not have my–

John: And now everyone knows where Jess Burkle lives because his address is on the cover page. Brave choice. I thought these were delightful. Here’s what I thought was so delightful about it. It had a very clear voice. I completely heard who this character was, what this universe was, what this world was. And I was very curious to see more. I mean, it felt like The Office but sort of in a banana republic. And that is a delightful idea. And it worked really well for me.

I have a bunch of little exclamation points down my pages where it’s like, “Oh, that is a delightful line and a really nice choice.”

There were some awkward moments on page two, where the photographer tries to set up like shouldn’t we see the railroad from here. I had a hard time getting between those lines. It felt like there was kind of a time cut that you’re slicing over in the top of page two where the photographer starts packing up.

In general I felt like the photographer is just there to set up the volleyball for the other guy to spike. And I get that, but I just wanted to have a little sense of who he was. Is he a BJ Novak character who is like really smarter than all of this but is just putting up with it? Some sense of who that guy was, even though he’s going to die at the end of page three, which seems to be a recurring theme among our guests here.

But I was delighted to read them.

Daniela: Yeah, I mean, I thought that this was a really fun and there’s a clear juxtaposition between the photograph and the reality. And kind of getting into those thematics of projection versus reality.

I agree with the note of making the photographer like an essential character, because at the very end you end on a note of Keston is all alone and it’s only because the photographer is dead, but I was like the photographer has just been taking photos, so that feeling of doom should have always existed there because that guy didn’t really serve a purpose. So if it’s beyond that of the photographer knows more than everyone else, or the photographer is essentially the guide for Keston and now has died, then the question of now what, we’re invested in it.

So, trying to weave in those details in the teaser would make it much more stronger and then make that note land of the hilarity of like, “Oh shit.”

Cullen: Probably just on a personal taste thing, it didn’t give me as much glee, although I did get a very specific voice which I appreciated. I guess on a macro level, if I’m reading this and thinking, “Oh my god, I can’t wait for the rest of the pilot,” I didn’t have that gut feeling. And maybe because it’s a period piece, it did have that sort of Buster Keaton quality which I liked. And almost silly. But that also made me have more of a tonal question at the very end, because now he’s all alone in the jungle, and is this supposed to be comical or is it actually kind of dangerous?

That was my personal question. And then I also had the note what is a “rancid tire” and how does that look like when it deflates.

Craig: Well, we’re going to discuss tone in a second for sure. But I have a question for you. Keston is American or British?

Jess: American.

Craig: American. I’d love to know that, because unless you’ve told me here – I don’t think you have. No. Because this first page is kind of – I love the first page. I love everything about the first page. I love the way it’s laid out. I love Keston’s dialogue. I love the photographer. I love the photographer’s reaction to him. All this dialogue is fun. It’s funny. You’re intelligent. People don’t necessarily need to know what a fauteuil is to understand that this is funny. Because the photographer is like, “Like that rock.” “Ah, yes. More Antony, less Cleopatra.” What the fuck is this guy talking about?

You get it. You get that banter and that back and forth. You get that this guy is pompous and pretentious and is trying really, really hard. So page one, wonderful.

But at the bottom, he slips and falls backward with very little grace, landing as if he’s never touched soil before. So a physical gag like that I don’t want to be interrupted with a photo. It’s going to be tough to pull that off. If he’s, “Thusly?” and then he slips and falls and smashes his face on the rock, that’s funny. You know, I mean, connect it to his attitude. The interruption of it was a little—

Now, page two, he has this thing where he drops this bit about his girl on purpose and then says, “Oh, I don’t want rumors to start.” What is his intention there? You don’t have to answer it now. You can answer it when you get up. But my point is I wasn’t quite sure. I wasn’t sure if Keston knew this photographer, or if Keston was trying to – maybe there are rumors that Keston is gay and he’s trying to puncture that balloon. What is he exactly up to in that bit? I was kind of confused about what you wanted me to feel.

“Shouldn’t we see your railroad from here, Mr. Keston?” It surprised me that this goof has a railroad. I was actually kind of shocked by that. Then the snakes.

Now, here’s the thing. If you’re going to go broad, and this is suddenly very, very broad, then I think it’s funny to have Keston get bit by the snake himself. That’s funny. The photographer gets bit. I don’t know that guy, so it’s not that funny. Plus he is dying, which is super not funny. And the foaming from his mouth and the convulsions, and then the urine, is super not funny. Right?

And at that point I’m so confused about what movie I’m in. I want to be in the movie on page one. I mean, to me, I read page one, I’m like, oh, Paul Rudnick wrote a movie about a banana tycoon and I’m having such a great time.

If you want to do page three movie, then I think page one and two have to be different. So those were all the things that were running through my mind.

Now, all that said, I just want to say great job. Everything was just nice and crisp, clean. I liked the descriptions. I liked the way things were laid out. I felt safe. Except for the moments where I didn’t feel safe. It was axiomatic, wasn’t it?

John: I want to talk a little bit about Keston’s character and sort of the foppish, dandy kind of quality. Because on page three is the first time we say effeminate, so “Terrified and effeminate, Keston URGENTLY POINTS to the ground.” In a period piece, to single out somebody as being effeminate reads a little bit differently, but we’re also reading it in 2017. So I would just be mindful that it doesn’t come off as homophobic, which it can come off a little bit homophobic when you single the thing out.

So watch the words you’re using to describe him, because let his actions sort of do that work for you. Be careful not to put too much of a label on him, because it’s going to read a certain way reading this right now in 2017.

One other thing I wanted to single out is it alternates between what the photographer sees and sort of the black and white and the color. And so the black and white could either be the finished image or it could be literally what the photographer is seeing through the lens. If it’s what the photographer sees through the lens, that’s not black and white because it’s still color. But it might be upside down, it might be flipped in an interesting way. So, if it’s meant to be his point of view I think you’re going to need to make a different choice for what that actually looks like from his side.

Anything more before we bring him up? Come on up here. Let’s talk more.

Craig: All right, come on up.

Jess: Thank you. And I recently moved, so it’s OK. Different address.

John: So don’t hunt him down at the address that’s listed here, which was 104 8th Avenue.

Jess: 8th Avenue. Six years there. It was great.

John: All right. So this is a pilot. It’s a half-hour or an hour?

Jess: It started as a half-hour, but it ended up being an hour. Yeah.

John: And where are you out with it now? Have you done any readings? Have you done any stuff like that?

Jess: I’ve taken it around. And I’ve gotten management and an agent from it.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool.

Jess: And so now it’s starting to–

Craig: Is it them? Is it these two?

Jess: You know, open these doors, because – not yet. Nothing’s signed yet, so.

Cullen: Just the client we want.

Jess: Yeah, exactly. And so it’s getting some good feedback because people say they haven’t seen something about Oscar Wilde running the banana industry in Central America which is what it’s about.

Craig: Exactly. Oscar Wilde running the banana industry.

John: I suspect this is all really quite good. But I’m curious what else you’re writing right now based – what else are you trying to do and what are you aiming to do?

Jess: What I’m aiming to do is be a TV writer that I recently learned more does drama with funny moments. Like a Fargo level comedy inside of really tight stories. So I recently finished a project actually about Johnny Russo who was a recent How Would This Be a Movie. I just wrote a pilot about that and two other French women who are double agents in different time periods. That one is very serious. And now I’m writing a comedy about a lesbian couple having a known donor IVF in Park Slope.

So, I like going after kind of these human stories, but trying to make funny things happen out of them.

Craig: Tell me, what was going on with the name drop here?

Jess: So, the backstory, or what we come to learn later on is Charles is on the run after he’s been discovered as a homosexual at Harvard University. And so his family essentially says why don’t you go down to Costa Rica and run our railroad, which normally they never have anything to do with, that’s why the railroad isn’t there. And what he finds out at the end of act one is that the company was actually an elaborate Ponzi scheme. There is no money. And now he is alone in the jungle with no money. But he has to still pretend to society and to Boston that he is a winner. And he came here to start an empire and all these kind of things. So that new world hubris that we had at the top of the century.

Craig: Great. That works.

John: That works.

Craig: That totally works.

John: Jess, thank you so much for submitting your three pages.

Craig: Awesome. Thanks.

Jess: Thank you.

John: So, to wrap up here, I want to thank our four very brave people for not only submitting their pages but coming up and talking to us.

Craig: Fantastic. Thank you guys.

John: I also need to thank our producer, Megan McDonnell, who is over there.

Craig: Megan!

John: I want to thank the Austin Film Festival for having us, especially our room manager, Katie. Katie, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, Katie.

John: And a reminder that there is a live show tonight, so come to that if you want to come to that.

Craig: Yeah, we will be pretty lit up for that one.

John: Uh, Craig will be.

Craig: Definitely show up.

John: But I especially want to thank Daniela and Cullen for joining us up here. You guys were so, so helpful and generous.

Daniela: Thanks for having us.

John: Thank you guys very much.

Craig: Thanks everyone.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Mergers and Breakups

Tue, 11/28/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig explore the possibilities and consequences of Disney’s potential purchase of Fox film and television studios. What might prevent the sale? What does each side stand to gain? To lose? What could it mean for writers?

Then, it’s another installment of “This Kind of Scene,” in which we dissect the mechanics of an effective breakup scene by looking at Casablanca, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, (500) Days of Summer, Love and Basketball, Brokeback Mountain and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

The Scriptnotes live holiday show is December 7th in Hollywood, with special guest writer-producers Julie Plec (The Vampire Diaries), Michael Green (American Gods) and Justin Marks (Counterpart). Ticket link below.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Austin 2017 Three Page Challenge

Tue, 11/21/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig review four Three-Page Challenge entries with the help of Daniela Garcia-Brcek (Literary Manager at Circle of Confusion) and Cullen Conly (Literary Agent at ICM). We then invite the writers up to discuss the notes.

It’s not just craft, though. Our special guests give us a behind-the-scenes look at the realities of representation. What do agents and managers look for when they read (or “look at”) scripts? How important is a logline? Who reads queries? Daniela and Cullen tell us the unvarnished truth.

Thanks to the Austin Film Festival for hosting us and to our brave participants!

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 325: (Adjective) Soldier — Transcript

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 16:25

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: Mazin is name Craig mine.

John: This is Episode 325 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program we’ll be answering a bunch of listener questions on topics ranging from montages, to life rights, to passive heroes.

Craig: That should be pretty good. That’s a nice spread.

John: It’s a good spread. So essentially what happens is people write in with these great questions ,and we always have a few of them on the outline to get to and we just don’t get to them.

Craig: Yeah, no, because we like chit-chatting.

John: We chit-chat. So how was your week, Craig?

Craig: Well, you know John, since we’ve entered the chit-chat mode, I have to tell you I’m still just every day I feel like I’m being smashed in the face with the news. It’s relentless. And dispiriting.

John: I guess I would take some inspiration. I feel like a bunch of stuff that has been percolating for forever is now getting out. And I do think we will emerge from this in a better place. It’s just you open up Twitter each day, it’s like who was the terrible person today?

Craig: Yeah.

John: And sometimes they’re the people you knew would be the terrible person. And sometimes it’s a brand new person. So, we’ll see.

Craig: I feel a little bit like, did you see Team America?

John: I did see Team America. We’re going to reference Team America later on.

Craig: Indeed. So there’s that moment where the lead puppet, I can’t remember his name, just gets super drunk and he starts vomiting in an alley. And the vomit just keeps coming. That’s basically me. Every day I wake up, I look at the news, I get on my hands and knees in a dirty alley and I start vomiting.

John: Yeah. It’s a natural feeling.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You are in the middle of casting your project, and a question for you is – obviously you don’t need to name any names – but do you feel that the discussion of casting has changed at all just with the revelations of this past month?

Craig: Yes. For sure. I mean, we have not encountered anybody that we’ve been considering who has at all been on the radar for any kind of problem. So it hasn’t come up in a specific sense. But we’ve had a ton of conversations about it, obviously. And I think what’s clear now is that anyone that’s now casting a show or hiring a director for a show is just not going to hire somebody that there’s even rumors about. Because the damage that is done – it’s fatal. These are fatal blows to projects. And naturally our first concern should be with the human beings who were victimized, but we know that businesses by and large tend to think about things in terms of money. They’re not people, they’re businesses, no matter what the Supreme Court says. And they don’t really have feelings.

There is an enormous amount of damage that is done when these things happen. So I think right now – I mean, look, you and I, we’ve heard some rumors about people and we don’t necessarily report on rumors, because we’re not journalists, and I guess journalists don’t either. But I would be shocked if any of those people were hired at this point.

John: Yeah. I think it’s an interesting time we’re moving into because traditionally when you go into casting you get really nervous casting somebody who you worry is going to screw up in the future. That they’re going to screw up during the course of your movie, or they’re going to screw up before the movie comes out, and there will be a liability. And so those are the people that make you nervous.

I think a change that has happened is that people who worried like, oh, something is going to come out about them during the time that we’re making this thing or when we’re trying to release it, and then we’re going to have to scramble or it’s going to taint this project. And so anybody who could potentially taint the project is a liability.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you know, this is actually a great study in sort of a before and after as the world has woken up to the reality of what’s going on. And I include myself in there because I didn’t understand the depth of the predation that was occurring. My concerns prior to all this stuff, we’ll call it pre-Harvey, was will this person be nice? Will they be difficult? That was basically it. Are they going to be nice or difficult? And now it’s this whole other thing.

And I think Hollywood – I don’t think we’ve quite yet processed or even have the capacity to process how this is going to change our industry. It is going to be a profound change in our industry. Profound.

John: I think you’re right. So that will be one of the topics I hope we will discuss at our live show December 7 in Hollywood. So, this is the official first announcement of that. December 7 here in Hollywood we’re doing a live show. We do our annual sort of Christmas-y holiday show. We don’t know who our guests are going to be yet, but we’re going to be looking for fascinating people to talk about these topics and other topics. We usually get into sort of the big movies of the award season, but also great TV. So we’ll have some amazing guests on stage, me and Craig, at the LA Film School. An event sponsored by the Writers Guild Foundation, our friends there.

So, if you’re in town, come join us for that.

Craig: And this event benefits the Writers Guild Foundation.

John: It does indeed benefit them. So, when the page is up where people can buy tickets, we’ll put a link to that. But just mark it on your calendar so you don’t double book yourself that night.

Craig: Yep.

John: Cool. Let’s answer some questions.

Craig: Yeah, let’s do it.

John: Let’s start with a question from Anonymous who writes, “I’d like to get your take on the thought that all lead characters must be active, not passive. I’ve gotten the note about a passive main character numerous times, but it’s almost as if the passivity is essential to who this character is as he reacts to some of the absurdity and misfortune the world places upon on him.

“My script is a comedy and heavily influenced by pieces like Swingers and the TV show Louis where the main character is mostly passive and forced into action against his will.” So, Craig, let’s talk about some passive main heroes.

Craig: Well, the problem with passivity isn’t necessarily passivity, I think. I think the problem with passivity is that it generally is a symptom that your character doesn’t want anything. So, our lead characters are people that want something. And what they want can change. It very often does. But they are driven to achieve a goal. That is in a feature film.

In comedies, particularly episodic comedies, but we’re talking about sitcoms really where the idea is you’re watching things unfold over time, you can have cases of a show where the characters are reacting to the world around them. In Seinfeld the characters were often passive. Not always, but often. And were simply commenting. And it was a kind of dramatized version of stand up in a weird way. A show about nothing, so to speak, and that’s all right because you understand you’re visiting with these people for 22 minutes and there isn’t a beginning, middle, and end that has some sort of meaningful closure or growth for the lead character.

But for a feature, your character needs to want something. If you’re getting the note that your character is passive, it may be in fact a symptom.

John: I think you are correct. I think passive can be fine. Aimless is rarely a good quality in your hero, your main character. Aimless in the sense that we don’t know what that character wants. You’re not making it clear what the character is going for, either in the someday down the road future, the immediate future, or even like right what they’re trying to do within the scene.

If those kind of motivations are unclear, then there really is going to be a problem. You can have a character who seems to be stuck in a situation and is not driving the story. That can work as long as we understand what that character is trying to do. What this character is being prevented from doing. Even the character isn’t making like huge outgoing efforts. As long as we can see what they’re hoping for. What their aim is.

If we can see how that character imagines themselves in the future in a better place, that’s going to get you something. But I agree with you also that in movies you tend to have characters who take an action that changes their life forever over the course of that movie. Like a thing that could only happen once happens to them in the course of that movie.

In television, you know, it’s a repeated cycle. So you have so often in television comedy that main character is sort of the straight man who is reacting to the wacky characters around him or her. So you have, you know, the Frasier Crane character on Cheers is a more extreme character and is driving scenes by being sort of extreme. But when you take Frasier and you move him as the lead of his own sitcom, he calms down a little bit and everybody else around him gets a bit wackier. So, that’s kind of natural in comedy.

Craig: Yeah. I think if Anonymous is getting this note over and over and over it may be that he or she is working in the wrong genre, or the wrong format. It may be that Anonymous belongs writing episodic comedy as opposed to feature comedy. There’s nothing wrong with that. You kind of have to write toward where your voice is. It’s probably not so much about the passivity. I think you and I both agree – I think your word aimless is exactly right, because what else is an aim if not a want.

John: Yeah. I would also just look for conflict overall. Make sure there’s conflict happening within your scenes and overall between characters. I think so often newer writers tend to be afraid of conflict or putting their characters in bad situations. So, put them to the fire. And you may also just be new to the form. And so when you first have characters on the page talking to each other, you end up doing a lot of quotidian chit-chatty stuff. And that’s not a movie. That’s not TV.

Craig: No, I think you’re right that new writers will engage in the chit-chat because it’s a way for them to find a path toward naturalistic dialogue. And that’s fine. I mean, you have to learn one way or another. But the problem is if you include that in a screenplay what you’re also saying is “My training exercise to figure out how people speak naturally to each other is now also something that you are forced to sit there and watch because I also think it’s entertaining.” That is typically not the case.

The goal of the craft is to, A, write dialogue and exchanges naturalistically, and B, have them be purposeful and entertaining and fascinating and challenging and smart and clever and funny and sad. Whatever it is that you’re going for. So, these wandering kind of discussions are very common for early writers. I always feel like they’re grasping. It’s like they get proud because they say, “Look, this actually does sound a legitimate conversation.” Correct. Now, you have to just write one that people would actually care to listen to.

John: Yep. I just typed down purposeful but natural, which I think is an incredibly key thing you identified about good dialogue there. It feels the way characters could actually speak in that moment, and yet there’s a purpose behind it.

Craig: There you go.

John: Next question.

Craig: Next question. We’ve got something from RJ. I like that – it’s hard to tell – I’m just cheating ahead, the people that have written in. We have quite a few where you just don’t know the gender. It’s a mystery. I like it.

RJ writes, “How many montages are too montages?” How many montages, John? How many montages does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?

John: How many montages must a man climb before he’s, you know, seen the world?

Craig: Is there a number? I think the answer is 42. [laughs]

John: So back in Episode 268 of Scriptnotes, the episode was titled Sometimes You Need a Montage, we talked a lot about montages and different kinds of montages, but I think we didn’t really answer RJ’s question here, which I think is a good question. I’m going to say three?

Craig: Oh, yeah, three is a lot.

John: Three is a lot. But, here’s what I would say. It really depends on the kind of montage there is. So let’s just see if we could list different kinds of montages because they’re very different. So, we have to start with the classic training montage and when we say that we are required to play a snippet from Team America World Police. So let’s play that here.

[Snippet plays]

All right, so that’s talking about classically where a character starts learning how to do something. They get better at it and stuff goes along. But so that’s an important thing. But there’s other montages that aren’t quite so egregious or sort of montage-y. So there’s these sort of passage of time, where literally you’re just moving from one season to another season. I feel that will be a montage of shots, but it doesn’t feel like a montage. It doesn’t feel like a bunch of little short scenes. It’s just like you’re showing a passage of time.

You could have multiples of those in a movie and you’d be fine.

Changing into various clothes things, you get one of those in a movie. If you get two of those, you’ve got to be commenting on the absurdity of having two of those kind of montages.

And I would also just look for why you’re using montages. If it’s just because you don’t know how to do it any other way, or you’ve just got a bunch of stuff to stick together, that’s probably not a good reason for using a montage. There really has to be a purpose behind why you’re choosing to show it in that form.

Craig: You’re the best around. I think that there’s a certain kind of montage that we think of as a montage-y montage. So, the changing of the clothes, the training. Those things I think you get one of. I don’t even think you get one of each. I think you get one.

John: I think you’re right.

Craig: The other kinds that aren’t really noticeable as montages, so someone is driving through a new town and looking around at the churches and the restaurants and the houses, that’s just sort of – often times those will play under a kind of relaxed song or something, but I don’t think of those as montages where you’re trying to show growth, or change, or any of those silly things. It’s just the stick-outty montages. You get one, I think.

John: Yeah, I think you’re right. Here’s the other kind of montage which I think is appropriate in different genres can make it is sort of the heist montage, or the moving through a series of small steps that get you into a place or out of a place. That can be valid, too. So if you’re making a heist movie, you’re making one of those Now You See It movies, that you’re going to have multiple montages because that’s just the nature of it. Or there’s going to be some bigger event that you are going to compress into smaller sections. I get that for that kind of movie.

But for most movies, I’m going to say three. I’m going to stick with three. And only one of those can be a training or changing clothes montage.

Craig: Right. And we would like to get that training or changing clothes montage number down to zero. That would be good.

John: That would be good. You know what? I’m still going to allow them, but I would say like you have to be aware that you are entering into cliché territory and either be better than most of them, or be commenting on the nature of it to really work.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Cool. Christopher writes, “I’m working on an adaptation of a book. What is the etiquette on using direct quotes or lines from the source material?”

Craig: Well, I’m going to presume some things here, Christopher. I’m going to presume that the book is fictional, and I’m going to presume that you do not have the rights to the book, or else you wouldn’t be asking the question, I don’t think.

John: Oh, well maybe he would own the rights.

Craig: Well, if he owns the rights, there’s no etiquette. The etiquette is take whatever you want. And if there is some great dialogue, great quotes or lines in the book, by all means use them. If you don’t have the rights and you’re sort of doing this on spec and hoping that you can get them, then again I would say go ahead and take what you want as long as you acknowledge when you’re showing the screenplay to people that you don’t have the rights. And that the rights would be necessary. Which they would be regardless, whether you took lines of dialogue or not.

No one thinks of that as plagiarism. The whole point of adaptation is you’re taking a book and you’re taking a work of art, and you’re transforming it into a related work of art, but you’re taking the characters and the plot points and all sorts of stuff. So, yeah, you’re free to use whatever you want.

John: Yeah. Legally, morally, ethically, you know, owning the rights to a piece of property and adapting them into another work, what you have there that is usable you’re allowed to use. I’ve adapted many, many books, and rarely is there much that you get to take directly from the book. But if there’s something that’s great there, you use it.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was sort of an exception in that in that case I literally went through the book with a highlighter and I would save even like little bits of scene description as much as I could, just so it would be as Roald Dahl-y as possible. But most of the things I’ve worked on, there hasn’t been really a single line of dialogue that I’ve been able to take over just because dialogue in movies and dialogue in books is so different. So, you’re unlikely to be able to use that much of it.

Craig: Unquestionably. Same experience with me on the project I’m doing with Lindsay Doran. There is a novel and there’s not really much in the way of specific dialogue. There are a couple things here and there. There’s one line – really it’s a description of an object – and we loved the way the character described the object and we just lifted that exactly. So, it’s your choice. It’s entirely your choice.

Well, we’ve got our next question from Chris here in Los Angeles. Chris writes, “I have a question regarding the writing of screenplays based on documentaries. There are a few docs I’ve seen that have interested me so much that I have wanted to write a screenplay based on them. Because these documentaries are based on true events, are the stories public domain? Or are the rights to the documentary needed before writing a screenplay?”

John: So documentaries are not in the public domain. So you’re not adapting public domain material. You are adapting this documentary. It sounds like you are so entranced by how this documentary presented this material that you think that the documentary needs to be adapted into a screenplay. That is source material. That is a source material you would need to get the rights to in order to sell or make a movie based on that.

Now, it could be that you watched a documentary about some historic event that happened 50 years ago, 100 years ago, that you think is fantastic. And you don’t necessarily think it’s any one particular thing about that documentary that is fantastic, but you think the event itself is fantastic. So then you’ve gone out and watched nine other documentaries about it and you’ve read books about it and you’ve done research and you’ve taken notes and you are ready to write your own version of a movie based on these events. Then you’re free and clear I think both ethically and morally. But show your work. Show that you’ve actually done this research to create your own take on what this historic event was, or events were, and real life people.

But, yes, if you are thinking about adapting a documentary into a movie, that’s the same kind of getting of rights as working off of a book.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right, tell me your thoughts.

Craig: If there is a certain kind of narrative structure to the documentary that you want to convert into a screenplay form, then I think I’m completely onboard with you that there is something specific about that documentary and its narrative structure. The way it kind of moves around in time or the way it reveals things and how it reveals things. But the actual information in a documentary is not any more protected than information in a news story.

People who appear on a documentary and tell their story, and documentaries are always nonfiction obviously, they’re telling their story. That information is now fact. And people can’t own facts. So, if I watch a documentary about something that even happened a month ago, and all I want to do is take the information that I’ve learned from that documentary and then make a movie about it, then I can do it. However, there are some areas where you have to be careful.

If you are now creating fictionalized characters of people that you saw in the documentary, well for starters you can’t do anything to defame them, obviously. You can’t take somebody from a documentary and then present them as a drunk when they’re not a drunk. And you’re only really limited to the information that you can get through a documentary or news articles or any other nonfiction sources. So the documentarian can’t own the facts about those people. They can’t own what those people said onscreen.

But, you know, if you were to make a movie you would have to maybe think about going and getting some life rights so that you could actually speak to those people and get more information. So, it’s a little tricky.

Generally speaking, I agree with you though, John, that in the casual day-to-day affairs of doing business, if a documentary comes out and it really grips people and somebody wants to make a movie of that documentary, a fictionalized movie of that documentary, they would probably go and get the rights to adapt it so that there wouldn’t be any question.

John: So, let’s make up a documentary, and I’ll show you sort of the counter examples of what you’re describing in terms of it is based on real people so you have to go do it. Let’s say you watch a documentary about this chess prodigy in Northern Canada. He’s an Inuit whose grandfather learned chess in WWII, and it had a transforming effect in this village that he grew up in. You see a fantastic, compelling documentary about this.

If you want to go off and make the feature version of this, and this is the only sort of source you have for this. This is how you found out about it and there’s really nothing else written about it other than like articles about this documentary. If you want to go off and make the feature version of this without trying to get the rights to that documentary, I think you’re in a really dicey place morally, ethically, legally to try to do your version of it.

Because maybe all these people are now dead, so there aren’t even life rights involved.

Craig: Well, if they’re dead there’s even less of a legal issue.

John: I still think there’s a legal issue because you’re adapting the work of the documentarian who made this specific film and sort of put together this whole package of an idea in terms of what this chess prodigy Inuit living in a remote Canadian village, how he was able to transform the town. I think your framing of the story and what the impacts were could very well be legally if not just morally bound up in that original documentary.

Craig: Well, I’ll give you moral on that one, for sure. I mean, if there’s one documentary, there’s nothing else, and you just take it and you just do a fictional version of it, A, that feels wrong. B, like I said, if you’re following a documentarian’s narrative structure, then I do think that there’s a real case for infringement there.

The part about the facts, that’s coming – I’ve been having conversations with lawyers recently, just you know I was starting to talk to the folks at HBO just to make sure that everything in Chernobyl is OK because I’m just pulling this all from many, many, many sources. You know, tons of books and articles and documentaries and everything. And so I’ve been getting an education, and I’m in great shape. But I’ve been getting an education on how it works and it’s actually far more permissive than I thought.

John: OK.

Craig: Only in the sense that people can’t own facts.

John: That’s true.

Craig: That’s really the big one. Is that they can’t own facts and they can’t own – if you film a real person saying a thing, so that person said, “Yes, you can film me saying this,” then that film in the world, that is now not ownable. The film is ownable, obviously. You can’t project that film. But what they said now is a matter of public record. And anyone can use it.

John: Absolutely. I’d also direct people back to — Irene Turner was on the show last year and we talked through things she was doing when she was making her movie based on Madeline Murray O’Hair. And the challenges that she ran into with the legal rights advisers for that because there were places where they had to sort of prove the sourcing on where stuff was, both in terms of not libeling and defaming people, but also just where these facts were coming from.

Craig: Yeah. And I’ve had to do a very, very, very extensive annotation, which I was helped with by our researcher, and then that annotation went over to HBO. And then they have their person who does an independent annotation of everything. And then we have a large discussion going through and making sure that everything is appropriate. So companies actually do quite a thorough job on these things. And for good reason.

John: Yeah. And so going back to Chris’s question, if in doing that annotation you were to find out that like, oh, almost everything is coming from this documentary, that’s probably a signal that something needs to be figured out in terms of how you are approaching the rights to that documentary.

Craig: It’s also a bit of a strange thing to do, I mean, we haven’t actually mentioned that. To turn a documentary into a non-documentary is a bit of an odd move. I’m trying to think of an example of it.

John: A few years ago there was an adaptation of Serial that was going to happen for television. And that was a case where it was moving from a documentary series about the case in the first season of Serial to a fictionalized show. And that, you know, that stuff does happen.

Craig: Well, that’s more of a branding thing, isn’t it?

John: I guess it’s a branding thing, but you know–

Craig: Because they weren’t going to tell the story that they actually told on Serial, right?

John: I don’t think it was ever quite clear.

Craig: Oh, interesting.

John: I remember getting the call about doing that. I’m like, “I don’t know how to do this.”

Craig: I say that all the time. How many times a week do you say that? I feel like I need a recording of myself saying, “I don’t know how to do that.”

John: Yeah. Actually just this last week I got sent a book that is based on a real life event that happened in a city historically – well, that narrows it down. But I was sent this and I was like, yeah, I get why that’s a movie and I totally get how that can be a movie that wins awards, but I don’t know how to do it and I don’t know how to sustain my interest in doing it for the three years it would take to make this happen.

Craig: Yeah. No one seems to care about our interest in things. They’re always just like, “No, no, no. We’re offering you a job. That’s enough, right? You say yes. I say here’s money, you say yes.” That’s the way it used to be with me, by the way. [laughs] And I was like, “Yes, I’m sorry did you say money? Yes, the answer is yes.”

Shall we proceed on to our next question?

John: Yes, let’s do it.

Craig: All right. We’ve got Josh in Enceladus City. Enceladus?

John: I’m wondering if it’s a joke. I’m wondering if this is a made up thing and it’s a reference we’re not catching?

Craig: Oh my god. Well, I’ll just ignore it and pretend it’s real. Josh in Enceladus City writes, “If I want to make a web series loosely based on someone’s life, a life,” oh, this is sort of a related question, “a life I know only through a Twitter feed, how would I go about doing this to protect all parties involved? The person in question is not famous or even Twitter famous. He’s an amusing blue collar guy who has a particular set of life circumstances that would make a great series. I’ve exchanged emails with him and basically said, ‘LOL, man, just go do it. I’d love to see that.’

“Initially this would be just a web series. Of course, we would hope that we’d follow in the steps of a web series like Broad City and eventually turn it into a TV show. So for the web series I’d be asking for a very low cost option on his Twitter account. But I would want to protect him so that if we were able to transition to a proper television show he would get paid a fair price or percentage. Obviously I want to protect myself as well, but the last thing I want to do is take elements of this guy’s life and screw him over.”

All right, Josh, well your heart is certainly in the right place. John, what advice do you have?

John: First off, I like Josh. I like that Josh is thinking not only of himself, but this guy as well. And he’s thinking about the future. And he’s thinking big. He’s thinking Broad City. So I hope all these things can happen.

When I first read the question I had skipped over the fact that he only knew him through Twitter, so I thought it was a real life friend, which doesn’t change the calculation that much, but the person you know on Twitter is basically a stranger, so you don’t know what kind of all the dynamics are going to be.

I would say that Josh is looking for an agreement that would say I am authorizing Josh to write a script and literary material – don’t even call it a script, don’t call it a television series – to write literary material based on my life and things that have been portrayed in this Twitter feed. I understand that the characters and circumstances may not necessarily reflect actual things. There’s going to be good legal language you’ll find for that. I’m going to put a link in the show notes to the NOLO legal guide for rights and rights purchases, which I think could help him out there.

But basically you want some letter that you’re both signing that states like, “Hey, here’s what we’re trying to do. Here is how we’re sort of overall framing this.” I wouldn’t get into the compensation or producer credit or anything like that in this first go around. I think this guy who you’re writing about, you know, he’s going to probably want some protection in him saying that it’s a non-exclusive option on these rights, so that you’re basically paying him no money. You don’t get to hold on to the rights to his stuff for forever, or do whatever you want for a long time.

Craig, what would you say to Josh?

Craig: I agree with you that Josh is a good guy. And so here’s the thing. Most of these things get worked out by the company. The company will want the most leeway possible. So they’re going to want to, A, pay him off one time. They’re not going to want to pay him a percentage of anything. And, Josh, I have to tell you, if you work on this show for five years and it becomes really, really successful, you’re going to get tired of paying this dude, too, every week.

Because he’s not doing anything. You’re doing it. You’re making the show. And the character is going to develop and evolve over time away from the inspiration and into what it is which is your creation that was initially inspired by somebody. So they’re going to want to do a payout. And the buyout means they are going to own the rights and life rights in perpetuity forever across the universe. For now, for you, I think the most important thing is that you actually have an email from him saying go ahead, do it. Believe it or not, that matters. He’s essentially given you permission. And you haven’t done anything yet to damage him.

John: Yep.

Craig: See, the damaging part, so this is how this works. People can sue you if you have damaged them. If you start to portray him using his real name and having him do things that he wouldn’t do that are embarrassing, hurtful to him, hurtful to his reputation, then he can come after you. But that’s not going to happen until a studio gets involved. Right? It doesn’t get produced and therefore cannot cause damages until a studio is involved.

They’re going to handle this. So, I think you’ve actually done what you need to do.

John: I think there’s a case to be made for getting something a little bit more in writing before you go off and shoot the web series. Because a web series could be that you’re spending a thousand dollars, or it could be that you’re spending $100,000, and you want to have some protection for yourself there. And some sense of a structure before you do that.

I agree though that it’s not until you get an actual series or feature deal or something else that it becomes important to do something bigger than this.

Craig: Well, yes. Look, Josh, if you’re the money behind the web series then you’re the company. Now you’re the company that means you need a lawyer to do the buyout. And you buy it out. And here’s the thing. The guy is going to get some money that he never thought he was going to ever get in his life for that. And he has a choice to make about whether he wants that money or not.

And, again, I’m not sure an ongoing percentage is fair. I think a lump sum and a buyout is a fair. In talking with an attorney, you may both find that it makes a lot of sense for you to change the name, because his name doesn’t mean anything. Rather than expose yourself and this man to any kind of potential harm, you just use him as an inspiration but you change the name and therefore you’re really well protected.

John: Yeah. I think you’re right. I’m curious, I haven’t looked up the backstory of Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld who is based on/inspired by a real person, so every once and awhile you see stories of the real Kramer. But I don’t know what he was paid or sort of how he was acknowledged in the genesis of the show. Our friend, Dana Fox, her show Ben and Kate, the Ben of that show was Ben Fox, her brother. And so I think he got some payment for that. But he was sort of the inspiration of that character and sort of the thought behind that character. But he wasn’t literally the actor on screen. It wasn’t exactly what himself was onscreen.

Craig: Obviously if it’s your brother it’s a bit different. Kramer, the real life Kramer, did file a defamation lawsuit against a former Seinfeld writer, but I don’t really know. It didn’t go anywhere. It was dismissed.

John: All right.

Craig: So, but I don’t think it was about the show. I think it was about something that that writer had written in a book. I mean, if you are inspired by a real life person, but you create a character with an entirely different name there really – and you never talk about the fact that it was inspired by that person – the real person really has no damages. They kind of create the damages themselves by saying that person is based on me.

John: Anybody who enters into a writer’s life kind of – there has to be some sort of general acknowledgment that if you’ve enter into a writer’s orbit, you know, you may be portrayed in a fictional version somewhere down the road. And I think a bigger discussion to have is sort of what is a writer’s moral and ethical – and legal – responsibility to inform the person that they are taking that one little aspect of a character or there’s a person who does that, but essentially if you’re a married man writing about a wife there’s going to be some aspect of your own relationship with your wife that’s going to be portrayed there. That is just natural.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. And listen there is obviously the legal stuff that we’re talking about and then there’s the ethical stuff. And any time you write something, I mean, I hear these stories. I know people write something and then they hand it to somebody and someone goes, “Oh my god, that’s me.” And sometimes the writer says, “What? No it isn’t.” Those people are like, “Yes it is.” And they’re like no it isn’t.

And now there’s a problem. Sometimes they’re like, oh yeah, that story you told was so funny and so I used it for this. And this person is like, “Yeah, but I didn’t want anyone else to know that story, even though it’s not associated with my name, or it was mine.” So, you can create interpersonal problems. And you do have to be aware of that when you do these things.

John: I had a friend who wrote to me about an executive that he had an interaction with that’s like, “Hey wait, was that character in that one movie you wrote, was that based on her?” I’m like, “Oh no, god no, that wasn’t her at all.” I could totally understand why he might have thought that, but it wasn’t. It was just a general composite of that kind of person that I’ve met. But he was convinced like, oh no, no, no, you wrote exactly that person. And a couple times in my life I have had people feel like, “Oh, that was based on this person.” And I was like, yeah, I can see why you say that, but no. It’s just my own take on that kind of person.

Craig: Exactly. There’s only so many different kinds of people.

John: Indeed. All right, Travis in Santa Monica wrote to ask, “What happens to the copyright of films and film universe specific content that is based on source material when the source material enters the public domain? For example, Ian Fleming’s James Bond character has become public domain for those adhering to the Berne Treaty, which is 50 years after his death. So, can Canada make a Bond film?”

Craig, absolve all these legal issues for us.

Craig: Well, I will do my best. So, there are two different kinds of copyrights we’re talking about here. One is a copyright on source material and one is a copyright on a movie that’s made of the source material. And these things expire at different times because they’re created at different times.

So, basically what we’re saying is, OK, Sherlock Holmes, perfect example. That’s long now in the public domain. That means anyone can create a derivative work from the Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories. But you can’t take things from say the recent Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies because that’s still copyrighted by, I believe it’s Warner Bros.

So the copyright of the movies doesn’t change at all when the source material enters the public domain. All it means is now other people can make such movies. This is why for instance there are 14 billion different kinds of movies set in and around the world of Oz. But they can only draw on the public domain material, which is what L. Frank Baum wrote. So, for instance, very famously when Disney was making – what was it called, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the one with James Franco?

John: Yeah, Oz, Great and Powerful.

Craig: There you go. And at one point they have the witch turning green. Well, I don’t believe the witch is green in Frank Baum’s books. Warner Bros. I believe holds the copyright on the 1939 film which is still in copyright. And basically what it came down to is they were like when all the law dust was settled it was there is a shade of green that is our property. If you want to turn your witch green, she can’t be our green. So, it comes down to stuff like that, which is sort of fascinating.

Similarly with Bond, yes, so in Canada you can make a movie about James Bond. You cannot take any single element that has ever been in any James Bond movie.

John: Well, any single element that’s been in the movies that is not already in the book.

Craig: Correct. So, and you’d have to really make sure. And it probably couldn’t even look quite like it was in the movie, even if it’s a common element. And the truth is the movies are different than the books. And there have been so many since. So, it’s not quite so simple. And, of course, when it’s based on work that is not in the public domain in another country, like say the United States, I’m not sure how that exactly works. You may not be able to release it in the United States. So, tricky.

John: I have a half memory of an adaptation of 1984 done zillions of years ago that could not be released in the US because in the US 1984 was still under copyright. There was some problem with 1984 that it couldn’t be released.

Another thing I would point out – and I don’t know if this is the case with Bond, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is – trademark and copyright don’t line up necessarily.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And so certain big characters are trademarked, even if their copyright has expired. And so, again, I don’t remember what happened with Tarzan, but for a while Tarzan was a trademarked brand. And so you could do a story that sort of uses the underlying novel of Tarzan but you couldn’t call him Tarzan because Tarzan was a trademarked character name.

So, there can be issues like that that are thornier than you would expect. I wouldn’t stake your house on trying to make your Canadian James Bond film when you move from Santa Monica back to the north.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, I would say that there is an interesting thing you can imagine where some of these things, like Bond for instance, let’s say the Fleming novels go into public domain globally. And eventually they will. To do a James Bond movie that is just a complete deconstruction would be fascinating. The truth is you can do that now anyway. I mean, really in the end what are you getting? You’re getting the name.

By the way, this happened because – so the Broccolis, I don’t understand the providence completely, but the Broccolis, the greatest of all names–

John: They are the producers of the Bond films.

Craig: Correct. The control that property. Somehow the copyright lapsed one way for one reason or another on Thunderball, which is one of the earlier Bond movies, and the book – I guess the rights on the book lapsed early before it this public domain stuff happened. And another company went and made – they brought Sean Connery back for I think it was called Never Say Never Again, or Never Say Death, or something like that.

John: That’s right.

Craig: And that was just Thunderball. Again, it was the same story, I believe, they just retold it different, just using the book. It has weirdly happened.

John: I should also say that our explanation of this whole copyright stuff is in no way intended to be a defense of how we do stuff. How we do stuff is genuinely crazy and needs to be sorted out. As writers, we want copyright because it protects our work. It helps us get paid. It’s fantastic for those reasons. But the way that copyright has morphed into this bizarre thing that sort of never ends and keeps getting extended is potentially really damaging for people who try to make art. So we want to make sure that we are in no way trying to defend what’s happening now. Just try to explain it.

Craig: There has been a trend in the United States to extend copyright over and over and over. And in weird way the big motivator is Mickey Mouse. Mickey Mouse should have gone into public domain some time ago. It is not. And so obviously the Disney Corporation has lobbied quite effectively to extend copyright protection in general. It is now longer than it has ever been before.

The Sonny Bono Act, I believe it was Sonny Bono, representative in Congress, who had his name on that particular extension. At some point it does need to be curtailed. I mean, the purpose of copyright ultimately was to be able to get works created in such a way that they would end up in the public domain. The copyright, the idea there – copyright is written into the United States Constitution. The idea is we’re going to create a system whereby people who want to create things will be so sufficiently rewarded in an amount of time that they will do it so that eventually it’s free.

John: Yep. Copy Right. It talks about the right to copy.

Craig: Correct.

John: The right to distribute stuff. So I read an interesting story this past week about Charles Dickens who was really frustrated because at the time in the US copyright protection for British works was not enforced. And so essentially his work in the US was being pirated wildly. And so he was not seeing any money coming out of the US. And so he lobbied to sort of get the laws changed in the US, unsuccessfully. Ultimately he ended up doing a big speaking tour across the US and making his money that way.

But it was just so weird to think of a situation where American copyright law was weak and so therefore this person was not getting paid properly. And so this has become so, so flipped.

Craig: Yeah, for sure.

John: All right, let’s go to Brett in Portland. Do you want to ask his question?

Craig: Yeah. Brett from Portland writes, “I’m writing a western that takes place just after the Civil War. I have several different scenes that feature military troops and numerous soldiers. I’m having trouble distinguishing between the different soldiers. I’ve given more important characters higher rank and names obviously, but what about the soldiers who are just being given orders and such? Does giving characters numbers, for example, Soldier 1, just work from scene-to-scene? Or do those numbers continue throughout the entire script?

“I don’t want to have Soldier 1 through 10. Any advice on how I can differentiate between these smaller characters and keep them from running together on the page?”

John: Yeah, it’s brutal and there’s no perfect solution to this. I’m never a numberer of characters thing. I just find that so annoying and frustrating. And I hate reading it in the script. I find it confusing to follow up on those things. So I’ll always try to find some adjective to stick to the soldier to differentiate them from other people. Try to find some way to let us be able to track them over the course of the scene and hopefully over the course of the movie, if they do appear in multiple scenes.

If they do appear in multiple scenes, probably give them an actual name so that you can remember that. And so it becomes clear to the people. But it is truly frustrating. I would say one of the other pros to like doing the adjective name versus the numbered name is that it forces you as the writer to think something about who that character is and sort of be just a little bit more specific than giving a person a number.

Craig: 100%. Thinking about this, Brett, you say that some of these characters are just being given orders and such. Well they don’t need names at all because theoretically they’re not talking. They’re just getting orders. And in that case, I don’t bother distinguishing. You know, he turns to a soldier, gives him an order. OK, that’s fine. I know that then in the next scene so-and-so turns to a soldier, tells them to run. That’s probably a different soldier.

It’s really when they’re talking. And when they’re talking, well first of all, if they’re talking and they have one line, do we need that line? And then if we do, then I’m in complete agreement with John. I don’t like to do the number thing at all.

I just went through this actually with the production department on Chernobyl because we have like 102 speaking parts in this thing. And there’s a whole bunch of soldiers. And so a lot of the questions were, OK, we’re pretty sure these are all different soldiers, but is this soldier the same as this soldier? And so I just had to clarify, yes, this is the same soldier as this solider.

And then they get numbers, but those are production numbers. So now the production understands that what we know as soldier is actually actor number 73.

John: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I was thinking back to Go and there’s a scene early on in Go where Ronna is in a van with some high school kids and she’s selling them fake drugs. And so each of those kids, they’re basically only in that scene. They sort of appear outside at one other point. But I didn’t want to just – I wanted them to be individual specific. And so like one of the kid’s names is Spider Marine, which in the Smashing Pumpkins song there’s a lyric, “Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in the cage.” For whatever reason I heard that as – I heard despite all my rage as Spider Marine. And so I had been singing Spider Marine for like a year. And so Spider Marine was the name I gave to that one character.

And what’s nice about it is it kind of feels like — I don’t know why his name is that, but it gave the hair and makeup and wardrobe departments something to focus on. And so they picked something that spoke to them as Spider Marine. And it was useful. And so I’m always fan of just giving a descriptive name for those minor characters. Also so that when they scroll up in the end credits you can sort of figure out like, oh, it must be that guy. Like Overheated Customer in Bar.

Craig: Right.

John: That makes much more sense.

Craig: Yes. No question. I mean, with soldiers, they’re in uniform and so then really if they’re just meant to go run off somewhere then they’re a soldier. If there’s something important going on, then you do. You have to think about their face, their age, everything. And then a name may be called for.

John: All right. Let’s do our last question. This is from Carrie who says, “I’ve recently gotten to Episode 109 and I was wondering whatever happened to the first song Craig recorded on the podcast with the guitar? The episode should include it at the end, but then suddenly it’s not there. I’m assuming there may have been some legal issue, but if not, where can I find that song?”

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. So Craig recorded a song called Killing the Blues. Who was that by originally?

Craig: It was written by someone named Rowland Salley and most famously recorded by John Prine. And then by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.

John: So it is a fantastic song. Craig did a fantastic version of it. And the reason why we didn’t stick it on the USB drives or put it on Scriptnotes.net was really a rights thing. I was genuinely worried that the rights holders to the song could come after us and say like, “Hey, you’re selling the song without paying us royalties” and they’d kind of have a point.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So on a podcast in general like if you’re using a snippet of music or especially you’re talking about a song, so you’re basically critiquing this little part of it, or you’re doing something where that song is used in context for a specific thing, you’re generally kind of OK with that. If you’re using a lot of it, there’s a point at which you need to be buying the rights to be using that song, just like you would if you were using that song in a movie. And I did not want that sort of liability to come back and hurt the podcast.

So that’s why we snipped it off of the USB drives and off the Scriptnotes.net. But, Craig, it got me thinking there’s a place where people do song covers all the time. Like YouTube.

Craig: Yeah, no, that’s true. And, by the way, you can – again, it’s about damages. If you record a cover of a song and you put it on anything for free, there’s no damages. If you’re selling it, yeah, sure. But you could stick it on your website.

John: Yeah. So what I think I wanted to do, Craig, if this was OK with you, is we’ll upload it to YouTube, because YouTube can actually track the rights on that thing. And if there’s any money to be made off of it it would go to the songwriter for your cover of that song.

So, we’re going to stick a snippet of that as our outro for this week, but if you want to hear the full version we’ll have a link in the show notes where you can listen to Craig’s really good cover of this song. I found the original file and it was great. So, we’ll put that up there for Carrie and for everyone else who has written over the years asking where the hell is that song that Craig was supposed to sing.

Craig: Very good. Very good. Well, I guess it’s time for One Cool Things.

John: You start us off.

Craig: My One Cool Thing this week is a videogame, South Park: The Fractured but Whole. That is the best title ever.

John: It’s a good title.

Craig: Ever. It’s great. I played the first South Park videogame, The Stick of Truth, which was spectacular. The big surprise with that game was, OK, so it’s South Park and it’s got Matt and Trey doing all the voices. And all the writing. And all the directing. Great story. But also the game play itself was really, really good.

So, you kind of ended up getting a great game and also just this incredibly long and very, very screwed and funny South Park episode. And they’ve done it again. More of the same, but with a great twist on it. And just really, really good. So, I would strongly recommend South Park: The Fractured but Whole.

You know what my trigger warning for that is? All possible trigger warnings. Every possible trigger warning in existence for everyone. Everyone. Including white people. Everyone is going to get it in this game. And does.

John: That sounds very fun.

Craig: But it’s really, really fun. It is.

John: Cool. My One Cool Thing is the Adelante Shoe Co. And so this was recommended to us by other writer friends, mutual friends. So it’s this company that makes shoes, and they make nice looking shoes. I’m wearing a pair of their boots. I like them a lot.

What’s different about them is they work with shoemakers in Latin America, largely Guatemala, and they work with them to try to figure out how to pay them a living-well wage, which is basically a price that’s well above what minimum wage should be so that a person who is working for them who is making these shoes can do this and actually sustain a family on their salaries.

So, their website is cool. I’ll send you there. They talk about sort of their transparency, their accountability, and sort of what their mission is. I dig them. It reminds me of Kickstarter and some other B corporations, those sort of public benefit corporations that have objectives beyond just making the most money possible. So, I am wearing the Havana Boot. It’s really good. But all the stuff there has been really good. So, Chris Nee I think was the one who first turned me onto them. So, I would recommend you check them out for your boot and shoe needs.

Craig: Hmm.

John: Some housekeeping. Next week is the Three Page Challenge from Austin. So we recorded that a couple weeks ago, but you can listen to that. If you would like to read ahead, the entries for that episode are up in Weekend Read. They’re also at johnaugust.com/Austin2017. So you can read through the four different Three Page Challenges we read through and then listen to the episode and hear from the writers themselves, which is one of the best parts of doing that show live in Austin.

And that’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Yeah, and whoa.

John: Matthew moved to Japan and actually just this week put up a video about his first two months in Japan which is well worth watching, about how his apartment is not haunted but sort of seems like it probably is haunted. But he was living in Akita, Japan, which I knew nothing about, and it was fascinating to see sort of what his life is like up there.

Craig: Great.

John: Our outro this week comes from Craig Mazin. But if you have an outro for us to play you can write into ask@johnaugust.com with a link to that. That’s also where you write in with questions like the ones we answered on today’s podcast. Short questions, I’m on Twitter @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

We’re on Facebook. Just search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts. Again, leave us a review if you are there because that helps people find the show.

We have all of the back episodes up now at Scriptnotes.net. We have transcripts at johnaugust.com, along with show notes.

We also have more of the USB drives. So people were asking for those. That’s the first 300 episodes, plus all the bonus episodes on one little handy dandy USB drive that you can carry with you as you make it through your day.

Craig: But the t-shirts are gone?

John: The t-shirts are done. So thanks to everybody who bought a t-shirt. So those t-shirt orders have closed. And they’re shipping out really soon, so maybe by the time people are listening to this podcast – or at least by the time they’re listening to the Three Page Challenge they can be wearing their brand new t-shirt. I’m so excited to have those on hand.

Craig: Wonderful.

John: Cool. Craig, thanks for a fun show.

Craig: Thank you, John. See you soon.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 324: All of It Needs to Stop — Transcript

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 15:03

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 324 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today, it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie, where we take a look at stories in the news and figure out how to make them into feature films.

Craig: Exciting.

John: Exciting. We’re back doing our normal show. I like our live shows, but it’s good to be back on Skype with you, not in the room.

Craig: Yeah. This is sort of like coming home to your own bed, right?

John: It is.

Craig: Sleep in our little jammies, and we get to be in our own bed. But it is fun to stray away and do those. And that live show, I have to say, was outstanding. If for no other reason than Jason Fuchs’ story about Star Wars and Battleship.

John: It was a fantastic episode. And if people have not listened to it yet and would like to download and listen to it now, we’ve actually put an updated version in the feed because there were some weird clips in it that basically somehow some of the cross fades got turned into blunt cuts. And so Matthew fixed it. So, Matthew, thank you for doing that. But it sounds delightful.

Craig: It was a really good one. And rather than list them all by name, we’ll just say thanks to the – how many – 12 people that were on the panel with us?

John: There were a lot of people. It was great. It was a good show. Just shows what some planning can do. Some planning. Some organization.

Craig: Well, you know, I don’t want to be a jerk, and as you know–

John: You don’t want to be a jerk.

Craig: Of course, I do actually both am and also want to be a jerk. Three people came up to me and said, “Love the show. Last year’s was better.”

John: Oh, OK. I heard the same thing from other people, so–

Craig: Listen, you know what? Some people like chaos. Some people like planning.

John: Absolutely. I mean, that’s why you have the grid of all the alignments and all the different possibilities.

Craig: Yes. All of my fans are chaotic neutral.

John: That makes sense. I got the lawful good.

Craig: No doubt.

John: Sewn up. Before we get into show today, Craig, you wanted to talk about predators, and not the Arnold Schwarzenegger-defeated kind.

Craig: No, no. and I guess this will – we’ll file this under chaotic evil. You know, we’ve all been absorbing an enormous amount of news about Hollywood, people that are inside of it. People that want to be inside of it. And also people that are outside of it and are just casual observers. And what we’re seeing is a cascade of people being accused very believably of terrible behavior, both sexual harassment, sexual assault. And it seems like every day brings a fresh delivery of some kind of predator.

Some of these people are people that we know and we’re shocked by. Some of them, I think, the folks that maybe get a little bit less coverage outside are people that maybe those of you at home don’t know and nonetheless have terrible things.

I was reading an account of a manager, for instance, who was recently accused by multiple people of rape, Cosby-style, drugging of drinks and then rape, and then threats afterwards to keep it quiet. So naturally I think a lot of people may be terrified of our business right now, and with good reason.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about some realities here. First of all, I believe that the great majority of people in the entertainment business are not violent, evil, manipulative human beings. What we’re seeing right now is an exposure of the many who are. And there are many. And I’m glad for it.

So, on the one hand, I don’t want people to be scared away. I specifically don’t want good people to be scared away. We need more good people. We need to increase our percentage of decent human beings in this business. On the other hand, I do think it’s important that we talk a little bit about what to be on the lookout for. Everybody has a sense, I think, of how to protect themselves against a predator. And yet, I think, some of these people are really sophisticated. So I wanted to just talk a little bit about what to look out for and how to protect yourself.

John: That sounds good. Because I think all of us have some training in sort of safety and awareness. You’re outside, you’re walking on the street. These are things to be watched for. But it’s a strange thing when you get invited into what seems like it should be a safe place to make sure that you’re actually safe.

Craig: Yeah. There’s a moment in the – I may have even mentioned it on the show already – a moment in the American remake, the Fincher remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where Stellan Skarsgard’s character says, “It’s amazing how people are more afraid of being impolite than they are of being in pain.” And I think that’s sort of at the heart of a lot of this and that is what a lot of predators are relying on.

So, for starters, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like things are going wrong, or heading towards a dangerous place, and the only thing that’s keeping you from extracting yourself from it or expressing that this is not at all the way you want things to go for yourself, the only thing in between that and what’s happening is a concern that you might be impolite, dispense with that concern. I don’t think anybody is going to get in trouble for expressing their need to feel safe.

So, right off the bat don’t worry so much about offending or being impolite. If you say something that is neutral and firm and dispassionate like, “I’m sorry, but this is uncomfortable for me and I don’t like the way this is proceeding. Can we please stop doing this, or this, or this?” The one thing you don’t have to worry about is offending someone. The only people that will be offended by that are people that were planning on doing something bad.

John: I agree with you. So that could be about the situation you’re in in terms of physically or sort of that there are not other people around, that you’re being pressured in some uncomfortable way. Extricate yourself from that situation and don’t be afraid to and don’t feel bad about it. You have the right to your own safety.

Craig: Absolutely. And you may find yourself in a situation where it’s not that someone is doing something that you are outwardly concerned about as much as you have a feeling about somebody. In that case, there’s actually no risk of being impolite because there’s nothing to actually say overtly. However, trust your instinct about this person. It’s not that you are always going to be right. You may, in fact, not be right, which is why – obviously you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re constantly getting up in the middle of a meeting or interrupting in a phone call to say this feels like harassment, or there’s something about you and you sound rapey to me. That obviously won’t go very well.

But if you have a sense inside, listen to it really carefully. Let that guide you about how you’re going to interact with that other person in terms of being alone with them, etc. And most importantly talk to people and let them know this is how you feel. And ask them if there’s anything to support that concern. Because, look, there are some people that are just odd. We are a creative business. Some of us are odd. And we can sometimes misinterpret people as being creepy when maybe they’re on the spectrum, for instance. Right? But heed your concerns, that inner voice. Don’t push it away and definitely don’t start engaging in one-side bargaining with yourself that this is sort of what you have to deal with in order to get ahead. You actually don’t.

Nobody has to actually deal with this stuff to get ahead. That’s just the lie they put out there.

John: Absolutely agree with you. I think one thing that’s also important to remember is that some of the situations that come up could be prevented if we just had some better rules and structures and codes of conduct in place, not to sort of stop the predator, but to help the person who is vulnerable to it from getting into that situation. I think about things like a rule like “no meetings in hotel rooms.” Or rules about whether PAs are allowed to be in trailers or not allowed to be in trailers.

If you have a system where you set up some rules about what can happen and what can’t happen, those could protect people because it gives them a reason for saying why they’re not doing certain things. So I look at some of these things that have happened, you know, the recent incidents. If there were some structures in place there, I bet the people involved would feel more empowered not to have gone into those situations.

Craig: I completely agree. And it may sound odd to say that we need the kind of rules that govern, for instance, the way doctors deal with patients. But we have to acknowledge that there’s something about our business, film and television, particularly for people that want to be performers in front of the camera, but I think just as vitally for people that want to write or want to direct, there are so few jobs. The business is so glamorous. It is – well, it’s the dream of a lot of people.

And what this means is there is an enormous amount of desperation. There is a desperation to get a job and succeed in this business in a way that there is in almost no other business at all. And that desperation is the most fertile possible ground for predators to flourish in and to do what they do.

So, for instance, if you have a male doctor and he’s going to be doing some sort of physical exam on a 13-year-old girl, then there needs to be a female medical professional like a nurse in the room with him, or even another doctor if possible, so that there is no question or concern. It is for everyone’s protection. And I do feel like our business needs to acknowledge the amount of desperation. Acknowledge how vulnerable everybody is.

By the way, if you’re following along in the news, men and women – this is not just about women. We’ve seen an enormous amount of reports now from men who have been preyed upon. So, everybody is potentially a victim here. And if the business codified itself in such a way as to acknowledge that there is fertile ground for bad behavior, I think you’re right. We could actually avoid quite a bit of it.

John: I agree.

So, I also want to talk about – there’s kind of a spectrum of terrible things that are happening. And so right now we are talking about the predators who are doing these criminal acts – rape, and sexual assault, attempted rape. But at the other end of the range there’s just kind of boorish behavior in rooms. And people behaving stupidly. And that’s kind of more what we talked about with Daley and Dara when they were on the show was what do you do when it’s not, you know, a physical thing, but it’s kind of a constant small little cuts of things. They’re both big things, and they’re both important, and we need to be talking about all of it, because I worry about by only focusing on these big spotlight predators committing identifiable crimes we’re going to overlook I think a more pernicious problem that’s really out there which is this problem of sexual harassment, problem of gendered bullying that’s going on.

And I worry that that kind of stuff that’s going on could end up really costing us a generation of women and minority writers who sort of eventually they check out. They ask themselves, “Is it worth it? Am I actually any good at this? Maybe I should just leave, because everyone is sort of telling me that I’m good enough at this. Maybe they’re right.”

I’m worried that if we only focus on these big spotlight things, the things that have criminal charges and lawsuits, that we’re not going to be focusing on the stuff that I think is really more addressable by all of us. By writers.

Craig: I couldn’t agree more. I mean, the one thing you don’t want to do in the middle of a murder epidemic is ignore the stabbing epidemic, right? And you have people in the room now who perhaps would be subject to a statement like the following: “What? I’m not Harvey Weinstein. I’m not raping anybody. I’m just repeatedly saying things that demean you all the time.”

So, from our side of things, let’s say we’re talking about decent folks who are in these rooms, for starters if you feel like your work environment is demeaning to you, then you need to listen to that. There is a general – we’ve talked about this on the show before – a general motivation by the industry to demean writers in particular. All writers. Of any race, color, age, gender. Because it is I think, well, it’s good for them. It’s good for their power dynamic. They like keeping us down. Particularly in features.

So, when it’s happening, particularly if you’re a writer, since we’re a show for writers, one thing you need to be aware of is it may not always even be gendered. It may be vocational. But regardless of why it’s happening, when it’s happening I think it’s important to start reaching out to people that might also be feeling like you. Not everyone is the same. Some people are OK with some kinds of jokes, and some people aren’t. Some people go to a show where a comedian is sort of famous for being really dark and really on the edge of things and really transgressive and they love it. People of all walks of life.

And then there are people who would never go anywhere near that, because it just makes them feel bad, right? So you may not find that everybody is in agreement. You may be the person that thinks this is not good for me. That’s enough. And then you got to kind of figure out how to get yourself out of there and get to something else.

And I don’t mean to sound glib about that. I know that people are desperate for work. They’re desperate for jobs. But we have one trip around. And if you put yourself in a position where every day you feel terrible, I can assure you that two things are going to happen. One, you will not succeed at that job. It is not possible to succeed in a job where you feel emotionally devalued. And, two, it is going to have long-term effects on your desire to keep working anywhere. That whole business and craft will start to become tainted to you. Even I, as the straight white male, going through my Bob Weinstein experience, coming out the other end, felt about as demotivated and disinterested in writing as I have felt in my life. And for good reason. And I had to dig myself out of that with tremendous effort.

So, I should have stopped much, much, much, much earlier. And I guess that’s my advice to you. In the short term, it may seem like a grave cost. I believe in the long term it will have benefits. But, seek out allies. Even two. Even two people. That’s more serious than one. Two people saying we’ve got to change this culture is good.

John: Well, let’s talk about allies, because sometimes you’re not the person who is the focus of this bullying or whatever you want to call it. Sexual harassment. But if you see something, say something. And that may be saying to the person who is being harassed, like, “Hey, I saw that happen and that wasn’t cool. What can I do? Do you want to do anything?”

Don’t assume that there’s a logical next step. But just being there and sort of acknowledging that this is a thing that happened, that’s good. That’s helpful. And that lets that person know that not everybody around you is doing that same kind of stuff or supports that kind of stuff.

Write it down. If you see these things that happen, write it down, just so you have a contemporaneous record of what happened. And, also, I’m really curious. I’ve talked to some writers in rooms who have codes of conduct for their writing room. Basically, everyone agrees that these are the rules of the room. And sometimes it’s about “You can say anything, but don’t direct it towards a person. Like you can talk about a kind of person, but you can’t talk about that one person in the room.”

But if you are a writer on a show, and you have some sort of code of conduct or writer’s room rules, I’d love to see those. So if you feel like sending them into ask@johnaugust.com, we’d love to talk through them on a future episode.

Craig: That would be great. And I also – one last bit of advice. If you are contemplating joining any kind of joint writing situation, typically a television room, I think a smart question to ask is what kind of culture is in the room. And ask it without any implied judgment. Just say, “Look, I’m a certain kind of person. I tend to do better in a culture like this as opposed to a culture like this. What sort of culture is in your room?”

If you are somebody that needs a certain kind of culture and, well, they say, “Listen, we are really free-wheeling in here. We let it all out. We have no boundaries whatsoever,” then you may not want to work there. And if you do, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be a big shock to you when you start to feel bad. They didn’t make a mistake. Nor did you. It was just a misfit.

John: Yes. I think that’s absolutely good advice. I will say that show that is so free-wheeling and anything goes, they may be making a mistake because there could be great writers who they are not getting because of their culture.

Craig: It’s true. It’s in comedy, really. We’re not talking about drama. There are comedies that live and die on their outrageousness. And what I don’t want to end up happening is ignoring the many women who are brilliant at being outrageous actually. I don’t want those outrageous shows to say, “You know what the easiest thing is let’s skip women and just stick with the dudes and we’ll be fine. And we can talk about whatever we want.” There are a lot of women that flourish in those situations. And what’s frustrating is I think that there can be a situation where things are outrageous and also not demeaning towards individuals in the room.

John: Exactly.

Craig: It’s doable. The one thing I will never make an excuse for is a free-wheeling room that starts to break down and demean individuals inside of that room. So I think that goes back to your code of conduct. And it’s really important.

John: Yeah. Put some guardrails on that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get to our big feature topic, which is How Would This Be a Movie. So, for people who have been listening to the show for a while, every once and a while we take a look at stories that are in the news and try to figure out like “Is there a movie there? And if there is a movie, how would you do the movie?”

So, some recent examples, some follow up on previous thing. We talked about this Danish submarine adventure.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: And so the journalist he was with–

Craig: This guy needed some – what did you call them? Guardrails? He needed a lot of guardrails.

John: His name was Peter Madsen. He’s accused of murdering journalist Kim Wall on his privately built submarine. He continues to deny killing her, but he now says, yes, he did dismember her.

Craig: [laughs]

John: He says she died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Craig: I’m sorry for laughing. It’s just this guy sounds like – he just sounds like Dr. Evil working his way through this really tortured confession where eventually he’s like, “OK, I ate a little bit of the head, but listen, hold on everyone. Don’t judge me.”

John: And so carbon monoxide poisoning, well, it’s his submarine. He did kill her. I mean, I guess he’s saying he didn’t intend to kill her. It was an accidental death, or like negligent homicide rather than just capital H Homicide.

Craig: I mean, look, when you are in a small enclosed space, and there is a carbon monoxide level high enough to kill one person, it’s fair to say it will also kill the other person, or that person will show some indications of carbon monoxide poisoning. But more importantly, John, if somebody were to suffer from some kind of carbon monoxide poisoning incident in your home, I presume your first instinct would not be to call 911. It would be to dismember that person and then bury them somewhere in the ocean.

John: Well, yeah. But to be fair, I’m not Danish. So it’s hard to say.

Craig: Great point.

John: Another international story we talked about was the French train bros. So these were three US service men who were on a train in France and stopped a terrorist from doing despicable things on this train. So, we talked about this. We knew that, I think last time we talked about this Clint Eastwood was attached to direct it. He did direct it. The movie is called The 15:17 to Paris. It’s written by Dorothy Blyskyl and you and I just coincidentally met her this week.

Craig: Yeah. There was a little WGA screenwriting outreach, which you were kind enough to run as a new board member, and you were brilliant at it. Thank you. And we met the very excellent Ms. Blyskyl, who is really new and maybe this will frustrate some of you out there. I think this is pretty much the first thing she ever wrote. And it’s like, great, now it’s a movie and Clint Eastwood is directing it. I personally love those stories. I always feel like those people – you know, when you have enough right at the jump to write something that people want to act in and produce and spend money on and direct, I think you’ve got the goods. So I’m really excited to see where Dorothy goes as she begins her journey here.

I’m pretty sure that you and I both agreed that that should be a movie, right?

John: Yeah. We agreed it should be a movie and it now is a movie. So that’s kind of awesome.

Craig: Exciting. And coming out, I believe, in February, right?

John: Yeah. So Dorothy is so new she hadn’t even been through the new member training. So this was her very first WGA meeting. And she got to hear all about the future of screenwriting. So that was good.

Craig: It was good. Sort of a happy thing. She also just mentioned that she felt at least that she was treated very well on that project. And I’ve heard that Clint Eastwood is very respectful to writers. So that’s good to see.

John: Good to see. All right, some new stuff. And so these are all pitches that came in from our listeners, except for the last one which you actually pitched this morning. So, the first story is about female inmates who battle wildfires in California. Essentially there are these conservation camps that are run by the Department of Corrections which inmates are on call 24/7 to fight fires. So, a fascinating fact is that inmates make up 14% of firefighters in California. And three of these 42 camps are for women. So this all comes from an NBC News video made by Matt Toder. Let’s take a listen.

[Video plays]

Reporter: California’s fire season has been particularly fierce this year. One solution is to use inmates to fight fires. Nestled in the posh hills of Malibu, California is Camp 13.

Female Voice: Camp 13 is an inmate firefighter camp where we are on call up to seven days a week. We can be called out at any time, day or night.

Female Voice: You get to save people’s houses and you get to help people. It’s really gratifying and empowering when you’re driving by and people are holding up signs saying thank you firefighters and they’re crying because you just saved their homes.

Reporter: Camp 13 is one of 42 conservation camps run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Inmates must volunteer for the program. And must pass physical evaluations. To be eligible, they also must have a record of good behavior and have been convicted of a nonviolent crime.

Female Voice: It’s definitely a challenge. When I saw actual live fire I got scared. I was like, “Oh my god, we’re actually in the fire.”

Female Voice: We’re the ones that carry the hose out. We’re the line of defense.

[Video ends]

John: Craig, what do you think of this as a movie topic?

Craig: I believe that by the time this episode airs this will have already been optioned to be developed into a movie. It’s the most movie-ish movie I can think of, frankly. I mean, particularly because you have a fascinating collision of something that is very current, a bunch of current things, and then something that is classically good in cinema.

So you have topics of incarceration, imprisonment, women inside the prison system. You have a discussion about nonviolent offenders. They must all be nonviolent offenders. I suspect that this connects also to things like drug policy and whether or not these people should be in prison at all. And you have just the general topic of humans who have struggled. My guess is almost all of them are lower or middle class people who have struggled. And now they have this chance at redemption, but maybe they shouldn’t have even had to been there in the first place. Maybe some of them do deserve to be there and what will this do for them and their character?

And all of that gets imposed on something incredibly movie-friendly which is fighting fires. Because your structure, your plot, you know it. You don’t have to reinvent that wheel. You know that they’re going to go through training. They’re going to go into prison. They’re going to meet each other. They’re going to have some trouble in prison. They’re going to be selected for this program. They’re going to go through training. There’s going to be a fire. It’s not going to go well for them. And they’re going to be questioning whether or not they should still be a part of this. And maybe one of them recommits a crime, whatever it is.

And then the third act there is a massive fire and they have to go. And they do brilliantly and maybe one of them dies. I mean, it’s got everything you need. All of it. It’s sort of like a make-your-own movie kit. I mean, surely somebody will make this into a movie.

John: I would be surprised if no one makes this into a movie. I want to focus on sort of the women that Matt talks to in this video, because it’s almost all done sort of first person, just people telling their own stories. And they’re really good. I liked all of those women so much. And they were so different. And they had sort of an emotional honesty which was really cool. And they’d actually been at this camp for a while, so you can imagine that there was an arc that they sort of went through where they’re mistrusting and sort of getting up to speed, but then they had a real pride in their work. And that was fantastic to see.

It reminds me a little bit of some of the stuff around WWII where you see like Swing Shift or where women are going into traditionally men’s things and finding a sense of empowerment by being trusted to do these incredibly important jobs. And maybe these women hadn’t been trusted enough and that’s what led them to this point. But I really – I got goosebumps listening to them.

Craig: I did, too. And I love their faces. They all had these great, great faces. And the general directive from studios is if you’re making movies now about groups of people you want to try and be as diverse as possible. Well, you don’t have to force it here. I mean, kind of in a weird way it almost felt like the prison system had cast these women. I mean, they were interviewing women from a particular firefighting, a DOC firefighting camp. So it’s not like they chose them for this report.

You had white women. You had black women. You had Asian women. You had Latina women. And you got the sense that what was uniting them, it was all separate – even gender wasn’t really uniting them. It certainly wasn’t race. It was their circumstance. And I think that that is beautiful. That you could tell that there was a sisterhood there of circumstance. And you have such a great opportunity to invent some amazing characters and some of them are mothers and they’re talking about their children and what this means for them when they get out.

One of them, her own mother was a firefighter. It’s just remarkable. Like that’s a great story right there. Your mom is a firefighter. You maybe felt like you were forced to follow in her footsteps. You rebelled. You had a difficult childhood. You got into trouble. You ended up in prison. And now what are you doing? Fighting fires and suddenly discovering that you’re good at it on your own terms.

Again, it’s sort of like the kit is right there. I think some movie studio would be nuts to not just immediately put this into development and make it, because it just feels so ready to go. And, by the way, this is one of those movies where when I see them I don’t mind predictable. I want predictable. The plot should be as predictable as possible. The characters should be surprising. Their circumstances should be surprising. I love that part.

John: I agree. And to me I think this is a mid-budget. Hidden Figures is really the template for how you make this movie. You cast people – some people you recognize. Some people who are unknowns. You make it with a good but interesting director. And from the trailer you probably have a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen in the movie and you’re really happy that the movie sort of follows that path. And I also like that it’s present day. It doesn’t have to have that shine of history and nostalgia. No, this is happening right now.

I think, you know, it’s a PG-13 movie and I think it works.

Craig: 100% somebody should make this immediatement.

John: All right. Second story we’re going to take a look at is a story by Beth Mole writing for Ars Technica. And so some dead bodies donated to research in the US end up in warehouses of horror.

Craig: Neat.

John: Neat. So here’s what happens is that people donate their bodies or their loved one’s bodies to science. And sometimes there’s a discount on funerals down the road, or they have the expectation that it’s going to be used for medical training for medical students. But this new study found that the whole business of human corpses and cadavers is really kind of messed up. And so a lot of times these bodies are used in ways that families never anticipated. Like they’re used to test impacts of different things on the body.

Craig: So great.

John: They’re cut up with chainsaws or they’re sold piece by piece, because sometimes bodies are worth more in pieces than they are as whole cadavers.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But a lot of times they’re also just kind of forgotten or left over and they’re stuck in piles in a warehouse. But the thing is it’s basically legal, so there’s not like law enforcement is going to come in and do something. Craig, what do we do with these dead bodies?

Craig: I don’t know. I mean, well, first of all just from a personal point of view, I would be the worst person to hire to write this movie because I have no problem with it. Because I don’t believe in God or the soul. So, I think that when you’re dead, the one person for sure in the world who does not care about what happens to that body is the person that used to live in it. They’re dead. So I kind of don’t care. I’ve actually never really, because I’m such a weirdo about that I guess, I don’t understand why people spend all this money on fancy funerals and cemeteries and burial plots. There’s this – I don’t know – thing, and people get really worked up about what happens to people’s bodies and stuff.

And I just remember when I was in high school and I was planning on being a doctor and I did a summer internship at the Mammoth County Medical Examiner’s Office, and I would – I’m 16 and I’m there helping out on autopsies. I wasn’t doing anything important, but of course, if you screw up on a dead body, well, not so bad.

Nothing, I think, teaches you more about what a useless chunk of meat we are when we’re dead than watching some autopsies. So, putting my weirdness aside, for anybody the problem with this movie is there are literally zero stakes.

John: Yep.

Craig: Stakes are the things that movie studios are primarily concerned with. If our hero fails, what happens? Obviously they keep pushing it towards the universe explodes, like that’s their ultimate – they love the universe exploding. They’ll settle for galaxies. Used to be the planet was fine. And way, way back when one person dying was a big deal.

But let’s say it never changes. What’s really at stake?

John: There’s really nothing at stake. And so what I find so interesting is it’s a really macabre setting. And so like you could envision some really gross stuff happening. So it’s a backdrop or it’s a place you go to in the course of another story. But I don’t think it’s really a story in and of itself.

I share your same sort of frustration with people’s fixation over bodies and funerals and all that stuff. It really is frustrating when you’re buying this really expensive casket to bury in the ground inside the concrete memorial. It’s like, oh my god, it’s just so much wasted time and money and energy. Especially families that really could use that money to do something else but–

Craig: I know.

John: That’s off-topic. Craig, well, a little on-topic. Craig, are you going to be cremated? What’s your plan?

Craig: Yeah. Whatever’s cheapest. Honestly. I’ve often thought about donating my body, so it really depends. I don’t think I have a specific donate my body thing, although my wife knows me well enough where it’s up to her. I’m assuming that I croak first. You know, she can do whatever she wants with the meat. I don’t really care. Literally. Anything.

I mean, she knows that if she wanted to she could just lacquer it, stick it on a pole, put it out in front for Halloween. I don’t care. Because I won’t be there. It’s not my problem. My watch is over at that point. But, yeah, cremate. Whatever’s cheapest, honestly. A nice home cremation.

John: A nice artisanal cremation?

Craig: Or just bury me in the backyard. I don’t care.

John: I’ve always been pro-cremation, but apparently it actually is a tremendous energy cost to do them.

Craig: Yeah, you know, there’s this wonderful – there’s like a strange sect of – not that strange to me – sect of Buddhism, I believe. And I think it’s Japanese. Where when – and very traditional – when people die, they’re asked to be – their bodies are just left in a field and they’re eaten by whatever animals come along.

John: Yep. Sounds good to me.

Craig: Yeah. The other one that I love is there’s a body farm. Did we ever talk about the body farm?

John: Oh, I don’t remember the body farm. Tell me about the body farm.

Craig: Body farm is – there are a bunch of them. Most of them are under the – I think all of them are under the auspices of some sort of law enforcement agency, like say the FBI. And they’re there to teach forensic investigators about dead bodies.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: And the states of them. Because a lot of times what’s happening is they’re digging up corpses from murderers. And they’re trying to figure out, OK, how long has this person been dead? How did they die? And, you know, there are all sorts of things that you can learn, like at what stage are the larva that are feeding on the body. And what color is the body? And can you tell if a body was dismembered or was torn apart by animals?

So, yeah, I think that would be fun. [laughs] I think it would be fun if that were my purpose after I were gone.

John: Absolutely. For the study of maggots and their lifecycle.

Craig: Yeah, man. Whatever. Honestly, I would be OK if people ate me. I really don’t care. I really don’t.

John: I don’t care either.

All right, our final story is one that you found this morning and, Craig, talk us through what’s happening at Reed College.

Craig: Well, you know, you and I have been talking a bit about some of the things that have been going on on campuses across the country, and most notably we talked about what happened – was it at Evergreen or was it at Reed? Was it at Reed?

John: I think it might have been at Reed.

Craig: At Reed. Where Kim Peirce, the filmmaker who made Boys Don’t Cry, among other movies, was subject to horrendous treatment by students at Reed, not because they were homophobic/extreme right-wingers who were disgusted by her gender neutrality or her pro-trans work, but rather the opposite. They were far left and they didn’t think she was, I guess, far left enough. And they were terrible to her and insulting and crude and eventually she just left.

Well, one of the things that’s been going on at Reed College apparently is that there is a group of students, I think they’re called RAR, Reedies Against Racism, which seems like, yeah sure, you know. I’m against racism.

John: I don’t want to meet any pro-racists.

Craig: Yeah, like I’ll join that. That sounds good. Except what they do, because by the way, I can’t imagine there are too many racists at Reed. Like Reed which is known for being the most liberal college/university in the nation.

But what they’ve been doing is just occupying classrooms regularly, like maybe a dozen of them, and they just stand around the professor holding up signs in silent protest about whatever it is that they’re protesting about, which I think sometimes has to do with what’s going on in the class, and sometimes doesn’t. And it is a bit shocking. And what happened is they took over a classroom, a freshman year humanities classroom, and the teacher just stopped teaching because it was just overwhelming. And the protestors began talking to the students about why they were there and why they were doing what they were doing. And the freshman fought back. And it was quite invigorating.

Because what it really came down to was they were saying, “We’re here to learn. Can you please just let us learn? That’s why we came to college. We’re paying money so that this teacher can teach us. Get out. This isn’t your time. This is our time.”

And it was really fascinating to watch. There is some kind of war on campus thing to be done, the problem I see with it – and I’m curious to hear how you would address it is – how to tell a story like this without feeling like you’re just picking up some very clumsy left-wing or right-wing club and hitting people over the head with it.

John: I think it’s really tough to do this, but I read a script, a Sundance script, called Social Justice Warrior that Brett Weiner and Emma Fletcher did which is great and super, super funny and exactly sort of on point with this. And I remember thinking a lot about that sort of as this last year has happened and sort of as the world went crazy. Because it was such a great mocking of PC culture gone too far, which felt sort of weirdly irrelevant after Trump. Like, you know, the world was on fire in a different way, so why are you – it felt out of date already.

And so this reminded of like, oh that’s right, this thing still does happen. What I found the most fascinating about this article, so the one we’re talking about is by Chris Bodenner writing for The Atlantic, is that sense that RAR started probably with really good intentions. But good intentions, plus a charismatic leader, plus continued success can lead to some really weird places.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I recently reread Animal Farm and this reminded me of that where like, you know, we’re going to have a revolution and we’re going to take over the farm and it’s going to be better and it’s going be better for everybody and this is what we’re going to do. And inevitably it sort of becomes this weirdly oppressive, bullying system. Where, you know, they started going after the people who weren’t speaking up with them about racism. It’s like, well if you’re not speaking up with us then you’re against us.

Well, no, maybe I’m not speaking because I think you’re kind of idiots. But I’m too terrified to actually say that out loud.

So, I think that is the really interesting thing to approach. It might more be a play than a movie. There might be reasons why it works better in a situation where you can kind of close it in like on a stage rather than sort of breaking it out to a movie. But I thought there was a fascinating chart of you follow the person who has this idea and goes down this path and sort of leads this charge and kind of becomes the thing he or she was fighting against at the start.

Craig: Yeah. I think that’s great – and I love the fact that it was a comedy. I think comedy is a great tool for something like this because if you do it – I’m just speaking craft-wise. If you do it as drama, it is really hard to not be hitting people on the nose scenes and plot. So I agree with you. I think Animal Farm is a perfect analogy. By the way, it’s a book that for sure that the RAR folks would hate because it’s part of the white man canon.

There is an interesting thing about how the people on the right have routinely failed to acknowledge what happens if their position extends out too far. We see that in this country now where a number of people have taken their position out too far. And now there are Nazis marching around Charlottesville and elsewhere. And the people on what we’ll call the regular right just don’t seem to want to deal with it. And I think it’s really important for people on the left to be aware of what happens when they go too far to the left. Anything in those directions, you find that we’re all on a circle and the circle meets. And over on the far left and over on the far right, in the end what is the difference between Hitler and Stalin? Uh, not much.

John: They both become totalitarians.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think I don’t want to make the comedy because I want Brett and Emma to be able to make their comedy. So I want to give them space to make theirs. I hope they do.

Craig: Fair.

John: I think I might go for the Sorkin-y kind of drama. I feel like there’s a way in which you can – you have really hyper-intelligent people who can talk in hyper-intelligent ways about why they’re doing the things they’re doing.

Craig: Right.

John: I think that’s really fascinating. And I wonder if there’s a way to sort of do Social Network of digging into what’s motivating these people and the degree to which they recognize what they’ve become as it is happening. And how little small things can snowball sort of beyond their control.

Craig: Yeah. It could be a very interesting 2017 version of The Paper Chase. Do you remember watching that show, which came from a movie? Where you do, you know, an eight or ten-episode season. And you’re following students as they move through. So you’re seeing different groups as they collide and people changing their opinions and changing sides. And you’re dealing with professors and it’s quite an extraordinary time. I mean, you have – in the article I believe there was a reference to a professor who at this point is just petrified. She’s petrified. And she’s black, or she’s mixed race. And she is gay. And she’s petrified about talking about any of the things that she wants to talk about like women and race and gender and politics because she’s afraid that she’s just going to step on some sort of landmine that people have buried there. Or, what a lot of professors are perceiving is the entire debate has been rigged for them to fail no matter what they do.

But that’s kind of the point is that they’re wrong. And they’re not good enough. And the do better – the favorite slogan, the one that you see on the signs over and over is Do Better. Meaning no matter what you’re doing now, you’re no good because you could do better. It is a fascinating time. And as somebody who is preparing to send his first child off to college fairly soon, I am extremely aware of it and concerned about that.

John: I think what’s also about making this kind of movie in 2017 is that generational shift and the sense that this generation is going to college approaches it much more like a consumer than like I’m just so lucky to have gotten in. They have an expectation of customer service that’s different than when you and I went to school. And so if things aren’t going the way they want them to go, they’re not sort of fighting necessarily the institution. They’re fighting for the things they want because they think they should get what they want.

That sounds sort of simplistic because of course there’s always been student protesting and I think student protesting often leads to some of the big protests throughout the United States. But it feels like a slightly different thing. A slightly more narcissistic than we had when we were in school or even in the ‘70s. So, I think it’s a different movie now and I think you could talk about some different things.

Craig: Yeah. There was an article I read about, John McWhorter, who I think is brilliant, linked to this article that another professor had written about some protests that happened at an event at Rutgers. And the entire panel was made up of academics and thinkers who are on the left. It was meant to be a panel about how to approach progressive policies as we move forward as a country. They were also protested terribly. It’s just like they weren’t left enough.

And one of the things that really I just kind of loved, but I was also really startled by, was one of the older people on the panel was a professor who had been really active as a student activist in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And he was listening to these protestors and he told them – and his whole thesis is what I want to do is win. What I want is for these progressive policies to be enacted. That’s the most important thing to me. And what he said to them was you are doing this and he said, “I have seen this movie before. I know how it ends. And how it ends is you achieve nothing.” And that was chilling and I think very accurate.

John: Yep.

All right, so let’s talk about these three potential movies. Of them, I think we have a clear winner of which one could and should get made. It’s the firefighter movie.

Craig: No question.

John: Second up is – do you think it’s Reed?

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think it’s Reed.

Craig: Because I think Reed could be maybe a TV show. I think it would be a really interesting TV show.

John: Yeah. And I don’t think we’re making the corpse movie, although like your body farm, I would take your body farm over that. Body Farm is a great title.

Craig: Well it’s a great title. I’m sure Joel Silver has that registered already.

John: Yes.

Craig: Among his many registered titles. I think that the dead body thing could be an interesting place to go if you needed a bizarre thing for some side characters to be doing. It’s a very Coen Brothers-y thing to imagine that you meet a couple of people and their day job is dealing with the corpse exchange business and it’s all business. That’s sort of fascinating and funny in a side trip way.

John: Oh yeah. That’s a way we didn’t get into. That’s just the backdrop of sort of a comedy or something else – a business comedy that the business is dead bodies.

Craig: Exactly. But it couldn’t be the main part of the story. It has to be a side thing. It’s just too gross.

John: I agree. Thank you to listeners who sent in these stories. So people have just been writing in to ask@johnaugust.com and saying, “Hey, how about this?” Or they’ll tweet at us and say, “Hey, how about this.?” I like that we’re getting people out there thinking like How Would This Be a Movie. So, let’s keep asking that question.

And now we’ll get to some actual listener questions.

Craig: All right.

John: First off we have Ben in the UK. He writes, “I’m from the UK, so I write in British English, but I’m wondering if there are moments where American English would be more widely understood. Specifically, I’ve written, ‘A trainer smashes the puddle into pieces.’ But I think trainer to describe a sports shoe is very British. It might mean something else to readers from say the US. I’ve tried sneaker, but it sounds false in context and too American. The setting is particularly English. I thought about getting more specific. ‘A battered Reebok Classic smashes the puddle apart.’ Which would kind of work fine here.

“But what about instances where I don’t want that kind of specificity?” So, Craig, let’s talk some British vs. American English and things he should be looking for.

Craig: I’m dealing with this right now, actually, because Chernobyl — I’m American obviously. And Chernobyl is going to be largely a cast of UK actors, with some Scandinavian actors as well. The story, of course, is a European story. So, the nice thing is because our production is based in London and one of my fellow EPs is British, they can kind of go, “OK, here’s some things that you don’t do.”

For instance, one that I had no idea of – saying, “I’m done.” If an American goes, “I’m done,” that means I’m finished. In England they don’t really say that that way for I am completed with something, or I’m out, or I’m not interested anymore. That’s almost more like I’m dead. So, we have to go through and kind of police some of that stuff.

If you’re British and you’re writing a movie about British things, then I think you’re fine to be British. And in action it’s OK. You can also do a version of your script for the readers. So if you know you’re going to be sending your screenplay to both British and American readers, I think it’s perfectly fine to change something like trainer to sneaker for the American readers. It may seem out of place to you, but I guarantee you very few Americans know that in the UK these kinds of shoes are not called sneakers. They’re called trainers. So I think it would be OK to kind of do two versions there. But also people are generally forgiving.

They kind of get it. The most important thing is that you’re not throwing stuff in there that’s super idiomatic. Or there’s just going to be no chance of people understanding it. But, I think people get – I mean, you and I, we’ve read Three Page Challenges that we’re like, oh, this person must be English. And we don’t freak out.

John: No, it’s absolutely fine. I ran into the same situation just this past week. So we are in previews – actually as people are listening to this, Big Fish will have just opened in London. And there’s a few words which we had to actually change to make sure that British audiences could understand. So, the word panhandler, like Craig what is a panhandler?

Craig: That’s a beggar.

John: Yeah. And that is a word that is common in the US and so the production had written to ask like, “Hey, is it OK if we substitute a different word for panhandler? Because we don’t know what that word means.” And so I asked on Twitter, like hey British friends, do you know what panhandler means? And they said that if they did it was only because they had watched it on American television. It just wasn’t a word that existed in their language.

Craig: Right.

John: And so beggar didn’t really work in context. It’s a line of dialogue, so it has to make sense. It’s part of a joke, so it has to make sense in context. So I went with homeless guy, which is just – everyone gets what that is and it doesn’t sort of jump out. But it does matter. So I would caution that like it matters in dialogue. If what Ben is describing is just an action line, he can say sneaker, he can say trainer, it doesn’t really matter. But I would change trainer to sneaker in a line of dialogue because that would be false for a British character.

Craig: Right. And that’s the thing. That’s what matters the most, because that’s what people are going to see. So, in Britain for instance the word “punter” means customer. If you have “punter” in your action description like, you know, “The bartender is busy filling drinks for the chatty punters,” that’s perfectly fine. But if you had an American referring to fellow bar patrons as punters, no. That’s right out.

John: That would not work at all.

Craig: No.

John: All right, let’s do one more question. This is an audio question, so we don’t even have to read it. Let’s listen.

Joe: I’m writing a crime thriller based in the ‘80s and ‘90s and I recently found a very old New York Times article on the topic. I emailed the author and we had a great Skype conversation, but I realize that I’m talking to a guy with over 30 years of journalism experience. My interview skills are just not as sharp as his. He’s recommended that I speak to three other stringer journalists, all with incredible resumes in global field work.

When I pitch them to have that first conversation, how can I best lure them in? To those people outside of the film industry, I’m just some guy who says he’s a screenwriter. I don’t even have an IMDb page. Can I offer them an executive producer credit if it ever becomes a movie? What exactly can I do to best appeal to them to have that first call? And any best practices once I have the call. Thanks.

John: Craig, can he offer them an executive producer credit?

Craig: [laughs] No. So, I was listening, Joe, I’m listening to your question and I’m like, this is a great question, totally reasonable, I have my answer. I’m feeling good about this. Then you got to the part where you’re like should I offer them an executive producer credit. And I literally jumped in my chair like it was a horror movie. Like a monster showed up.

For god’s sake, no, Joe. Here’s the situation. First of all, those aren’t your credits to offer anyway. You’re writing a screenplay, ideally you’re going to want to sell that screenplay to a movie studio, some kind of financing entity. And executive producer credits in feature films are typically reserved for people that are either running the kind of mini-major or who are part of the financing scheme of things. So, it’s not really yours to hand out.

But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if you have an IMDb page or not. Generally speaking, if you are coming to somebody and saying, “Listen, I’m writing a screenplay about blank. I am trying to do a good job. I hear that you did some great work and I would love to take 10 or 15 minutes of your time and talk to you,” people will be, generally speaking, happy to talk to you.

If they’re not, it means they didn’t want to talk to any screenwriter. They weren’t going to talk to John, they weren’t going to talk to me, they’re not going to talk to you. But there is actually no difference between you, Joe, or me or John, when it comes to just asking somebody if you can get 15 minutes to ask them questions about something they spent work on.

It’s flattering to people. They want you to get the story right. You can certainly say, “Listen,” and I have said this before, “I’m not necessarily in charge of the credits, but I will certainly advocate that you get a Special Thanks To, you know, in the credits somewhere. That’s the most of it.

John: 100% agree. So, I think what’s crucial about what Craig is talking about is that you’re asking for like 15, 20 minutes, like put that in the initial email. But I would also lead with the fact like, “Hey, I just got off the phone with whoever that first guy was you talked with who was so helpful giving me information about this. He recommended that I talk with you because you have so much more insight into how this one thing works.”

That provides context. It says like you’re not a crazy person. He can check back with that other person to confirm that you’re not a crazy person.

Craig: Right.

John: You’re only asking for 15 minutes. I think you’re going to get some yeses out of this. And hopefully get some good information.

Now, in terms of your interview skills, I would just stress like go in there with questions. Go in with things you’re curious to know, but then let it be a conversation. Because most of the really good stuff you get out of these is hearing people talk about their lives. Hearing them sort of lead the discussion in terms of what’s interesting and what’s fascinating.

Because that’s how you get beyond the 15 minutes because they like talking about themselves.

So, Joe, good luck. Get those interviews. Write your script.

Craig: Yeah, for sure.

John: All right. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an interactive piece by Joel Eastwood and Erik Hinton for the Wall Street Journal, looking at the rhyme schemes in Hamilton.

So, Craig, we all love Hamilton. But what I loved about this page is they do a very great job of looking at sections of songs and figuring out how the rhyme schemes work inside that. Because it’s derived from a lot of modern hip hop and really sort of the last 20 years of hip hop, but really sort of systematically breaks down how the rhymes are working, the internal rhymes, the near rhymes.

It’s really great. And it sort of shows how sophisticated and how clever it is. And there’s a real logic to it. There’s a reason why those lines fit so nicely together. And it goes in and sort of looks at the Velcro that makes it all work.

So, I thought it was a really great piece about a show I already love.

Craig: Yeah, it’s wonderful. And the emergence of internal rhyming, you have to just tip your hat to hip hop. I mean, they elevated internal rhyming to a true art form. And what Lin-Manuel Miranda does in Hamilton is sort of the Holy Grail of it because it is both entertaining and it’s smart. It’s just really, really smart. It just feels so educated and so informed. He’s making references to history that you’d think like, geez, it would be really hard to do internal rhyming here, and he does it. And he moves the rhyming pattern around in unpredictable ways. It’s just fantastic. So, very, very cool article.

John: One nice thing I learned about internal rhymes from doing Big Fish is when they’re set up well they can also help you not only remember the lyric, but to hear when something goes wrong in the lyric. There’s a line in the first act where “He’ll be with me until he’s dead,” and that be-with-me-until-he’s-dead, the actress had flopped it in her head, so like “I’ll be with him until I’m dead or we’re dead.” And like, no, no, he’ll be with me. That internal rhyme helps the line stick. So, they’re very useful tools.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I was extremely influenced by Miranda when I was working on my songs with Jeanine Tesori. And I was also influenced by Sondheim. I mean, he also gets credit. He definitely engaged in some remarkable internal rhyming. You listen to, in particular the songs from Into the Woods, sort of recently I was listening to this, I’m like, god, there’s so much going on in these lines internally that’s pretty complicated. And I love that.

John: Yep.

Craig: All right, well my One Cool Thing, is it cool? It’s like One Diverting Thing. This is one of those things where you’re bored, you’re sitting waiting. It’s an app called Tens. It’s a simple dice game. And the idea is you’ve got a grid. I think it’s a five-by-five grid. And you get random configurations of dice. Sometimes it’s a single die. Sometimes it’s three that are connected in an L-shape. And your job is to place them on the grid and in either a horizontal or vertical line have them add up to ten. And when they add up to ten, whoop, then those are gone.

And the goal is to hit a certain score before your grid is so cluttered that you can’t fit your new dice that are coming in into the grid. And it gets more and more complicated as you go. There are blocked out spaces you can’t put any dice onto. There are spaces that shift the die when they land on that space, all the way to the right, or all the way up. There are some spaces that destroy the die. So there is some strategy involved. But really it is just the prototypical sort of mindless time-waster that makes standing in line at the post office a little less horrifying.

John: So, Craig, the link you put in the show notes is to an article that says, “Tens, Sudoku-like Game has soft launched on iOS in the Philippines.” Do you know why that happens?

Craig: No. I don’t.

John: I do. I actually have the answer for you.

Craig: Why is that?

John: So as an app developer, I’ll tell you that when you submit things to the Mac or the iOS App Store, you can choose what territories you want to release in. And often a strategy has been you release in Australia or the Philippines or Brazil, Argentina, because they are markets that are big enough that you can actually see what’s working, but you can not sort of launch everywhere and especially not launch in the US or in Europe before the game is really ready.

So it passed the beta test, but you’re seeing what’s working. And if there’s in-app purchases, it’s a great place to test like what will people actually buy. How do I get them to go through it? So, sometimes you need it out there in the market to test it. And so you test it in places where it’s not as crucial.

Craig: Makes total sense. You’re looking for a place with a large population base, lots of smartphones, but culturally aren’t going to destroy you if maybe you stumble a little bit out of the gate.

John: It’s a way to test what your advertising strategy is going to be. Like what ads are you buying? What ads are going to be successful in getting people to click through and actually install the app. So that’s why you soft launch out in those markets.

Craig: I included this link only because typically when you find a link for an app like Tens, what you get – obviously that article is from a few months ago. It is now here. It’s everywhere. But you get the iTunes link which just hurdles you over to the iTunes app on your computer or on your phone. Then you don’t get any information about it really without launching another app.

John: I appreciate your thoroughness.

Craig: I knew you would.

John: All right. That is our show for this week. So our show is produced by Megan McDonnell, edited by Matthew Chilelli. Outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth.

Craig: Oh. By the way, can we – at some point does Rajesh Naroth just become our official composer?

John: Well, here’s the thing. So Matthew did the bulk of our original stuff, but now he’s in Japan and he’s not writing as many outros. Rajesh has stepped up. And Rajesh I think actually lives here in Southern California, so he’s local. He’s our local composer.

But if you have an outro you’d like us to play, send it in. We haven’t gotten any new outros for a while. So send it in to ask@johnaugust.com. Send us a link. That’s also the place to send questions like the ones we answered. We love it when people include voice memos that have their questions so that Megan doesn’t have to email you to say like, hey, would you mind recording that. Just record it the first time through.

On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Look for us there.

You can actually look for me in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the day this comes out and the next day, because I’ll be there for the opening of Big Fish. So if you want to see me, I’ll be there. I’ll be in front of the theater, nervous.

You can find us on Apple Podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps.

We have a Facebook page. We kind of update it every once and a while. Megan does post all of the episodes.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. You’ll also find the transcripts. They go up about a week after the episode airs. And all the back episodes are available at Scriptnotes.net. The first 300 episodes are also available on the USB drives at store.johnaugust.com.

Craig: So thorough.

John: Craig, it’s good to be back on Skype with you.

Craig: Good to be back on Skype. And the good news is you go to London, and then I go to London, again. So, let’s see how screwed up it gets. But, for now, ahhh.

John: For now, ahhh, so good. Take care.

Craig: Thanks man.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

(Adjective) Soldier

Tue, 11/14/2017 - 08:03

Craig and John open the overflowing listener mailbag to tackle questions on everything from montages to life rights to passive heroes. Plus, we have a definitive answer on whether to number minor characters. (Don’t.)

We also finally address a major controversy: Craig’s missing cover of “Killing the Blues” from Episode 109. It exists, and you can listen to it today.

The Scriptnotes 2017 Holiday Live Show will be December 7th in Hollywood. Mark your calendars! Tickets available soon.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

All of It Needs to Stop

Tue, 11/07/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig revisit the discussion of sexual harassment in Hollywood, and how to support writers facing it. While the media spotlight is on the predators, it’s the day-to-day bullying and bad behavior that may have a more pernicious effect.

Then it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie, looking at stories in the news to see which ones might be suited for the big screen.

Is it the story of a prison camp for female firefighters? The shockingly unregulated human corpse trade? Or is it perhaps the anti-racist protestors shut down by other students at a super-liberal college?

We also answer listener questions about British English vocabulary and how to lure expert consultants for a project.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 323: Austin Live Show 2017 (AKA Too Many Scotts) — Transcript

Mon, 11/06/2017 - 16:10

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is the live show of Scriptnotes at Austin, 2017.

Craig: 2017. And I don’t know if any of you were at the show last year.

John: I was not.

Craig: And so you remember that. We’re also drunk again.

John: I’m not drunk.

Craig: I assume a number of you are also somewhat drunk again. Somewhat is the key. Now last year when we did the show, because John wasn’t here last year–

John: I was in Paris.

Craig: We had the benefit of my organizational skills. Which essentially amounted to nothing. We winged it. And it was great. John’s not a winger. So we have an actual agenda tonight.

John: There’s an agenda. This will be the largest Scriptnotes show. If you notice the chairs up here you might think, wow, are there going to be like seven guests?

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: No. There will be a total of 13 writers on stage. We topped ourselves again.

Craig: I mean, look, you guys showed up. We’re going to deliver. That’s what we do.

John: So Craig, we’re in Austin, Texas, and one of the things I enjoy most about visiting Austin is I could be sweaty after a run and someone will be in the elevator and say like, “Hey, you’re John August.” I’m like, yeah, I’m a gross, sweaty John August. Thank you for saying hi. But I also love seeing so many Scriptnotes t-shirts.

Craig: So many.

John: In the wild. And some people have some deep cuts of Scriptnotes t-shirts. They’re back to like–

Craig: Old school.

John: The Camp Scriptnotes shirts, which didn’t sell a lot, but someone here has a Camp Scriptnotes shirt.

Craig: The originals. But we have some new ones coming out which, as you know, will accrue to my financial benefit not at all.

John: No, not at all.

Craig: But they will line John’s pockets. So you should definitely buy those.

John: So there’s one week left to buy Scriptnotes t-shirts. You can find the link either at johnaugust.com or just go to CottonBureau.com and we’re selling a bunch of shirts there. So there’s three different models. They’re great. There’s classic ones. There’s a Star Wars-ish one.

Craig: What’s the good one?

John: Is the Umbrage and Reason one. It’s really good. It sort of looks like Craig’s–

Craig: Kind of sort of obligatory, isn’t it?

John: So hopefully we’ll see some people wearing those next year. But we actually have something extra special for you tonight. Something that you cannot get anywhere else.

Craig: I don’t know what this is. I’m so excited.

John: Ha, see. Some organization. We’re going to be doing sort of a game show thing in our final segment tonight, and it’s always hard to pick how you’re going to find that special candidate. Do you remember at our 100th episode we picked a person? Do you remember how that person was chosen?

Craig: Maybe something under their seat?

John: Yeah, so I mean people could check under their seats. But that would be a mistake because it’s not underneath your seats.

Craig: But go ahead and do it. Just do it just to see, just to make sure. Nothing there.

John: At the homecoming show, remember how we picked the winner for that?

Craig: We had a homecoming show?

John: Yeah, two months ago. At the WGA Theater.

Craig: Oh, was that what that was called?

John: Yeah, that was called the Homecoming Show. He doesn’t listen to the show, so he doesn’t know.

Craig: No.

John: How did we pick the winner for that one? Do you remember?

Craig: There was a raffle ticket?

John: There was a raffle ticket, yeah.

Craig: OK, great.

John: So check your raffle ticket. No, there’s no raffle tickets. Instead, Craig, at the end of every episode we say for longer questions write in to ask@johnaugust.com, or for short things we’re on Twitter.

Craig: Right.

John: And you’re @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. So if you would like to participate in our final segment thing, you need to tweet “Pick me” to @johnaugust. And the first person who tweets “Pick me” @johnaugust gets picked for this live show.

Craig: You mean right now?

John: Right now. Pull out your phones. Do this right now.

Craig: Do not tweet @clmazin. I will not look at it.

John: So in the third segment we’ll figure out who is first in my timeline and that person will be coming up to win something that no one else could possibly win. Now that everyone has tweeted, it’s time to get to the serious business of this podcast and bring up a writer who we’ve wanted to have on the show from maybe the first moment we recorded.

Craig: And who was it?

John: It was–

Craig: Scott Frank.

John: Walter Hill or somebody. No, it was Scott Frank.

Craig: Scott Frank.

John: Scott Frank, his credits – I could read them off the list, but you kind of all know them.

Craig: Let’s just say some of them, because they’re fun. There’s Dead Again.

John: Great movie.

Craig: You’ve seen Dead Again, right? Do you like Out of Sight? Do you like Minority Report?

John: Yeah, that’s good.

Craig: Do you hate dogs, so you like Marley & Me? All right.

John: I think I saw the name on a movie called Logan this last year. But you know he’s also directed. He directed a movie called The Lookout.

Craig: Loved Lookout.

John: He directed a movie called A Walk Among the Tombstones. But he also has a brand new show called Godless and we’re going to talk to him about all these things. Scott Frank, please come up here.

Craig: Come on up, Scott Frank.

John: How did you first get to know Craig Mazin? Oh you need a microphone, that helps.

Scott Frank: I met Craig in a gay bar.

Craig: I don’t know if it was a bar.

[laughs]

It was a club.

Scott Frank: It was a club.

John: Any place with dim lights and alcohol can be a bar.

Scott Frank: Craig, I lived in Pasadena for a very long time. And Craig lived in La Cañada, very close by.

Craig: Pasadena-adjacent.

Scott Frank: Pasadena-adjacent. Our offices were a block apart. And I think Craig invited me to a Writers Guild something. A meeting. And I remember thinking there were several representatives from the Writers Guild and a lot of writers from the San Gabriel Valley. And I remember thinking that guy is really smart.

Craig: Who was that guy?

Scott Frank: And then there was Craig.

John: The guy next to him was Craig Mazin.

Craig: Was that John Lee Hancock?

Scott Frank: That was John Lee Hancock. And we became instant friends ever since. Well, Craig became a friend with me. And then started stalking.

Craig: Years before that happened I, like all of you, went to go see Out of Sight, which was 1996?

Scott Frank: 1998.

Craig: ’98. Thank you. And so I was a screenwriter at the time in the sense that I was working as a screenwriter, but I really was just learning. And so when I went to go see Out of Sight I had the experience that I think a lot of screenwriters have when they watch Scott’s work on film which was just shame. General shame. But also a liberation because you can say, oh, well you know what, I don’t have to worry about fighting my way to the top of any heap, because there’s this guy at the top who will always just beat me back. So that’s actually quite freeing.

And I also remember thinking, because I saw it with Melissa, and I remember I said to her after, “There’s a movie where I really want to know the writer.” I mean, I appreciate what Steven Soderbergh did, it’s very, very cool, and I like the acting, but I want to know the writer. But, you know, how are you supposed to meet a writer? And this is in the nineties. There’s no real Internet connection. There’s no kind of this is going on.

And I just got lucky. I got lucky.

Scott Frank: You staged a fake WGA meeting. And I showed up at it.

Craig: Yeah, it was lucky, but it was also psychotic. I mean, it was a combination. Sometimes, maybe even more often than not, when you do meet your heroes you are devastated by how awful they are. And this was certainly no exception. But, over time, I came to see that there was great value in this man. Truly, he is a mentor. He is an angry dad to me. But he’s also a great dad to me. And a friend. And it’s just been the greatest thing. The greatest thing to know you.

Scott Frank: Aw.

John: Aw. So nice. So, Scott, I got to know your work as a screenwriter, and I think I first met you up at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. And so you were one of the gracious hosts of the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. And you brought me up there and I was terrified and you were very nice and very generous. But I always basically thought of you as you’re the guy who can sort of write any movie. Like basically you’re the guy who they come to when they need a big thing done, whether it’s an original movie or to fix a lot of movies.

And so when you went off to do, now you’ve directed movies, which is awesome, but now you’re off doing a television program. Why? What’s changed? And what was the decision to like now is the time to go off and do Godless?

Scott Frank: Well Godless began life as a movie. In 2004 I’d written it. And for some reason most of the things I write seem to take quite a while to get made, and this one was no exception. And I’d written it in 2004 and my agent said to me before I wrote it, she said, “You know, no one anywhere is buying a Western.” And she said, “I’m worried you’re going to spend a lot of time writing the script and no one is going to be interested. Westerns don’t do well in the United States. They don’t travel well overseas. You know, Westerns are now Tom Selleck on TNT. It’s not movies.”

And so I said I have to write this script. I love this script. I’m going to do it. And I spent two years writing it, and she was right. No one wanted to buy it.

John: So even though it was you, even though you had a terrific reputation, because it wasn’t based on anything else, because there wasn’t another filmmaker, because it was a Western. Because essentially the genre you think there was no appetite for making—

Scott Frank: There’s no appetite.

Craig: I mean, wasn’t it briefly at Sony? Am I crazy?

Scott Frank: It almost got made several times. And I didn’t write it initially for me to direct. And I’d written it for Steven to direct. And Steven said, “Wow, I think this is the best script you’ve ever written. I fucking hate horses.” And I said, “But besides that, maybe you could do this.” And he said, “I really – I don’t know how to shoot them. I hear they’re really difficult. And I don’t want to do it.”

And I said, “You know, Clint Eastwood was allergic to horses. And he still – he did it.” And for some reason that didn’t help. And so then Sam Mendes was going to direct it. And we had a whole cast. And it was very expensive. Sam–

John: I’ve been there.

Scott Frank: Sam cut his fee to $10 million.

Craig: Oh. That’s super generous.

Scott Frank: Yes. And his then wife, Kate Winslet, who was going to be in it, cut her fee to $10 million.

Craig: Well these people are almost saint-like.

Scott Frank: Yes. Isn’t it awesome? And for some reason he didn’t understand why we couldn’t get the budget down to what it needed to be in order to get made. And various people flirted with it and were in and out of it after that. And then I made The Lookout. And then I said, “Hey, I’m going to direct it,” which made it even harder to get made.

Craig: Yes. So you said, “I’m going to direct it,” and Hollywood responded with a—

Scott Frank: Collective nothing.

Craig: Nothing. They just simply did not hear you say that.

Scott Frank: They said, “Who?” Yes. Nothing. So because The Lookout was such a giant hit.

Craig: Huge.

Scott Frank: Huge.

Craig: Massive.

Scott Frank: I think the people in this row, including the empty chairs, were the total people who saw it in the theater.

Craig: It made tens of dollars.

Scott Frank: It made tens of dollars. Thank you very much. So I went out and we tried to get it set up that way. And it was almost made. To be honest, we almost made it at Warner Bros. We almost made it a few places. But it couldn’t happen.

And then one day Steven Soderbergh said to me, because I kept him on as a producer, and he said to me, “Why don’t you do it yourself as a mini-series?” Because he had just done a couple of seasons on The Knick. And he said, “You should do this.” And he said, “Television is telling far more serious stories than movies are. And I think you should give it a try. And you should bring it to HBO. I’m very close with them at HBO.” He had done Liberace and The Knick and so on. Was doing his project Mosaic there at the time.

And so I had a meeting with HBO in NYC where I live now. And the meeting went – it was interesting because the head of HBO miniseries says to me, “Well what have you directed?” And I said–

Craig: We have the Internet. You just have to Wiki it.

Scott Frank: And so I told him what I had directed, and then he proceeded to tell me a long story about how they had just shut down a Western they were making, Lewis and Clark. And how–

Craig: So far so good.

Scott Frank: And how they had to fire the director. And so I took that as a not so subtle message as you’re concerned about me directing this movie, aren’t you, this miniseries? And for some reason, I’m helping, I’m consulting on a TV show at Netflix called A Series of Unfortunate Events. And two things happened while I was there. One, out of nowhere, HBO says we’d like to meet with you about Godless. And I said, “With me directing it, right?”

And they said “Yes.” And I met with somebody else, with the then head of HBO, who said we want to make this. We don’t care who is in it. We’d like to do a Western. We think there’s a big appetite for Westerns on television. And we’d really like to do this as a miniseries. And I said, “Great.”

And at the same time, the people at Netflix I’m working for, the head of their dramatic programming says to me, “I hear you wrote a Western.” All in the same day.

Craig: This is how it happens.

Scott Frank: This is after 14 fucking years.

Craig: You guys are wondering like how to succeed in Hollywood. You just have to have that day.

Scott Frank: That day. All you need was that Wednesday. And so I said, “Yes, I wrote a Western,” and she said, “Well, will you send it to me?” And I said, “Sure, I’ll send it to you.”

And less than 12 hours later I get two things. I get an offer from HBO that reneges on every single promise that they made. Basically, we’ll develop the six scripts with you and then we’ll see what casting we can get. And then we’ll decide and we’ll see if you as a director can attract anybody. And this is what we’ll pay you, and so on and so forth.

Netflix, also known as the de Medici family, sends me – they say – Cindy Holland, who is head of their dramatic, just sends me an email saying, “We’re going to make this next year at this time.” I hadn’t even expanded it into a miniseries. “We’re going to just do it. It’s going to be our first in-house miniseries.”

I then got an offer that was 12 times what the other offer was, promising everything, and we don’t care who is in it. Cast it with the best people you want. And so on and so forth.

Craig: So now you’ve got a dilemma.

Scott Frank: It’s tough.

Craig: What do you do?

John: It is tough. Your thought process is like, “Do I take the terrible deal for the people who are mean to me?”

Craig: Right. Don’t like me.

Scott Frank: It was a long, long, long, long minute.

Craig: Meanwhile, I’m the idiot that is writing a miniseries for HBO.

John: How is the HBO series going?

Scott Frank: How’s that going, Craig?

Craig: I thought it was going really well.

Scott Frank: All the people, or a couple of the people are no longer there. So it’s different for you, Craig. Anyway, we made the show at Netflix and they were tremendous. And it was the right thing to do as a miniseries, because in expanding it I realized that it was already too long as a movie, anyway. In fact, the screenplay makes up 3.5 of the episodes.

Craig: Well, you know, tomorrow if you have a chance in the afternoon, I’m going to be doing a little one-on-one with Scott where we’re going to walk through his process and you’re going to learn if you show up – and you’re smart to show up – to learn from him.

One thing that’s always been very freeing to me is knowing that every first draft you’ve ever written in, in this case with Godless the final draft that you’ve written of a feature, you said like – I think you said I’ve never submitted a first draft that was under 150 pages? Something like that? Right.

Scott Frank: He had to look at Lindsay, but yes.

Craig: Yes, Lindsay is like, yes, that was my problem that I had all the time.

Scott Frank: The shooting script for Get Shorty, which is a 97-minute movie, was 135 pages long.

John: Yikes.

Craig: I forgot about Get Shorty.

Scott Frank: The shooting script for Minority Report was 180 pages long. Cheated into 165 pages.

Craig: By the way, don’t bother cheating 180 into 165.

Scott Frank: Once you’re above 160. Out of Sight was 130. Most of them are around 135 pages.

Craig: Do you see what we mean when we talk about the stupidity of the rules all the time. And the conventional wisdom that gets put on you guys all the time. And here is arguably the most successful screenwriter working today and he never follows that rule ever. And never, ever did.

Scott Frank: Well, first of all you have to tell me. Is there a rule?

Craig: There is. There is. “Never write anything more than 120. Really it should be 107.”

John: Yeah, it should be 107. We are going to get into some feature rules right now. And I want to bring up some other feature folks to talk about features. Because like you had a great experience in television it sounds like, but you’ve done a couple features.

Scott Frank: One or two.

John: So let’s talk about that. I want to bring up some more amazing folks. I want to bring up Guinevere Turner. She’s the writer of American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page, and Go Fish. Scott Alexander wrote Ed Wood, The People vs. OJ Simpson, The People vs. Larry Flint. People vs. Everything. Man on the Moon. And Big Eyes. Scott Alexander.

Tess Morris wrote Man Up, but she also hosts a podcast you should listen to called “You Had Us At Hello.” The legend, Lindsay Doran, producer of Stranger than Fiction, Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee, Dead Again, The Firm. Lindsay Doran.

Why I sort of wanted you guys all up here on the stage with us is to talk through a thing I’ve noticed, and you talking about doing Godless and sort of moving from doing a feature to doing a television show, I see so much amazing stuff happening in the one-hour space. And we just make these amazing shows. Have any of the lessons or the opportunities we’ve seen in one-hours and you’ve done some amazing television stuff, too. Are those translating back to features? Can we make better features based on how good we’ve gotten in our one-hours?

And I also wonder whether there’s any things we can learn structurally about what we’re able to do now in television that could help us make better dramatic features? Scott, talk to us about—

Craig: He looks super optimistic.

John: Because he seems so confused, I’m going to start with you. When you went on to do People vs. OJ Simpson did you have to learn a fundamentally different aspect of telling a story over multiple episodes?

Scott Alexander: Yeah. But that wasn’t your first question.

John: I know. But we’re going to get back to my first question.

Craig: Don’t question John August. Just answer his questions.

Scott Alexander: We went into OJ thinking we were writing a ten-hour movie. And we were thinking of it as episodes one, two, three are kind of the first act, and four, fix, six, seven are kind of the middle, second act. And then the rest is the third act. And then someone had to explain to us, it’s like, “Guys, no, you’re making ten one-hour movies. And each one needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, and needs to carry you into the next episode.”

And we said, “Oh.” And then we came up with this idea which was that every hour would have a high concept theme to it, which I don’t know if that’s how other TV writers work, but it was this thing we sort of stumbled onto, which was, “OK, this week is the Bronco. This week is Marcia and gender politics. This week is the jury.”

And so sort of like gave a talking point to every week’s episode. OJ was a – it was a great writing experience. I mean, we spent three years sort of being in charge of ten hours, which was a long time. It honestly broke us when we went back to features because after doing OJ our next job was to do the Patty Hearst kidnapping, also based on a Jeff Toobin book. And we just had no idea how to fit a story into a two-hour format anymore, or 2.5 hour, or even a three-hour format. And we left out half the book. And we still brought in a first draft at 207 pages.

Craig: That’s even long for Scott Frank.

Scott Frank: I’ve never broken 200. 199.

Scott Alexander: Oh, I once wrote a script that was 291 pages. A feature.

Craig: Why would you?

John: But why?

Craig: What failure of planning occurred there?

Scott Alexander: It was a biopic of the Marx Brothers who I love dearly, and we worked so hard on it. And what a waste. Years of my life.

Guinevere Turner: I love this page count shaming that’s happening.

Craig: Well, I mean, you’re asking people to see a movie about the Marx Brothers. It’s the length of the Shoah or whatever.

Scott Alexander: Brilliant Alexander plan.

Craig: Sorrow and pity. I mean, it’s insane.

Scott Frank: He’s got the biggest page count.

Lindsay Doran: I worked on something like that once. And the writer – and I said, “I can’t hand this in.” And she said, “Just tell them that all they have to do is read 120 pages, and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to read the rest.”

Scott Alexander: I don’t want to come off as obnoxious. But that’s an internal draft. Our sort of rule of thumb has been once it goes into the buyer, meaning the studio, it has to be under 150. So that’s a rule we’ve always tried to live by.

Craig: 150 is not admirable. That’s not a thing.

John: OK, Lindsay Doran, you ran a studio. You ran United Artists. And so—

Lindsay: You’re going to tell all these people that?

John: Well, you don’t have to do it right now.

Craig: It’s her fault.

Scott Frank: She made West Side Story.

John: Yeah. Let’s say, no, so let’s say you had a new studio. Do you think that the changes that have happened in one hours would be informing some of the choices you’re making as a studio head? Either the projects you’re doing or how you think the storytelling can happen on the page. Do you think there’s a change in what screenwriters can do based on what TV writers have been able to do in the last ten years?

Lindsay: Rightly or wrongly, I feel as though there’s been a shift from “never be boring” to “always be exciting.” Somebody I know who made a movie for Netflix said that he got one note the whole time which was, “Make sure something amazing happens in the first five minutes. That’s all we ask of you.” Does anything amazing happen in your first five minutes, Scott?

Tess Morris: First 150 pages.

Scott Frank: Yes.

Lindsay: So, I think there is a sense, whether it’s true or not—

Scott Frank: But wait, isn’t that just good writing?

Lindsay: Well, yeah, I would think so. But that idea of the slow build, you know, I wonder if you could write a fantastically elaborate, interesting first scene and it would be enough. Even if it was great. I wonder if people are going to say, “But wait, I want something really exciting to happen.” And you go, well how about this really exciting writing. And it’s like, “Well, yeah, but nobody gets killed and nobody gets betrayed and nobody gets pushed under a bus…”

Guinevere: But in and around this conversation is actually as writers how we now think, because we know that we may say, “Here’s my idea,” and someone will say, “Is that a back door pilot? Is that a series? Is that a feature?” That’s just a feature. And how features may or may not be devalued/haloed as this new rarified form. And/or how does that have legs in season five? And so it’s actually changed our brains and the way that we think about our own narratives. And this whole idea of legs and seasons—

Craig: It’s flipped things around, right?

Guinevere: I mean, is it good? Is it bad? It’s definitely stretched our muscles and made us think in different ways.

Tess: But if you think – I had a show that was a film idea originally, that then we turned into a six-part thing. But actually weirdly the structure of it still made sense because it was a romantic comedy, so we still had a very clear end point to everything that was happening. Like Catastrophe does it really well. I mean, really you could watch each series of Catastrophe as a very long romantic comedy movie. So it’s just our brains that have to change. I don’t think the audiences have to, maybe not.

Scott Frank: You’re not from around here, are you?

Tess: I’m not, Scott. No. I’m new in town.

Scott Frank: Yes you are.

Lindsay: From East Texas.

Scott Frank: Houston.

Scott Alexander: John, I think you’re asking a hopeful question with a bad answer.

John: The best kind, yeah.

Scott Alexander: Because as we all know, the mid-budget film, the mid-budget drama/dramedy that we all grew up on and love has been in trouble for years. I would think that the success of all the long form television has just made it harder because it sort of taught people that audiences will invest in that long term storytelling. They want to hang out with those characters for a period of time. And why would you want to invest $40 million to only hang out with them for an hour and fifty minutes.

Guinevere: But I would have watched The Breakfast Club for five seasons when I was a teenager.

Tess: Oh my god, yeah. Imagine Pretty in Pink every week. That would be amazing.

Craig: Well, but the point is you actually wouldn’t have to. If it happened now, that’s what it would be. Because they would not make The Breakfast Club as a feature. It wouldn’t make economic sense. They would simply say this could be so much better if we made six of these, or we made a season of different people in detention every season, because that’s—

Guinevere: Oh my god. I already love it. I totally want to make that.

John: I would argue that we actually are already doing sort of the giant version of this, is the Marvel movies, which are essentially a giant TV show—

Tess: They’re not like The Breakfast Club.

John: They’re not like The Breakfast Club. No they’re not.

Craig: But he’s not wrong. Because they are soap operas.

Tess: No, I know. They are.

Craig: And, look, the problem is that what’s happened now is in movie theaters we now have created the space for spectacle. So Marvel movies get away with soap opera because they’re spectacle soap opera. Soap opera soap opera really now is just for TV. But the viewing audience, one thing that we know because we are – even though we write, we are also viewing constantly – we know that watching things at home is so much more comfortable. We only watch what we want to. We don’t feel trapped. We certainly haven’t paid for the experience per that moment.

Tess: I do like the idea of Emilio Estevez like ripping his shirt off and it being Captain America underneath it, you know, that scene in Breakfast Club. You know, and actually it would be like a Marvel character underneath it.

Craig: You should go pitch that.

Tess: I’m not going to do that, Craig, but OK.

John: Well, Tess, I want to get back – your podcast is essentially about romantic comedies.

Tess: It’s very niche.

John: It’s very niche. So if you enjoy romantic comedies, or even if you’re just confused by romantic comedies, listen to her podcast. They really do break it down and talk about that as a form.

Tess: Very niche.

John: As a genre. But essentially romantic comedies have been usurped by series television, like we’re not making very many of them. Like you were able to make one, but very few of them are getting made. Is there anything that you see happening in television, from like Catastrophe, from anything else, that could get us back to a feature place of romantic comedies?

Tess: Netflix and chill is our last hope, I feel.

Craig: That means sex, right?

Tess: Yeah. But why is not like Hulu and hang?

Craig: Hulu is not sexy.

Tess: Hulu is sexy.

Craig: Oh, it is?

Tess: There’s sexy things, maybe not as—

Craig: I don’t know what sexy is. Everybody knows that.

John: I think I know why she thinks Hulu is sexy suddenly, but I’m not allowed to say.

Tess: All I know is that all the carbs I ate have kicked in suddenly and I feel quite slow.

Craig: You mean alcohol.

Tess: I think when we made the film that I wrote, Man Up, we released it in the cinemas and knowing what we know now we would not release it in the cinema again. We had a very small release here and we had a bigger one in the UK. But we would definitely now, like the next film that I’ve written for the same company we will probably take it straight to somewhere like Netflix.

Because you’re all fucking idiots, but people don’t go to the movies to see romantic comedies anymore.

Craig: You’re welcome.

Tess: And I don’t either.

Scott Frank: Thanks for coming to our country.

Tess: You’re welcome.

Craig: Still this lingering resentment about the Revolution.

Tess: I’ll stop when I swear first. Someone had to swear. But, no, I think that – I do actually believe that there is the event, like The Big Sick did incredibly well and it’s a great little movie – big movie. But that was packaged brilliantly and sold perfectly. And also was a really modern take on the genre. And was about something that is important right now. So, I think that is the way, if you’re going to get people in the cinema, you have to try and think bigger now.

Yes, Scott Frank, what would you like to ask me?

Scott Frank: Well, you can’t make a slate out of The Big Sick, which was a great movie, but—

Tess: No, but you could make a nice six-part recurring series about it. They could get divorced in the second one.

Scott Frank: But speaking about movies for a second, even if you make a movie – a drama – for $25 million at a movie studio, they’re still going to spend $30 million to sell it. So it’s still a $50 million proposition. And everybody was talking about Logan Lucky only making $10 million because he did this experimental thing and, you know, that was a failure. It actually is about what it would have made if it were at a studio. It was a $25 million movie. If they were at a studio they were all going to spend $35 million to market it with that cast. And they would have, you know, maybe they would have gotten more people in the movie theater, maybe not, but ultimately after you take away all the profits for the studio, they $10 million or $12 million that everybody who made the movie has to split, it wouldn’t be there anymore.

And if you think about who is going to movies right now, which is – thinking about – which is everything. It’s kids who are 13, 14, experiencing their first independence. That’s who supports most of the movies. You go to any mall on a weekend night and look who is there. Or it’s families taking their kids to see family movies. It’s not a lot of other adult or serious movies.

There’s certainly anomalous things we can all point to, but it doesn’t make economic sense if you’re a studio not to take the big swings.

Craig: Right. But we do have this – I mean, there’s some good news here, believe it or not.

Tess: Well, tell me the good news.

Craig: The good news is—

Lindsay: Craig Mazin, bearer of good news.

Craig: It doesn’t happen frequently, so listen up.

Lindsay: I know. I’m all agog.

Craig: You guys have a freedom that we did not have. So, I certainly didn’t, and I know Scott you couldn’t have had, and John you didn’t. When we started it was you write a movie, this is what a movie is. Or, you write a show which is on this network and that’s what that is. And it has the commercial breaks in it, see.

That’s it. You guys can write anything. It can be any amount of time. It can be any amount of episodes. It can be one long thing. Five little short things. Even amongst themselves, like so Dan and Dave who do Game of Thrones, the first season of Game of Thrones which is now, what, eight or nine years ago at this point I think, the first season they did all their shows, they shot them all, they edited the whole season together and then HBO came back and said, “You’re short. These episodes are too short. They need to be 55 minutes and blah-blah-blah seconds. And you’re short.”

So they had to go back and shoot some extra stuff to pad them out. Now, no one cares. They have episodes that are 48 minutes long. They have episodes that are 79 minutes long. You guys have a freedom we did not have. And that’s exceptional.

Tess: But just to finish my rom-com rant, though, is that the only issue, if anyone writes romantic comedy here, is that you really know the ending to most rom-coms and that is the fundamental issue with turning it into – with making it doable for TV. Is that you have to find ways to make people break up and make up many more times than you do in a film sort of structure. So that’s the only sort of problem with the rom-com.

Craig: So good news for everybody except the rom-com writers.

John: Guinevere, I want to ask about, so you’re doing a movie with Mary right now, Mary Harron, based on the Manson girls. And it feels – you’re doing it as a feature, but it feels like it could very easily be Netflix, it could be HBO, it could be some sort of television thing. Why a feature and why not a television thing?

Guinevere: So it’s a story about the women who killed for Charles Manson. Three of them went to prison. And to me it’s about this very specific point in their history, which is after the orgies and the sex and the cameras and the trial. And this real moment of time, five years where they spent – the three of them – in isolation in prison. And that, to me, only – that story needs to be told in that way.

John: So it’s sort of a one-time journey. It doesn’t want to sort of stretch out over longer things.

Guinevere: I mean, you could go second season, they get into the general population which is where my movie ends, but to me it’s a little bit corrupt, because I’m really talking about the mindset of these people and it has more to do with the moment in history and where women were and where prison was and where the media was with this story than the far-reaching things. So, I mean, if somebody came to me right now and said “We want to make six seasons of post-Manson, the ladies, how the ladies lived,” I don’t know. That’s the wheelhouse I lived in.

Scott Frank: That’s a romantic comedy.

John: That’s a good one.

Craig: I have a squeaky [unintelligible] romantic comedy would be something to behold.

John: Fantastic.

Scott Alexander: I’m so in.

John: Let me get a roundtable room going. So that’s one of the last things I want to talk about is there has been this move in features to sort of bring together rooms to sort of break features. And that’s a thing that we’re also taking from television where like, well, we have this piece of intellectual property. We have – we always say Slinky – but what does the Slinky movie want to be. They’ve done this with other big videogames. And they’ll put together a room-

Tess: Sorry, a Slinky?

John: A Slinky. A toy.

Craig: It’s a large coil that—

John: Yeah, that walks down stairs.

Craig: In Britain I believe it’s called the Coily or the—

Scott Frank: There really is a Slinky movie?

Craig: Stair Walker.

Scott Frank: I got to catch up. 120 pages.

John: A general take on feature writing rooms. Because I’ve never done one. I’ve done roundtables, and I think a lot of us have done roundtables, but this idea where we’re breaking the whole – we’re figuring out from the genesis of what this movie is as a team, as a group.

Craig: I wonder, what do you think about this phenomenon? You’ve been watching this happening, right?

Lindsay: Well, I actually just went to my first roundtable. I’d never been to one before this month, I think it was. So it is this odd thing. In family movies I do see it a lot, because I work on those a lot.

Guinevere: I’m sorry, because I’ve never been to a roundtable. Can anyone and all of you just tell us what does it look like?

Craig: Well, there’s two different things we’re talking about here. One is a roundtable which Lindsay is mentioning where a movie is about to go into production, or a movie has been shot and they’re contemplating reshoots, and they will have six or seven writers sit around and just discuss.

Tess: And eat.

Craig: And eat.

Lindsay: That had nothing to do with the roundtable that I went to, but that’s OK.

Craig: OK, so you had a different roundtable. So then there’s this other thing which is “We are contemplating making a movie. Let’s get a bunch of writers together to talk about what this movie should be.” That is the thing that is horrifying to me.

John: Yeah, so it’s more like breaking a season of television, but you’re breaking a feature out of it. Or sometimes you’re breaking three features and a TV series. So sometimes they’re month-long rooms. It’s such a very different way of working that we’re just not used to.

Scott Alexander: I mean, I’ll say I’ve never done either, ever. I think it’s the end of the world.

Guinevere: Anyway, back to Lindsay, please, because I’m so curious what you have to say.

Lindsay: No, I think it was very confusing. Really, I found it – it was like where is the person in this room with conviction. Because the whole point was to not have conviction.

Tess: I think it’s different in a comedy.

Scott Frank: The roundtable to me is so distressing conceptually because somebody – whoever that poor writer was – wrote a script and put thought into it. And then a bunch of people are just going to sit around for eight hours and get paid a daily rate and just block out lines—

Craig: Well, to be fair, most of the times when I do it—

Scott Frank: I wasn’t looking at you.

Craig: I know. I’m just telling you because you don’t do them.

Scott Frank: I was looking at Lindsay.

Craig: Don’t you dare. Usually the writer is there. So, you know, I did one for the Pirates of the Caribbean, what are they up to?

John: 19?

Tess: 40?

Craig: 70. All right. Pirates of the Caribbean, 70.

Scott Frank: That was the good one.

Craig: But Jeff Nathanson was there. He is the writer and he was there. And we just sort of – really what it came down to was, in some of these cases, the roundtables that are post-facto roundtables are kind of like writers are doing what maybe the development executives used to be able to do but don’t. So we’re just sort of saying, “Well what about – here’s some questions of things that maybe you can think about or help.”

But this other thing that’s happening which is develop a movie together. Dana and I – why isn’t Dana up here? I don’t understand.

John: She’s up in the next segment.

Craig: OK. So, anyway, the person that I will not mention is up in the next segment, were asked to do a roundtable at Disney to create a new story for a new movie. And the two of us freaked the F out. Because that to me is what you’re talking about. There’s no authority. There’s no voice. There’s no author. There’s no vision. There’s just a bunch of people now cobbling together a movie. Forget the economics of it, which are disastrous for writers. I just think creatively it’s – that I agree with you. End of times.

Scott Alexander: How does that get arbitrated?

Craig: I don’t know.

John: Horribly. Horribly.

Tess: That’s a whole other podcast.

Scott Alexander: How do they even? What do they even do?

Craig: I don’t know.

Tess: Don’t even ask that question.

John: It’s a genuine mess.

Craig: I legitimately don’t know.

John: So, as we wrap it up, I’ll say that in television where they have writer’s rooms, everyone is also a producer, so you have a credit because you’re a producer. There’s some other way that you’re acknowledged. And so when you’re running your shows, there’s a system, there’s a structure for that.

Craig: For multiple episodes. So somebody is going to get a credit sooner or later.

John: That doesn’t exist in features. And if this trend continues we’re going to have to figure out something, because it’s going to be weird. And all you guys will be in there, because we’ll all be retired by then.

We need to get to our next segment. This was an amazing discussion. Guys, thank you very much.

Craig: Thank you.

John: You can head down. We’ll bring up the next folks.

Craig: Fresh writers. More grist for the mill. Never stops.

John: A new thing to try.

Craig: Oh, we got a new thing. Oh, here we go. You guys know this was John’s idea, because I don’t have any.

John: It should be good. We’ll see. To do this, we need some new writers up here. We’re going to start with Dana Fox.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Dana Fox. Dana Fox is the writer of What Happens in Vegas, Couples Retreat, How to Be Single. She was the creator and showrunner of Ben and Kate. She’s directed New Girl. She’s awesome.

Craig: Stop apologizing. Just own your genius.

John: And a bunch of other movies.

Dana Fox: I’m not up here with Scott Frank.

Craig: None of us are.

John: And she’s a repeat Scriptnotes guest.

Dana: I love it.

Craig: One of our favorite Scriptnotes people.

Dana: Anytime you ask me I say yes.

John: Another repeat Scriptnotes guest, Megan Amram.

Craig: Megan Amram. Literally just noticed your shirt by the way. That’s the greatest shirt ever.

Dana: We’re wearing message shirts.

Craig: So Dana’s shirt says “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda.” I did.

John: Yeah, we did.

Craig: Megan’s says “Zero million followers.”

Megan Amram: MY friend, Mo Welch, makes these shirts. They’re great. If you have less than a million followers, I highly recommend it.

Craig: Nobody here, that doesn’t apply to anybody.

John: So when we introduced you on the last live show, you were the writer-producer The Good Place, Transparent, Silicon Valley, Parks and Recreation. You’re the author of Science for Her. But now you’re also a writer on The Simpsons.

Megan: Yeah, it’s a pretty weird coincidence that I appeared with our friend Matt Selman on the show last time, who happens to show-run The Simpsons. And then I got a job really soon after that.

John: So I think the key here is if you want to get staffed on a show, be on an episode of Scriptnotes with the showrunner. That’s how you do it.

Megan: I owe John and – what’s your name?

Craig: I’m your cousin.

Megan: Oh, that’s, OK, Craig. I owe you both my life. So, I don’t know what you want to do with this segment.

Craig: I don’t think you need to go that far, but you owe us quite a bit. Quite a bit.

John: Our next writer, I’ve never pronounced your last name, so I’m going to try. Oren Uziel. Yes? Oren Uziel, writer of 22 Jump Street, Freaks of Nature, The God Particle. Oren, who I know mostly through roundtables. That’s how I’ve actually gotten to know you.

Oren Uziel: Yeah, I’m sorry.

John: No, it’s awesome. Jason Fuchs is here, though.

Craig: Fuchsy.

John: A writer whose credits include Wonder Woman, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and Pan.

Craig: And also…if you saw La La Land and you remember that douchebag screenwriter who talked about being really good at building worlds: Jason Fuchs.

Jason Fuchs: Sorry.

John: So this is the part of the show where we need to bring up the Twitter person who tweeted first. So, this could be you. This is somebody in the room. And so I’m going to go to my Twitter here.

Craig: Hey, Scott Rosenberg!

John: Scott Rosenberg is here. Come on up here.

Craig: What a weird attention grabbing—

Scott Rosenberg: Someone needed a beer. Apologize. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

John: Scott, don’t read this yet, but you’ll read it eventually.

Craig: Super attention-grabby. Super like look at me, I’m Scott Rosenberg.

Dana: He’s going to get a haircut during this podcast.

Craig: Some people have it. Some people don’t. He’s got it. He’s got it.

John: So the first person to tweet at me was John the Wizard. Where is John the Wizard?

Craig: John the Wizard.

John: Oh, holy shit. All right.

Dana: John the Wizard. John the Wizard.

John: Will you take that microphone there? This is the game show we are going to be playing here. So, all of us up on this stage have received at certain times notes from the studio. And five of these things we’re going to read aloud are actual notes that I received from the studio on my projects. The only, I promise to God, the only things I’ve changed are sometimes identifying character names. But everything you’re about to hear, except for one of them, is true.

Your job is going to be to identify which of these was not the true thing. What is so crazy is you are the person who came up to me and asked if I could sign your Writer Emergency Pack, is that correct?

John the Wizard: Yes. That’s correct.

John: The gift you’re going to get out of this, which is nuts—

Craig: Oh no.

John: Is the dark mode deck of the Writer Emergency Pack. The exclusive black edition of the Writer Emergency Pack, which no one has, and that was never sold.

Craig: You should be good at this, because you are a wizard, so let’s see.

John the Wizard: I mean, that’s referencing my D&D.

John: Craig, start us off.

Craig: Here’s the first one. I assume he’s going to listen to them all and then make your judgment.

John: And we may discuss a bit.

Craig: We may discuss a bit.

Scott Rosenberg: Can we just go back to the pros and cons of writers’ rooms? Because I’m totally confused.

Craig: This is not about you.

Scott Rosenberg: I keep staring at this thing over and over again. I don’t know what the fuck it means. I don’t know who Madden is.

Dana: No, don’t give it away.

Scott Rosenberg: Where’s Scott Frank?

Craig: Scott Rosenberg, you can’t just Scott Rosenberg all over this.

Scott Rosenberg: All right. Carry on.

John: Craig Mazin, read a note.

Craig: Can you believe this guy?

John: No, I can’t. I honestly can’t.

Jason: Do you want to switch with me?

Craig: God. Wasn’t enough that like—?

Scott Rosenberg: You’re not going to like that one more.

Craig: God, Scott Rosenberg. Not handsome enough. Not tall enough. Jesus Christ. OK, here we go. “The inherent fantasy fulfillment, especially for kids, makes this something we believe audiences will embrace and thoroughly enjoy. That said, the tone of the picture needs to be much edgier.” Possibly real. Possibly not.

John: Dana, go for it.

Dana: OK. “We like the pivot away from the misdirect and towards embracing Johnson’s role as a villain from the outset. But, as we move forward we’d like to make sure that we don’t lose his complexity and shift too far into his evil persona that it feels cartoonish.”

Craig: Ooh, so many clauses in that.

Megan: Word salad. Word salad.

Dana: It was really hard to read.

Craig: Multiple clause note.

John: Megan Amram, perform for us.

Jason: This is not good. This is not good at all.

Megan: “Can we discuss whether Mark and Kristen need to die? We don’t feel like the characters have earned the terrible things that befall them.”

Scott Rosenberg: That’s totally real.

Dana: The terrible things including death.

Craig: Right. Right.

Megan: One of the worst.

Craig: Things with an S. Right.

John: Oren?

Oren: All right, “We appreciate the early look and understand and respect that the creative process is still in motion and that there are outstanding notes the producers want to make before the draft we read is considered official.”

Craig: Wow, that’s just fucking sinister.

Dana: That’s too real.

Scott Rosenberg: That’s just they don’t want to pay for delivery yet. Right?

Dana: I’m just so surprised they actually put that on paper. That seems illegal.

Craig: That’s like fraud, right? It’s amazing.

John: All right, Jason.

Jason: “We would like to clarify and simplify the rules of time travel.” Sure. Sure. By the way, we’re halfway in, so far not a bad note. “Could Madden explain that only certain actions disrupt the time stream?”

Scott Rosenberg: See, that’s the one that I kept looking at over and he switched with me. I couldn’t understand it. What’s the time stream?

Megan: Yeah, that’s why you have to clarify the rules.

Dana: That’s why they have to clarify the rules.

Jason: According to the note. That’s what we’re doing.

Craig: I know this is crazy, when you walk in the middle of something to not understand it.

Jason: This is why you don’t get the bit.

Scott Rosenberg: I’m sorry, I’m a screenwriter. I thought we were talking about screenwriting stuff. This is why they’ve never invited me on whatever that thing is they have. That podcast. Never ever, by the way. 42 movies I’ve made. Never. Never once. Never had a dinner.

Craig: You’re that guy now? You’re the 42 movies made?

Scott Rosenberg: Not once. Never. Never.

Craig: 42 movies I made.

Scott Rosenberg: Koppelman, he knew me a minute, put me right on. “What are the aliens waiting for? Is it simply that it’s taken this long for them to amass a big enough force to try to take over Earth again? Or, is there a more specific “why now” reason that the alien invasion is finally happening again?”

John: Wow, that’s a lot.

Scott Rosenberg: I mean, duh.

John: I think we may need to read through them again. But general themes. Do they seem familiar? Have you encountered these notes before? I saw some nodding.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, my note I could summarize as make it nice but make it not nice. It’s just like these inherent contradictions, right? And yours seemed—

Dana: I truly had no idea what was happening with mine.

Craig: Basically yours was the same thing, like make him a villain but don’t make him too villainy.

Megan: Yeah. I had summarized this as do Mark and Kristen have to die. A pretty, you know, universal question you should ask yourself. I mean, everyone’s got a Mark, everyone’s got a Kristen. And you just have to think to yourself, did they earn the terrible things that befall them? So.

Oren: Mine is basically we enjoyed reading your script. Do we still have to pay you for it?

Dana: That one was the most familiar for me.

Craig: Familiar note.

John: Jason, back to yours.

Jason: Yeah. Mine is we paid you to write a script about time travel. Can you figure that out? No. Doesn’t make any sense.

Scott Rosenberg: I’m going to be super controversial. I’ve gotten the stupidest fucking notes in the world my entire career, and I’ve never once been less than grateful to be a person getting stupid fucking notes.

Dana: Shut up.

Scott Rosenberg: It’s just a fact. Honestly. And I’m the last guy to have any gravitas in this whole room. But honestly, like you take them, and they’re ridiculous, and they’re absurd.

Dana: Are you from Canada?

Scott Rosenberg: And I am from Canada.

Dana: Honestly.

Scott Rosenberg: By way of Boston. But, no, seriously, I remember the stupidest note I’ve ever gotten in my whole life was I wrote this crazy psychotic character and they were like, “We just found he was so irrational.” And I was like “Because he’s psychotic.” And they were like, “Well couldn’t his irrational psychosis just be a little bit more rational?” And I was like, “Wow, you are insane.” By the way, she is not in the business anymore that executive. But I just remember thinking like as I drove home thinking like how am I going to tackle this.

I was like, goddamn, god bless me that she’s actually paying me to do this and I actually – I’m sorry to like rain on the fun of the gag.

Craig: You should be.

Scott Rosenberg: But seriously, that’s my thing. Madden, where’s Madden?

Jason: You want Madden back?

Scott Rosenberg: But seriously, we’re all getting stupid notes. That’s the nature of the gig. But you know what, God bless us all for getting them.

Craig: That surely was helpful for you.

John: That was helpful. Scott, would you remind recapping what your actual note was so this gentleman can try to win? What was your actual note you got? What was the actual note that you read aloud?

Scott Rosenberg: I read it. I actually read it. You want me to read it again?

Craig: Just summarize it.

Scott Rosenberg: I actually didn’t understand it.

Craig: OK.

Jason: That’s the point of the game.

John: John the Wizard. Tell us where your head is at.

Craig: Do you have a sense?

John: Which one is the fake note?

John the Wizard: I’m seriously confused if it’s the last one or the third to last one. Both seem very confusing.

Craig: You think maybe it’s the Oren right here.

John: Do you want to hear them aloud again.

Craig: Again? Really? Just those two. Just those two.

John the Wizard: And I’ll take the audience, what they think.

Oren: “We appreciate the early look and understand and respect that the creative process is still in motion and that there are outstanding notes the producers want to make before the draft we read is considered official.”

John the Wizard: This is so confusing.

Oren: There’s so many words.

John: I can’t believe that’s real.

Oren: No commas.

John: Do you want Jason or Scott’s?

Jason: I also have no commas. “What are the aliens waiting for? Is it simply that it’s taken this long for them to amass a big enough force to try to take over earth again? Or is there a more specific “why now” reason that the alien invasion is finally happening again?” I think I’ve gotten that note on every single script I’ve written.

John the Wizard: I guess my problem at the end is the aliens, I would assume is referenced to a real–

Craig: Don’t dig in too deep here.

John the Wizard: No? Is it too much?

Craig: Just go with your gut.

John: Go with your gut.

John the Wizard: You sir.

John: Oren’s?

Craig: He has chosen Oren’s as the fake note.

John the Wizard: I’m going to choose Oren.

John: But up here, what do you guys think?

Dana: I think that’s definitely real.

Craig: I think it’s Jason’s.

Megan: I think mine might be fake.

Craig: I think Megan is fake.

Megan: Thank you so much.

John: Oren’s is completely real. Oren’s is 100% real. That was in a memo and it basically was what you describe. Like “Thank you for showing this producer pass early so we don’t have to pay you and we can still give notes.” So that’s a lovely thing. So your second choice is Scott?

John the Wizard: Yes.

John: You’re still wrong. Sorry.

John the Wizard: It’s not the first time so.

Jason: Does he get another guess?

John: It’s Jason’s.

Craig: It’s Jason’s.

John: Time travel.

Craig: Jason’s time travel thing seems so real.

Jason: Yeah, well, I sold it.

John: Why did it seem real to you?

Craig: Well, it seemed real because it was so stupid. I mean, you know, like every time you see a movie, or any time you’re writing any movie that involves anything slightly magic or slightly science fiction, the first thing they talk about – because they love to – is rules. They’re obsessed with the rules. What are the rules? No one actually cares about the rules.

I don’t know what the rules are in Lord of the Rings. People literally show up and fucking turn into ghosts and back again to regular people. And I don’t give a shit, because I don’t care. It’s awesome to watch. But they love talking about the rules.

Megan: I hate to be a Scott Rosenberg here, but I love the rules. I love like a scene where they just talk about the rules. There’s a scene in Arrival where he just narrates the rules and I loved it. You know, diverse. It’s a diverse panel.

Jason: I have to say these are all obviously dumb notes, and they’re better than any notes I’ve ever gotten on any project I’ve worked.

Oren: These are high level John August notes.

Jason: I mean, these are terrific notes. I was working on a project, I’m currently working on a project where a producer said to me, “What’s the tone of the movie?” We’re like two months in. And I said, well, you know, it’s kind of like a darker grounded Star Wars. And the gentleman I’m working with is Italian and he said, “I don’t like the Star Wars.”

Craig: Is he Italian or is he a cartoon Italian?

Jason: He is, in fact, both. And I said, you know, “Why don’t you like Star Wars?” And he said, “Where’s Earth?”

Craig: That’s awesome.

Jason: I swear to god. This is a week ago.

Craig: That’s an amazing critique of Star Wars.

Jason: Yeah, he said, “They never talk about Earth. They never go to Earth. Why is no Earth?” And I said, “Well, you know, it’s Star Wars. It’s in the stars.” And he said, “No, no, I get it. But you know…” he had an idea. He didn’t just have a problem. He had a solution. He said, “You know what’s a good film? You see the Battleship?” And I said, “Peter Berg’s Battleship?” And he said, “Yeah, si, si. They’re on Earth. And the soldiers on Earth and marines. Watch the film Battleship.”

And I said, “You want me to write this film – you’re going to pay me, you want me to make it more like Battleship than Star Wars?” And he said, “Watch Battleship again. You’ll see what I’m talking about.” And I literally called the studio. I said, “I can never speak to that human again.”

Craig: No. And then I assume he was like, “Now I got to go make the meatballs.”

Jason: These are terrific notes. I wish I had rule notes.

Scott Rosenberg: To me, the greatest notes story of all time is–

Jason: That was not the greatest notes story of all time?

Scott Rosenberg: No. No. No.

Megan: I’m going to let you finish.

Scott Rosenberg: That was the best rendered notes story of all time.

Jason: Fair.

Scott Rosenberg: The best performed notes story of all time.

Jason: I’ll take it.

Scott Rosenberg: But the great William Goldman story was, you know, William Goldman notoriously only lived in New York City and hated Los Angeles, like a sickness. And he would come out for five seconds and he did his version of Maverick. He wrote his draft of Maverick, and he flew out and they took him to Warner Bros. And he had the meetings with the guys at the time, there was probably Lorenzo and Robinov. And they came in and they gave him his notes and they said, “So we really like it. Everything you’ve done is wonderful. We just wish it was smarter and funnier.”

And Bill Goldman said, “So do I.” Which is like we never turn in what we don’t think is the best, right?

Dana: It also dovetails with things that have happened to you in test screenings, or notes you’ve gotten in test screenings.

Craig: Those are the best.

Dana: Yeah. I had one – they give you the little forms afterwards. You fill them out. And it said, “Was there anything about the movie you didn’t like?” And this person wrote, “The movie.”

Oren: That’s great.

Craig: Somebody, I can’t remember who, has one of those cards framed and under the what would you change and somebody had scrawled, “More boobs,” but they had spelled it B-E-E-W-B-B-S. The most tortured spelling of boobs possible, so you knew it was real. They really wanted to–

John: Nice. John the Wizard, thank you very much for playing. You get the deck anyway.

Craig: Thank you, John the Wizard.

John: We weren’t going to let you go away without the deck. Thank you to our amazing panel. You guys were great. Thank you for playing the game with us.

Craig: These people want to drink. I get the sense they want to drink. Let’s wrap this up.

John: Let’s wrap this up. Guys, thank you for an amazing show. We need to thank some of the special people here first.

Craig: Thank you folks.

John: A little talking here. We need to thank Megan McDonnell, our producer.

Craig: Megan McDonnell.

John: We need to thank all of our amazing panelists for coming up here. Thank you guys very much for playing. And we need to thank Colin and the amazing Austin Film Festival for having us here once again. Guys, thank you very much for having us back each year.

Craig: Thank you, Austin.

John: It’s so much fun to do the show. Thanks guys.

Craig: Thanks guys.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 322: The Post-Weinstein Era — Transcript

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 18:16

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode has some strong language. Standard warning. You know what, headphones might be appropriate. Also, on today’s episode we talk about some serious things including sexual assault. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, please know you are not alone. Consider contacting rainn.org, or call their national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Thanks.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 322 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we’ll be discussing sexual harassment and other despicable acts in the case of Harvey Weinstein.

Craig: You just said that so merrily, by the way. [laughs] Yay, today we’ll be learning how to bake a nice cake and sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein.

John: But we’ll also be looking at what should happen or might happen in the post-Weinstein era, Craig.

Craig: There may be some cause for optimism there.

John: To help us do that and have that conversation we’ll be joined by two amazing guests. First off, Daley Haggar is a writer whose credits include Cristela, Anger Management, Friends with Benefits, and Big Bang Theory. She also wrote a terrific article for Lenny entitled “Why I’m Snitching on Hollywood’s Sexism,” which you can actually listen to in the Scriptnotes feed. We recorded that half an hour ago.

Daley Haggar: Hello.

John: Welcome to the show, Daley.

Craig: Welcome, Daley.

Daley: Thank you.

John: And also Dara Resnik is a writer whose credits include I Love Dick, Shooter, Jane the Virgin, Castle, and Mistresses. She also co-wrote an article this last week with Gillian Boher for the Washington Post titled “Don’t be so sure Harvey Weinstein is going away for good.”

Dara, welcome to the show finally.

Dara Resnik: Thank you for having me. I feel like this is long overdue, so I’m thrilled to be here.

John: It’s very long overdue.

Dara: For a terrible reason.

John: No, a terrible thing has brought us all together.

Dara: It’s true.

John: So before we get into the meat of the episode, we have some news and some business, some podcast business. Craig, what is the most common request we get as we go to live shows and as people are coming up to us and saying, “Craig Mazin, when will you provide us with…”

Craig: With branded meat snacks.

John: Those are not things that we actually provide to our listeners. We provide quality entertainment once a week, but we also provide clothing.

Craig: T-shirts.

John: Yes.

Craig: It was either going to be some kind of meat snack or a t-shirt.

John: So I’m happy to announce that we actually do now finally have t-shirts available for purchase. They are on Cotton Bureau, just like last time, but they are new shirts. They are brand new shirts.

Craig: All right, so new designs.

John: New designs.

Craig: And they’re spectacular designs.

John: Let us talk through the designs and we can have like honest feedback from our guests. They can tell us which of these things they would actually want to wear.

Craig: Awesome.

John: So, the first t-shirt is Scriptnotes Classic. It is a typewriter with the word Scriptnotes on top of it. What’s different about it this time is it comes in a normal light mode and a dark mode, so it’s the same t-shirt, the same colors, but there’s a dark t-shirt and a light t-shirt. I think it’s fun.

Dara: I like that one. I would wear that one, but I have gotten a preview and I think there’s one I like more.

John: All right. The one I think she likes more is called Umbrage & Reason. And it says Umbrage & Reason on it. And it also says Scriptnotes on the arm.

Craig: Now which one of us is Reason?

John: I think I’m Reason.

Dara: Definitely. Yeah. It’s like not even a question.

Craig: See, I would have said umbrage is reason. But I get it. I get it.

John: Yeah. Unreasonable people could have umbrage.

Craig: Yeah, I think that’s more of a raving to me. Umbrage, to me, is always justified. You’ll be hearing some of it today.

John: I think so. Our third and final t-shirt is the Umbrage Strikes Back. It is a Star Wars homage. It features the Scriptnotes little typewriter surrounded by laurels that suggest a Star Wars type universe.

Craig: And because you’re using my catchphrase, what percentage of the monies will I get?

John: You will get the standard Craig Mazin cut of all proceeds coming into the podcast.

Craig: So zero again?

John: Zero again. Our t-shirts help pay for Matthew who cuts the show, for Megan our producer, for hosting, and for all the other things. So, guys, thank you for buying t-shirts. But they’re mostly there because people like t-shirts and it’s a pleasure to see them out in the wild. Even this last month in London I saw them out on the streets of London, which was terrific.

Craig: Yeah, it’s very, very cool. We do see them and I was at a restaurant, just like a lunch, and I was walking out and it was one of those little side streets where you have to kind of park far away from the restaurant. It was Little Dom’s. Do you know Little Dom’s?

Dara: Oh, I love Little Dom’s. I used to love the original, the Dominick’s.

Craig: Where was that?

Dara: It was on Beverly. It closed.

Craig: OK. But this one is in Silver Lake I guess.

Daley: Los Feliz, I think.

Craig: Los Feliz, thank you. Thank you, Daley. But you got to park on some far flung street. And so there’s just a guy jogging by, and I just glanced over and he was wearing a Scriptnotes t-shirt and I went, huh. And then I kept walking and he just sort of stopped like, wait, you’re the t-shirt guy. And we had a nice little chit-chat and then he just kept on running. It was very cool. They’re out there in the wild. It’s always nice to see them.

It reminds me that people do listen to the show. I know that John is fully aware that people listen to the show. But I forget. All the time.

John: Yeah. We will be seeing a bunch of our Scriptnotes t-shirts, I suspect, in Austin. This next week we’ll be there for – we have two live shows. We have extra special events. So, come see us this week in Austin if you’re there.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. We will have an excellent, excellent time. And definitely check out the live show that we’re doing on Friday night. Because that’s the one where John and I and some other writers go and drink a little bit too much. Not too, too much, but we probably go over our standard 1.5 drinks.

John: Yeah. We might get all the way up to two. That’s what I heard.

Craig: Which is crazy for me, you know, with my little Jewish liver.

Dara: Like thirsty in the morning hungover, but not like headache hungover?

Craig: Yeah, yeah, that’s my thing. I don’t really have headache hangover. I either have thirty in the morning hungover, or dead. Like dead all day. I can’t do it. Yeah, my liver doesn’t really—

Dara: Work?

Craig: It works, like in the sense that I’m not jaundiced all the time. But it cannot – like you’re German. You could probably drink an enormous amount.

John: I can. Yeah. I can drink an enormous amount.

Craig: But like, Dara, I’ll bet you cannot drink that much before you get crazy sick.

Dara: I can drink. I can hold my own. I think there are a lot of people who might be listening to this who would say, “I’ve seen Resnik hold her own.”

Craig: Really? So all this time I’ve been blaming it on being Jewish, and it’s just that I suck.

Dara: And I’m really Jewish, and smaller than you.

Craig: Yeah, oh no, for sure.

Dara: We should test this and see which one of us can—

Craig: No we shouldn’t, because I don’t want to lose. And then I’ll be dead. You were not listening.

Daley: This podcast is a drinking contest.

Craig: It would be an amazing drinking contest.

John: Yeah. We replaced your water with vodka and we’ll see how it is at the end of the show.

Craig: Blah.

John: Blah. Last bit of news. This is a segment we’ll call John’s WGA Corner, because I actually have a few things I need to talk about. First off–

Craig: WGA Corner! You just named that on your own. I’m coming up with a better name for that. Not today. I’ll think of one. Go ahead.

John: If you are a WGA member and you got an invite in your email box to come to an outreach lunch, please do. This last week I was happy to host a lunch for screenwriters where we talked through issues. And it was really great. And to just have 15 people around a table to talk about what’s really going on was a unique opportunity.

My question for you guys. I asked in the room how many of you have changed agents or managers in the last two years. What do you think the show of hands was? What percentage of people raised their hand?

Dara: I would say very few. I would say 5%.

Daley: Yeah.

Craig: I would go a little higher. I would say it actually probably – because it’s agents and managers. I would say it’s closer to a third.

John: It was more than 50%, approaching two-thirds.

Dara: Wow.

John: And so when you actually dig into why they switched agencies or managers, it’s really fascinating. So, that was a thing we wouldn’t have known about if people hadn’t come to these lunches.

So if you get an invite to come to one of these, please do. We’re talking to screenwriters first, but we’ll be talking to other writers in other categories down the road. So, if one of these things shows up in your email inbox, please do come, because it’s incredibly helpful to us.

Second off, if you are a writer who is working in comedy variety, so you’re writing for a show like Colbert, or Samantha Bee, the process of applying to get one of those jobs, you end up submitting a writing packet of your stuff, a submission packet. Daley, have you ever done that? You’ve written comedy before.

Daley: Many, many times.

John: So, a thing I was just naïve and didn’t understand is that I assumed it was just things you had already written, but they actually ask you to write specific things for that show. And I got sent a few of those things, the submission packet requests, and it was tremendous amount of work. And it felt like a lot of unpaid labor.

And so that’s a thing the WGA is looking at now. So, if you are a WGA member who has gotten one of these submission packet requests and it seems like, wow, that’s just a crazy amount of free work they’re asking for, send it in. There’s an email address called contracts@wga.org. And we’re just taking a look at that to make sure it’s all kosher and above board.

What were things that you saw when you were doing that?

Daley: So, I know some shows do or used to, sort of, used to have a policy to prevent against either accusations of theft or maybe just people doing free work, but like Letterman for instance, I applied a million years ago. They have you write top ten lists about old news. And I think same for shows like The Daily Show. Because there was a controversy with the Jimmy Kimmel Show when it first started. They were asking people to generate theoretical material for this brand new show. Which makes sense why they would ask that in a packet, but I think the WGA did end up getting involved. There was a little settlement. I got like $150 or something. And my packet was terrible. There’s no way I was getting a job there. But, you know, I did get—

Craig: So it was not worth $150?

Daley: It really wasn’t. [laughs] But I just remember it was kind of that same free labor issue.

John: Yeah, a writer I was talking to described it as like imagine you were trying to get staffed on CSI and they asked you like, OK, write an episode of CSI. It was crazy in the amount of work they were asking for. And so trying to find where that natural line is is really important.

Craig: In the arrangement, though, they’re not saying that they’re owning that work I assume, right?

John: No, so they’re not saying that they own the work that comes in. They’re signing some sort of thing, but the point being if you’re writing a specific bit for one show, it’s great that you own that thing, but you’re not going to be able to use that for anything else.

Craig: I agree. It’s a real issue. But then, of course, you have to figure out how it is exactly that these shows are going to figure out who to hire.

John: Yeah. I mean, what some shows have turned to doing is they look at sort of general packets and then they ask specific people to write these things. So it’s not an open call for everyone to submit these things. They’re asking – or they’re even paying.

Craig: Well that’s the thing. You could actually just give someone $5,000, satisfy the minimum basic agreement. Own the material, by the way. I mean, this is the part that blows my mind. If I were running one of these companies, no, I’m not going to throw $5,000 across the board to 100 people. No. But if I look at general packets and I narrow it down to 10 candidates, of course I’m going to spend the $50,000. And also if – and then I get to keep the work. It just doesn’t make any sense.

John: It doesn’t make any sense. And we’re talking about comedy variety people, but the issue of leave-behinds when you’re going to pitch a feature. The same type of thing where that is spec work you’re asking for people, and that can be really problematic, both for the writer and legally for the people who are asking for it.

So, again, if you are encountering these kind of situations, write in to contracts@wga.org. And we just want to keep an eye on it.

Dara: I actually think this is related to some of what we’re going to get into, which is a culture of respect for people in this business. And I think that’s pervasive in all ends.

John: I agree.

Craig: Amen.

John: So let’s get to the topic at hand. So, to recap, in case you’re listening to this a year later and trying to remember hey what happened, because like before the nuclear war.

Craig: But there’s still podcasts.

John: There’s still podcasts. Because, remember, we sell these USB drives that are indestructible.

Craig: Indestructible.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s not tempting fate at all.

John: No, not a bit.

So, Harvey Weinstein and his brother, Bob Weinstein, created Miramax. And then later the Weinstein Company. Together they produced hundreds of movies, everything from Sex, Lies, and Videotape, The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech. Plus, Scary Movie.

Craig: Yes. Scary Movie 3 and 4. I worked almost exclusively for Bob Weinstein for about seven years.

Dara: Wow.

Craig: So I have perspective.

John: You have perspective. October 5th, this past year, New York Times ran an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey entitled “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” So that one detailed – started talking about Ashley Judd, but other actors and employees who were working for him and encountered terrible, terrible things that he was doing.

A subsequent article by Rowan Farrow for The New Yorker extended the list of other bad things that had happened. Weinstein was fired. And that sort of catches us up to now. So, we were off the air for two weeks while this was all happening, but in some ways I think it was good that we have a little bit more distance and perspective. We’re not talking about current events, but sort of more what happened in general and what can happen next.

Craig: Well, who wants to dig in on this? I mean, you both did excellent work, I have to say, both the article and the essay were fantastic. And I kind of – I mean, I have my own things to say about the Weinstein situation, but I’m sort of fascinated to hear what you guys have to say.

Dara: Do you want to – this is like that Amy Schumer sketch where like the women look at each other and it’s like—

Daley: Totally.

Dara: I’ve got nothing to say. You go first. Do you want me to dig in or do you want to—

Daley: Yeah, you can go and I’ll—

Dara: I’ll dig in. I thought this was one of the best things to happen in a while, while being completely horrified. I was really floored and impressed with the number of people who came forward in such a short period of time. You know, when the Cosby case broke, that was sort of a slow trickle, which eventually became a flood. This was like dozens of people all coming out at one time. And as we saw, not just with the dozens of people, but then with the social media response and all of these people posting Me Too, Me Too, Me Too, and posting their experiences being assaulted and raped and harassed, there’s a safety in numbers with that.

And I think it’s making a dent. I don’t know how big a watershed moment this is. But I think we have changed some hearts and minds towards being allies for women and other marginalized voices.

John: Daley, did this take you by surprise? Like when this happened, what were your initial instincts?

Daley: The Harvey thing specifically? That did not surprise me, because of course we’ve all heard stories from guys, you know, about how abusive he was. But, yeah, I’m a little surprised just in the sense of there has always been this culture – I mean, I’ve never worked in the movie business, only TV. And there’s this real culture of, like, there’s a whole thing of the writers’ room, it’s sacred, and it’s a cone of silence, and all that stuff. And you’re not supposed to talk shit about the writers’ room, or even talk about anything that happens in it, because it is this sort of sacred, disgusting place.

[laughs]

But, you know, I’m glad for that reason that this did come out. The article I did, the Lenny piece, I had written months ago. So it was pre-Weinstein. And it just, very coincidentally, the intended publication date was right in the middle of this.

Dara: That’s crazy.

Daley: That helped it kind of get out.

Craig: That worked out.

Daley: Yeah, it really did. It was crazy.

Craig: That’s amazing.

John: Back up and talk about the sense that everybody knew. So, I would say that personally I knew that Harvey Weinstein was kind of a jerk and a monster, but I didn’t know that this thing was happening. I didn’t know that he was abusive to women in the ways that he was abusive to women.

You were around the Weinstein brothers more. What was your sense, Craig, of what was happening?

Craig: Well, you know again, I almost exclusively worked for Bob. I had probably six or seven encounters with Harvey over those years. And they were fairly limited. They were unpleasant. No shock there. I did not know at all that there was any kind of – I guess what you would call harassment or assault taking place. And, of course, rape.

What I knew was rumors I had heard. And the rumors I had heard were rumors of kind of a – I guess you’d call it quid pro quo arrangements, right, so that “Well you know this actor and this actor Harvey had a quid pro quo arrangement. They slept with him and he made them famous.” Now as it turns out, and I’m not going to bother repeating the names because it’s just rumor-mongering, one of those actors said, “No, that’s not true.” She was propositioned, but nothing came of it. And the other actress said not even that happened.

So, those rumors were incorrect. And I never heard anything about that. I’m kind of – I don’t know if you guys saw Scott Rosenberg’s piece that he did.

Dara: I thought it was really lovely.

Craig: It was amazing, but it also – I was like, my god, so the Weinsteins really – I mean, they hate each other. Obviously you can see that. Two scorpions in a small box. That company was very divided. So there was the Harvey side and the Bob side. And the Harvey side was trying to win Oscars and the Bob side was shlock. And, of course, being from Staten Island, I’m on the shlock boat.

So I’m reading this, Scott’s talking about how on the Harvey side there was parties and there was glamour and there was award shows and red carpets. And he was getting flown to these vacation spots. And I’m like, oh my god, on the Bob side it was just darkness and occasionally you would get, you know, like he would give you a Diet Coke. And then they actually changed that. I remember in the office – in the office – they took Diet Cokes and stuff out of the refrigerator and put in a vending machine for their own employees. I was about to say that’s how horrible they are.

Daley: Telling.

Craig: But I realize that the raping is probably slightly worse. So, anyway, the point is I did not know at all. That said, not – it certainly wasn’t one of those things where I’m like, oh my god, I can’t believe that person is that person. No. this seems, yeah, I can connect the dots here.

Dara: I heard rumors – I was a PA in New York in the late ‘90s and would hang out with other PAs. Some of the names of which I remember and some I don’t. And the conversation often turned towards “He’s a really bad guy and here’s some stuff I think might be happening, but I don’t really know.” And that was obviously confirmed.

John: Sarah Polley had a great piece this last week where she talked about going there with a publicist and the publicist says like I’m not going to leave you alone in a room with Harvey Weinstein.

Craig: They knew. The publicists knew.

John: So that publicist knew. And so the question of if you’re a person who knew, or like strongly suspected, what was your responsibility? Like what should that publicist had done? And what should any of these actors who were in these situations should have done. And that’s one of those sort of impossible to roll back time to figure out.

Dara: Well I think the issue with that is it places a lot of responsibility on the victims, and on friends of the victims, and ignores a much bigger issue of power structure and power dynamics. And the way that you have to weigh the cost of speaking every single time you do it.

I even tell my students – I teach at USC – and I’ll tell them, you know, you might hear a joke and you might think “I want to say something,” but you do have to consider what the cost of that is going to be in the long term and do you want to use your capital now, or do you want to use it later for a more “serious” offense. So I don’t know what the “responsibility” would be. It’s a much bigger conversation about power.

Daley: I also think it brings up the need for specific policies. I know we’re a free-wheeling business and we’re artists and we don’t teach all that corporate crap and HR, but I do think it’s not even that people who don’t stand up are bad people. I think it’s human nature to see – I’ve certainly seen things that were not good and let them just go by because most people aren’t confrontational. We’re not really programmed for that.

But, again, it’s why if there’s specific sort of procedures to follow, because going to HR we all know is kind of a joke right now in this industry. It gives at least a path for kind of doing the right thing, which may help.

I also think, just as far as the TV thing goes, having more women there. Like I have been at shows where it’s usually the youngest person there was getting harassed, in a couple of cases. I had women come to me and I was able to kind of run interference a little bit. But when you have one woman on a show alone–

Craig: Also not really your job. Right? You’re supposed to be there writing.

Daley: Right.

Craig: And now, I mean, I don’t know how to feel about say the assistants who knew what was going on and were essentially engaging in this charade. They knew perfectly well that when they said, “Oh yeah, come on up to Harvey’s room, we’re all going to be there,” they were not going to be there. And they knew that was the deal.

On the other hand, I know that place. I know those guys, and I know that business. And everybody was in fear. Everybody. That is a – it is an impossible situation. It makes you, well, it’s like he separates – both of those brothers – separate you from what is normal. And they separate you from what is humane. And then you’re just in another culture.

Dara: I think that that’s actually true, though, across Hollywood. And you guys are lucky, because you write features, and there’s a lot of this stuff that you get to avoid. It doesn’t mean that you don’t get exposed to it, but we’re in writers’ rooms. And I have definitely been in a structure where you start to normalize abusive behavior and go, oh it’s OK, it wasn’t that bad today.

Daley: Yep.

Dara: And people do operate in fear, because there’s always the unspoken and sometimes spoken thing in the room of, well, if you don’t want to do this job there’s a thousand people behind you who can do it and who I’ll trust to do it. So, if you want to keep your job, then you have to just suck this up. And for me I actually feel like my career and my life changed when I decided not to be afraid anymore. And I’ve walked off jobs for bad treatment. And, you know, you find another job. If we stop operating in fear then, you know, things change.

Craig: Well, I’m glad you brought that up because one thing that has blown me away is just how much braver so many of these people are than I am. And I was. You know, and it’s specifically around this issue, because I know what the time that I spent working for Bob did to me. And the therapy I had to go through and the toll it took on my body and my mind. And there was no sex involved at all. And so I think about these women, and I’m like “I don’t know if I would have gotten out of bed.” And when people say, well, why did they take so long to say something. Why did they go back to work? Why did they agree to be photographed with him?

Those are the most rational responses, because you’re trying to somehow maintain your sense of how the world functions. You’re a decent human being. Something terrible happened. Another person did a terrible thing to you. Well, obviously we – there’s a relationship there. No, there’s no relationship. You just don’t understand.

Dara: And, Daley mentioned HR. You know, I believe that there are situations in which HR can be helpful, not related to sexual harassment. I think they can be part of the problem. I went to HR once at a studio that I will not mention, because I wanted to tell them that a friend of mine was melting down. And their response was, when I told this executive to tell HR this, their response was, “Are you sure it’s not just a disgruntled girlfriend?” Oh boy.

Craig: You know, I think HR kind of gives it away by their name. That is the most – I mean, “human resources.” Why don’t you just say meat? Meat Department. They don’t give a damn.

Dara: Right. No.

Craig: They are there, essentially, I believe in corporate structures to protect the corporation from accusations and liability, right? Now, in a place like the Weinstein Company, especially when they were completely divorced from Disney, HR, are you kidding me? That person is also scared for their life. Everybody is absolutely, I mean, anyway.

John: So, let’s talk about, you know, there’s a power structure, but what sort of structures would we want to see in place that would help mitigate or at least make these situations less common? So, a suggestion from Sarah Schechter this last week was blanket rule no meetings in hotel rooms. Period. Stop that as a thing. That cannot happen. And if CAA and all the other agencies said like “We are not ever going to let our clients have meetings in hotel rooms, particularly not like first meetings,” done. And none of this – forget the gamesmanship of like “The assistant is going to be there.” No. Meetings should not take place in hotel rooms. A simple thing.

But I also wonder about general best practices for all of us. And so if we see something, what should we do? And it feels like it’s not our time to inject ourselves not knowing what the full situation is, but at least to talk to the person who is going through it, let them know that you saw it. Let them know that they’re not crazy. Document it, even if it’s not going to go into HR or something else. I find the contemporaneous documentation of things that have happened is so helpful, because then you can actually see like this is the thing that happened. It helps you process it emotionally, but also like you know this is a real thing that actually happened. You’re not crazy. You can’t be gaslighted. This happened at this moment.

And I feel like if we all took it upon ourselves to notice when these things are happening and write it down, some of this stuff could be at least brought to light.

Daley: I think another thing we need to be doing, again, this speaks more to the TV end of things, because there is a locus of power on a TV show. It’s the showrunner almost always. That person is almost always a writer. Which means that person is not necessarily a manager. And we need to be training showrunners. And, again, I know our industry resists this because we’re artists and we don’t need that. And he’s a genius. And what you have is these – especially if it’s a very popular show – you have a cult-like kind of atmosphere. It’s like what Craig was talking about. Just everyone is afraid.

Usually if women are being abused, men are also on some level being abused at those kind of places. So we need to be doing a better job selecting and then training showrunners to deal with this stuff. And letting them know it’s not OK, because in the case of the Lenny piece especially, we had a showrunner – I don’t think he was malicious, but he let things happen and then ultimately kind of put the blame on me. I mean–

John: They put the blame on you for being a distraction.

Daley: Right. And that was a literal quote, by the way.

John: So this thing that was being done to you was a distraction to the show, so therefore you had to go to the B room and be out of sight.

Daley: Right.

Craig: This I think goes right to the heart of what has to happen in our business. The reason that I think somebody like that feels OK to even think that, much less say it, is because the most important thing in our business is the show or the movie. We have elevated that to everything. That is why certain people who are just notorious bastards are almost celebrated for it.

I remember reading an article about Scott Rudin years ago. It was almost glowing in its detailing of how vicious he was to other human beings. Same, by the way, for Harvey. Bob has always floated under the radar, but just as bad. And we know others, right?

And what it comes down to is this: Hollywood as a business, from the top level, needs to say for the first time that human beings and the treatment of other human beings in a humane manner is more important than the movie or the TV show. Holy shit. What a revolution that would be. Because the truth is what they have to be able to say to that showrunner is we’re killing your show. How about that? This is actually more important is not being a total piece of shit to another human being.

That obviously covers sexual harassment. It obviously covers sexual assault. And it also covers bullying, which is so endemic in our business, because it is essentially – our business enables bullies.

Dara: The problem is those are gigantic corporations that operate in a capitalist society. And so unless it affects their bottom line, and there are quite a few lawsuits that are successful and take them for a whole bunch of money, I don’t think they’re going to change their practices.

That being said, I do think – and I said this in my Washington Post article with Gillian, I do think a lot of this is a reaction to Donald J. Trump being the president. I think–

Craig: Oh you had to use his middle initial.

Dara: I think that we saw him – we in Hollywood, which is mostly if not liberals, certainly open-minded thinkers is sort of necessary to being a creative person – we saw this guy who did all of these things and treated people so crappily get up there. And we said, you know what, screw it. We’re not going to let this happen here anymore. And that’s one of the reasons I have hope that this is – even if it’s not a watershed moment, a moment that makes a small dent in this issue.

Craig: I agree with you completely. And I do think that Trump is absolutely part and parcel with this, because people are looking at him and then they’re turning and they’re looking at Harvey and going, “Wait a second. You’re the same guy.”

Dara: Totally.

Craig: And they are the same guy. I do think we live in an era now where it is harder for corporations to get away with this stuff. I think corporations are starting to figure it out as well.

Disney let Miramax – well, they fired the Weinsteins away. And I remember when that happened. People were so confused. Why would they let these cash cow guys go? I suspect it was because at some point Disney realized, A, they – I’m just guessing here – were probably not financially appropriate. And, B, because this was going to inevitably tarnish – they’re Disney for god’s sakes. And they knew on some level these were bad dudes.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was at Disney at the time I believe, came out and said Bob was just abusive, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t think you can now get away with this stuff the way you used to. And the more these things happen, I hope the more they continue to happen. I’m not in favor of a culture of accusation. I’m not in favor of a culture of presumption of guilt. I truly am not.

Daley: I like due process.

Craig: Due process is a wonderful thing. However, when you have somebody like Harvey Weinstein with, what are we up to, 40 accusers, and he’s on tape admitting that he did it. And he’s also a known piece of shit. Then I’m OK with it. And I think we have some other ones in our business. And I think people need to basically tell those people your treatment of people will not be excused simply because your movie or your television show makes money.

Dara: And I think that goes back to also what John was asking about, responsibility. I mean, if I was going to say where the responsibility lies, I think it’s in uncommon allies. I mean, there’s a lot of sort of what you might name patriarchal white men in my midst who sort of knew that this was an issue in America and knew it was a problem and sort of had a heart about it and would think about it. But I think that the inundation of these stories has had a deep and lasting effect on them. And as it stands even this week I saw them – some of these guys in my life – speak up when they saw something crappy happening. And it was the first time I’d ever seen those guys speak up.

I’d seen them sort of ha-ha laugh along with everyone else. And instead they spoke out. And those are the kind of allies, you know, you can’t leave it to the people who are marginalized to speak up for themselves. You also need allies who are in power.

John: So, we talked about Trump, but let’s also talk about Mike Pence and sort of the Mike Pence rule, because I also worry that that’s a thing that could come out of this, a negative repercussion that could come out of this. It would be the sense that men being so paranoid about having women around that they just like, well, the safest thing to do is to keep all women away. And never be alone with a woman. And sort of like never allow situation – never mentor a woman.

And I do worry that that can have a chilling effect, too, where it’s like basically all of the phone calls that don’t happen, all of the “Let’s talk in a hallway” kind of things that don’t happen because they’re worried. There’s a paranoia about being alone with women. That hurts the women who are not having those conversations.

How do we address that? Did that make sense?

Daley: I’m not sure how we address it, but that’s definitely a fear I have, you know, especially on the TV side because the movie business and even in the TV business will never say, “Well we just can’t have any actresses.” But what they can do is discriminate on the writer front. And I know I had direct experiences and was told by people post-Friends lawsuit – I think everybody is familiar with that. The woman. And regardless of the merits of that particular suit, the attitude kind of coming down from that was, you know, women are trouble. It’s sometimes better just not to hire them. Or you’re lucky we hired you. We really don’t. We’re afraid to have women here. We just don’t want the trouble. You know, all of that stuff. I have no idea how we stop it other than kind of raising awareness about it, trying to get more women in the mix and more women.

You know, quality writers have the kind of power I think you were talking about. Like it’s not a corporate level power, but Hollywood does run on reputations and kind of who is the cool “in” writer we want. And if those people refuse to discriminate and refuse to work with people who do, my hope is that will help change things.

Craig: I’m with you on that. Look, I can’t necessarily speak to how to solve the writers’ room problem, because I don’t know that culture. But I will say that, to me, the greatest burden is on men not being assholes. It’s actually not hard. I have a woman that I’ve worked with for – I think we’re up to now I’d say six years. And her name is Jack Lesco. Jack is short for Jacqueline.

And she is like my editor. So she reads everything. I’ve talked about her on the show before. And she’s an integral part of my work life. She reads everything I write. She takes all the notes. She gives me comments. And she’s in my – my office is two rooms in Pasadena. I’m in one. She’s in the other. Door’s open between them. And we’re there every day together. And here’s the deal: if you are a decent person, I think you should be aware that in that situation you have an obligation to affirmatively not do shit that is going to be creepy.

Because here’s the thing. A lot of times, I think, people do things because they’re not thinking and it comes off creepy. And then it gets bad or worse. Sometimes they’re legitimately bad people. But how about just read the room. Read the situation. And put yourself in the shoes of another human being, which is what we’re supposed to do all the time as writers anyway, right?

This is a smaller, physically weaker person than you, who may have had – probably statistically has had – bad experiences with men before. How about you keep that in mind? It’s actually not hard if you’re just mindful about it. It’s not hard to be not a piece of shit. It’s Melissa Mazin’s rule of life. You don’t get credit for doing the right thing.

Dara: I would say it’s not hard for you to not be a piece of shit. I do believe that humans are primal creatures and that there is a certain amount of deep-seeded rage in all of us. And some of us learn how to listen to the better angels of our nature better than others. One of the things – I was trying to think of a response when you asked that question in terms of how do you avoid a culture in which now we just can’t have older mentors and such. I think, you know, right now they give you these sexual harassment seminars and they’re treated a little bit as a joke, which I think I also talk about in the Washington Post article.

And I think that there is something to really taking those workshops seriously, but not having them run by lawyers, which is what they usually are.

Daley: Yes.

Dara: Having them run by people who know – I mean, when I worked for Jill Soloway she brought people in to workshop with us and talk about issues of power. And really to talk to each other. People of different types and from different backgrounds. And I think it would really behoove every show and every corporation in this town to do something like that. Especially because women and people of color are going nowhere. I mean, I actually do believe that we are on the rise out here and people are going to have to learn—

Craig: You mean “Going nowhere” meaning they’re not disappearing, not that they’re not making progress.

Dara: Yeah, yeah. Sorry, that’s confusing, you’re right.

Craig: You’re here to stay.

Dara: I think women and people of color are here to stay. I think men have been telling stories for thousands of years, and some of those stories are getting boring. You guys tell wonderful stories. No offense.

Craig: Every now and then.

Dara: But it’s time for some new voices. And with 450 shows shooting, they need new minds and new backgrounds. And we all have to figure out how to respect each other and give each other much more dignity than we do now.

Craig: I just want to tell you. I am not always a good person at all.

Dara: No, I don’t actually think you are.

Daley: Oh, we know.

Dara: I was trying to be nice.

Craig: And, in fact, I have had, and it’s in part like I definitely had issues with – it’s never been with women. It’s always been with men, where I have mistreated men. Because in part you get into the cycle, especially when I was working with Weinstein, you get into the cycle of daddy hits you, and you turn around and you hit the guy below you. And it was bad.

I know that I have sinned. And I think it’s inevitable. We are, all of us, you know, imperfect. And you try and get better. The thing that I think men have to acknowledge is that we have the capacity to do more damage when we are imperfect. And I think a lot of men get very nervous about this thought. That somehow we’re being picked on.

Nah, you’re not really being picked on, dude. You’re just bigger and stronger. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s like, I’m just not as threatened by a large woman as I am by a large man, because I’m not rational. I could die. You know?

Dara: And I also think there’s something to taking responsibility, like you are, like Scott Rosenberg did. I mean, one thing I didn’t see that I wanted to see were more people in power with specific examples of “I did this.” I think they probably didn’t because they’re worried that they’re all going to get sued. But I would love to see that. I think that that’s a huge step going “I did this thing.”

John: Well I think what you’re describing is the difference between a narcissistic monster, like what we saw with Weinstein, and guys who aren’t overall bad guys but have done some shitty things. And sort of how do we – I mean, feel like you need a truth and reconciliation thing to sort of talk through like these are the things that happened and these are the things that can’t happen again in the future. And these are the paths that we’re going to take to sort of move forward.

So, talking about sort of in the writers’ room, because Craig and I are not in the writers’ room very often, what are situations that women encounter in the writers’ room that a man in the writers’ room might not be aware that they’re doing?

Dara: It’s complicated in a writers’ room because of that Friends case. That Friends case basically says that anything that happens in a writers’ room is creative. It’s creative fodder. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about someone’s junk. It doesn’t matter if you’re sort of making fun of somebody or bullying, like a character or people in general. I couldn’t aim anything at you. I couldn’t comment on what you’re wearing or how you look.

But what ends up happening in those environments often is because you’re in this creative space where you’re talking sort of lewdly about people, it does often get aimed at somebody accidentally, sometimes intentionally. And engenders an environment sort of outside the room where you’re a little bit more comfortable I think saying things that might be inappropriate.

I will say one of the things that’s complicated for me is I actually believe in that ruling. I believe that in the writers’ room you need to be able to say insane, sometimes disgusting, things—

Daley: Yeah, me too.

Dara: In order to get to the creative juice. But sometimes it crosses a line and that’s where I think a workshop might come in.

John: Well let’s talk about process though. Because even if the content is it’s OK to say anything, I hear from a lot of women saying it’s hard to get heard. Or the talking over. Dana Fox was on the show and she talked about this sort of weird way you deliberately undercut what you’re about to say so that it doesn’t sound too aggressive or too judgy. I see you both nodding.

There’s a syndrome that women can end up falling into where they make it seem like they’re discounting themselves before they even pitch an idea out.

Daley: There’s a situation where women kind of fall into, and again, this isn’t sexism on a Weinstein level, but it is a type of sexism. We basically fall into like a Mother Pence role of being the moral arbiters of the room, which in a writers’ room as previously described is not welcome, because for the guys to say crazy things and be bad, and then the women end up sort of, if you try to make a point about a joke, well, that may not make sense in this context, you know, or maybe that’s a little harsh of a joke. You know, having that criticism taken as – and again, in a writers’ room it depends what you’re rank is. And there are all sorts of rules of etiquette for questioning a pitch, say. Or questioning someone’s riff in the room on say my boobs, which was a thing that happened a lot.

Craig: That’s not – yeah.

Daley: Yeah, that’s not really creative environment. That’s abusing the environment.

Dara: And that’s not under the Friends ruling. You would not be able to do that under the Friends ruling. You can talk about the character’s boobs, but you could not talk about the boobs of somebody in the room. I think I just want to keep saying boobs.

Craig: Boobs.

Daley: I know. I started. Sorry. But, yeah, and we don’t want to be that person who’s always kind of correcting and moralizing, which again is why it’s good when men sort of chime in on that if something bad is happening.

Dara: And I’ve been called the PC police by talking—

Daley: Yes, that’s it.

Dara: And not just talking about you know saying, “Hey, you can’t talk about Daley’s boobs.” Like I’ve been called the PC police by saying that I don’t think that that is something that that character would do because we’re trying to amp up who they are in the run of the series or whatever. And it’s like, “Oh, that’s just something that you’re saying because you feel like you need to speak for all women.”

Daley: Yeah, there’s a real like straw man kind of situation that happens all the time and it drives me nuts. Where a guy will think like his joke, like no one is laughing, or they cut the joke because it’s too un-PC. You know, well Norman Lear didn’t – you ain’t Norman Lear. Your joke just wasn’t funny. It didn’t work. That’s why it got cut. It also happened to be offensive. But, you know.

Dara: Also, Norman Lear was subverting the culture. Like it’s a whole other, yeah, ball of wax.

Craig: It’s very difficult to explain these subtle things to people who are unsubtle and dull. You know. And it’s frustrating when they try and use these arguments. I mean, the truth is, I think, that when I listen to these examples that it’s really either you get it or you don’t. Right? Like you can see the matrix or you can’t.

Dara: And I think part of what happens, too, when you’re called the PC police is the person in charge, or whoever it is that’s saying that, is not acknowledging that you’re coming from a trove of experience. That it’s not that you’re just trying to—

Craig: Grinding an ax.

Dara: You’re not just grinding an ax or trying to manage what’s happening. It’s that, “No, I’ve been assaulted in my life and I feel a responsibility as a culture creator to put images into the world that do not beget that for other women.” And that’s a visceral thing. Not an intellectual thing.

Craig: Right.

Daley: And partly I think these issues are, I’ve said it before, but they are partially solved by just having more women there. It doesn’t need to be 50% on every show. It doesn’t have to be some mandate. But just getting a few more women in there makes it — one, you have allies, and two, there’s a kind of related sexist problem in writer’s room. Have you guys ever heard the phrase penis phone?

Dara: No.

Craig: No.

Daley: Very bad Sports Illustrated gift with purchase. No, it’s a term – did not do well. Yeah, they recalled a lot of them.

Craig: What is the penis phone?

Daley: The penis phone is – and it’s a term and I’ve heard it used almost exclusively by men. And it’s a joke term. There will be a situation like this. We’ll be in a writer’s room. Maybe I’m the only woman there, or one of a couple of women. Guys are all, you know, it’s kind of an aggressive atmosphere, the pitching. And a woman will pitch a joke. And it just won’t be heard. And there’s psychological studies confirming this. When there’s a majority group of men, women’s voices literally can’t be heard.

And it’s not willful. I think it’s just part of group dynamics. Anyway, the woman’s joke will be ignored and then if you have an ally in the room who is a guy, he’ll repeat the joke. And hopefully give you credit. So say, “Hey, I liked Daley’s pitch” and repeat it. This is known as dialing in a joke on the penis phone.

Craig: That’s hysterical.

Daley: And the fact that it’s a term in use in multiple rooms shows that, OK, guys know this happens. You’re not totally innocent. Don’t let it happen. Listen.

Dara: I had a writing partner for many years who was my husband and who is a man. He used to work for John. He’s been spoken about in the show. Chad. And he acknowledged that it was happening. I would pitch something. No one would hear it. He’d pitch exactly the same thing, and they’d be like, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” It was insane. We were like our own sociological experiment.

John: You’re like you need a Remington Steele.

Dara: Totally.

John: You’re controlling behind the scenes.

Dara: And in terms of that thing that women do where they undercut their own pitch, what’s interesting is I’ve worked in rooms run by women. And in rooms run by women you can totally say that stuff and it doesn’t undercut you, because they know that that’s just part of the vernacular and that’s how our minds work. And you can say “This might be a dumb idea, but.” Or “Maybe we can harvest something out of this. I don’t know.”

You can’t say that in rooms run by men. And I tell my students that all the time. When they are discussing notes in my workshopping classes and they go this might be dumb, I go, no, start again. This is what I think. Because most of the time you aren’t going to have a woman running the thing and you’re going to need to know how to speak like that.

John: Wow. So we have a lot of listeners who are aspiring writers. And so I want to maybe wrap up this segment by talking about what advice we have for people who are aspiring to work in this industry given what’s been happening this last month. Has anything changed? Is there anything you would want to tell this writer who is considering packing up and moving to this town?

Daley: That’s a tough one. At least in terms of television, you know, you have to start with great material, which with luck won’t be read with like a gendered lens. You never know. But once you’re in the room, I mean, the advice I would give is still “Don’t be a dick. You’re the lowest man/woman on the totem pole. Use your sort of bandwidth to pitch concise, clear jokes that are jokes, where jokes are asked for. Because there will be moments in the script where it becomes clear we need a pitch here. Don’t be pitching on something that’s already in there that people like. That’s not your job as a staff writer, or future staff writer.” Even writer’s assistants, sometimes they’ll be encouraged to pitch.

And keep it fast. Keep it concise. And make sure it is a joke. That will go a long way to kind of giving you credibility.

Dara: I would tell the people who are coming to Hollywood nothing new that I wouldn’t have told them two weeks ago. I think that what the post-Harvey Weinstein era will be about is better leadership. And that they should change nothing about how they approach this. I think everybody should still come. I think this is still a town that is predominately made up of dreamers and creative weirdos and wonderful people. And you just have to hold those people super close. And hope that something is going to change within their run in the business, and hopefully in women my run in the business, that will make it so that this stuff happens a lot less than it does now.

Craig: That’s great to hear. Because the truth is I do worry. You know, we’ve talked about this before. Sometimes when we go through the annual WGA report on the numbers, it’s like, well, here’s another batch of terrible, terrible numbers. And we worry sometimes that what we’re transmitting out there is, “Hey ladies, hey black writers, hey Asian writers, don’t bother. Right? These numbers are terrible. Just stay home. Go do something else.” And, of course, perversely that will make it worse.

And I do think that, Daley, when you said more women in the room, it just sort of – all you have to do is just project yourself into your mind theater and, yep, I can see how that is fixing a whole lot of problems instantly. So, please, women do come. And as part of the encouragement I would say that certainly the discussion about sexual harassment/sexual assault has never been more prominent in our business than right now.

And, two, that over the last couple of years it has seemed that there has been an awakening. Doesn’t mean that they have fixed things, or that things are – well, I think things may be trending a little bit better. But certainly there has been an awakening. There is an awareness. And so I think while we are far from good, it’s not as bad as it was, I guess. That’s – damned by faint praise, but that’s kind of where I’m at.

John: I think you’re speaking to a sort of expectation also. If you come in expecting that it’s going to be terrible in these ways, you sort of normalize it for being terrible in these ways. And so you can’t be normalized that this kind of behavior is acceptable. So, notice it when it happens. Speak up when it’s appropriate. And just make sure you find your allies around you.

Daley: Yeah. Because when you do speak up, I kind of tried to make this point in the piece. If I had said something, I mean, maybe I would have gotten fired. But I got fired anyway because I couldn’t get jokes out, you know? So, yeah. Try – try a little gentle confrontation if something bad happens.

Dara: And I will say I think it is going to change piece by piece. On Monday night when I taught my USC screenwriting class, right before I went into the class I happened to see on my Facebook feed the response to the Me Too feed, which was “I believe you, I believe you, I believe you.” So I went in there already very emotional. And my students brought up that I had written this Washington Post article. And I sort of put workshopping aside and said let’s talk about what’s going on and how you guys feel about it.

And one student said, you know, she works for one of these bigger companies during the day and she said, “I just feel like in the end nothing is really going to change.” And I told her that I really thought that what happened over the last week has affected some people very deeply on an individual level. And I told them the parable of the starfish. Do you guys know the parable of the starfish?

Craig: It’s a good one.

John: Tell us.

Dara: It’s a really good one. A little boy is walking down the beach at sunrise and there are starfish way down deep into the distance who are going to die as the sun gets hot over the course of the day. So he’s going down the beach and he’s throwing these starfish back into the ocean. And an older, more experienced man, who knows much more about life comes up and says, “Little boy, what are you doing? Can’t you see there’s starfish as far as the eye can see? You can’t possibly make a difference.”

And the little boy thinks about that for a second and he picks up a starfish and he throws it in the water and he says, “I made a difference for that one.” And then I started to cry in class, which was probably really weird for them. But I believe that. I believe in that parable and I believe that moments like this make a difference for a few people. And in the end maybe a difference for a whole beach of starfish.

Craig: That is spot on and terrific. We’ve been doing this podcast for, how long John? Because I don’t pay attention.

John: 322 episodes.

Craig: Thank you, sir. And how many years is that? Six years. About six years. And the truth is, I mean, we started for all sorts of reasons, but for me it has always been part of my penance, not for necessarily being – look, I’m not a criminal.

Dara: Except for that one time.

Craig: There’s been a number of times. Never crimes, just you know. But it’s part of my penance because we have an obligation I think once we realize how it’s working in our heads. And we start to understand how fear and shame have kind of undone us. To then turn around, find other people that are like that, and help them.

It’s why we spend a lot of time talking about psychology on the show. And it’s why we spend a lot of time trying to just help. You know, so we know we’re picking up a starfish every now and then. And maybe one person, literally out of all the years, something special happens to them. But you got to try. Right? You got to try.

Dara: Nothing ever changed by saying nothing will ever change.

Daley: Totally.

Craig: We should get that on a t-shirt. And also Stop Being Dicks I think is pretty good t-shirt material.

Dara: I want that tattooed.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a real simple, good rule.

John: All right, it’s come time for our One Cool Things. We talk about one thing that we liked this last week. For me, it was an absolute godsend. So I was in London and I was working on a different project. And I saved a file and then I opened it the next day and it was gone. It was just an empty file. And it was a chapter for Arlo Finch. And I was panicked, because usually on my home computer I have Time Machine. So I’d go to Time Machine and I’d pull it back. But I was just on my laptop in a hotel room.

Then I discovered something that I did not know. Dropbox saves versions of everything you do.

Craig: Yes. Yes it does.

John: So if you go into the web version of Dropbox–

Craig: Yeah, it’s awesome.

John: There’s a little dot-dot-dot button. Click that and it goes Version History. And it will show all the saved versions.

Dara: Oh my god, you just changed my life.

Craig: It’s amazing. Because not only can you find the thing that maybe somehow you blew away by mistake, but you can also like do an archeological dig of shittiness. Like, “Wow, look how bad this scene was for a while. It’s all there.”

Dara: Until I figured it out.

Craig: It’s waiting.

John: Yeah, so Dropbox is amazing for a thousand reasons, but that was just a tremendous godsend that saved, you know, it saved a chapter. God bless Dropbox. So, yet another god bless Dropbox.

Craig: God bless Dropbox.

John: Dara, do you have one?

Dara: My One Cool Thing is sort of in the future and it’s related to a thing that happened this week. My One Cool Thing is that I’m running the Avengers Superheroes Half Marathon through Disneyland on November 12. This is a thing that I do. I like to combine my cosplay and my running.

Craig: Naturally.

Dara: Because that’s the thing.

Craig: Why would you not?

Dara: It’s so awesome. I’ve dressed as Woody from Toy Story.

Craig: That’s awesome.

Dara: I’ve dressed as a fairy. I’ve dressed as a princess. It’s wonderful.

Craig: And what about this time. Can you say?

Dara: This time I’m going to be Black Widow.

Daley: Nice.

Dara: Really, really excited about it. I’m going to run with her swords in my hands. But what I found out this week is that Disneyland is canceling all of its half marathons for 2018 and possibly indefinitely.

Craig: Why?

Dara: They are saying it’s because of all the construction for Star Wars Land.

Craig: It’s Rian Johnson’s fault.

Dara: But I’m not actually sure that’s it. There’s been rumblings that the City of Anaheim has had issues with the fact that tens of thousands of crazy people in costumes take over the town for a weekend. So I partially wanted to say it, because if anybody ever wanted to dress up and run 13.1 miles…

They have stops along the way where you take pictures with superheroes. And you run through the park at dawn. And it’s really cool. And there’s still entries.

Craig: So I get to wake up at dawn. I get to run 13 miles. I get to put on a costume. I cannot not want this more.

Dara: It’s my favorite thing in the world. I was more devastated than I should have been when I found out that they were canceling 2018 races.

Daley: I thought once about doing a 5K.

Craig: Yeah. And that was exhausting. Right? Just the thought of it.

Daley: Yeah. I started signing up and then I thought better.

Dara: I did a 5K while we were sitting here.

Craig: I actually did a negative 5K. And what about you? What’s your One Cool Thing?

Daley: My One Cool Thing is the CIA’s Twitter feed. Which normally would not be something you’d want to follow. It might be a little scary. But they’ve been posting, I believe her name is Lulu. I believe she’s a black lab. A dog who basically rejected/failed out of the CIA training, but there’s very funny, adorable pictures. It’s on their Twitter feed. Check it out. It’s funny.

Craig: My One Cool Thing this week, I just mentioned it to you guys before and you were like, “Oh, that should be your One Cool Thing.” And it’s frivolous but it’s so bizarre and weird. And it’s kind of old news, but I love it anyway. Somebody made this page called Rihanna Can’t Wink. So, Rihanna, the very famous pop star, occasionally likes to wink. It’s one of her things. It’s one of her affectations. So sometimes she winks in concert. Sometimes she winks in the music videos. Sometimes she winks on a commercial. And sometimes she winks on a talk show.

The thing is she can’t really wink. She does not understand or is not capable of the winking mechanism. The winking mechanism is one eye goes down and up. Blink. One eye. The other eye does nothing. She can’t get that other eye to not do things. Sometimes she blinks and just blinks. Sometimes one eye closes and the other one sort of moves halfway down. Sometimes she closes both and opens them in succession. And the person commenting on this is hysterical. So you just Google Rihanna Can’t Wink.

Of all the crimes in the world, that’s probably the most mild.

Dara: Maybe it shouldn’t be her move. I mean, if it’s a thing she can’t do, it should be out of the repertoire. She’s got a lot of other talents.

Craig: But here’s the thing. On the other hand like, you know what, go ahead.

Dara: You’re Rihanna. It’s fine.

Craig: Just keep not-winking winking, because you know what, you don’t care. I like it.

John: While you’re on YouTube, I would also steer you towards Mariah Carey dancing, Mariah Carey choreography. And there’s one specific video I’ll put a link to in the show notes that has Mariah Carey singing and there’s a bunch of men around her, but they basically just lift her up and move her, so she basically never moves herself.

Craig: That’s pretty great.

John: It’s a spectacular video.

Dara: I was watching her spectacular New Year’s Eve meltdown like in real time.

Craig: Oh, you were there.

Dara: I wasn’t there there, but I happened to be watching the TV at a big party where no one was paying attention. And I was like, guys, guys, something amazing is happening right now.

Craig: Yeah, you’re missing this. That was extraordinary.

Dara: It was great. Yeah, it was special.

John: That’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our spooky outro this week. It’s Halloween when this episode drops, or just about Halloween.

If you have an outro, you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place to send longer questions. But short questions, we’re on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Are you guys on Twitter?

Dara: I am. I’m @badassmomwriter.

Daley: I’m @d_haggar.

Craig: Not to play favorites, but Daley’s Twitter feed is hysterical.

Dara: She is. She’s pretty amazing.

Daley: Thank you.

Craig: If you like Megan Amram, you know, like play the Netflix game. If you like this, you would like this. If you like Megan Amram’s one-liners, you will love Daley Haggar’s one-liners. Very similar – it’s like surprise. Surprise, weren’t going to think of that one.

Dara: Daley and my friend Liz Hackett are often on the same—

Daley: She’s awesome.

Craig: Completely funny.

Dara: Yeah, Liz is special.

Craig: Yeah, Liz Hackett is hysterical.

Dara: As is Daley.

Craig: That’s another good one to follow, and she’s not even here. Why are we giving her help?

Dara: I’m basically her agent. Love you, Liz. Mean it.

Craig: Ridiculous.

John: We are on Facebook. Look for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps people find the show and we read those sometimes. It’s very nice.

Craig: We do. John does.

John: I do. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts going all the way back to episode one.

We have new USB drives with all the back episodes. Or actually the first 300 back episodes.

Craig: Are they the cool metal kinds?

John: The cool metal survivable kinds.

Craig: They look like little tiny suppositories.

John: But you should not use them as that.

Craig: No.

John: Off-label use.

Craig: I’m only pointing it out in case we are ever redefined as contraband.

John: Oh yes.

Craig: One could…

John: One could.

Craig: Theoretically.

Dara: I smell a Christopher Walken monologue.

Craig: You smell something.

John: If you do not want to have a physical object completely inside you, you can always subscribe to Scriptnotes.net. It’s $2 a month.

Craig: Better plan.

John: And you get all the back episodes and bonus episodes.

Craig: That’s a good pitch. $2 a month. No need to–

John: Put anything up your butt.

Craig: Secrete something inside of your person.

Dara: This is a little what a writers’ room is like, in case you’re wondering.

Daley: Totally.

Craig: We get that part.

Daley: Then someone would demonstrate it.

Craig: That’s the problem. See, we understand boundaries.

John: Dara Resnik, Daley Haggar, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Craig: Thanks guys.

Dara: Thank you for having us.

Daley: Thank you.

John: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Austin Live Show 2017 (AKA Too Many Scotts)

Tue, 10/31/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig talk with uber-screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Minority Report, Logan) about how his feature script Godless ended up as a miniseries at Netflix.

We then invite more guests up to discuss what movies can learn from the success of TV:

  • Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, Go Fish)
  • Scott Alexander (Ed Wood, The People v. O.J. Simpson,)
  • Tess Morris (Man Up, “You Had Us At Hello” podcast)
  • Lindsay Doran (producer of Stranger Than Fiction, Sense and Sensibility)

In our final segment, we’re joined by a new batch of writers to play “The Studio Has Notes.”

  • Dana Fox (How to Be Single, Ben and Kate)
  • Megan Amram (The Good Place, The Simpsons)
  • Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street, Shimmer Lake)
  • Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman, Ice Age: Continental Drift)
  • Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Beautiful Girls)

Can our lucky audience member pick out the one fake note among the five real ones? Can you?

Recorded live from the Driskill Ballroom at the 2017 Austin Film Festival.

Thanks to the Austin Film Festival for hosting us, and to a great audience. It’s one of our highlights each year.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

The Post-Weinstein Era

Tue, 10/24/2017 - 08:03

John and Craig welcome Daley Haggar and Dara Resnik to examine the potential impacts of the Harvey Weinstein revelations on Hollywood.

What should have been done? And what should happen next to foster a safer, saner and more inclusive industry culture?

We also explore gender dynamics in a television writers room, discuss ways to address power imbalances and learn what it means to dial something in on the “Penis Phone.”

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 321: Getting Stuff Written — Transcript

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 12:34

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August and this is Episode 321 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Last week, I was in London. This week, Craig is in London. We were literally flying through the air at the same time in opposite directions. But luckily, I found someone in the Pacific Time Zone to help us out.

Grant Faulkner joins us from Berkeley where he is Executive Director of the National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. He is a writer and novelist himself, but the reason I mostly wanted him on the show this week is his great new book about writing. Grant, welcome to the show.

Grant Faulkner: Thank you for having me, John. I’m really looking forward to talking creativity today.

John: So, I said you were in Berkeley. Is that actually accurate? Because last time I met you, you were in San Francisco.

Grant: I am in Berkeley, and the NaNoWriMo headquarters is in Berkeley as well.

John: Can you talk us through what NaNoWriMo is for folks who don’t know the program?

Grant: Yeah. NaNoWriMo is many, many things, but I won’t go into the whole hour-long description of it, which is really kind of what it requires. But just to go through the rudiments, it is a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. And so, it was developed really around the premise that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone’s story matters. But sometimes, so many people say, “I’m going to write my novel or my script some day,” you know, like that mythical “someday” when life is just easy and beautiful and you have money and a beautiful office and expanses of time.

But someday just rarely happens. In fact, I just read this in The New York Times, they did a survey and 81% of Americans say they want to write a book someday, but most of them of course don’t. And so, we exist to say “Make your creativity a priority for a month, in the month of November” and we want to ignite people’s creativity and help them realize their creative dreams.

John: So, I was aware of NaNoWriMo for a lot of years, and I’d never actually considered pursuing it until two years ago. I found myself at the end of October and realizing like, “Well, I don’t have a script that I have to write next, and I think I will actually just start writing a book and I will do that in November.”

So, I sat down at my computer. I was in Austin. I was there for the Austin Film Festival. And I started writing this book and it became Arlo Finch. So, my first book is actually a NaNoWriMo book.

Grant: Yeah.

John: Thank you to the program and also for the impetus. Most of our listeners are screenwriters. And so, 50,000 words, that doesn’t necessarily track to sort of what screenwriters do, but that’s sort of like — it’s a script. Maybe it’s sort of a script and a half. It’s a lot of words. So in order to hit 50,000 words, I think it’s 1,650 words per day that you’re supposed to be writing?

Grant: Yeah, 1,677 to be precise. And I was so impressed because you not only wrote Arlo Finch during NaNoWriMo, but you sold it, right?

John: So, that’s not entirely fair because I wrote about 15,000 words. I got nowhere near the 50,000 words.

Grant: Wow.

John: But I wrote the first six or seven chapters of it and that’s what actually became the book that we went out and sold. So, I sold Arlo Finch off the initial chapters, the outline for the whole book and that’s what’s got the whole thing started. So, it was a great sort of framework for getting me to sit down and actually just do the work of getting just started. So, I really, really enjoy it.

But since the time I did it, I talked to a lot of other people who have written during NaNoWriMo, and some of those people have sold books, but a lot of people just like, you know, actually sat down and like strung words together for the first time in a year. So I think you’re doing an incredible service to people who are curious about writing, who aspire to write, who wouldn’t otherwise have the motivation to do it.

Grant: Yeah. And it’s interesting to me because I think sometimes people think that NaNoWriMo is all about, you know, helping people not only write their novels but publish their novels, as if that’s always the end goal. And I’m really actually impressed by the number of people who sign up every year just to write a novel and to do it in a community of other writers. So, that whole notion of creativity for creativity’s sake I think is really valuable, even if your aspiration is to publish, just kind of keeping that notion, that sort of childlike approach, being playful with your words.

John: Absolutely. And I think the childlike focus comes into some of the other programs you guys do. You have the Young Writers Program which we help out with, with our Writer Emergency Packs but you’re in–

Grant: Yeah.

John: Like, 2,000 classrooms every year to sort of help young writers sort of get started in the process. There’s programs designed for really little kids and for middle grade kids. But I think it’s great that you’re sort of getting people thinking about writing as a thing you do even if you don’t intend to become a professional paid writer.

Grant: Yeah. And our Young Writers Program, what is remarkable about it for me, since I was a teen of course before NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999, and I’ll talk to 17-year-olds who have written five, six, seven novels during our Young Writers Program and they might have published some of them with a self-publishing company. And I never — when I was a teen, no one wrote novels. I was a geeky reader, writer and I wrote a long short story at most.

And so, I think like this year, we will have 80,000 teens sign up for our Young Writers Program and close to 350,000 writers for the NaNoWriMo main site. And then, with our Young Writers, we provide Common Core-aligned curriculum for teachers, free workbooks that can be downloaded. We send out novel writing kits and resources to 2,500 classrooms which include your Writer Emergency Pack which is actually good for any age of writer, I think. I like pulling out a card every once in a while.

So, yeah, our premise is just the world is a better place with more creators in it, and our approach to igniting people’s creativity is through writing.

John: So, for anybody who has questions about NaNoWriMo, they should go to nanowrimo.org and check out all the great work you do. But I want to focus today on the other great work you do which is this new book that I have in my hands. It’s a handsome little book called, Pep Talks for Writers — 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. It’s published by Chronicle Books here in the US. It is about an inch thick. If you threw it at somebody, it would hurt them, which I think is a good measure for a book.

What was the impetus behind writing this?

Grant: Yeah. And for what I said earlier, one of the, you know, kind of breakthrough successes we have every year is when people find themselves as writers and creators during November and find themselves in our NaNoWriMo community. And they want to — they so often want to keep that creative momentum going all year long, but it can be really tough. I mean, you can’t do NaNoWriMo every month and I wouldn’t advise that. But I would like people to stay creative year-round and to finish those novels they wrote or just make creativity a priority in their lives.

And so, I wrote these 52 insights. The insights are really kind of short essays. Each essay is about two or three pages, I think. And then, each essay ends with an action that you can take within a one-week period. It’s not meant to be like a five-year plan or something like that. So, yeah, that was the purpose. And so, each essay is really just taking a different angle of creativity and help people reflect on being creative with their lives in a variety of different ways, whether it’s setting goals and deadlines to finish that novel or whether it’s going out in the world and practicing becoming a better observer, so just a range of topics.

John: Yeah. What I like about it so much is that so often these books are kind of “Yay, writing,” like, “Writing is fantastic. Writing is the best thing ever and just like follow these steps and you’ll be so happy.” And what I liked about your book is that, while I think overall it’s going towards a positive place, you’re really acknowledging some of the pitfalls and problems that sort of keep people from writing — either from starting to write or keep people from continuing to write. It’s a very challenging thing to sort of really dig in on. And even 20 years into this, I found myself nodding at a lot of the things that you point out about part of the reasons why it can kind of suck to write.

And so, I want to dig in to some of those today while I have you on the show to see sort of what insights you have and sort of what advice you can have to people no matter what they’re writing, be it a book, be it a short story, be it a screenplay, sort of get them through to that next step and that next draft.

So, if you’re ready, I just wanted to kind of dig in if we can.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Great.

Grant: That sounds great.

John: One thing you identify, something you call in one of the early chapters, “the Other Syndrome”, that writing is something that other people do. Like, can you talk to me about what you mean by other syndrome and I think we can probably tie it into something we’ve talked about in the podcast before, “Impostor Syndrome,” in a sense that I’m not really a writer. Where did that come from for you?

Grant: Yeah. I’ve never talked to anyone who didn’t struggle with this. “I am not a writer” is one way to put it or “I am not a real writer.” And so, I think, you know, for instance like me, I grew up in a small town in Iowa. And so, when I was growing up, real writers — they lived in New York City or Paris. They were adults. They just weren’t me. I didn’t have access to that writing world. And so, I think everybody can probably find a reason of how they feel other than what they determine a real writer is.

And I think if you don’t claim the “I am a writer” with some boldness, it will show with the words you write on the page. You won’t be able to write as bravely if you don’t claim it. If you say “I’m aspiring to write or be a writer. I want to be a writer –” I mean, the definition of being a writer is that you write. And I think the real part is even perhaps more inhibiting because I think what people mean by real is that they’ve been — you’re not a real writer until you’re published. And one publication can, you know, whatever, boost your confidence and make you feel like you are a real writer, it’s a really kind of flimsy and transitory feeling.

I find it like just kind of strange how I’ll wake up in the morning to write and open up my laptop and have a new assignment and I will just really struggle with those first words. It would be like the last thing I want to do is to write. Even though I’ve done it hundreds or thousands of times before and done it with success, each new project is like a totally new thing. And you can go back into all those sort of low moments of self-esteem or lack of belief in yourself no matter where you are in your writing journey.

John: Yeah. Let’s dig into psychologically why people have this sense that other people are writers but what I’m doing is not writing. And so, you were talking about growing up in a small town in Iowa. I think there is a sense that when we see writers portrayed in media, they’re always these people who live in big cities, off by themselves and who, like, they cloister themselves in their little rooms and they type these brilliant things and the editors love them. And if they do go out, it’s to mingle with other writers who wear little ascots. Like, it’s a very fancy kind of thing.

Grant: Exactly.

John: Writing is a really invisible process. It’s like just a person sitting there, doing something. You don’t see them on a daily basis. You don’t see people who are creative writers out there in the world so much. You might pass that person at the coffee shop who’s working, but like you’re not seeing them doing their work as much as you’re seeing an athlete practicing or playing the game.

Grant: Right.

John: You don’t see them the way you see musicians. Writing is just a thing that happens.

Grant: Yeah.

John: Last week on the podcast, we answered a question from a listener who asked like, “Is it okay to call myself a screenwriter versus an aspiring screenwriter?”

Grant: Exactly.

John: And I think our basic answer was a lot like what you said, is that identify yourself by the verb, not the noun. And if you are a person who writes, then you are a writer and that’s absolutely fair to say. And so, I think your idea of the “Other Syndrome” though also ties into I think we talked about it in the show before, which is the “Impostor Syndrome,” which is even when you’re doing it, even when you’re getting paid for it, you always have that sense of like “Oh, no. At some point, they’re going to figure out that I’m not really the person they should be trusting to do this work.”

I love that you included this quote that I’d never seen before. I’ll read the quote here. “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out that I’ve run a game on everybody. They’re going to find me out.’” It’s a quote by Maya Angelou. And so, here’s a woman who’s remarkably successful as a writer and yet she still says that each time she sets out to do a new project, she’s like, “This is the one they’re going to realize that I’m not that good, that I didn’t deserve that praise before.”

And in your book, you talked through some of the reasons why even really successful writers have that sense. Like, what do you think that is?

Grant: Per what you were saying earlier, I think one reason that people don’t feel like they’re writers or that they aren’t real writers is that they’re only reading the final draft of their favorite writers, right? The novels they love have been through, who knows, five or ten edits and had professional editors look at them. Whereas, like most of us are sitting with our rough draft and it’s so easy to see how it might not measure up to what we want it to be.

So, writing is so crazily difficult and challenging and I think that that flows into what Maya Angelou was saying as well is that it’s an activity of self-doubt. It has like so many masochistic components to it. The joy and the meaning one finds from the kind of painful exercises is just such a different type of joy than you might find in other activities. And so, I think a writer is just constantly wrestling with that self-doubt no matter where they are in their writing career.

And I think if you feel, depending on the degree that you feel the “Other Syndrome,’ I actually think there are whole different layers. I mean, I’ve done an exercise where I’ll write “I am a writer” in the middle of a circle and then draw concentric circles going out to the perimeter. And I think some people are on the out, like the very edge of the first concentric circle and some people are really close to that middle, I am a writer. And so, I’m imagining Maya Angelou might have been on that closer to the perimeter. So, her natural self-doubt as a writer might really rear an ugly head from time to time.

But, yeah, I think the thing is, is that publishing also doesn’t solve these things. Fame doesn’t solve these things. Awards don’t solve these things. As a writer, you’re always struggling with yourself and your ability to put the right words on the page.

John: You talk in your book about the inner editor and how the inner editor is that force inside you that is constantly pushing you and it can be pushing you in a good way or pushing you in a bad way. It’s like that coach who sort of calls you out on all your mistakes and good coaches can sort of push you to your best work and bad coaches can make you quit the team.

Grant: Yeah.

John: I think that’s an aspect of this “Impostor Syndrome” as well. You have this inner critic who is saying, “You are not good enough. Look at how brilliant that other writer’s work is and how bad your work is.” But of course, as you point out, you’re only comparing this crappy first thing you’ve written, this crappy first draft you’ve written to the finished masterpieces of that other thing. So, naturally, it’s not going to be as good.

Grant: Yeah.

John: You’re always thinking about the worst of your stuff versus the best of theirs.

Grant: Exactly. And we’re not even the best judge of our own stuff, you know. I mean, I think writers just because of that inner editor, which can be — your inner editor has its place and you might banish it during the first draft, but you need it later on because your inner editor wants you to succeed, but it can have a harsh voice. And I think sometimes writers — I mean, we internalize that inner editor and it helps us refine and revise our novels but it can also, you know, I think add to our self-doubt sometimes.

And so, you know, I think when you’re comparing your draft to a published author’s, your eyes probably aren’t the best at that point to judge it.

John: Absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about process because the classic NaNoWriMo process is basically a quantity kind of goal. Like, you basically just like turn off your inner critic, like, don’t listen to that voice that says, “This isn’t good enough,” just like keep generating pages and go through it.

Do you find that that needs to switch at any point? Can people keep writing at that pace and that speed? There’s a screenwriter who’s out there today who does a lot of work who famously can write zillions and zillions and zillions of words and yet the people will call them out on quality. Do you find that people who go through NaNoWriMo process, what happens in those other 11 months? Like, what is the next step for them after all those words?

Grant: Yeah. We definitely — I think I do know one person in the world who did NaNoWriMo every month for an entire year. She wrote 12 novels, 50,000 words a month and she’s a rarity and we don’t advise people to do that. After NaNoWriMo is over — you know, 50,000 words, a lot of people aren’t finished to start. They might need to write another 25,000 or 50,000 words to finish. So, I recommend that they finish because I think there’s just something so rewarding about, you know, writing The End after writing a whole rough draft and then revise of course, you know, and revise, you know, multiple times.

So, sometimes I think people think that we think that you can write a novel in a month and publish it in a month and that’s certainly not the case.

John: Yeah. One of the numbers you point out in your book is that if you wrote just 250 words a day, you’d get to 80,000 words in a year. 80,000 words is a pretty good sized book.

Grant: It is.

John: That’s a book to be proud of. It may not be the best book ever, but it would be about an inch thick and that’s sort of a way to measure sort of what you’ve done. So, you know, consistency even at smaller amounts can be a huge help as well. But how do you then sort of reengage the inner critique, that inner editor, after you sort of try to ignore him or her during that initial process? Like, what’s the way of sort of inviting that creature back in?

Grant: Yeah. I think writing a rough draft and banishing the inner editor, it takes practice especially for someone like me because I wrote with an inner editor very present in my writing life until I discovered NaNoWriMo. So, I still — I write pretty slowly because my editor is always somewhere whispering in my ear, “You can refine that sentence a little bit more before going on.”

I think editing and revising takes a lot of practice. I think a lot of people — I’ll see writers revise for the first time and they’ll really kind of only revise on the sentence level. You know, they’ll brush up their grammar and stuff, and revision is such a deeper process. One of my favorite quotes about revision comes from the author, Karen Russell, who said that 90% of her rough draft doesn’t make it into her final draft. I mean, I think you have to open to totally, dramatically changing what you wrote in that first draft, you know, and I always advise people not to attach themselves too much to the plotline or whatever it is in that rough draft because it’s just going to change so much.

And I think Karen Russell is not an anomaly. Most writers I talk to or most novelists, so they say the same thing. The rough draft sometimes as a story just changes so dramatically. It’s barely recognizable. In fact, I just talked with a NaNoWriMo writer who, she did NaNoWriMo I think like 9 or 10 years ago and that 50,000 words that she wrote, she just published her book, but most of those words she said it was kind of a seed of the idea.

So, the rough draft, you’re really exploring. You’re really trying to take different pathways and not be too attached to them. You’re really just trying to open up and find your story. And if I can impart one more quote, I just heard of this as well, Barbara Kingsolver says she starts on negative page 100. So, she’s writing 100 pages just to get to the beginning, just to figure out what she’s really saying. I think the rough draft can even be like a kind of like planning stage. You know, it doesn’t get talked about like that, but, you know, call it zero draft. You can write a rough draft and then outline it afterwards and then, you know, almost write a whole new story.

So, yeah, there are so many different ways to go about it and even though we do have this framework for NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo is a creative experiment from its beginnings and I try to experiment with my own creative process every year because that was the gift that NaNoWriMo gave me. The reason I did it back in 2009 was because I felt like I was in a — my creative process was in a rut. And so, I just want to shake it up and it led me to, you know, take these risks on the page that I wouldn’t have ordinarily if I’ve been writing in my kind of ponderous, precious mode.

John: Let’s go back a little bit there because you went to a masters writing program, didn’t you?

Grant: Yeah. I did. Yeah.

John: So, talk us through it. So, a small town in Iowa, and then, what was the process that got you started as a writer and also that led you to NaNoWriMo?

Grant: Yeah. I think there was something in me that was kind of predetermined to be a writer. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a writer. So, even when I was going down other possible, you know, career paths, it was always an idea writing some way.

I went to a study abroad program when I was 20 and basically sat in France and read novels in cafes and said, “This is the life for me.” So, I decided to be a writer and never looked back, never had Plan B. And so, yeah, in my mid-20s, I went and got my masters at San Francisco State. But then, that’s when the writing got really tough. It was when I was in my 20s, I was totally broke and needed to make a living and I worked as a journalist and worked in corporate communications and then finally found my way to the National Writing Project which is a wonderful nonprofit in Berkeley dedicated to helping teachers teach writing better. And then, that led me to the NaNoWriMo board.

Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, invited me on and I’ve been here for six years. So, I feel blessed that I’ve managed to find a job in writing that speaks to — you know, I’m a very mission-driven person. So, I really love that this organization helps so many people become creators and, you know, it’s like I get to think of creativity and talk with people who are engaged in writing every day. So, I’m always learning something.

John: But, let’s circle back to this Masters of Creative Writing Program that you took at San Francisco State.

Grant: Yeah.

John: So, what was that like because that sounds like kind of the fantasy, like, “Well, of course, he’s a writer because he went to that amazing program.” So, what were you actually doing during your time there and what was the process of like dealing with other students in the program?

Grant: Yeah. I went there somewhat casually. A lot of people are very directed and they choose, you know, very prestigious writing programs, but I was living in San Francisco and I enjoyed my life and just wanted to stay here. And I was reading and writing every moment I could when I wasn’t working, and I just thought I should get a degree for it.

So, I wasn’t really driven purposefully. You know, I didn’t have grand visions of learning things, in particular. But I think the things that I learned were the value of developing a writing community. It provided that, and I think a writing community can serve you in so many different ways, whether it’s getting feedback from your peers and friends or whether you’re getting inspiration from them or wisdom from their experience or networking opportunities.

Some of the professors definitely introduced me to new ways to write, Robert Gluck in particular. He taught experimental fiction. But, yeah, I can’t say that I had — you know, I think a lot of people go to programs and they want to find this mentor who will love them and that mentor will then, you know, open every door in the world for them to get published. And I think that does happen but it’s very rare. And so, I think you have to really think — I mean, if I were going to go back and do it, I would really think about what do I want out of this. I wouldn’t be so casual.

John: One of the questions we get most often on the podcast is, “Should I go to film school?” And I think our answers tend to be very much what you describe is that film schools are a great place to be surrounded by people who are trying to do the same things you’re trying to do and get that community, but you can’t go into it expecting “I’m going to go through this program and suddenly I will have the success in this field,” especially in something as esoteric and strange as writing. It’s hard to anticipate that you’re going to be able to graduate from that program and suddenly, you know, all the gates will be open to you.

Grant: It’s really true and what’s interesting to me is the number of people who go to MFA programs and they don’t write now, and they’ll quit writing soon afterwards. And I’m always like, “Why did you do it? That was a huge investment of time and money.” And I think it speaks to like what really makes a writer or a screenwriter is that inner passion. It doesn’t matter whether you have a degree in it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken any classes in writing at all.

You know, in fact, Chris Baty who founded NaNoWriMo, he hadn’t taken any writing workshops or anything like that. And I think especially with the novel, I don’t know if this applies to scriptwriting so much, but I imagine it does to a large part, is that the best way to learn to write a novel is by writing one, you know. You can’t really read about how to write a novel or just listen to someone lecture on it. You have to experience it in tandem with a larger conversation around it and you can find the conversation in books and in writing communities like NaNoWriMo, of course.

John: One of the things you talked about quite a bit in the book is sort of the virtue of being a beginner and sort of like how to sort of remember what it’s like to be a beginner so that you can, you know, approach things with an openness and interactiveness. There’s a quote you used by Matsuo Basho, “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” And which is basically a great way of expressing to sort of be able to retain that sense of openness and curiosity that you have as a beginner.

And I think that may have been one of the main reasons I wanted to do NaNoWriMo is because I’m really good at screenwriting. I sort of think I know how screenwriting works. I really didn’t know how writing books worked. And it was so thrilling to be a beginner again at something and I think part of the reason why I keep trying new things is that I’m sort of a dilettante and hopping in between things is because it’s so much more fun to explore something new than to sort of than to sort of keep trudging over the same terrain again and again.

Grant: Yeah. And I think the more you stay in one field and kind of specialize in it, the more your sort of expert rigidity just keeps getting more and more rigid. It’s even hard for me sometimes to go back to my beginning stages of why I wrote to begin with. And NaNoWriMo provides that in the sense of the community. I get to talk to a lot of beginning writers and they help me remember that sort of — you know, it’s just so strange. It’s like traveling to a new city that you’ve never been to before. You’re just experiencing the world in such freshness.

And I do think that we lose that kind of childlike appreciation of storytelling the longer that we write. And so, the more that we can do to go back and remind ourselves about it and you mentioned one — I mean, the one thing that I love is like learn something new. Like, when I started playing the guitar five years ago, it was such an interesting experience to be a total beginner in another art form. And so, I think people should like embrace that really as a new year’s resolution. Learn one thing new every year because it brings you back to that beginner’s mind, and then you can apply that to your writing.

John: Absolutely. One of the things, a truism that we hear again and again about writing, we hear about screenplays but I think even more so about books is to write what you know.

Grant: Yeah.

John: And I like what you were sort of going into about that idea because so often it will be brought up, and it will be sort of immediately dismissed because like, well, that’s stupid because I don’t know anything about, you know, space travel, but I love to write about space. And, you know, there’s so many examples that people writing things that they couldn’t possibly have firsthand knowledge of it, yet it really works.

Where I think you do a good job of sort of digging deeper is looking at what you’re really trying to get out with writing, what you know, which is sort of the emotional memory, the stuff underneath the experience that is so crucial about writing what you know. What things should people be looking for when someone says, “Write what you know”?

Grant: Yeah. I think “write what you know” is funny. That’s like one of the top three probably maxims of writing, right? Like, people are always saying, “Write what you know.” And I remember when I first heard that. I was like, “What does that mean?” You know, because, if I take it at its literal face value, I think that I have to write about only those things I’ve experienced in my life like my small town in Iowa. But it’s not really about that.

I think like just what you said, you should never limit yourself. Like, if I — I don’t know, if I want to write about aliens on another planet, if I want to write about a region I’ve never been to in the world which I’ve done, you know, if I want to write about characters, whatever they are, like neuroscientists, so, I don’t know any neuroscientists, but we should give ourselves that permission because it’s part of the reason we write is to see the world through people’s eyes and to explore the world in different ways.

And so, I like the method acting or method writing approach that you’re really applying your own personal emotional experience to the characters you’re creating. Actually, there’s a Shelley Winters quote where she says, “Act with your scars.” And so, you can apply your scars to any character. But I do think that, you know, that requires, like method acting, a lot of introspection and not just like tossing yourself into characters willy-nilly but really thinking about the purpose of what scar and what experience of that scar is appropriate for certain characters.

John: When I read writing that feels very real, when the characters seem like they have flesh and blood, I do think it’s because the author has invested a bit of him or herself into their experience. And so, that, you know, author has a very clear sense of that character’s inner emotional life because he or she is using some things from their own life to sort of proxy for it.

When I was doing the script for Big Fish, there’s a sequence at the end where Will is sort of going through the story of his father’s death and I knew this is going to be an incredibly emotional thing for the character but also for the audience watching it. And so, I would — this incredibly method writing where I would bring myself to tears and then start writing.

Grant: Yeah.

John: And it seems crazy and why would you do it that way, but I’m pretty sure the only reason why I got to those specific words and those images was because I was at that emotional state as I was writing it. And that’s a, you know, it was an incredibly valuable exercise for me is to sort of let myself feel those feelings and then let those characters express themselves while I was feeling those feelings. And, you know, I would just encourage people to try those things because really what’s the harm of trying those things? And there’s something sort of embarrassing about feeling strong emotions or to psych yourself up into a place. But you do it for other things. You’ll rev yourself up before giving a speech. You’ll do other things to sort of get you into the emotional state. Get yourself into the right emotional state for the writing that you’re doing.

And that’s really what we’re talking about in terms of write what you know. Write those feelings that you know. Use the things that are specific and unique to you to help create some specific and unique moments for your story.

Grant: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think the stories that I connect with most I think, I agree with you, the writer or the creator has done something that is just so personal. He or she has made themselves vulnerable in a way that, you know, they’ve gone deeper. And so, I really think vulnerability on the page is more important than any craft advice, you know, or craft tips that you might write with.

And that’s where — with Shelley Winters, like act with your scars, it’s really going deep, you know. Like, be willing to reveal your scars on the page and go there.

John: You also bring up the idea of using a pseudonym to sort of give yourself permission to write something that you yourself wouldn’t feel personally comfortable writing. So, J.K. Rowling with her Robert Galbraith books, like she basically created a whole other character who is the person who is writing those books. And it’s a nice way of like, you know, giving herself some arm’s distance so she felt safe to have this other guy be writing those books, but also so she could write herself more into it.

It seems like it’s sort of an impossible sort of, you know, double twist. But by creating somebody, a proxy for herself, she could, you know, more personally invest in what she was writing. Have you had any experience with that personally?

Grant: I have, yeah. I know some somewhat renowned writers who have written what with a pseudonym or through a persona and they’ve done it to be more vulnerable on the page. You know, to be more powerful and write more bravely. Like just that shield, I guess, that the persona gives them helps them do that.

I mean, I think really, in the end, every time we sit down to write, we’re doing it through a filter of some persona, you know. Like I might think I’m writing with my natural self, but I think like there are ways to shift that, you know. What is your natural self, really? I sometimes like to pretend I’m somebody else just to try to access a different voice.

John: For me, you know, John August is the person I became sort of when I was 21, so I ended up switching from my born last name to use my dad’s last, middle and full name.

Grant: Oh.

John: And so, like it really was a process like, well, John August is the person who could do this. But the other John maybe couldn’t do this, but John August could do this. Like I was literally a different person who could do these things that were, you know, terrifying to the other John.

Whether I had to legally change my name or not, I think if I had given myself a pen name or permission to do those things, it might have been easier. I feel like the people who write fanfiction and slash fiction and do all that amazing work in that space. I think some of the reason why they’re able to do so much and sometimes do such great work is because they are writing under not their real names. And so, they can expose themselves more, because there’s no way to trace it back to them.

Like, the fact that they are 17 years old and living in Missoula, Montana is not an issue because they are just some avatar on a forum and some name they made up. I think that may be one of the things that’s giving them permission to write as much as they’re writing.

Grant: Yeah. And I think in some ways it’s interesting. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, that statement I am a writer or I am a real writer. You know, do whatever it takes to do that. And if it takes using a pseudonym or a persona or an avatar, you know, that’s a perfectly legitimate way to claim that identity.

John: For NaNoWriMo, has fanfiction or slash fiction become an issue in terms of like the kinds of work that people are doing? Do you guys talk about that at all as an organization or as part of your mission statement?

Grant: Yeah. I mean, our premise is we want people to tell their stories and we don’t really care what those stories are. We don’t judge the quality or the topics of people’s stories. So we do get a lot of fanfic writers and I think that’s great, actually. I mean, in some ways, I think all writing is a variation of fanfiction. We’re all writing through the voices and the stories that we’ve experienced. I love the metaphor of Odysseus, you know, being handed down from one oral storyteller to the next. And that is a kind of process of fanfiction, too. We’re always building on the original story.

So I think fanfiction actually is a wonderful way to learn to write because you’re taking these known characters and known plot lines and then going crazy with them.

John: It takes the pressure off of like, oh, I have to create something brand new, or I couldn’t create something brand new, I can use these things that already exist out there in the world. And of course we’ve seen that like, yes, you can do that but if you do that well enough, you can basically change the characters’ names and suddenly you have “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you have one of the biggest books of all time.

So, you know, I think it’s a way of giving yourself permission to be creative that you might not feel that you’re entitled to otherwise.

Grant: Yeah. And it may be similar to using a pseudonym or a persona, maybe writing through this known world is a way to feel safe and express yourself, you know, and be vulnerable on the page.

John: In your section on writer’s block, you talk about throw-away writing or basically the writing you might do at the start of your day so that, you know, it takes the pressure off of things that you don’t expect they have to be good so that it can — you know, there’s less consequence for it. And I think fanfiction could be one of those examples.

You talk about some exercises like Ray Bradbury’s list of nouns. Can you describe that to us?

Grant: Yeah. Ray Bradbury, I think he was the one actually, like his phrase throw-away writing, I think that came from him maybe. He says that every writer needs to write — I can’t remember if he says every writer needs to write thousands or hundreds of thousands of throwaway words. But I think that that’s a good way to view it because you’re essentially practicing writing through those words.

And when he first started becoming a writer and just in that kind of moment of like, “What do I write about?” Maybe instead of going to write what I know, he did this approach, he wrote down 20 nouns and he just made a list and they were totally random. And then he would write these very tiny little essays, like 100 or 200 words which he called pensays. And he would write them about each noun.

And within that sort of meditation on these words, he would piece together, like kind of the interaction of his subconscious and these real words, a story. And that’s how he wrote many of his most famous novels and stories, including “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

John: In the book you go through a list of like these are the nouns that were interesting to him and he sort of looks for the factions between them and that became the basis of the story.

I always find it real interesting when people describe writer’s block as if they like, “I have no idea what to write.” And so rarely in my life has that actually been a factor. It’s more the factor of like, “Man, I just really don’t feel like writing,” or, “I really don’t feel like writing this next thing.”

Grant: Yeah.

John: And I kind of wish everyone would agree on a different set of words for describing those two different phenomena because they’re not really the same thing.

Grant: Not at all.

John: So, often I know exactly what I want to write, what I need to write, what I’m compelled to write. It’s just like it’s just torture to actually sit down and get into that next thing. And yet, through books and through movies, we have sort of romanticized this kind of ritualistic idea of writer’s block where it’s like this shrine to which we sacrifice ourselves. And it’s just rarely like that in my daily experience, and yet, you know, we as writers still talk about it.

Grant: Yeah. I think shrine is the word. Too many people sort of worship at that shrine almost. They’ll go years without writing and claim it’s just because they have writer’s block. And I think even when sort of famous writers have had it, it’s been overly mythologized.

I oftentimes think it can be just an excuse. Or as you put it, it’s more like it refers to other things like “I don’t feel like writing today” or “I have too many things happening in my life to be creative.” And I think there are so many ways to get around it, whether you’re using Ray Bradbury’s list of nouns, or a photo, or any kind of prompt. There’s a million prompt books out there that you can buy.

But just putting down one sentence on the page, I’ve never experienced a moment when that one sentence didn’t lead to a second and a third sentence. Writing is largely about beginning and establishing or creating some creative momentum. And, you know, there are throwaway words — you know, Julia Cameron, she has the technique, morning notes, where she says it advises people just to sit down and write anything, wither it’s like a list of 20 nouns or like a diary journal or diary entry, or whatever it is. Just to put the pen on the paper, write a couple of pages, throw them away and then begin on your real writing.

So there’s just so many ways to start writing that I think I would just banish the notion of writer’s block from your mind.

John: You have an interesting notion of muse. And so we talked about like the muse comes and like the muse sort of whispers in your ear and tells you the brilliant things to write. And like the fear for a writer is that like, oh, the muse won’t show up today. But you described it as a very different thing. You described it sort of more as a group of tiny pixies.

Grant: [laughs] Yeah. Well, I think, you know, the classic notion of the muse comes from Greece where they’re — you know, if you go into a museum, you’ll see a lot of, especially with old paintings, these paintings with the muse, you know, strumming her harp near the writer. And the idea with the muse is like whispering the story into the writer.

I mean, I don’t think that’s really the way the muse works. I think too often we’re waiting for that thunderbolt of inspiration to strike from the sky. And at least in my life, that kind of huge moment of inspiration, it happens just so rarely there’s no way I could build a creative process around it.

And so, yeah, per your comment about pixies, I think just putting the words down on the page and focusing on them, and I call them like little sprites that are whispering to you. Yeah, you’ll find the inspiration more likely on the page than you will from the thunderbolt in the sky.

John: Yeah. For me, I find it’s the combined momentum of like “Those words fit well together, okay, the whole sentence works well together, okay, that thing he’s saying leads to this thing leads to that thing.” Eventually, you know, there’s flow that happens and it’s just the right things are stacking up in the right way. But to wait for some great muse to strike you with either amazing inspiration or exactly the right words to express those ideas is rarely sort of what the real experience is like.

And, yeah, again, it’s one of those things like writer’s block where we’ve romanticized it to the degree that there is like, you know, this profound lightning bolt that comes out of nowhere that tells you what to do. And maybe you’ll get a few of those in your life where things really do happen that way, where if you’re Kevin Williamson, suddenly you go off and like in three days you write Scream because you just had like this vision for what it’s going to be.

But most writing isn’t that way. And I think we need to sort of really focus on the day-to-day of what most writing is like.

Grant: Yeah. And, you know, back at when you were saying like our movies always present writer’s block and contribute to that mythology, growing up, I thought that that’s all that writers did. They sat there by their typewriter with a, you know, shot of Scotch and a cup of coffee and a bunch of cigarettes and they’re wadding up paper constantly and throwing it at the waste basket. But that, for me, is more a metaphor of experimenting on the page. That’s the way I would like to interpret it instead of writer’s block.

And the fact is even when you’re having those moments where like, I don’t feel like writing today, like you mentioned, I mean we all have those moments, but so many times we have to sit down and write. And the fact that we do it in those sort of bad moments, I mean the next day, I’m always like, “Woo, thank God I wrote yesterday.” My present self thanks my past self so much because now I can like sit down and edit these words no matter how crappy they are.

John: There’s a movie from 2015, Trumbo, which talks about sort of this writer’s process and sort of the blacklist and like there’s all these wonderful novel things. But I see the scenes of him like, you know, in the bathtub typing with his Scotch. And even if it’s true, it’s frustrating because I just feel like there’s going to be another generation of people watching that movie thinking like, “Oh, that’s what screenwriting is. It’s sitting in a bathtub being cruel to your family while you smoke and drink Scotch.”

And maybe two or three of those things are accurate for most screenwriters, but the bathtub thing, no, most writers are not in bathtubs their whole life.

Grant: [laughs] Yeah. I haven’t tried the writing in the bathtub. Maybe that’ll be my next book.

John: Yeah. Craig and I are both big advocates of the shower, so there’s the shower for those moments where like you can’t figure out what to write next.

Grant: Yeah.

John: Something about the shower drops your inhibitions and you start being able to make stuff happen.

Grant: I think if you’re looking for an a-ha moment, yeah, go to the shower. They haven’t done research on this, but I’m pretty sure more big ideas have come in the shower than anyplace else.

John: I’ll tell you that one of the things I found most interesting about writing prose after writing screenplays for so long is the process of writing a scene for me in a screenplay is I can just sort of sit quietly and sort of loop through the scenes so they can sort of see like, okay, this is what’s happening in the scene and I think it’s of course very rough blocks and then as they sort of keep looping through the scene, I could that, okay, like this is the personalities of people in the scene, they’re moving through the scene. There’s a few things from like this. And I can basically visualize it here as the whole scene because scenes are short, they are mostly about three minutes long. So I can visualize and hear what it’s like. And once I have that, I can sort of quickly scribble it down and then just do the better version of it.

What I found so fascinating about doing prose by comparison is like you can’t do that. A person’s buffer is not big enough to hold a whole chapter or even, you know, a page. And so I have to really tie it down to sort of like paragraph by paragraph. Like I can’t sort of build it all in my head and then put it on the paper. I actually have to create the whole thing on the paper sort of line by line. That’s been one of the biggest and most interesting changes and challenges I found switching over to prose fiction after doing screenplays for so long.

Grant: Yeah. Like the three-minute scene you’re writing, so much of the work of that is happening with the camera, right?

John: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

Grant: And so in a novel like the — all the camera work has to happen on the page, is that right? Is that difference?

John: I think there’s a lot of it because screenplays are so minimalist, it’s just going to be like there’s a dialogue and enough scene description to let us feel what is specific and unique about that scene in those moments. So there’s such an economy to screenwriting, that to get to that prose section you have like, “Oh, I can use all the words I want. I can describe all the sentences, I can do all these things.” But it’s also all those words tend to be sort of necessary to do certain things. And so finding your way through that sentence that feels good and that it will feel good next to that next sentence and the sentence after that. Those things are just such different challenges than what I normally deal with as a screenwriter.

Grant: Yeah.

John: I mean a lot of you take scene description really seriously, so I will slave over those sentences for a long time. But, you know, books are basically entirely scene description, and that’s just a lot of words and a lot of really precise details to these words to make things make sense. That’s I think — to the degree to which my inner editor was kicking in as I was writing for Arlo Finch, was like I can’t use the word because I used that word two paragraphs ago. And so I’m going to find different words so that I’m not repeating myself. Those are the challenges that you just don’t face as a screenwriter.

Grant: Yeah. And I think what — as a novelist, too, you’ve got to find that right balance, you know. You got to keep the narrative moving or the suspension, the tension of it. So you just can’t go off too deeply into description, at least depending on what you’re writing, you know. It’s a tough balance to strike sometimes.

And I do things that’s being — like writing scripts is good for novelists. I think a lot of novelists have a tough time moving the action forward. And, you know, by writing a script, you’re just naturally more focused on keeping the story moving. And so going — you know, and I mean because novels in some ways, they don’t have any boundaries.

John: Yeah.

Grant: So you can go into backstory for 50 or 100 pages and some people — some writers like William Faulkner have been successful in that, but most of the time you’re not contributing to the suspense and tension of the forward moving narrative.

John: Agreed. I thought we’d wrap up this discussion of your book by talking about envy because you do a nice job describing it. You have a quote here. “Envy is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” And so I was looking that up online to see who the person was who said that and it turns that you can find baically that same quote with almost every other negative word stuck into the word of the place of envy. So a grudge or revenge. And so basically any negative emotion is sort of like that drinking of poison, but it’s really kind of what it feels like. I remember early in my career being really envious of David Benioff. And then I got to know him, and like he’s a great guy so I thought it was ridiculous for me to be envious of him.

And yet, I also do wonder if just a tiny bit of envy can be good motivation for a writer starting out. Like it’s somebody that helps convince them to sit down to work because if I’m not working, that other person is working because — do you feel that? Or is it only a negative thing?

Grant: Yeah. I think envy can be a real creativity killer. I think comparing yourself to another — you’re setting yourself up, you know, as I put it in the book. Like Jonathan Franzen was my version of your David Benioff, you know. And when I encountered him on Time Magazine as the great American novelist, you know, I did — I was deeply envious, but later I did sort of my — you know, I realized, okay, I’m projecting this on him. He doesn’t know who I am, for one. And no one is keeping score, you know. No matter if it’s Jonathan Franzen or one of my best friends down the street who’s a writer having more success, I would be the only one keeping score. So Jonathan Franzen might have 100 points, right? I have two. But no one else is keeping score, so it’s totally negative energy that I’m putting into the world and mostly on myself. I’m the one drinking the poison.

But I actually do agree with you. I think there is a type of envy that can be motivating and can make you work harder and strive for more and try to get, you know, better and practice more and more determined. I’m trying to remember the author. I think it was Harold Bloom, the literary critic that wrote a book called — where I took this idea of the anxiety of influence. And his working premise was that every generation of writers is competing against all of history. So everyone is in their way trying to rise to the top. And I think that can be a healthy type of envy, at least if you kind of keep it in balance.

John: Yeah. I can definitely see that. And you’re always — for me, it was that I was able to look at other writers like Kevin Williamson, you know, as I started off. I could look at them and sort of see like they have a template. I could use that as like a — I could imagine myself getting to their place because they existed and so I was grateful for them to have been out there.

And then sometimes when people are more at a peer level, I could look at sort of like, oh, David wants to go down on this path. Well, I’m going this path. I could ask myself, have I chosen the right path? And both cases, like, yeah, you know what I chose a good reasonable path. And, you know, I think it was useful to see that there are other people out there doing different things. And I could sort of compare what they were doing versus what I was doing, and eventually stopped worrying about whether they were having more fun than I was having.

Grant: Yeah. I gotta say, one of the main benefits of growing older as a writer is that my envy decreases. And, again, it goes back to I think some of what we said earlier. It’s like why did we get into this in the first place, you know? I mean I started writing, you know, for many different reasons especially when I was a kid. I just wanted to tell a story just for the sake of it. I didn’t get into writing to compare myself to other people and to try to one up them or do better. So again I say it is that beginner’s mind moment where I think you’ve got to go back and think about the source of your creativity and what you were — why you write and why, you know, why — because it’s a tough profession, right? Instead of like — and envy is not going to get you through the tough spots of your writing journey, you know. You’re — the source, the real reason you do it is the thing that’s going to keep you going. In the end, that’s what success is always for me. It’s not the number of books that I sell or publish. It’s about sitting down every day and making meaning of the world through my stories.

John: That’s a great place to leave that on. So on our podcast, every week, we give a One Cool Thing. So do you have a One Cool Thing you could share with us? Something you’ve liked. It could be a book, a movie, something out there that you want people to know about.

Grant: Yeah. There’s something because I’ve been so absorbed in my book and National Novel Writing Month that I’ve barely been doing anything else, so I haven’t gone to many movies or plays or listened to much new music lately. But I do want to mention I’ve been reading Leonard Cohen’s biography since he died about a year ago. And he’s influenced me a lot since I was very young. And part of the reason I’m reading it is that I decided that I’m the type of person who — I experienced a lot of different things that may be only mainly on the top surface level. And so one of the things I wanted to do more in life is go deeper.

And so this biography is called I’m Your Man. It was written just before he died or published maybe a year before. And I’m reading it and one quote that came out that I thought I’d share with people is form Leonard Cohen’s mentor and older poet called Irving Layton and he would say like, “Leonard, are you making sure you’re doing it wrong?” And I thought that that was like actually great. Like I think every once in a while artists and writers should think, maybe I should do the wrong thing here, not the right thing, because sometimes the wrong thing leads to a more interesting story.

So I’m just going to mention Leonard Cohen’s biography, I’m Your Man. And another reason I’m reading it actually is because I love his voice, like his singing voice, but also his poetic voice. And when I have a writing hero like that, I really like to sort of live in their voice. So sometimes when I’m writing something it’s almost like the persona of conversation we’re having. Like I might write something kind of through his voice.

John: Very cool. My One Cool Thing is called “The Last Invention of Man: How AI Might Take over the World.” It is by Max Tegmark from MIT. And so it’s not quite a short story. It’s not quite an article. It’s more sort of an imagination of sort of how a group of motivated people could use AI or the ability for AI to keep improving upon itself to, you know, becoming incredibly powerful. So I don’t agree with a lot of what’s in here and particularly like Tegmark speculates that one of the first things that this AI would do would be to basically generate a bunch of like really good CG movies and sort of basically take over Hollywood and take over the entertainment industry with computer-generated movies that made a lot of money to help fund all the rest of the innovation that they’re going to do.

I think he is underestimating sort of how challenging it is to do the creative work we’re doing and also how long the feedback cycle is to know sort of like whether that creative decision was the right one, that sort of propels you forward in time. But I still think it’s a really interesting thought experiment, so I’ll point people to “The Last Invention of Man” and you could tell what you think of that.

That is our show for this week. Grant, thank you so much for being on the episode. It was great to talk through with you. If people want to find your book, where should they buy your book?

Grant: Yeah. It’s in all the usual places. So, you know, online, you can go to your favorite online book retailer. I won’t recommend one. But it is published by Chronicle Books if you want to buy it there. And then yeah, it should be most bookstores I believe.

John: And if people want to do NaNoWriMo this year, what advice would you give them?

Grant: I would advise them to sign up on nanowrimo.org. I would advise them to tell themselves, I’m a writer. I would tell them to believe that you can write the 50,000 words in a month. And before you do so, though, have a strategy. Go on a time hunt and think about where you can find time in your days because that’s the number excuse I hear, I’m too busy. So all of us are too busy, but if you cut out social media, if you cut out some binge watching, if you don’t go a couple of dinner parties, if you wake up an hour early sometimes or write on your lunch break, you can write a novel in November and that’s a gift.

John: That’s awesome. All right. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro for us to listen to, you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. It’s also a place you can send longer questions. But short questions, I’m on Twitter, @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Grant, you’re on Twitter, are you not?

Grant: I am. @grantfaulkner. F-A-U-L-K-N-E-R. Some people spell it F-A-L-K. But F-A-U-L-K.

John: Fantastic. That’s also a place where you can tweet at him to tell him how much you liked him on the show and that you’d purchased his book. You can find us on Apple Podcast. Just search for Scriptnotes Podcast. Leave us your review. We’d love that. Craig just — he stays up every night just reading reviews. It’s the only thing that keeps him going. You can find the notes for this episode at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts that goes about a week after the episode airs. We have all the back episodes of Scriptnotes. Now available at scriptnotes.net. And the first 300 episodes on the Scriptnotes USB drive so that you can click a link in the show notes to get to those. Grant Faulkner, thank you so much for being on the podcast this week.

Grant: Thank you, John.

John: Good luck with your book. Good luck with the month of November which you now own. So it’s going to be busy for you.

Grant: I hope you’re going to write a novel with us again this year, John.

John: I’m not going to write a whole novel, but I’m going to finish the second Arlo Finch in November.

Grant: Cool.

John: So that’s my goal and mission.

Grant: Great. Well, thanks too much for having me.

John: Okay. Thanks, Grant. Bye.

Grant: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes Voice: Snitching on Sexism

Mon, 10/23/2017 - 08:11

Daley Haggar shares her experience in the writers room. Originally posted on Lenny Letter.

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download this Scriptnotes Voice here.

Getting Stuff Written

Tue, 10/17/2017 - 08:03

John welcomes Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of NaNoWriMo and author of Pep Talks for Writers, to discuss the writing process and how to get out of your own way creatively.

We explore the ubiquity of the Other Syndrome and the perils of envy. We also look at pen names, “throw-away writing,” and the advantages of being a beginner.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 320: Should You Give Up? — Transcript

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 15:33

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So Craig and I recorded this episode almost a week ago. And a few things have happened since then. For starters, Harvey Weinstein. You know Craig has opinions about that so we’ll talk about that in a future episode.

Another thing that happened is that if you’re a screenwriter in the WGA West, you may have got an email from me and the WGA Board inviting you to a lunch to talk over screenwriter issues and this current state of the studio system.

There are five lunches conveniently located all over town, all happening this next month. So if you’ve got the email, please RSVP for one. I’ll be at two of the lunches, will even try to get Craig to come to one of them. So you can ask him in person for his Harvey Weinstein umbrage. Now, on with the episode.

Hello and welcome, my name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 320 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today’s episode consist entirely of listener questions. We’ll be talking about Bulgaria, Netflix and the quote-unquote, “growth mind set.”

Craig: Okay.

John: But I thought today, we’d start with the giant question we’ve never actually addressed. Craig, do you want to tackle this big question?

Craig: So we’re going to present to you this question as if somebody wrote it in, but really it’s an amalgam of the question we’ve been asked a million times. And it goes a little something like this:

“ Dear John and Craig, over the past few years I’ve written a couple of scripts, I think they’re pretty good. Some folks have read them but no one is busting down my door to make them.

“My question is, at what point do I throw in the towel and decide that maybe screenwriting isn’t going to work out for me. I always think back to my high school coach saying, ‘winners never quit and quitters never win.’ But that can’t be right, can’t it? At what point am I allowed to say, ‘enough’ and move on?”

Oof, heavy one.

John: Oh, this is a heavy one. And I think the question kind of underlying a lot of the conversations I have, you know throughout the time we’ve been doing this, even back when I first started answering questions on IMDb for, you know, about screenwriting. It’s like I’m doing this thing but it’s not really working or doesn’t seem to be working, can I stop doing it?

The first time actually I heard it’s actually asked of me were sort of like, you know, come back to me was we did a live show and I remember being at the WGA Theater and it’s afterwards that this guy came up and it’s like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that like I listened to your podcast says, that it be okay for me like to stop screenwriting?” And at first I was just like, “Oh that’s horrible.”

[laughs]

John: And he said no, no, no, it’s good. Like, you know, maybe realized that like screenwriting is not a thing I actually really want to do and I feel like talking about it but I don’t actually enjoy it. And he was happy and so it made me happy. And so I thought we’d dig into this sort of all of the issues bundled up here about, you know, this aspiration of screenwriting and when you’re allowed to give up that aspiration.

Craig: And in doing so, we are not just standing on but embracing, hugging this third rail especially in our culture today. David Zucker, his answer to this one is always when someone says, “Should I quit?” He should say, “Yes, you should quit.” And if you ignore that advice, you’re halfway there to making it. And that’s clever but it is essentially a spin on the kind of advice you get all the time which is non-advice, apologies to David.

Because really what people are saying is, you should definitely not quit if you’re going to make it, eventually. And if you do quit, we know for sure you’re not going to make it. So the real trick is can you tell if you’re going to make it or not? Well, no. Generally speaking, you can’t. However, I think that for a lot of people, they can probably tell if they’re not going to make it.

And so part of the trick here is to have a very honest self-appraisal of the work you’re doing and the kind of response it gets and ask yourself, “Okay, if this just landed in front of me in a mix of scripts that eventually got turned into movies, would it even feel like it belonged in the same world of these other scripts? Or do I have enough evidence that actually this is not something that I can do at that level?”

John: Yeah, there’s a quality of self-delusion, which is so crucial to you know any new endeavor. And so whether you’re doing a startup, you’re like you’re launching a new business, a new venture, you’re some sort of tech product that you’re going to put out there, there has to be some level of self-delusion where like, “I know there’s a way I can do this.”

And at a certain point, you have to sort of stop and assess like, “Am I just still doing this because of sort of the sunk cost fallacy, like, I’ve invested this much into it emotionally and sometimes financially that I just have to keep doing it? Or can I step back and take an honest assessment of this is how far I’ve gotten, this is not where I want to be.

The hardest I think to appreciate when you’re in the middle of something is the opportunity cost of the things you’re not doing because you keep trying to do this one thing.

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s one of the things where like, you know, if you are pursuing a career you don’t like, you’re just like, “Oh, but I could go off and do this other thing.” And okay, that’s great. You know, I can make that natural change. But with something like screenwriting, like, you might kind of like it. I mean, you might feel like it’s hard to sit down and write but like I feel like I’m doing something each time but all the time you’re spending trying to make it as a screenwriter or as an actor or a musician, there’s a lot of other careers which are so similar, that’s time could’ve been doing something else, something else you generally would enjoy and be good at.

I sat down for dinner this last week with CGP Grey who’s a great YouTuber and podcaster and he had a video out recently and one of the things he sort of touched on was this toxic idea of “follow your bliss” and basically, you know, that idea you should be delightfully happy doing whatever it is that you’re doing and it creates this system where you feel like, “Well, if I’m not doing the thing that I love most in the world, I’m a failure,” and this is sort of self-perpetuating cycle of like nothing will ever be good enough. And so–

Craig: Yeah.

John: It might be worth an assessment of like what is it that you actually enjoy? What are the sort of goals you have in your life and is screenwriting high on that list? Great, but if it’s not high on that list then maybe you do need to stop and really think about where you’re spending your hours of your day.

Craig: I agree. I have some practical advice for folks who are starting out or maybe are early on in their journey, and it’s to ask yourself a critical question. What is it that you are fantasizing about? If you’re fantasizing about being a writer, that is dangerous. What you should be fantasizing about is writing. The amount of times in any given year that I experienced, let’s just call it the nowness of being a screenwriter is very limited. Here and there we have a meeting where you’re a screenwriter or somebody who refers to you as a screenwriter or you get a call from somebody, but most of the time, the vast majority of the time, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, we’re writing.

It’s actually a life of action not of being a thing and I think that people think because of what they see which is the final product that you’re a thing. I am a writer. If your identity is invested in that, then it’s going to be very, very hard for you to, A, honestly asses your own work and, B, let it go if it’s not working. Because now you’ve entwined who you are with this imaginary position in the world. I don’t really feel like I have any position. What I do is write movies, but I don’t think about a position that I occupy. I think about the work I’m doing every day. So if you make it about the doing as opposed to the being, I think you’re already better off.

And the second thing I would suggest to people is that you remove any notion of romance from what it means to be a screenwriter. In reality, it is terribly unromantic. I would argue everything that we think of is being romantic, every occupation. If you actually do it, is not romantic. The joy you get from writing television scripts or movie scripts, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, is like the joy of being married for a long time which is something that you and I both know.

It is not the heady excitement of an early romance. It is not intoxication. It is that more subtle, calm satisfaction. It’s hard to describe, but it is not exciting in this fireworksy kind of way. And I think sometimes people are chasing that. If you’re comfortable with “I am writing and I don’t need it to be romantic, I just like writing” then you keep writing. And make sure that you’re supporting yourself or anyone that’s relying on you while you’re doing it however you need to, and then you’re fine and either it will or will not happen, but, for you, you’re writing and so you’re okay.

John: Craig, I think that noun versus verb distinction is crucial and when I see people who are so obsessed with the status or the image, the idea of themselves as a writer as opposed to the person who’s doing the writing, it’s very clear sort of where they’re at in their process. In talking about, though, that the verb is what it matters that the writing is what matters, I don’t want to, you know, have people give up on their business because writing is really hard and writing isn’t fun. It’s not fun. It is hard.

And so the day-to-day process of sitting down at the computer isn’t always a joy, and in fact it is often really difficult. Even the stuff that should be fun can be really difficult. So I’m here in London and we’re doing Big Fish and so we’re in the studio, we’re preparing to get to the stage and there are things you see as like, “Oh , I actually need to write something new here because that isn’t going to work the way we’re trying to do it now.” And so, you know, I’ll move from, like, being the writer or sitting at the table. I feel like, “Crap, I need to figure out how to write something here that’s going to make this all make sense.” And that’s — it’s pressure and it’s sort of exciting that’s also sort — it’s work and it’s not easy and so I don’t want anyone to decide like, “Well, I’m going to abandon this because I don’t like sitting down at the computer everyday to work.”

Craig: Right.

John: That’s probably most writers — most working writers you’re going to talk to are going to have similar experiences there.

Craig: Yeah, you don’t necessarily have a thrill when you start writing. However, if you can’t find a certain deep sense of, I don’t want to call it joy, but I think satisfaction is the right word.

John: Yeah.

Craig: If you can’t find the deep satisfaction once you’re going —

John: Yeah.

Craig: Then that’s a problem because I think that being a writer is a symptom of writing and a lot of people think that writing is a symptom of being a writer. I hear a lot of things like, “Well, I’m a writer so I have to write.”

No. No. No. I mean, look, if they killed my job tomorrow and I had to do something else, I wouldn’t eat a gun, you know? I would be bummed out because I do love writing on some sort of deep, non-romantic, satisfying level but it is not the only thing in the world. There are other things I love. There are other things you love. So it’s really about the process and finding your satisfaction with the process. No one can take that from you and in fact there are people that go to karaoke once a week without fail and they have the best time. They cannot sing at all. No one ever says, “You’re an idiot for enjoying that,” because they’re not. They’re enjoying it.

Maybe you love the process or, again, you find that deep satisfaction and you’re just not very good at it but it still gives you something good inside, keep doing it. The world will let you know one way or another if money is coming, but if it’s not and you’re enjoying it fine. If there is something else you can do that is as satisfying where you will be rewarded more, then it’s okay to go do that.

John: I completely agree. So there’s a bunch of little questions that came in that are about the same topics, so I thought we’d fold them into this discussion. Let’s start with Michael from LA who writes, “What’s your opinion on aspiring screenwriters who are not yet getting paid as a writer saying, quote, ‘I’m a writer or I’m a screenwriter,’ in conversation with a person not familiar with their occupation, without the aspiring modifiers/disclaimer?”

Craig, what do you think of aspiring writers saying I’m a screenwriter?

Craig: It’s a tough one. I remember never doing that. If somebody would say “What are you doing?” then I’d say, “Well, this is my job but I’m working on a screenplay.” I would say that because I felt like it was a little pretentious in the most specific form of that word like “I was pretending” in that sense. You know, you can say you’re a painter but if you’re just painting on your own and no one is asking you to paint anything for them, you’re kind of a painter, but not the way people think of painters.

And so it’s a little bit — I mean, look, in the end it really is all about intent. If you are humble and you acknowledge where you are and you’re not trying to impress somebody or put one over on them or puff yourself up, then it’s okay. But if you feel like you need to say this to impress other people or to impress yourself, then I think you have a noun-verb problem.

John: Yeah, the noun-verb is the great distinction there, so I would always say identify yourself by your day job and then you can talk about that you’re also writing and then it’s fine to sort of transition the conversation about the writing that you’re doing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: When I talk to people at conferences and stuff, I will often ask like what are you writing because I’ll assume like if they’re here they’re probably a screenwriter and like it’s a natural thing to start talking about the work rather than sort of like “What have you actually gotten produced?”

Craig: I remember when I was first out in Los Angeles. I was 21 and you remember the 21 parties, John, when you were 21 in Los Angeles?

John: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Craig: You’d end up in like someone’s bad apartment, like, jammed onto their balcony. Everyone drinking cheap beer and everyone is 21 and everyone is just reeking of desperation. Everyone is trying to get into this business and we’re all feeling each other out and everything. It’s a weird time. And I met this guy, I was just chitchatting with him and, you know, I didn’t know what he did. I don’t know — he didn’t know what I did and then someone else came over and then they asked this guy, “So what do you do?” And he said, “I’m a successful screenwriter.”

And I mean, I couldn’t believe it and I thought “If he is a successful screenwriter, what’s wrong with him? How do you become a successful screenwriter if you’re so bad at words that you would think that would be a good answer to that question?” [laughs] So then later I looked him up and no, he wasn’t. And, you know, it took me a while to kind of get over the 21-year-old umbrage into the more mellow middle age umbrage which was — not even umbrage, more, honestly, pity. You’re scared, you’re insecure, and you’re desperate for people to know that once somebody paid you 10 grand to do something, but it’s not a good look.

John: No. Not a good look at all. Ryan has a question which is “I have one issue that grinds my ears. Several times Craig has talked about the potential success of aspiring screenwriters in terms of quote, ‘having it or not having it.’ I think this is a toxic idea. I think the skills that have made you and Craig successful screenwriters can be learned. This is the difference between the growth mindset that says that skills, traits, intelligence are not fixed but are instead subject to be learned through effort, experience and training versus the fixed mindset which suggest that skills and traits are innate, we are just born with them. Craig, do you want to tackle the growth mindset?

Craig: Yeah, I feel like Ryan is script-splaining to us here. [laughs] You know, he’s explaining to us why we’re successful like your theory of why you’re successful is not at all correct actually. Oh, John, you know, I’m so woke.

John: Yeah, I’m very woke. Yeah.

Craig: John, I’m so woke. Oh my god, I’m the wokest. Right, so Ryan, I think actually what you’re suggesting is the toxic idea. Now, this should not be shocking to you. You probably knew this was coming, but it’s okay that we disagree. Here’s where I think you’re going wrong. You’re kind of engaging in the either-or fallacy. You’re saying, “Look, it’s not that you have it or don’t have it. It’s then you — and that the skills, traits and talent aren’t fixed, instead you learn them through effort and experience in training.” And so it’s that or the fixed mindset, and what I say is you have to have both. This is the worst news of all really. I believe that, of course, there is an innate talent to any form of artistic expression. I can’t necessarily prove this to you other than to say that if you’ve ever sat in a class in 3rd grade and everyone is asked to draw a picture of a clown, one kid’s clown is going to be fricking awesome and then one kind’s clown is going to, and mine, is going to look like this pathetic collection of squiggles to the extent that people might wonder if perhaps this 9-year-old child had suffered a stroke in the middle of it, okay?

There is a talent to artistic expression. It is innate. It is not in of itself enough. And when it comes to writing which is something that is influenced repeatedly by an expanding vocabulary and an expanding philosophy and an expansion of your human experience, absolutely you begin to grow as a writer. Effort and training and learning lessons and falling down and getting up and avoiding pitfalls because you’ve fallen into the pits, all part of it. But writing apparently is the one area where people say, “Unlike athletes or painters or singers, you folks, you just — you can grind your way to this,” and no, not even remotely.

Why — John, do you think it’s because everyone can write something so is that the confusion?

John: I think that is, because if you look at the other examples you listed so a singer and athlete, there’s a physical quality to them that is different than other people. So, you know, singers may have these remarkable vocal abilities that could be sort of how they are born and this is the reason why singing can run in the families. There’s — if you look at, you know, athletes, sometimes if it’s a case like basketball like height is a true advantage.

Craig: Right.

John: But there’s also marathon runners or sprinters. They’re just built in a certain way that is incredibly helpful for the sport that they’re trying to do, but at no point are we ever expecting like, oh, that person is always going to be that fast. He doesn’t need coaching. He doesn’t need any sort of training. He doesn’t any sort of —

Craig: Right.

John: Practice to do that stuff like, in fact, all we do if we talk about athletes is practice and training. And so while, yes, I think, you know, the practice of writing and the constant feedback can improve a person’s writing, and I’ve seen it time and time again. There’s also a reality check of, like, there are some people who are not going to be fantastic writers, and that doesn’t mean we should give up on them or sort of, you know, move away from them but to acknowledge that like there are some people for whom writing comes naturally and they can become better. And these people for whom writing is really a struggle and they can get better, but they’re probably not going to ever get up to the level of the people who is really great for. One of the other–

Craig: Terrible. You know, it’s okay to say these things.

John: Yeah, one of the things that I think is interesting about screenwriting as opposed to writing novels or other works is that because screenwriting is just this intermediate step towards making a movie, it’s conceivable to be a person who is, like, pretty good at throwing things on the page that will ultimately become a movie. There’s a lot of sort of writer-directors who are kind of really directors who are not fantastic writers and they made stuff happen and so there’s — you see like a whole class of people who are moving into screenwriting not really with the goals of, you know, writing the best thing on the page possible but just do like “I want to make a movie” and that that weird transitional thing is what’s odd about the career that we’ve chosen.

Craig: Yeah, I think that there is a flipside to what Ryan is suggesting, and I find it a little troubling, and that is that if what he’s saying is true then to all the thousands of people that are working very, very hard to try and sell screenplays and become professional screenwriters, well, they’re just not working hard enough apparently or they haven’t taken the right class or they haven’t read the right book. The point is there’s a thing to do and when they do that thing then they too will be like you, John. I think that that’s a rough thing to say to those people, because I think they’re trying incredibly hard.

I think that there is an industry of people who want them to believe what Ryan is saying: that they’re one book away, they’re one seminar away and there are quite a lot of film schools that are peddling the same thing. But the fact is that you and I, both, and honestly, anyone that’s every read any screenplays has certainly come across a screenplay where you think, right, this person should not be doing this at all. And there is no version where someone can come along like Henry Higgins and get this Eliza Doolittle to suddenly be something that she wasn’t in the beginning, because it’s not about learning how to pronounce your Hs and not go “aw.” It’s talent. Talent is a thing. It’s okay.

People — it’s one of the best parts of life. I am fascinated when I meet people who have these talents for things. I mean, you and I both worked with musicians. When I sit with Jeanine Tesori and I watch what she does on the piano, and I watch how her mind works, and I watch how she is doing a different kind of — a different kind of writing in her mind with a different grammar and when she does these things, I just think what a gift that I get to be here and watch it because in a million years I couldn’t do it. And I’m a musical person, but she’s got something else and it was certainly there from the start. How could it not have been?

John: But saying that it was there from the start does not negate that she’s not spent years of doing this and–

Craig: Right.

John: Learning this and teaching herself, and so it is both but there was something there to start with, I fundamentally believe.

Craig: Absolutely. Absolutely.

John: A question from Nate in LA. He writes, I moved to LA two years ago. In that time, I’ve managed to form genuine friendships with a handful of professional writers whose work I respect and whose careers I admire. So my question is, is there a reasonable way to ask them to read my work? These people know that I hope to write for TV, but so far none of them have offered to read my scripts or pass them along to agents or managers. I don’t want to soil the friendships by asking them point blank to do this, but, at the same time, I realized it’s a business of who you know and I actually know people who are situated where I would like to be someday. Do you have any suggestions for tactful and non-friendship risking ways of asking them for help with my career, or should I just keep things casual and wait for it to happen organically?

Craig: Well, this is a good question. When you’re talking about writers — so most writers aren’t going to be able to hire you to write something because they’re writing things, you know, so it’s a slightly different thing than if you were to say, you know, ask somebody whose job is to hire people or represent writers and so on and so forth. I think if you’re going to ask a writer, one way you could always say is, “Hey, I would love for you to read this, but I know what that means and I know nobody wants to read anything and I respect that because I don’t either.”

“So I’ll tell you what? I’d love to give you five pages, and you are allowed to just — that’s it. I’m not going to bother you about it. I’m literally going to give you five pages and I will never mention it again. Either you are going to come back to me and say “I want to read the rest of it” or you are going to come back to me and say “I’m not — I don’t want to read the rest of it but here’s what I think about the five pages” or you’ll never mention it again or you’ll never read it. I’m okay with that, but would you be okay with that deal?” I think most people would say, “Yeah, I’d be okay with that.”

John: There’s an episode in the bonus episodes of scriptnotes.net where I sit down and talk to Drew Goddard and talk through sort of how he kind of got started and it sounds sort of like what Nate was doing. And so Drew had been working as a PA on films shooting in New Mexico. He moved to Los Angeles. He didn’t really know anybody, but sort of started sort of picking up friendships with people, started hosting game nights with other writers and eventually people started reading him and eventually said like, “Hey, why don’t you come in and we can see if we can get you staffed on this show.”

It organically did happen, but it felt like what was crucial was he was never pushing it. And I think Nate has a good sense of like not wanting to push it or ruin it, but at the same time you can’t sit back forever and like not–

Craig: Right.

John: You know, not put it out there as a thing that could happen. The way you described it, Craig, is a term we coined around the lunch table — you’re sort of doing a pre-traction where like in saying — you’re actually retracting it as you’re saying it like, you know, “I know this is really a bad idea but” — or “I know it’s weird for me to be putting this out there but if you would ever like to read something I’d love to hear your feedback on it.” That’s totally fine and fair and natural to do.

So Nate, I think you’re right in the right spot in terms of figuring out how much to push and how much to sit back.

Craig: Certainly the tenor of Nate’s question is a good sign.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So he seems to be aware of what other people might be thinking or feeling, which is it turns out as one of the talents of being a writer. And I would say also, Nate, that when you have a relationship with somebody that is based on more than you want something or they want something or what they do for a job or what you do for a job but rather you’ve worked on something together or you have helped them or anything, then in that context things are different, because most people are decent. I believe that. And most people want to help somebody, and if you’ve been a good guy then I think there is — you know, there is a reason that people might go, “Yeah, you know what? You’re a good guy. Sure. Sure.” Not always but I think, yeah, sure.

John: Sure.

Craig: Sure.

John: Do you want to take this last question from this batch? This is Chaz from Glasgow.

Craig: Right, so Chaz from Glasgow says, “I’ve recently started writing everyday for the first time in a number of years. I’ve got a degree in scriptwriting and filmmaking, but in the six years since I completed my course I’ve bouncing from job to job and can’t seem to hold one down. I also have a criminal record so I can’t enter the United States. But anyway” — this is a great transition. But anyway enough about that.

“Is there much of a point in continuing screenwriting with my limited experience and general F-ed upness? I can imagine why no studio would want anything to do with me.” Well, Chaz is in a little bit of a bind here. What do you think, John?

John: Chaz shouldn’t sell himself short in terms of like “No studio would want to deal with me.” I think some people might find it fascinating that you have a criminal record. But I think he raises a good point overall. It’s like, if he’s in Glasgow, it sounds like it’s going to be hard for him to travel to the US. If he’s serious about filmmaking, he needs to be looking for stuff he can do in Scotland and stuff he can do in Europe so that it’s actually a possible thing.

I would also just say though, if he’s writing every day and he seems to generally enjoy writing, write some things that are not movies so you can actually see those things come to light. Like, write a book. Write short stories. Write something else that’s not movies if you’re really concerned that movies or TV are not going to be a thing that’s going to be possible for you based on what’s happened in your life and the challenge of trying to get outside of Scotland.

Craig: Yeah. That’s all great advice. I mean, look, here’s the good news, Chaz, writing is writing, right? So, your script can enter the United States and a good script is a good script. People will want it. Here’s what concerns me a little bit. You say that you’ve been bouncing from job to job and can’t seem to hold one down. And it doesn’t sound like you’re saying you’re bouncing from screenwriting job to screenwriting job. You’re bouncing from regular job to regular job, and can’t seem to hold one down.

Now, there may be other things going on in your life here that are causing some distress or keeping you kind of on a stable path. As it turns out, the only way to be a consistent, successful writer is to live a very — well, just kind of a rigid life. It requires a certain stable, patterned, consistent nose to the grindstone, disciplined life. And if you have trouble living that way, it’s going to be difficult to be a screenwriter at the very least. There are other kinds of writing that can be done by people who aren’t quite as patterned and disciplined in their daily work. But screenwriting, a bit tougher. Because unlike novels where it’s just you and your mind and you go as you wish, in screenwriting, you’re constantly being held accountable to what will ultimately be a crew of many hundreds of people as well as a studio chockfull of employees and then, ultimately, audiences.

So, I’m not sure, based on what you’re saying here, that screenwriting is necessarily the most compatible thing for you. But if you’re really good at it, you should just keep doing it. That’s the thing. The only other thing I’d mention to you is you don’t say what the crime is, just that you have a criminal record. Some crimes are — you know, you’ve paid your debt to society, you have a record, people understand and they evaluate your script without putting it in the context of your past.

There are other crimes that are a little more difficult. There are certain crimes that people consider, I think rightly, to be horrible. And if you have committed one of those, then people may be very reluctant to get into business with you. The thing about show business is it’s a very public business. So they don’t necessarily want, you know, a murderer. I’m not suggesting that that’s what you’ve done, Chaz. But I think, Chaz, I think you know what I’m talking about, the kind of crimes I’m talking about. I think you get it. But, no, if you were involved in a breaking and entering 10 years ago, I don’t think that’s an issue.

John: I agree with you. Craig, I do want to push back about sort of like “Writers have to have a stable life so they can have sort of a steady way of getting those words done every week.” I feel like I know a fair number of writers who don’t have a particularly stable life, who are the sort of like catch-as-catch-canning and like they will bunker down and get a bunch of stuff done and then they’ll just sort of go off the reservation for some weeks.

And I would say, yes, it’s more challenging to be a screenwriter that way because people are kind of counting on you a little bit more. But there’s a lot of kind of not particularly stable people who do the kinds of jobs that we do. So, I would try and figure out sort of what percentage of the writers I know I would say like, “Oh, their life is really well put together.”

Craig: Well, maybe I’ll shape it a little bit here and I don’t know if this will bring you closer to where I’m thinking or not, but it’s not so much their lives have to be stable, in a sense that they have healthy, stable relationships with another person like a partner in their home, or that they’re well dressed, or that they don’t drink too much, none of that. What I’m really saying is the writing part of their life is somewhat stable, that they get the writing done.

John: Yeah. Okay. That’s fair. And probably more so in screenwriting than in like sort of the classic person who goes off and — the songwriter can have a very chaotic life because there’s not that expectation of like, every day, I have to generate like this many verses. That can be just you can get a bunch of stuff done and then not do it again for a year.

Craig: Right.

John: The screenwriting is — I guess because you’re going to be writing such long documents that if you are not able to actually sit down and finish a long document, it won’t ever happen.

Craig: Yeah. That’s kind of what I’m getting at.

John: Cool. All right, some other questions that came in that we might tackle.

Craig: All right.

John: Josh from Albuquerque writes, “I have a question regarding the Paramount Decree which has been discussed a few times in recent episodes. How can Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon act as producers, distributors, and exhibitors while major Hollywood studios cannot? I understand the simple legal answer is that they are not, quote-unquote, ‘theaters.’ However, could you see a time in the next decade when streaming services become so dominant that the Supreme Court rules as an antitrust sort of Netflix Decree, or is the current entertainment landscape so broad, from movies to TV, videogames, YouTube, that we’ll never see another monopolization like there was during the Golden Age?”

Craig: Well, Josh, I don’t think that this is going to happen with, say, an antitrust Netflix Decree kind of thing, and here’s why. The whole point of the Paramount Decree was there are a bunch of theaters in the United States, they are physical spaces. And if the studios own those theaters, then no other studio can really come into be because a studio requires a theater to show its product and all the theaters are owned by these companies. A theater can’t exist just by showing a new company’s films because there won’t be enough. So, essentially, it was an anti-competitive practice.

None of that really applies to the internet, because there is an unlimited distribution space. Netflix is incredibly popular because people like their shows and certainly, there are a number of large players out there, all of which are owned by multinational conglomerates. But, someone can come along and start showing other movies on their platform if they can afford to license them and distribute them, and there is no physical space that they’re being locked out of.

Where it gets a little dicey is if, say, Warner Bros. which owns HBO said, “The only place we’re ever going to put any Warner Bros. movies is on HBO.” Then you could say, “Well, HBO has an unfair advantage.” The problem though is that other movie studios are going to put all their movies on these other things and Warner Bros. is going to start losing money because other people want Warner Bros. movies on platforms other than HBO.

So it does seem like right now, the kind of vibe is that things get spread around. The original content on Netflix just being on Netflix I don’t think is enough, frankly, for an antitrust Netflix Decree.

John: Yeah. I think it’s worth stepping back and taking a look at — so the Paramount Decree, you had limited physical spaces where those movies could be shown and that kind of vertical integration made it impossible for some — for a movie to break in to those spaces.

If you look at sort of how FinCEN worked in television where studios could not own networks and so that there had to be some difference of relationship, that all broke down — there was a sense of, like, there was limited space out there because we were on the airwaves, and so there could only be a certain number of channels. That sort of all fell away as cable rose.

And Josh’s question points out like, you know, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon act as producers, distributors, and exhibitors, well, really, so does Disney. I mean, Disney has its own channels that it’s putting stuff through. It’s already murkier than that. Where I think the interesting thing that’s going to happen down the road is the question of our antitrust laws, our ideas of monopolies just are from a very different era.

And so, if you look at the Amazons and sort of like how powerful they are and how much they can sort of use their incredible dominance in one area just to sort of move into another area into another area, that could become a factor as we look at media things down the road. But I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the test basically is not whether or not you’re a monopoly. Antitrust laws do not proscribe monopolies as far as I understand them. What they do is say “You cannot be anti-competitive.” So, if you’re a monopoly but you’re doing nothing to stifle the natural birth of new competition, I think you’re okay.

So, Microsoft, for instance, was a monopoly. They were the operating system monopoly, essentially. They vanquished Apple. And so, now, Windows was by far the dominant operating system. And that was okay until they created a new product that was a browser. And they weren’t the first browser. There was an incredibly popular browser out there called Mozilla which became Firefox and that was the dominant browser in the market. And then, Microsoft said, “You know what? Let’s leverage the monopoly we have on operating systems and force people — not really force them, but basically channel them towards our new browser called Explorer.” And that’s called bundling. And that got them into hot water.

If Amazon starts doing things like that or if Netflix starts doing things like that, then, yeah, definitely they’ll catch the eye of the Feds. Maybe not in this administration, but, you know, in a reasonable one. [laughs]

John: And the other thing to look for is classically in the US, antitrust concerns come over like whether prices are rising for consumers, and which seem to be a very natural way to sort of look at it. A weird thing that happened though is you look at Amazon’s dominance in e-books, and so, Amazon with the Kindle and controlling a vast percentage of the digital market there. When Apple came in with iBooks, really, it was Apple who was the one who got slammed by unfair —

Craig: Right.

John: — business practices because they cut deals with the publishers. Zooming out, it looks like the energy was misplaced by our regulators because you actually want competition and they were slammed for basically trying to create competition. So, that’s another kind of situation where I could see down the road these giant media companies jockeying for space, that kind of friction could happen.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, price-fixing is another big part of this sort of thing. But, I think, Josh, I think they’re kind of in safe — they’re in safe places right now.

We’ve got something here from Mike in London who writes, “I’m working on a script at the moment where there are lots of characters who feature more prominently later on in the film, but I also want to make sure that they are in earlier scenes. These earlier scenes include lots of people like weddings or other mass gatherings, but I find that putting them all in action lines pulls focus a little bit. There are only so many times I can write ‘Bob and Julie are also here. You’ll hear more about them later.’ And then, Bob and Julie are also present. So, for times like this, would it be acceptable to include some kind of note that simply says, ‘X character is present in scenes X, Y, and Z’? I just feel it would make it a little clearer.”

“Also, there are some specific notes I have regarding costumes and how they should deteriorate as the play goes on. Would something like this be okay to write in some kind of note section at the start of the script? I guess my questions both revolve around notes and whether it’s okay to include them or whether it steps on too many toes and I should just assume they’re unnecessary.”

John?

John: It’s a very good question and I’ve definitely been in a situation where there’s characters who become important later on but they would have been in earlier scenes. I don’t have sort of one great blanket answer for you. I would say most movies do not find that they need to do this kind of thing where there’s sort of a meta note outside of the script that sort of says like, “These characters are in these things.”

But, if what you’re trying to do, it is just really clunky and sort of like include them in every scene or like call them out in every scene, then I have done it in my own scripts. Like, a little sort of bracketed note to sort of say like, “This is a meta note. Like, these characters are in the next seven scenes or like they’re in all the scenes that take place here, but I’m not going to single them out each time.” I would never say the “I’m”. But like, “The viewer will see these people and they’re going to become important later on.” That’s entirely fair.

This thing about costumes deteriorating, my instinct would be to just clock it along the way so that three scenes in, have some reason to say that his thing has gotten worse.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That his jacket is falling apart. But I wouldn’t sort of bring it out because that does feel too much like you’re just having a sidebar with the wardrobe department.

Craig: Correct. You don’t want to feel like you are having sidebars really mostly because it’s taking people out of the world of the movie, and you’re trying to show them a movie with your words. I wonder how frequently these characters need to be in these scenes.

What’s catching me a little bit is that you’re saying they’re in these scenes, but they feature prominently later on. Well, what are they doing in these scenes exactly? If they’re just passing by in the background, then, I think it’s fair to just say, “In the first time, in the background we’ll see so and so. We will see them later or we’ll hear more about them later,” like you say, and then just not mention them again because if you’re not making a point of looking at them in these subsequent scenes, do they even need to be there at all?

If you are going to put the camera on them, then there should be a reason that the camera is on them. If they’re literally just moving like background artists — and I’m just kind of wondering if we’ll even notice them at all. So I would suggest to you that maybe for some of these areas, you may have a decision to make about whether you really need them there or not. And if you do and you want the camera on them, give me a purpose for that camera there.

Lastly, I would say the one thing you should never worry about is stepping on too many toes. It’s your script, step away.

John: Yeah. I think one of the things we’re hitting on here is that Mike is looking at his script as being the blueprint. And like, if this were a blueprint for building a building, you cannot leave out those incredibly important like rafters and girders. But this is still like a reading document. So, make sure that it reads naturally and cleanly.

And so, in doing so, you may leave out some details that will become important for the AD later on, but you have to have trust and faith that, like, those other professionals who are going to be working on actually making this movie, they’ll have those conversations and figure out like, “Oh, do we want those characters in that scene?”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, you don’t have to sort of worry about like everything being incredibly logic’d out at this stage.

Craig: Yeah, and you’re right. If you have this note that you think is important, save it, wait for the green light, then send it to the production staff.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And then they’ll know.

John: Ben in Colorado writes, “A question for John. In the writing and editing Scriptnotes, Craig mentions the dangers of auteurism in modern filmmaking. As someone who’s worked successfully with one of the great modern auteurs in Tim Burton, what is your experience with auteurism as a very successful screenwriter?” And I would say you also have worked with some filmmakers who have a very distinct style, so like, you know, working on the Zucker brothers movies.

Craig: Right.

John: Like that’s a person who has a very distinct style.

Craig: Or Todd Phillips, same thing.

John: Todd Phillips, another great choice. I would say one of the remarkable advantages of coming in, working with somebody who has a very distinct style and a very distinct cannon of work is that you can come in with a sense of like “These are the things that are going to be interesting to him, and these are the things where I know he can sort of knock this stuff out of the park.” And so that is a great luxury to sort of come in with a set of expectations that you can sort of push beyond. And so, you know, the first time I’m sitting down to write I guess Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the first new thing I’ve written for Tim, I can approach that meeting with like, “Okay, these are some things I think he’s going to really respond to just based on like all the other movies of his that I’ve seen.” And that is really, really helpful.

Auteursim as a general concept, for me, is just — it can be frustrating to see people write about auteurs as if everything they’ve done is entirely through their work and that there really were no other people involved in those things. That sense of like it’s just of this one sole creator behind stuff. And yet, I would say the process, at least for me working with Tim Burton movies, has been really great because you have a director who knows very much what he wants.

Craig: It feels sometimes that people confuse auteurism as it was originally imagined, meaning the director is the single creative authorship voice behind a movie with directors who have distinct styles.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Having a distinct style doesn’t necessarily make you an auteur, particularly when you’re a director that’s not writing at all. Now, if you’re a director that writes and directs your own material, I think you can start to make arguments about this. But if you have a distinct style, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an auteur per se.

But in talking about directors who do have a specific style, I couldn’t agree more with John. There is such a relief, a burden lifted, when you’re sitting with a director whose style is unique to that person enough that when they say “That’s not going to work but this will” you don’t have to wonder if they’re right or not. They’re right because they’re making — because Todd Phillips is making a Todd Phillips movie and David Zucker is making a David Zucker movie.

There are directors that make all sorts of different kinds of movies and they don’t have this really clear distinct sharp style which is perfectly fine. Some of my favorite directors are like that. But then when they say, well, I’m not sure about this, I’m not sure about that, well, okay, let’s discuss it. But when somebody with a distinct style like Tim Burton says, “That is not — I don’t think that’s good for me at all,” there’s really no argument because what he’s saying is that’s not part of the Tim Burton thing. So then you’d be Tim Burton-splaining to Tim Burton which is just what’s the point, right? [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: But then the greatest part is when they’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s going to work.” You think to yourself, “It’s going to work.”

John: One of the greatest moments in any pre-production I’ve done with Tim is I’ll go into his office and I’ll see like tacked upon on all the walls are watercolors of like different characters and the different stuff, the, you know, different sets. And it’s like, oh, okay, this has been processed through his brain. He knows how to do all this. This is going to be great. This is — there’s a plan for this. Like this is all making sense.

And I agree with you that sometimes you talk with an author who has a whole bunch different styles and those first, you know, three weeks of meetings with them is basically them figuring out sort of like what kind of movie they’re making in general.

Craig: Right.

John: And that’s great. That’s can be a part of the process, but, you know, when you have somebody who has a very distinctive voice and style, you can skip past along that and that’s incredibly helpful.

Craig: Yeah, I mean the flipside of course is that directors like that often as much as you love them and love working with them, you know that okay, well, this material — no, like you write things and you will, okay, the one person I know I cannot give this to is Tim Burton, he’ll hate it and it’s not at all what he does. Whereas I know some directors who I think “I bet you could probably direct anything assuming you wanted to, there’s nothing I would limit from you.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that’s — so I — you know, I never want to feel like I’m over praising the stylist, the unique stylist in any way that diminishes the other directors because I think I just — anybody that does a good job directing is a little miracle for me and so I’m just happy to know them all.

John: I agree. All right, last question comes from Andreas in Norway. He writes, “I’ve seen quite a lot of different takes about how a car chase is written especially in terms of formatting choices and the layout of the structure. For example, keeping the exterior to simply read ‘road’ and using terms of like ‘on a Land Rover’ or ‘on the Ford’ to shift the focus of the reader. I’d like to hear your guys’ takes on writing car chases.”

Craig: Yeah. I mean look — and car chases are like any other action sequence in that what you’re describing ultimately needs to be focused through the lens of humans making decisions and the world impacting them. So you’re making a chase and you’re trying to define it by what the character behind each wheel is thinking and doing. And then if a boulder rolls into the road, obviously you need to call that out as well. But “on the Land Rover,” “on the Ford,” “behind this,” “inside of this,” all that punchy kind of vibrant kinetic language I think is a perfectly good way to move around. You certainly don’t want to be languid. Your writing kind of needs to match the vibe of the score you would imagine playing under your scene.

John: One of the questions Andreas is trying to ask there is like, “Do I have to go INT/EXT for every time I go inside and outside of the car?” And that will kill you if you try to do that too much.

Craig: Oh god, the worst. The worst.

John: And so if every other line is a new INT or EXT, then people stop reading. So that’s where you use — getting down to single lines, getting to the “on the Ford”s. You know, let it feel like just the flow of what it would actually look like on the screen, but don’t get trapped inside of where we’re at in cars. It’s going to be intercut anyways. So just feel that energy as you’re writing the scene.

Craig: Well, that’s exactly the point. Look, the whole purpose of interior and exterior is not to satisfy some sort of format god in the sky. It’s there to help production understand what kind of lights are we using, because is it night or is it day, are we inside or are we outside, all that stuff, right? Once you establish the car chase, which is certainly going to occur in real time. You know, it’s not like — people don’t montage a car chase over the course of a day and a night. It would be kind of cool, I suppose, if they did. But typical car chase takes place in roughly real time in a movie. So once you establish “exterior,” so we’re not car chasing inside, which has happened for instance in the Blues Brothers, and what time of day it is, you’re done. You gave them the information they need. And now, what they really need to know is, “Okay, what car am I looking at and am I inside of it or outside of it while you’re describing things so that I get a sense of the geography and the movement?” Simple as that.

John: Yeah. I said the last thing was the last question, but in this setup, I said Bulgaria, so I wanted to get to this–

Craig: You promised us Bulgaria, John. So Peter in Bulgaria did write in to say, I’m a white male from Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU. Am I a diverse writer?

Craig: [laughs] Yeah. I mean, look, this whole diverse writer thing, no, on one hand, if you’re talking about programs that are targeted to diverse writers in the United States, we’re not talking about white men from Bulgaria. That’s not to say that being in white man in Bulgaria is easy or that, frankly, being a human being anywhere isn’t easy because everybody’s got their own story and some people have it great and some people don’t. But specifically speaking for those programs, no. They’re not talking about white men from Bulgaria.

However, in the larger sense of things, obviously, your unique situation helps inform who you are and makes you interesting, certainly more interesting than a white male from Sherman Oaks, California. Lastly, I would say to you, Peter, don’t worry about that because the deal is this: people get wrapped up in this stuff and they forget that the reason that these programs exist is because the numbers are stark and clear. More white males are working at these jobs than not white males. So if you’re worried about the statistics, well, they’re still in your favor I guess is how I would put it as a white male. They’re still out of whack. I think people get really hung up on this stuff.

And I understand it, we’ve talked about it before from an emotional level. You never want to feel like you’re being judged for your race. Ironically, that’s exactly what’s going on regardless and that’s what some of these programs are trying to combat. So don’t get hung up on it, Peter in Bulgaria. The thing that you should be hung up on is writing something terrific. There is nothing that will stop a wonderful script, nothing. It continues to be, and I believe always has been, the single best way to get into the entertainment business.

John: Absolutely. Last bit is just actually follow-up. So in the previous episode, we talked about Exposition News as Craig called it. This is where you turn — there’s a cliché of turning on the TV to find it playing exactly the news story you needed at the moment. And so I was pretty sure that other shows had — or maybe said call it out as a thing and of course they did and of course our listeners are the best listeners. So they point to at least four examples of this being done. So we’re going to slice in at the end of the episode some examples of this. So, from Arrested Development, from Community, from The Simpsons, and from Shaun of the Dead. So you’ll hear snippets of how other shows have tackled that trope.

Craig: I think my favorite of them was the Arrested Development one because it was so awkward. [laughs] Loved it.

John: It goes on and on, yeah.

Craig: I just loved it.

John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things.

Craig: Yay.

John: My One Cool Thing is a thing that has actually been out for a while, but I had not known about it until I listened and clicked through a different story. So the BBC added Nigerian Pidgin as one of the languages that they have stories in on their website. And so, then I fell down a deep rabbit hole of like figuring out, like, what is Nigerian Pidgin.

And so, Nigerian Pidgin is a form of English but it’s not quite English, that’s spoken in that portion of Africa and linguists could argue whether it’s a Creole or a Pidgin because there are second generations that are speaking it. It’s still sort of this being formed kind of language. But it’s really fascinating, so I’ll put a link in the show notes to the BBC site for Pidgin.

And you can see the stories and like, you look at it, it’s like, “Oh, that’s English,” and then you’re like, “Wait, no, that’s not quite English.” You can sort of understand it, but some verbs are just working very differently. I thought it was fantastic and I thought it was, you know — as you read more about sort of like how they figured out how they were going to do it and how to sort of formalize and standardize some things that are still very nascent, just hats off to the BBC for this sort of new venture into Pidgin.

Craig: I love that word. I’ve always loved that word, Pidgin. When I was a kid, I had a little paperback book — I think I might have even gotten it from the Scholastic Book Club — that would teach you Hawaiian Pidgin. That was the first Pidgin I had heard about and the first time someone had said that to me, of course I thought it was pigeon like the bird. And in my mind still, it’s sort of pigeon like the bird.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they–

John: Two different words.

Craig: And it eternally shall be.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, I have a related One Cool Thing. How odd. My One Cool Thing is a real-life Babel fish. So, if you’re a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which you should be, then you know about Douglas Adams’ famous science fiction fantasy invention, the Babel fish, which solved this really annoying problem that Star Trek and other shows have solved by simply ignoring which is, why does everybody talk English across the galaxy? And his solution was this tiny little fish that you would stick in your ear and it would just automatically translate things back and forth. Wonderful.

Well, Google — you’ve heard of this small company — they have come up with these things — well, I mean, they kind of ripped them off from the Apple ear buds, you know, the new AirPod things where, okay, they’ve taken the headphone jack out of their new Pixel phone. But their little ear bud things connect to it and they flawlessly use Google Translate. So the idea is you hold your phone up, right, and someone is speaking in Spanish, your phone hears it, does a Google Translate on the fly and pipes that into your ear.

And as we have discussed before, Google Translate has sort of taken these huge leaps because of the new way that they’re processing it with the neural net. And right now, they have 40 different languages. It’s pretty bananas. And you can presume that if this works even okay, that means in 10 years, it’s going to be fricking awesome and everywhere, and then, then the world gets really interesting.

John: Yeah. That really will make a huge difference, because there definitely — like, you know, this last year, that I was living in Europe. You know, so in France, we can speak French and it was fine and it was easy. And then, you know, Germany, everybody speaks English okay. Even Athens, everyone speaks English. But then as we made our way out of central Greece and into the mountains, there were definitely some times where it’s like, wow, we were just having to communicate on really basic levels.

I remember going into a restaurant and trying to sort of start and they’re like, “No, no. Stop, stop, stop,” and then they hold up their phone and like they’re calling the one guy in town who can speak English, who then runs in and is like, “Oh, hi. Let me help you.” To be able to move past that I think will be fantastic. And there’s definitely, you know, amazing opportunities for letting people venture deeper into places where there’s not going to be anybody who could speak the same language.

Craig: I agree. I mean, that’s the key. It’s when we get rid of the language barrier finally, then a lot, I think, of the misery of separation begins to go away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Not all of it, mind you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, I still hear people speaking English and saying insanely awful things.

John: Yeah. Weirdly, on a daily basis we’re hearing that.

Craig: [laughs] Yeah, sometimes at the highest levels. But I think it would help a lot and it would — look, more communication is only a good thing, I think. So this is an exciting thing. And, you know, unfortunately, it looks like it is only available on their phone, which, mind you, could be a possible antitrust thing if it gets big enough. Like, no, it’s going to be everywhere, pal. So let’s see what happens.

John: That sounds very exciting. Before we wrap up, I want to make sure that we’ve drawn a good enough bow around the — the fundamental question of the episode is, should you give up? And I hope that in talking about that question, we have not sort of inspired people to, you know, give up on their dreams, but to maybe like set themselves free of this vision of like, “Oh, I have to be a screenwriter or I’m going to be unhappy in my life.”

It was interesting. This last week, I was here in London talking at the London Screenwriters’ Festival and they had this special coffee thing. And I spoke to a couple of people who were like, they just like the show. Like, they were Scriptnotes fans who like the show and they like listening to us talk about stuff, who was like, “Yeah, I have no aspiration of actually writing a screenplay.” And that’s fine, too. It’s okay to not be a screenwriter, I guess, is what I’ve come back to.

Craig: That’s exactly right. And it’s okay also to write screenplays without necessarily insisting upon yourself that they must sell. Those things are going to happen, or they’re not going to happen. And while you can help it with a certain amount of effort, at some point, the script is going to have to speak and do the work for you, right, once you’re done with it.

So if you can find joy in the writing, then do find joy in that writing. I don’t think you should ever define your life by any vocation, at all. I think that we are all so much more interesting than some dream we imagine. Remember, if you’re not yet a professional screenwriter, your understanding of what it means to be a professional screenwriter is a massive guess. It’s just a huge guess. Even if you sat with me or John or any other professional screenwriter every day for a year, all you’d really find out is what it’s like for us to be screenwriters.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But what we know is, because we talk to each other, we’re all special little snowflakes. So you don’t know what it’ll be like for you. And that is true for all these things. So dreams are great, but just remember that they are dreams. The real thing on the other side is something else. So don’t define yourself by some dream that you are imagining. Let that be a motivation for you, but not your definition.

John: That sounds great. All right, that’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro to send us, you can send that link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions, on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin, I’m @johnaugust. We’re on Facebook. Search for the Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcast, look for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps us a lot.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs. You can find all the back episodes at scriptnotes.net and we now have the USB drives back in stock.

Craig: Yay.

John: So right before I came to London, Megan was busy, like, bundling them and putting labels on them, so they’re now back at the warehouse and they are shipping out to people. So if you want those first 300 episodes, you can get them now on your little USB drive.

Craig: Nice. Nice. Papa’s going to get a pair of brand new shoes. [laughs]

John: So looking forward to those shoes. They’re the fanciest shoes in the world.

Craig: Whoo.

John: Craig, thanks for a fun show.

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

John: All right, bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

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